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Not Alone…

July 2, 2016

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I took this picture a couple of months ago in front of our Condo complex in Estes Park. This big fellow hadn’t yet shed his winter coat and his antlers were still growing. This past week, Denise had hoped that some of our neighborhood Velvet Boys would be hanging around while her oldest son was here visiting. To find some Elk, we had to drive into the Rocky Mountain National Park. When we saw them, their shaggy winter coats were gone and they all had sleek new Summer coats to show off!

Now it is Fourth of July weekend and I wonder how scarce our neighbors are going to make themselves between all the crowds and the fireworks. I can appreciate their need for space. Due to a combination of factors, large crowds, noise, and fireworks (or other noises that sound like gunshots or explosions) I prefer the quieter spaces myself. For years I would seek the quiet solitude of the beach at sunset as I struggled through the ending of my Air Force career and what God wanted me to do next. Even though at times I felt very lonely and afraid, I knew I wasn’t alone. This has translated to the Rocky Mountains where we now make our home. I am alone in the sense that Denise has gone to spend some time with her parents before making a road trip back to Estes Park with her girlfriend Sandra and Sandra’s daughter, Emily. Okay, before Pixie begins to pout, I am not alone. Our 4.5 pound bundle of attitude Pixie (she is a Chihuahua) is with me! Yet the house is much quieter and will be for the next ten to fourteen days.

In between meetings and work, I plan on doing some hiking in the park and the surrounding area. Even though I will be hiking solo, I will not be alone. Maybe I will run into other hikers and wanderers… Maybe I won’t… But I will be guaranteed to run into Wyoming Ground Squirrels, Marmots, Deer, Elk, and perhaps even Coyotes. Of course, I will also run into friends in town and hang out with them some. What is the point of this rambling? Well, for one, it is a reminder that we are never truly alone. Whether it is four legged neighbors or two, I am reminded that I am never alone. These reminders also reveal to me that God is always with me, no matter where I may ramble or roam.

Yes, good reader, this also ties in with the reading from Luke’s gospel for tomorrow. In Luke 10, Jesus is preparing the disciples to go out on a mission trip. In Mark’s account of the sending of the disciples, Jesus sent them out two by two, giving them authority over unclean spirits. In Luke’s account, Jesus sends out seventy (other ancient authorities say seventy two were sent out by Jesus) followers with a purpose. They were a sort of “holy advance team” who would go to the places Jesus was planning on visiting and prepare the way. “After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go.” (Luke 10:1)

This must have been scary for the seventy as they went out for the first time on their own. Add to that fear, the cryptic commentary from Jesus and you have a recipe for concern! “He said to them, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say, Peace to this house! And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you.'” (Luke 10:2-6)

On my first deployment in 2000 to Grenada (May-August, a humanitarian operation), I deployed with the 820th Red Horse Squadron (Rapid Engineer Deployable Heavy Operational Repair Squadron Engineers) which was one of the units at Nellis Air Force Base, NV that I was chaplain for. I knew most of the squadron members and would get to know the rest very well by the end of the deployment.

However, my deployment to Afghanistan & Uzbekistan (January-May 2005) was a solo operation. I would be paired up with another Air Force Chaplain, two Army Chaplain Assistants (enlisted members of the Chaplain Corps team) and embedded in a Combined Joint Task Force comprised of Army, Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps personnel.

When the Task Force Senior Chaplain decided to move us to Karshi-Khanabad Air Base in Uzbekistan, I found myself amongst friends from Grand Forks AFB, ND where I was stationed at the time. I didn’t know the members of the Logistics Readiness Squadron before, but by the end of the deployment, we knew each other very well. Yet we all had something in common. Besides the fact that we missed the worst winter on record for Grand Forks AFB (-48 below zero BEFORE the wind chill and five major blizzards), we were all in a sense from the same home town.

Okay Padre, what’s the point here? How do these stories from your prior life in the military connect with the reading from Luke! Good point! I am now getting to that 🙂

Jesus was sending the seventy-two out into what might be considered enemy territory. Yet he didn’t sending them out alone. Even though he said he was sending them out like lambs in the midst of wolves, they were not alone. Yes, they had each other to rely on, but they also had more. “And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the laborer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house.” (Luke 10:6-7) At the very least, they had each other. At the very best, they had a community who welcomed them and who would, in turn, welcome the Lord when he came.

Tomorrow is Communion Sunday. At Presbyterian Community Church of the Rockies, we celebrate the Lord’s Supper on the First Sunday of each month. Throughout my career as a Pastor/Chaplain/Padre, I have found comfort in the regular celebration of the Lord’s Supper. When we gather around the table (no matter where that table may be in the world) we are reminded of the words of Jesus, “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:10)

I have been walking with a number of people these past few months through various trials and valleys of shadows. Right now, Cancer and Dementia are the key forces at work. I can’t tell you how many people after spending time talking and “spilling their guts” with me sigh and say thank you. Thank you for listening… thank you for loving… thank you for reminding me that I am not alone in this struggle…. To use the metaphor we used in the Chaplain Corps, it has been my honor to walk with people as a “visible reminder of the holy” in their lives. And this Padre is also very thankful for those who have been the “visible reminder of the holy” to me.

Dear reader, in this world of hate, fear, bigotry, misogyny, homophobia, racism, xenophobia, etc. we need reminders that we are not alone. If you follow the one who says Love God and Love EVERY Neighbor, you will feel damned alone at times. You will be anticipating the KKK burning a flag on your front lawn (I expected that in my prior “neighborhood” before moving to Colorado). You will indeed feel VERY alone!

I am here to tell you that you are NOT alone! Will you walk with me through the valley of hatred and fear? I guarantee we will walk as lambs in the midst of wolves! I also guarantee that we will NEVER be alone! Will you walk with me as we follow the footsteps of the Prince of Peace?

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