Sunday, September 11, 2011

Echoes: A sermon

McFarland UCC, September 11, 2011

Text: Genesis 3 and 4

It was a beautiful morning with a blue sky, a clear morning at the start of the harvest season. It was a good beginning, until it all went horribly awry. A stain upon the land, a stain on the fabric of our souls, images seared into our imaginations. Part of a story that we just can’t shake, that has shaped us.


It goes back to the beginning.

Not a very auspicious beginning for the human family. Almost right from the start, we have these terrible stories. Lies, mistrust, jealousy, murder, and yet more lies.

A tree, an apple, a snake, a choice. A choice to take, a choice to participate in the taking. A choice to hide. A choice to separate ourselves. A choice to let things die.

The seeds were sown. And in the next generation, they came back to haunt us.

It is not easy, coming back to God. It is a struggle. We hold parts of ourselves back.

Right from the beginning, folks, we turned against one another. Seeking to worship God, we let it divide us. The whole family, Casa Adam-n-Eve, brought gifts, offerings to God. Genesis tells us that Cain brought “some” of the harvest, but Abel brought “the best parts” of his firstborn lamb, a prize gift from his flock. The struggle – do I offer the best parts of myself to God, or what I can spare? Do I turn over to God the beautiful bits, or just the nasty bits?


When Cain murdered his brother Abel it was a catastrophe of monumental proportions. One quarter of the population of the known world, dead. Four, reduced to three. Adam, Eve, Cain, Abel. Abel, lost. Then Cain was sent into further exile by God, sent to wander, without a home.

“And God saw that it was good.” Until it wasn’t. Until we let the better angels of our human nature be overshadowed by a grasping after things we were never intended to have. Until we began striving for “better, best, first, most, mine.” Until we started the arguments over who was more holy and who God loved more, and just what was holy ground. “Am I my brother’s keeper?,” asked Cain, while Abel’s blood was still flowing into the ground.


It was a beautiful morning with a blue sky, a clear morning at the start of the harvest season. It was a good beginning, until it all went horribly awry. A stain upon the land, a stain on the fabric of our souls. Part of a story that we just can’t shake, that has shaped us.

This is also the story of September 11th, 2001. That morning where the world skipped a beat, where the world stopped and watched in horror. That morning where a soul-shattering cry echoed beyond the range of human hearing, but touched us all.

“Your brother’s blood cries out from the ground,” said God.

We still ache. Ten years of war have not softened the blow; nor have they made our pain, anger, or fear disappear. Ten years of Homeland Security procedures have not offered security. The killing of Osama Bin Laden earlier this year had young Americans dancing in the streets of our cities, in a celebration of vengeance, a moment that attempted to purge the scar on our national soul. But still, ten years of memories bump around inside us.

We constantly scratch off the scab of a wound that does not heal.

The blood of thousands cries out from the ground. In New York City. In Washington, DC. In Shanksville, Pennsylvania. And in other places, too. In Arlington National Cemetery. In the Walter Reed Army Hospital. In VA Medical Centers across the country, where traumatized veterans learn to deal with haunting images. In the hills of Afghanistan and the streets of Iraq, where parentless children weep, walking upon a land they no longer recognize. In mosques where Muslims worship under the fear of death threats, churches where Christians do the same, synagogues where Jews worry about suicide bombers attacking on their way home. Holy places that we have been wrestling over for centuries, waging war in God’s name.

In all these sacred spaces, where human beings walk the land, we are reliving the story day by day. The events of that terrible day ten years ago have destroyed too many lives. With Cain, we cry out, “This punishment is too hard!”, wandering, searching for security that seems to be absent.


We are mere steps away from the beginning. Three chapters away, as the Bible tells it. Less than a generation away from the garden and the promises and the One who provides everything we need.

“Am I my brother’s keeper?” asked Cain, in the wake of bloodshed.

Stop fooling yourself, Cain. Of course you are. You are and always will be.

We are a family – many more than we once were, but still, a family – walking on the land. Some nearby and some far away, some settled and some wanderers. Seeking the security that was lost when we decided to make our decisions on “better, best, most, first, mine.”


The story is not over.

We bear the imprint of the day the world came crashing down around our ears. It is in our heads and our hearts, our national memory and our own memories.

A terrible day. One we wish we could forget. And yet, hope is not lost.

The psalmist writes, “I run to you, God, for protection…Send your light and your truth to guide me. Let them lead me to your house on your sacred mountain.” (Psalm 43, CEV) “Why are you cast down, my soul, and why are you disquieted within me?...Hope in God.” (Psalm 43, NRSV)

That is where we find security. We may wander, we may be in exile from the Garden, we may be separated from our sisters and brothers, we may consistently make choices that move us away from God, but even so, we are not alone.

In his final meal with the disciples, Jesus offers a benediction: Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” (John 14:27) Christ’s peace. God’s reconciliation. The Holy Spirit driving us toward a hard-won wisdom, whispering truth in our ear.

We live in a story of death and separation, our human family having descended from this time of murder and grief. But we also live in a story of God’s protection – even jealous, murdering Cain was marked, protected from vengeance. A story of God’s forgiveness and new beginnings – because the family line does not end with Abel’s murder. Adam and Eve have another child, Seth, and life goes on. Even Cain, who becomes a city-dweller, somehow manages to raise a family. And people begin worshipping the Lord. We are part of the great human story of hiding ourselves from God, of falling away and forgetting, and the great God story of reconciliation, and restoration, and new life.


There is a beautiful morning with a clear blue sky, at the beginning of the harvest season. This is the day that the Lord has made. A new day. A new beginning. Let the former things pass away.