The Way They Pray in Heaven

Wednesday, October 22, 2014 – Proper 24, Year Two

[Go to Mission St Clare for an online version of the Daily Office including today's scripture readings.]

Today's Readings for the Daily Office:

Psalms 38 (morning) // 119:25-48 (evening)
Ecclesiasticus 7:4-14
Revelation 8:1-13
Luke 10:17-24

One highlight of my week is officiating a service of compline (night prayer) or evening prayer for our local campus ministry. We light candles, burn incense, and chant. We lay down our unfinished work and frenetic lives and put our trust in God to defend and sustain us.

Recently, our campus minister suggested that we sit in silence before beginning our prayer. So now, we begin by sitting in quiet darkness, watching a white cloud of incense hover just over our heads.

This prayer service preceded by silence looks a lot like the heavenly vision from today's second reading. John of Patmos begins his report by saying, "there was silence in heaven for about half an hour." Then, he saw an "angel with a golden censer," who "was given a great quantity of incense to offer with the prayers of all the saints."

And then, "the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, rose before God from the hand of the angel." What an exquisite offering of prayer.

I have to admit that the vision takes a dramatic turn after this stunning scene of heavenly prayer. The angels start blowing their trumpets, hail and fire fall from the sky, water turns bitter, the moon and stars go dark, and an eagle cries out a warning about further destruction to come. The vision comes crashing down from heaven to a devastated earth.

But this jarring return to earth reminds us that silence, incense, and angels are not forms of spiritual escapism. When we pray the way they pray in heaven, we don't get to leave the earth behind. Instead, we get to enter the kingdom of heaven that is with us, and within us. We get to entrust our very selves, our bodily needs, our loved ones, our fragile earth, our whole universe to God's vision of justice, peace, and abundance. This prayer gives us perseverance in a world that is falling apart.

It's an extraordinary way to pray, and you're welcome to join us at 8pm on Thursday nights at St. Martin's, if you're local. Otherwise, try letting silence, incense, saints, and angels do your praying for you sometime. That's the way they pray in heaven, and it might be the only prayer with the power to change the face of the earth.

Lora Walsh blogs about taking risks and seeking grace at A Daily Scandal. She serves as curate of Grace Episcopal Church in Siloam Springs and as director of the Ark Fellows, an Episcopal Service Corps program sponsored by St. Paul's in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

Tough Questions

Matthew 22:34-46

This is the third straight week that we are working our way through the revelation rich 22nd Chapter of Matthew. Once again Jesus is head to head with the leadership of the temple. They are trying to take him down. He is trying to lift them up.

Jesus has been fielding tough questions aimed at tripping him, discrediting him… finding grounds to condemn him. This time it's the Pharisees turn to give it their best shot. They know that the Sadducees had just struck out trying to nail Jesus on a fine point of Mosaic Law. So they brought in their heavy hitter, a scholar specializing in all the intricacies of law and tradition, prophecy and religious practice. They are confident that his brilliance will destroy this Nazarene bumpkin.

You can hear the sarcasm dripping as the legal lion addresses Jesus as "Master." He wants to draw this carpenter into an elevated discussion of law so he can expose Jesus as a presumptuous hick who’s way out of his depth daring to banter with the big boys. Pity the proud lawyer. He came to shoot fish in a barrel and found he was up against, quite literally, the original, original thinker. Rather than get drawn into verbal jousting over old covenant law, Jesus lays out the basis for an entirely new covenant. And he does it in just two sentences:

Thou shall love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. And the second is like unto it, Thou shall love thy neighbor as thyself.

Two thousand years later, the brilliance and the brevity of these essential concepts of Christianity are still breathtaking. The Ten Commandments and twenty-seven chapters of Leviticus were dominated by a laundry list of “shall not’s." The Old Testament is an encyclopedia of transgressions and punishments. And then in two sentences the entire dynamic of our relationship with God is redefined. The entire purpose of life is laid out clearly and succinctly. The guidelines for all human behavior are summarized in two easily understand instructions.

Gone is the endless recitation of "shall not's." And in its stead, the imperative to love is the new paradigm. Avoiding evil now becomes the natural byproduct of doing good. We are commanded to live bold lives of action, not timid lives of avoidance. More recently that basic Christian concept has been boiled down still further, into only four letters...WWJD... What Would Jesus Do? And from his life, death and Resurrection, we know the answer. Like Jesus, we humbly, gratefully praise God and serve our neighbor. We witness the love of Christ to all we meet.

