Sermon: A Resurrection Prayer

A Resurrection Prayer

John 17: 6-19

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I don’t know if you have heard about the recent Pew Research Poll about the state of Christianity in the United States or if I have only been inundated by because most of my friends are church nerds, but this poll stated that in the year 2015 the number of people declaring themselves unaffiliated (not tied to any religion or faith tradition) grew from 16.1% in 2007 to 22.8% in 2014, and that number of professed Christians fell from 78.4% to 70.6%

Needless to say these findings have many crying that the sky is falling and wondering what will become of this country. Is the end near for the church? Churches are in a panic because they see this as a harbinger of years to come. Seminaries are wondering if they will have students to fill the seats. But, if you can’t tell from my tone, none of these are worries for me. Yes, the numbers are shocking, but in them I see hope and promise. I see an opportunity, and I hear Jesus’ pray over the disciples being prayed over us anew.

[Prayer]

In today’s gospel we find ourselves in the middle of Jesus’ prayer at the last supper. It is strange that we are hearing about an event that happened before the crucifixion on this the seventh Sunday of Easter. But if we hear his words, if we hear them as they were intended, this resurrection prayer is laying the foundation for the church to come. It is clearing out the rubble and the impediments of and laying a firm foundation upon which the church would be built. 

This prayer comes at the end of what is called Jesus’ Farewell Discourse. For the previous four chapters in John’s Gospel, Jesus has been spelling out what is about to happen. He has washed the disciples feet, sent Judas on his way, told Peter he will deny him. Jesus spoke to them about being the true vine of God, send from God. He tells them the world will hate them because the world hated him. Gathered around that table, their world is crumbling down.

Imagine what it must have been like to hear these words from your best friend. Some of us have in a way, when our mother tells us that she has been diagnosed with terminal cancer or that you will have to have assistance in your own day to day lives. Some know the pain of loosing a child before her or his time, or are still struggling with the grief of loosing a parent.The pain is all too real. And most of us can relate to the soul crushing, spirit draining experience the disciples must have been going through on last night of Jesus life. It is all too real.

But in the midst of the crushed souls and drained spirits, Jesus begins to tell them that something extra ordinary will happen to them. That because of all these things, because of them, they are now co-workers in the work of God. They have been grafted into the vine of God. They will be given the gift of the Holy Spirit to help them in their new lives. He commands them to love one another as he has loved them, and when they do – the world will know whose they are. 

And then he prays for them. He prays that they will be strong. That they will remember that when it is dark, they are marked with the love of God and they are a part of God just as Jesus is a part of God. He prays that whatever fear they have will be allayed and that remember they have the one thing that the world can never take from them  – the authority of the Name of God. Love. 

Jesus sends the disciple out into the world, not away from it. They are sent into the places where love is absent in order to bring the love of God into those darkest of places. And Jesus pleads for their protection. He knows the road is hard and the journey dangerous. He knows that there are many who will refuse to hear the message they bring and will even kill those who bring it. And yet, Jesus prays that the disciples go into the world and be protected from the evil one. That they face the dangers bravely and boldly, secure and confident in the one who sent them.

And finally he prays that the disciples be set apart, sanctified in the truth. The truth of the name of God. Set apart in the world changing love of God. And set apart they are sent out. 

Jesus’ prayer lays the foundation for the church that is yet to come. A fledgling church that will have its brand new world upturned.

This passage from the Gospel of John was written for a community of believers no more than 70 years old. They were the second generation of believers and had seen the temple in Jerusalem destroyed – their center of worship. They had seen the beginnings of persecutions. That had experienced Rome doubling down on their oppression. This new community of believers is hearing these words of Jesus as their own world is in chaos. These foundation words. This resurrection prayer.

So this prayer of Jesus for his disciples is also a pray for this new community of the resurrection. A new community that formed after Christ rose and ascended. A community that settled at the corner of Emerson Avenue and New York in 1921. Jesus prayed for the community of disciples gathered here today. 

