Sermon for The Feast of the Holy Name 2017
In the Name of God: Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Names have tremendous power. If you don’t believe me, just say the name Mickey Mouse to almost any young child and see what response you get. I was reminded of just how powerful that name is a couple days ago when I was on vacation with Father Keith. We ended up one morning at a character breakfast in Epcot Center. Now if you are among the uninitiated let me clarify what a character breakfast is: while you are dining several Disney characters will come over to your table to say hello, sign autographs, and take pictures. It wasn’t the sort of dining experience that we were particularly looking for, but none of the takeaway places looked particularly appealing, and it was the only place where I could get a Mickey waffle (don’t judge me, they are delicious and harder to find than you might imagine).
At one point during breakfast, Mickey was signing autographs at the table behind me, when a little child that had heard that Mickey was close by walked up behind him. After patiently, but eagerly waiting his turn, the first second that he had the opportunity, the child jumped forward into Mickey’s arms and gave him the biggest hug you could imagine. It was one of those endearing moments that kind of caught me off guard and I immediately began to get a bit choked up. I got choked up at watching the pure and unfiltered joy of this little boy greeting his hero. It was a moment that probably happens thousands of times everyday at the park, but I was particularly grateful that we got to witness it, because it felt like a holy moment; this is what hope, and joy and love look like, at least to children.
Since then I have not been able to get the image of that child embracing Mickey out of my head and I keep thinking to myself: wouldn’t it be amazing if we could get our children to respond to the name of Jesus in the same way? Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could respond to him that way?
That child’s response to meeting Mickey was no accident. It is a response that has been decades in the making. You see, Walt Disney understood the power of a name. He understood that a good name is not something that you either have or don’t have; it isn’t something that you can buy; a good name is something that you create through constant vigilance and toil. It is something that comes through consistency over time, not momentary success. He knew that his characters were going to look a certain way and act a certain way, and do so consistently. The same was true for any of his employees. His parks needed to present people with the absolute best experience possible, each and every time. Nothing was more important than his good name and the reputation that it had and that philosophy continues to guide the Disney company down to the present day. They do everything they can to ensure that even the symbol of their mascot Mickey is one that is universally associated with happiness, hope, magic and joy. Every employee, from the bus driver to the cashier is taught what it means to wear the badge of Disney and there are standards that they are expected to uphold. Disney has at times been criticized for this and occasionally it has had to make decisions that were unpopular in the short term, but their long-term success is indisputable. One of the reasons that we, as adults, so enjoy going there is that we know what we are going to get each and every time, and that the experience is going to be well thought out and executed, even down to the temperature of the water in the hotel pool. You know what to expect when someone says the name Disney.
Now, what comes to mind when you hear someone call themselves a Christian? or Anglican or Episcopalian for that matter? For me at least, the image is rather unclear. I have to admit that always have a bit of trepidation when walking into any unknown church, even churches of our own denomination, because I am never quite sure what I am going to get or what my experience is going to be. Will the worship be sloppy or rigid? Will the service be familiar or unrecognizable? Will the image of Jesus be consistent with the scriptures or will he be a mascot fashioned to the politics of the congregation or priest? Will the sermon be based upon our collected experience and wisdom, or will it be the latest heresy? One never knows. And if it is that way with parishes, it is even worse with individuals. When someone calls themselves a Christian, the fact is you really never know what you are going to get or what to expect from that individual, because the term is used so often and so loosely.
If our children seem somewhat reluctant at times to embrace our faith and the name of Jesus, it might just be because we haven’t done a terribly good job of consistently presenting to them who he really is. We haven’t taught them through our actions and through our lives the transformative power of the name of Christ. We haven’t lived up to the example that he gave us. We have not been regular in teaching his word; we have not been vigilant in showing his love. If a child is eager to throw himself into the arms of Mickey, it is because he knows that from him he has nothing to expect but love, and joy and acceptance; I would venture to say that many children are less sure about what they may find in the arms of Jesus or someone bearing his name. That is a problem. It is a problem because one of those individuals is a made-up cartoon character representing an American business and the other is the Lord of life. One of them is fiction and the other is truth.
Now I am not suggesting here that there must be an either/or, or that we must choose between the two, God forbid. I love Mickey and in no way am I prepared to give up my pastime of searching for Mickey waffles and I love Jesus and my life has been dedicated to serving his church. I don’t in any way resent the success of Walt and Mickey. I celebrate it. I don’t think that we as the church need to be in competition with them. Our missions are different. Their mission is to entertain and ours is to worship. I do, however, think that there is a great deal we as the church could learn from them.
It begins by learning to take pride in the badge that we wear, realizing that the name of Jesus will only be holy to the world if it is holy to us. It will only mean something to others if it means something to us. If we want children to find magic, inspiration, love, joy, meaning and purpose in bearing the name of Christ, then we who already bear it need to show that to them. We need to be more consistent in our actions and our deeds, so that the world will know that the people who call themselves by the name of Christ actually are changed, transformed and have a hope that the rest of the world cannot give. We need to realize that is not just the role of the clergy to teach children about the importance of Christ; it is the role of each and every one of us.We are all of us ambassadors for Christ, to each and everyone we meet.
Disney employees are taught that the moment they step out in the park they are on stage. It doesn’t matter if they are sweeping up garbage or playing the role of Mickey himself, each and every one of them are responsible for the image they portray and of upholding the good name that they have been entrusted with. It’s really not so different for those of us who bear the name of Christ. People are watching. Children are watching. So what will our lives and our actions teach them about this man that God named Jesus, and whose name of Christ we also bear? Can we find the same hope, joy, and love in Jesus that others find in a cartoon mouse? Can we show God the same enthusiasm?
This is of course New Year’s Day. Another year is passing by, and today is a day when many of us will make resolutions for the New Year. If you are one of those people who likes to make resolutions allow me to make one suggestion:
Resolve to become a kid again. Resolve to be a child again. Resolve to remember what it was like to be filled with hope and expectation at going someplace new. Resolve to relive the excitement you used to feel when meeting one of your heroes. Remember what the world was like when magic was real and joy was unrestrained. All of you who bear the name of Jesus Christ, that is the hope that you have been given. That is the promise of new life: to be born again. Jesus tells us that if we are to truly be his followers that we must be born again; he tells us that we must come to his as little children, and he warns us never to scandalize that faith that they have. Resolve that no matter how old you are, or how much your bones may be aching, or how many mistakes you have made in life, resolve that by the power of this man’s name you can and will start over. That is the great privilege that we have all been given by bearing the name of Jesus Christ. That is what we need to show the world, and we need to show it with childlike joy and love.
So as we leave this room and step out onto the world’s stage, let us live our lives in such a way that people will want to know who this Jesus is, and the hope and the love he has given us. Let us be so consistent in honoring his name, that when our children hear it, they won’t hesitate for a second to jump into his arms too.