Sunday’s sermon: Voyageurs National Park – Teamwork

Text used – Ephesians 4:1-16

  • It’s not often that I wish we had screens in this sanctuary, all, but today is definitely one of those days because as I’ve been thinking about this theme of teamwork this week, there are two iconic sitcom scenes that keep replaying through my head. – one more contemporary, one more classic
    • Contemporary = scene from the 90s hit show “Friends” → scene where Ross, Rachel, and Chandler are trying to move Ross’ new couch up a tight staircase

  • Side note: if you ever have a chance to watch the blooper reel for this scene, I highly recommend it → The scene alone is hilarious enough, but watching the actors cracking up while they’re trying to film it is even better!
      • Classic = scene from 1950s favorite show “I Love Lucy” → scene where Lucy and Ethel are trying to wrap chocolates for Kramer’s Kandy Kitchen

    • What I love about both of these scenes – and what got me thinking about them in terms of teamwork and our Scripture reading this morning and the life of the Church in general – is that in both scenes, the characters are actually in pretty difficult, stressful situations. Anyone who’s moved a couch knows just how hateful a task that can be, especially if there are stairs and tight corners involved! And just the idea of falling behind on an assembly line makes my blood pressure go up! But the characters in these scenes take those stressful situations and not only live through them but live through them with camaraderie and joy. And, in essence, isn’t that what we do together – here in this place, and in our relationship with God? We live through all the situations of life – the good ones and the challenging ones – with as much tenacity and joy as we can muster because we’re doing it together.
  • [READ “Voyageurs National Park”][1] → I gotta say, friends, I love that we’re wrapping up this summer series of visiting various national parks around the country by returning to Minnesota. It’s our “coming home” part of the journey … which also makes it even better that the theme that we’re wrapping up with is the theme of teamwork. And I have to say that of the 61 different themes that Lyons and Barkhauer tackle throughout this book, this is definitely the one I would have chosen for this congregation in this time and place.
    • Speaks to the essence of the identity that we claim as a congregation
      • Vision statement: We are a small church with a big mission.
      • Mission statement: We are a community of believers whose mission is to share God’s Word, show God’s Love, serve God’s World, and strive for God’s Peace.
      • Identity underlined by Paul’s words in our passage from Eph this morning – text: Conduct yourselves with all humility, gentleness, and patience. Accept each other with love, and make an effort to preserve the unity of the Spirit with the peace that ties you together. You are one body and one spirit, just as God also called you in one hope. … His purpose was to equip God’s people for the work of serving and building up the body of Christ until we all reach the unity of faith and knowledge of God’s Son. … By speaking the truth in love, let’s grow in every way into Christ, who is the head.[2]
        • Scholar: To bear one another’s burdens is to sacrifice for the other. It is to help carry one another’s burdens. Love is not an emotion; love is an act of the will. Paul is not calling for the early Christians to feel warmly toward one another, but to act accordingly to their calling. They are to do love by serving one another. The church is called to be a new community based not on the divisions inherent in the existing social order but on the new humanity in Christ. … In this new order, all members are essential, and all members are connected. Love, therefore, is neither theoretical nor abstract but is the glue of community; it is what knits the body together.[3] → This is that teamwork that Lyons was talking about among the voyageurs in the reflection: “Instead of a lonely explorer, the voyageur was part of a team, a pack of siblings in the wilderness who sang, ate, and worked together.” Truly, friends, we are in the wilderness.
          • Wilderness of figuring out what life and relationships and Church look like in this COVID-altered world
          • Wilderness of figuring out what life and relationships and Church look like in the midst of a society so assaulted and divided by the rampant hate that we see in our social media feeds, our news feeds, our headlines, and even displayed so blatantly on the street or up our neighbors’ flag poles
          • Wilderness of figuring out what life and relationships and faith look like in the aftermath of our own personal life-altering circumstances and griefs
            • Losses we’ve suffered
            • Life changes we’ve had to make (like it or not)
