Easter 5, Year C

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How many people in here are baseball fans?

Did you know that games like baseball have been played in the United States since the 1700’s? According to the website history.com, which is my source for all of the following information about baseball, the “ancestors” of our national game go back to England.

The colonists brought a children’s game called rounders to New England and another popular English game, cricket, made its way to this country as well.

By the time of the Revolution, children in schoolyards and men on college campuses were playing variations of these games all over the country. As industrialization grew and people moved into cities in the 1800’s, the games became even more popular.

A group of New York City men founded the Knickerbocker Baseball Club in 1845. I didn’t know this fact—that “volunteer firefighter and bank clerk Alexander Joy Cartwright is the person responsible for codifying a new set of rules that formed the basis for modern baseball.” He’s the one that called for the familiar diamond shaped infield, foul lines and the three strikes rule. Cartwright is also the person who is responsible for abolishing the dangerous practice of targeting runners by throwing balls at them.

The changes that Cartwright made meant a faster paced, more challenging game that was clearly different than cricket. In 1846, the Knickerbockers played the first official game of baseball against a team of cricket players, beginning a new, uniquely American tradition.

In one of the commentaries I read about this week’s lectionary, the writer points out that the new Christians in Acts find themselves in the process of playing on a team—and the “game” they are so passionate about—Christianity—has rules that are changing. New players are coming onto the team, and all of this change leads to consternation, excitement and expectation among the team members.

In today’s passage from Acts, the team—the circumcised believers in Jerusalem are listening to Peter, who has been playing ball with uncircumcised people—the Gentiles.

They want to know why he is breaking one of the assumed rules of this new team—that players on the team have to be circumcised.

So Peter explains what has happened. When Peter went to Cornelius and his household, and began to speak to them,

“The Holy Spirit fell upon them just as it had upon us at the beginning.”

“And I remembered,” Peter said, “I remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ “

“If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?”

The reaction of those team members who are questioning Peter is silence.

And when they’ve had that silence in which to think about what Peter is saying—that the Holy Spirit has made clear that they are now to play ball with a much more expansive team, they praise God, saying,

“Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life.”

Here we are, in 2016. And we are Team Jesus.

And we still struggle with these same issues.

So, what are the rules of our team?

Based on today’s passages—I’d list five things.

First of all—To know who is in charge.

The Holy Spirit is in charge, and our job as this team is to do all we can to try to follow the leading of the Spirit.

The trick here is that, as Jesus said in the gospel according to John, when he was talking to Nicodemus, is that the Spirit blows where it chooses and that we don’t know where it comes from or where it goes. That’s why we have to be open to the surprising and unexpected nature of God’s leading in our midst.

Chances are that where the Spirit might be leading is the last thing that this team might expect. We may well be full of consternation and have questions about where the Spirit is leading, just as the early Christians did—but this passage reminds us to be open to what the Spirit is up to in our midst.

Second rule– Take the time to listen to one another about what the Holy Spirit is up to in our midst. The circumcised Christians had questions for Peter. They took the time to listen to what he had to say, rather than making assumptions and snap decisions about what was going on without any chance for him to give them his perspective on the Holy Spirit’s work.

Third–Take the time for thoughtful discernment about what the Holy Spirit might be up to in our midst. When the circumcised Christians had listened to what Peter had to say, they were silenced.

If there’s anything that most of us lack in this culture, it’s thoughtful discernment and time to think, especially about new and challenging directions. We are constantly tempted by the culture around us to make snap decisions, to come to instant conclusions about just about everything. Taking time to be thoughtful and prayerful about what is going on around us goes against what we’re constantly being pushed to do, which is to jump to conclusions.

Fourth—Praise God for the extravagant, unexpected ways that God is at work in the church and the world. The Christians in Acts did just that when they realized that God had just opened up their team—now even the Gentiles were welcome to play ball!

And last, and most importantly, Jesus himself, in today’s gospel, gives us the most important rule. The old commandment, found way back in Leviticus in the rules that God gave to the people to make them God’s people—that they are to love and care for one another, even the aliens in their midst—Jesus sums up in this way.

“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”

So go, Team! Our game—to spread God’s love throughout the world.

Our rules—

Number One—Follow where the Spirit leads!

Number Two—Listen to one another about the work of the Spirit in our midst!

Number Three—Take time for thoughtful and prayerful discernment about what the Spirit is up to with each one of us and within our whole team.

Number Four—Praise God for God’s extravagant and unexpected work in our midst, for the constant creativity with which the Spirit breathes new life into each of us and into our church.

Number Five—Love one another as God has loved us.

And who is welcome on our team?

All of us!

All of us on whom the Holy Spirit has fallen.

All of us who love one another.

Jesus said, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

So—GO TEAM! Follow the Spirit and Love one Another and carry God’s love out into the world.


Resources: http://www.history.com/news/ask-history/who-invented-baseball

Cousar, Charles B., Gaventa, Beverly R., McCann, J. Clinton, and Newsome, James. D. Texts for Preaching: A Lectionary Commentary Based on the NRSV—Year C. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1994.

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