For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which I prefer. I am hard pressed between the two: my desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better; but to remain in the flesh is more necessary for you. Since I am convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with all of you for your progress and joy in faith, so that I may share abundantly in your boasting in Christ Jesus when I come to you again. (Philippians 1:21-26)
God has blessed me with a ninth year as bishop of the Wisconsin Annual Conference. Before the pandemic hit us, we were preparing for General Conference and Jurisdictional Conference, and there was a chance I might have been moved to a different Episcopal area. But for the moment, things are put on hold. Would I have been glad to move? Am I glad to stay? The answer is ‘yes’ to both, because I have always gone where the church has sent me. I am able to serve with joy wherever God calls me, and this is a deep comfort and blessing.
Paul speaks to the church at Philippi honestly about being of two minds. Paul had suffered greatly in defense of the gospel, being imprisoned and dealing with a “thorn in his flesh,” and he was understandably tired. But he offers an elegant and sublime reflection – “living is Christ and dying is gain” – in other words, he is absolutely fine with whatever God has in store for him. He looks forward to serving and leading and sharing fellowship, but if his life is forfeit, he is fine with that as well.
Isn’t this an excellent frame of mind? In Buddhism mindfulness and being fully engaged in the present moment are key concepts. Paying attention, being aware, focusing in, and embracing what is happening all around us can be transforming and liberating. To be accepting of the good and the bad, the joys and the sorrows, the triumphs and the defeats with equal humility and grace is a gift from God. Our lives are so much more enjoyable when we receive whatever we are given, knowing that the good will encourage and strengthen us, while the bad will pass away in time. It also gives us the strength and wisdom to oppose injustices and oppression of others, because we can be non-anxious presence.
The physical separations and system-wide delays caused by this pandemic will end in time. By God’s grace, I join Paul in saying, “I know that I will remain and continue with all of you for your progress and joy in faith, so that I may share abundantly in your boasting in Christ Jesus when I come to you again.” I do so look forward to the days we will be together and indeed this will be cause for great celebration. But know that, for now, God is with us all right where we are. And by God’s grace, God will help us accept today, and give us hope for tomorrow.
Loving God, calm our minds, our hearts, our spirits, and our souls. Help us to be as present to you as you are present with us. Grant us patience, perseverance, and an abiding peace. Prepare us for the day we may reunite but let us receive each day apart as a gift, so that by our spiritual acceptance, we may honor and glorify you. Amen.
May this devotion provide you with a moment of faithful reflection and care. You are involved in ministries of justice and witness, in ministries of standing up and standing with people working to create better systems and communities, in ministries of learning and searching and researching to become more aware and awakened, more technologically savvy and proficient, more virtually and personally present in your churches and communities and world. Each of us who serve as members of your Wisconsin Cabinet write these devotions in grateful prayer for you – for sustenance and buoyancy, for strength and courage, for safety and just actions, and for faith and love to be full and fulfilled in your daily lives. God’s grace and blessings, God’s challenge and healthy discomfort, God’s Spirit and energy be with you, in the hope Christ offers us all.
Bishop Hee-Soo Jung has served as resident bishop of the Wisconsin Annual Conference since September of 2012. Prior to leading the Wisconsin Conference UMC, Bishop Jung served eight years as bishop of the Northern Illinois Conference (Chicago area).