In the Wilderness a Baptism

The Sunday Sermon:  Sixth Sunday after Pentecost – July 16, 2017

Scripture:  Genesis 4:1-9, 11-16

In the Wilderness:  A Baptism

On this Sunday, with the baptism of Benjamin Wade fresh in our hearts and on our minds, listen for the Word of God in this morning’s reading.

Read Genesis 4:1-9 …

I confess that I asked myself what many of you are now wondering. Why in the world would I choose (or more appropriately, would the Spirit lead us to) this scripture reading of all those in the Good Book? On a Sunday of “baptism” … ? I asked myself this question, too, and thought of New Testament passages on the River Jordan. But, in the end, I decided to follow, considering our larger, longer journey this month.

We’re in the wilderness these weeks of July. We stepped out here two weeks ago with our guest preacher, Elizabeth Hinson-Hasty in her reading of the Hagar/Ishmael story. Last week we moved back in Genesis to the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden into the wilderness. And this week, we’ve moved just a bit forward in the first book to Cain and Abel. We’re in the wilderness seeking to answer again the most critical question of our lives, of all life. Into the particular “wrinkle in time” that we all find ourselves living, facing daily deep anxiety about healthcare and wealth disparity; facing mounting concern about the trustworthiness and dependability of our systems and institutions; and wondering always about why in the world we should care about one another, let alone refugees and immigrants; comes the question again. Am I my brother’s keeper?

And a baby is baptized in our midst. In this wilderness …

We are “out here” because of what we refuse to do: Take responsibility for our actions. Genesis’ telling of Adam and Eve’s exile, of our separation from the Divine creating force at the center of the universe, has been so profoundly interpreted as God’s will, rather than “our doing” that we actually blame God for our “problem” and we devise ways to change God’s mind about us. Maybe if we’re extra good, God will change. But, we’re the ones that need to change. We must accept responsibility for the relationships and the life we destroy through our negligence and our partiality for self-survival.

I think we can do this. I’ve revealed that to you many times as your Pastor – me and my “high anthropology,” my faith in humanity, my stubborn resistance to the notion that we are totally depraved. I do believe the reason for being born human is to become human. But we are a stubborn race. And rather dim-witted. In our passage this morning comes another rhetorical question from God. The first was in the Garden when God asked Adam and Eve who told them were naked, different, “better” than all the rest. That question didn’t really require an answer and neither does this morning’s” “Where is your brother?” As we heard, Cain doesn’t offer an answer. In fact, he avoids the questions altogether. He goes even further than Eve and Adam’s avoidance. He not only refuses to acknowledge his role in destroying a part of creation, he actually accuses God of falling down on the job. There’s an accusation in his question to God: Am I my brother’s keeper? His emphasis is on the pronoun in his question. You see, “keeping” in the Old Testament is something God does for humans:

(The) God who keeps you will not slumber … God will keep your life. The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time on and forevermore. (Psalm 121)

In other words, “If you don’t know the whereabouts of my brother Abel, then maybe you’ve slumbered and slept and are not ‘keeping’ him. Maybe you, God, should be blamed for his ‘present situation.’” Be honest, now. We like this twist. We like the audacity of Cain.

We blame God, too: For the escalating violence in countries around the world even as, in countries around the world, the gap between the haves and have-nots, the “enfranchised” and the “dis-enfranchised,” expands exponentially; God is blamed for the increasing severity of Caribbean hurricanes even in the undeniable evidence of global warming’s effect on Gulf waters; God is blamed for world hunger even when the wealthiest twenty percent of the world’s population consumes seventy-seven percent of the world’s food. And as we’re blaming God …

A baby is baptized in our midst. In this wilderness …

The question we face again this morning doesn’t require an answer. The answer was written in the stars at the dawn of time. The question now only requires an acknowledgment … Yes we are or brother’s (and our sister’s) keeper.

I’d say Cain is pretty lucky the Creator of the Universe ignores his counter-question and moves past the affront. Given our insistence on believing in a supernatural God that could strike us down at any moment, I’d say we’re pretty lucky to be together this morning, ourselves. Maybe that, as much as anything else, ought to get us to re-think our expression of the Holy, Sacred, Divine center of the Universe. The God we’ve created wouldn’t stand for this, frankly, wouldn’t stand for us. But the God of Genesis, Sacrificial Love does, always does … move past the ugly and the blame allegations of this world. How do we know?

A baby is baptized in our midst. In this wilderness …

So, let’s read a bit further. Read Genesis 4:11-16

There’s another banishment after Cain’s smokescreen and we’re sent further East of Paradise to the land of Nod, which means wandering. And, oh, how we wander, perpetually afraid because we refuse to be reconciled to the Creator and to the creature we were created to be. The murderer in this story fears being murdered. The denier fears being denied; the consumer fears being consumed; the angry fears being yelled at. And it all escalates – the denial, the consumption, the anger. Life is bottled up because we refuse to be reconciled, because we fail to understand how inextricably woven together we are with the Creator and one another, all others.

And a baby is baptized in our midst. In this wilderness …

And we realize that even when, in times too numerous to count, we give up on God, the Creator doesn’t give up on us. Even in this deeper exile we are not without the “mark” of God, the “mark” of the Divine that was ours at creation, the “mark” of the Love that could change it all. We are the crowning glory of creation. But we are also its central problem. Can we live in God’s world on God’s terms?

Our answer too often is “no, we can’t,” or more accurately, “no, we won’t.” As it was in the beginning, we continue to respond to Love’s question with other questions rather than the answer that we know will set us free; we’ve continued to ignore what’s happening around us in our world today; and we’ve continued to blame anyone and everyone else around us, even the God we’ve created.

But every once in a while we’re asked, “Do we as members of the church f Jesus Christ, promise to guide and nurture this child by word and deed, with love and prayer, encouraging him or her to know and follow Christ and to be a faithful member of the church?” Will you be your brother’s keeper? “ and we say …yes, we will. And our Spirit, our lives, become aligned with another, with others in our world, and with the will of God. We are each other’s keepers.

This week – whenever you hear or read or experience any news that tempts you to blame someone else, or to otherwise disregard someone as “not your problem,” (this week) take the time to stop and wonder, to think and pray, to remember this baptism and your own, point your life in the direction of God, of Love (with a capital “L”) and connect: Personally, locally, and globally. Be who you were created to be. Be your brother’s and your sister’s keeper.

In the wilderness, a baptism. Thank you, Benjamin, for reminding us of our promise.

Amen.

Reverend Joel Weible, Pastor / Pewee Valley Presbyterian Church / July 16, 2017