Jesus easily answers the scholars’ toughest questions. They are confounded by his wisdom. Then they are thunderstruck by the follow-up questions he puts to them: What do they think of the Messiah? Whose son is he? When they answer that the Messiah is the son of David, Jesus asks them: How can that be if David calls the Messiah Lord? His implication is clear. The Christ, the Messiah is the Son of God, not the Son of David. The answer is suddenly evident and yet it had escaped their studies and endless debate. How can this be? They are the powerful and the privileged. They have all the answers. And here is this nobody, comfortably quoting scripture, effortlessly swatting their questions back at them. Hey, maybe there’s something to those reports about miracles? Maybe he’s more than a carpenter’s son?

As Matthew records: After that day no one was brave enough to ask him any more questions. They had found that the trouble with tough questions is that they elicit tough answers. And ready or not… the answer is that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God. It’s not what they expected. It’s not what they wanted. But clearly, it was and is the truth. Embrace him. Rejoice in him. Jesus not only knows the answers to the tough questions… he is the answer to life’s toughest questions: Why are we here? Where are we going? He is the love of God incarnate. In him our lives have meaning and direction. In him we are saved. And, in the end, that’s the only answer that really counts.

The Reverend David Sellery, Episcopal Priest, Author, and Coach. Fr. Sellery presently serves as Priest-in-Charge, St. John’s Salisbury, CT. Fr. Sellery has excelled at using new media to increase outreach beyond the Church doors via his website, blog posts, and podcasts.

Our Island Home

Monday, October 20, 2014 – Proper 24, Year Two

[Go to Mission St Clare for an online version of the Daily Office including today's scripture readings.]

Today's Readings for the Daily Office:

Psalms 25 (morning) // 9, 15 (evening)
Ecclesiasticus 4:20-5:7
Revelation 7:1-8
Luke 9:51-62

I once saw a verse from today's second reading written in beautiful calligraphy, illustrated, framed, and mounted on a wall: "Do not damage the earth or the sea or the trees" (Revelation 7:3). I was so pleased that the last book of the Bible contained such wisdom about preserving the created world. What a perfect, prophetic few words to leave to the Christian community.

Imagine my disappointment years later when I encountered these words in their apocalyptic context, as we find them in the fuller passage today. For starters, the verse is directed not at humankind, but at "the four angels who had been given power to damage earth and sea." In the vision that this reading describes, these four angels are standing at the four corners of the earth, preventing the winds from damaging any piece of earth, sea, or tree.

Furthermore, the complete verse actually reads, "Do not damage the earth or the sea or the trees, until we have marked the servants of our God with a seal on their foreheads." So, this verse is not an indefinite command to keep environmental destruction at bay. Instead, the verse describes only a temporary stay on ecological disaster. Once a few people have been plucked out of harm's way, presumably the angels can let the winds do their worst to our created home.

Encountering this verse again today, I'm trying to hear it in a more humble way. Since it's apparently the angels' job to keep the world from total destruction, what can human beings do? Today, I wonder whether human beings have a very simple, small-scale mission: to do our best to buy humanity a little more time.

We need time for repentance, for transformation, for mercy. We need time for the arc of the moral universe to bend toward justice (MLK, Jr.). We need time to develop sustainable patterns of treading on this earth. We need time, and we need a very patient God.

Whatever has gone before us, and whatever the future holds, we have bought ourselves another day. Today is a small window of opportunity to forestall disaster, to enjoy created gifts, to love people around us, and to inch our way toward God's dream for us. We may not have the power to save or destroy the world, but we can receive today as a gift that is not damaged yet. Perhaps by embracing all of our todays in this way, the angels will find the strength to hold back the winds eternally.

Lora Walsh blogs about taking risks and seeking grace at A Daily Scandal. She serves as curate of Grace Episcopal Church in Siloam Springs and as director of the Ark Fellows, an Episcopal Service Corps program sponsored by St. Paul's in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

Who or what is the Rock?

Psalm 148, 149, 150 (Morning)
Psalm 114, 115 (Evening)
Ecclesiasticus (Sirach) 4:1-10
1 Corinthians 10:1-13
Matthew 16:13-20

"And I tell you, you are Peter, (Petros) and on this rock (petra) I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it."

Biblical scholars go round and round about that whole "Petros/petra" thing in Greek. Even today, if you want to sidetrack your Adult Formation or Bible study group, toss this question out there and watch the fun.

