Text: John 18:33-37
The week ahead is a busy one on the American calendar. It is definitely a busy week on the Charles calendar. Later today, we will go celebrate the first birthday of our grandnephew, baby Joe Piplico, then two days later we will celebrate the birthday of my bride, Jennell, and on Thursday, the national Thanksgiving feast will return for its annual visit.
Over my lifetime, the way we celebrate Thanksgiving has changed significantly, but one feature has held constant. Thanksgiving is the official kick-off to Christmas shopping. I probably received thirty shopping catalogues in the mail last week alone and I have lost track of all the shopping opportunities I have deleted from my e-mail in the past few days. On Friday a struggling national economy will rejoice at how much money is SAVED on just that one shopping day.
Now there are always party poopers around as we approach the holy shopping season. These folks believe that Christmas shopping is a grand grifter’s gimmick and they will have nothing to do with it. Other folks are not anti-shopping at all. No, these folks are the elite early shoppers who were done with their Christmas shopping by July 4th, now sitting smugly in their homes, and mocking everyone else’s frantic pace.
No matter whether or how you engage Christmas shopping, I am convinced that you and I have more shopping to do, some important shopping to do. But I will come back to that later. First things first.
Did anything strike you as odd as you listened to Tom read from John’s Gospel today? It is not at all an unfamiliar passage. It tells the long and twisted story of the prisoner Jesus standing trial before Pilate. While it is not an unfamiliar passage, it is certainly told at an unfamiliar time. Why would we read about Jesus’ impending death just as we are about to celebrate Thanksgiving, and then enter the season of his birth? Why can’t the church let us enjoy some oohing and aahing over the cute baby, before we have to hear about his arrest, torture, and crucifixion?
If we did not already know what Pilate was about to do, the whole scene in John’s Gospel would seem almost comical. Pilate must have had a good secret belly laugh about Jesus being called the King of the Jews or “the King” of anything. In truth, Pilate showed some respectful reserve by not asking Jesus, “O King, where are your armies? Where is the capital of your Kingdom? Hey, Jesus, what’s the name of your Queen?” Pilate’s soldiers, though, could not resist a good taunt. They punctured his head with a thorny crown in honor of this broken and beaten “King of the Jews.”
When I think back on famous monarchs in human history, Jesus does not come to mind. For the idea of a King brings with it certain images: power, military might, a court, privilege, just to name a few. Jesus tries to tell Pilate, and indirectly, to tell us, “I am a different kind of King. I am armed with the most powerful ammunition known to the human race – truth.” In fact, earlier in John, Jesus says, “I am the truth.” He tells Pilate, “For this I was born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth.”
A King who suffers, who is humiliated and tortured, who is publicly executed at the site of a garbage dump, who even at the cost of his life tells the truth. Unheard of! And yet, that is the story of Jesus. And, our faith tells us that Jesus still enters the world’s suffering and our own, the world’s death and dying and our own, and does so speaking hard and sometimes the absolutely most comforting truth.
It is Christ THE KING who has wept with me as I have stood at the graveside of those I love. It is Christ THE KING who has comforted anguished friends as they wrestled with the news of a miscarriage. It is Christ THE KING who keeps vigil with those wrongly imprisoned in Russia and in the U.S., long after you and I have forgotten their daily struggle. It is Christ THE KING who will not allow the families of Devin Chandler, Lavel Davis, Jr. and D’Sean Perry to mourn alone.
So, on this Christ THE KING Sunday, I want to invite us to go shopping – KINGdom shopping. I do so with an important warning. KINGdom shopping is potentially the most hazardous form of shopping there is and it is by far the most costly. It is not shopping for spiffy ties or stylish shoes or shiny bikes or anything Amazon can deliver. KINGdom shopping is not one and done shopping. It is shopping that asks more from us than our credit card number and a few hours of our time; it asks from us our very lives. It asks us to search out truth and then hold onto truth for dear life.
No matter when we read his story, Pilate is never overly interested in the truth, even when the truth stands staring him in the face. No, Pilate is concerned about public opinion, keeping an angry crowd satisfied, not drawing the ire of his superiors, and getting home in time for a hot bath, a good meal, and a nice glass of Rome’s finest. He is not inclined to linger long looking for or being stared down by truth.
To KINGdom shop is to move beyond Pilate, to look hard in the mirror and recognize hard truths about the person we see. Barbara Brown Taylor tells of being at a retreat where the leader asked everyone to think about someone who represents Christ in their lives. When it comes time to share their answers one woman stands up and says, “I had to think hard about that one. I kept thinking. ‘Who is it who told me the truth about myself so clearly that I wanted to kill him for it?’” No wonder Pilate had little time for truth.
To KINGdom shop, then, is to take a hard look in the mirror and start looking hard at people for whom we too often avert our eyes. When we do, we may start “shopping” for those people we have not seen since the start of the pandemic. For out of sight, out of mind. Not for KINGdom shoppers.
When we do, we may start “shopping” for those people who only stir up our hatred like the young man who pulled the trigger too many times in Charlottesville last week. For hopefully, out of sight, out of mind. Not for KINGdom shoppers.
When we do, we may start “shopping” for those people who simply cannot stop making the wrong choices, wasting their very last dollars, bottomless wells of human need who always need something else from us. For God’s sake, out of sight, out of mind. Not for KINGdom shoppers.
When we do, we may start “shopping” for those people who have given up on God and God’s people, and often, have done so for some really good reasons, people who are desperate for the love and embrace of a community and are convinced that love and accepting community could never be found in any church. Out of sight? Out of mind? Not for KINGdom shoppers.
When I think of the music of the week ahead, I think of Thanksgiving hymns I have sung since my childhood, “Come, Ye Thankful People Come,” “We Gather Together to Ask the Lord’s Blessing,” “Now Thank We All Our God” just to name a few. The song, though, that I suggest that you and I sing for our KINGdom shopping is “Joy to the World.” It was written in 1719 by Sir Isaac Watts and put to music by George Frideric Handel. It sings, “Joy to the World, the Lord is come; Let Earth receive her king.”
With that song on our lips and in our hearts, you and I can not only celebrate a joyful Thanksgiving, we can KINGdom shop, non-stop, until “heaven and nature sing, and heaven, and heaven, and nature sing.”
So, are you ready to start shopping, KINGdom shopping? I could sure use the company. And, I don’t think we should keep the King waiting.