This resurrection prayer for this resurrection community is the foundation for the building up of God’s beloved community. A community that binds us together across lines of age and gender; race and sexual orientation. This prayer is a prayer that is for this church today. Jesus asks that God protect us, that God give us strength, that God give us a voice to be bold in this world. That we be more than just pew sitting people and that we go out side of this church and testify – give witness to the amazing love of God. He asks these things so that we may be united together, made strong in our story. That we  have joy in Christ. And in that joy we are set apart. We are sanctified in truth. 

When the people of God rise up in testimony to the love of God, to the redeeming message of God – change happens. This past Monday, the voice of God was heard loudly proclaiming, “everyone is worthy of redemption,” as the city council stopped the mayor’s bid to build a new criminal justice center. A center that would do nothing to stop crime, but that would be built on the premise that the beds would be filled – the 1500 additional beds would be filled. The thought behind this new jail was that we would keep the beds full. It gave no thought about the fact that what is needed is opportunities for those humans returning to life after jail. The money for the additional beds could have been spent on job training and half-way work. For mental health treatment instead of inmate warehousing. 

I, along with a coalition of churches and pastors called IndyCAN rose our collective voices and gave witness to the name of God – the Love of God and confronted the evil in this plan. We built a coalition of voters, we put faces to statistics, and we spoke the truth of a God who loved humanity enough to die for it in order to save it. And we changed the city council’s mind. They were set to rubber stamp the mayor’s proposal, but the refused to sit still and had to testify to the love of God. And the voice of God, the voice of love, won. The criminal justice center as it was presented by the mayor is all but dead. 

When the people of God rise up and speak with the authority of they name of God – walls come a tumbling down. When the people of God are set on the firm foundation of the resurrection prayer of Jesus – are embrace by this words – all things are possible. And we are sanctified in truth – in the joy of Christ.

We are enveloped in the love of God. Marked as holy, set aside for more than we can ever expect. We are the light of God’s love in a world that does not know God. And we are one. The body of Christ.

And yes, there are things that will try to take us down. The evil one is always trying to turn us away from God’s love and to trust in our selves as the sole authorities. This has happened since the earliest days of the church – the gnostic heresies that questioned the humanity of Jesus; the church becoming the church of the Roman Empire – immersing is self in the state; the ignorance that fueled the crusades and the inquisition; current interdenominational conflict. The evil one is always trying to tear the people of God away from the truth of God – the love of God. The evil one is good at making sure we trust in ourselves more than we trust God.

Our personal animus against each other; our idolization of the past; and our idols of the future; the way we thing change is the only thing or that things can never change; we trust our own narrow interpretations of scripture rather than being informed by 2,000 years of interoperation and tradition; we pride our selves on our exclusivity. Theses things that drive people away from the church – because we are more concerned with ourselves that the love of God.

But again, when we open ourselves up to the power of this resurrection prayer – when we allow ourselves the humility and the grace to realize that we are called by Jesus. When we are able to hear Jesus saying, “I love you. I have called you. I have called you as an individual. I have called you as a church. You are mine. You are good enough for this task, because I have called you by name.” When we hear Jesus praying for us – for us – our elders will dream, our young will see visions. They will cross lines and work together – hand in hand, arm in arm, giving witness to the love of God. And nothing will be impossible. 

When we open ourselves up the status quo, the mission becomes more important that the status quo. The doors are open and we go out. We don’t just sit hoping people will walk in to the church – we walk out into the world – set apart in the the truth of God’s love, marked by the cross of Christ, named beloved of God – we walk out and show everyone we meet that the love of God for us and for them is stronger than any evil that may come. And then maybe people will find their ways into our community – but we the onus is on us to leave the safety of the church. But even so, that is not the point. The point is that we are faithful to God’s promise. That we trust the foundation laid for us in the resurrection prayer of Jesus.

That we are witnesses of a God who so loved the world that he gave is only son, so that all who believe will not perish, but here and now begin living into the reign of God – the truth of God – the love of God and be saved by a God whose love knows no bounds. We are witnesses to the great joy that is the crucified, risen, and ascended Christ. 

