A New Year’s Revolution
I was reading through one of those retrospective pieces in the newspaper the other day. It was a review of the significant events of the year 1995. Listed among those events was the death of the great baseball player Mickey Mantle. You will recall how first his illness and then his death did in fact capture the attention of our nation. Why? Well, I think because to anyone who grew up in this country in the 50’s and 60’s, Mickey Mantle was a hero.
Whether or not you were a fan of the New York Yankees, whether or not you preferred Willie Mays to the one they called “The Mick,” you could not help but be amazed at the ability and the accomplishments of Mickey Mantle. His records and statistics were so outstanding that he was elected to Baseball’s Hall of Fame on the first ballot by an overwhelming margin. Richard Hoffer, writing in Sports Illustrated, had this to say of him: “For generations of Americans he’s the guy, has been the guy, will be the guy!” For so many, including me, Mickey Mantle was a hero.
Of course, as it turns out, he was a hero with clay feet. Back then, our heroes did not undergo the intense scrutiny given public figures today. Only in recent years have we learned of Mickey Mantle’s rowdy night life that developed into a serious drinking problem that shortened his career and that ultimately took his life. Yet in spite of his flaws, what he did achieve is quite remarkable. Interestingly enough it was an achievement driven by fear of death. Many of the male members of Mickey Mantle’s family, including his father, died at early ages. It was that fear of dying young that caused Mantle to work hard and to play hard. Although Mantle himself was never stricken with Hodgkin’s Disease, sadly he did lose a son to what he considered to be this genetic devastation. Driven by this specter of death, Mickey Mantle’s baseball career, in terms of its many accomplishments, was perhaps unparalleled. The only blemish was that it was cut short because as he put it euphemistically, “I didn’t take care of myself.”
But what legacy does he leave? The memory of those moments when our whole nation was focused on a close pennant race or a tight World Series game? Yes, to be sure. The number of times his name appears in the record books? Yes, to be sure. But I think his greatest legacy is something different, something deeper. You see, I believe that Mickey Mantle turned out to be a greater hero in his dying days than ever he was in his days of glory with the New York Yankees.
As he faced extensive questioning from the media, I watched him closely and listened to him carefully. The message he delivered at the end of his life stood in stark contrast to the way he had lived his life earlier. The message was clear and it was a message we need to hear. He didn’t complain about being gravely ill. He didn’t point the finger for his circumstances at anyone or anything else. He didn’t try to gloss over his shortcomings. Instead he challenged us to do two things—to live better than he lived and to love deeper than he loved. It was, I think, a heroic thing to do.
Mickey Mantle expressed regret for the quality of his living.
In one of his last interviews, he said: “Examine my life. Cherish the high points if you wish. But much more importantly, learn from my mistakes, my excesses, my failures. Never take your God-given ability for granted.” As Sports Illustrated reported: “The waste seemed to gall him and his anger shook the rest of us.”
The destructive quality of Mickey Mantle’s life reminds us that the true heroes in life are those who put themselves in third-place, others in second-place, and God in first-place. The true heroes of our time, as Mickey Mantle himself came to see, are not the makers of touchdowns and the hitters of homeruns, as enjoyable as it is for us to watch their athletic exploits. The more worthy model is the one who holds up integrity and honesty and morality, who speaks out against prejudice and pornography and poverty and who stands up for fairness and faithfulness and friendship. As Martin Luther King put it: “The ultimate measure of a person is not where that person stands in the time of comfort and convenience but where that person stands in time of challenge and controversy.”
As I was drawing out these thoughts into a sermon my mind kept drifting to the tune of “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.” I couldn’t help but reflect also “What a Hero We Have in Jesus.” Jesus possessed all the qualities we look for in true heroes. He was quiet, reserved, strong, courageous, disciplined, highly principled. He was driven by a constant and unquestioned allegiance to God. He developed an impeccable record for always being who, what, and where He was supposed to be. He set the ultimate example of living for the glory of God and the benefit of others. And then He went on to say: “If you love me, you will obey my teaching. My Father and I will love you, we will come to you, and we will make our home with you.” In other words, living for Jesus Christ will make a revolutionary change in your life.
Mickey Mantle learned late in his life, but not too late in his life, that the true heroes live to the glory of God not themselves, that the only victories which really matter in life are the spiritual victories, and that the way to revolutionize the world is to live in obedience to the teachings of Jesus Christ. Resolve to yourself that in 1997 you are going to live the way Christ wants you to live. My Dad used to say to me: “The world would be better off if people tried to become better. And people would become better if they stopped trying to be better off. For when everybody tries to be better off, nobody is better off. But when everybody tries to become better, then everybody is better off.” Mickey Mantle, in the last days of his life, came to understand that truth.
And Mickey Mantle also expressed regret for the quality of his loving.
Among his last words were these: “If you examine my life, you will see that I did not give time to the people I loved. Never take for granted the people God has placed in your life.” That’s a problem for many of us, isn’t it? There always seems to be something else to do or somewhere to go.
Dr. Leo Buscaglia is a professor in southern California. At the beginning of the semester one year he assigned his students the task of writing a paper in response to the question: “What would you do if you had only five days to live?” Those bright, inquisitive California college students responded from deep in their hearts. Some wrote: “I would say ‘I’m sorry’.” Some wrote: “I would say ‘I love you’.” Others wrote: “I would say ‘Thank you’.” Still others pointed to broken relationships they would seek to mend. They turned the papers in, but when they
received them back, they hadn’t been graded. Instead the professor had written in bold letters across the top: “Why don’t you do it now? What are you waiting for?”
Well, if you want to make a New Year’s resolution here’s a good one to make. If you have a word of love that needs to be expressed, say it now. If you have an apology you need to extend, do it now. If you have a broken relationship that ought to be set right, don’t let the sun go down tonight without taking a step in that direction. If you have something you feel God is calling you to do, get to it, don’t put it off. Those are New Year’s resolutions that can lead to a New Year’s revolution. Your life and the lives of those around you can be changed.
Mickey Mantle, late in his life, but not too late in his life, discovered that truth. That’s a part of the legacy he leaves. And that’s why I believe that he was a greater hero in his dying than ever he was during his days of glory with the New York Yankees.
Here are two New Year’s resolutions for us all to adopt: In 1997, I am going to live the way Christ wants me to live, and I am going to love those whom Christ gives me to love. Live up to those New Year’s resolutions and by the power of Christ, you will create a New Year’s revolution in your life and in your world…