Archive for sermons

The land of Wandering, east of Eden

Cain and Abel, Ivory, c.1084 Louvre OA 4052 Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Cain and Abel, Ivory, c.1084
Louvre OA 4052
Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Click to enlarge image


Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, “I have gotten a man with the help of the Lord.” And again, she bore his brother Abel. Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, and Cain a tiller of the ground. In the course of time Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel brought of the firstlings of his flock and of their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell. The Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is couching at the door; its desire is for you, but you must master it.”

Cain said to Abel his brother, “Let us go out to the field.” And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel, and killed him.  Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” He said, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?”  And the Lord said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground. And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand.  When you till the ground, it shall no longer yield to you its strength; you shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth.”  Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is greater than I can bear.  Behold, thou hast driven me this day away from the ground; and from thy face I shall be hidden; and I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will slay me.”  Then the Lord said to him, “Not so! If any one slays Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold.” And the Lord put a mark on Cain, lest any who came upon him should kill him. Then Cain went away from the presence of the Lord, and dwelt in the land of Nod, east of Eden.

Genesis 4:1-16

Have you ever heard a sermon preached on this scripture? I’m not sure I have, but I’d like to. The more I look at this passage the more complicated and interesting it becomes. I know I’m not alone in this fascination. John Steinbeck and many rabbis have spent time thinking about it. Bruce Springsteen points to it. There’s even a reference in the game Batman: Arkham City. Perhaps we should take a look. There’s more to Cain and Abel than “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

Much of what interests me about this story has to do with language and double meanings. Before we dig in, you need to know that a few chapters back in Genesis, Adam (whose name carries linguistic associations with the words “man” and “red” is created from the red earth (adamah). Man and earth are interdependent. Adam and Eve care for the garden and live on its produce, but after the Fall, the earth is cursed and Adam’s relationship with it becomes a struggle. The consequences of sin are not borne by Adam and Eve alone. God says to Adam:

…cursed is the ground because of you;
    in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life;
thorns and thistles it shall bring forth to you;
    and you shall eat the plants of the field.
In the sweat of your face
    you shall eat bread
till you return to the ground,
    for out of it you were taken;
you are dust,
    and to dust you shall return.

from Genesis 3


When we come to the story of Cain and Abel in Genesis 4, Cain, the tiller of the soil, becomes angry when God rejects his offering in favor of his younger brother’s firstlings. Cain lures Abel out to a field, where he kills his brother. The ground opens its mouth and receives Abel’s blood from Cain’s hand, but the earth cannot conceal the crime. God asks, “Where’s Abel?” and receives Cain’s insolent answer. Abel’s blood cries out, and the earth also speaks in a manner, with a curse. Having opened its mouth to take in blood, the ground will no longer produce food:

you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. When you till the ground, it shall no longer yield to you its strength; you shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth. 

Cain’s sin and his curse are built on his father’s. Cain’s relationship with the earth becomes so broken that he must wander, a fugitive from Eden. He is separated from the land of his birth, and he must leave God’s presence. Yet, even in exile, Cain is under God’s protection. God’s reach, his mercy, extends beyond Eden, into the land of Wandering (Nod).

There’s much more to tease out of this story. So much we could talk about. I wonder why some translations say sin is “crouching” at the door (which sounds like it is ready to spring) while the KJV and RSV say sin “lieth at the door” or is “couching” (which sounds less like an attack and more like sin has taken up residence). And what about after Cain leaves Eden? The Bible says he gets married and has a son, and then he and his wife build the first city, Enoch. How are we to think about cities, if they came into being because sinful Cain can no longer farm the earth? And why then do we long for Zion, the heavenly city, and not for a return to the Garden? What happens when we return to the dust from which we were taken?


