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Archive for the ‘Genesis 4’ Category

Last week we began to look at the question, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” from the story of Cain and Abel. And we saw how even though Cain asked it to try to avoid any responsibility for his brother, the question actually has to be answered with a “yes.” Cain did have a responsibility to his brother. And as well, we all have responsibilities to our brothers and sisters, and neighbors.

We also spent a good deal of time looking at Scriptures that show that we are to care for and help our neighbor – especially those who are weak and in need.

Well today, I want us to look at a specific example of suffering and need, one that has been on my daughter’s heart for several years now. And then we will look at some ways to respond.

Marie: Darfur comprises the three westernmost regions of Sudan, the largest country in Africa. 99% of the population is Muslim and most speak Arabic. They are mostly rural farmers. The people of Darfur have been marginalized since Sudanese independence in 1956 when power was given to the northern Arab elites. They deliberately tried to keep Darfuris out of school. There were no hospitals, roads, schools or economic systems in place. They had no political representation, and were left poverty-stricken.

Omar al-Bashir, the dictator of Sudan has been indicted by the International Criminal Court for 7 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity and 3 counts of genocide and extermination.

In 2003 rebel groups from Darfur attacked the capital, Khartoum. After some successful attacks in spring of 2003 the government responded by killing the Darfuris. They hired an Arab militia called the Janjaweed which literally translates to “devils on horseback.” The government gives them uniforms, money, arms, plunder, livestock, land and impunity. They even let criminals out of jail and pay them to burn villages and slaughter their fellow  countrymen.

There are many different forms of oppression there. They suffer starvation because their crops and livestock are burned. The government poisons their water supplies by stuffing dead bodies down their wells. The government denies access to humanitarian aid and even kicked out 13 of the major groups last spring. The militias and the government adhere to a scorched-earth policy in Darfur. Women and girls are forced to get water and firewood for cooking, but then face the risk of being raped. If the men go, they will be killed so the “better alternative” is having the women go since they only get raped. Government planes bomb their own peoples’ villages. Then once the survivors flee to a refugee camp, they are bombed there as well. The Darfuris suffer abductions, torture and murder. Facial mutilations are also common by other terrorist militias that haunt Darfur.

The dead are estimated to be between 400,000 and 600,000 and 2.7 million people have been displaced thus far. These results are devastating especially considering that Darfur only has a population of 6 million.

Now there are so many situations in the world and, no doubt, others of you would focus on a different one, because God has put that on your heart. But this gives us an example to work with. And I think it will help us to see what we can do with a tragedy that is far away from us. You know, when it’s in your neighborhood you can just roll up your sleeves and get to work. But so often the need is an ocean away.

There are certainly ways to work at this through earthly political mechanisms. That is, trying to get the United States government, the United Nations or the African Union to act to address Darfur. But this isn’t what I want to talk about. If you want to learn more about this you can find ample resources on the internet.

My purpose is to help us see what we can do precisely as Christians, with the resources of the kingdom of God to help those in Darfur; to be our brother and sister’s keeper.

1. Pray for God to act

We know that, “The Lord works righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed.” – Psalm 103:6. And “The Lord will maintain the cause of the afflicted, and will execute justice for the needy.” – Psalm 140:12.

And so we should call on God to be true to his nature and intervene to bring the suffering to an end. Remembering that “the prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.” – James 5:16.

Here are some things to pray for in Darfur:

1. For the evildoers, both individuals and governmental powers, to be put down; that is to lose their power to harm and kill.

2. For resources to meet the material needs of those who are suffering and the refugees.

3. For peace and healing for the many who are broken and traumatized by this war. Even if the war were to end today the effects would go on for decades. And there will be great need for work at healing.

2. Help to relieve suffering

Now, God might well call some of us to go and help with the situation in Darfur. To be there in person. But apart from this, any of us can give resources from here to be shared in Darfur and with the refugees.

And Jesus teaches us to give to those with needs. He said, “give to the needy” – Matthew 6:2; and “give to the poor” – Luke 12:33.

Jesus also told the story of the Good Samaritan who helped one who was not like him. The people of Darfur are different than us.  And he told us to “go and do likewise” – Luke 10:37. The people of Darfur are different than us. They are Muslim and speak Arabic.

Paul says, “As we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone . . ..” – Galatians 6:10. And in context he is saying, don’t just help fellow believers, also help others.

If you would like to give toward this need, you can give to Christian Aid, a British interdenominational Christian aid organization, which does work in Darfur. (Freepost, London, SE1 7YY; or online at christianaid.org.uk/give).

