I’m a Christian, and sometimes a teacher/preacher.
I prepared a sermon for Louisville Supercon, December 2018, that would also serve as a tribute to the recently departed Stan Lee.
I wasn’t sure exactly where I wanted to go, or what I wanted to cover at first. I didn’t want to focus so much on Stan that he’d overshadow the Lord, but I didn’t want to treat him as an afterthought. At first, I thought about turning Stan’s name into an acronym of character he co-created, and what made them important to me. S (Spider-Man), T (Thor), A (Avengers), N (Nick Fury) nicely covered the superhuman, the supernatural, the super-group, and the super-agent. Each character brings different lessons, power sets, foibles, and emotional aspects.
In the end, I realized that the acronym of Stan Lee’s name could map to what the Bible calls the “fruit of the spirit.”
The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, tolerance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23)
It was tricky to use just quotes from the movies (without delving into the comics, that not everyone would be as familiar with), to use only characters that Stan had a hand in, and to tie each into a fruit.
|Gentleness, Humility||In humility consider others more important than yourselves. (Philippians 2:3)||Sacrifice||Groot||Guardians of the Galaxy||“We are groot.”|
|Patience, Tolerance||A cord of three strands is not quickly broken. (Ecclesiastes 4:12)||Teamwork||Nick Fury||The Avengers||“Bring together a group of remarkable people, to fight the battles that we never could.”|
|Self-Control||Take off your old self with its practices and put on the new self. (Colossians 3:9)||Authenticity||Bruce Banner||The Incredible Hulk||“I don’t want to control it; I want to get rid of it.”|
|Goodness||Pure religion in the sight of God means caring for orphans and widows. (James 1:27)||Nobility||Black Panther||Infinity War||“We don’t fight for just one life; We fight for all of them.”|
|Love||Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous, boastful, proud, rude, selfish, irritable, or begrudging. It rejoices in truth, not injustice. It never gives up or loses faith; it always hopes and always endures. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)||Love||Clint Barton, Pietro Maximoff, Wanda Maximoff||Age of Ultron||“Doesn’t matter what you did, or what you were.”
“I didn’t see that coming.”
|Kindness||Encourage one another and build each other up. (1 Thessalonians 5:11)||Encouragement||Peggy Carter, Sharon Carter||Civil War||“Plant yourself like a tree; look them in the eye, and say No, you move.”|
|Joy||I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. (John 10:10)||Enjoyment||Thor Odison||Age of Ultron||“Victory should be honored with revels.”|
In the Biblical sense, gentleness is not weakness, but is strength under control. Some editions translate this fruit as meekness or humility. It is the opposite of self-interest and assertiveness. Gentleness is the attitude of putting the interests of others ahead of our own — that is, sacrifice (the “S” in Stan Lee).
There have been many sacrifices throughout the Marvel comics and movies, but there are some that still get to me no matter how many times I see them. For me, one of those is Groot in the first Guardians of the Galaxy movie, when he utters what is only his second line: “We are groot.” We’d already seen that Groot is incredibly powerful several times, in the end he chooses to use that strength to save his friends instead of himself. Through this act, Groot is even reborn.
Also translated as long-suffering, forbearance, perseverance, and tolerance, patience allows us to put up with situations or people that frustrate us. Being able to work with others is a key element in Teamwork (the “T“).
Nick Fury explains the Avengers Initiative as the idea to “bring together a group of remarkable people… to fight the battles that we never could.” None of us is as strong as all of us. The Apostle Paul compares the church as a body, with each of us playing a specific part. Looking back at the Avengers movie, you could even call Tony the brain, Cap the heart, Hulk the muscle, and Clint the eyes. Maybe Natasha would be the ears (or the tiptoes, for her stealth), and Thor the bones (for his indestructibility)?
When we give our lives to Christ, we become a new creation. In the MCU, no one exemplifies that more than Bruce Banner/The Hulk. Paul saw in himself two natures (“I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my flesh; for I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do. Instead, I keep on doing the evil I do not want to do.” — Romans 7:18-19). Being honest with our own flaws exhibits authenticity (the “A” in Stan).
The paradox of self-control is that self cannot control self because it is self. Only by surrendering (or dying to) self to the Lord can we get any control. We can only have what we’ve given away.
While Gentleness connotes a loving disposition for others, Goodness puts it into action. As (possibly) Edmund Burke said, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” Doing what is right will put us into conflict with those who want to do wrong. Acting on behalf of others, Noblesse Oblige (or Nobility), is the “N” in Stan.
Religion based on rules does little good, and can do much harm. Pure religion that pleases God is caring for orphans and widows. As T’Challa says in Infinity War, we fight for all lives.
Has anything in human history been written, sung, or sought more than love? The love that society wants to push on us is often focused on ourselves. Love makes people happy. Love what gives you pleasure. But scripture tells us that love is much more than that, as well as being the “L” in Lee. “Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous, boastful, proud, rude, selfish, irritable, or begrudging. It rejoices in truth, not injustice. It never gives up or loses faith; it always hopes and always endures.” Much like the humility of Gentleness urges us to sacrifice, biblical love urges us to put others before ourselves.
In Age of Ultron, Wanda had mesmerized all of Hawkeye’s teammates, to disastrous effect. But when she’s panicking, he forgives her and offers her a place on the team. “It doesn’t matter what you did, or what you were… if you step out that door, you are an Avenger.” Later, when a child is about to be murdered by Ultron, Hawkeye interposes his own body to save the child. But Pietro surprises him by taking the bullets first.
Gentleness sacrifices, patience forgives, goodness defends, love surrenders, and Kindness assists. It stresses keeping our fellow believer on track, through sharing, teaching, and encouraging (the first “E” in Lee).
We all face struggles. They might be illness, poverty, loneliness, or worse. By encouraging our friends (literally “to put courage inside”), we allow them go farther and reach higher than before. If they can’t make it on their own, we can all help. Sharon Carter’s eulogy of Peggy (originally spoken by Captain America to Spider-Man in the comics) reminded Steve that the right thing is the right thing, despite what others may think.
Happiness comes from the same root word as happen or hapless. It is the result of outside influence; a temporary circumstance. True Joy lives on the inside. The apostle Paul learned to be content in all circumstances (Philippians 4). For myself, I know who I am, who I belong to, and where I’m going. Life has its ups and downs, but we can all choose whether or not to find enjoyment (the final “E” in Lee).
I’ve met people in the Christian community who look like they were weaned on a pickle (to borrow a friend’s phrase). Christ came to grant us abundant and everlasting life. Even Steve Rogers agreed with Thor that revels can show honor.
Stan Lee taught us Sacrifice, Teamwork, Authenticity, Nobility, Love, Encouragement, and Enjoyment.
You can get a copy of the bulletin PDF here.