EVERY HUMAN LIFE IS GOD’S HOLY GROUND
Prayer: Heavenly Father, God of all concord, it is Your will that Your children on earth live together in harmony and peace. Help us, by Your Word and Spirit, to search our hearts and root out the evil that would lead to strife and discord, so that we may be at peace with all people. Fill us with zeal for the work of Your Church and the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which alone can bring that peace which is beyond all understanding; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen. (Collect for Peace, LSB p. 314)
Dear fellow redeemed in Christ, who made Himself your Brother: Grace be unto you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Many of us learned the 5th commandment as: “You shall not kill.” The original wording – which Jesus uses in the Sermon on the Mount – is more precise: “You shall not murder.”
This is important, because people have questions about soldiers killing in war, or people killing in self-defense. Does the commandment condemn these as sins? War veterans lose sleep over this. The answer is: No, they aren’t sins, because they fall under what Christians do in their vocation or calling.
A godly vocation helps the neighbor. A soldier is serving his country, he kills in order to protect. A person who kills in self-defense is protecting his family. So in these cases, killing is part of God’s order especially in how people are protected. God is protecting, through what we do in our callings.
But murder is a breakdown of God’s order. God gave the 5th Commandment not only to protect human life, but to preserve order.
There’s something in today’s gospel that speaks against another such breakdown of order – abortion. Abortion is murder of the weakest and most vulnerable – a child in the womb. It’s proponents deny it’s a person. But John the Baptist rejoicing in his mother’s womb shows: what’s conceived in the womb is a living child who has emotions and is a life precious to God.
This is what God teaches in the 5th commandment: that
Every Human Life Is God’s Holy Ground
We learn this from the history of Cain murdering Abel. God mentions ground twice in connection with Abel: Abel’s blood “is crying to Me from the ground,” and: “the ground has opened to receive [his] blood.” The ground where Abel died and was buried would be sacred to Adam and Eve in their grief. But to God, the holy ground is Abel himself.
But it isn’t enough that this life is sacred to God. God wants each life to be sacred to every person. So God keeps using a word, an identity, to drive this home. It appears 6 times in only 5 verses, starting in verse 8: “brother.”
Cain spoke to Abel his brother.
Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him.
“Where is Abel your brother?” – “Am I my brother’s keeper?”
“Your brother’s blood is crying to Me from the ground.”
“The ground has opened to receive your brother’s blood.”
Any question about the 5th commandment begins with the question: “Where is your brother?” That’s what God asks Cain: “Where is Abel your brother?” God was trying to draw out the answer, to confess: “I killed him.” But it goes back farther than the deed. It began with anger. The question for Cain, “Where is Abel your brother,” is for when he was hating Abel. In the midst of his anger, he was to see Abel his brother and quell his anger.
But this even goes farther back than anger. When Cain gave his offering it was his sinful pride already working. We’re besieged with messages of so-called “pride.” But “pride” is no virtue. Pride made the devil what he is. Pride is anti-God, vaunting oneself against God’s will. Sinful pride is essentially competitive; it isn’t content with having something, just having more than the other guy (C.S. Lewis). Every sin against the 5th commandment – hurting, hating, or not helping – has behind it putting yourself first – pride.
When God did not accept Cain’s offering it offended Cain, and the storm of anger started rising in him. This self-righteousness, this superior attitude, looks down on others. It’s the start of not seeing the other person as “your brother.” So God asks you, all the time: “Where is your brother?” You may not hear Him asking it. But He is – asking it if you’re tempted to hold attitudes of prejudice and racism; asking it when you can’t think a good thought about someone. And when you don’t want to be put out, for someone else’s needs.
