An Idle Tale
One week from today the 2016 Major League Baseball Season will begin. At the same time, little league, high school and college baseball and softball teams have already been practicing and playing for more than a month. With the return of Spring and one of the great American pastimes, also comes a reminder of one of the greatest of American Myths.
When most of us in this sanctuary were growing up, we were taught that Abner Doubleday, a veteran of the Civil War, invented the game of baseball. According to the story, back in 1839, Doubleday was at the helm of the first baseball game ever played in Cooperstown, New York.
In fact, when a commission was established in 1905, to research the issue and make sure that baseball wasn’t really an Americanized version of a British game called Rounders, it was once again and forever established that Baseball was born in the USA and that indeed Abner Doubleday was the man to be thanked.
And so it was that in honor of the game’s history and out of respect for Doubleday, the Baseball Hall of Fame was constructed in Cooperstown where that fateful first game took place. In order to commemorate Doubleday’s great accomplishment, the Hall of Fame opened its doors in 1939, exactly 100 years after Doubleday’s first game. They even built a small ballpark nearby and named it Doubleday Field to further emphasize the point.
Unfortunately, there is one small problem with this wonderful piece of American History – it isn’t true. As far as we know, Abner Doubleday never visited Cooperstown in 1839 . Instead, he spent the year in the US Military Academy in West Point. Interestingly, Doubleday is only known to have mentioned baseball one time in his life. That was in a letter in 1871 when he was trying to find some baseball equipment. And, the primary witness for the Doubleday story who promoted him as the inventor of the game was actually only five years old at the time of the infamous and supposed first game.
The evidence against Doubleday was so convincing that in 1953, the United States Congress actually officially recognized another man, by the name of Alexander Cartwright as the rightful inventor of Modern Baseball. In turn, it is Cartwright, not Doubleday, who is a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame, even though it is still located in Cooperstown where in all likelihood a game never took place! (wikipedia, “The Doubleday Myth”)
Why do I begin this Easter Sunday morning by boring you with the origins of baseball? I do so because the 11 remaining disciples had a similar response to the women who first reported to them the empty tomb. The women offered the amazing story of an Empty Tomb as a fact – it was true – they had seen it with their own eyes. But according to the scriptures, for the disciples, the story appeared to be nothing more than “an idle tale”.
Truth be told, I have little doubt that there are some of us who gather in this sanctuary on this Easter Sunday who wonder the same thing. We may not want to admit it, but, in our hearts we know that we are here because it is the cultural thing to do or because mom, dad or our grandparents made us come. We may not believe, but we are savvy enough to know that if we don’t put on our Sunday best and first come to church for a boring sermon, then there just might not be a spot for us left at the lunch table today. We may not want to be here, but, we sure don’t want to miss lunch so we play the game.
As a result, it really doesn’t bother us when we hear that the disciples wondered about the authenticity of the women’s story for we have the same sorts of questions ourselves. We, quite frankly, identify with their skepticism.
But, then, there is the response of Peter in verse 12. Evidently, Peter was like the rest. He doubted the women’s story finding it hard to believe as truth. But… but… at the same time, he felt compelled to go and check for himself.
What I see in Peter here is someone who while not believing the story was true intellectually nonetheless wanted to believe that the story was true in his heart. So, he goes to the tomb just to make sure that the women are wrong.
You may remember the video that circulated about a year ago of the woman who had just found out that her daughter was going to have a baby and thus that she was going to be a grandmother. When her daughter delivers the news, the woman’s response is “no, no you’re not, you are just pulling my leg. Now, stop it!” But then, at the same time her emotions turn on a dime and after a pause she says, “Really? Really? You’re going to have a baby?!?”
The video is the classic example of someone who’s brain says – “this cannot be true”. But, their heart at the very same moment says, “oh, how I wish and hope this is true!!”
This morning, I want us to take it even one step further. I would say it this way. It is not simply that like Peter we want and hope that the story is true in the midst of all of our doubts. But, the truth is that we need for the story to be true. For without this story as truth, as gospel and as a historical fact that demands our faith, what else in this life do we really have to fall back on?
