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Assembled

May 6, 2012 Speaker: Pastor Braun Campbell Series: Lectionary

Topic: Biblical Verse: John 15:1–15:8

Fifth Sunday of Easter [Confirmation Sunday]
St. John's Lutheran Church, Alexandria, VA
John 15:1-8

“Assembled”

A sinister force plots to conquer Earth. An ancient foe stands at its vanguard. His desire: to compel all mankind into subjugation and servitude. No conventional army can oppose this enemy or his host. He will not rest until has taken our planet for himself. Who can save our desperate world?

If you go out to watch The Avengers this weekend, you’ll see a movie that offers an answer to that question. Building on the foundation that has been set by the various Marvel Comics-based movies of the past several years, The Avengers delivers the long-awaited team-up of a number of Earth’s mightiest heroes. This movie represents many a comics fan’s dream: individuals each possessing amazing abilities and skills, pressed together to battle a grave threat. You’ve got Captain America, the prototype super-solider who’d been frozen in the Artic since World War II. Super-spy Black Widow and master marksman Hawkeye come into the picture early on as agents of the secret military law-enforcement organization S.H.I.E.L.D. Iron Man Tony Stark returns with his high-tech suit of armor and genius intellect. Joining them are Thor, the hammer and lightning-wielding demi-god of Norse mythology, and Dr. Bruce Banner, who – while brilliant like Tony Stark – carries the burden of a devastatingly powerful alter-ego as the Hulk. Col. Nick Fury, the director of S.H.I.E.L.D., recruits all of these unique individuals to work together to save our world from destruction.

A sinister force wants to rule the earth. In The Avengers, that force is represented by Loki the trickster, and Thor’s adopted brother, who has an army of alien warriors at his command. He wants the people of Earth of bow to him as their ultimate ruler – at one point in the movie, he does indeed demand that a crowd kneel before him. In reality, though, another deceiver wants to keep every soul in his camp and to tear down and corrupt all the good in the world. We know that enemy to be the devil, the fallen angel who wants us to bow to him by bowing to anything or anyone other than the one true God. How can you stand against him and the chaos that he would bring into your world, into your country, your work, your family, and your very heart and mind? On your own, you’ve already lost.

Each member of the Avengers is unique, able to perform extraordinary feats on their own. Yet despite their powers, they each struggle with their own burdens and faults. Captain America is a man out of time, having lost his friends – even the world that he knew – to the passing of the decades as he slept in the ice. Iron Man is brash and self-centered, content to take action as he sees fit. Debts from her past haunt Black Widow. Hawkeye has been beaten and manipulated. Dr. Banner, while at relative peace with himself (even both selves, as it were), knows that has and could still bring uncontrolled destruction in a moment’s notice.

How might you be like one of the Avengers? Do you feel out of place with the world around you, uncomfortable with the changes that keep coming, or lost and isolated? Have you put your own interests first and foremost, only to see things fall apart around you? Do you feel like you’ve tallied up an impossible debt to repay from your past? Have you “hulked out” with raging words or actions to hurt others? Neither the Avengers nor you nor I are perfect. In fact, we’re pretty far from it, no matter how extraordinary we might be. As Banner puts it at one point in the movie, “We’re not a team… we’re a time bomb.” Even so, something brings them together.

The central premise of The Avengers is the team-up: super heroes joining forces to battle something that none of them could defeat independently. Together, they might even stand a chance of saving the world from Loki and the army at his command. Their rallying cry (in the comics, at least) is as memorable as it is alliterative: “Avengers assemble!”

What about us? “Christians congregate!” [Or “Confirmands congregate!”, maybe?] It doesn’t have the same ring to it. Maybe we can find something better, less derivative and more appropriate, something that’s uniquely our own. You know what? I think we’ve already got one, particularly in this season of Easter: “Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!”

We’ve got the rallying cry. Even better, we’ve got the team-up: Jesus has assembled us together in the Church. Through him, you are a part of something greater than yourself. This weekend, our congregation welcomes eight young people into the greater life of our community of faith through the Rite of Confirmation. In it, they will re-affirm the promises made by God in their Baptism and announce before our fellowship that they are ready to be active in their journey of faith as Christians.

Unlike the Avengers, it takes more than just working together for Christians to be a team. As Christians, we stand in the risen Jesus – even better, he stands in us. The Avengers had Nick Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D. pulling them together, giving them the push that they needed to work together. The Church, though, is more than just some group of people gathered together around a common interest or identity. Jesus is the one who assembles us and empowers us for life as his people. As he puts it, he is the vine, and we are the branches. No branch has life in and of itself. Apart from the vine, the branch can do nothing but die and dry up; but connected to the vine, it lives. He is the one who has defeated the devil, that ultimate trickster and enemy. He is the one that wins the day in the battle for the world. He is the vine feeds and nurtures its branches, causing them to grow and to bear fruit.

For you and I to bear that fruit that is pleasing to God, we need Jesus. As we hear Jesus tell it in John 15, our fruit comes prayer in his name. Obedient belief asks for that which conforms to God’s will. He gives us the power of prayer. So that we might use it as God would have us, He prunes us as branches on a vine. The Holy Spirit shapes us – even though that may be a painful experience – so that we might be even more fruitful. The Avengers’ battle against Loki’s alien army wears them down, yet it forges them into the team that Nick Fury had hoped they could be. God doesn’t send us out as His people just hoping that we don’t blow up, since individually, we are by nature time bombs and renegades; instead, He gives us what we need to succeed: His Word and Sacraments in the communion of saints that is the Church.

God assembles us in the great team-up of the Christian Church. Jesus connects us to himself and our fellow believers in this assembly that spans all time. You are a part of something greater than yourself. Holy Baptism is your initiation into the Church, God’s grafting a branch onto the vine that is Jesus so that it might live. It delivers His cleansing word and empowers the new child of God. Holy Communion, then, is God’s further gift to deliver what you need. In it, you will be fed by the vine and receive the forgiveness and strength needed to bear the fruit that God empowers you to bear as members of His Church. Assembled, you and your fellow Christians can use your individual gifts and unique abilities as a team, working not as agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. but as agents of Christ. Empowered by the Holy Spirit – though you might not teleport like Philip after his time with the Ethiopian official – God will guide you to the places and times He would have you be. Assembled around Jesus, our living Lord and life-giving vine, you as members of his Church will be able to do more than you ever could apart from him.

In the Marvel Comics movies that have led up to The Avengers, there’s always been a scene at the very end of the movie – even after the closing credits – that points to the next chapter in the ongoing story. There’s one at the very end of The Avengers, right before the projector turns off, and it is excellent. Stay to the end. You won’t be disappointed. It’s kind of like that for us Christians, too. As our confirmands have heard, Confirmation is not graduation. It’s not that for them; it’s not that for the rest of us. Thanks to our living Lord Jesus, our lives look ahead to the day when we can join in the great, divine feast that we get just a taste of here on earth. Every day of your life is leading up to something greater, to the next chapter that awaits. He offers us a preview, and it looks to be epic.

Stay to the end. You won’t be disappointed.

Amen.

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