Our Brother’s Keeper - Genesis 4:9 (Wednesday NIght Reflection)
Since the beginning of Creation, there has always been the question of whether or not we are responsible for our brother or sister. In the Fall, we see, rather than taking responsibility for failing one another, Adam through his wife under the bus saying, “God don’t look at me…it’s not my fault I ate that fruit, that woman you gave me, she made me eat it,” never once owning up the fact that he was right there with her and did nothing to discourage her from taking a bit of the fruit. Then there was Eve, who rather than claiming to have failed to look out for her husband, blamed the serpent. It was their son, Cain, who was questioned by God about his brother Abel’s whereabouts, who asked God (knowing that he had killed his brother), “Am I my brother’s keeper—am I responsible for my brother?”
The resounding answer through the rest of Scripture is “Yes.”
That was the answer that led Joseph to care for his brothers when he became Pharaoh’s right hand man, despite the fact that his brothers had previously sold him into slavery.
That was the answer that led Moses to protect the Hebrew slave being beaten by the Egyptian guard.
That was the answer that led Ruth to pledge her loyalty to Naomi.
That was the answer that led Jonathan to protect David from Saul.
That was the answer that led the prophets to pronounce God’s judgment on Israel for neglecting the widow, the orphan, and the foreigner in their land.
That was the answer that led Jesus to confront the Pharisees and Scribes for laying down all the laws, and not lifting one finger to help the people live into them.
That was the answer that led James to write the passage we read last week, questioning what good it is to tell someone who is hungry or cold to go and be full and warm and do nothing to feed or clothe them.
That was the answer that led the author of Hebrews to write, “And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
It is the answer that is underscored by Jesus and Paul over and over again.
Jesus redefined who we are to understand as our brother or sister, telling those gathered with him one evening, as He was told that His mother and siblings had arrived, that whoever sought to do the will of God was now considered His brother, His sister, and His mother. Jesus if someone has surrendered themselves over to the Will of God, then they are to be understood as our brothers and sisters, regardless of what genetics run through their veins. It means that being born an only child does not relieve us of any responsibility, for there are no “only children” in the family of God, we are all brothers and sisters in Christ.
This understanding of who are our brothers and sisters makes for interesting conversations, at times, within confirmation classes. When we discuss whether or not they are at the point of being willing to take those vows of faith and membership, one of the things I point out is that when they do, they become full members in the church. They are on the same playing field, the same level as everyone else in the church, for they are all brothers and sisters. Every once and a while I will get a youth will start to have a mischievous grin come across their face and they ask, “you mean my mom and dad are now my brothers and sisters and we’re equal?” I quickly respond, “while you are at church, yes, but once you get home, they are still in charge.”
We are our brother’s keeper…we are our sister’s keeper…and understanding Jesus’ redefinition of who our brothers and sisters are, we find that we are responsible to and for one another.
In a previous appointment, there were two brothers who were part of our choir. At one point, one of the brothers was unexpectedly missing. I asked the brother who was there if his brother was okay or simply out of town. He responded, “I don’t know, am I supposed to be my brother’s keeper?” When I quickly responded, “Yes, according to Scripture, yes you are,” he seemed stopped in his tracks. It became a running joke with those two brothers, and if one of them were absent, I would preface my question with, “Since you are to be your brother’s keeper, where is your brother tonight?” Interestingly enough, as time went on, the two brothers tended to know a bit more about one another and each other’s whereabouts…and if they didn’t, they would often beat me to the question and ask, “Have you heard from my brother today? I know he was having a test done.”
We are our brother’s and sister’s keeper. This means that I should be able to go up to my sister, ___________, here and ask, “Do you know what is going on with ___________? I haven’t seen him here in a few weeks and I was wondering if he’s okay.” And because she is her brother’s keeper, she should be able to say to me, “Our dear brother has been so sick, he caught that flu bug, and he hasn’t been able to keep anything down other than soup”…or “He’s okay, he’s been over to the Cape the last few weekends…it being summerlike at all this October.”
Now don’t get me wrong. Being our brother’s keeper…being our sister’s keeper…is not about being nosey. It is not about trying to get into their business so we have something to spread around on the Island Gossip Hotline (I don’t know that there is one, but every community I’ve ever been in has a gossip hotline—everyone knows who to call if they want the latest dirt on their next door neighbor whose car has not been at home each night come bedtime.).