3. Speak out in the name of the Lord

This particular tragedy is not the result of a natural disaster or an accident. The suffering in Darfur has come from the hands of humans. And so there is an element of human sin that needs to be addressed in our response and which must stop for the suffering to stop.

Now when I say speak out, I’m not referring to politics. I am talking about representing God’s point of view on what is going on in Darfur. We speak in the name of the Lord to name the evil that is being done; to call for repentance, and to warn of God’s judgment on sin.

It is not right or Christian to know of and to watch great evil happen while saying nothing. This is a way for you to make your voice heard as a representative of the kingdom of God.

The prophets did this, for instance Amos speaking to rulers in his day. And  Jesus did this speaking to the authoritative teachers and the leadership of Jerusalem – Matthew 23:13-36. And we should also speak up when there is need.

I have written a letter to send to the government of Sudan, and I am going to sign my name to it. If you would like to add your name, just let me know.

“To the Government of Sudan – Hear the words of the one, true God: “Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.” Psalm 82:3-4.

Hear the cry of those who suffer in Darfur – innocents including women and children. So many have been terrorized. So many have died. So many are refugees. God calls you to change your heart and bring this to an end!

But know this, if you do not hear their cries, God does. And God will incline his ear “to do justice for the orphan and the oppressed, so that those from earth may strike terror no more.” Psalm 10:18.

And God hears the blood of the innocent as it cries out against you even now. And God will not forget what has happened. “For he who avenges blood is mindful of them; he does not forget the cry of the afflicted.” Psalm 9:12.

Will you hear what God says? Then weep for your evil deeds. Humble yourself before the Lord. Lift up those who are bowed down, and bring healing to those you have broken.”

Finally, and more radically, there is –

4. Intercessory suffering

We talked about this in the Sunday School class on loving enemies, but let me say a few words about this.

It goes like this. When you suffer oppression, instead of returning evil for evil, endure it and call on God to act for you. And God will act to bring justice. This is biblical nonresistance, as I understand it (or cruciform holy war).

We see God acting to bring justice in the story of Cain and Abel. Even though Abel suffered death, God said to Cain, “The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground.” – Genesis 4:10. And then God judged Cain.

We also see this in Jesus’ words in Luke 18:7-8. “And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily.”

And you can do this on behalf of others, this is the intercessory part, by going to suffer with them and calling on God to act.

This is what Jesus did for us. Jesus came and suffered with us without returning evil for evil. Rather, he called on God to act for him. And both spiritual and political powers were brought down:

  • Satan was cast out of heaven – Revelation 12:9
  • And the authorities that killed Jesus were judged in 70 AD when Jerusalem was destroyed, as he predicted -Matthew 23:32-24:2.

Alright these are some specifically Christian ways to respond. And I certainly encourage you to respond as the Lord leads you.

William Higgins, Marie Higgins

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“Am I my brother’s keeper?”

I begin with a question today, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”  Or to say it another way, “Are you your brother’s keeper?” And, of course, the question refers to both brothers and sisters.

This question is a haunting one. It challenges us to think about our responsibilities to others. And whether we have kept them, or not. It comes from –

The story of Cain and Abel

This is a familiar story, from Genesis 4. Let’s remember it together:

  • They both brought an offering to the Lord
  • God had regard for Abel’s. But God did not have regard for Cain’s, who was the older brother.
  • Cain became angry and depressed.
  • God counseled Cain to do well and to beware of sin.
  • Cain, however, murdered his brother while they were in the field together
  • So God confronted Cain, “Where is your brother?” Now, of course, God already knew what had happened, but he is inviting Cain to confess and take responsibility for his actions.

And this brings us to –

The question

– which is our focus. Cain responded to God, “I do not know (where Abel is); am I my brother’s keeper?’” – Genesis 4:9.

First of all he lies. He knew where his brother was. And second his question communicates his belief that he has no responsibility for his brother and his well being. This belief shows up clearly in that he could murder Abel, and yet evidence no hint of sorrow; there is not a shred of guilt in any of his responses.

But let’s look at the question more closely, because there’s a lot going on here. The word “keeper” means “to watch over, to guard, to have charge of.”

  • It is used in Genesis 2:15 of Adam as the keeper of the garden of Eden – which was his full-time job as it were.
  • It is used in Genesis 3:24 of the angel that constantly guarded the tree of life to keep Adam and Eve away from it.

