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“God liked Abel and his offering, but Cain and his offering didn’t get his approval. God spoke to Cain: ‘Why this tantrum? Why this sulking?'”  Genesis 4:5,6

“Their plan was to turn west into Asia province but the Holy Spirit blocked their route. So they went to Mysia and tried to Bithynia but the Spirit of Jesus wouldn’t let them go there. ….we walked from there to Philippi…..was to be a prayer meeting…we talked with them….As she listened…she believed!”  Acts 16: 6, 8, 12-14

The above two experiences are centuries apart.  One happened reasonably shortly after creation, the other reasonably shortly after the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  The first involved Cain, one of Adam’s sons and the other, the apostle Paul.  Yet in both cases, the Will of God, thwarted the plans of men, without a significant amount of explanation.  The reactions of the two men were exceedingly different, impacting not only their lives but the lives of those around them.

Let’s start with Cain.  Besides being one of Adam’s sons, we know precious little about Cain at this point in scripture.  The bible tells us that Cain was the older of the two sons.  As one would expect for that time, both made their livings so to speak, “off the land”.  Seemingly, both also intended to honor God; for both decided to bring their offerings before God.  Abel brought produce from his farm and scripture also tells us that Cain brought an offering from his first born animal, choice cuts of meat.  God liked Abel’s offering but did not approve of Cain’s offering.

I want to pause for a moment here, because here’s where I think we, like Cain can stumble.  Scripture does not tell us why God did not approve of Cain’s offering.  We are generations before Moses received very detailed instructions on the mountain concerning proper sacrifices.  I’ve heard many reasons put forth as to why Cain missed the mark.  Seemingly, without that understanding, we seem to feel that Cain was unfairly treated and had every right to get mad.  However, dear Sisters and Brothers, we’re talking about God, the Creator of all things, having perfect Knowledge and a perfect Plan. Is it really His responsibility to, are we His creation, owed an explanation from Him?

Here’s a vital point that I think gets glossed over, too often left out and rarely stressed enough.  The story seems to go, after the disapproval, Cain goes out, gets in a fight with his brother and then kills him; only to have his sin uncovered subsequently by God after that famous utterance by Cain “am I my brother’s keeper?”.  We get the sense that Cain was left all alone in his despair, which then boiled over in his lashing out at the injustice and smiting his brother.  But please, please, please do not overlook the intervening action from God between the offering’s disapproval and the committing of murder.  God saw that Cain was troubled.  Instead of turning His back on Cain, or banishing him right there and then; God came to Cain to try and help him.  God let Cain know that this offering was not a one and you’re done failure.  God advised Cain that he could improve and if he set his sights on improving, on doing well, then Cain would be accepted just like his brother had been.  God also warned Cain that his anger was dangerous in that it could lead to sin, which of course it tragically ended up doing.

Then there is the Apostle Paul.  One gets the sense in reading many of the letters that Paul wrote as well as his actions, detailed in the Book of Acts, that Paul was a determined individual; that in today’s vernacular we’d say he had a “strong personality”.  When Paul felt strongly about something, he did not mince words about saying exactly how he felt.  Similarly, Paul was not afraid to confront those he disagreed with including the likes of Peter, the one who Christ named the rock. Both in the letters and in Acts we learn that there were places that Paul definitely wanted to travel to; Asia for one and desperately in fact, Rome for another.  Paul mentions that he has plans and those plans, several times, get thwarted.  Paul also leaves no doubt as to who he blames for his plans not happening; the Spirit; whether that be the Holy Spirit, or Spirit of Christ, it is a divine Spirit that prevents him. There are times in Paul’s letters where it is easy to read a sense of frustration, exasperation or even desperation at being stopped at that particular time.

Here’s the thing dear Sisters and Brothers; Paul could have become angry, he could have sulked, he could have stopped and said:  “That’s it, no Rome, no more preaching from me!”.  But Paul didn’t do that.  Instead, Paul accepted, however reluctantly so, the blocking from God and moved to where he was led.  In one case, Paul received a message from God in a dream about where to go, although again, it was not where Paul had said he wanted to go; but he went.  And because Paul went, so many knew faith communities were started, Paul received so many blessings traveling the path, God chose for him to travel.

What does that mean for us today? Think of what the world is telling us today; the worldly mantra:  I can be anything, do anything I want as long as I want it bad enough and will work tirelessly to get it.  Look at how many “I”s are in that statement. Maybe there’s some passing nod at God because some would suggest that God is the one that puts the specific “anything” in my heart so I’m okay in my single minded pursuit. Yet make no mistake, our Heavenly Father is the Creator, He has a plan, a perfect plan. My “anything” no matter how much I want it, strive for it, live for it; does not trump His plan.  So let’s say that my “anything”, that I’m striving for is aligned with His plan; is my timing aligned with His timing; is my “anything” for His glory, am I willing to implement my “anything” based on His plan?

Finally, what is my reaction going to be to God implementing His Will in my life?  If, at the moment it is different than what I had planned; so I get angry, go off sulking and do something sinful in response; the results will be disastrous both for me and those around me.  If, on the other hand, through humble, faithful prayer and study, I submit myself to God’s perfect plan, that I may have no idea where it’s leading; then I may reap untold blessings and yes even bounty that I never conceived would come my way.  Let us ask for help through the Holy Spirit, in the name of Jesus Christ to have the appropriate response.

Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father, we freely accept and declare that You are the Creator of all things, including us and have a perfect plan for all things.  We are so grateful that in Your Mercy and Grace, You have seen fit to provide us with tools, such as Your Word and prayer to allow us to align our will to Your Will.  Forgive us Most Merciful Father when we stubbornly attempt to impose our will or reject the imposition of Your Will into our life or plan.  Through the Holy Spirit, teach us to be humbly obedient to the path You have chosen for us, knowing that it will be filled with Your love and blessings. That in living a life aligned to Your Plan for us, it will be a life of praise and glory to Your Most Holy Name.  We pray in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

“So the Lord said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen?'”   Genesis 4:6

“When Haman saw that Mordecai did not bow or pay him homage, Haman was filled with wrath.”  Esther 3:5

“But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.”  Matthew 5:39

We must start out with a very basic truth.  He, in the Persons of Our Heavenly Father, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit are perfect.  We, none of us, is perfect.  Thus it is our imperfections that will often lead us into times of being reproved as well as conflict.  It is how we respond to those times that will make all the difference.

I confess, to my human, earthly understanding, the story of Cain has its difficulties.  If you remember from Genesis, Cain and his brother Abel bring their offerings to God.  Scripture tells us that Cain, the first born, was a tiller of the soil, while his brother Abel, watched over the flocks.  Cain brings an offering of fruit.  Abel brings an offering of a lamb.  Depending on the translation of scripture, here’s what is said about God’s response to Cain’s offering, it was:  not respected, not accepted, not looked on with favor, etc.  This action from God makes Cain angry.  What was Cain’s ultimate response to God’s action; to kill his brother Abel!  Here’s the thing to remember; God is perfect.  We are not told why God did not respect or accept Cain’s offering.  We do know that God, in that moment was not rejecting Cain, himself.  How do we know that?  God sees Cain’s anger and asks him why he is angry?  Why has his demeanor and behavior become downcast and forlorn?  God still cared about Cain.  God still loved Cain.

There is also the human side of disrespect or rejection.  In the times of the Jewish exile to Babylon, and even greater empire came and conquered Babylon.  The ruler of the Persian empire at this time is a King named Ahasuerus.  This king promotes one of the princes named Haman to be above all other princes.  There is also a lessor man, a servant in the king’s house, who had saved the king from a plot against him.  That man was a Jew named Mordecai.  As one might expect, Haman’s promotion brought him a certain amount of respect from the other princes and people around the king.  They would bow and pay homage to Haman when he passed by.  However, Mordecai did neither of those things toward Haman.  Scripture does not give us an indication that Mordecai went out of his way to show disrespect toward Haman.  In fact Haman did not notice Mordecai’s behavior himself.  No, it only comes to Haman’s attention when he is told by someone else.  But, once it comes to Haman’s attention, he is enraged.  Yet Haman doesn’t just plan to take revenge against Mordecai or maybe Mordecai’s family at this perceived offense.  Haman decides he is going to wipe out the entire Jewish population from the entire kingdom of Persia because of what one man, Mordecai has done!

Herein lies the lesson of these two incidents.  One is a rebuke from the perfect God Almighty.  The other is a perceived insult where none was intended.  Yet it is the response to these situations that leads to such significant tragedy for the figures involved.  For Cain’s response was not to humble himself and inquire of God as to the inadequacy of the offering given.  Cain decided to become angry.  Cain seem to realize he had no recourse against God Almighty so he decided, in his anger to murder his brother instead.  This murder leads to Cain being banished from his family, forced into exile.  For Haman the consequences of his response are even worse.  Haman, in his evil anger plots to destroy all the Jews, not knowing that the king’s favorite queen, Queen Esther is a Jew.  When Haman’s evil plot is uncovered, the king has him hanged on the very gallows that he had planned to have Mordecai hanged on.

Thus we see that it is in our response to situations where we find ourselves reproved by Our Heavenly Father or perhaps rejected by those of this world that makes all the difference.  So what is the appropriate response?  For the answer, we must turn to Jesus Christ.  In scripture, Jesus teaches us that Our Heavenly Father will at times prune us so that we may bear even more fruit.  We will be tempted.  There are times when we will fall short and sin.  There will be consequences for those sins.  We can either become angry and bitter.  We can lash out at those whom did not give in to temptation.  We can lash out at God Almighty.  Or, and this is the correct thing to do, we can humble ourselves and ask for forgiveness as well as guidance on what to do.  Knowing that God reproves and prunes those He dearly loves.  If we feel we’ve been slighted, rejected or disrespected by someone of this world, whether deservedly or not; Jesus teaches us that we are to turn the other cheek.  We are not to retaliate against them, but are to forgive them, knowing that we, ourselves receive much greater forgiveness from Our Heavenly Father.

Dear Sisters and Brothers we live in an age where seemingly no slight should go unchallenged, no insult should go unpunished, no disrespect go unavenged.  It is a world where breaking into line in front of another person can lead to a person taking another’s life.  Those angry responses lead to hate, division and tragedy.  God would not have it so.  Jesus Christ reminds us that even when He was bearing the biggest insult and disrespect of all; hanging on a cross, dying for our sins, He forgave us.  He loved us.  Let our response to these situations mirror Jesus Christ’s response allowing us to live lives of praise and peace to and in the Name of Our Heavenly Father.

Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father, we live in a world where slipping into conflict is as easy as taking a breath.  We confess that we, ourselves often choose to become angry and retaliate instead of being like Jesus Christ and becoming humble and forgiving.  Pour Out Your Spirit upon us that we may have the strength to overcome our anger with peace and overcome our hatred with love.  We pray this in the Name of Jesus Christ.  Amen

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