Being our brother’s or sister’s keeper is also not simply knowing what is going on in the lives of our brothers and sisters. It is about knowing and caring and valuing and acting on any needs.
It is about, as Paul tells the Romans, rejoicing when they rejoice and weeping when they weep. It is about knowing that they got a promotion at work, achieved a major goal in school, or received recognition in the community, and rather than being jealous because we think we deserve it, we congratulate them and rejoice with them. It is about knowing that a brother or sister has experienced some type of loss, whether it be the death of a family member, being laid off or fired from work, the breakup of a relationship, or the loss of a pet, and not jumping in and telling them to “buck up, everything’s going to be alright,” even though we know it will be—because they often know it will be too, they just need someone to mourn with them.
Being our brother’s and sister’s keeper means that we hear the words of James telling us that it is not just enough to know our brother or sister is naked and cold or hungry and send them on their way…but that we are to clothe and feed them.
It means that if we know that Brother ______ is so sick he hasn’t been able to fix himself anything to eat…and living alone that means that he hasn’t had much to eat…that we don’t simply say, “hope you’re feeling better soon, I’ll be praying for you,” but that we also figure out what he likes to eat and can keep down, and we prepare him a soup or some other kind of meal. It means if we know that Sister _____________ has been had to take care of her sick husband 24/7 and hasn’t had a break to go to the grocery store or to shop for other needs, that one, we offer to go shopping for them, or, better yet, we offer to come sit with and take care of her husband so she can go shopping herself, maybe even working in a break for a long slow lunch while she’s in town…not only because she is our sister, but also because he is our brother, and we should want to keep him company.
Hebrews tells us we are supposed to provoke one another, our brothers and sisters, to good deeds…not because they earn them a spot in Heaven, but because they reflect our appreciation for the grace God has poured into our lives. That means that if they have a ministry idea, that we encourage them and try to enable them to pull it off—as we saw Barry’s brothers and sisters do as they saw him out putting the poles and board for the maze in place. It means that we see that there are vacant spots on the van for our trip to Goldsboro, so we take note of our brothers and sisters not only the list and encourage them to sign up, or challenge them to at least bring supplies for those going to take.
Paul pushes the understanding of what it means to be our brothers’ and sisters’ keeper to even a more difficult level as he writes the Galatians. Paul says, “if anyone is detected in a transgression, you who have received the Spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness…Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you fulfill the law of Christ.”
Too often we see a brother or sister who have wandered from faithful living and we go one or another direction, neither of which reflect a commitment to be their “keeper.”
The first reaction is that we say to ourselves, or even others, “It’s none of my business” or “I’m staying out of that, I’m not getting involved.” We talk like we want to protect their privacy…when really the truth is that we are trying to protect our own, because if we can speak into someone else’s sin, that gives others permission to speak into our own. It means that we don’t want to get into Brother _______ business about being at the Cape every weekend for the last three weeks, because we don’t want anyone speaking into our lives when we decide to do the same thing.
The second reaction is to pass judgment on the person. That reaction would fall into the realm of learning that Sister __________ has been skipping out on her husband when he has to go out of town on business…and thinking we are being her keeper we go up to her and inform her that she is going to hell for what she is doing and that she needs to cease and desist and that we’re going to tell her husband to leave her, and that she better not dare set foot inside the doors of this church again. Can anyone tell me the number of things wrong with that approach to being our brother’s or sister’s keeper?
Paul say if anyone, if any of our brothers and sisters are found to be in a transgression…if any are knowingly sinning…then we aren’t to mind our own business and we aren’t to condemn and shun them…we are called to gently seek to restore fellowship with them. We are called to come alongside them and help them. We are called to encourage them to repent so that they might find themselves back within our family. We are called to walk with them on the journey back into full fellowship and restoration.
We are called to bear our brothers and sisters burdens…meaning that their troubles become our own. Their hunger becomes our concern. Their thirst becomes our concern. Their loneliness becomes our concern. Their depression becomes our concern. Their addictions become our concern. And these concerns become our responsibility…and as our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers, we sacrifice ourselves for the sake of meeting their needs…for in this way we fulfill the law of Christ, who as our Keeper, offered His very life to meet our need…our need for salvation…our need for acceptance…our need for reconciliation…our need for love and restoration...and took the burden of our sin as His own…
Thanks be to God that Christ is our Keeper and we are called to be our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.