Friday, May 11, 2012

The Avengers

"Where two or more are gathered together..."  Matt. 18:20

The Avengers brings together a unique collection of characters, assembled from Marvel Studios' superhero films over the past few years:  Iron Man/Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), Captain America/Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), The Incredible Hulk/Bruce Banner (in this version, Mark Ruffalo), with newcomers Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) and Hawkeye/Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner).

This motley crew is brought together by the secret government agency known as "S.H.I.E.L.D." to defend the planet earth from an alien invasion brought on by the Asgardian Loki (Tom Hiddleson), who also happens to be the brother of Thor.

Because the threat is so severe, no one superhero would be able to contain the invasion; in response, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), the director of S.H.I.E.L.D., assembles the team from across the world.

At first, things don't go so smoothly.  Each of the players of the Avengers collective thinks they have it within them to single-handedly take on Loki and his alien army.  And when they do encounter one another, their personalities clash and verbal and physical fights ensue, further adding to the tension.   With the Avengers at each other's throats and with every superhero lacking all the skills necessary, they face failure early.

Tony Stark finds Steve Rogers to be a naive boyscout, while Rogers thinks Stark is anything but noble. Natasha has unresolved emotional feelings for Barton, but Hawkeye has unfortunately been brainwashed by Loki to work against the Avengers.  Thor thinks all humans are incapable of any effective defense, and they all find him a bit over the top.  Everyone fears the unpredictable ferocity of the Hulk, yet Dr. Banner just wants to keep everything calm and cool so "the other guy" doesn't emerge from within himself.

These tensions mirror any situation where we are forced to interact or work alongside people we don't know or don't consider friends or friendly.  From classrooms to workplaces, neighborhoods to churches, commuter trains to movie theaters, there are so many times when we must rub elbows with strangers and get along with less-than-desirable working partners in order to accomplish a task.

Our initial reaction might look very much like an early meeting of the Avengers.  We bicker and fight, or talk about the others behind their backs.  We form loose alliances with little emotional foundation, and back out when the going gets tough.

Yet for some reason, we were called to come together.  For the Avengers, it was an extraterrestrial threat.  For us, it might be because it's our job or a class.  It might be because we all want to see the Avengers movie in IMAX 3-D and we are stuck for 45 minutes in a line that stretches out the door with fanboys and families on all sides of us.  No matter the reason, sometimes in our lives, God puts us in uncomfortable or awkward situations with people we don't normally know, like, or care for.

"When two or more are gathered together," Jesus said (Matt. 18:20), "there I am in the midst of them."  God is present wherever community occurs, whether that be a loving family, old friends, or... amongst complete strangers and co-workers with irreconcilable differences.

What we must do, then, is put aside our individuality, our wants, and our righteousness, and humble ourselves in service to the greater good - and to one another.  God brings us together because we each possess gifts, but alone those gifts can only take us so far.  Captain America's shield can deflect any weapon or force, but he can't fly like Iron Man into the skies.  Hawkeye's archery has pinpoint accuracy, but he lacks the brute force of the Hulk.   So when we come together, we must be aware of our strengths, our weaknesses, and how we can all work as one team. God brings us together because the combination of His people can be greater than anything we can do alone, isolated, and separate.

From the twelve tribes of Israel and the mixed assembly of men and women who marched with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to the College of Cardinals and the people of New York City after 9/11, people have come together over the centuries for a greater cause than themselves.  They haven't always known or liked each other, but they got the job done.

Sadly, in our nation today, we find more solace in being around like-minded people of our religious, political, racial, economic, or social perspective than "crossing the aisle" to network with those who differ from us or have different skills, experiences, or political and religious understanding.  When we choose the route of surrounding ourselves with only those we like or know, we end up looking like our superheroes in the first half of the Avengers movie:  sloppy, irritable, ineffective, and incredibly defenseless in the face of trial, temptation, and evil.

Before his death, Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane for the disciples, who were themselves a motley crew of first-century Galileans:  "...that they may all be one as we are one: as the Father is in me and I am in him and in you..." (John 17:21)   By this passage, we know that Christ rejects divisiveness, especially among those who are brought together for a common cause.

In our jobs, let us pray that we can work together with colleagues and supervisors to do the job well.  In our classrooms, let us pray that we will come together to learn as fellow students on the academic journey with us.  In our neighborhoods, let us pray that we will break down the walls of silence and ignorance and come together around the place we call home.  In our churches, let us pray that we will not be so divisive and angry at other believers, and that we can pray as one, sing as one, and love as one. Finally, in our society, our nation, and our world, let us pray that the political, economic, social, racial, and national boundaries may be softened so that we can come together in peace more often.

We love watching the Avengers when they put aside their differences, when they honor and respect each other, when they extinguish their selfish pride, and when they work as one in service to the greater cause. In the same way, God loves watching us when we do the same with all those He so lovingly created.