Dismaland? Disneyland? Kingdom of God?

Hebrews 1:1-4 August 30, 20015

Banksy is a British street and graffiti artist whose real identity is unknown. But the artist is known for these kinds of images that are often direct commentary on society. He did an artist in residency in New York City in 2013 during the month of October, each day of the month, tweeting a clue and then somewhere in the city, leaving his mark. It would usually last about 30 minutes to an hour before it would be painted over by authorities. To me, his work reflects hope in the midst of violence or oppression, often with a wink and a good shot of irony.

So, much to my delight, a month or so ago, I started to see images of a new creation by Banksy – the artist’s take on a theme park: Dismaland Bemusement park. It is obviously a direct parody of Disney Land and Disney World and the promises they make to be the happiest places on earth. Banksy’s version includes grimacing Mickeys throughout the park, Cinderella’s crashed chariot surrounded by paparazzi and, an achingly timely commentary on the immigration crisis in Europe. It’s dismal because it’s true.

Welcome to the book of Hebrews. It’s not Disney Land. It’s not Dismal Land either. Hebrews is a book written to a people who have lost hope, who perhaps reside in Dismaland and dream of Disney. They were not first hand witnesses of Jesus – they weren’t alive when he was. But they’ve heard stories passed down. They’ve heard he’s coming back any time now. They’re losing heart. Because they just can’t see Jesus how they’ve been told he’d return, they can’t see him at all. So the writer of Hebrews sets out to encourage them, to point to the kingdom of God in the here and now, to get their eyes off the sky and their thoughts out of a magical kingdom.

The writer points out that it used to be that God communicated with people through the prophets. And with the reputation those prophets have, they could be the spokesmen for Dismaland, right? They often spoke directly to the spiritual and moral decay of society – they spoke to a society separated from God.

Prophets also spoke about hope and promise and God’s steadfast love. Which doesn’t fly at Disney or at Dismal, each reality points to it’s own savior. But the book of Hebrews is all about pointing to hope and promise by way of Jesus. It used to be the prophets that communicated the character of God. Now, says the writer, it’s Jesus.

And lest you think Jesus is all about singing “It’s a Small World After All” and wearing mouse ears, the writer points to who Jesus is and what Jesus does. Jesus is appointed heir of all things. Of all the things, people! Your dystopian nightmares; your hope in things shiny and new. Jesus has inherited you and me and all of creation. What a gift. What a terrible, terrible gift. The writer of Hebrews is trying to get people’s eyes back on Jesus, even though he’s not there with them like they imagined. Hebrews reminds them they all belong to Jesus.

And just in case we’ve forgotten who Jesus is, the writer goes on to remind us that

He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains* all things by his powerful word.

The writer shows them that Jesus is the perfect reflection of God – of God’s glory, of God’s very being.

But just what does that even mean? If we’re not too careful or if we’re just a little bit lazy, we think God’s glory equals easy answers or a reality that looks like Disney Land. Where everyone is happy and gets what they want, which is not God’s glory.

What does the reflection of God look like? Hear this again – the writer tells us:

When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, 4having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.

Angels, messengers of God, got nothing on Jesus. Because what Jesus does for us is this: Forgiveness. That’s what God looks like through Jesus: forgiveness.

I have to tell you that from my first reading of this scripture at the beginning of the week, I got an image in my mind about this part. I imagined Jesus coming through the door at the end of a good, long day, dropping his keys on the table and flopping down on a chair, obviously a chair seated to the right of God, and breathing out a satisfying and tired sigh and leaning forward on his knees to tell God all about his day.

“I got forgiveness worked out today. Whoooooo doggie, it’s tough stuff. My heart is just breaking. And I just love it. I just love them. I just can’t help myself.”

And while this image made me smile, it’s an incomplete picture. Because Jesus doesn’t get rest because forgiveness never ends. And Jesus doesn’t depart from us to go and relax at God’s right hand and to dismiss the work of other God-sent messengers like angels.

No, again and again, Jesus comes down into our lives, be they Disneyland-eque or Dismal, and saves us from ourselves. Again and again, Jesus comes into our lives and is at our right hand. Look to your right. Look to your left. Look behind you. Jesus comes into your life through the likes of these ordinary, imperfect, dismal, beautiful people. Jesus is not far off from us, sitting with his feet up. No, instead Jesus comes right into your life and enters into your pain and takes it on and teaches you how to forgive one another by taking on one another’s pain and continuing to love each other despite it. Because of it.

We are not perfect reflections of God. Jesus is. We are not perfect reflections of Jesus. But we are the hands and feet of Jesus, just as strangers and friends alike are too. Working out love and forgiveness in our lives in weird and normal and ordinary and extraordinary ways each and every day.

What does your life look like right now? Is it a big, hot mess? Is it pretty dark right now? Or are things pretty good. The good news I have for you today is this: neither Disney or Dismaland are real. Both have versions of the truth and both are terrifying in their own right. It’s Jesus who comes into whatever kind of life we’re having right now and changes it. Utterly changes it. Through love. Through forgiveness. It’s better than what any angel could do, better than what any prophet could do. Dismaland and Disneyland, no matter. Christ changes the landscape of our entire lives.

Thanks be to God.