What does Jesus mean by, "this rock?"

Is Peter himself the rock?
Is Jesus the rock?
Is Peter's confession that Jesus is the messiah the rock?

But no matter which side you weigh in on that one, the fact remains that, in that topsy-turvy Gospel pattern, the guy who gets most pointed out in the Gospels as "not getting it," is the person Jesus names as the go-to-guy for what will become the church. Not James or John, the Sons of Thunder. Not literate Matthew, who later would write the parables down in painstaking details in his Gospel. Nope--it's impetuous, off-the-cuff, amazingly slow-on-the-uptake, crazy-enough-to-try-to-walk-on-water Peter.

Now, in all fairness to Peter, when he DOES get it, he REALLY gets it--as he did in our Gospel reading today. Perhaps it's because he's the guy who never stops asking questions, or the guy who's not afraid to give just about anything a try, or the guy who doesn't mince words.

A lot of us identify with Peter, I think, mostly because we identify with our own spectacular blunders. He's our own embarrassing humanity. Our reading from Ecclesiasticus today, probably reminds a lot of us what we're not, or what we have failed to live up to be. It's pretty much a given that most of us, at one time of another, have ignored the hungry, walked past the needy, homeless person panhandling on the street, turned our face from the poor, and averted our eyes from the broken-ness in the world. Peter, on the other hand, brings us a glimmer of hope. "Well, if Jesus could love Peter enough to give him the keys of the kingdom...hmmm...God might even love me too."

When the world around us reminds us once again how we're a little "too whatever"--whether it's too timid, too outspoken, too slow on the uptake, too serious, too frivolous, too thin-skinned, too oblivious, or any other too you can think of that applies...well, as our Epistle says today, there's "no testing that has overtaken you that is not common to everyone"--and there's always Peter, that shining example of Christ's love of all of us who are just a little...well..."too."

When is a time you've berated yourself for being a little "too" something, but as it turned out, the "too that is you" was just what God had in mind?

Maria Evans, a surgical pathologist from Kirksville, MO, is a grateful member of Trinity Episcopal Church and a postulant to the priesthood in the Episcopal Diocese of Missouri. She occasionally finds time to write about the obscurities of life, medicine, faith, and the Episcopal Church on her blog, Kirkepiscatoid.

"Masaccio 007" by MasaccioLicensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons -

The Wisdom of Humility

Sirach 3:17-31

The Bible is a library of books, letters, history, poetry and instruction. When the prophets spoke, it was expected (sometimes even devoutly hoped) that people pay attention and change their ways. When Jesus taught and Paul carried the message forward, it was an invitation to change. Then there are the Wisdom books of which Sirach is one. Sirach is, in a way, like the Ann Landers of the Bible; it is a book that offers solutions to problems and concerns. Where prophets command, Sirach suggests.

Sirach speaks to his students and his audience about the wisdom of being humble. It isn't a new teaching, but rather one that needs continual retelling because it is so easily forgotten.

Throughout the book ( probably written down by his grandson) there seem to be references to customs more Greek than Hebrew which might be a reason why Sirach never made it into the Hebrew canon. Among the Greeks, debate and discussion was a mark of intelligence and, at times, status among the upper classes who undoubtedly had more leisure to study and perpetuate such discussions. Sirach warns, though, that even intellectual debate and discussion can lead to pride and that pride can lead to trouble.

There seem to be two kinds of people in the world: those who are proud of what they do and those who are proud of what they know. Both groups are capable of doing great things and/or causing great things to happen. On the other hand, many are just proud of their own accomplishments, thinking little of how much they could contribute to the benefit of the man rather than simply amassing a wealth of goods or knowledge for themselves, becoming misers who do no good for anyone else. It is this intellectual pride that Sirach is warning his students about, detailing some of the negative repercussions of thinking too highly of oneself and one's accomplishments.

When we read the part about "Neither seek what is too difficult for you, nor investigate what is beyond your power," it seems a bit confusing. We're taught Robert Browning's poetic line, "Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp,/Or what's a heaven for?" and it seems to be exactly the opposite of what Sirach is trying to say. I think where the difference lies is in for what we are reaching and what we are grasping. Is it to benefit ourselves or is it others we seek to help?

