We Live to the Lord and We Die to the Lord
This past week my brother had an 8-bypass open heart surgery; my sister completed her 30 radiation treatments for cancer; my mother discovered that she will need a thyroid operation for possible cancer; my uncle was buried; and we had the funeral for our 51 year old parishioner, Vange Giantsios.
Quite a week! How life can radically change even within a few days. Each of these events reminded me of the brevity and frailty of life. Everything can change in a moment – whether it’s a sudden heart attack or news that one has cancer – life is fragile and brief. Yet, this is why our Lord Jesus constantly reminded his followers to remain vigilant and on guard, and never forget that He is with us, in the midst of any challenge we may face.
“Watch,” Christ warned, “For you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming… For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be….Therefore, stand ready… Be vigilant.”
Our Christian Faith clearly teaches that Jesus will come again one day, and we should live in constant vigilance, preparing and getting ready to meet Him. And yet, our meeting is not a future event, but a daily encounter each and every day! Think about this radical teaching for a moment – it’s not just a question of whether we are ready if Christ were to come today, but it’s the realization that Christ does come to us daily. Are we living life ready to meet Him? Are we prepared to lay bare our life before our Lord. And what will we have to show for our life?
This theme of life and death, of vigilance and readiness, of encountering God daily is very much a part of the Feast we celebrate today - the Feast of the two greatest apostles, Peter and Paul. Both saints stand as examples of vigilance and sobriety in faith. They passionately followed Jesus and dedicated their lives to Him, proclaiming His Good News to the world at large. And while following Christ, they suffered for it. They endured countless struggles and challenges, and both ended their lives in martyrdom. Yet each realized that life or death meant little difference for one who was united to Jesus. They adopted the worldview of walking with Christ daily, being filled with His Spirit, and realizing that if they did so, then it really didn’t matter what happened in life, because God was with them. They learned that nothing life can bring would separate God from them. This is why the Apostle Paul says, “Who or what can separate us from the love of God? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness or peril or violence? In all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For nothing in life or death shall be able to separate us from the love of God.”
In other words, at whatever age death might come, it doesn’t matter as long as we remember that God is with us, and as long as we stay united with God. St. Paul further highlighted this worldview when he proclaimed “We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s… I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me, and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me… For me to live is Christ and to die is gain.”
The Apostle Paul reminds us that when we walk with Jesus Christ in this life, united with Him and living under His reign of love and joy and peace, then we are experiencing the Kingdom of God here and now. In this we can rejoice each and every day, no matter what life brings – whether apparent blessings or unexpected challenges, difficult struggles or unwanted tragedies. The circumstances of life really don’t matter when we are dwelling in the presence of God.
This is why St. Paul, who while languishing in a prison cell, would say to the Christians in Philippi, who faced violent persecution – “I have learned in whatever state I am to be content. I know what it is to have nothing, and I know what it is to have plenty. Everywhere and in all things I have learned contentment. For I know that I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
Learning to be content in life, to rejoice in all circumstances, and to give thanks with whatever surprises life may bring – here lies the secret of a Christ-centered life. St. Paul further explains – “I have endured much suffering – five times whipped the standard 39 lashes; three times beaten by rods; once stoned almost to death; three times shipwrecked and left out at sea; in constant danger and hunger and weariness and toil… and even a thorn in the flesh was given to me by Satan to buffet me” - and yet I learned that “God’s grace is sufficient for me, for God’s strength is made perfect in my weakness.”
Let me repeat that here lies the secret to a life of contentment – “God’s grace is sufficient for us, for God’s strength is made perfect in our weakness.” Trusting and believing in God’s grace, remembering that God is always with us and will never abandon us, realizing that in the midst of any challenge or struggle or tragedy, God is not only present, He not only suffers with us in the midst of our challenge, but He is ready to walk with us in any darkness and show us the way out! He will help us conquer any evil we face in our lives, and lead us back into His brilliant light!
Of course, St. Peter agrees with St. Paul when he also emphasizes how we “Rejoice even when [we] are grieved by various trials, because through these trials the genuineness of [our] faith will be tested by fire and [we] will receive the salvation of your souls.” We can rejoice in the midst of challenges precisely because we know God is with us!
Life can often surprise us – whether with an unexpected open heart surgery, with the discovery of cancer, with an untimely death, or with some other event. Each time we hear about friends who are struggling through this mystery of life, or when we ourselves come face to face with these trials, let us not forget that they are vivid reminders of how we are to live life with vigilance, on guard, ready to meet our Lord each and every day! Are we living with the spirit and worldview of the Apostles Peter and Paul – living under the reign of the Kingdom of Heaven, fully understanding that God is with us, and that His grace is sufficient for us, for His strength is made perfect in our weakness?!? And can we say as they did, “If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.”
A blessed feastday of Sts. Peter and Paul!
Facing Our Uncertain Future
LEARNING FROM ST NICHOLAS
Our Orthodox Faith