Tomorrowland

I used to love Autopia.

As a kid, it was one of the rides I always wanted to go on when we went to Disneyland. It seemed kind of odd even back then that it was in Tomorrowland, but I guess for me it was my own vision of tomorrow – the day I would get to drive my car on the open highway. Let me tell you, it’s much more fun at Disneyland. But even by the time I was old enough – or tall enough – to drive the Autopia cars, it was outdated. When it opened back in 1955 this was cutting edge stuff. Back then, there was no such thing as an interstate highway system.[1] People didn’t generally drive on multi-lane highways that stretched across the country. This idea was so new to America that it made Autopia a natural fit in the land of the future. But today it makes no sense. In fact most of the rides in Tomorrowland make no sense. The monorail is something most major cities use regularly like BART in San Francisco and MARTA in Atlanta. Submersible vehicles are not relegated to only military use (although rarely does anyone see talking fish when they dive under the ocean). And the Orbitron will soon be a reality too as we launch rocket trips into space for anyone who can afford it. For a long time now Tomorrowland has become more and more obsolete, and while they have added new attractions like Star Tours and Buzz Lightyear’s Astro Blasters, they’ve also let many things become outdated or they have simply disappeared. The Peoplemover track lies empty and has for over 15 years. The Magic Eye Theater which once housed state-of-the-art movies in 3D with actual physical special effects is now a preview center for the latest Disney movie. And the Autopia? It’s still driving cars on highways from 1955.

Autopia at Tokyo Disneyland
Autopia at Tokyo Disneyland

The problem is that Tomorrowland stopped being about tomorrow.

It’s still fun and there are some creative ways they have used the space, but it has changed from Walt’s original vision to always keep this area on the cutting edge of innovation, to give guests a glimpse into the future. That’s why you still have gas-powered cars instead of solar cars, electric cars, hovercraft or self-driving vehicles on the Autopia track. Because it was doing “good enough.” So there wasn’t a NEED. But that’s part of the problem. When we let “good enough” be the bar, we do a serious disservice to those counting on us. Because “good enough” isn’t. “Good enough” isn’t good enough. We need to always, constantly strive toward a better tomorrow. The writer in Hebrews said it so well that’s what we are going to read from this morning. If you have a Bible or a Bible app on your phone, find the letter to the Hebrews in the New Testament, chapter 11 beginning with verse 8. Hebrews 11:8. It is important to be future oriented. It helps drive us to make the world a better place. It keeps us from getting complacent. It gives us focus and energy and hope. And it insures that we never accept “good enough.” I told you the story before about Walt Disney wanting to put in a Christmas parade at Disneyland. His financial advisors told him not to spend the money, that it would cost too much, that nobody would complain because they wouldn’t be expecting it and he said to them, “That’s just the point…We should do the parade precisely because no one’s expecting it. Our goal at Disneyland is to always give the people more than they expect. As long as we keep surprising them, they’ll keep coming back. But if they ever stop coming, it’ll cost us ten times that much to get them to come back.”[2] Give the people more than they expect. And he was right. Don’t settle for “good enough.” Figure out how we can do it better, even when (and maybe especially when) it’s going good. That’s why this passage from Hebrews inspires me so much. If you would please stand for the reading of the letter to the Hebrews, chapter 11, verses 8-16. Hear now the Word of God.

Part of the Christmas parade at Disneyland
Part of the Christmas parade at Disneyland

By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. 11 And by faith even Sarah, who was past childbearing age, was enabled to bear children because she[b] considered him faithful who had made the promise. 12 And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore.

13 All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. 14 People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. 15 If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.

They were longing for a better country.

