Where? (Being With #2)

. 6 min read

Jan 2020, Christ Mountain Top
the Scripture, Psalm 25.11-22 (inserted)
Genesis 3.1-13 (Adam and Eve, “Where are you?”)
Genesis 4.1-12 (Cain and Abel, “Where is your brother?”)
Moment, Human Relations Sunday
Where’s God? (the two bad boys)
began this message series last week focused on the question of John to Jesus at
his baptism: “Do you come to me?” The answer in the story was a decisive Yes.
Jesus comes to John, Jesus submits himself to baptism, Jesus unites himself
with outsider sinners in need of grace, Jesus determines to be with us. Jesus has “friends in low places” and that means you and me.
in our second “Being With” message, we also encounter questions. Two questions,
both asked by the LORD. The first is asked of the man and the woman in the
garden: “Where are you?” The second is asked of Cain: “Where is your brother?”
Samuel Wells’ book The Nazareth Manifesto is subtitled Being With God.
His focus throughout the text is on this preposition “with,” on the centrality
of reconciliation to the gospel and discipleship and the biblical story. He
lifts up these two questions to Adam and Eve and to Cain as questions that name
the conflict that exists, between us and God and between us and others. All
reconciliation takes place in conflict. So conflict is not just a moment for “exasperation”
and “impatience” because, on the one hand, those in conflict with me are so ridiculous,
so perverse, so under-developed (compared with me), and, on the other hand, the
conflict itself is a waste of precious time and resources. No, indeed, conflict
is not a moment for exasperation and impatience. It is instead an opportunity
for true reconciliation, not the papering over of difference, it is the
opportunity to generate something good out of struggle, an opportunity we lose
when we short-circuit the process (56-58). Instead of backing off from
conflict, or using a nuclear option to destroy everything, the gospel calls us
to engage conflict creatively because reconciliation is the center of the
gospel. Every conflict is an opportunity for gospel work. So, as exasperated
and impatient as we become with this protracted conflict in The United
Methodist Church, let us pray that we receive the holy gift available in
       But we
don’t all live in the world of that particular conflict the way I do. So, let’s
take a moment to get a couple personal conflicts clear in our own lives. Do you
have a conflict with God? A long-running argument? A disappointment over
unanswered prayer? A bitterness over personal pain? A sin you refuse to
forsake? God comes to you and asks, “Where are you?”
       Do you
have a conflict with someone else? A boss whose cutting remarks seem to be just
the way they do business? A spouse or partner whose stress gets in the way of important
conversation? A child who is convinced that you are totally ignorant? A
neighbor who complains constantly about your leaves in their yard? That
estranged family member who no longer communicates with you? God comes to you
and asks, “Where is your brother?”

Instead of being on a walk with God, we’re hiding
in the thicket, afraid because we are naked, unable to be transparent, unable
to deal with what we’ve done, unable to process our shame. “Where are you?” God’s
here for our daily walk, but we’re AWOL, headed out on our own.
       We were
more interested in taking God’s power for our own, deceived by the serpent’s
lie that we could “be like gods,” that we could have the knowledge of evil and
not be damaged by it. As we give in to our corrupt desire, we neglect the fact
that sin corrupts everything it touches. It only takes a second question from
God and the man starts blaming both God and the woman, and she in turns blames
the serpent. And a relationship that began with such promise and perfection –
“the man and the woman were both naked and not ashamed” – has devolved into
blame and shame.
       In the
midst of that mess, God shows up and asks, “Where are you?” It is one more expression
of grace. Yes, indeed, God’s love is proven to us by sending the Son while we
were yet sinners. “Do you come to me?” Yes, indeed. Jesus has friends in low
places. In the words of Psalm 25, “The LORD confides in those who fear him.”
Or, in the language of another translation, “The friendship of the LORD is for
those who fear him.” Friends in low places, indeed.
Instead of hanging out with our brother, we’ve
buried our past, done our best to wash the blood off our hands. Ray Stedman
writes, “
Cain’s insolent and arrogant response to God’s question is a
sign of his inward, unacknowledged guilt.” “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Stedman
goes on to remark, “The hypocrisy of that is most evident. Though Cain could
disclaim responsibility for knowing where his brother was, he did not hesitate
to assume the greater responsibility of taking his brother’s life.”
       “Where is your brother?” God is giving
Cain the opportunity to “come clean,” to get right. Even now, there is grace.
But Cain refuses it: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Eugene Peterson’s translation The
records Cain’s response as, “How should I know? Am I his
babysitter?” Of course, the answer is “Yes, you are called to be your brother’s
keeper.” Martin Luther King Jr. points out that “we are inextricably connected
to each other… caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied together
into a single garment” (from F. Willis Johnson).
       “Where is your brother?” “Am I my
brother’s keeper?” The root here for “keeper” here shows up earlier in the
Genesis story when God places the man in the garden with the simple job
description, to “keep” it, that is to guard and tend to what God has made. “And
Yahweh God took the man and set him in the garden of Eden to cultivate it and
to keep it[1].”
Yet Cain, instead of treasuring, guarding, keeping what God has created, has
destroyed another human made in God’s image.
       In the
midst of this mess, God shows up and asks, “Where is your brother?” It is one
more expression of grace. Yes, indeed, God’s love is proven to us by sending
the Son while we were yet sinners. “Do you come to me?” Yes, indeed. Jesus has
friends in low places.
The fact is, we are in low places. We’re not so
perfected, not so much smarter than everyone else who disagrees with us, not so
above it all that conflict is beneath us. It is a raw and uncomfortable fact
that when human beings and God meet up, the cross is the result (Wells, 61). We
don’t just kill our brother and bury our past, we kill Jesus and bury our hope.
are you?” If we are honest about things, we’re in a low place. “Where is your
brother?” If we’re honest about that, we put our brother in a low place. There
is one other question before us today. It is the one from the joke: “Where is
God?” In both of these stories from Genesis, God shows up in the conflict. Like
Cousin John last week, we could wonder, “Do you come to me?” Yes, God comes to
Adam and Eve at the moment they have turned their backs on God. Yes, God comes
to Cain at the moment that he has turned on his brother. What a remarkable
       In the
story of Adam and Eve, God gives them what we know as the “Curse,” the
consequences for their actions. Embedded in those consequences is a promise to
the woman: Your seed shall crush the serpent’s head. The church has read this
as a prophecy of Jesus, destroying the power of the Devil, of Death, of Sin. In
the story of Cain, we hear the words that indict him: “Your brother’s blood
cries out from the ground.” In the letter to the Hebrews, we are told that we “have
come to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel”
(Hebrews 12.24). It is the blood of Jesus that, instead of speaking of our
guilt and shame speaks of our forgiveness.
       What a
remarkable grace! God never gives up on us, even when we are at the lowest place,
even when we have done the worst we can imagine. Because being
with us, as messed up as we are, is what God is all about.
Wells, The Nazareth Manifesto: Being With God.
Devotion © 2006 by Ray Stedman Ministries. 
Brother’s Keeper
F. Willis Johnson
Bruce Lancaster
21, 2016

Harris, W. H., III, Ritzema, E., Brannan, R., Mangum, D., Dunham, J., Reimer,
J. A., & Wierenga, M. (Eds.). (2012). The Lexham English Bible (Ge 2:15).
Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.