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Living Together in Community

May 6, 2017

Rocky Mountain Sheep

When I began thinking about the Scripture readings for this Sunday two weeks ago (with all of our house guests, I was trying to stay ahead of the curve) it was a combination of a nod to the Good Shepherd reading from John 10:1-10 and the reading from Acts 2:42-47 about sharing all things together in common. As I noted on the bulletin cover, unlike my time in England where we had all sorts of examples of cute and fluffy sheep to reference on this Good Shepherd Sunday, here in the Rocky Mountains we don’t exactly have the same sort of reference. US Highway 34 has been closed for far too long now and I miss driving up and down the Big Thompson Canyon and seeing our neighbors, the Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep along the cliffs and licking salt off of the highway.

Yet, as often happens in the life and work of this Padre, the Spirit intercedes with new examples and opportunities for spiritual reflection and growth. So what happened today to make this shift? Well, in a word, life in all of its challenges and difficulties. For 21 years I was an Active duty Air Force Chaplain and often found myself on the front lines of ministry, trauma, and crisis. Life subtly shifted in 2011 when I retired and took a call to a smaller church in the Florida panhandle. This weekend, I was reminded once again of the interesting way in which God can call us to serve in ways that stretch us.

Denise and I were just pulling out of the garage to head to Fort Collins for a pleasant afternoon of photography and walking before an evening fellowship of pastors from Plains and Peaks Presbytery when a text message popped up on my phone. I am one of three volunteer Chaplains with the Estes Park Police Department and we have just recently instituted a blast text program when the Police Department needed a Chaplain. Evidently I was the first to respond to the text and suddenly the trip to Fort Collins was cancelled as I grabbed my gear and headed to the Command Post for a developing crisis in town.

It was a troubling scene to say the least. A suicidal individual was barricaded inside his house and threatening to kill himself. Over the course of 27 hours (I was on scene for 23 of those hours) it was my honor to become the Chaplain to four US Army National Guard members who were closely connected to the individual in crisis. As I walked with them and with our own Estes Park Police Department, Firefighters, Emergency Medical Technicians, and Rocky Mountain National Park Police; an incredible scene unfolded.

Watching these professionals from our little mountain town work along side of the Sheriff departments from two counties, three different bomb squads, and three different SWAT teams was amazing. It reminded me of the days when I was a part of a Combined Joint Task Operation where the Army, Navy, Air Force, & Marines worked together to conduct wartime and humanitarian operations around the world.

Sadly, despite the best efforts of all the teams and the negotiation teams, the individual decided to take his own life. While it was heartbreaking to watch this unfold, I couldn’t help but see how so many had done so much to try and help one individual. The members of his Army unit were also incredibly thankful for the combined operations of the various agencies to try and bring him out alive. As I lifted the deceased and his family (relatives and members of his team) in prayer, I also thanked God for the tremendous efforts of so many to try and save the life of one individual in crisis.

That is where our Scripture reading came into play. As I tried to sleep in the car (alternating between being incredibly cold and too warm much like I remembered doing when we hit the ground running on September 11th, 2001 in the Nevada desert) I would wake and be thinking about how all of us were doing everything we could to help one individual in crisis. While I sensed (very strongly I might add) the presence of the Good Shepherd calling out to us and leading us through the valley of the shadows, I also began to realize that what Acts 2:42-47 speaks about was being played out before my very eyes.

This particular reading talks about the early church and how that small band of believers held all things in common and met the needs of many through their combined efforts. Despite the small number of disciples and followers, this group was able to make a tremendous influence in their world for Christ. Our little mountain town has a rather small police force and volunteer fire department along with a small cadre of Emergency Medical Technicians. When the need arose, this band of professionals rose up to meet the call of duty. Over the period of twenty-seven hours they not only responded to this particular crisis, they also responded to another suicide threat and other 911 emergencies.

What truly made me marvel (in addition to their heroic efforts) was the way that our small mountain town reached out to our sisters services in Boulder, Fort Collins, Loveland, and Longmont and teamed up to provide an exceptionally professional joint task force group to meet the evolving crisis. Just as the small band of believers gathered together, holding all things in common, and provided for the common good; so too did this group of organizations band together to provide for the common good.

Personally, I believe that this is the message of Acts 2:42-46. The first century Christian community didn’t have massive cathedrals and sanctuaries built to the glory of the builder (oops, I suppose it was to the glory of God, but that often gets overlooked). They didn’t have massive organizations and boards of directors. No, they were a small group with grit and guts (and a healthy dose of grace) who wanted to change the world in the same way that the message of Jesus had changed their lives.

This weekend, dear reader, I watched a relatively small group of individuals (with huge hearts and professional enthusiasm) band together to make a difference in the lives of others. While the individual made the choice to take his own life, despite their best efforts, I know of four military sisters and brothers of mine whose lives were forever changed by the efforts made during that 27 hours. Even though a brother was lost, they knew that so many came together to try and save the life of one “stranger” in their midst. And in that process, four individuals walked away feeling like they were a part of something incredible here in our small mountain town. They were a part of a group of people who truly cared and loved them and did everything they could to save the life of a troubled soul.

Tomorrow we will break bread and share the cup around the table of the Lord in Communion. Small pieces of bread and small cups of juice will be shared. Yet despite the size of the cup and the pieces of bread, we will find ourselves a part of something much larger. Something that can and does make a difference in the life of the world. Let us break bread together on our knees… and let us be a part of something much larger than our small community could ever dream of being. I saw it happen this weekend, dear reader. Will you be a part of that something special for others?

  1. A beautiful, inspiring and humbling word. How wonderful to see those particular Scripture verses being lived out before your eyes like a visual parable. Thank you for sharing this slice of your life and ministry with us. God moves in mysterious ways. Bless you, Michael! 💜

  2. Dann Mattiza permalink

    Very nice words Michael. Thank you and thank your for your efforts.

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