September 2008 Pastor's Newsletter Article
Cain said to his brother Abel, "Let us go out to the field." And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel, and killed him. Then the Lord said to Cain, "Where is your brother Abel?" He said, "I do not know; am I my brother's keeper?"
Genesis 4:8-9, New Revised Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.
Peter Steinke, a specialist in family systems and congregational development, once said that if you wanted stories to illustrate dysfunction in family systems, you need look no farther than the first book of our Bible. He is right: Abraham and Hagar, Hagar and Sarah, Jacob and Esau, Rebekah and Jacob, Joseph and his brothers... and it all begins with Cain and Abel.
In this story, from the pre-history section of Genesis, Cain (a tiller of the ground) and Abel (a keeper of sheep) are described as the sons of Adam and Eve. In chapter 4, Cain brings to God an offering of grain, and Abel brings an animal offering. For some unknown reason, God accepts Abel's offering and rejects Cain's, and Cain becomes angry. God instructs him to do well, and he will be accepted, but Cain is unable to contain his anger. He lures his brother into the field and kills him. When God confronts Cain, this vengeful brother's response speaks volumes: "Am I my brother's keeper?"
Cain asks this question in an attempt to evade responsibility for Abel's death. But we know that the answer to his question is, "Yes!" Cain is his brother's keeper, and we are our brother's (and sister's) keepers. Our self-indulgent and careless ways are an affront to the love God has for the whole human family (and different from Cain's murderous act only in magnitude). Our thoughtful and sacrificial care for others is an expression of God's deep care for humanity (and a way for us to participate with God in the re-creation of this world).
There are many ways that God's people have attempted to care for one another, but few are more thoughtful and more intentional than the caregiving approach developed by Stephen Ministries. They describe it as, "a complete system for training and organizing lay people to provide one-to-one Christian care to hurting people in and around your congregation." I've seen it as a tremendous caring resource: one that can help a church care for many more people than any one person (Pastor?) could do alone.
Saint Peter has been a "Stephen Ministries Congregation" for more than a decade, and currently our Stephen Leaders (Donna Burman and Steve Onody) are working to strengthen and revitalize this ministry. I am deeply grateful for their enthusiasm and their efforts, and invite you to join me in praying for them each day, as they give guidance and support to this important ministry.
Who cares? We all do. Yes, we are our brother's (and our sister's) keepers. If you would like to become involved in helping us live this call out at Saint Peter (by becoming a trained Stephen Ministries caregiver, or by recommending a friend or family member to receive care from a Stephen Ministry caregiver), let me know. I'd love to get you connected.
God's peace to you all,
David J. Risendal