Sunday, April 24, 2011

Snippets from An Easter Sermon

You can tell a lot about a community by what they believe.

If you ask a baseball fan about where the game of baseball was invented, you will likely hear the story of Abner Doubleday. So the story goes, a young Abner Doubleday one summer day in 1839 went into a field near his parent's home in Cooperstown, NY, gathered a group of kids, and drew up the basic rules of what we now recognize as the all-American game of baseball.

If you go to the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY, you can walk up the street to Doubleday Field, the field where supposedly the game of Baseball was invented.

The problem is, while all that tells a great story, it is completely made up. After a series of scandals and a stopped World Series at the beginning of the 20th Century threatened to erase the whole concept of professional baseball, Albert Spalding who had made a fortune selling baseball equipment and had created the Spalding sporting goods empire that still exists, decided to end the arguments against baseball and to restore the integrity to the game (and his financial bottom line). Spalding organized the Mills Commission in 1905.

The final report, published in 1908. The Commission looked for and found the perfect story: baseball was invented in a quaint rural town without foreigners or industry, by a young man who later graduated from West Point and served heroically in the Mexican-American War,  was involved in the first conflict in the Civil War at Fort Sumter, and even for a very brief period, assumed command of the Union Army at the Battle of Gettysburg.

And everyone bought the story.

The beauty was that there was absolutely no way to prove or disprove the legend that Abner Doubleday invented baseball.

No written records from 1839 or the 1840 existed to corroborate these claims; nor could Doubleday be interviewed (he had died in 1893). Subsequent historians have looked over Doubleday's personal letters and writings, and he had never claimed to know anything about baseball, much less claimed to have invented it.

In fact, the only principal source for the story that the Mills' Commission put out was one letter from elderly Abner Graves, who was a four-year-old resident of Cooperstown in 1839.

Graves had written a letter to the commission claiming to know how the game was invented, but he had not written the letter to be helpful or for some quest to set the record straight on the historical truth of the Advent of Baseball. He had been convicted of murdering his wife and spending his final days on what we would now call death row. He had completely fabricated the story as bait and written the letter in the hopes that the Commission would help him get his sentence commuted if they thought he had information they needed.

As I said at the beginning, you can tell a lot about a community by what they believe. It was the perfect for an American Audience at the turn of the 20th century. All American Game invented in America by All American war hero. It was the perfect story.

Now, you may be thinking to yourself, "This priest has lost his mind. It's Easter morning, the banners are out, the priest is supposed to be talking about the empty tomb, Easter bunnies or something. Why is he telling some story about baseball?"

I use that opening illustration because I believe a lot of people, both inside and outside, the church view the Easter story that we heard this morning in the Gospel reading (the empty tomb, the Resurrection, all of that) in the same way that baseball fans view the story of how baseball was allegedly invented by Abner Doubleday.

One the one hand, you have people that believe the story without question, they always have and always will. It is the story they have always heard, and they have never once believed (or even considered) that it could have happened any other way. They have never had any doubt, it is fact with a Capital F. The Easter story to them is as real as getting up everyday, looking up at the sky, and seeing the Sun. Case Closed.

On the other hand, you have people that disbelieve the story without question. They have never believed that Jesus has risen from the grave. They have always believed that it was a myth, fabricated by well meaning but mistaken peasants from the 1st century. While it tells a great story, it is simply a farie tale, that Jesus was like every other human in that once your dead, your dead. Case Closed.

However, like the debates by sports fans on whom invented baseball, a very crucial point is oftentimes completely neglected. Whether Abner Doubleday created Baseball or not, the fact remains that baseball was invented.

Likewise, whatever happened on that first Easter morning and however it happened, what is often lost in the debate about what actually happened on the first Easter morning so many centuries ago was that the Christian faith was invented. Something meaningfully powerful that changed people's lives did happen in a very public way.

That is indeed a fact that can't be refuted.

What differentiates the Christian message from myths or legends like the advent of baseball legends or even other religions, is that the Resurrection was a public event.

After a public ministry, Jesus was killed publically.

Christ rose from the tomb publically.

Christ showed himself publically.

And the public, the group of disciples went and told the story of the Resurrection of Christ publically.

The whole story about the Resurrection was not one single person's idea or dream about God. Christianity was not started by one single person who went and told about his or her special or private revelation about God to other people.

The Resurrection is public.

There are those who regard Jesus simply as a man whose life must be studied, his words examined, his teaching analyzed. 
There are those who see in Jesus the perfect pattern and example.
There are those who regard Jesus as the greatest man who ever lived - but who then died.

This won't do. Jesus isn't dead; he is alive. He isn't merely a hero of the past; he is a living reality, the Lord of the present.

He is someone to be met and lived with every day.

He isn't only a figure in a dusty old book - the Bible - he is a living presence. 

We have heard the good news today of how death and evil have been defeated, because the women overcame their fear and carried the Word of the resurrected Christ to the disciples.

We have heard Christ proclaimed today, because the disciples left their hiding places in the walled city on that resurrection morn to meet the risen Christ at edges of their country.

We have felt the joy of the resurrection today, because Peter and the other disciples followed Jesus’ command to publically teach, preach and baptize people from all nations, proclaiming that the Risen Christ longs to lead us out of your prison of fear and doubt. 

Jesus Christ's resurrection assures us of God's help to know his presence, forgiveness and peace. 
Like Mary, the broken-hearted disciple, and like the confused disciples who were in fear and in hiding, we must-and can-have a personal and public encounter and experience of the Risen Lord.

Christ has to be risen for each one of us. For the belief that Christ rose on the third day is based more on encountering Christ in experience than the discovery of the empty tomb. We have to be prepared for an encounter with the Risen Lord.

He will then lead us in the triumph of the resurrection wherever we are. And every day will become a celebration of his feat of victory. We are an Easter People and Alleluia is our song.

Alleluia, Christ is risen.
Christ is risen, indeed, Alleluia!!!!

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