I was reminded of the story of Cain and Abel today.
3In the course of time Cain brought to the LORD an offering of the fruit of the ground, 4and Abel for his part brought of the firstlings of his flock, their fat portions. And the LORD had regard for Abel and his offering, 5but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell. (Genesis 4:3-5)
Abel offered his sacrifice of meat. Cain offered his sacrifice of grain. God found one of them pleasing and the other not. Why?
The text suggests that Abel’s offering was accepted because of the sacrifice that accompanied it. The firstlings were the oldest, most developed, most favored of the flock. They were most costly. Cain’s offering appears to have been nothing special, just a portion of the crops he cultivated.
The text doesn’t suggest that the style of offering was what God found offense with. This story is a precursor to the sacrificial practices of Israel’s worship (perhaps a model for both grain and animal offerings). God was not pleased with the heart behind the offering that Cain brought. Abel offered his offering out of a place of grateful thanksgiving for what God had done. Cain offered his offering out of a place of manipulation of power.
Cain believed in power and wanted to manipulate God to be on his side and offer him favor. Cain’s true motives come to the surface after he murders his brother. We see the kind of power Cain is driven by.
The warning is to not offer careless worship (careless=not giving sufficient attention or thought to avoiding harm). How does this story relate to modern worship in the church today? What reason do you come to worship? What is the motive behind your offering? Cain wanted something out of his worship. The error of his offering was that he wanted God to do something for him. How does our worship seek to get something out of God? How does our worship manipulate God? How does our worship fail to give something (everything?) back?
How does our worship become the pure offering that Abel offered? By being full of care in what we offer to God. The church should take care, too, in setting the table for worship that unleashes the good and humble offering of all gathered. Perhaps asking what I want out of worship is more akin to Cain than Abel.
(artwork is Jan van Eyck, The Offering of Cain and Abel, 1429)