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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Elvis & Jesus: Sightings and Appearances

2015-04-12 John 20:19-31 Sightings and Appearances.


Every couple of weeks, I see Elvis. At least, I think I do. You may have seen him, too. He's working at UT Hospital. Disguised as Maintenance personnel. He pushes one of those scrubby sticks for getting scuffs off the floor. He seems like an average person. Which is probably his plan. But there's no hiding an icon. He's got the pompadour hair, lifted up and glued in place, a Brylcreamed curl on the forehead. He's got the muttonchop sideburns. And he always seems happy, as Elvis would be, if he were finally free of the crowds, The Colonel, and Priscilla.


I see him almost every time I'm there. I've never worked up the nerve to speak to him. I'd like to take a selfie together. I guess that would be an "ussy." Because if it's really him, wow. But if it is him, he's probably trying to keep a low profile, which is why he's working at a hospital.


But if it's not him, that could be really embarrassing. Maybe the attention annoys him. Maybe he doesn't know he looks like Elvis. I mean, what if he was born that way? You have to be careful. For instance, if I saw a man who looked just like Richard Nixon, I'd never run up and ask for a picture.


I can tell you're skeptical. But there are lots of Elvis sightings every year. By the law of averages, all of the sighters can't be, uh, easily confused. They're probably just over-zealous fans who really, really miss the guy. Yes, there are some who still believe he faked his death, or there's some government conspiracy. But most of us just find it amusing when we see somebody who looks like him at Wal-Mart or Pigeon Forge. If believing they've seen Elvis brightens people's days, where's the harm in that?


Of course, it's not just Elvis people claim to see. After Easter, people started seeing Jesus everywhere.




Sightings of Jesus are nothing new and they are plentiful. Last week, the tooth of a woman in Flagstaff, Arizona went viral on the The Google. She claimed to see Jesus in her dental x-ray.[1] Her dentist wasn't so sure. That's so like a dentist. They don't believe you when you tell them you floss every day, either. People have seen the likeness of Jesus in toast, clouds, refrigerator mold, and the back of Justin Bieber's leg.[2] (Officially, that's just a tattoo.) And yes, some folks take this very seriously. Most of us take it with a smile or a furrowed forehead. Still, if people believing they've seen Jesus in a Cheeto brightens their days, where's the harm in that?


But where's the meaning? A sighting of Jesus should be different than a sighting of Elvis.


My favorite Apostle, the Apostle Thomas, the one we call "Doubting" Thomas, came home after Easter. The other disciples told him, "We have seen the Lord." To which Thomas famously replied, "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." Thomas was skeptical. As well he should be. He was not amused. He furrowed his brow. Maybe the others were just over-zealous fans who really, really missed Jesus. Maybe they were going to go off on some misguided conspiracy theory. Maybe they were, um, easily confused.


The great preacher, William Willimon, points out the subtle, but critical difference between a sighting and an appearance.[3] People have celebrity sightings all the time. They take pictures of themselves with, say, Lady Gaga as if some of the "ga" is going to rub off. It makes for a good story. For instance, I once saw Sir Richard Branson in New York City. What did it mean? It means I saw Sir Richard Branson in New York City. The Apostle Thomas, mistakenly, thought the disciples had a Jesus sighting. No. You have sightings of Elvis. But you encounter Jesus. People, disciples, sinners have encounters with Jesus. What Jesus had with the disciples, what Jesus will have with Thomas, is an encounter, an experience, an appearance.


"We have seen the Lord." It's nearly exactly what Mary Magdalene told them last Sunday: "I have seen the Lord." It sounds like a sighting. But in the original language, the word for seeing is about so much more than what you do with your eyes. On a spiritual, Bible level, you see with your eyes, sure, but more, you see with your heart. You see with your understanding. You see with your faith. You experience, you discern, you understand on the inside, you "get it."[4] See?


If all Jesus had wanted was to brighten someone's day, he could have had a sighting with anybody. If Jesus wanted publicity, he could have been seen with somebody important – the Emperor, the President. Willimon goes on to say, "Jesus wasn't just raised, he didn't just reappear – any old god could have done that. He appeared to the very ones who so betrayed and disappointed him in the first place – the same losers with whom he shared his last meal before execution." Jesus appeared not so he could be seen, but so forgiveness could be received, so love could be given, so we could be alive – and forgiven and loved by God. "Jesus did not simply rise from the dead; he rose from the dead to us." (Willimon) To all of us. Not Thomas in a secret place, but to all.


Jesus himself points out the difference between sightings and appearances, between seeing with your eyes and seeing with your heart, when he says to Thomas, "Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe."


The gospel goes on:


Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.


Believing. Not seeing.




If Jesus himself walked across the front of this sanctuary… I hope you'd all whip out your phones and take pictures, take video, post it to the world. We would be so famous. People would come from all over just to stand on the floor where he had walked.


And if Jesus walked across the front of the sanctuary, you know what it would mean? That Jesus had walked across the front of the sanctuary. It would mean we'd had a Jesus sighting. The skeptics would skep. The haters would hate. And the Baptists would be really, really mad.


It's not about the sighting; it's about the in-sighting. It's about insight that the resurrected, living Lord brings to us who so want fuller lives, who so want to follow someone worth following, who so want to believe in someone worth believing in. It's about Christ appearing in us and around us and through us, that we might come to believe, and that through believing have life.




If you see Elvis this week, for heaven's sake, wave hi. Take a picture.


But if you see Jesus this week, ask yourself why in the world he would want to be seen by you. And what in the world it means to you. And who else needs to know what Jesus has made appear within you.