In this prayer we are told we are part of God’s divine plan for the word. That we have bee call to a time such as this. Hear the prayer again with new ears:

I have made your name known -your name of love – to Emerson Avenue Baptist Church – the ones you gave me from they world. They were yours, and you entrusted them to me. They have kept your word. And they know that everything you have given me is from you.

I am asking on this church’s behalf, not on behalf of the world, but I am begging for those you have given me – those gathered at Emerson and New York – because they are yours. Your beloved.

All mine are yours and all yours are mine! and I have been glorified in them.

And now, I am no longer in the world, but the church is. I am coming to you. Holy God, protect Emerson Avenue in your name -your name of love – so that they may be one as you and I are one.

While I was with them, I protected them in your name and by your authority. I have guarded them and not one was lost…

But I am coming home, and I am saying these things so that they may have joy in them and that their joy be made completed – for they are yours. That church on the corner.

They have a tough task ahead because I have given them your word. But don’t make them complacent, don’t keep them from the world – send them out, but protect them, too, from the evil one.

Set them apart. Make them holy. Sanctify them in the truth of your name – in your love.

As you have sent me – I and sending you Emerson Avenue Baptist Church into he world.

Beloved, The foundation has been poured. we have a wonderous and difficult journey ahead. Can we do it?

Thanks be to God. 


Sermon: A Resurrection Fire

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A Resurrection Fire

Acts 2: 14-21

Last week we encountered the power of a Resurrection Economy, and how the world can be transformed by an economic system based in the human personality and in love rather than the world’s economy that denigrates the human personality and is only accountable to the highest bidder. 

This week, in the third Sunday of Easter, I will preach on the subject of a Resurrection Fire! 

[Pray]

The words we heard from Peter this morning are the first words preached by a pastor of a church. It is the day of Pentecost and those who had been gathered in the upper room have had the world altering experience of the Holy Spirit land upon them. Tongues of fire had burned their spirits and given them the power to speak in other languages. Like the prophet Isaiah, it was as if an angel flew to them with a burning coal in its hand – a coal removed from the altar – and their mouths were touched by the Holy Fire. The heard the call and cried, “Here am I – send me!”

Consumed by Holy Fire, Resurrection Fire, they leave the sanctuary of the upper room and start to ignite the world with the resurrection fire. The tell of the Good News of Jesus – who was crucified and risen. They speak to the world and burn into existence a new world. 

To those who could not hear the word – it seemed like these disciples had been dipping into the new wine a little early. Consumed by Resurrection Fire – they seemed drunk to those whose hearts were close – to those who tried to control a wild fire that seemed out of control.

But lightening had struck and a wildfire had begun to burn. And to those who could not hear – it was dangerous, but to those who could hear it ushered in a new and renewed world.

This resurrection fire burns like a wild fire. As the fire burns away it also lays the foundation for something new and beautiful. It nourishes the soil – the soil that was laid at the foundation of the word – it nourishes the soil and allows for new seeds to grow. It creates a place where the old soil is renewed and where new life can spring forth.

The wildfires we have seen on the TV for the last several years are heart breaking in their devastation. They are terror inducing for those whose homes are in the fire line. And for the most part they are human made – through intentional arson or unintended accident. They are fed by 100 years of forrest mismanagement. 

For a long time, the status quo was to put out a fire as soon as it started. Contain it so that it would not spread out of control. It wasn’t until the last 30 or so years that the benefits of wildfires was understood.

It wasn’t until some forestry folks in Yosemite Park realized that there were not many new Sequoia trees beginning to grow. And if they did sprout, they would soon be killed by the massive undergrowth along  the forest floor. Then a fire hit one of the Sequoia groves and in the aftermath they say an abundance of trees beginning to grow. 

