Adam's Ordinary Son
Adam knew his wife again, and she bore a son and named him Seth, for she said, “God has appointed for me another child instead of Abel, because Cain killed him. To Seth also a son was born, and he named him Enosh. At that time people began to invoke the name of the Lord. (Revised Standard Version)
This is the Word of the Lord.
On this Labor Day weekend, you sit down on this lazy Sunday afternoon to rest from your labors. You pick up the newspaper, and decide to do a puzzle. You turn to the “Times” crossword puzzle (or whichever one suits your ability), and begin to fill in the words across and down.
You find you are doing good, until the authors of the puzzle decide to throw in a Bible question as they often tend to do.
Four letters across is the word you are looking for. The hint – “Adam’s other son.’ “Easy” you say. “Cain”. While Cain is four letters, it does not have an “e” in it. ‘Hmm” you say. “I have got it,” you say, “Abel.” It has the letter “e”; unfortunately, it is not in the right place. No, the letter “e” has to be the second letter.
You think awhile; then, decide to pick up your handy Bible and look in Genesis. You thumb through the first few chapters; then finally, at the end of chapter 4, you come upon an answer. “And Adam knew his wife again, and she bore a son and named him Seth.” “What?” you say. “Seth?” Who is Seth? I have never heard of him. “Seth,” however, fits nicely into your crossword puzzle.
You say, “I’m going to make the pastor earn his pay this week and ask about Seth.
Then you read a little further in the Genesis passage, and it says that Seth’s wife had a son named Enosh. Now you are confused. “Where did she come from? Seth’s wife.” Would not that be Seth’s sister? No wonder humanity is so screwy; its gene pool got messed up at the very start. I am definitely going to ask the pastor about her too. That, though, is a question for another day. Let Jack deal with that in another sermon. For now, let us just deal with Seth – Adam’s son.
Who is Seth? He is the son wrapped in obscurity. We remember Cain; and we remember Abel. Abel is the first murder victim, and Cain is the first murderer. But who is Seth? (Questioned raised in Jack Robinson conversation with Ernest Campbell in seminar at Riverside Church, NYC, 1982)
Unlike Cain and Abel, Seth goes unnoticed. He is neither a victim or a criminal. He is – well – just ordinary. Nothing about him makes him remarkable or memorable. He is lost in his ordinariness. Ask anyone on the street, and few could recall Adam and Eve’s other son.
That’s because in our world we tend to notice the sensational, and forget the ordinary.
We know and remember Cain – he is the first murderer. He is the one who makes the news. He is the one on the video gone viral on social media. We remember the Charles Manson’s, the Richard Speck’s, the Charles Whitman’s, the Ted Bundy’s, the Wayne Gacy’s, the Jeffrey Dahmer’s, the Bonnie and Clyde’s of the world. They sear a place into our memories. The Oswald’s, the Sirhan Sirhan’s, and the Adolf Hitler’s get our gaze. More cable shows and more books are written about them –the Jack the Ripper’s of the world – than all the ordinary people combined. Hitler, Stalin, Napoleon get our attention. They mesmerize us. Hannibal Lecter is merely a fictionalized personification of our fascination with the Cain’s of the world.
Then, of course, there are the Abel’s of the world – the victims. We remember them too knowing how easy it would be for us – any of us – to be among them, the victims. We recall them with a sense of sorrow, pain, and horror. We recall the Nicole Brown Simpson’s, the Ronald Goldman’s, the Laci Peterson’s, the 3,000 victims of 9/11 of the world. Their notoriety is being at the wrong place at the wrong time or with the wrong person. They had no desire for their notoriety.
Who, however, remembers the Seths of the world? He turned out okay. He was not a criminal or a victim. He simply went about his life, day after day, doing what he should have done – living a good life, making a modest living, raising a modest family in a modest neighborhood.
So why remember him now? Why bring Seth out of his obscurity?
First, Seth’s obscurity reminds us of our own obscurity. (See thought by Ernest Campbell, Riverside Church, 1978). And that’s not bad. It means we are not listed among the Cains or the Abels of the world – not the notorious murderers or victims people remember, thank God.
Sure, when we were younger, we had dreams that we would be among the names remembered in our world’s history. But as time passed, and we saw the people who were remembered, we began to see that notoriety had a down side to it. Being a Seth in the world was not so bad.
There are probably five or six well-known preachers in the world. If I find I am not one of them, should I then consider my life and ministry to be worthless? Should I spend my days in jealousy, envy, or discontentment? And the same could be said of you in your profession. Should you consider your life a failure because people outside your circle of friends or co-workers do not know your name?
Should Seth have considered himself a failure because the only thing he was known for was having a son named Enosh?
Second, we remember Seth now because it is the Seths of the world who keep the world going day in and day out. It is by doing the ordinary things, making a living, raising a family, doing good in the world, that God keeps the world moving. By being “ordinary,” they are extraordinary.
When Seth was born, to Adam and Eve, he was a miracle to them. He awakened hope in them. With Abel dead and Cain a fugitive, who was going to keep the promise of humanity going? It was Seth. (ETC) The future lay with Seth. He was anything but ordinary. For his parents, for God, Seth was the promise of humanity.
The same is true with you and me. Sure, our names are not notorious. We come upon the world’s stage. We live, marry, have children, work, and die.
Does that mean we should be discontented with our life? Are our lives worthless because we are not a figure of notoriety like Cain or Abel?
It is unfortunate when we believe the advertising jingle that real life is going on somewhere else by someone else doing something else. You and I are not missing out. Real life is not going on somewhere else. It is going on right here, where you are, with the deeds you are doing in the present moment.
Long ago, I decided I was never going to be happy if I kept living in the future and not the present. If I thought l would finally be happy when I reached such and such a point in my career, or when I became a professor at such and such university, or when I preached like so and so minister, my life would be a waste. I would never be alive; for I would always be living for a time that would never come. I discovered that there is no such thing as the future. It is a figment of my imagination. It is something people talk about but that never comes. I can only live in the present, in this moment, because that is all that ever exists. Life is a series of present moments lived one moment at a time. That is all we are ever given.
I will never be a better preacher than so and so because it is a false comparison. All I can do, all I need to do, is be a better preacher, a better pastor, a better father, a better person in this moment that I am living now.
Thirdly, and finally, we remember the Seths of the world because they make up the Kingdom of God. The Seths are the ones who fulfill God’s plan.
After the homicide of Cain against Abel, who provided the continuity of God’s creation of humanity? It was Seth. God started again with Seth. He chose the unspectacular one to do the most spectacular of things – keep humanity alive.
And who is this Seth? He is the one who is always there at work but seldom noticed. He is the one who is every loyal to his job, his church, his family. But he never makes a fuss. He watches the news, but never makes the news. He always helps when someone’s in real need, but does it anonymously. He is comfortable with the simple things. He eats at Berrymans, or Wendys, or Cracker Barrel and does not complain for something fancier. His demands are few, but his joys are deep. He lives modestly and dies quietly.
But through the Seths of the world, those men and women, God fulfills God’s promise. The Seths of the world do not expect heaven; for they do not think they deserve it. But God gives it to them as a gift. And when they enter the heavenly gates? Then the choirs sing – for of such is the Kingdom of God. Amen!
(Thanks to Ernest Campbell way back in 1978 and 1982 in conversation helped me see that being an ordinary person and pastor and preacher is anything but ordinary.)
(Copyright by Jack Hughes Robinson 2017. Use only by permission.)