Disney and the Gospels: Frozen
Well, I’m pretty sure the storm is my fault. I decided to preach a sermon titled “Frozen,” and the weather very nicely complied! Sorry about that! How many of you have seen Disney’s Frozen? I suspect even if you haven’t seen the film, you’ve heard some iteration of it’s most popular song, “Let It Go.” I took my nephew Sam to see the film when it came out in 2013, who was then about 6 years old. I think I was more interested in it than he was, but he went along with me anyway. And as Elsa, one of the two main characters, belted out “Let It Go,” I thought, “Wow – this is good! This is going to be a hit! Also, of course, it is an alto power ballad, and altos never get enough of the awesome songs, so I was a fan.
“Frozen” is inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s classic fairy tale “The Snow Queen.” When the film opens, Anna and Elsa, sisters, are little girls, princesses. Elsa, the older sister, has a magical ability – she can create and control snow and ice. Anna and Elsa are quite close, until Elsa accidentally injures Anna with her magic. Anna is healed, but their parents become extremely protective, and Elsa becomes sheltered, not wanting to hurt Anna, who is too little to understand why Elsa is pushing her away. When the girls are teenagers, their parents die at sea during a storm. Eventually, the girls grow into young women, and Elsa is about to be crowned Queen of her land. Elsa is terrified that people will find out about her powers. Meanwhile, impetuous Anna is falling in love at first sight with a handsome prince. When Elsa finds out the Prince Hans has proposed to Anna, she loses control of her magic, scaring everyone.
Devastated, Elsa runs away, making herself a palace of ice to live in by herself. It is then that she sings the words we hear in “Let It Go”: “Don’t let them in, don’t let them see, Be the good girl you always have to be. Conceal, don’t feel, don’t let them know. Well, now they know. Let it go, let it go. Can’t hold it back anymore. Let it go, let it go. Turn away and slam the door. I don’t care what they’re going to say. Let the storm rage on. The cold never bothered me anyway.” What Elsa doesn’t realize, though, in her isolation, is that her magic has engulfed her whole homeland in an eternal winter.
Anna sets out to find her sister, to get her to end the winter. She leaves Prince Hans in charge, and sets out to get Anna. She makes many friends along the way like Kristoff, and Olaf the snowman, and finally gets to her sister. Elsa doesn’t think she can undo her magic – she’s never had that kind of control over it. In fact, during their confrontation, Elsa accidentally freezes Anna’s heart, a slow moving process that Anna can only stop if “an act of true love” reverses the spell. Kristoff races Anna back to her home so Hans can give her a true love kiss. But it turns out Hans has just been scheming to get control of the kingdom. Kristoff has genuinely fallen in love with Anna, and we’re led to think that perhaps he can be the one who saves her, but that’s not what happens. Instead, Elsa is captured by Hans’ people, but escapes, and Anna sees that Hans is about to kill Elsa. Anna jumps in front of her sister to save her, and she freezes solid. Elsa is devastated, but as she hugs her sister, Anna thaws out, because Anna performed an act of true love – she was willing to give her life in the stead of her sisters. Elsa realizes that she can use the power of love to control her magic. The sisters are reunited, and their homeland is saved.
Frozen is another one of the newer Disney films that breaks out of the prince-rescues-princess mold, even poking fun at those tropes. It reminds us that acts of true love take many forms. The truest love in this story is the love between sisters, and especially in Anna’s willingness to put herself in harm’s way, to offer even her own life in order to save her sister. This is after her sister, hurting and angry, rejects years of Anna’s attempts to grow close to her again. It makes me wonder – who do we truly love? Who would we make sacrifices for? Are there some for whom we would even give our own lives if it was necessary?
