John 17:11-19 I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name-- the name you gave me-- so that they may be one as we are one. 12 While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me. None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled. 13 "I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them. 14 I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. 15 My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. 17 Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. 19 For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.

“The Avengers: Age of Ultron” is the box office smash of the year. I went to the movies this week with my wife on a date … but also to do research.

The Avengers are an intriguing Superhero team. It is a team made up of several strong personalities and heroes with a variety of skills. In the movies, Nick Fury is the driving force behind assembling the team. He wants a group of extraordinary people to fight the battles that can’t be fought by the average person. In the comics, there is a quote from the 70’s issues which summarizes the formation and purpose of the team:

“And there came a day, a day unlike any other, when Earth’s mightiest heroes and heroines found themselves united against a common threat. On that day, the Avengers were born—to fight the foes no single super hero could withstand! Through the years, their roster has prospered, changing many times, their glory has never been denied! Heed the call, then—for now, the Avengers Assemble!”

In the latest incarnation, Fury assembles Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, the Hulk, Black Widow, and Hawkeye into a team.

Despite Nick Fury’s efforts, the team doesn’t come together quickly because the big personalities don’t mesh well. They all have their special skills and they do well on their own but it is a different story when they must to work together toward a common goal. Their huge egos and personal agendas fill the room. Tony Stark and Bruce Banner are men of science who trust their own intelligence far more than they trust Fury. Captain America wants to trust Fury because Cap is a soldier, but he discovers that Fury has been withholding information. Thor’s main agenda is to capture his brother Loki and return him to Asgard for imprisonment. In spite of the conflicting personalities and agendas, Fury sees the powerful potential of the team.

Jesus also sees the potential for a dynamic team when He looks at us. Jesus brings together a wide variety of people with different skills and different personalities. And yet, He wants us all to work together toward a common goal.

In His high priestly prayer, Jesus prays to His heavenly Father for unity among all of His followers. “I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name-- the name you gave me-- so that they may be one as we are one.”

Jesus wants us all to be one. To get along with one another. To be united in the way that God the Father and God the Son are united. Jesus had brought the disciples together into one group. They were very different people – a tax collector, a zealot, fishermen. There were loud-mouth braggarts, egomaniacs, vindictive stooges. There were deniers, doubters, betrayers, bunglers. And Jesus united them into one group.

Jesus has also united very different people into one group at Epiphany. We have veterans, business owners, farmers, factory workers, educators, students, housewives. We have different races, different backgrounds, different incomes. We have Packer fans and … everybody else. And miraculously, Jesus has united us into one cohesive unit.

Jesus prayed, “As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.” Our goal is not to defeat an alien invasion that is threatening Earth. Rather our goal is to proclaim the gospel of Christ to people who need its saving message.

Jesus prayed that we would be completely united in mission and ministry to the world. But carrying out this mission of sharing Christ with others is difficult. We share the message of Christ with others in our community, but most reject us. That becomes tiresome. We try to build this church with strong Christians, but then sheep wander and stray from the flock. That’s a struggle to keep the church moving forward. We give money to our Lord for His mission, but it never seems to be enough. We want to do so much ministry, but we can’t always afford everything we want to do. That’s frustrating. And then sometimes our own members can’t get along. Personalities clash, opinions differ, self-righteousness takes over. And that becomes disheartening. Sometimes it’s enough to make someone want to just quit. 

Jesus assembles us together into a mighty team. Sure, we don’t have superpowers like Iron Man, the Hulk, Thor, or Captain America. But we do have different skills and abilities that can be used for the good of Christ’s Church.

We want to use our gifts for the benefit of the Church, but our various personalities can make it hard to work together as a team. When things don’t go our way, we are tempted to become divided. We might have a disagreement about the best way to use our time, talents, and treasures to serve God. Rather than working through our disagreement, we are tempted to tear down, back stab, or gossip about those who disagree with us. Our perpetual negativity drives relationships into the ground. Our church and schools can easily be choked by conflict.

