Somebody should ban the Game of Life.
Have you played this game? It’s insidious! If you don’t know, The Game of Life is a board game where the goal is to make it to retirement with the most money. Whoever makes it to the end with the most total money, wins. Now along the way, you have to choose whether or not you go to college, you buy a house whether you can afford it or not (just like real life), you always get a spouse (I don’t know if these are considered arranged marriages since you don’t have any choice), and you sometimes have kids. Actions either make money or cost money depending on what they are and so your goal is to get to the end, not necessarily the fastest, but with the most money. Don’t get me wrong, I used to love this game! I still love it. It’s a 3D board game, so there are bridges and hills and other fun obstacles for your car to go over. That alone made it different and somehow more “realistic.” And it’s a lot of fun. But what I don’t like is this underlying message that to succeed in life, you have to make a lot of money. That your life, ultimately, is measured in dollars and cents. Some people might say that the game IS a reflection of life, but I would challenge that. I know plenty of people who are happy who don’t have a lot of material wealth and lots of people with lots of money who are not happy at all. And I know plenty of rich people who THINK they’re happy but it is so obvious that the simple things like love, peace, and contentment always seem a mile away.
I was thinking about all of this after hearing about Stuart Scott.
If you watch ESPN, you know his name and if you don’t you probably have heard some of his famous catch phrases. He was one of the most famous and groundbreaking sports anchors in the business and he was well known for the things he would say on TV. Some of my favorites were, “Cool as the other side of the pillow.” Or “He must be the bus driver because he’s taking him to school!” But the one everyone knows best is two short syllables, “Boo-yow!” Stuart Scott was one of those influential people who changed the way we watch television. He also defined SportsCenter for an entire generation of viewers. And then just recently, Stuart Scott passed away from cancer. He had been battling it for nearly 8 years beginning in 2007 when after an appendectomy it was discovered that he had the deadly disease. He battled it back numerous times, but finally died because of it on January 4th of this year. But it was something he said at the 2014 ESPY awards where he was being honored for his perseverance in his battle with cancer that really stuck with me and made me think. He said to the crowd, “I also realized something else recently. I said, ‘I’m not losing. I’m still here. I’m fighting. I’m not losing.’ But I gotta amend that. When you die, it does not mean that you lose to cancer. You BEAT cancer, by HOW you live, WHY you live, and in the manner in WHICH you live.” When you die, it does not mean that you lose to cancer. You BEAT cancer, by HOW you live, WHY you live, and in the manner in WHICH you live.” Some really deep thoughts. We do tend to think of life as a game in which there are winners and losers, but winning and losing the game of life isn’t about money or fame or achievement. Winning and losing the game of life is about what you do with the time you have. Winning and losing the game of life is about what you do with the time you have.
This is a lesson God has been trying to teach us all along.
We’re going to read this morning from a passage you’re probably familiar with. It’s from the Gospel of Mark chapter 8, beginning with verse 34, Mark 8:34. So if you have your Bibles or a Bible app on your phones, please find Mark 8:34. Like I said, this is a lesson God has been trying to teach us all along. Life isn’t a game to be won or lost, at least not in the traditional sense. Normally, when you play a game, there are winners and there are losers. In basketball, in baseball, in football. Monday night the Oregon Ducks are taking on the Ohio State Buckeyes and even though people will SAY that they’re both winners, the one with the lower score isn’t going to be thinking that when they walk off the field. In most things, you can’t have winners without having losers. Winning is a zero-sum game. Winning is a zero-sum game. But to win at life, is different because it’s a game you play by yourself. Whether you win or lose has nothing to do with scores or money or ratings or any kind of metric we traditionally use to define ourselves with. And in this game, when we win, others win too. And when we lose, so do they. Here is what Jesus said to the crowds about this in Mark’s Gospel.
34 Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For whoever wants to save their life[b] will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. 36 What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? 37 Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? 38 If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”
When we value the same things that God values, we become winners in life.