It turns out that the cones from a giant sequoia tree will only open in fire. The heat causes cone to open and the seeds to fall to the ground. It is only through wild fire that some of the oldest and most massive trees in our nation can begin to grow. The fire destroys that which gets in the way of new life and nourishes the new.

Another analogy is that of the city. There are areas of cities that developers have determined blighted – or areas called the swamp. And instead of working with people in those communities, and trying to created a controlled burn – something that tries to revive the community – instead they come with with bull dozers and destroy that which is there. They build their new and shiny condos, they call it an up and coming neighborhood and yet the soil that was there. The very foundation of that neighborhood has been paved over. It serves no purpose. It is forgotten and as a result it fights back – trying to preserve its place.

In these newly forests of glass and steel – there are upticks in crime as the roots of the community – the people who had been there struggle to be seen – to be heard. And as they fight for their survival – the new members of the community begin to see them as invasive plants. Not seeing that they were the native plants who gave this place its beauty and diversity. And in seeing them as invasive plants they being to figure out ways to remove them. To displace them. 

And in doing so they form cliques and groups that create and us vs. them mindset. They begin to dehumanize those who were there first and claim the place as mine instead of ours. And as this happens they fail to set their own roots in a community and they begin to move away. They turn on each other. They turn on the new people who move in because they haven’t been there for the long haul. And the cycle continues. And anytime a change strike of lightening hits the land and the embers of a wild fire being to burn –  it is put out because it threatens the way things have been.

We have been conditioned to see fire as a threat, and the resurrection fire can seem threatening – like the end of the world. It will appear as if blood and fire and vapor of smoke – the sun covered by the curtain of smoky darkness – the reflection of the moon will be as blood – but through the resurrection fire will come the great and glorious day of the Lord. And in those days – those who are consumed by the wildfire – by the resurrection fire – will be saved!

But it is terrifying. It is unnerving. It is upsetting to see those things we love being consumed. Fearful that they will never return.

I hear the voices say that things aren’t they way they used to be. Or that we have to do things a certain way because that is the way it has always been done. Churches are notorious for these kinds of words. And, yes, it is out of love. Love for the institution; for the memories; for the sake of posterity. There is a memory of the way things used to be – when the sanctuaries were full. The choir loft has songs raising to the heavens. The Sunday schools were over flowing with children. The heart behind those concerns is the soil that can bring new life to the church, but the fears – the holding on to – the insistence on an old status quo is the underbrush that prevents new life from spouting.

When the desire to hold on to the way things were is stronger than the vision to move forward – the church begins to suffocate itself. And conversely when the church is all about moving forward with out nourishing itself in the rich soil of history – it runs the risk of growing but with out the deep roots and at the slightest hint of conflict will falter. Churches are like the forests or the cities. There is a symbiotic relationship between the what was, the what is, and the what can be. There is a dance that can only be described as Holy. And when the dance moves – when it finds the rhythm and begins to really move – something beautiful happens. The flames of rebirth begin to burn. When the partner of the past and the partner of the present begin their tango – the future is built and a resurrection fire beings to burn.

Beloved friends, Emerson Avenue Baptist Church is at a crossroad. We spent the Lenten season walking along the cross road with Jesus. We went with him to the cross of calvary. We were there as the women cowered in fear on the day of resurrection, and here we are. Here we are in this Resurrection season – the embers of resurrection fire beginning to burn. The embers are smoldering waiting for the breath of the Holy Sprit. They are ready. Are we? Are we ready to let go of the way things were? Are we ready for the Holy Sprit to take a hold of this place and lead us into the future? Or are we more content with the status quo – because it is safe, because it is comfortable? Are we ready to embrace our deep roots in faith, to learn from the wisdom of the elders? To embrace their witness, or we going to bulldoze over them and give no mind? Are we ready for this dance?

Are we ready for what the Holy Sprit has in store? Are we ready to take that next step? Are we ready for a resurrection fire to come an burn away that which has been stunting our growth – our spiritual growth as well as our mission growth? Are we ready for a resurrection fire to come and nourish the soil that we call home and being something new? 

