Rev. George Miller
July 5, 2015
Brothers in arms: soldiers fighting together; a comrade in a shared struggle.
This week the Tribune ran a story about a reunion between Marines who survived an explosion in Afghanistan.
It was July 6, 2011 and Mike Nicholson and Mike Hernandez stood in a field together. Nicholson stepped on a bomb; without hesitation Hernandez entered a cloud of dust and pulled his brotha from another motha out and into safety.
A less brave and honorable man would have allowed his brother in arms to bleed out and die on the field, but that was not the case.
On July 1, 2015 they reunited in Tampa. Nicholson healed, though missing his left arm and both legs. Hernandez, standing in the lobby of the airport.
The same day the Tribune ran another story about another kind of comrade in a time of struggle: Nicholas Winton.
Winton, who died at age 106, was responsible for saving Jewish children from the sinful hate and violence of the Nazis.
He was just 29 at the time, a clerk at the London Stock Exchange. Valuing life and believing it was better to do something than to waste time agonizing over it, he took it upon himself to convince his country to care for the children.
In total, over 650 Jewish sisters, brothers, siblings were spared from spilling their blood due to the horrors of the Holocaust.
It is good to celebrate the good that folk do in the face of evil and life-threatening situations.
Sadly, we know all too well from the events of last month that evil, hate, sin, and violence still exist and are not quick to go away.
We can stay silent, but what’s the cost when the blood spilt by a brother is crying out from the ground?
On June 17th we experienced a perverse antithesis of brothers in arms, when Dylan Roof entered the holy space and the holy time of Emanuel AME Church and opened fire, killing many of those present; people who no-doubt welcomed him as a brother, unaware of the danger that lay lurking within his troubled soul.
For weeks now we have been hearing about and discussing the horrid event, and the complexity of issues swirling around it.
But in order to move forward and for our nation to heal, we have to be honest that the Emanuel murders were an act of hate, an act of violence, an act of jealous dislike that pounced like a lion lying in wait at the door.
It’s a tiresome truth that the more things change the more they stay the same.
It’s Cain and Abel all over again.
This archetypal story is about brother on brother hatred and crime; the first time the word “sin” is actually mentioned in the Bible.
It’s a story in which each and every sentence carries the weight of the world.
Cain and Abel are the world’s first siblings; brothas from the same motha.
Cain favors the life of a farmer, working the land which produces much fruit and vegetables.
Abel admires the life of a cowboy, raising livestock full of tasty fat.
Who knows why God preferred Abel’s offering over Cain’s on that fateful day.
Sometimes you just don’t want a salad; maybe God’s nose enjoyed the smell of BBQ.
But oh, does that upset Cain-so much that he can kill. The irony cannot be lost-the one who would appear to be the hippie vegetarian is so hate-filled he thinks the only answer is to spill his brother’s blood.
Note how God is all-too-aware of what’s going on in Cain’s mind. Note how God, fully aware of what Cain is capable of, still has compassion.
God tries the best God can to curtail the events. “Cain- why so mad; why do you look so upset?”
“Hate is hunting you like a hungry hog, but if you just let it go, you’ll have won, and tomorrow I’ll gladly eat some of your corn on the cob, fried green tomatoes and turnip greens.”
“But Cain, dear Cain, do not let sin suck you in and cause you to do something you can never take back.”
Sadly, Cain invites his brother out to his own self-created battlefield and detonates his own IED, senselessly killing Abel.
In this archetypal story, Eve is not only the first woman to experience the joy of motherhood, but she is also the first to experience the pain.
This archetypal story makes clear that more often than not the most dangerous people in our lives are sadly the ones we know and the ones from our own family.
It also makes clear, that when we inflict our own hate, our jealousy, our insecurities upon another, all of creation suffers, as Abel’s blood cries out from the ground.
But so as not to totally depress us and to destroy our sense of hope for the world, there is also a sliver of grace.
Yes, Cain is expelled from his home. Yes, he will now have to toil as a consequence for giving into the sin.
But God does not completely abandon Cain.
God places a mark upon Cain. A mark that says “He is mine, and I AM his.”
A mark that says “Although you can never undo what you have done, although you chose not to be your brother’s keeper, I WILL keep you.”
Grace. Grace. Grace. Even when Cain refused to bestow it upon his own.
This is akin to Jesus saying “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”
You know what’s another sign of God’s amazing grace- that it is through Cain, this perverter of brothers-in-arms, that God starts the restoration of God’s relationship with humankind.
Cain-the jealous; Cain- the subservient of sin; Cain- the murderer, who gets another chance by God to live, to get things right, to build a city, and to carry on the human story.
God could have stopped it all right there on the battlefield that day. God could have forced Cain to face his own IED, his own Holocaust, but God did not.
Because of God’s grace, Cain got to live another day; and so do we.
Like Cain we have our own relations to contend with. We have our own relations to choose if we will coexist with or to combat.
For example, we have our UCC brothers. How are we relating with them; what are we doing right? What can we be doing better?
What about our Christian sisters in Sebring? How are we doing in terms of ecumenical activity?
Have we been working together and sharing our resources, or have we been saying “You take care of the vegetables, you take care of the fruit, you take care of the meat, but let’s leave each other alone.”
What about our siblings from out-of-state and those who are born right here or who’ve made Highlands County their permanent home?
Because truth be told, sometimes there seems to be too much of a distinction and action as if one is better than the other; that one sibling may be smarter than the other; or more American than the other; and so on.
What about our kin of color? Those who are black, Hispanic, Haitian, Asian? Those whose ancestors were here thousands of years ago and those who recently arrived.
Are we aware that there are communities beyond Hammock Road and 27, and that our kin of color are more than just people whose only role on earth is to care for us in the hospital, pick oranges for our juice or to serve us at the supermarket?
Are we aware that although the issues at hand are complex, we have siblings for whom:
the Confederate flag hurts;
that the murders at Emmanuel mean more than talking heads on TV stations;
that each arrest, killing and incarceration of a son, a sista, a brotha, or a daughter feels like a cut to the skin;
that the ability to marry the one in whom one loves means more than what one’s sex is???
…Thousands of years ago Cain allowed sin to creep into his life and he killed his brother.
Thousands of years later it continues to happen again and again and again and again.
God was speaking to Cain than; God is still speaking to us now.
What do you think God is trying to say?
What is it you think God wants us to do?
When does the blood of our brother, our sister, our sibling, our kin stop spilling on the field?
When do the mothers, the fathers, the earth stop crying out?
How much more do we have to lose?
When do we stop agonizing over it and do something, anything about it?
Amen and amen.