Year C (Proper 29)
Sunday Cycle of Prayer
The Church of the Province of the Indian Ocean
St. Anne’s Church, Crystal River
St. Mary’s Church, Daytona Beach
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
Jesus is a holy leader: prayerful, strategic, and centered in God.
In the Book of Common prayer, I have always been drawn to the definition of ministry, the ministers of the church are the lay people, bishops, priests and deacons. You and I are the ministers and the leaders of the church and all of you are listed first. Where and whom do you and I look to for good leadership? Do we look to government officials at the national, state, and or local levels or a corporate boardroom or even to sports team coaches or owners?
And how do we define good leadership anyway? Our society tends to define successful leaders as having and cultivating power which appears not to be abused building revenue and improving the economy, increasing our status and of course increasing the status others just like us.
But we know Good leadership, holy leadership guides us, as Jesus modelled, to recognize our common humanity, bring us together around a common mission and empower us to give and serve for the entire community’s benefit.
This morning we see such holy leadership, Holy leadership an unlikely place the CROSS. Holy Leadership begins in Jesus and radiates from Jesus. For Jesus centered in his relationship and faith in God, knows that not only HE but the whole world is in the God’s hands. God called Jesus and Jesus calls us to be fully restored in and reconciled to Him. If we center our relationship in God as Jesus did, our hearts can be transformed to be good leaders and good stewards for our families, church, and community. Today is the final Sunday of the Church year, the last Sunday after Pentecost. Also known as Christ the King Sunday, today we recognize Christ’s kingship, Christ as King reigning forever in heaven and hanging from the Cross at Calvary. At first glance you are probably wondering how do we see Christ as a King on the cross? Afterall in world history, kings were figures with great wealth and power, honored or dishonored by their political or military accomplishments or failures. Moved among the elite, dressed to the nines in regalia, eating lavish feasts just watch one episode of The Crown and you will be reminded of the royal lifestyle and challenges.
But this morning the story of the two criminals which is recorded in Luke’s Gospel reveals Jesus as a very different King, a very different holy leader. Jesus the shoot from the stump of Jesse who grew to be a righteous Branch who walked the earth among the sinners and lepers, preached repentance and forgiveness and healed so many people.
Jesus has been unjustly convicted of heresy in both Jewish and Roman trials beaten and condemned. He has carried his own cross most of the way to the Skull where, his hands and feet nailed down first, he is left to die a slow, shameful death before the whole world. Hanging between two criminals convicted for what we know not but differing significantly in their hearts.
In Luke’s version of the Passion story, Jesus models three aspects of holy leadership. Being willing to forgive others, to risk empowering others, and to be centered in God. As he speaks three times from the cross, first of all, Jesus prays to the Father…. “Father forgive them “
Wrongly accused, convicted, beaten, and tortured Jesus is not paralyzed by his own pain or brokenness. He is not focused on HIMSELF, he does not lash out in defiance, he does not abandon God’s mission for him; Jesus PRAYS and is willing to offer FORGIVENESS for those who mock, shame and will eventually kill him. Jesus sees their ignorance, the soldiers and Romans’ moral blindness, his followers powerlessness, and the Religious authorities’ underlying fear of losing their power and position and clinging to the past, unable to move forward.
I often wonder how is Jesus even able to do this? It is easy for me, and I suspect for some of you, to hold onto a grudge against someone for cutting us off in traffic, not following through on a promise or lying to us. But Jesus who lives centered in the Father’s love forgives all of “them” who crucify him. The Soldiers, Roman and Jewish Leaders, and the passive crowd,
Jesus forgives them because he sees them as they truly are; human beings, ignorant, blind, weak, and fearful. In the midst of his own misery, he sees THEIR misery and declares them redeemable. Jesus trusts that God can open their eyes, forgive them, and guide them to turn around and to follow Him.
Jesus, as a holy leader, sees past, even in the darkest moments in life, how life and people appear on the surface and looks deeply within the people and their situation to see the possibility of full restoration of life in Him. Secondly Jesus, as a holy leader, seizes the opportunity to promise salvation….“Today you will be with me in Paradise.” Jesus speaks only to one criminal, the first criminal, like the other scoffers, mocks Jesus, failing to see his kingship, railing against Jesus. To lose his focus centered in and on God’s mission for him, Jesus does not respond.
But we then hear something quite miraculous. The second criminal, traditionally known as Dismas, rebukes the first criminal for his contempt of Jesus and identifies his own sinfulness and need for punishment, how Dismas’ heart was converted, we don’t know.
Perhaps as author Don Willis suggests in The Tale of the Penitent Thief God had been at work on Dismas’ heart to return to God. Even Before he turned away from YHWH to act criminally.
Or maybe Dismas, as he saw Jesus, centered and faithful to God even on the cross, heard the Holy Spirit calling him to confess his sins trust in Jesus as his Lord and Savior and have faith Jesus would forgive and grant him a place in His Kingdom. Dismas’ eyes are opened to see who Jesus truly is in the midst of his misery, a King on a wooden throne who stays his course in the midst of injustice, is centered in his relationship with God and prays, not for himself, but for
forgiveness and liberation of those who have harmed him.
Dismas boldly asks: Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom. And Jesus, holy leader that he is does not fall into a bureaucratic stance and set obstacles in Dismas’ way but rather seizes the opportunity after hearing this man’s faith to offer him salvation, to be with him in Paradise. When Jesus discerned the time was right and the second criminal had confessed
and affirmed Him as Lord and King of new Kingdom, Jesus takes the risk to offer Dismas eternal salvation.
Jesus believed and saw people as children of God who were and are better than their failures and was willing to take a risk, to seize the opportunity, to embody Holy Leadership means when we sense our brothers and sisters are hurting and needing hope and reassurance that you and I will seize the opportunity, will take the risk to share Christ’s Good News in what we and what we do to welcome, forgive and include all of God’s children.
In these situations we don’t need to wait and form a committee or to get Vestry approval…
Three hours later that fateful day, Jesus’ speaks his last words from the cross “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” This is a portion of Psalm 31 which continues with “for you have redeemed me, O Lord God of truth.” As a holy leader, Jesus prays and surrenders himself to the Father. He know his mission is complete it is time to go home to the Father, back to where it all began. Jesus, as a holy leader, remains anchored in his faith to the very end, listening to where he is called, radiating God’s love to all persons, inviting all who have gone astray to come back to Him, letting go when he knows the Father calls him home.
As a holy leader Jesus is centered in his faith in God and sees God at the center of every person and place and invites others to see Him as King of unconditional love and compassion for all who choose to believe.
All of us are called to be leaders, holy in our actions. Prayerful, forgiving, willing to take risks and willing to surrender to God’s will, anchoring the center of our very being in God’s center and love, I invite you this week to meditate and reflect upon Jesus’ last three phrases from the cross…
What might Jesus be calling you to develop as a holy leader?