The Holy Sprit is about to descend on this place and take us away. Are we ready? Like the song says – people get ready -there’s a train a comin’ – you don’t need no ticket you just get on board.

Because when that resurrection fire comes. When it comes it will rain down like the fire on the altar built by Elijah. It will come like the tongues of flame at Pentecost. It will come and:

Our Sons and Daughters will prophesy –

Our young ones will see visions –

Our old ones will dream dreams.

Even the unexpected ones will prophesy because God’s Holy Spirt will be so strong in this place – no one will leave untouched.

When the resurrection fire of the Holy Sprit is unleashed – it will be the beginning of a new day. It will be the unleashing of God’s great reign. It will be what carries us into the future boldly singing:

Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow –

Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside.

Great is thy faithfulness!

Great is thy faithfulness!

Morning by morning new mercies I see;

All I have needed thy hand hath provided.

Great is thy faithfulness, Lord unto me!

Thanks be to God!


Easter Sermon

On the Road

Mark 16:1-8

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(prologue)

Alleluia! Christ is Risen!

The resurrection story we just read from Mark may not be the one you are most familiar with. Where is Peter running to the tomb? Where are the angels? Where is the spectacular? The reading to day ends with the women frozen by fear and Jesus moving on the road. 

Now you may say, Pastor, why didn’t we read the rest Mark 16? Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene then the twelve. Then he commissions them and ascends to the right hand of God the Parent. Well, (It is Bible Nerd time) if you look in some translations, after verse 8 you see a note that says “shorter ending” and then around verse 10 “longer ending.” The longer ending of Mark was the accepted ending of the Gospel until around the mid-1800s when Constantine Tishcendorff discovered a codex or book of scripture at the Monastery of St. Catherine at the supposed site of Mt. Sinai. This codex had several differences between it and the common cannon of the day. One of the most noticeable is that the Gospel of Mark ended at verse 8, the ending we heard today.

But why not just keep reading? Well, it turns out once they were able to study the codex it turns out that it is the oldest of the existing manuscripts of the Bible. It dates to the mid-third century, around the same time as the fathers of the Western Church were beginning to nail down the cannon. It is the oldest complete manuscript we have. And it’s validity of Mark ending at 16:8 is confirmed by the second oldest complete manuscript the Codex Vaticianus which dates from around the same time.

It is thought the other endings were added not by the author of Mark, but by disciples of Matthew and Luke who thought that the Mark’s Gospel ended too abruptly and that it needed a similar closure as their gospels. And maybe it does, but for today, let’s see this ending for what it is…the beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ, the Son of God – the opening words of the Gospel of Mark!

(Scene 1 – To the tomb)

The day did not begin with good news. The women solemnly gathered their oils and ointment. They filled their bags with new cloths and spices to anoint the body of the one whom they loved. The one who was crucified a few days before – who died a criminal’s death. The last several days had been a storm of emotions. The thunder and winds that accompanied his death were but weak symbols for the grief they felt. 

There watched from a distance as Jesus was lifted up like a common cut-throat; they watched as the one who rescued them, who welcomed them, who treated them as women of honor, was left hanging on a tree. He was so strong and yet compassionate; so fully of Holy Fire yet a friend; so tired yet so willing to listen – Jesus called them friends and now they watched – hearts breaking into a million pieces as he cried out.

They could not hear the words he said, but the moan they heard was one of total abandonment. In that cry they heard love poured out. They remembered how time and again Jesus healed the sick and exorcised the demons only to be ridiculed and taunted by those who were the religious leaders. They saw that no matter how hard he tried to show the Reign of God – everyone missed it. And now, from the distance, they see how such love is treated. The grief was accompanied by dread.

The dread brought with it fear. The words he spoke reverberated in their ears…”I will tear down this temple and rebuild it in three days.” “If anyone wants to become my follower let them take up their cross and follow me.” Is this what he meant? That they should suffer as he has. Fear slithered into them like a serpent through the grass. Grief, dread, and fear seared their psyche as they watched from the distance.