When we think about sacrifice and true love in light of our faith, from our perspective as followers of Jesus, of course our thoughts turn to the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus, when he was arrested, tried, and crucified. In some ways, when we think about the sacrifice Jesus makes, it seems rightly beyond what any of us can offer. The apostle Paul, in his letter to the Romans, recognizes that the way Jesus offers up his life is significantly different than the way most of us might be persuaded to be self-sacrificing. He writes, “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.” In other words, Jesus offers his life as a demonstration of love for people who are … not so great … if you’re measuring by standards like how many good deeds someone has done or how carefully they uphold the laws or follow the commandments or how well they show love for God and neighbor. Jesus offers his life even for regular folks, and even for people that we might consider no good at all. That’s not how we, regular people, typically offer self-sacrificing behavior. We don’t usually go above and beyond for someone we consider no-good-at-all. We’d probably do it for our family, our dearest friends, even when they mess up. Sure. And maybe for someone we considered especially good, or especially innocent – we might be self-sacrificing for children who are so vulnerable, or for adults who evoke in us a sense of awe and admiration. For them, we might be able to give of ourselves sacrificially. But for someone who is no-good-at-all? Or even just a “regular” someone – how much of ourselves would we want to give? Paul says this is how we know how much God loves us: Even though we – yes, you and me – sometimes behave in ways that are no-good-at-all, Jesus is willing to give everything of himself, even his life – for us – yes, you and me. Indeed, that is an enormous gift, love immeasurable, and we do well to consider the magnitude of such an offering. We are humbled by Christ’s self-giving love for us.
But…I’m afraid, sometimes we are so bowled over by Christ’s self-giving love that we put it in a category that is “other” than what we can do, what we are called, in fact, to do, how we are called to live. In our reading from John’s gospel, we find Jesus talking to the disciples. He says to them, “‘This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.” He says that we are his friends because he chose us, and he makes known to us everything that he knows from God. We’re to bear fruit that will last. He gives us these commands so that we might love one another.
Jesus is calling us to act like he does. And to do that, we need to love one another. Not just the people we already like. Jesus makes it clear throughout his teaching that loving our neighbors is second only in importance to loving God, and that Jesus’ definition of neighbor includes not only generically everyone, and certainly not just those who are kind to us – neighbors include even our enemies. So, to act like Jesus, we have to love one another. Even our enemies we’re meant to hold like friends in our hearts, if we want to love others like Jesus loves us. And if we want to love others like Jesus loves us? Well, Jesus does that by giving his own life. Greater love has no one than this, Jesus says: to lay down your life for your friends. If we love our enemies like Jesus loves us, and our enemies are meant to be counted as friends, then we’re meant to live sacrificially even in relation to our enemies. The kind of love Christ demonstrates is costly love, love that involves real sacrifices, and he calls us to follow him, to imitate him, even in this. Oof. It is much easier, isn’t it, to think of the sacrifice of Jesus as something so other than what we can do, than what we are called to. It is so much easier to put it on a level far beyond what we can reach than to entertain the idea that we might need to put ourselves on the line for the sake of our enemies. But Jesus calls us to be as much like him as we can be, and so we have some hard work cut out for us.
Friends, I don’t know that we will have to lay down our life literally in order to answer God’s call, that we will have to be like Anna, letting our hearts be Frozen to save the ones we love. But I wonder, as I look at the world around us, as I look at our nation, struggling with itself, as I look at how entrenched we can become in our worldviews and positions – I wonder what would happen if we started working to make enemies into friends, and if we started loving in a way that was self-sacrificing, putting the needs of the other before ourselves, acts of true love. What if you didn’t have to be right the next time you got into an argument? What if you gave up some of your time to nurture a relationship with someone who usually frustrates you, so that you could really spend time listening to them, understanding them better, showing them the love that they probably desperately need? What if you gave of your resources, your money, to support someone getting back on their feet, even if they’d made choices that baffle you or anger you, because you follow a God who gives endless second chances? What if you risked your comfort, your sense of safety, so that you could stand up for someone who was being persecuted, so that you could reach out to someone who had put themselves in a dangerous situation? What if enemies became friends, and you love your friends without reserve, and you can show no greater love for them than of giving of your very self so that they see God’s love embodied in you? Look at what Anna’s love did for Elsa. It changed Elsa’s whole life, her whole sense of herself to have someone love her the way Anna did. Imagine how being loved by you might change someone’s life. After all, hasn’t your life been changed by love?
God proves, God demonstrates love for us in this: Jesus died, full of love for us, even though we are sometimes not so great. Who do you love? Friends? Neighbors? Enemies? How will you demonstrate your love?