Thor Ragnarok: We Are Asgard
Thor Ragnarok puts Asgard through a lot. Like, an awful amount of a lot. Odin's death frees his evil, seemingly unstoppable daughter who then proceeds to smash Thor's hammer, and then subsequently begins slaughtering and enslaving the people of her homeland, all while the wayward sons of Odin are off on a semi-hilarious buddy comedy adventure.
While Thor, Hulk, and Loki are off having their sitcom time, Heimdall is doing his best to save the people from Hella and get them to safety. Eventually Thor, Loki, Valkyrie, Hulk, and Heimdall are all battling Hella's forces. The problem in their battle for the longest time is that they are fighting for the location of Asgard, rather than the people of Asgard. The people seem like just extras and cannon fodder for battle rather than the heart of what is being fought for. This is complicated even more so by the fact that Hella draws her power and strength from the location of Asgard. Fighting her over the physical location is at the very best a stalemate, but was ultimately a losing battle. The story finally moved forward when Thor and company realized that Agard wasn't the location, but was in fact the people. Once they were willing to let go of their fixation on the geographic realm, they were able to actually save the people and move on. Sure, the physical location was destroyed, but the people were saved.
When I was watching this, it hit me so hard that this is a fairly accurate depiction of what it looks like to be the church in our current world and climate. We get so focused on buildings, resources, and physical assets that we think those things are the church. We fight battles over physical properties of the church rather than fighting for the people. When I was a buck wild teenager terrorizing my super old school southern church, I heard all the standard statements. "Don't run in church. Don’t chew gum in church. You don’t wear worldly clothes in church. Don't bring drinks in the church." The list goes on. In my teenage years, I came to understand that the church was the building. The physical construct with the steeple, green carpet, and the musky smell of old hymnals. The attitude of so many wasn't that the people were special, it was that the place was special. The older I got, and the greater perspective I gained. I saw that this was an absolutely wrong understanding. Those buildings weren't the church; the people were. Those buildings were a place where the Church may have gathered, but the Church, like Asgard, are the people.
In the New Testament, the word for Church (Ekklesia in the Greek) is used more than 110 times, and in not instance is the word being used as a building, place, or physical location. Rather, it is referring to the called-out people of God. It's a misunderstanding and miscommunication that not only breeds a skewed view of the gospel, but also deeply causes us to focus on the wrong things to the point of hindering our walk with God and the ministry the church puts forward.
Luke paints a clear picture of who the church is and what it should look like when he writes in Acts:
"They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved." - Acts 2:42-47
The church at that time were the believers in Christ. These were the people who devoted themselves not only to teaching, but to fellowship and living their lives together. The scripture also shows that they not only met in the temple, but in their homes. It was never about how great or well-designed the temple was. It wasn’t about what the temple offered. It wasn't just about the destination, or where they met; it was about the people who were gathered, and the heart they shared. Just like Thor had to change his mindset about what actually made up Asgard, we have to change up our mindset about what actually makes us the church.
Sometimes it's hard for people to make that mental shift and to realize that they have to see the church as the people, the heart, the ministry, and the message more so than the physical location. Early in my ministry, I began with building a Bible camp. When I moved on to the property, there was nothing there but a picnic shelter, a bathroom, and my rundown single wide trailer all alone in the woods. You know what, though? We had an amazing camp! We played games, ate food, sang songs, and did activities. It was the best. We didn't have a ton of resources, but the heart of our ministry was already centered. Today there are ten cabins, several meeting areas, a basketball court, 2 lakes, a water slide, a mini-golf course, paintball, great sound and video equipment, and a ton of resources. What's even more important is the same heart and attitude that existed when we had just trees and grass is the same today. If all those resources were gone, it would still thrive.
I later moved on to being a pastor at one of the largest churches in my region. Amazing resources, multiple sanctuaries, buses, huge budgets, a 1.5-million-dollar gym, etc. The church I pastor now, we have 3 locations and own no buildings. We are portable and meet in a high school, a community college, and a campus ministry center. We have a couple trailers of equipment we load and unload each Sunday. The same gospel is preached, the same spirit is present, the church is the church with limited resources and property just as it is with great resources and property. I loved having a grand building, but that building wasn't the church. The people who met, served, loved, and grew together were the church. When Jesus was questioned about his authority ministerially, He went on to tell his antagonists a prophetic message about the resurrection, yet they were still blinded with the pre- occupation of focus on their buildings.
“Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” They replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” But the temple he had spoken of was his body." - John 2:19-21.
Even thousands of years ago, face to face with the Messiah, people were confusing the significance of buildings over the presence of Jesus. When Thor finally gets the picture, he not only realized that he had been focused on the wrong thing, but even more so that he had to be completely willing to let go of the physical place he clung to in order to save the people. Thor: It won't end there. The longer Hela's on Asgard, the more powerful she grows. She'll hunt us down. We need to stop her here and now. Thor: Asgard's not a place, it's a people. This was never about stopping Ragnarok... it was about causing Ragnarok.
Thor: [to Loki] Go to the vault. Surtur's crown. It's the only way. Loki: Bold move, brother. Even for me."
As Loki put it, it is a bold move to be willing to sacrifice the physical for the sake of the eternal, but it's the right move. As pastors, leaders, and believers, we have to put more focus on the people and the presence of God than on our precious buildings and structures. I remember one Sunday seeing a young woman being told that her clothes weren't good enough to be in "the church." She left those doors, and to my knowledge hasn't been back in the past decade.
During that fight on the Bifrost bridge, people of Asgard were being slaughtered to preserve the integrity of the place of Asgard when in fact they were what mattered. Thor recognized that the only way to save the people was to sacrifice the place. He knew that in the end, he had to be willing to sacrifice the physical. Jesus knew this about the physical places of worship in His time as well.
As Jesus was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!” “Do you see all these great buildings?” replied Jesus. “Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.” Mark 13:1-2.
Jesus knew that the temple of that time would not last, just as no temple, sanctuary, or church building of our time will last. I've seen churches have thousands of dollars in savings and building funds, but turn away hungry people asking for food. I've seen homeless people sleeping under church structures be arrested rather than invited in. I've seen people pushed away because their appearance didn't match the appearance of the pretty buildings. This cannot be who we are. Anytime we place the physical places over the hearts of the people, we are failing. Throwing away our time and resources for things that will eventually be destroyed while missing the opportunity to invest in the eternal souls of people is a tragedy we must end in our culture.
As Thor and company flew away, Korg watched the remains of Asgard and stated: "The damage is not too bad. As long as the foundations are still strong, we can rebuild this place. It will become a haven for all peoples and aliens of the universe. [Asgard explodes] Oof. Now those foundations are gone. Sorry.” Thor's people were Asgard, not the realm. Christ's people are the Church, not your buildings. When our perspectives shift, we are able to be who we are called to be.