Sermon preached at
I chose this passage for several reasons –
1. to give Ruth as our lesson reader a chance to practice her Hebrew pronunciation
2. it sheds a sidelight on the lectionary theme we were looking at this morning
3. it has something to say to us in a post Sept 11 world,
There are so many ways to approach Biblical passages – at different times we need to ask
1. what really happened historically
2. why did the author of the passage write it down – what did it say to him and his first readers
3. what does the passage say today?
Often you get different answers to each of the questions.
What does this passage say?
It gives the family tree of Adam’s three sons, Cain, Abel and Seth. Lamech, descended from Cain, has two wives Ada and Zillah. Ada is the mother of Jabal the shepherd and Jubal the Musician. Zillah is the mother of Tubal-Cain, the metal worker.
· What happened historically? There is no historical basis for any of this – it is one of those ancient tales similar to the child’s tale of how the camel got his hump - ancient myths to explain the origins of trades and professions. Added to that is a song from Lamech about how he’ll give anyone a bloody nose who even touches him - probably an ancient “I’m the king of the castle” song sung by husbands to their families around the camp fires of Arabia.
· Not very promising stuff, but the writer of Genesis has put it together to make it all much more profound. He has turned it into a tale of continuing fall into sin and the hope of redemption.
Jabal, Jubal and Tubal-Cain are respectively nomadic shepherd, musician and metalworker – symbols of the increasing complexity of what we choose to call civilization.
But they are also the children of the vicious, vengeful Lamech, symbol of the increasing inhumanity and immorality of the human race.
The children of Cain travel further and further from Eden – both in terms of the sophistication and complexity of their life style, but also in terms of their sin
Adam ate an apple. Cain was a murderer – but showed remorse. By the time we get to Lamech, he delights in murder on any slight pretext and brags about taking vengeance 77 times over.
Agriculture, music and metalwork or not inherently bad, but like all things may be used or abused.
That is the message the writer of Genesis offers us – the theme of increasing skill and sophistication but with no matching increase in morality or compassion.
And in 2002 it is not hard to see modern parallels – indeed some are so obvious they hardly need mentioning.
Tubal Cain the Metalworker: Science and technology have never moved forward so fast – we are now many light years from Adam and Eve in Eden - but the story of Lamech continues in our society – as we use our brightest brains and biggest factories to develop military might for weapons. Today Tubal cain is known by the names Sadaam Hussein or George Bush.
Significantly in the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, the words of genesis are inscribed on the wall – “And the Lord said, what have you done? – words first addressed to Cain – now re-addressed to the perpetrators of the holocaust.
Jubal the Musician: Music has had a rather better press over the past few millennia – but just as metal it can be used for good or ill. The Last Night of the Proms is pretty cheery and harmless stuff – but there is a fine line between patriotism and jingoism between flag waving celebrations and wrapping yourself in the flag. And more than one musician has worked to channel emotion into the cause of despotism.
Jabal the Shepherd: Next week is Harvest festival – and perhaps we leave those themes till then – suffice to say that when the shepherd tears out hedges around his fields and builds trade barriers against the poor he can rape of the planet and misuse its resources.
Lamech’s vengeance 77 times over: For that we do not need to leave the land of Cain – Caanan – but to see the continuing violence and retribution of Israel against Palestine.
The twin towers falling will I guess become the icon of our generation. Here (both in the towers themselves and in the action against them) we find symbols at one and the same time of great power and huge sophistication – but also of potentially great evil and abuse of power.
Rowan Williams was in a nearby building on 9.11. He spoke on Thought for the Day on Wednesday – the anniversary day. He spoke of the difference between being there in it and just watching it on the TV. - He spoke of the danger of getting hooked into seeing the video pictures of the event – and yet to remain at a distance – not really taking it in. And he went on to speak of the dangers of signing up to war in Iraq as something we’ll agree with and then follow at a safe distance on the News at Ten. Modern civilization can both enhance our ability to kill and reduce the need for us to face up to the horror at first hand. – it can depersonalises and dehumanises conflict and suffering
So we are all today sons of Cain and Lamech.- civilized, sophisticated, inhuman.
BUT I HAVE NOT MENTIONED THE LAST TWO VERSES OF THE PASSAGE.
These are words of HOPE. Adam has another son, called Seth. Seth’s son is Enosh and Enosh calls on the Lord. The line of Enosh (had we read further) goes on to Noah – through whom a new beginning is made.
The author of Genesis did not see the whole story – but he knew that in Seth and Noah God was saying I will not give up on a sinful people.
We see more. Where in the NT would you find Seth?? Luke 3 traces the family tree of Jesus back to Noah to Enosh, Seth, Adam, and God.
Creation and civilization can be redeemed and recreated!!
So hear the Gospel. Cain was to be avenged 7 times. Lamech promised to avenge 77 times. Jesus said – do not avenge, forgive 77 times over – for the true power of God is in love and forgiveness not vengeance and bloodshed.
Tubal Cain made the sword. Isaiah called for it be
made into ploughshares. In Gethsemane
Christ said put up your swords - my victory is through sacrifice not the sword
of Tubal Cain.
SO lets leave Jabal, Jubal and Tubal Cain, those who gave us Meat, Music and Metal:
week we might reflect on how we use the meat music and metal in our lives -
and try in so doing to plot a course back towards Eden -
If we do so we will find the gates flung open for us 70 times 7 times.