Genesis 4:1-8 (22st Sunday after Pentecost—Series C)
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT
October 24, 2010
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text is the Old Testament lesson, from Genesis 4:
Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, “I have gotten a man with the help of the LORD.” And again, she bore his brother Abel. Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, and Cain a worker of the ground. In the course of time Cain brought to the LORD an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. And the LORD had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell. The LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.” Cain spoke to Abel his brother. And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him.
There are some people in the church that, when they hear the word stewardship, cringe. Maybe you are one of those people. “Oh, no! The pastor said stewardship. That means we’re in for an ‘I need to give more money to the church’ sermon.” 1 + 1 = 2, but stewardship does not equal money. “Christian stewardship is the free and joyous activity of the child of God and God’s family, the church, in managing all of life and life’s resources for God’s purposes.” Stewardship is an inside and an outside the church thing. It is how we live the Christian life and manage God’s things that He gives for our use, which include not only money, but our time and our abilities. You know them better as the three T’s—time, talent, and treasure. What we learn from our Old Testament lesson this morning is the right, God-pleasing attitude we should have regarding our giving in those three areas.
Both Cain and Abel were practicing stewardship. Abel was a shepherd of a flock of sheep and goats. Cain was a tiller of the ground, a farmer. They were both managing life and life’s resources for God’s purposes. They were caring for His creation through meaningful labor. As good stewards of God’s gifts, Cain and Abel were thankful for what they had been given and both decided to return a portion of what God had given them in the form of a thanksgiving offering. Genesis tells us that “Cain brought the fruit of the ground as an offering for Yahweh. And Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flocks and of their fat portions.”
Right away we notice something different in the giving thanks. Cain offers to God the fruit of the ground. There is nothing to indicate that it was leftovers, but neither was it the firstfruits, the pick of the crop, or the choicest fruits and vegetables. Abel, on the other hand, returns to God the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. Abel gives off the top, before he takes any for himself. Abel gives the fat portions, the pick of the flock, the choicest meat of the sheep and the goats.
It’s not the offering, but the attitude of the giver that comes into play. “The Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering He had no regard.” God paid attention to Abel’s offering. God favored it. But the Lord did not pay attention to Cain’s offering. Why? Because of the attitude of the giver. Abel’s offering was not inherently superior to Cain’s offering. Yes, it was the first pick, it was the best portions, but surely God would have accepted the thanksgiving of Abel had it been lesser quality, even as He would have paid attention to Cain’s offering, even though it was not the firstfruits. It’s the attitude of the heart that is important to the Lord. In Hosea 6:6 God says, “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” It’s not so much what is given, but the attitude with which it’s given.
The early church father Ephrem the Syrian, writing between A.D. 363 and 373, said, “Abel was very discerning in his choice of offerings, whereas Cain showed no discernment. Abel selected and offered the choicest of his firstborn and of his fat ones, while Cain either offered young grains or certain fruits that are found at the same time as the young grains. Even if his offering had been smaller than that of his brother, it would have been as acceptable as the offering of his brother, had he not brought it with such carelessness. They made their offerings alternately; one offer a lamb of his flock, the other the fruits of the earth. But because Cain had taken such little regard for the first offering that he offered, God refused to accept that in order to teach Cain how he was to make an offering.”
What does the Lord God teach us in His Word about how to make an offering of time, talent, and treasure to Him? What does God’s Word teach us about our Christian stewardship as it regards giving?
We first turn to Hebrews 11. “By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts.” (v. 4a) Abel gave on the basis of true faith which was then put into action. Abel’s faith in the Lord, through the working of the Holy Spirit, prompted Abel to give proportionately and generously of what the Lord had first given him. Cain’s offering lacked faith. He did not approach giving from the perspective of faith. Martin Luther wrote, “The sacrifice of Abel was better because he believed. But because Cain was an ungodly man and a hypocrite, he performed a work that was moral, or rather one that was reasonable, by which he sought to please God. Therefore the work of Cain was hypocritical and faithless; in it there was no faith in grace but only a presumption about his own righteousness.”
It is only by faith in the grace of God that comes to us through our Lord Jesus Christ that we can give of our time, talents, and treasures with the right attitude. Giving money in the offering plate, serving on a committee, mowing the church lawn, raking leaves or any such giving does not merit you one single thing before God, just as it did not merit Cain any standing. Our standing before God is by grace, through faith, for the sake of Jesus Christ who died to win our forgiveness and our right standing before God. It was the offering of Jesus’ life on the cross in our place that won our forgiveness and then makes us able to return thanks to God for this new life of faith and eternal life which is our gift from the Lord Jesus Christ. Because we are saved by grace through faith in Jesus we are able, with hearts of faith and attitudes of true thankfulness, to render to the Lord the gifts of time, talent, and treasure. Christian stewardship and Christians giving is a response to the Lord’s work of salvation. We are saved from sin and death through the blood of Jesus, therefore, we are able to give thanks with the offering of ourselves.
So what does our Christian response of giving with faith look like in action? We turn to 2 Corinthians 9 for that answer. St. Paul writes the Word of God by the power of the Holy Spirit, “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” It is faith in the heart that prompts us to give time, talent, and money to the Lord. Because we are so grateful for what the Lord has done for us by giving us forgiveness and salvation in Jesus, we want to give generously. Because we are so thankful for all the blessing of this world that God has given us, we want to give cheerfully back to Him what is His.
Faith decides in our heart what percentage of our time, our abilities, and our money we will offer to the Lord in service to Him as Christian stewards. Let’s take our stewardship campaign as an example to illustrate how this works for not just our treasures, but our time and talents too. We are asked each year to prayerfully consider our monetary giving to the Lord. Remember, this giving is a faith thing. We are considering what we shall “render to the Lord for all His benefits to me.” We can certainly take the tithe as a good goal. A tithe is 10%. In the Old Testament, the tithe was a requirement. Christ fulfilled all the requirements of the Law for us so that we can now cheerfully, not reluctantly or under compulsion, give any percentage our faith challenges us to give. 2%, 7%, 10%, 17%–it’s not the percentage. It’s the desire of faith in the heart to truly thank God and return to Him of what He has given to us. So let’s say on the basis of faith, I determine that my cheerful giving goal is 10% of my time, talent, and treasure to the Lord. Is that such a burden? Not through the eyes of faith which says, “Look, God has given you everything. He tells you to keep 90% and asks only for 10%.” “Look, God has given you everything. He tells you to keep 95% of it, and only asks that you joyfully return to Him 5%.” Look, God has given you everything and tells you to keep the vast percentage of it! Will your heart of faith in Christ allow you to keep 90 and only give 10? Will it not want to give beyond 10? The heart of faith sets no limits on the percentage that we are able to give with great joy and truly thankful hearts.
We also want to remember that God promises that He is “able to make all grace about to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.” (2 Cor. 9:8) The more you give in faith of your time, talents, and treasures to the Lord the more He is able to bless you with. And the more He blesses you with, the more you are able to give in faith. And so it goes, on and on.
Through faith in Jesus Christ, we have been given God’s attitude toward Christian stewardship and giving. We learn today from Abel what that attitude looks like, the joyful and free giving of the good things God has given us to take care of in His name. In faith, we offer the money we have to the Lord with generous and thankful hearts. In faith, we offer the gift of time to the Lord in service to Him and to others who are in need of our help and love. In faith, we offer back to the Lord the talents and abilities He has given us so that many in our church and in our community may know and see the love of Christ active through what we do and how we do it. As you consider your pledges this year to the Lord, think on these things. Be joyful, generous, faith-filled givers, and let the Lord continue to be faithful in caring for you, supplying all your needs, through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.