Easter II, 2019
Mom graduated high school in 1957, a teenager in the mid-fifties. All her life however, she prided herself on her love of big band music, not being a teeny-bopper despairing the popular rockers of her generation, especially Elvis.
That was all well and good, until our family became friends with the Scheffs. Jerry, the dad, was Elvis’ bass player in the late 60’s and 70’s. Jerry’s son, Jason was the pitcher on our little team. I was the catcher. Jason became a bassist like his dad and played for Chicago for thirty years. Anyway, through that connection, Elvis awareness came into the family.
I enjoy some good Elvis from time to time. But I share this connection because over the years, well, for some, since his death, Elvis has reached near holy status. There have even been studies on the parallels between Jesus and Elvis. Most notably the distinguished scholar Adam Sandler cites the following:
Jesus said: “Love thy neighbor.” Elvis said “Don’t be cruel.”
Jesus is part of the Trinity. Elvis’ first band was a trio.
Jesus was resurrected. Elvis had the 1968 “comeback” TV special.
Jesus is the Good Shepherd. Elvis dated Cybil Shepherd.
Jesus was a carpenter. Elvis’ favorite high school class was wood shop.
Folks make pilgrimages to the Holy Land, so too, they flock to Graceland as if a shrine. Waiting in line for a recent tour, a less than faithful tourist was heard to inquire, “How long did Elvis live here?” To which an indignant tour guide promptly pointed to her t-shirt that read: “Graceland, where Elvis LIVES!”
To the guide, it didn’t matter that she had never actually seen Elvis, or that Elvis has now been dead as long as he lived, 42 years. She didn’t care. Elvis fans don’t care. Without any proof, they believe he lives! Take in a Vegas impersonator show, the King lives!
Frankly it’s a shame we don’t all live our lives with that kind of faith. Unfortunately, most of us tend more toward the disciple Thomas than the Elvis tour guide.
Our story today is the familiar tale of Thomas. As it begins, the disciples are locked behind closed doors. After the crucifixion they were afraid, perhaps because they might be next. And then Jesus came and stood among them. When they saw him the disciples rejoiced. But Thomas was not there. When they told him about it later, Thomas said “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”
A week later, when Thomas was with the disciples. When he saw Jesus, no touch was needed. He knew, “My Lord and my God!” he exclaimed.
Jesus replied, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
We all know this story. More to the point, we’ve all lived it. We’ve all had times in our lives where we’ve doubted, where we have said to God, “Show me a sign! Give me some proof!” Maybe it was a place of unbearable pain, a time we faced hardship with no answers, a time when God seemed silent. We have all been at that point where, like Thomas, we yearned for a sign from God.
And why not? We live in a world where “proof” trumps faith. We send robots with cameras to the farthest ends of the universe so we can finally see a “black hole.” We won’t believe an assertion until a complicated mathematical equation says it’s true. And if you want to test this theory, hang a “wet paint” sign on the wall, and count the folks that touch it--just to be sure!
If only we could have the faith of Elvis fans, a faith driven not by empirical proof, but by the voice in our hearts. Finding that kind of faith can change our lives. For when you believe something in your heart, you begin to act it in your life.
Think about Elvis fans. They not only believe he lives, they act like he lives. They are always on the lookout for an Elvis sighting. Scripture says seek and you shall find. Elvis fans live that to a tee. Constantly they look for the King. Sometimes they find him. Elvis has been “seen” all over the world, from a spa in Tokyo to a Burger King in Michigan. One woman even claimed to have seen his image in a taco shell.
If only we put even one percent of that kind of energy towards looking for Jesus, we might actually find him too. Maybe we’d find him in the eyes of a little child or the downcast gaze of a homeless stranger. Or in the broken heart of a migrant. Maybe we’d find him in the face of an enemy or the tears of a loved one with whom we are fighting. If you believe he lives, you’ll act like he lives. You’ll look for him and you’ll find him.
Another thing about this, because Elvis fans believe he lives, so they look for others who believe as well, like through Elvis fans clubs. One club member belongs to a chapter called “Taking Care of Business.” She writes about having to undergo major surgery. Following the surgery her room was chalk full of cards and letters from all over the world.
Christians can learn from this. Community is what gives us strength, support, and focus in times we most need it. Finding families of faith is what helps us keep our faith. If you believe he lives, you’ll look for others who believe as well.
Yet here is the most important thing: Because his fans believe Elvis lives, his fans go out into the world and share his message. They play his music, they impersonate him, they collect his memorabilia and decorate their homes with it. Imagine having an Elvis sprinkler. Available at the Graceland gift shop, a foot-high plastic Elvis in a sequin jumpsuit, waters your yard with a hip swivel! Thank you, thank you very much!
Whether through word, or music, impersonators, velvet posters or sprinklers, Elvis fans proudly proclaim the message of the King.
Do you catch the contrast with the disciples? Before he appeared to them, the disciples are hiding in a locked room. They are not looking for Jesus. They were not going around looking for other believers. They were not out in the world sharing the message of this King. They were hiding in fear and shame, because they didn’t believe he lived.
Another fan club member writes about growing up in an abusive household. She loved Elvis’ music and she would listen to it and daydream of him as an escape. “he was my safe space,” she wrote, “my little piece of heaven.” Because she believed he lived, she honored him in her heart and that enabled her to find peace in the hardest of times.
If only we would open our hearts to Jesus in the same way. When we honor the risen Christ with our whole heart, we have our own safe space, our own bit of heaven in which to rest and to heal.
If you believe he lives, you’ll act like he lives. And Jesus’ message is one of action. Elvis knew that. Early in his career he noted, “Music and religion are similar, because both should make you want to move.”
The gospel is a living, vibrant force that should make you want to get out and move, move around in the world, move towards each other in love and compassion, move towards bringing in the kingdom.
I like a faith that makes me want to move. In fact, thinking of a Savior who makes us want to put on sequin jumpsuits and sing, is a pretty joyous thing.
Don’t let the doubts and fears of life shake your belief. Don’t let your faith be driven by anything but the voice in your heart. Remember he said, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” For if we believe he lives, our lives will change. We will search, and we will find him.
Elvis has left the building.
Jesus is here.
The king lives.
You can believe it.