These forefathers of faith trusted in the vision that God had presented to them and did what they knew to be right. And even though they never lived long enough to see it all come to fruition, they trusted that their efforts led them toward a brighter future.[3] The Scripture says to us, “they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance.” The things God promised to the people of Israel and by extension to all of us was not something they could tangibly touch or experience, but they honored God with their efforts even though they didn’t know how it would all work out and that pleased God. God is future-oriented. God is future-oriented. Think about it. It was the same in the Old Testament as it is in the New Testament. God promised Abraham that his people would spread throughout the Earth and even though as long as Abraham lived he didn’t see it, that promise came true. God promised Moses that he would lead his people to the promised land and even though Moses didn’t live to see it, that promise came true. Jesus promised us that when he returned to Heaven the Holy Spirit would come upon us and fulfill God’s promise to us and when he left that promise came true. God is always looking ahead to the future. Jesus trained up his disciples because he knew one day he would no longer be there. He could have done all the work himself, but instead he trained the disciples to insure the future of the church after he wasn’t with them. He pulled them aside and taught them. He explained the parables to them, because they didn’t understand it any better than anyone else. He had them do the work of passing out bread and fish when he fed the 5,000, even though he could have just made it rain down manna from Heaven because he wanted to train them to do the work and to participate in the miracles themselves. Jesus was constantly working toward a future that he wouldn’t be alive to see.

During one of our Daddy / Daughter days, Emma and I waiting to ride Autopia
During one of our Daddy / Daughter days, Emma and I waiting to ride Autopia

As a parent, that makes sense to me.

I want to give Emma the best education possible because a time will come when I am not here and I want her to have as many opportunities to pursue her dreams long after I’m gone. I want to make sure Emma knows how much I love her so that even when I’m not around, she will never doubt that I am still looking after her and sending my love to her even if she can’t touch me or see me. And I want her to be grounded in faith not because I care what people think about me as a pastor, but because I want my child to know and love God when times get rough so that even if I’m not there she will know she can turn to God and trust in his love. I try to teach Emma how to cook. I try to teach her about taking care of her health. I try to teach her how to balance her time. Not that I always get it right myself, but I hope I am helping to build up her future. I hope and pray that I am here for a very long time and will get to see many of these things come to pass, but I am constantly helping to prepare her for whatever comes. Most parents I know have the same dreams for their children as I do. I’m sure most of you feel the same way.

That’s why it is so important to never give up.

That’s why it is so important to continue to work toward the future. Because when we stop becoming oriented to the future, we become oriented to the finish line instead. When we stop becoming oriented to the future, we become oriented to the finish line instead. Jesus was a futurist. Walt Disney was a futurist. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a futurist. Most of the great leaders of our nation and our world were futurists. They were always looking ahead to what was possible and trying to work toward THAT. As Robert Kennedy once said (paraphrasing George Bernard Shaw), “Some people see things as they are and say why?  I dream things that never were and say, why not?” “Some people see things as they are and say why?  I dream things that never were and say, why not?”[4] What is your why not? What is something you have held back from daring to dream? What is something you would like to accomplish but haven’t done so? Now ask yourself, why not?

We must always strive to make ourselves better than we are.

We may not always make it. We may not even always make ourselves better for it. But every experience is a learning experience and we can grow from it. The key is to keep moving forward. When we stop, when we forget that we have goals and dreams worth pursuing, when we fail to grow in our faith and in our work for God we start heading for the finish line instead. But moving forward always means moving out of our comfort zone. It means giving up the tried and true for the something new. It means taking a chance. I’m asking you to take a chance. With your life and with our church. Don’t let either one be mired in the success of yesterday. Move forward. The Autopia is great. I still enjoy it every time. But it’ll never be more than it is unless someone does the work to make it better. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Autopia

[2] http://grumpymickey.com/tag/plussing-it/

[3] This section was inspired by Thom Rainer’s book Autopsy of A Deceased Church, Chapter 3.

[4] https://www.jfklibrary.org/Research/Research-Aids/Ready-Reference/RFK-Speeches/Remarks-of-Robert-F-Kennedy-at-the-University-of-Kansas-March-18-1968.aspx

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