We can't reach heaven by our own stretching, but accepting grace as a gift while trying to be better human beings puts heaven closer to attainment. If we're proud of our accomplishments, that's one thing; if we are proud and arrogant about them, that's another kettle of fish altogether. Sirach is warning of that kettle. True wisdom lies in hearing the words and weighing them in favor of humility. Maybe the humble don't get so much press, but they probably accomplish a lot more for the world than those who strut about, proclaiming their own intelligence and accomplishments.

Jesus proclaimed in Matthew, "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth"(5:5 NRSV). Not the captains of industry, not the generals of vast armies, not the prideful academics in their towers of books, but the humble who seek to do what is right and of benefit to many, not just to themselves who will be the beneficiaries. If we don't try to bring about the kingdom of God on earth, we're missing something big. So what if it is out of reach? We won't get anywhere until and unless we try. Sirach doesn't say don't make an attempt, just don't believe that only we as individuals can do it alone. I think too that is what Jesus had in mind.

Some of the greatest people on earth have been the most humble. We need to look to people like Mother Teresa, Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Malala Yousafzai, George Washington Carver, and any number of the saints and others as examples of humble people making a big difference without getting a big head about it. Who knows who of us can join that group? It isn't impossible, merely difficult. Once attained, difficult things are more valuable than any prize.

"The mind of the intelligent appreciates proverbs, and an attentive ear is the desire of the wise." That's certainly a true statement; more can be learned through listening than through speaking. Perhaps I need a day where I focus more on hearing, really hearing, what others are saying than in saying what I want (or feel I need) to say.

Maybe today I need to pay attention to a proverb from Benjamin Franklin, "Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing." That's a real humility raiser right there. I think Sirach would approve.

Linda Ryan co-mentors 2 EfM Online groups and keeps the blog Jericho's Daughter . She lives in the Diocese of Arizona and is proud to be part of the Church of the Nativity in North Scottsdale.


Friday, October 17, 2014 – Proper 23, Year Two

[Go to Mission St Clare for an online version of the Daily Office including today's scripture readings.]

Today's Readings for the Daily Office:

Psalms 16, 17 (morning) // 22 (evening)
Ecclesiasticus 1:1-10, 18-27
Acts 28:1-16
Luke 9:28-36

Although Paul usually accompanies his missionary travels with long-winded speeches, in today's reading he makes a different sort of impact on the people he meets. Today, he simply survives a snake bite.

The story of Paul and the viper is not, however, just about super-human powers. Rather, it is about the ways we misinterpret phenomena as signs of condemnation or judgment. Paul bears witness to God's loving kindness simply by defying expectations of divine judgment . . . by living, rather than dying.

Paul is traveling under guard to face trial in Rome, and he has stopped on the island of Malta. The native Maltese people show Paul and his companions "unusual kindness" by building a fire and welcoming everyone to sit around it, offering warmth to ward off the rain and cold.

When Paul tries to add brushwood to the fire, a viper emerges and bites his hand. The people see it hanging from Paul's hands by its fangs, and they immediately condemn Paul. They think, "This man must be a murderer." They believe that, while Paul escaped a dangerous sea voyage, divine justice would have the last word after all by sending a snake to kill him.

But Paul's God doesn't work that way. Paul's God works by defying expectations of condemnation, judgment, and death. The people are "expecting him to swell up or drop dead," but Paul does no such thing. In fact, he not only survives, but goes on to heal others.

What an extraordinary mission for us to take on today: proclaiming our immunity to the venom of condemnation and judgment that can seep so easily into our view of God, and poison the faith that should heal the world. It seems like Biblical snakes are always trying to make God's creatures fear their loving creator! Today, let's not give them the last word, or the last bite.

Lora Walsh blogs about taking risks and seeking grace at A Daily Scandal. She serves as curate of Grace Episcopal Church in Siloam Springs and as director of the Ark Fellows, an Episcopal Service Corps program sponsored by St. Paul's in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

End Times

“'But truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God.’” – Luke 9:27

A pewter sky soft with clouds cups the burning leaves of the maple in my neighbor's yard. All the leaves are falling. I am reminded that there is no defense against the inevitable appearance of the empty branches and monochrome landscape of winter. The cold is coming, and so are the shortest of days.

In this mood I can also acknowledge that the winter of my life, that time when productivity begins to wane, is also just around the corner. The burning passions, the great ideas, the places where I need to be and the things I need to do will all fall away someday, leaving me soft and vague as cloud.

