Submitted by Thom Shuman, author of Lectionary Liturgies. Alleluia! Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia! We have not seen the risen Christ, But we see him in the lives of those transformed by grace. We have not seen Jesus face-to-face, But we have seen him in the faces of everyone whose love encourages us. We have not touched the wounds from the cross, But we have been called to bring healing to the scarred of the world.
Submitted by Stephen Fearing. Resurrected God, though we have hidden ourselves in a locked room and huddled together as ones who build barriers, send your Living Word through our locked doors and into our guarded hearts that we might be witnesses of your grace and couriers of your goodness. By the power of your Holy Spirit, grant us the trust to believe the Gospel not because we see it but because we have been seen by it and transformed through it. Amen.
The following sermon is by Susan Sparks via Day1.org Recently, I returned from a trip to the holy land ... Memphis, Tennessee. Now, Memphis is holy land for a number of reasons, not the least of which is their BBQ. Now, 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 has been studies on the parallels between Jesus and Elvis, most notably by the renown 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 thirty-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.
Our scripture today is the familiar story of doubting Thomas. There we find the disciples locked up behind closed doors after Jesus' crucifixion. And Jesus came and stood among them. When they saw him, the disciples rejoiced. But Thomas was not there at the time. When the other disciples later told Thomas about it, he said, "Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger ... in his side, I will not believe." A week later, when Thomas was with the disciples, Jesus appears again and invites Thomas to touch his wounds. When he put his hand in Jesus' side--he knew.
"My Lord and my God," said Thomas.
Jesus then said to him, "Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe."
We've all heard this story before. More importantly, 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 because we were in a place of unbearable pain, or 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 know for sure what's out there. We won't believe an assertion until a complicated mathematical equation says it's true. And anytime--anytime--there is a wall bearing a sign "wet paint," we will 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.
Look at Elvis fans. They not only believe he lives, they act like he lives. For example, they are constantly looking for Elvis. The Bible says seek and ye shall find. Well, Elvis fans follow that to a tee. They are constantly looking for the King. And, sometimes, they find him. There have been Elvis sightings all over the world--from a spa in Tokyo to a Burger King in Michigan. There was even a woman who claimed that she found the image of Elvis in a taco shell.
If only we'd put even 1% 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. 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--Elvis fans believe he lives, so they look for others who believe as well, like through Elvis fan clubs. I heard a story on the Graceland tour about a woman who was in a fan club called "Taking Care of Business." She had to have major surgery and afterwards received hundreds of cards and letters from "Elvis friends" all over the world. We Christians can learn something 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.
Here's a third example, and probably the most important. Because they believe he lives, Elvis fans go out into in the world and share his message. They play Elvis' music; they dress up as Elvis impersonators; they decorate their homes with Elvis memorabilia. One of my favorite things at the Graceland gift shop was an Elvis sprinkler. It was a foot-high plastic Elvis in a sequin jumpsuit, and as he watered your yard, he would swivel his hips. Whether through word or music, impersonators or sprinklers, Elvis fans proudly proclaim the message of the King.
This provides an interesting contrast to the disciples. Before Jesus appeared in their midst, the book of John tells us that the disciples were in hiding behind locked doors. They weren't looking for Jesus. They weren't going around looking for other believers. They weren't out in the world preaching the word. They weren't proclaiming the message of the King. They were hidden in fear, locked away in shame because they didn't believe he lived.
I'm afraid that many of us live a similar existence; a life with little or no faith in the risen Christ, our hearts locked up and closed away.
A young woman on the tour told a story about how she grew up listening to Elvis. Sadly, she lived through an abusive childhood, but she talked about how she used daydreams of Elvis as an escape. "He was my safe space," she said, "my little corner of heaven." Because she believed he lived, she honored him in her heart and that enabled her to find peace in the hardest of places.
If only we would open our hearts to Jesus in the same way. When we honor the risen Christ in our hearts, we have our own safe space, our own little corner of heaven in which to rest and to heal.
If you believe he lives--you'll act like he lives. And Jesus' message is certainly a message of action. Elvis apparently felt the same way. For Elvis said early in his career, "Music and religion are similar--because both should make you wanna move."
The gospel is a living, vibrant force that should make us 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--or the blingdom--or whatever.
I want a religion that makes me wanna move.
I want a savior that makes me wanna put on a sequin jump suit and sing.
I want to believe in a Jesus that lives.
Don't let the doubts and fears of life shake your belief. Don't let your faith be driven by anything but the voice of your heart. Remember: "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 for and find him; we will proclaim his message; we will honor his spirit with ours.
Sometime this week, find a quiet moment, ask yourself, "Do you believe?" From the deepest parts of your heart, the answer will surely come: He lives. He lives, baby. The King lives.
Please join me in prayer.
God of all things good, barbequed ribs, basketball, Elvis and Jesus, ease our troubled hearts and calm our doubts and fears. Bring us faith so that we might act like a follower of your Son, and always, always, whisper daily the words we need to hear in our hearts, "He lives! The King lives." Amen.