No wonder Jesus prays that we be one. No one knows the sin in this world and its devastating effects more than He who made this world and watched us fall. No one knows the destructiveness and depths of sin more than He who took it all upon Himself on the cross. No one knows the sting of death more than He who was swallowed up by it, so that He could swallow it up in His resurrection. No one knows more about subjecting His will to the will of God than He who prayed, “Your will be done.” No one knows more than Jesus the hurt and pain you feel because of sin and death, because of division and separation, because of isolation and loneliness. No one knows more than Him that it is not good for man to be alone. And so Jesus prays for you. That you may not be alone. That we may be one.

Jesus has united us together. He has chosen us sinners to become a part of His Holy Christian Church. He has loved us enough to suffer and die for us. He has called us to follow Him. He has gathered us around a love for His pure Word and His holy Sacraments. He has assembled us together to grow in faith with each other. He has united us in the common goal of teaching young children and saving lost souls in our community. He has sanctified and dedicated us to doing His Father’s work. He has prayed for us.

Jesus prayed that we would be united with each other in the same way that the Triune God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – is united. A team – the Perfect Team – one in mission; one in call; yet diverse in character.

Look again at the Avengers. As the team is falling apart because of their own agendas, Loki stabs Agent Phil Coulson in the heart. (Coulson had been the agent who did a lot of work to recruit the members of the Avengers.) Coulson died as a result of that wound.

After Coulson’s death, the Avengers worked tirelessly together to defeat Loki. His tragic death was their motivation, which led them to work past any differences they were having and work together as a team.

Our motivation for working together as a team comes from the death of Jesus. The death of Jesus wins us eternal salvation. His death paid for sins once for all. His death is the event that unites all believers. Because of the forgiveness and eternal life that he won for us, we are motivated to come together as a family of believers. Because of what he did for us, we are motivated to tell others about his death and resurrection. We proclaim a salvation that is far superior to any earthly salvation. Jesus’ sacrificial death saved the world.

Jesus’ love for us helps us to set aside our ego and receive input that is beneficial. When we are tempted to tear someone down or back stab them because they acted unkindly toward us, Jesus helps us to forgive others and to put the best construction on their actions. We repent of our own sins and we help others see their forgiveness. We build each other up and we share Jesus’ love.

Jesus continued in His prayer: “I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.” Jesus lets us know that there are enemies that we have to fight in this world. Not mythical gods or made-up creatures from another planet. But the evil one – the devil – along with his demons, atheists, pagans, and the rest of his hellish army who are fiercely opposed to us and anything we do that is connected to Christ’s name. Martin Luther stated long ago, “The world is bound to crucify whatever is of God.”

We might expect that in view of the hatred of the world that Jesus would ask the Father to spare us all of this pain and persecution by removing us from the world. Rather, Jesus prays that we move as a united front against the hellish forces of Satan. “They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.” Jesus sends us into the world, but He has sanctified us – set us apart – from the world. We may not have super powers on our own, but connected to the Holy Spirit, we are given divine powers. Divine powers to sanctify us. Divine powers that unite us. Divine powers to proclaim Christ to a world that opposes Him.

These divine powers are the Means of Grace – God’s Word and Sacraments. In our baptismal waters, Jesus united us with Himself, released us from the evil one, and united us into His holy family.

At the Lord’s Table, there are two unifying fellowships that take place. There is a vertical relationship established between you and Jesus as you eat His flesh and drink His blood. There is also a horizontal relationship establish between you and those with whom you commune.

When you hear, read, and meditate upon God’s Word, it sanctifies you. It sets you apart by calling you to faith, converting you from your empty way of life, redeeming your soul, gathering you into God’s family, and sanctifying you to live for God and His kingdom.

When I am gathering my daughters together to leave somewhere to go home, I will often call out, “Zarling girls, assemble!” As they come together, I marvel at the different gifts and talents God has placed within my family. United in one family with one goal.

As you leave church today, take a moment to look around at everyone you see here. Marvel at all the different personalities, different gifts, different skin colors, different ages. Marvel that God has united us together in His Son, Jesus Christ. United in one family with one goal around one Savior. Let us assemble. Amen.