To enter into the church is to enter into a life of worship. This is fundamental to what we do as church members – the worship of God. After our baptisms, our entire lives point us to this.
We worship in different ways, of course. Our songs sometimes are out of tune, and yet we still sing. Our financial gifts sometimes are lacking, and yet we still give. And we pray and we serve and we stop to read our Bibles. When we see a brother or sister in need, we help. When we see a neighbor in need, we help. When we’re hurt, we hesitate to respond, understanding something about turning the other cheek. And then we forgive.
This is idealistic, of course. We fail often. But this is what we strive toward. This is worship. We don’t do this for ourselves. We do this for God. We present our “bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God” (Romans 12:1).
And as we do this, we understand the world does not. Those outside the church, those who have rejected God, do other things. Some seek after money or sex or prestige. Some pursue even darker things. And some see no meaning in life at all, and, when it comes to the worship of anything, they consider themselves non-participants.
And so a person may worship God, and a person may refuse to worship God. Sometimes the refusal is strident, and sometimes its lackadaisical. And, of course, sometimes the worship of God is a little lackadaisical, too!
But the church is the seat of worship on earth – not the physical church building but the physical people of the church, the body of Christ, the family of God. It is what we do. We worship.
From the very earliest days of human history, worship caused conflict. Cain was bitter toward Abel. He was bitter about Abel’s worship of God, and he was bitter about Abel’s relationship with God.
It seems to be a strange thing to cause bitterness. Cain, in some way, remained in control. God told him to “do well.” If Cain did well, he would be accepted by God.
To “do well,” I suppose, means to worship God properly and fully. But Cain did not desire to do well. Worship wasn’t his priority. He was not interested in this.
While God wants to bring people into a special relationship with himself, Cain was bent toward evil. That is, he was bent toward something – anything – other than what God wanted. Cain didn’t seem to realize this. He wasn’t particularly vocal about his disdain toward worship. He just didn’t want to do it.
And he didn’t appreciate Abel was worshiping well – and that God favored him.
Multiple sibling contrasts or rivalries emerge in the Bible – like Isaac and Ishmael, Jacob and Esau, and Joseph and his many brothers. What we might notice about these rivalries is the way in which one brother was favored – if not explicitly by God then at least by his human father.
One brother was favored. Others were not. How can bitterness not find its way into the picture?
The church sometimes is persecuted. This is not so much the case in the United States as it is in some other countries. But I think we can sense, as American Christians, how church persecution might find its way into our culture. Whether we like it or not, the bitterness is growing.
God’s chosen people, his church, live not for this world or the things in it. Instead, we see this world as temporary, as fleeting, and we strive to live for God. Like Abel, we worship.
And if the world finds a way to hate us, we understand that such a circumstance was promised to us. “If the world hates you,” Jesus said, “know that it has hated me before it hated you” (John 15:18). We aren’t surprised by the world’s hatred. Abel might have been surprised by Cain’s.
Abel’s death is a reminder of the potential cost of loving and worshiping God. As humans, we are designed for something more than the worship of material objects and money and physical pleasures. We are designed for something more than the worship of our health or our children.
And we will never stop yearning for that ultimate One who transcends every created thing around us. We search. And some of us find Him – or are found by Him.
And we happily worship. And we may find ourselves at times experiencing the heat of hatred for our worship. We’re in relationship with God. We have eternal life. We are in the church, the body of Christ. We are children of God now.
The world hates this. Some strive for something more – but they stop short of worshiping the one who is eternal, who is the first and the last.
Bitterness can grow. But we don’t return the bitterness. Like Abel, we simply keep worshiping.