Monday, November 23, 2015

Sin is lurking at the door ...

“If you do well, will you not be accepted?  But if you do not do well, sin is lurking at the door; its desire is for you, but you must master it.”  Genesis 4:7 NRSV

Cain was pretty upset that his offering to The Lord had not been received as Abel’s was.  The whole passage is hard to understand because we are not told exactly why Abel’s gift was somehow a better, or more suitable, offering.  There is plenty of commentary and speculation, but the biblical text itself does not spell it out for us.  Maybe it is better that we not get so caught up in trying to figure it out lest we miss something greater.  The gift may have been received without “regard” (maybe in the manner in which it was offered?), but clearly The Lord had “regard” for Cain himself.

Still, the feeling of resentment Cain was experiencing was deep enough to well up within him to the point of murder – striking the one whom he blamed even though it was The Lord who “had no regard” for Cain’s offering (vs 5).  Again, we do not know with certainty why The Lord favored one offering over another.  What we do know is that Abel had no part in whatever was happening between The Lord and Cain.  This, I think, is the great challenge of reading and studying the Holy Scripture: finding our own places in the stories – in this case, trying to decide whether we are Cain or Abel.

We are owed nothing.  Life is what it is.  There is therefore no one to blame for misfortune, but there is only One to whom we may give thanks for all – even (maybe especially) in those circumstances that challenge our patience and our faith.  We must not forget Abraham was pushed up against a spiritual wall when he was asked to sacrifice his beloved Isaac!

When dealing with the good and the bad, however, there is this: which will overwhelm us and ultimately define us?  As human beings?  As disciples of Christ?  As the Church, the very Body of Christ?  “Sin is lurking at the door; its desire is for you, but you must master it.”

Like many Americans, I have been struggling with the reality of refugees from Syria.  Most are just trying to escape a civil war which has destroyed the Syrian economy and rendered routine living impossible.  These refugees are not the cause of the civil war; they are its victims. 

There is another harsh reality.  Vetting those we propose to allow into the United States must be next to impossible by the sheer numbers alone.  Without doubt there are those with evil intentions who will use this crisis to try and enter into the US as they were able to enter into Europe.  These are not looking for a better life; they are looking for targets.  These are not refugees.  They believe themselves to be jihadists, holy warriors, and they have been indoctrinated to die for a cause rather than to live with holy purpose.  Whether they signed up of their own volition or were somehow compelled to join may not be for us to ascertain at this point.  What we do know is they mean harm.

So we’re stuck somewhere in the middle.  We who struggle as disciples of Christ are experiencing what The Lord warned Cain about.  We are struggling to know exactly what we must do as disciples and as responsible citizens.  We must be “wise as serpents” AND “as gentle as doves” (Matthew 10:16) because we are by our baptism “sent out” by Christ.  Jesus suggests those who propose to act in His name can be both.  He actually demands it.

Those who insist the United States is “a Christian nation founded on Christian principles” are in danger of painting themselves into a corner because Christianity does not offer exclusive rights or privileges to any individual, even this land we try to call our own.  That is, our allegiance to Christ does not entitle us … to anything.  It is pure luck that we were born in this wonderful country rather than in Syria or Somalia.  In biblical fact, our allegiance to Christ obligates us to the “least among us” and even to our “enemies” (however this may be defined).

Our challenge is not to find an enemy or a scapegoat as Cain was sure he found, which drove him to murder an innocent man.  Our challenge is to find Christ, for “whatever you do for the least of these, you do it for Me” (Matthew 25:31-46).  The Eternal Christ is The Living Word of the Living God.  That Word speaks to us in the Church, but that same Word compels us to reach out to those who live in the margins of society.

So what we do for the sake of the Eternal Word is how we must approach this current crisis.  We are fond of saying “faith will save us” as it is clearly written, but how we choose to act in the midst of a great humanitarian crisis that seems more like a threat will determine whether we actually believe “faith will save us”.  For we must act in and live by faith in order for faith to save us.

The president is not “right” in this matter nor is he “wrong”, but the president is also not the issue.  The same goes for political candidates who might believe what they are saying but are more likely playing to the populist crowds.  For Christians the issue is striking the right balance between responsible citizenship and faithful discipleship – vigilance and the power of mercy.  Despite what many on either side try to claim, there is no clear answer. 

Sin is indeed “lurking at the door”, but our God insists we “must master it” lest sin overwhelm us.  And if The Lord told Cain he must master it, it must mean we have it within us to master sin – but not to get good at it!!

When we propose to act in the Holy Name, we have to go beyond simply believing The Lord exists.  We must fully trust that The Lord will see to The Lord’s own purposes, and we must be ok with that regardless of what it may cost us.  This does not mean we need be unconcerned, and it does not mean we cannot be vigilant.  There is, however, a component of acting within the Eternal Word we must get next to: The Lord really does know what is best for His own people, and His ways “are not our ways”.  And lest we be confused, The Lord is not an American.

It is ok to have an opinion and even strong feelings about this crisis.  It is not ok to believe one way is absolutely right.  Jesus taught in parables because He demanded that His followers think things through very carefully rather than to act or react spontaneously because there may not always be a “yes” or “no” answer.  In this case it may not be that “our” nation is being invaded.  As with Abraham, this may be among the great tests we face as a people who claim The Lord as our God … because “sin is lurking at the door”.

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