Blessings Hidden and Immeasurable   Gen 4:1-15

Proper 25C Pent 20                             OCTOBER 23,2022                        St. John, New Orleans

Cain was a blessing to his parents. 

The first-born son and heir and hopefully the Savior of his kind. 

He embraced the land, despite its being cursed by the sins of his father and mother. 

His was a difficult path. 

And he voluntarily made an offering to God at harvest time with no indication it was inferior or lacking in any way. 

Abel was the second born son. 

The baby brother to Cain. 

He looked after sheep. 

He too made an offering being sure to pick a lamb that was the absolute best of his flock.

On the surface both sons honored God by giving an offering. 

Able may have been a copycat of his brother’s actions, even. 

Both gave from the fruit of their labor willingly and without remorse. 

Yet, Cain’s offering was not regarded by God, and Abel’s was.

In Genesis we don't know why he regarded Abel’s gift, but we know it made Cain mad with jealousy. 

Not only did he kill his brother so that he could no longer garner God's favor, 

but then he denied doing it when God asked him about it. 

When finally admitting to his crime he prayed for death, 

rather than to be hunted out of revenge by his brothers and sisters 

but, so he wouldn't have to live in fear, God gave him a gift. 

A mark that told people to leave him alone. 

And a lifetime to think about his sin and to seek God's forgiveness. 

However, he found a wife, had a family, 

and his offspring became known as builders, artisans, and musicians. 

But out of his grief and guilt, Cain evidently did not reconcile with God

 and his descendants did not commune with God either.

While he thought he was cursed by God with the mark, it was actually a great gift which he never acknowledged.

It's not until we read the letter to the Hebrews in the New Testament that we get the reason for God's regard for Abel’s offerings: faith. 

Abel's gift was given in love out of faith, while, evidently, Cain’s was not. 

Whether it was conceit, or seeking favor over his brother, we do not know. 

But we know Cain did not have faith by his subsequent actions. 

Rather than ask for forgiveness, he tries to strike a deal which is easiest for him to fulfill. 

Rather than repent and return to the loving embrace of God in his family, 

he exiles himself taking his sister as his wife, 

thereby depriving Adam and Eve not of just one child, but three. 

While his sin was horrific, it was his rejection of God's love for him that set him on his course of exile and isolation.

Compare this with our Gospel today. 

The Pharisees were the most righteous law-abiding people in the land, 

while the tax collectors had to make a living by overtaxing the people. 

Yet, because the righteous man had no faith, 

Jesus did not regard his offering, 

even as he bragged about his righteous deeds. 

But the man who believed in God, 

and who understood the gravity of his sin, and who sought forgiveness, 

Jesus regarded his offering. 

And how do we get to that place of faith? Like a child. Trusting completely in Jesus. 

We don't even need to understand why, 

just surrender your love and trust to him 

and whatever we bring is regarded by God as good and faithful.

But sometimes it's hard to have faith and to respond in love to God. 

We too get caught in our sins and feel the shame and guilt. 

Like Cain, we try to hide or deny knowledge of our offenses. 

And when we can deny no more, we can react just like Cain. 

Doubling down on our sin or shrinking away from our accuser. 

Or perhaps it is not our sin, but our situation which drives a wedge between us and our faith in God. 

The needs and wants of this world are prime tools used to deceive us. 

We think if we are poor, or alone, or conflicted, 

that it's a sign of God withholding favor from us, or that he doesn't exist. 

And for some it's simple unbelief.

If God doesn't exist, I am only accountable to myself and no one else. 

Much less worry about the will and ways of some so-called God.

But even in the face of disbelief, God shows his generosity.

Cain and his family became well known and respected for their industry, even if not their faith. 

The Pharisees kept their favored status in the community and the wealth that came their way as a result. 

But the richest of blessings came to those who love God and had faith in him. 

Namely, eternal life in heaven 

and a good reputation that followed them even beyond the grave here on earth.

As we continue our season of stewardship sermons it's important that we hear the full impact of these texts. 

The law tells us that it is the right thing to give and offering. 

Even Cain had this written upon his heart, 

for the law is written on the hearts of all humanity, whether they have faith or not. 

Also, that belief is different from faith. 

Belief is the knowledge you have of something you think is true with little or no evidence. 

While faith is putting your trust in that thing to change you or your situation. 

Cain, Abel, the pharisee, and the tax collector all believed God existed. 

But Abel and the tax collector loved God entrusted him above everything else,

giving their offerings in humble thanks instead of prideful pomp and circumstance. 

That's the gospel aspect of stewardship.

When one can see the Love of God acting in one’s life through the faith given them, 

They are motivated in ways that lead one to generous Thanksgiving. 

When one has faith, one does not consider the score between themselves, and God as Cain did.

In fact, once you come to faith you cannot even fathom the depths of his blessings

And so the person of faith realizes the amount of the gift has no meaning to God, 

But that it is the state of the heart which gives the offering that matters.

So, do you believe, or do you have faith? 

Even Satan himself believes God to be his maker. 

But he chose to rebel against God rather than to trust him and his plan for Satan and all the other angels. 

And so, because of his lack of faith, he and his followers were cast out of heaven 

to roam the earth and then to one day be cast into hell 

with all the other souls who didn't have faith. 

While we are called to faith in the same God that made Satan and Cain and the pharisee, we have an advantage. 

First, we know how God's plan for saving us in the end was accomplished through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. 

Secondly, we have a whole cloud of witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus 

through his body, the church, 

as they have communed with him for two millennia 

for the strengthening of their faith and the forgiveness of their sins 

that they continued to commit and of which they repented. 

And it is by this faith that we continue to serve God and humanity via our vocations. 

Abel was a shepherd, and the man in the gospel a tax collector. 

And you are called to be the best of whatever it is you do so that you give God glory. 

And when we live out these God-given vocations in faith to the one who gave it, 

we are fulfilled in our life’s work 

and our hearts overflow with love for God 

and we respond generously to his goodness in our life, even if it seems hidden to us at times.

Yes, you and I are faced with the same dilemma as Cain.  Will we hold onto faith, or not?

Will we trust in the Lord’s love over his capacity for anger?

Will we rely on his goodness over his power to destroy?

Will we rest in his hidden and innumerable blessings, 

even when it looks as though the world has been set against us, 

or his favor has been withheld?

As we see from Cain and his descendants, those who believe without faith can make it in this world, perhaps even comfortably

But their lack of faith means it will all end with their death,

And any blessings received in this life will be the only blessings they receive 

and will be gone at the day of their passing.

But for those who have faith, their blessings continue uninterrupted and without limit for eternity.

Next week we will celebrate the gift of freedom we have by grace which was rediscovered at the time of the Reformation. 

We'll remember the gift of faith which comes without our asking or our doing a thing. 

And then the week after that we'll wrap up our stewardship season 

with a time of commitment and pledge our offerings in faith to the Lord's work.

I pray that each of us this week can engage our faith in Jesus with Thanksgiving 

so that our lives may not only reflect his love in US 

but so that our gifts may be regarded by him and become a blessing for many. 

In the name of Jesus. Amen.