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Love Isn’t Always Easy…

February 18, 2017

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A week ago yesterday, Denise and I were battling the high winds as we drove from Estes Park to Fort Collins for an appointment at the VA and then on to Scottsbluff, Nebraska for a Presbytery meeting. As I drove, I could definitely feel the force of the wind on the car. Upon seeing the highway warning signs warning high profile vehicles about the dangers, I was thankful to be in our Chevy Equinox. Since we had time to take a leisurely drive we decided to stop at F. E. Warren AFB just outside of Cheyenne, Wyoming.

I had never visited the base before and we thought it would  be interesting to explore. Well, it was obvious that this base used to be an old Army Calvary base back in the late 1860’s. When I was the USAF Thunderbird Chaplain in the late 90’s I had heard about the big Cheyenne Rodeo Days which were an annual stop on the Thunderbird’s annual schedule of airshows. Yes, it is wide open country where I imagine you could see the show perfectly from a variety of places.

On this trip I learned a little bit about the early days of the base during a visit to the old post cemetery. Among the headstones were the names of Buffalo Soldiers who served during the so-called “Indian Wars.” I am still trying to wrap my 21st century head around fact that former slaves who were still not considered real citizens by many were sent to fight the original inhabitants of this land. In addition to the Buffalo Soldiers graves, there were the graves of nine Germans and one Italian Prisoner of War, along with numerous children who died of various epidemics which were common in that particular period of our history.

I found this a stark contrast to my initial thoughts when we drove by the old Parade Grounds of the Post and saw the Wyoming Antelope hanging out. The first thing that came to mind was the old song, “Home on the Range” with the verse about Buffalo roaming and Deer playing with Antelope. The closest thing we saw to a Buffalo was the metal silhouette of a Buffalo we saw just after we crossed over from Colorado into Wyoming. Sadly we didn’t see any deer that day either.

However, the thought of the song and of our own Deer back home made me smile. In the midst of a base whose mission is Nuclear (literally… ICBM missile silos dot the Wyoming and Colorado landscape) to see these animals and be reminded of a song about a peaceful home was food for thought. I retired from the US Air Force on 30 June 2011 and to be honest, I have’t looked back with longing or regret once. I “did time” on bases where there were similar missions as the one at F.E.Warren and I don’t miss the daily reminder of the potential for absolute destruction. Now don’t get me wrong, I was honored to serve and the warriors I served along side of were overwhelmingly against the saber rattling the old men in D.C. seem to enjoy. Why? Because we would be the first to die! Pardon the pun, but it isn’t exactly rocket science to understand that!

To see these gentle creatures roaming around a place where people daily prepare for war can seem at first glance to be a paradox. Yet I do know from my own experience with having sheep kept on our antenna fields at RAF Croughton in England, that the creatures can remind you of the peaceful and gentle things of life. Not only did they keep the antenna fields mowed (and fertilized), I could wander out from the chapel and watch them when I was feeling stressed and the stress would melt away (especially during lambing season).

So what does all of this talk of critters and folk songs have to do with the readings for the Seventh Sunday after Epiphany? Good question! I will set about making that connection now. As soon as I share one more story… back when I was a Chaplain, First Lieutenant and attending the Introductory Chaplain course, I remember being grouped together with all of the other Presbyterian Chaplains to come up with a briefing on what it meant to be a Presbyterian. Were we all PC(USA) Chaplains? Nope! One of the Chaplains was a Bible Presbyterian Chaplain.

I had never heard of that particular branch of the Presbyterian family up until that summer. We also learned about Orthodox Presbyterians, Evangelical Presbyterians, and others who fell under the Presbyterian/Reformed family. Now when it came to preaching at the Protestant daily worship service at the school, the Bible Presbyterian Chaplain got up to preach and he preached from Leviticus. I had never heard anyone preach from the book of Leviticus before and, in fact, the book of Leviticus was one of the books of the Bible (another being the book of Revelation) that John Calvin never preached from, nor did he write a commentary on it.

Every time this passage comes up in the Lectionary I chuckle and remember that story from 1990. I can guarantee that my Chaplain colleague did not preach from the passage we are exploring tonight. Yes, Leviticus is not your typical source for preaching for the majority of pastors. Yet, Jesus pulled a nugget out of Leviticus (and also Deuteronomy) when he summarized the Law and the Prophets for the young lawyer in Matthew 22:37-39 and Luke 10:27 (love the Lord your God with all of your heart, mind, soul, and strength and love your neighbor as yourself).

This Sunday’s passage from Leviticus is a commentary on the Ten Commandments and on what it means to love your neighbor as yourself. So how do you love your neighbor? How do you love ALL of your neighbors? Well, don’t defraud your neighbor… don’t strip your fields or your vineyard bare (even though you own them) but rather leave some for your neighbors in need. Do not lay down stumbling blocks for your neighbors in order to deceive them. Don’t slander your neighbor. The list goes on and on and on…

The love that Leviticus talks about is pretty common sense. I can almost hear the Pharisee or the Scribe saying, “that’s a piece of cake to keep!” And that is where Jesus comes in with his interpretation of the Law! If you remember, last week he was talking about taking it seriously. You know… eyes being plucked out and limbs being hacked off… Uff Dah! Thankfully we know that he doesn’t mean this literally. However, he is warning us to take this love stuff seriously… more seriously than a chocolate Valentine!

So Leviticus tells us what actions can be loving towards our neighbor, especially our neighbors in need. Jesus, however, kicks it up a notch! Someone smacks you on your right cheek? Offer them your left cheek as well! Did you know that when you offer them your left cheek that as you turn your head, you make eye contact with your cheek slapper? Interesting thought… Someone demands your coat? Give them your cloak as well! Anyone force you to carry their gear for a mile? Go two miles! An interesting cultural aside: a Roman soldier could commandeer a local to carry their gear but a mile was the limit they could force you to carry their stuff. Beggars? Don’t ignore them!

Now here is where it really got challenging! Love your neighbor? Heck even the Gentiles and other sinners do that! I say love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you! Have you ever tried to do that? I have and I can tell you it isn’t necessarily easy. I have had waaaaay too much practice and am dealing with a situation now where I need to be doing that. I have found out (from previous experience and lessons from my partner in life and ministry, Denise) that once you start praying for your enemies something happens. You may not end up all huggy-huggy and kissy-kissy with them, but your heart will change… slowly… until you see that enemy or person who has hurt you deeply as a child of God.

Jesus once again kicks it up a notch! If you are going to love (which God calls us to do and which God’s love for us should make us want to do) then LOVE! With all of the hate and vitriol being spread around thanks to the current political and cultural climate, the last thing you may want to do is to love the person who is being an absolute butt-head to you. Yet Jesus calls us to do just that. After all, if you are like me, there are plenty of times you have been a butt-head towards God just like me!

It isn’t easy… but it is necessary for our spiritual well-being and survival. May God help us, dear reader, to love as Jesus loves! It may not be easy, but it sure is worth it!

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