A few years ago, the Rev. Susan Sparks and her husband made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land — Memphis, Tennessee.
“Memphis is the home of the Southern trinity: blues, barbecue and the Bible Belt,” Sparks said. “It is also the home of the King — Elvis Presley — and Graceland has just about reached holy status.”
She was preaching at the 9:15 a.m. Wednesday morning worship service in the Amphitheater. Her sermon title was “Trust Jesus and Elvis” and the theme was doubt. The Scripture readings were John 10:37-38 and Hebrews 11:1.
She cited “well-known biblical scholar and stand-up comedian” Adam Sandler, who saw some parallels between Jesus and Elvis: Jesus said love thy neighbor; Elvis said don’t be cruel. Jesus was resurrected; Elvis had a comeback tour. Jesus is part of the Trinity; Elvis’ first band was a trio. Jesus is the Lord’s shepherd; Elvis once dated Cybill Shepherd.
“Jesus’ fans have a lot to learn from Elvis’ fans,” Sparks said.
She noted that at Graceland, people are welcomed by a 25-foot tall statue of Elvis saying “Welcome to the blingdom.” When Sparks asked the tour guide how long Elvis had actually lived there, there was a gasp from the crowd.
“We don’t talk in the past tense,” the tour guide said.
It does not matter, she said, that Elvis has not been walking the earth for almost 40 years.
“Elvis lives,” Sparks said. “And it is a shame that we don’t live our lives of faith in the heavenly king that way.”
Sparks referred to Hebrews 11:1, one of the Scriptures for the day: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Remember the words of Jesus to the disciple Thomas, she said — “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” Jesus also told his disciples that even if they did not believe him, they should believe the works he was doing so they could understand “that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.”
It is easy to say to a congregation “go and do the same thing,” but the reality is that life is hard and we live in a world that trusts proof rather than lives by faith.
“We send robots out into the universe to see what is out there, and we don’t believe it is real until the mathematical equation says it is real,” Sparks said. “We even touch ‘wet paint’ signs because we don’t believe them.”
She gave three examples of the kind of faith Elvis fans have that Jesus fans should model. First, if you believe the King lives, you will literally wear it in all you do.
“There are Elvis impersonators, T-shirts, hats, I even saw a lawn sprinkler that wanders the yard and swivels its hips,” Sparks said.
Jesse Ventura, she said, thought that anyone running for public office should have to wear a NASCAR suit because the suits have the sponsors all over them, with the main sponsor right at the center.
“Who would your center sponsor be?” she asked.
The second example was the community of Elvis fans. Sparks said there were more than 500 fan clubs worldwide and even Elvis churches, such as one where the pastor wears a gold lamé jumpsuit and serves Coca-Cola and Little Debbie cakes for communion.
“We are not on an easy journey, and we need a worldwide community of believers for help, support and strength. We need to look for others who believe that Jesus is King,” she said.
The third example was that if we actually believe Jesus lives, then we will seek him. She said that although Elvis is technically dead, there are Elvis sightings everywhere.
“If we believe our king lives,” Sparks said, “we will seek him as he said in Matthew 7:7, ‘Ask and it shall be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock and the door will be opened for you.’ ”
If we look, we may see Jesus in places we least expect, like in a homeless person, or seeing the face of Christ in a person before seeing the color of their skin.
“We think Jesus is not here, but he could be if we truly believe he lives and we seek him out,” she said. “Christianity is a faith of action. Elvis said that music and religion should make us want to move.”
With love, compassion and forgiveness we can bring in the kingdom, or the blingdom, to ease suffering, she said.
“Don’t let your faith be shaped by doubt; don’t let the power of proof overpower a faith driven by the heart,” she said. “When you ask yourself, ‘Do I believe?,’ the words will surely come back, ‘He lives, he lives, the King lives.’ ”
Her benediction for the day was from Elvis, who said, “Till we meet you again, may God bless you, adios.”
The Rev. Virginia Carr presided. The Rev. Natalie Hanson read the Scripture. Hanson is an ordained elder, newly retired in the United Methodist Church, having served churches large and small for 40 years, including eight years as a district superintendent. Her newest joy is that she’s been able to move from serving Christ First UMC in Jamestown to serving here at the United Methodist Missionary Vacation Home. She is co-host there with her husband, the Rev. Paul Womack, who retired as pastor of Chautauqua’s Hurlbut Memorial UMC. Jared Jacobsen, organist and coordinator of worship and sacred music, played “Even Song” by John La Montaine for the anthem. The Motet Choir was singing at the CLSC Recognition Day ceremonies. The Jane Robb Shaw Hirsch Endowment and the Edmund D. Robb-Walter C. Shaw Fund support this week’s services.