And now, days later they make their way to the tomb – wondering how they will move the stone sealing the door. Eyes cloudy with tears they did not realize at first what had happened, and like the sun making its way over the horizon early that morning it dawned on them that the tomb door was opened. The emotional triad climbed to stratospheric proportions as they saw the empty tombs – 10,000 questions filled their heads. “What happened?” “Is he still there?” “Was his body stolen to be displayed as a criminal?” Questions echoing then the empty cave as the entered in and saw a first the empty place where he was laid and in a flash they saw someone sitting there – who must have been there the whole time. 

He was the boy who had been following Jesus of late. They could not place where he came from, but he was beautiful. Young with the complexion of a divine being, he sat there in the tomb and said, “Shhh. Don’t be alarmed. Are you looking for Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified? He has been raised! He’s not here! Look, see. But, go, tell his disciples and especially Peter, who denied him, that he is going a head of you to Galilee. When you get there you will see him, just as I told you.”

The grief, the dread, the fear drove them from the empty tomb. They fell to the ground weeping. Afraid. They did not tell anyone, for they were afraid.

(Scene 2: At our tomb)

The women, seized by fear told no one what they had seen. They were blinded by the tomb and all that death brings. They could not hear what the boy was saying, let alone believe that it was true. They were trapped at the tomb – stuck on death’s doorstep.

As we gather together this Easter morning, it is easy to cast blame on the women – how could they not tell, we ask? What was wrong with them? Friends we have had 2,000 years to process the grief. This, for them, was a fresh wound and the bandage had been ripped off slowly and the pain was all too fresh. We have the blessing of tradition and the retelling and retelling of this story to help us come to grips with the fact that the tomb was empty, and yet, even so how many times are we trapped at the tomb afraid to follow Jesus to Galilee?

How many times have we stood there silent when what is going on demands that we speak out? 

When we see a stranger being taken advantage of – or even a friends, How many times have we said, There but for the grace of God go I?

What about the time we watched as someone was beaten up when we were at school and we could not muster the courage to say, this is wrong? The time we sat in silence as the bullies prey on the weak? 

We are frozen at the tomb when he hear the cries for help and pretend that we don’t.

When the news gets so depressing that we shut off – 130 killed intentionally by a pilot, 147 Kenyans murdered by terrorists.

When the public discourse has become so divisive that anyone who disagrees with us is labeled the enemy and must be destroyed. Laws are passed that open up the slippery slope of discrimination, and pizza places are threatened to be burned down – all because there is a failure to see each other as precious in the eyes of God. It doesn’t matter on which side of the fence you lean – this fundamental principle is lost because we are trapped at the tomb.

We are trapped at the tomb to afraid to stand up to a system that disproportionately imprisons black and brown men – a system that determines how many prison beds to make by third grade reading scores. A system that is paid by how man beds are filled. A system that has privatized parole and drug testing, making it too expensive for a returning citizen to pay the fees, especially when there are no jobs open to someone with a record. We are trapped at the tomb afraid to name the injustice.

We get lost watching from the distance – we stand trembling at the tomb – afraid – just as afraid as the women because we can’t see it. We can’t hear the good news because there seemingly isn’t any.

(Scene 3: It’s empty!)

But while the women were cowering in fear, while we are paralyzed and afraid – the tomb is empty! You hear that, the tomb is empty! Jesus ain’t in it anymore. He has been raised and is on his way to Galilee! He is on the road home. He is calling for us to join him on the road.

While lost in our fear and afraid to take up the cross, something amazing has happened – Jesus has been raised and is continuing the work of the Reign of God. He wants us to join him on the road. He wants us to see the empty tomb and rejoice and come with him as he continues the work. He even leaves us a messenger to tell us that he is not there. He has been raised. But even so, the messenger’s voice gets lost in the confusion and chaos. But Jesus keeps on going, and will be waiting in Galilee. 

