Sunday, September 11, 2011

mission as creation care in preaching Cain and Abel

I preached at Scots Uniting Church today. The lectionary focus was the season of creation, the lectionary texts included Genesis 4. So an encouragement to explore the relationship between God’s mission and the environment, especially give that in 1984, the Anglican church developed the Five Marks of Mission, one of which includes creation care.

  • To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom
  • To teach, baptise and nurture new believers
  • To respond to human need by loving service
  • To seek to transform unjust structures of society
  • To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth

My application was a reflection on what it means to listen to local landmarks – Victoria Park (Tarndanyangga) and River Torrens (Karra Wirra Parri). A bit too localised to be of interest to blog readers, so I will simply place the first half of the sermon here, in which I begin with some Maori culture, specifically a Maori “mihi”/welcome as a way to understand the Genesis text.

(There wasn’t a single comment on the sermon. Not one! Perhaps you as blog readers might have some).

I want to start by greeting you in Maori, which is the indigenous language of New Zealand, my home country. I’ll explain why in a minute, but first let me greet you, phrase by phrase, along with the English explanation.

Kia ora koutou e te whanau (Greetings to you the family of God)
Ko Mt Tari te maunga (My mountain is Mt Tari, PNG)
Ko Aramea te awa (My river is the Aramea, PNG)
Ko Gogodala te iwi (My birth tribe is Gogodala people of PNG)
Ko Uniting College te marae (My meeting place is Uniting College of Leadership and Theology)
Ko Ihu Koraiti te waka (My canoe that brought me here is the canoe of Jesus Christ)
No reira, Tena koutou, Tena koutou, Tena tatou katoa (I greet you, once, twice, three times)

So I’ve started with this Maori greeting to you for two reasons.

First, because I come from New Zealand, a country formed by a treaty, a commitment to honour the identity and presence of both indigenous and settler. So greeting you is a way of honouring that relationship.

Second, because when you hear a Maori greeting, when you listen to it phrase by phrase, you realise that you are hearing a different way of relating to the world.

That it’s impossible for Maori to introduce themselves, to talk about who they are, how they to connect and relate, without land; without honouring mountains, the mountain of their birth, and rivers, the rivers of their birth.

Which is exactly the same as our Old Testament reading. Genesis 4, the story of Cain and Abel. Which has given Western culture that wonderful phrase “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (4:9)

And if we’re honest, that’s where most of us stop reading. Am I my brother’s keeper? No. I’m a Westerner. Of course I’m not my brothers keeper.

I’m me, I’m shaped by my identity as an individual. Me and my work and my house is what introduces and defines me.

Yet Genesis chapter 4 challenges that highly individual, highly Western way of understanding ourselves.

Genesis 4, Verse 9 – Am I my brother’s keeper?”, is followed by verse 10. “What have you done? Listen. Your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground.”

“Your brother’s blood is crying to me” Which in Hebrew is four words – And “compressed into them is a whole theology” – The blood is central to life; that when blood is spilt, it’s bad; that when blood goes bad it speaks. It pollutes, it cries.

Verse 10. What have you done? Listen. Hebrew word for “listen” is literally “voice of”. The voice of “Your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground.”

So in this story, the land has voice. That it’s impossible to introduce ourselves, to understand ourselves, to talk about who we are, how we connect and relate, without land.

And that when we try to do so – Am I my brothers keeper – no, don’t be silly I’m a Westerner – then the land will speak. Will cry on behalf of those who are mistreated.

For those who appreciate good writing, a sentence well constructed, a paragraph beautifully composed, you should be delighted with Genesis 4; with the fact that in Hebrew seven is the number of completeness; That in chapter 4; the words Abel and brother appear ….. 7 times; while the word Cain appears … 14 times; That between chapter 2:4-4:26; the word earth appears ….. 7 times while the word “land” appears 14 times.

This is highly crafted literature. It’s just one of the reasons why the commentators note that “the story of Cain and Abel contains many thematic and structural parallels with Chapter 3”.

That this is not just a story about two brothers a long time ago. It’s also a story about what it means to be human. About how we introduce ourselves. About the relationships that should define us.

The passage ends with a human, Cain, cut off from God – v. 14 “I will be hidden from your presence”; cut from his community – v. 14 “a restless wanderer”; cut off from land – v. 11, 12 “Now you are under a curse and are driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brothers blood. When you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you.”

So this is what it means to be human. We are created to enjoy an identity, relationship with God. With our “brothers and sisters”. With the land. And when that is broken, the land has a voice. It cries. It speaks on behalf of bad blood.

And are we listening?


Genesis 4 is the beginning. But it’s not the end.

That comes in the New Testament reading, Colossians 1. That in Christ; all the broken and dislocated pieces of the universe—people and things, animals and atoms—get properly fixed and fit together in vibrant harmonies, all because of his death, his blood that poured down from the cross.

So the bad blood of Genesis 4, the separation from God, from community, from land, – will be restored, properly fixed and fit together in vibrant harmonies.

And the next verse finishes with the challenge. For us anyway. Colossians 1:21 You yourselves are a case study of what he does.

That we can choose to live differently going forward. We can choose to install solar panels and rain water tanks. We can choose to refuse an economy based on money alone.

That Scots becomes a case study. Not of separation. But of relationship. With God. With people. With land.

Posted by steve at 02:41 PM

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