A sermons series I once preached was called The Marks of Cain. The marks I identified were rage, greed, and domination. I pondered this series over the weekend in light of the attack on the Capitol building on January 6th. I remembered John Hancock’s line in 1776. “Don’t you see any colony opposed to us will be forced to fight on the side of England? We will be putting brother against brother. Our new nation will bear as it’s emblem the mark of Cain.” I don’t think John Hancock really said this. But the writer provokes me to ask if that was not our emblem anyhow.
Avoiding the Mark of Cain
Unlike many of my colleagues I decided not to preach on the events of Wednesday last Sunday. The main reason is I did not trust myself. The thought of raging from the pulpit frightens me. Writing a new sermon in a white heat to deliver when I may not be in that frame of mine is a bad idea.
Would I refer to the attackers as protestors, rioters, idiots, brainwashed, insurgents, terrorists, insurrectionists, or white supremacists? Let me be honest here. On some social media group pages I used phrases like “Storm Trumpers” to refer to the…well…rioters.
How long did Cain hate his brother? As long as he was Abel! I know. It’s a bad pun. But it illustrates how a situation that existed between two other persons (God and Cain) can cause someone else to suffer. Abel’s story is about a person who is attacked for doing the right thing that did not affect Cain. Cain’s response in the situation must be considered.
The Mark of Self-Justified Evil
Cain never repents of his actions. His only regret is that he is being punished for it. Cain argues it is unequal to punish him with exile for murder. The text in Genesis 4 claims the brothers quarreled. Wasn’t Abel guilty for provoking Cain? Was not Cain justified at least a little? Didn’t he make an offering? He could have forgotten all about God. Why does God need a sacrifice? In any case, God could have stopped it.
Is there a point here? God exiles Cain and places a mark on him. Cain will avenge any injury seven-fold. He is the ultimate bad ass. Don’t mess with him. I wonder how that worked out for him. It has not worked out very well for most people who make such claims.
The National Mark
Does anyone remembering ordering “freedom fries?” Does anyone remember feeling dismay that other people bought into the propaganda? Late 2002 and early 2003 the Bush/Cheney administration committed the country to a national disgrace. Iraq, it was argued, is a global threat with weapons of mass destruction. Our NATO allies especially France would not support the nonsense. Instead of listening, some American politicians decided we should no longer eat fried potatoes that are on every American menu. We are now going to eat “freedom fries” instead of “French fries.”
It did not matter to people that French fries were not French. We were taking a stand for what was right! It was a stupid, greedy, desire to dominate others for a natural resource. Rage was produced and demonstrated for all to see. The Bush/Cheney people were reelected. Americans in Iraq were wounded, killed, and families were destroyed. Almost a decade later, even without acknowledging the country did anything wrong, another demagogue was elected pledging, “no more stupid wars.” When can we admit we did wrong?
Often Wrong And Never in Doubt
It gets more complex from here on. What we are doing is not working. It never has. Cain never got away with what he did. And he continued to do it. Genesis claims he built the first fortified city. His greatest fear was that someone would do to him what he did to Abel.
Suppose there could be national acknowledgment of wrong doing and repentance, what would it be? That question is so difficult and frightening to answer that it makes us “double down” out of fear. We respond with some sort of insanity. We question the actions of others when we should reflect on our own. But we fake bravado to cover for fear and failure. We act as though we are never in doubt about our goodness.
Walking Away From The Mark of Cain
The people who attacked the Capitol building are not patriots, true Christians, or righteous. The people who enabled their thinking and actions are similar to all political manipulators in our History. Whether our sin be slavery, genocide, unjustified attacks on neighboring countries, or slaughtering fellow citizens, the roots of it are in the marks of Cain.
We have to walk away from these attitudes. Internal strife will continue if we don’t. And that means holding people accountable for their actions and words. Repentance is never easy. It should not be. Restorative justice is a part of developing a new attitude. The golden rule should be taught and applied everywhere possible. There can be acts of authority without authoritarianism. First we acknowledge we have done wrong. Then we admit doing differently will be difficult. Following that we commit to avoiding the easy way out of problems.