We must confess that we don’t answer that question much better than Cain. We like to think we’re pretty good people, we’re not like Cain, that you are the good brother, the good sister, the good guy. There’s that self-righteous attitude again. It’s based on your own goodness. Ironically, many people saying to “be kind” turn out to be aggressively vindictive and intolerant. You can agree to obey the Law, to do good, to be kind and compassionate …
until you get provoked and have good reason to be angry.
until you have to show love to someone who’s against you or has hurt you.
until it’s someone who has tried your patience too many times.
This is when the storm of anger is rising inside you, you can’t see straight, and all you can see is how you’ve been hurt or burned, or taken advantage of.
The old Adam inside you asks, “Where’s my compensation? Who’s gonna serve me?” But what God asks is: “Where is your brother?” When you go on ahead and let the storm of anger inside you burst, then the “sin crouching at your door” masters you, you fail to “rule over it,” and sin rules you.
The good news for us all today is: The question, “Where is your brother?” is one that is ultimately, perfectly, answered for you. It’s answered by the One who came down from heaven, who was in the womb of the virgin Mary.
Jesus Christ is the new Abel. The book of Hebrews says that His “blood speaks better things than Abel’s” (He 12:24). “Abel’s blood for vengeance pleaded to the skies; But the blood of Jesus for our pardon cries” (ELH 283:4). So if you see that the eternal Son of God becomes human flesh, you’re seeing that He has become your Brother. He is your Brother. This question, “Where is your Brother?” becomes such a beautiful thing in Christ!
According to Hebrews 2, the first part in being our Brother is that He came; the second part is that He suffered and died as our Substitute: “He had to become like His brothers in every way, so that He could pay for the sins of the people … He shared the same flesh and blood, so that through death He could destroy the one who had the power of death, that is, the devil.” (EHV)
Christ sees wherever your sins against the 5th commandment have done harm, and what does He do? He sees – as He says on Judgment Day – that you have not done “to the least of these My brethren” the good that God demands, and what does He do? Not what we would! Not what we deserve! But it isn’t Judgment Day yet, that’s the good news! He sees it all, why? – So He can provide forgiveness for all of it, while there is time.
He sees what you hide from everyone from your past or present – whether it’s hatred, prejudice, self-hatred, abortion, ugly thoughts about someone, jealousy, or that you hold onto a grudge or want to get even. He sees it all. If God’s question from the Law, “Where is your brother?” does its work in you, so that you’re sorry, and can’t forgive yourself, His cross says: there is forgiveness with Him. He died for that sin. Paid for it fully.
Christ also sees wherever others have sinned against you in this way. What does He do about it? Not what we would! In our way of thinking, the only way for everything to be made right again, is for the ones oppressing us to be pounded into the ground. But Jesus didn’t pound, crush or punish anybody. That might not satisfy us. But He came to satisfy God, and His anger over sin. God is far angrier over the evil being done – including what’s done to you – than even you are. Take comfort in how angry God is at the evil.
God’s solution is different. He didn’t come down in all His power. He sent His Son in in weakness and meekness. He satisfied God’s anger. Jesus paid for all the sins you do and all the sins done to you. He righted all the wrongs.
But also: Jesus not only redeemed you from the condemnation of these sins. He redeemed you from the power of sin, so that it doesn’t rule you.
Do you want to be better at overcoming sinful anger? at dealing with your sinful pride? at being patient with others? at forgiving? You pray to Him to help you. He promises He will. He’ll help you with your anger, your pride, your impatience. He even provides the Lord’s Supper. The Lord’s Supper is God’s tool for anger management: He shows you how He is not angry with you even though He should be, and He even comes into you in His body and blood, to empower and strengthen you to be better at not hurting others and instead helping and befriending.
“Where is your Brother?” He was on the cross and in the cradle. He is with you in His Word. He is with you in Baptism and in His Supper, to take away your sins, to comfort your conscience, to heal all the hurt that’s damaged you, to pour His love into you so you can see the face of Christ in your brother, see everyone as your brother redeemed by Christ, and be a brother or sister to them in the way Christ is to you: “to be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you” (Ep 4:32). Amen!