I just came back from watching The Avengers (2012) with Bernice. We enjoyed it. You expect the great battle scenes. You wonder if the plot and the characters will mean enough for you to care. They do. Those of us who are old enough to remember when the Avengers comic first appeared, must suppress all temptations to compare. In that landmark first issue, Loki was the antagonist but the first Avengers roster was Iron Man, Thor, Ant-Man, Wasp and the Hulk. Captain America would be discovered preserved alive in ice a few issues later and Hawkeye and Black Widow would join much later. But I digress.
One mark of a great movie is that it energizes me to make a difference. I felt like that when I watched Matrix 1. Felt like that when I left the theatre tonight. The Avengers (2012) is good entertainment that stirs the heart. It also gives you two principles for fighting the good fight against overwhelming odds. First, you need a team. No one can go it alone.
In his book on culture making, Andy Crouch tells us that any cultural good can only be achieved by a community.
. . . no matter how complex and extensive the cultural system you may consider, the only way it will be changed is by an absolutely small group of people who innovate and create a new cultural good. The optimum size of this small group? I suggest three. Sometimes it is four or five, and even two can occasionally pull it off. But three is the perfect number.
[And] …for any cultural good to reach its full potential, the efforts of more than three people will be required. There will need to be concentric circles of people around the initial three who join in refining and shaping the three’s initial proposal
. . . And the optimal size for these concentric circles, I suggest, is 12 and 120. These circles are still small enough that they can include people who know one another’s faces and names, who are intimately acquainted with one another’s talents and limitations, who know how much to trust and how much to verify. (Andy Crouch, Culture Making, Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2008, 239-240).
Rugged individuals acting alone will not change the world. Perhaps this was possible in some earlier age but I doubt that. However the present age is definitely too complex and the pace of change too rapid for anyone to make a difference going it alone. Quoting the Nick Fury character:
And there came a day, a day unlike any other… when Earth’s mightiest heroes found themselves united against a common threat… to fight the foes no single superhero could withstand… on that day, The Avengers were born.
Well that day is here. Any attempt to do good in today’s world is a battle no person can fight alone. We must function in teams. It is unfortunate that many in Christian circles still hold on to the idea that the mission of the church will be accomplished by heroic individuals. Teams were God’s idea from the very beginning. Adam and Eve formed the first team. One of the first things Jesus did when He began His public ministry was to form a team (Luke 6:12-16). Followers of Jesus must minister in community, serving with “people who know one another’s faces and names, who are intimately acquainted with one another’s talents and limitations, who know how much to trust and how much to verify.” The Avengers (2012) illustrated this principle wonderfully.
But there is another key principle of ministry in the movie. Nothing significant happens without sacrifice. Did you see it coming? I didn’t. Didn’t foresee that Loki would do a Nightcrawler and appear behind Agent Coulson. And stab him to death. This was a turning point in the story. Moved by Agent Coulson’s ultimate sacrifice the Avengers team members get their act together and go defeat the bad guys. I know that conspiracy theorists believe that Agent Coulson didn’t die and that Fury led the Avengers to believe that Coulson was dead to manipulate them to action. Future movies will tell. Even if this turns out to be true it takes nothing away from Agent Coulson’s sacrifice.
Agent Coulson had no special powers. His powers were dedication and sacrifice. Those powers are within the reach of all of us. And if we didn’t get the point about sacrifice, the climax of the movie had Iron Man going on what everyone expected to be a suicide mission. He was giving up his life to save New York and to whack the bad guys. Captain America had accused Iron Man/Tony Stark of being narcissistic and selfish. Stark proved him wrong. The fact that Iron Man survived is vindication of his sacrificial act. Followers of Jesus should not be surprised that sacrifice is key to doing what is right (John 12:23-26).
So go watch The Avengers if you haven’t yet. Yes it’s entertainment and fiction. But the fight against evil is real and often against difficult odds. Our ultimate trust is in the Jesus of Good Friday and Easter. But we too have our part to play. And it will take teamwork and sacrifice.