To Live Is Christ, To Die Is Gain!

November 21, 2013

The news of the Rev. Dr. Henry Greene’s death has silenced me in shock and awe. My dear friend and colleague in renewal work within the PC(USA) died suddenly on Monday, while doing what he loved, hiking in Yosemite National Park. Henry was the real deal, a genuine to-the-core Christian who lived for Christ in all he did. I could devote this entire post as a tribute to him (and may still at a later date), but he would be embarrassed by that and would find a way to shift the focus onto his Lord. So that is what I shall do today, in tribute to Henry and in obedience to our Lord and Savior.

I am thinking about death now in a refreshed way. My diagnosis of lung cancer seventeen days ago did not evoke such thoughts, believe it or not. I have avoided living by numbers and statistics and have chosen to put my trust in the One and only, as explained in a previous post. But today, I must think about death, not only Henry’s but my own, and put our quite different experiences into biblical perspective.

Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, 19for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this [imprisonment] will turn out for my deliverance. 20It is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be put to shame in any way, but that by my speaking with all boldness, Christ will be exalted now as always in my body, whether by life or by death. 21For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain. 22If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which I prefer. 23I am hard pressed between the two: my desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better; 24but to remain in the flesh is more necessary for you. 25Since I am convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with all of you for your progress and joy in faith, 26so that I may share abundantly in your boasting in Christ Jesus when I come to you again. (Philippians 1:18-26)

It is Paul’s joyful affirmation in his letter to the Philippians that finally set me in motion: “For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain” (1:21). Henry is experiencing now the “dying as gain.” He is embraced by our gracious God, without a wrinkle on his face, with a pure and restored heart, without a care in the world, completely enraptured by the beauty and glory of God. He has gained everything for which he lived: reconciliation with God and restoration of his soul in the grace and mercy of God’s forgiveness in Jesus Christ. Whatever burdens he was carrying—and I assume like most pastors, his were heavy—have now been lifted from his shoulders. Whatever sorrows he bore have been transferred to the crucified Christ permanently, and he is laughing with that deep voice we all grew to love and look forward to, even on the phone. Henry has peace with God.

You and I, on the other hand, have the chance to live in our earthly tents awhile longer. We who are “left behind” are still clinging to all the same realities of reconciliation, peace, burden-free trust in Jesus, and every spiritual blessing that has been given to us in Christ. I say clinging, because most of the time, this is faith, pure and simple: the evidence of things hoped for without seeing them as Henry now sees them. But they are ours just the same. So for us, “living is Christ” means that we have the deep and joyful privilege of making Christ known through our trust in him and proclamation of Christ’s love and forgiveness to others.

By the time Paul wrote the letter to the Philippians, he was living under a threat of death; but we must clarify that death itself was not a threat to Paul at all, it was the threshold into new life. That is why he could say he could take it either way, live or die. The only thing he didn’t want to happen was that he would dishonor Christ; his heart was focused only on exalting his Name. Nevertheless, Paul felt the choice was a hard one, and he would prefer to die and see Christ face to face. But for now, as with me, Paul realizes his duty assignment as proclaimer of the mysteries of God’s will is still in force.

This is how I feel about my own life at the moment. Jealous as I might be about the way Henry’s last day was lived and transferred, God has a different plan for me. I see now, more clearly, that my call is to continue to monitor and encourage the progress of the people of faith, to equip them for their duty assignments, and to rejoice in their successes along the gospel way.

When I heard the news about Henry, my immediate thought was, “What a way to go, bro’!” The expedience of God’s call upon his life was breath-taking. But in the next breath, I said, “No! Too soon, too soon!” That word came only out of the side of me that relied on Henry’s ministry in my life and in the wider church. Selfish, I know, but honest. But for what it is worth, Henry leaves behind a cadre of church members, loving family, and colleagues and friends in the wider PC(USA) who realize we still have a job to do here. And so we shall persevere in joy and faith, knowing “to live is Christ.”

 

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3 Responses to “To Live Is Christ, To Die Is Gain!”

  1. Nile Norton Says:

    Hi Mary,

    Thinking of you even more today as I was going through boxes left in my mother, Lucy’s estate. You must realize she saved absolutely everything! I uncovered, amidst letters, clippings and souvenirs, the Baccalaureate program from Mem Chu in June of 1975 where you and I were soloists for Haydn’s “The Heavens are telling the Glory of God” from the Creation. Remember also Josef Krips’ quote during rehearsals of that work with San Francisco Symphony, “Haydn’s God was a happy God!” So sending some of those happy thoughts to add to your enduring faith.

    Love, Nile

    • revmary Says:

      Love it, Nile!! Indeed, God smiles, and knowing that helps a lot! What a great memory. Mary

      Mary Holder Naegeli From my iPhone

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