The Land That Time Forgot
That’s what they should call Tomorrowland, because it stopped being about tomorrow a long time ago. Take for instance Autopia. I used to love Autopia. As a kid, it was one of the rides I always wanted to go on when my family went to Disneyland. But it seemed kind of odd even back then that it was in Tomorrowland. When Disneyland opened back in 1955 Autopia was cutting edge stuff. At the time, there was no such thing as an interstate highway system. Hard to believe but its true. People didn’t 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. Today it makes no sense. In fact most of the rides in Tomorrowland make no sense. The monorail is something used regularly like BART in San Francisco and MARTA in Atlanta. Submersible vehicles are not only for military use anymore (although rarely does anyone see talking fish when they dive under the ocean). And the Orbitron is basically a preview of when Space X becomes more common. For a long time, Tomorrowland has become more and more obsolete, and while they have added new attractions like Star Tours, they’ve also let many things become outdated or simply disappear. The Peoplemover track lies empty and has for almost 25 years. The Magic Eye Theater which once housed state-of-the-art movies in 3D with actual physical special effects is now a showcase for Star Wars. And the Autopia? It’s still driving cars on highways from 1955 despite the updates.
The problem is that Tomorrowland stopped being about tomorrow.
It’s still fun, but after Walt passed, they haven’t stayed true to his original vision to 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, or self-driving vehicles on the Autopia track. Enough people ride it the way it is so they haven’t felt the need to invest in changing it. They’ve spent tons of money refurbishing it, but little to reimagine it. Because it is doing “good enough.” But that is so short-sighted. When we wait for a need to arise without trying to plan ahead, we are setting ourselves up for failure. When we let “good enough” be the bar, we lose sight of the opportunities that could be. Because someone else will come along and do it better and be five steps ahead of the game. Like the original vision for Tomorrowland, we need to constantly strive toward a better future so we are prepared for what comes ahead. The writer in Hebrews said it so well that’s what we are going to read from this morning. It is important to be future-oriented. Looking forward keeps us focused on how we can make the world a better place. It also drives us from being complacent. And it drives innovation and creativity. 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.” Give people more than they expect. Don’t just focus on what’s needed now, but plan ahead for the future. 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.
8 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. 9 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. 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. 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.
As a parent, that makes sense to me.
I want to help build a foundation of strength to support Emma her whole life. 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 because I want my child to know the love of God for when times get rough (and they will get rough) so that even if I’m not there she will know she can turn to God and trust in him. I try to teach Emma practical things, too. 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. My actions today will help build a brighter tomorrow.
That’s why it is so important to keep striving to make things better.
Human beings love the path of least resistance, so it’s tempting to stop when things are just the way we like it. After all, most of have seen what happens when people mess with a good thing. Sometimes it turns out disastrous. Like New Coke. That fear of failure prevents us from doing something amazing. We tend to look at failure as a waste instead of a learning opportunity. But failure is the greatest teacher there is. It’s only when we refuse to learn from the past that we truly fail. But when we succeed! We can make an impact that lasts for generations. The reason Disneyland can afford to keep Tomorrowland around is because it DOES invest heavily in the future. Cars Land and the entire remodel of Disney California Adventure. Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. And all of Disneyland Paris were risks that paid off big. By the way, our church was a risk. Ninety plus years ago, the Methodist church decided to invest in reaching out to Japanese immigrants and for over nine decades because of that risk we exist today. That’s why it is so important to continue to work toward the future. The possibilities that come about because of those risks are worth far more than the failures along the way.
There is a grace consequence to the flip side of it all, too.
When we stop becoming oriented to the future, we become oriented to the finish line instead. We go into survival mode. We are constantly trying to extend the time we have instead of working to create a better future. But all that does is delay the inevitable. It’s like a sinking boat. If we only concentrate on bailing out the water, we’ll stop from sinking for a while, but eventually the hole will get bigger and the water will overwhelm us. But if we let in a little water while we fix the boat, we can keep going for untold distances into the future. This pandemic has given us an opportunity to fix the boat. So many churches all across the nation were stuck in the 20th century and suddenly got thrust into the 21st. Online worship, social media, digital outreach are new to so many people. And even though every indication was this was where we were heading, the pandemic pushed us to move forward faster. Will we take this momentum and keep going? Or will we revert to the way we always did things? Looking around at the new faces that have joined us since the pandemic started, going backward hardly seems an option, but can we steel ourselves for a new future?
Jesus was a futurist.
Walt Disney was a futurist. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a futurist. Most of the great leaders and innovators of our nation and our world were futurists. They were always looking ahead to what was possible and trying to work toward THAT. How can the church do anything different? 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?” 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? The Autopia is great. 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.
 This section was inspired by Thom Rainer’s book Autopsy of A Deceased Church, Chapter 3.