So Cain uses this word to exaggerate what God wants from him. What he is saying is that, “Hey, I can’t be expected to keep up with every detail of my brother’s life! That’s not my full-time job; I’m not his body guard.” And he asks the question in this way because he’s seeking to evade any responsibility for his brother.

But even though he asked it as a way of avoiding responsibility, the question has a way of coming back to condemn him nevertheless. That’s because even though Cain is not responsible for every aspect of his brother’s life, he does bear responsibility to care for him and help him. And in this regard he failed in the worst possible way.

So the answer to the question is actually, “yes.” Cain did have a responsibility to his brother. And we have a responsibility to help and care for our brothers and sisters, that is to say our neighbors – especially when they are weak and in need.

This point is made abundantly clear in Scripture, and I want you to see this, so we are going to look at a lot passages. We begin with –

The call to be our brother and sister’s keeper

This shows up in different ways in Scripture, but it is certainly clear in the command to love our neighbor. Leviticus 19:18 says, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” We are to act for their good; for their well-being. In Matthew 5:44 Jesus expands this to cover all people when he teaches “love your enemies.”

We are especially to help and care for those who are weak and vulnerable. Psalm 82:3-4 says, “Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.” In Acts 20:35 Paul says, “We must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.'” And in I Thessalonians 5:14 Paul says simply, “help the weak.”

Now let’s look at some specific –

Examples of being our sister and brother’s keeper

We are to care for the needs of widows and orphans. Exodus 22:22 says, “You shall not mistreat any widow or fatherless child.” Isaiah 1:17 says, “Bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.” James 1:27 tells us that we are “to visit orphans and widows in their affliction . . ..”

We are to care for immigrants, most of whom are, by definition, weak both economically and socially. Leviticus 19:33-34 says, “When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself . . ..”

We are to care for the disabled. Deuteronomy 27:18 says, “Cursed be anyone who misleads a blind man on the road.” Rather we should help the one who is disabled.

We are to honor the poor. James 2:9 indicates that if you dishonor a poor person, “you are committing sin.” Proverbs 17:5 says, “Whoever mocks the poor insults his Maker.” Rather we should give honor where others give disdain.

We are to give food, clothing and shelter to the needy. Ezekiel 18:7 gives a description of a righteous person. Among other things, he “gives his bread to the hungry and covers the naked with a garment.” Isaiah 58:7 teaches that true fasting means to stop all oppression and “to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him.”

In Luke 3:11 John the Baptist said, “Whoever has two tunics (or items of clothing) is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.’” In Luke 12:33 Jesus said, “Sell your possessions and give to the poor.” We are to do this instead of storing up our excess wealth for ourselves.

We are to give the poor economic assistance. Leviticus 25:37 says, “You shall not . . . give him your food for profit.” That is, sell your food at cost.  Leviticus 19:10, speaking of gleaning says, “You shall leave [some of your harvest] for the poor and for the sojourner.”

Deuteronomy 15:7-8 says, “If among you, one of your brothers should become poor . . . you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother, but you shall open your hand to him and lend him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be.” Exodus 22:25 says, “If you lend money to any of my people with you who is poor . . . you shall not exact interest from him.” Jesus sais in Luke 6:35, “Lend, [even to your enemies] expecting nothing in return.”

We are to invite the needy to share in our celebrations. There are several examples of this in the Old Testament. This one has to do with the tithe feast. Deuteronomy 14:28-29 says, “At the end of every three years you shall bring out all the tithe of your produce in the same year and lay it up within your towns. And the Levite, because he has no portion or inheritance with you, and the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, who are within your towns, shall come and eat and be filled . . ..”

In Luke 14:12-14  Jesus said, “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. You will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.”

Alright we have spent quite a bit of time looking at this in the Scriptures, because I want to ground this truth in God’s word. And that truth is that we are indeed our brother and sister’s keeper. We are to care for and help others, especially when they are weak and in need.

But you might say, Pastor,

There is so much need in the world!

And it is easy to get overwhelmed. Just the crises of one week, like flooding in Pakistan and landslides in China are enough to overwhelm. And then you have things like the gulf oil spill and Katrina which continue on for years.

So, yes, it is easy to throw up your hands and say, what can I do? But we have to be careful that we don’t do something similar to what Cain did. We can’t use the vastness of the need as an excuse; as an out for not acting; for not taking responsibility.

It’s true we can’t do everything. But we can do something. We can help some people. And we can care for some needs. And that is what God asks of us.

Next week we will look at a specific example of suffering, and talk about what we can do.

William Higgins

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