“Am I My Brother’s Keeper?”

SERMON BY THE REVEREND AMOS MCCARTHY

7th SUNDAY AFTER THE EPIPHANY

FEBRUARY 24, 2019

Title: “Am I My Brother’s Keeper?

Text: “ Then the Lord said to Cain, ‘Where is Abel your brother?’ He said, ‘I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?’” (Genesis 4:9).

Scripture Reading: Genesis 4:1-9.

The first recorded question from a person to God is, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

What is our responsibility to our fellow human beings? Someone has jokingly said, “Each person has 67 million fourteenth cousins.”

One of the great teachings of the Bible is the responsibility of each human being for others.  Each of us is a brother or sister. God spoke about or regarding our mutual responsibility for each other at the dawn of human history.  In the genesis narratives, an important narrative to live more connected and meaningful lives, God made clear his displeasure with Cain. Cain did not fulfill his responsibility to care for his brother, to love his brother.  “…What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground.  Now you are under curse and driven from the ground which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand” (Genesis 4: 10-11).  The Lord indicated that Cain did indeed have a responsibility toward his brother.  The poet John Donne said it well:

No man is an island; No man is an island; no man lives alone.

No man lives to himself and no man dies to himself.

The Genesis Narratives are most important constructs of first mention: The original Sin, the first Murder. The destruction of our relationship with God, then the destruction of the brotherhood of man. In the same way we understand sin, throughout the rest of the Bible, because of the Gen 3 narrative, in the same way the Cain & Abel narrative provide us with vital clues to what is at the root of the destruction of all relationships between human beings.  It is important for us to raise the interrogative: Am I my wife’s keeper? Yes. Am Ii my husband’s keeper? Yes. Am I my child’s keeper? Yes. Am I my parent’s keeper? Yes. Am I my neighbor’s keeper? And ofcourse the answer is yes. Do we have a responsibility to watch out for each other? When we turn to the New Testament, we find out the answer to this question is in the affirmative.

As commanded by Jesus, we are to love each other (John 13:34-35; 15:12).  Paul taught about love. Paul wrote, “let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt  to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.” Paul called to the attention of the Romans all the other commandments.  He made it clear that all the other commandments are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Paul accentuated that “Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfilment of the law” (Romans 13:10).

Daniel Webster, asked what was the greatest thought that had passed through that wonderful brain, answered “My accountability to God.” Life is a great journey, with wonderful goals which flash through cloud and fog and mist their glorious invitations. But we must travel carefully and live as accountable to God. Not in the sense in which William Henley meant his well-known lines from “Invictus,” but in the high and solemn and scriptural sense,

I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.

How are we to love one another? We are to receive one another (Romans 15:7).  We are to edify one another (Romans 14:19); We are to serve one another (Galatians 5:13); We are to bear one another’s burden (Galatians 6:1-2).

A consecrated Sunday school teacher came to her pastor. She taught a class of young college boys. Twenty-four of them were unsaved. She sat speechless and sobbing before the pastor. “What is the matter?” asked the pastor. She exclaimed, “My boys, twenty-four of them, are standing on my heart like the weight of a lost world. I did not sleep any last night. I cannot eat. I must have them or I cannot live!” Prayer followed, prayer immersed in tears. In less than two weeks, every one of those twenty-four boys gave glowing, personal testimonies about the saving power of the Lord Jesus!  This story from L. R. Scarborough helps us understand how important it is to carry each other’s burden.

We are to forgive one another (Ephesians 4:32); We are to exhort one another (Hebrews 3:12-13); We are to be hospitable to one another (1 Peter 4:8).

The Ten Commandment reveal that we are responsible to God for each other.  We are responsible to God. We are responsible to our fellowmen: our parents, our family and to our neighbors.  Though it was given to Moses at the time as a code of laws to guide the children of Israel, it is applicable to us in this day and time.  We do not have to read it in special places or at special time, we can practice the Ten Commandment. The Ten Commandment is a guide to our responsibility to watch out for each other.  It helps us serve as watchmen in pointing people to salvation.

A businessman well known for his ruthlessness once announced to writer Mark Twain, “Before I die I mean to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. I will climb Mount Sinai and read the 10 Commandments aloud at the top.” “I have a better idea,” replied Twain. “You could stay in Boston and keep them.” We don’t have to take adventures, but we can watch over those in our communities, churches, and homes.

In the book of Ezekiel, God emphasized the importance of personal responsibility through the prophet Ezekiel.  The prophet was instructed to accept his responsibility for conveying a message to the hearts of the people even though they would not listen and even though they had stubborn rebellious hearts that rejected God’s will for them (Ezekiel 3:6-9;33:1-11).

In Ezekiel 33:1-9, we see God speaking to Ezekiel about his role to his people. Ezekiel was a priest during the time when the Jewish people were removed by God from their homeland because of their sinfulness and idolatry, and were taken captive into the land of the Babylonians. God had called him to a prophetic ministry in Babylon, and to the captive people of Judah during the dark time of their exile from their homeland. And God uses the figure of a “watchman” to describe Ezekiel’s role.

It was the task of the watchman to position himself high on the city wall or on a tower, watch carefully, see if an enemy approached the land, and take up his trumpet and blow the warning to his people. His service to his people was a matter of life-and-death. Important! If he should fail to see the enemy approaching, or if he should–for whatever reason–fail to blow the warning signal, some of his people would perish. But if he was faithful, and if he succeeded in warning them, the lives of many of his people would be spared. The armies of his people would be able to prepare themselves in time, meet the enemy with a sufficient defensive attack, and perhaps save the city or the nation from destruction and loss.

Obviously, the watchman had to be a trustworthy man. He had to be faithful and alert to his task–a man who understood the significance of his purpose, and who gave himself fully to it. It may have been an unwelcome message he had to give at times; but he had to be utterly committed to give it when it was needed–no matter what the cost.

And here, God calls Ezekiel to a most sobering and serious task–a task for which Ezekiel will be held responsible by God to the highest possible degree. He was appointed by God to be a spiritual “watchman” to his people. He was called to “blow” a warning that the people didn’t want to hear.  Ezekiel heard and honor God’s call.

We are to remember that, in mercy, God has placed us as a watchman in the midst of people in whose death He takes no pleasure–but whom He calls to repent while there is still time. We’re to remember that He has entrusted us with the message by which they may be saved—the gospel of Christ. We’re to remember that there is not salvation in anyone else, “for there is no other name under heaven, given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12)–that it is in Him and Him alone that “we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace . . . ” (Eph. 1:7).

And knowing these truths from the Scriptures–and being convinced of what they say–we need to open our mouths and cry out the alarm—telling the people around us about Jesus; and urging them to flee from the wrath to come by fleeing to Him. It may not be that we are to stand on a street-corner, or shout from a soap-box through a megaphone. It may not be that we are to cry out all the time or in every situation. But the call to be His watchmen is to be the constant basis of our how we look at people and our relationship with them. And when He opens the door and gives us the opportunity, we are to say, “as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God. For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:20-12).

Dear brother or sister, God has appointed that His saving gospel be proclaimed through no one else but through those of us who have been saved by it! Are you seeing the needs of the people around you? Are you sounding the call? Are you pointing the people that God has placed in your sphere to Christ?

Are we responsible for others? Yes, to the degree that we have the opportunity to minister to them and communicate to them the message that God has entrusted to us for them.  “Am I my brother’s keeper?” The answer of God is obvious. God bless you!