One of the blessings and deep challenges of life as a minister is the call to walk with people through death. Every time this is my privilege and heavy responsibility, I am both humbled by the chance to be with people in this most sacred moment of life while at the same time I find myself overwhelmed by the challenges and mysteries of it all.
Yet, I have to confess to you that nothing helps me to put my own life and priorities in order like the occasion of death. Each and every time, I am reminded of something that is so easy to ignore or disregard in this life. That one thing is the simple fact that in that moment, when life moves to its conclusion, there is really only one story that matters.
It is interesting. I have yet to attend to the bedside of someone in their last hours when the subject of whether or not the Democrats or the Republicans are correct has come up. I have never discussed with a dying person Clemson’s football team or Carolina’s baseball program. No person on their deathbed has every mentioned to me their grandchild’s chance at an academic or athletic scholarship if they just take the SAT one more time or if they make the travel team in basketball. I have never discussed anyone’s checking account or the state of the economy.
Don’t get me wrong, all of those things are important in their time, but, in the end of all things, and when all things are considered there is only one story that truly matters. That is this story before us today – the story of Jesus’ Resurrection and his conquering of the grave and his promise that those of us who give our very lives to him will experience the same. In the end of our days, this is the only story that matters. It is the only one worth staking our lives on. It is not only a story that we should hope is true but rather it is a story that we need to be true for without it, we are most pitied among people for in truth without it we have nothing left.
Let me simply say it this way. There are a lot of things in this life that you and I can wait to decide about. But, this is not one of them. Like the old Country Music song says, when it comes to our lives, “darling, this ain’t no dress rehearsal!” (From the song “Dress Rehearsal” by Carolyn Dawn Johnson)
What do you say about this story? Is it just an idle tale? Or is it the truth? Do you have no hope or do you have hope no matter what – even in the face of death itself. I want you to know that this is a congregation of believers who believe without doubt that this is a true, historical story and we are staking our very lives on it. We would invite you to join us in that belief by giving your life to Jesus and by becoming fully and completely his follower.
The other side of this is the recognition that not only do we need for this story to be true in order to have hope, but, once we have given Christ our lives we need to start acting like this story is true with every fiber of our being.
Here is what I mean. When I talk to colleagues in ministry, I have noticed that more and more there is a collective concern that has developed for our world. Believe it or not, it is not a collective concern for the world out there, it is a collective concern for the world in here. So many good, strong people of faith today can be described by one word – apathy. Apathy is defined as a lack of interest, enthusiasm or concern. We have given our lives to Christ, we are members of the church, we even come at least 50% of the time. And, we are excited and committed about lots of things in our lives but this simply isn’t one of them. We may say that we are but our lives beg to differ.
Just as we can’t wait to decide whether we believe this story, we can’t wait to build our lives around it either. If we are willing to sit here in this sanctuary on Easter Sunday morning and say that this is the greatest story ever told and that this is the story that our very lives depend on then it is high time that we started acting and ordering our lives accordingly. Just as I believe that one day people will have to give an account for denying Christ as Lord, I believe others will have to give an account for being believing but doing little if nothing with our belief. One is just as concerning as the other.
Charles Spurgeon, the famous British minister, told a story once that I suspect you may have heard at some time in your life but it bears repeating today. Surgeon says that when he was a child that he was a terrible artist. In fact, he was so bad that his parents could rarely make out what it was that he had drawn. As a result, his teacher developed the practice of labeling his drawings. If he had drawn a tree – she would write “tree” under the picture. If he had drawn a house – she would write “house”, etc.
Spurgeon would go on to say that unfortunately for many people of faith, the same is needed. Our lives and priorities bear so little resemblance to what we claim, that we need to wear a sign around our necks that simple says “Christian”. Otherwise, there is a good chance that no one will be able to tell by the picture that is emerging through our lives and behavior that this is who we are.
On this Easter 2016, do you believe this is the one great, true story. If so, have you staked your life on it? Or, have you said at one point in your life that this is the one true story? If so, what evidence, right now, is your life giving that this is case?
Phillip Sings Verse One of I Love to Tell The Story