Both in this life and the next. When we value the same things that God values, we become winners in life. That’s what Christ means when he says we must deny ourselves and follow him. He’s telling us that we must be willing to let go of the part of us that clings to the world and it’s values and instead admit to our weakness (by bearing our cross) and follow him. He tells us that if we really want to be his disciples, and by calling ourselves Christian that’s what we are saying, that if we really want to be his disciples, this is the path we have to take. We have to let go of the world’s values and take up his. When we do that, we become alive in a new way. We are being saved for God and for all eternity. That part of us that is the essence of who we are, the soul of our being, is preserved for God. It’s the only part of you that has the opportunity to live on past this short, mortal life. That’s why Jesus’ words are so powerful when he says, “What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?” There is nothing we can earn in this lifetime that will redeem our soul other than giving our life to God. To the outside world, that sometimes seems like we’re giving up a lot. But when you know the peace of God in your heart, it’s really giving up very little. When you know the peace of God in your heart, it’s really giving up very little.
Have you seen the movie, Field of Dreams?
There’s a part in that movie that really touched me when I saw it. It’s a scene between Ray Kinsella, played by Kevin Costner, and Doc Graham played by Burt Lancaster. In the scene, Ray comes to visit Doc to see if he can make his wish of batting in the major leagues come true and he tells the Doc that he knows of a place where this could happen. Doc Graham is obviously moved by Ray’s gesture, but he says, “If it means leaving Chisholm…” and shakes his head ‘no.’ Ray looks at him and says, “But your wish…” And the Doc responds, “It’ll stay one. I was born here, lived here, and I’ll die here. That’s okay. I’ll have no regrets.” But Ray can’t let it go. Doc is willing to sacrifice his dreams to hit in the big leagues for a life in Chisholm, Minnesota? He says, “But sixty-five years ago – for five minutes – you came THIS close. It would kill some men to get that close to their dream and never touch it. They’d consider it a tragedy.” But Doc looks at him with a soft look on his face and says, “Son…if I’d only gotten to be a doctor for five minutes…now that would’ve been a tragedy.” Those words just touched me in a deep way the first time I heard them and every time thereafter. I think I’ve seen the movie twenty times and I still love it. But Doc’s words drive home the point that Christ told us in our passage this morning. It’s not fame or fortune that defines our life. It really is about this sense of fulfillment that we derive from living our best lives and as Christians we believe that our best lives come from Christ. When we live our lives according to his values and his direction, we find that peace that so often eludes the world.
As I keep getting older, I think more and more about what it means to live a “successful” life.
A few years ago, one of my high school friends, Daryl Ishii passed away. He was barely forty years old. He was much more fit than me. He exercised regularly and had a passion for basketball. We weren’t that close, but I knew him enough to consider him a friend. We went to high school together and played basketball together when we were kids. And he died. Suddenly. From a heart attack while on the court playing basketball. He left behind a wife and two kids. Stuart Scott, nearly the same age as me, but suddenly found out he had cancer. He also was fit, and famous, and had a family who loved him. And then there are others who live to be 100 for no particular reason. They don’t take care of themselves any better or worse than my friend Daryl did or Stuart did. So was Daryl’s life or Stuart’s life any less of a success for having been so much shorter? I don’t think so. I don’t think we can take a standard measurement like money, or fame, or long life even as the measure of success. I see many people who spend the last year, 5 years, 10 years of their lives not quite themselves and wonder how they view their life. For me, watching different people come to their end in different ways, I believe that the success of your life is wholly dependent on you and God. Not your circumstances. Not the years you have. Not the awards or accolades you accumulate. Not whether or not you get your name in the paper. All of that is short-lived. The success is your life is dependent on the peace in your heart, the knowledge that you’ve lived your best life, that you are loved and that you love others, and that you have done everything you can to be deserving of that love. And all of that comes into place when we walk closely with God. Only God can give us the peace and contentment that we so desperately seek. So my friends, as we enter into this new year together, let us resolve just one thing – to live a life more closely with God. With God, we give meaning to the HOW, and the WHY, and the manner in WHICH we live. God bless you all. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
 Great article on Stuart Scott. Read it and was surprised myself to find out that what I always thought was “Boo-yah” was actually “Boo-yow!” http://espn.go.com/espn/story/_/id/12118296/stuart-scott-espn-anchor-dies-age-49
 Pop Culture Happy Hour, NPR, broadcast 1/5/15; http://elitedaily.com/sports/unforgettable-quotes-stuart-scott-made-sportscenter/895246/