            • Transitions and upheavals and experiences that we go over and over in our minds long after we’ve lived through them trying to figure out if there was some other way – some better way – we could’ve handled them
            • Change and challenge have a nasty tendency to go hand-in-hand like a one-sided version of Red Rover, calling us over into the unknown.
      • But in the midst of that wilderness, we have one another – this body of Christ, this community of love and faith and grace and welcome and sacred belonging – to sing and eat and do God’s work together.
        • Sometimes that work is out there – helping the community, building up the community, reaching out to the community and the world: to share God’s Word, show God’s Love, serve God’s World, and strive for God’s Peace
        • But sometimes that work is in here with and among one another – reminding one another of the power and presence of God’s love and hope in the midst of whatever storms we’re facing. Sometimes that work is in here, reminding each other that we’re not alone.
        • Scholar: The fractious church’s need to hear grace notes and exhortations on the themes of unity and diversity is acute, as is its hunger for doxology and direction. The human community is in desperate need of communities of faith where belief and practice are congruous. [This text] lies at the heart of an expansive vision for Christian community.[4]
  • Important point to make in this discussion of teamwork and Christian community → unite ≠ uniformity
    • It’s clear in our text that Paul is not advocating for sameness within the body of Christ. He’s not calling for assimilation. Paul makes it abundantly clear that there is room for all sorts in this beautiful, mixed-up, wacky body of Christ. – text: Accept each other with love, and make an effort to preserve the unity of the Spirit with the peace that ties you together. … He gave some apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers.[5]
      • Gr. “unity” = not a word that means homogeny but harmony, implies the mixing and uplifting and cherishing of many different contributions to one cohesive whole[6]
        • Harmony in a song = all the beautiful notes that make up a chord → lots of different notes, lots of different chords and variations on chords, but the beauty simply wouldn’t be without the variety … without the differences
        • Harmony in a dish = all the different flavors and textures that make something delicious → Think of a taco! The best tacos have the spiciness of the meat, the coolness of an avocado or sour cream or crema of some sort, the crunch of the shell or the lettuce, the smoothness of some black beans, the sweetness and sourness of a squirt of lime. A taco with one single flavor or one single texture would just be … blah! You need all those different elements to make it amazing.
        • Imagine harmony within the teams of voyageurs that made their way through the wilderness
          • Someone to act as the navigator/guide
          • A few of them hunted for various pelts as well as the food they’d need while they were out in the wilderness together
          • A few of them to clean the skins and prepare them for transport
          • Someone to cook the food that sustained them throughout their journey
          • Someone to communicate and trade with the First Nations and Native American people they encountered
          • For each endeavor into the wilderness to be successful, they needed to include a lot of individuals with many different gifts and skills. But when it came down to the work of the voyage itself, they all needed to portage and paddle the canoes together. – from Lyons’ reflection: Paddling a [twenty-six-foot-long North Canoe] alone would be difficult, if not impossible, but teaming up proves that working together makes the job easier and more rewarding. → Friends, traveling this path of faith in this day in age is difficult if not impossible alone. But when we team up as the body of Christ together, we can make the job easier and more rewarding. And as the future stretches out before this congregation, the idea of teamwork makes me wonder: What can we do together? Where is God calling us together? What amazing things does God have in store for us together? Amen.


[1] Brad Lyons and Bruce Barkhauer. America’s Holy Ground: 61 Faithful Reflections on Our National Parks. (St. Louis: Chalice Press, 2019), 216.

[2] Eph 4:2-4, 12-13a, 15-16a.

[3] G. Porter Taylor. “Proper 13 (Sunday between July 31 and August 6 inclusive) – Ephesians 4:1-16 – Theological Perspective” in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Year B, vol. 3. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 306.

[4] Richard F. Ward. “Proper 13 (Sunday between July 31 and August 6 inclusive) – Ephesians 4:1-16 – Homiletical Perspective” in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Year B, vol. 3. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 303.

[5] Eph 4:2b-3, 11.

[6] Exegesis by Rev. Elana Keppel Levy:

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