The following confession sequence is by Thom Shuman. You can find more of his liturgies here. Call to Confession When we keep our faults and failures locked safely away, we have no need to confess. But God comes into our hearts when we least expect, so we can be filled with forgiveness, with hope, with peace. Please join me as we pray together, saying,
Unison Prayer of Confession God of empty tombs and emptier people: when we hesitate to speak of your hope, forgive us, and give us a voice. When we find it difficult to love one another, forgive us, and give us fresh compassion. When we want to stand with the high and mighty, forgive us, and seat us next to the poor and oppressed. When we stay locked behind our fears and doubts, forgive us, and send us out to share you grace. When we cannot believe your Word of new life, forgive us, and fill us with your joy. Silence is kept
Assurance of Pardon Christ comes into every shadowed corner of our lives with the light of Easter. Christ comes into the locked rooms of our faults and gifts us with grace and hope. Christ comes to fill us with peace, so we may proclaim the good news of mercy and forgiveness for all. Thanks be to God. Amen.
The following Call to Worship is from the United Church of Christ. God’s strong and loving hands are outstretched to all Creation. Let the world stretch forth and grasp God’s hands with joy. God’s open hands are as the gate of righteousness. Let us enter in to God’s abundant life and give thanks. In God’s hands are new life, strength, and salvation. Let us be thankful and sing unto our God with gladness.
Emptier of Tombs:you raised Jesus from the grave so all fears might be banished; so the locked doors of our hearts could be flung open; so our quivering lips could declare what we have seen and heard.
Bright Glory of God: as you stood in the middle of your friends on that first Easter night, come among us now, in this time and place, showing us that death and sin no longer stand in the way of our life with you.
Breath of Peace: strengthen us so we may stand with all who fear life; take our hands in yours, so we may serve all who are broken with grief; inspire us to share the grace which has been breathed into our very souls.
God in Community, Holy in One, hear us as we pray as Jesus taught us, saying, Our Father . . .
Submitted by Rev. Thom Shuman, author of Lectionary Liturgies via LiturgyLink.Net.
The following Call to Worship is from Martha Spong. One: Christ is risen! Many: Now what? One: The disciples clung to each other. They huddled in the upper room, waiting. Many: Would the authorities come to take them, too? One: Instead, Jesus himself appeared, despite the locked door. Many: What next? One: Next came doubts and questions, assurances and instructions, and a last word: Many: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” One: Christ is risen! Now what? Many: Now we come together to wait for him. One: May the risen Christ bless us as we worship what we have not seen, yet believe.
Submitted by Rev. Martha Spong, First Congregational Church, North Yarmouth Maine via LiturgyLink.Net.
submitted by Scott Cervas, Meadowthorpe Presbyterian Church, Lexington, Kentucky via LiturgyLink.Net. a prayer of confession for the Second Sunday of Easter.
God, we are so much like the disciples that it isn’t even funny. We’re afraid…scared to go outside and live resurrected lives; scared to disconnect ourselves from systems that devalue other people; scared to challenge the status quo, because standing up to it will place us on the outside of our own comfortable, privileged, lives. Like Thomas, we want tangible proof, tangible results, and tangible rewards. And until you deliver, we will stay where we are. And where we are is exactly where we don’t belong. So please, forgive our complacency, and draw us to richer, fuller, resurrected lives, even now, as we offer our silent confessions…
One of my favorite Nickel Creek Songs, "Doubting Thomas" is a great way to get the gears going for preparation for the Second Sunday in Lent (Year C). You can listen to the beautiful song here. Doubting Thomas by Nickel Creek
What will be left when I've drawn my last breath Besides the folks I've met and the folks who've known me Will I discover a soul-saving love Or just the dirt above and below me
I'm a doubting Thomas I took a promise But I do not feel safe Oh me of little faith
Sometimes I pray for a slap in the face Then I beg to be spared cause I'm a coward If there's a master of death I bet he's holding his breath As I show the blind and tell the deaf about his power
I'm a doubting Thomas I can't keep my promises Cause I don't know what's safe Oh me of little faith
Can I be used to help others find truth When I'm scared I'll find proof that it's a lie Can I be led down a trail dropping bread crumbs That prove I'm not ready to die
Please give me time to decipher the signs Please forgive me for time that I've wasted
I'm a doubting Thomas I'll take your promise Though I know nothin's safe Oh me of little faith
The following poem is a piece by Thomas Troeger and is a beautiful piece of art. Christ is Risen! He is Risen indeed!
These things did Thomas count as real: the warmth of blood, the chill of steel, the grain of wood, the heft of stone, the last frail twitch of flesh and bone.
The vision of his skeptic mind was keen enough to make him blind to any unexpected act too large for his small world of fact.
His reasoned certainties denied that one could live when one had died, until his fingers read like Braille the markings of the spear and nail.
May we, O God, by grace believe And thus the risen Christ receive, whose raw, imprinted palms reach out - and beckoned Thomas from his doubt.
-Thomas Troeger copyright 1994 Oxford University Press