We live in exciting times.
This week, as I write, the headlines seem particularly dramatic: Donald Trump in Europe, Roger Federer knocked out of Wimbledon, England through to the semi-finals of the World Cup, successful cave rescue mission in Thailand, and Cabinet resignations and reshuffles over Brexit. Or, as we might summarise: In, Out, In, Out, Shake it all about.
Within this, we have seen two fine examples of teamwork. One is the England football team. As one of the youngest teams in the tournament, with little international experience, they went in carrying few expectations. Gareth Southgate had no great track record as a club manager. He had, however, managed the England Under 21 team, and knew how to get the best out of players, drawing out their strengths and building their confidence. Above all, in a game often dominated by big stars, he knew how to help them work together as a team, looking out for one another. This team identity included not just players but staff; interviewers noted how often he thanked and praised all those involved.
The second example of teamwork was in the rescue of twelve boys and their football coach from a flooded cave in Thailand. It looked like an impossible situation: the boys had been trapped for nine days and were already weak; the 2-mile journey to the exit involved deep water, narrow passages and steep drops; the monsoon rains could come at any minute. Experts from across the world rushed to help and, in a very short time, a team of over 90 cave-divers, doctors and others, mainly from the Thai navy, planned the escape in meticulous detail. The complexities of the operation are only now emerging, though the tragic death of Saman Guran, a former Thai Navy SEAL, highlighted the danger: he took oxygen to the boys but had not enough left to survive the return journey.
The England team trained together over many months, while some of the rescuers met for the first time on the day, but each group was united by a common purpose and spurred on by a desire for the greater good. We see, in contrast to both these, the problem with the Brexit discussions. This is not a debate over details; it is a fundamental disagreement over the common purpose – over what direction we want this country to go in. No wonder they make little progress.
When Jesus called his disciples, he chose people for their unique gifts but called them to work together, in twos and threes or as a group. Later, the apostle Paul spoke of the wider group of followers as like a body, each part being necessary for the whole. We do well to remember that this still applies, each congregation and small group being itself a body which is then part of the greater body of Christ, all united by the common purpose of bringing in the kingdom of God.
Whether we see ourselves as winning goal scorers or the people who wash the kit, may we always encourage one another to see our true place in God’s team, and to live out God’s purpose to the full.