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  • Writer's pictureOCLP New York

A Message From Bishop John Macholz


APRIL 19, 2020

In an article posted January 8 of this year in the Florida Times, Jacksonville edition, The Rev. Susan Sparks, a stand up comedian and Senior Pastor of Madison Avenue Baptist Church in New York City writes: Five years ago this week, on Jan. 8, 2015, my husband Toby and I made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Now, Memphis is holy land for a number of reasons, not the least of which is their BBQ. For those of you who are not Southerners, please understand BBQ is a holy thing. In fact, it is part of what we call the southern trinity: BBQ, Basketball and the Bible. Memphis is known for their BBQ, especially their ribs. As my neighbor used to say, "Good ribs would make an angel weep."

Now BBQ is not the only reason Memphis is considered holy land. The primary reason, of course, is because it is the home of Elvis.

While we were in Memphis, we visited Sun Records, where Elvis recorded his first song. In the studio, there was an "X" marked on the floor with duct tape indicating the exact spot where Elvis stood. The tour guide told us that just the week before, Bob Dylan had come into the studio, said not a word to anyone, walked over to the "X," got down on all fours, kissed it and walked out. For many, Elvis has reached an almost holy status.

In fact, there have been studies on the parallels between Jesus and Elvis, most notably by the renowned scholar (and standup comedian) Adam Sandler. He explains:

Jesus said: "Love thy neighbor." (Matthew 22:39); Elvis said: "Don't be cruel." (RCA, 1956)

Jesus is part of the Trinity; Elvis' first band was a trio.

Jesus is the Lord's shepherd; Elvis dated Cybil Sheppard.

Given that kind of reverence, I believe that we as Jesus fans, have a lot to learn from Elvis fans. Especially in terms of faith....

Like any good pilgrims, we took time on our Memphis trip to visit the shrine of Graceland. There was the great welcome sign--a twenty-five foot high Elvis saying "Welcome to the Blingdom!" And after the requisite photographs, we got in line for tickets. As we were waiting, I turned to one of the tour guides and asked, "So, how long did Elvis actually live here?" There was an audible gasp from the surrounding crowd. The guide looked at me with shock and whispered, "We don't use the past tense here." She then pointed at her t-shirt, which read: "Graceland, where Elvis LIVES."

“It didn't matter that she had never actually seen Elvis or that technically Elvis stopped walking the earth over forty-two years ago. It didn't matter. She didn't care. Elvis fans don't care. Without any proof, they believe he lives! Elvis lives, baby. The King lives.

“It's a shame we don't all live our lives with that kind of faith. I'm afraid that most of us tend more towards the disciple Thomas than the tour guide at Graceland.”

On that first night of the week, with the disciples gathered behind locked doors, the risen Christ appeared to them and said, peace be with you. Then he showed them his hands and his side, marked by the nails driven to hold him on the cross. Then they believed. Thomas was not there but the following Sunday night, as the day drew to a close, all were gathered and Jesus appeared, offering his hands and his side to Thomas alone who, without touching either proclaimed, “My Lord and my God”. And Jesus response? “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believed.”

Before we are too hard on Thomas let us admit to ourselves that he is us, each and every one of us. We are riddled with doubt and often driven by fear, not sure at times what to believe, or, for that matter, who to believe anymore. Unlike the disciples of Elvis, we struggle to keep the risen Christ alive in our own lives much less the lives of others.

We seek proof in order to believe. Conspiracy theorists still argue that the first manned moon landing was a governmental hoax. There are those today who believe that this pandemic was the creation of the Democratic Party. And, there are those who will go to any length to prove their point, whatever it might be and however outrageous it may appear.

The proof we seek will not be found behind closed doors, locked and safe for the night, it will be discovered out in the world where we will experience the actions of the resurrection present in the lives of others. It will be found where hope is renewed, where healing takes place and where forgiveness is offered. Resurrection will be witnessed in places where faithful and critical thinking that engages in compassionate and intentional conversation and actions takes place instead of irrational responses grounded in fear and doubt. Resurrection will be lived out when we are able to greet one another in peace that is rooted in the hope which is ours in Christ Jesus our Lord, the One who was and is and is to come.

The Trinity we confess, not Bibles and Barbecue and Basketball but Father, Son and Spirit, works within us and beyond us to continue to deepen our faith and drive out fear that keeps us from believing and living like resurrection people. In those moments of doubt, during those times of questioning and confusion which we all experience, the risen Christ comes to us not to scold or reprimand but rather to remind and renew.

In fact, Jesus invites our questions and concerns, our doubts and our fears and uses those moments and times to remind us of his life, death and resurrection on our behalf. He helps us to recall the extraordinary love of the Father in the giving of his only begotten Son. And when we next gather at the table where he invites us he will remind us of the forgiveness that is ours, given and shed for forgiveness.

This, my sisters and brothers in Christ, is the real Graceland. In these challenging days and time Graceland is discovered when we gather even while apart, to hear the Word proclaimed, forgiveness offered, baptism remembered and grace shared. It is the place where we come to worship the King of kings and Lord of Lords. It is the space where our songs are not “Don’t be Cruel” or “Heartbreak Hotel,” rather they are filled with language that is alive and vibrant and exciting, words of resurrection, phrases of hope and promise and images of the new life which is ours in Christ.

Bring to this Jesus your doubts, your questions, your longings. In those moments he will remind you that he is in your midst, behind your locked doors, into what you perceive to be the darkness of your life and will bring light and hope and peace.

Celebrate Thomas. No, better yet, live like Thomas. Ask the hard questions. Question the realities. Wonder in the midst of it your wandering. Then, when you see clearly the reality of the love witnessed in Christ’s death and resurrection, offer up these words of confession and profession of faith, “My Lord and my God.” Amen.

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