’s Mark Kurowski reflects on the radical nature of Christianity. What does it mean for life to be Christ? Equally, how could dying possibly be a “gain?”   Please read Philippians 1:21-30., this is Mark Kurowski with a reflection for Sunday, 9/18/2011The 25th Sunday of Ordinary Time.
Please pause this audio and read Philippians 1.21-30.
“To live is Christ, to die is gain.”
“To live” is wrapped up in Christ and his purpose for the universe lived out—even through the hard times of life.  “To gain,” for the faithful, is to finally have rest from all the work we do in faithful service for Christ Jesus the Lord.  It is an undeserved reward in Heaven that is worth the wait.
One night, I was putting one of our children to bed; they asked me why it was that I had a “hard life.”  I thought this was an interesting comment.  I told them that it was because my Daddy was never interested in me.
My father never remembered my birthday.  He never knew that I played the trumpet for ten years in elementary and high school.  He never knew my hopes and my fears.  The only time he ever needed me was when he needed money.  When I told my child most of this, they said, “Why did Grandpa not do those things?”
I told my child how, when I was their age, I use to think that my father wasn’t interested in my life because I wasn’t good enough.  “Who told you that wasn’t true?” the little voice said in the night light glow.
“Jesus,” I replied.  I told my child how on one night in particular, in the choir loft of a church in South Bend, Indiana, Jesus touched my life in a very strong way and I was filled with his love.  It was a love that reassured me that I was forgiven of my sins and faults.  It was a love that let me know that because Jesus Christ died on the cross as an expression of the Father’s love, I was worthy of being loved.  It was not that I was good enough; it is that God is good enough to love even me.
It is the Father in Heaven who is the only father I have ever known.  It is through his Son that I understand who I am, what I am called to do and how I should do it.  Where other people find their worth from their work or from their position in the community, I find my worth only in the cross of Christ.  What he wants for his people, what he needs me to do, what prayers he wants us to pray, and more, all of these things are what has driven me as a lay person, a pastor and as the Director of University Ministry.  To me, there is no other purpose for the one who is called “Christian” than to do the will of the One who died to save them from their sins.  Every breath we take, we take for him.  Every thought we have, we have for him.  Everything we do, we do for him.  No matter what the cost, we are living out his will for our lives out of gratitude and a deep abiding sense of love.  Through him, with him, in him, for us, “to live is Christ!”
When St. Paul is writing the community at Philippi, he is writing from a jail cell.  He is once again put in prison and a seemingly uncertain future for proclaiming Jesus Christ, and him crucified.  Where many of would think to ourselves as we sat in the jail cell, “I have got to find another gig,” Paul says in his jailhouse letter to his favorite church, “To live is Christ.”
Sometimes, as we live life for Christ, the loss of life around us, or the illnesses to good people, gets us down.  Or, when we wanted life to go a certain direction, and it doesn’t happen, that gets us down.  It can be depressing.
Then, someone says, like the Psalmist says, “Our God is a God of salvation; and to God, the Lord belongs escape from death.” (Ps. 68:20).  When that happens we realize all that St. Paul means when he says, “None of us lives unto himself, and none of us dies unto himself.  If we live, we live to the Lord, if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, living or dying, we are the Lord’s.” (Rom. 14:7).  Our life is not our own and we are to live the way that God wants and needs us to live.
We are not our own, Jesus is our purpose.  A man/woman who has purpose can withstand the gates of Hell.  It is the purpose of Christ that makes Paul choose, as if he had a choice, to stay on earth and minister to the Philippians rather than choosing to go to Paradise with Christ.  “To live is Christ” means that all that we do is directed toward the cause of Christ: we live for his glory, we walk in his way, we gather the harvest of his people, we love them through and through for Christ’s glory.  It means that we understand that we, too, must suffer for Jesus sometimes.  Suffering or happy, to live is Christ.
I think it is easy for us to grasp what it means “to live is Christ” but it is harder to understand what it means “to die is gain.”  This is a strange sounding thing in a world where we spend literally billions of dollars each year to remain young, where youth is worshiped and death is feared.
Christians, hear the words of St. John of Patmos from the Book of Revelation:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.  And I saw the holy city, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband; and I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling of God is with men.  He will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away.
We know that this description of heaven is what waits us.  There will be a day when we are raised to be with Jesus, and on that day, all that has been promised by God will be shared with us.  All who believe and live the Christian life will be in that wonderful place!
You know how you were driving down the road and that very nice person pulled out in front of you even though there was no one behind you?  Or, do you know how people come to you with their problems when the problem is that they won’t take responsibility for their own life?  Or, do you know how you’ve been to the doctor a hundred times and it still doesn’t seem to get better?  Or, you have tried and tried to make sense of your life and that doesn’t seem to be any better?  Or, do you have days on your job where you would like to be anywhere else but where you are?  I have.
On those days, I dream of making a bumper sticker that says, “I’d rather be with Jesus than with you!”  Does any of this sound familiar?
The celestial paradise, heaven, the place where we go to be with Jesus between our death and the resurrection of the dead, is a much better place to be.  A man once said,
We learn from Holy Writ that death is not only a haven, but an entrance into a far more desirable country—a land not flowing with milk and honey like the earthly Canaan, but with joys knowing neither cessation or end.  Who would not sink under the weight of oppression and misery…were he not assured that all these things will come to an end, and that his misery with his time passes away like a shadow; that God has prepared an eternal mansion for him where sorrow and pain shall never know him; where his soul shall be no more moved with the scornful reproof of the wealthy, or the despiteful usage of the evil doer; a place as it is beautifully described in the context, where the prisoners rest together and hear not the voice of the oppressor—in a word where the wicked cease from troubling, and where the weary are at rest.
We learn from the early church Fathers that Jesus did not come only to be human, but to make us divine.  That is, he came to take us into his body and make us to live in him forever and ever, first in Paradise and then in Heaven.  All of this is because he loves us and wants us to be with him.
Upon our death, we will gain all that is promised.  It will be a welcome relief for all of us who struggle to understand how insidious and pervasive evil is in this world.  It will be a great rest for those of us who are living our every moment for the coming of the eternal Kingdom of our Lord.  There are times, when, like Paul, we could be hard pressed between the two things, “To live is Christ, to dies is gain.”
“To live” is wrapped up in Christ and his purpose for the universe lived out in our daily lives.  It is a purpose that is worth being lived out—even through the hard times of life.  “To gain,” for the faithful, is to finally have rest from all the work we do in faithful service for Christ Jesus the Lord.  It is an undeserved reward in Heaven that is worth the wait.
So, my friends, how is it in your life that “to live is Christ?”  What changes do you have to make so that all that you are and all that you do is driven by the purpose of Christ?  Write those changes down right now.  Look at them every day for the next week.
When you think that living for Christ is just too much work and you cannot handle it, remember the “gain” that Christ gives when we die.  Let that sweet notion of Paradise sink in and let it be your own.  For truly, “to live is Christ, to die is gain.” Amen?  Amen.
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