There are so many heroic efforts I could make to slow this process down. I could monitor what I eat and drink, my body's chemistry, my mental acuity and so many other things, in hopes of having some control. But nothing will stay the shift of seasons for ever.

And it doesn't matter, not really. We belong to a different reality, one we are powerless to refute. We are held in the arms of a God who loves us irrevocably. Each of us has a place in the scheme of things, a place that does not depend at all on our doing or our knowing, and each of us has a name that is unique in all the created worlds.

It is hard to understand this. But each psalm we sing, each prayer, each breath we expend in the praise of the Holy, opens the eyes of our hearts. Knowing bypasses the mind and unfurls tenderly into all the spaces of our souls. Incredibly enough, this is not something that takes a lot of focus and it just keeps growing over time.

This gives me the hope that even when I am as vague as the pewter clouds of this poignant fall afternoon I will know that I am all right; I am treasured. In other words, this gives me the hope that before I die I will see the kingdom of God.


Laurie Gudim is a religious iconographer and liturgical artist, a writer and lay preacher living in Fort Collins, CO. See her work online at Everyday Mysteries.

Fish Vomit

Wednesday, October 15, 2014 – Proper 23, Year Two

[Go to Mission St Clare for an online version of the Daily Office including today's scripture readings.]

Today's Readings for the Daily Office:

Psalms 119:1-24 (morning) // 12, 13, 14 (evening)
Jonah 1:17-2:10
Acts 27:9-26
Luke 9:1-17

A seminary classmate of mine introduced me to a wonderful saying: "Either you can do it now, or you can do it later, smelling like fish vomit." The saying derives from today's first reading. Jonah is trying to avoid the unpleasant task of preaching repentance to the citizens of Nineveh. When he tries to flee by boat, Jonah is thrown overboard and swallowed by a huge fish.

After Jonah cries out for deliverance, the fish "spewed Jonah out upon the dry land." The second time that God calls Jonah to Nineveh, Jonah obeys. He could have saved a lot of time and smelled a lot better if he'd just followed through the first time!

Is there some inevitable task that we, like Jonah, are avoiding, dreading, or running away from? Whether it's a yearning we must fulfill, a vision we must turn into reality, a change we must make, or a fear we must face, perhaps we can move in the direction of our Nineveh sooner rather than later.

But what if we've been avoiding something so long that we're starting to smell like fish vomit? We know deep in our gut, at the bottom of the sea, in the belly of the fish, that there's something we must do . . . but we're starting to reek of all the strategies that we use to avoid this calling.

In times like this, it's worth recalling that the fish that swallows us and spews us out is actually a gift from God: "The Lord provided a large fish to swallow up Jonah." God provides a fish to move us toward where we must go, even when we can't make it there on our own two feet.

Today, let's ask God to help us move closer to where we need to go today, whether we do what we need to do smelling clean and fresh, or like fish vomit. As long as God is leading us, we can hardly go wrong.

Lora Walsh blogs about taking risks and seeking grace at A Daily Scandal. She serves as curate of Grace Episcopal Church in Siloam Springs and as director of the Ark Fellows, an Episcopal Service Corps program sponsored by St. Paul's in Fayetteville, Arkansas.


Matthew 22:15-22

There are at least two powerful lessons packed into today's brief gospel passage.

First lesson: You're in way over your head, if you think you can trifle with Jesus. The atmosphere in the temple had turned from hostile to murderous. Herod's henchmen didn't dream up their gotcha question just to embarrass Jesus. They're literally out to destroy him. If Jesus says don't pay the tribute, they'll betray him to the Romans as a rebel. If he says pay, they'll denounce him to the people as a collaborator. Then in a dozen words, Jesus tears their clever subterfuge to shreds. And their sweetly phrased deceit is exposed for all to see.

There's probably more than a little Pharisee or Herodian in many of us. Do we trifle with Jesus? Do we split hairs on our promises to him? Do we bait and switch on our commitments… praising God and then kicking him way down our queue of priorities? If so, we're in good company. St. Augustine prayed for virtue...but not now. He was having too much fun. Sounds incredibly arrogant, but don't we all play the same silly game from time to time. And while we may fool ourselves, the God who made every atom of our being isn't buying it. He knows when we're hedging our commitments, trying to rationalize our neglect, justifying our self-absorption.

Let's get honest with ourselves and with Jesus. Are we living in him and for him? Or is Christ just a bit player in the self-centered fantasy we call our life? It's time to get real, to edit the script, to put Jesus back in the center of the action. It's guaranteed to make for a much happier ending.