Zion alt

Omnipresent Love

I heard a great sermon this past Sunday (and don’t you love a great sermon) which began with the story of Mary anointing Jesus’ feet and then moved us to consider the intimacy of being present to others.  Being present for others for any length of time can be a daunting, exhausting task–even if you’re not an introvert. If you’re a parent or clergy or the doctor-on-call, you know this.  You can’t just turn off your cell phone and close the door to your room.  There really is no way to say, “I’m sorry. You’re on your own today.” You can, of course, get a babysitter and go out to dinner, and you can go to sleep at night, but if something serious happens, you will be there.

Which got me thinking about God’s presence.  Christians believe that God is omnipresent–always and everywhere (an exhausting thought!)–and I confess I usually thought of omnipresence in terms of oversight–rather like Santa Claus in that “he-sees-you-when-you’re-sleeping-he-knows-when-you’re-awake” kind of way.  But Sunday’s sermon caused me to realize again, that God’s omnipresence is also a promise to be present to us, to be accessible, to allow for a kind of intimacy, to allow himself to be known. God will take care of us, but he will do more than that.  He will be open to us.  He will be present.  Surely this is an act of Love.



Digital Bishop – a call to action

On November 17, 2012, Nicholas Knisely was consecrated as the XII Bishop of Rhode Island. Kirk Smith, V Bishop of Arizona, preached this sermon at his consecration. The sermon issued a call to action for the Episcopal Church in a Digital Age, and said some things that the whole Church could stand to hear.  Read the entire sermon when you can, but meanwhile, here are some memorable passages:

Here are some are two scary facts—80% of people looking for a church to attend for the first time, go to the internet, and yet only 20% of Episcopal churches have an active and up-to-date website.  Here is another one.  There are 110 active bishops in this country, only six are on Twitter, and yet at our General Convention this summer, when we were discussing the blessings of same sex unions, over 10 million people worldwide were following us on Twitter!  File this under #majorfail….

It is to youth that the church must “cast its INTERnet.”   Internet communication is not a toy for young people—it is a way of life.  It is the language they speak, and if the church is going to grow, it will have to realize this….

“Be dressed for action and with your phones turned on!”  …thanks be to God!

Godzdogz blog



Yesterday while roaming the internet, I discovered something delightful:  The English Dominican Studentate at Blackfriars Hall, Oxford have created a snazzy blog with lots of lively and thoughtful posts, and a fun section on Biblical Beasts.  They have audio and video, explanations and sermons, and they’ll even take your questions via email.  It a website that’s well worth a visit.

If you’re not familiar with the Dominicans, the blog takes its name from a Latin pun.  Here’s how they explain it:

The name ‘Dominican’, although derived from the name of our holy father and Founder, St Dominic, is also a pun on the Latin phrase “Domini canes” which means ‘Dogs of the Lord.’

This was itself based on a dream which St Dominic’s mother, Blessed Juana de Aza, had in 1170 when she was pregnant: she saw a black and white dog with a torch in its mouth setting the world ablaze. This was interpreted to refer to St Dominic and his spiritual children, the Dominican Order – in their black and white habits – whose preaching brings the light of Gospel truth to shine upon and inflame the world with divine love.

And so, this site represents the ‘barks’ of this pack of ‘God’s dogs’, hopefully gathering all into the flock of Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd!


What did he say to the birds?

St Francis and the birds

My little sisters the birds,

Ye owe much to God, your Creator, and ye ought to sing his praise at all times and in all places, because he has given you liberty to fly about into all places; and though ye neither spin nor sew, he has given you a twofold and a threefold clothing for yourselves and for your offspring.

Two of all your species he sent into the Ark with Noah that you might not be lost to the world; besides which, he feeds you, though ye neither sow nor reap.

He has given you fountains and rivers to quench your thirst, mountains and valleys in which to take refuge, and trees in which to build your nests; so that your Creator loves you much, having thus favored you with such bounties.

Beware, my little sisters, of the sin of ingratitude, and study always to give praise to God.

St. Francis of Assisi

From : Fioretti di San Francesco  (Little Flowers of St. Francis)