of Christ's wholehearted leading of self, of all.

Today is Christ the King, or Reign of Christ, Sunday in the Christian tradition. The final Sunday in the Christian calendar, before we begin a new year with the season of Advent next week.

As I reflected on Christ as king, I had in mind the words of a training course facilitator and of a researcher/storyteller. Their words helped me to explore the story and the theme with my congregation at Belair.
Chapel, Santa Theresa Retreat Centre, Ormiston, Qld

Christ the King Sunday – 24 November 2013
worship @ belair – reflection


it’s one of the catch-words for the uniting church in recent years, and during my time at theological college I experienced a shift in emphasis from ‘theology’ to ‘leadership’ (now known as Uniting College for Leadership and Theology).

I must admit that there are a few of us around the church who have been caught up in this shift in emphasis, this change of language, who don’t necessarily respond positively to the word ‘leadership’ any more …

what about you? how do you respond? what ideas, people, experiences come to your mind when you think of leadership, leading, leaders?

talk to each other for a minute.

responses included bravery, flawed, movement, inspiring ... 

In many circumstances, it can appear within the church at present that leadership and ministry are synonymous.

So it was that I undertook professional development in ‘leadership’ in June this year, attending a course in fundamentals in transitional ‘ministry’ – aka how to lead a congregation through change.

One of the things our facilitator, Sharon, said during the week was that the only person you can really lead is yourself.

think about that for a moment.

the only person you can lead is yourself.

if you can’t lead yourself, which is to say if you won’t follow you, who else will?

Mahatma Ghandi is often quoted on t-shirts and inspirational calendars as saying, be the change you want to see in the world, which might be another way of saying the same thing.

Today is Christ the King, or Reign of Christ, Sunday, the final Sunday in the Christian calendar year. It is a day on which we celebrate the kingdom of God revealed in Jesus the Christ. The rule, the reign, or we might say, the leading, of Christ.

So how is Jesus a ‘leader’, and how might we see in Christ one who led others, leading himself?

A researcher/storyteller from the USA called Brené Brown has observed a distinction between people more resistant to shame, and those for whom shame and fear have a stronger hold: a belief in our worthiness to be loved and valued. A belief in our worthiness. Brown sees in people who believe in their worthiness a wholeheartedness of being, featuring courage, compassion and connection.

As I listened to her TEDtalk, I began to see that these are qualities I was identifying in Christ as I reflected on the passage and the theme for today.

Courage, Compassion and Connection.

Courage, Brown says, comes from the latin word for heart, and its meaning when the word first appears in English is telling our story with our whole heart. People she has observed as wholehearted have the courage to be imperfect. The courage to own their whole story, to not have it all together; the courage to show ‘weakness’.

Are you not the Messiah? Christ is asked, or taunted. Why not save yourself?

Imagine the humility of hanging there like a criminal, having been arrested, beaten, seemingly overpowered by Jewish and Roman authorities; having been rejected by the very people he came to serve. Jesus, in this moment, hangs there in all his frail, fallible, imperfect humanity, for all to see and mock – and he lets himself be seen. He lest this story unfold, be told, the fullness of his humanity courageously told. The whole story, not only the divinity, but also, importantly, the humanity.

Compassion. For Brené Brown, compassion cannot be shown to another if you do not treat yourself kindly. Jesus shows compassion to his fellow victim of crucifixion, welcoming him to come with him into paradise. Still interested in caring for those he encounters even in the midst of his own deep suffering.

How does he care for himself? In this moment, in the telling of the story, we are not shown explicitly all that Jesus does. But Jesus appears to me to be allowing the taunts, the brutality, to wash over him. I imagine him with a protective bubble around himself that doesn’t own the violence and the hatred, his kindness to himself a love that affirms his worth, his purpose.

Jesus manages to display digninty in the midst of a great indignity. This is care, compassion, love for self.

there may also be a care for himself in the allowing Simon of Cyrene to carry the cross for him, accepting the care of others (though we don’t know who the ‘they’ are who pull Simon out of the crowd).

If you are the king of the Jews – Jesus knows he is king, and care for himself and his sense of worthiness gives him confidence to accept it, or at least not deny it. Jesus also knows how he is king, through peace, non-violence, compassion for all. this compassion is shown as love for himself, affirming and accepting his worthiness as beloved son of God.

Connection. In connecting – with others, with the earth and all that lives – Brené Brown sees wholehearted people exhibit an authenticity that allows them to let go of the ideas of who they think they ‘should’ be, the expectations we perceive for ourselves. Letting go of those expectations allows a depth of connection with others. Jesus knows he is king, knows how he is king, and lives out of this knowledge of himself authentically, and connects, draws others into the kingdom, making, as the poet Bruce Saguin names it, more a kin-dom, a realm of relationship, reconciliation, wholeness.

Earlier in luke, we hear this story:

Luke 22:24-30
 A dispute also arose among them as to which one of them was to be regarded as the greatest. But he said to them, ‘The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you; rather the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.
 ‘You are those who have stood by me in my trials; and I confer on you, just as my Father has conferred on me, a kingdom, so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and you will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

As I have served, as I have loved, as I have lived, so must you, if you are to follow the Way of God.

Courage, compassion, connection.


It’s a way of living that embraces our vulnerability. Brené Brown talks about her own struggle with vulnerability, and from her talk it seems she still views vulnerability as ‘bad’, equating it with fear.

I’ve quoted this poem of leunig’s before,
Love and fear / Michael Leunig

There are only two feelings, Love and fear:
There are only two languages, Love and fear:
There are only two activities, Love and fear:
There are only two motives, two procedures,
two frameworks, two results, Love and fear,
Love and fear.

For me, vulnerability is not equated with fear, but love. It is not a weakness, but a strength. As can be seen in Brown’s own research, the courage, compassion and connection of wholehearted people – wholehearted people embrace vulnerability.
Jesus, for me, is a profound example of a wholehearted person: exhibiting courage – telling his whole story with his whole heart – compassion – caring for himself in order to care for others – connection – self knowledge that allows himself to be seen, known, touched. He leads himself and makes himself irresistible, eminently followable. Jesus commits to the Way of life God calls us to live, lives it, is the Way he, God, wants to see in the world: and thus leads us in our living as wholehearted people.


(Sarah Agnew) 


sarah said…
Nadia Bolz-Weber's reflection on the Reign of Christ touches on some of the things I found, coming at the theme and the text from a different angle: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/nadiabolzweber/2013/11/sermon-losers-amish-and-the-reign-of-christ/

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