The second lesson is a familiar one: We are in the world, but not of the world. The state has its own institutions, laws and currency and so do we. Our basic institution is the Body of Christ. Our fundamental law is love of God and love of neighbor. Our currency is faith, hope and charity.

005_Tiberius.jpgTiberius Caesar could stamp his image on the coins of his realm. But it is the image of a monster that has endured… a pedophile… a serial killer… a tyrant. His reign of terror was succeeded by Caligula, whose name became even more synonymous with debauchery. The Caesars could have their names minted in gold coins and carved on granite monuments. They could proclaim themselves “gods” and have temples and feasts dedicated to their transient glory. But there legacy is dust. They are an object lesson in the corruption of power.

Over and over Jesus has told us that his kingdom is not of this world. He was born in a stable and died on a cross. He was mocked with a crown of thorns and a sign that lampooned him in agony as: “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.” And yet two-thousand years later, Jesus Christ is Lord. He was, is and always will be God. He doesn’t need a coin or a statue or a cathedral to make him God. He doesn’t want and he doesn’t need an edict commanding the conscience of his people. He doesn’t need an Inquisition to enforce his will. Or in the case of our own New England experience, the noose, the stocks and the dunking stool made a mockery of his love.

Great mischief has been made over the centuries because we have had to learn this lesson over and over again. The faith that claims the power of Caesar to work its own will in the world is corrupted. The state that claims proprietorship of God's favor is a fraud.

God is not a terrorist. Hate in his name is a sacrilegious absurdity. Love, not coercion, is God's currency. Truth, not subterfuge, is his language. Jesus is our answer to the world's snares and gotchas. In him we are saved.

The Reverend David Sellery, Episcopal Priest, Author, and Coach. Fr. Sellery presently serves as Priest-in-Charge, St. John’s Salisbury, CT. Fr. Sellery has excelled at using new media to increase outreach beyond the Church doors via his website, blog posts, and podcasts.

"005 Tiberius" by Heinz-Joachim Krenzer - Römische Portraitgalerie von Augustus bis Theodosius I. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Following in Place

Monday, October 13, 2014 – Proper 23, Year Two

[Go to Mission St Clare for an online version of the Daily Office including today's scripture readings.]

Today's Readings for the Daily Office:

Psalms 1, 2, 3 (morning) // 4, 7 (evening)
Micah 7:1-7
Acts 26:1-23
Luke 8:26-39

Jesus so often concludes his encounters and healings with the invitation, "Follow me." The man in today's gospel who had just been liberated from chains and demons might have expected a similar offer to follow the footsteps of Jesus and to become the Lord's close companion. How thrilled this man might have been to leave his hometown and never look back. Isn't that what Jesus asks of his followers?

Well, not today. When Jesus didn't ask this man to follow, the man "begged that he might be with him." But instead, Jesus "sent him away" with these instructions: "Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you."

The gospel tells us that this man did proclaim to the whole city "how much Jesus had done for him." But I wonder whether the man was crushed at first when Jesus told him to stop following and to stay home.

The man was going to miss out on the sense of freedom, adventure, and focus that the other followers of Jesus would get to experience. The man was going to lack the familiarity and constancy of Jesus' presence that the other disciples would know. Instead, the man had to stay in the same old place.

Worse, he had to stay with the same old people. He had to live among people who had once kept him in chains. He had to live among people who had seen him full of demons . . . and who had seen him completely naked, since "for a long time he had worn no clothes." He had to live among people who, when they saw him "clothed and in his right mind," were not happy for him, but afraid.

How tempting it would be to pull up stakes and start a new life somewhere else, like God calls many people to do. It is sometimes much more difficult for us to proclaim a gospel right where we are today, in the same old place, with the same old people, even when they've seen us at our worst . . . and even when they misperceive us, or when they fear our transformation.

Following Jesus by staying in place can sometimes feel like trying to run a marathon while stuck on a treadmill: all the exhaustion with none of the progress. But even when we stay put, Jesus might still be leading us, and we might still be becoming the people we're invited to be. So today, let's spread the good news of our freedom, even if the only place that God ever sends us is right where we are.

Lora Walsh blogs about taking risks and seeking grace at A Daily Scandal. She serves as curate of Grace Episcopal Church in Siloam Springs and as director of the Ark Fellows, an Episcopal Service Corps program sponsored by St. Paul's in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

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