Jesus is going a head of us on the road to raise up the valleys and make low the mountains. Jesus is headed to Galilee to make the rough ground in front of us plain and the rugged road a broad valley. Jesus knows that the idea of resurrection is implausible – illogical, and he knows that it is hard to make sense of, and yet – there he goes – in front of us. 

It seems obvious that at least someone who was there that day so long ago overcame their fear and made their way to Galilee, or was it that when the looked up they saw Jesus there on the road. They say that he was in front of them leading them. That the risen Christ is proof that nothing – nothing is impossible of our God. I would like to think it is the later. That in their fear and through their tears they looked up and saw Jesus and in seeing him, their hope was restored. There ahead of them they saw the promise of the rebuilt temple. The temple that is a living connection between God and humanity.

And as they saw Jesus on the road and were empowered to take the steps toward healing, we continue to see Christ on the road.

As two mourning disciples were headed home to Emmaus, Christ was on the road.

As the persecutor Saul was on his way to arrest and torture the new people of the way, Christ was on the road. On the road reconciling the world to himself. On the road forgiving and renewing.

As the stones were being hurled as Stephen, Christ was ahead of him on road – welcoming him to Glory.

As Perpetua and Felicity were in the gladiators ring, and the wild beast charged at the, Christ was on the road ahead of them – giving them a message for the ages. The power of the Risen Christ is stronger than even death.

Move ahead ahead in time to the doors of Wittenberg and Martin Luther nailing to the them the 95 theses that began a reformation that fundamentally changed how the faith is understood, and there is Christ on the road promising protection during the upcoming trails.

There on the road is the Risen Christ when another Martin Luther, this one a King is leading and oppressed people to the promised land. Across the Edmund Pettus bridge, the risen Christ is ahead parting the sergeants of segregation.

Christ is on the road ahead, leading you out of the valley – away from the tumult of the tomb. 

The risen Christ is ahead of you making a way out of no way. Clearing away those roadblocks that keep you from God. 

The Risen Christ is there on the road as voices rise up against discrimination and call for reconciliation instead of retaliation.

The Risen Christ is there on the road ahead, turning over tables, as people, fed up with a status quo of the haves walking on the backs of the have nots, as the people stiffen their backs and say no more. We are not the playthings of those with power, but children of the living God. The God of life. The God who takes the shackles of death and smashes them forever. 

The Risen Christ is there on the road of sorrow and grief, building resting spot. Places of sabbath, of rest, of reflection and grace. The risen Christ there on the road with you.  

Beloved – This is the day that puts to and end, forever there roadblocks that keep you from the love of God. This is the day that being afraid at the tomb is turned into joy that empowers new life – a resurrected live. This is the day that the promise of Christ is fulfilled for Christ is Risen. Christ is Risen, indeed. Alleluia!

Thanks be to God!


Maundy Thursday Meditation

Final Instructions

John13:1-17, 31b-35

Click here for audio.

Contagious laughter caught fire around the table

Memories of days past; the jokes and jibes

They danced across the table in terpsichorean splendor

The brothers banter; the fisherman’s stories

Joy was in this place

The meal filled them; lamb and roasted root

Wine and sweets to fill their too long empty bellies

The fire painting the wall in undulating shadows

Joy was in this place

He, though, was too quiet 

Something in the shadows made him look two times

His thirty three years

Heaviness weighed down his shoulders

Like the pack on a mule

His eyes distant, as if he were in a far different place

And as the laughter spread

He stood silently, grabbed a basin and a towel

He began to wash, wash the dirt stained, callous hardened, heat cracked feet of those who followed him

Was joy in this place?

As the dust from the feet began to coat his hands

They said to him, “stop,” but he would not. Could not.

The master was on his knees solely focused on the foot in his hand.

Inspecting every inch, the crags, the ingrown nails, the broken blisters

His hands served them love

They said “stop,” but he said this is how it is

This is how to love

Love one another

Take off the outer protection of power

Come down to the floor

See the foot in front of you 

Beautifully and wonderfully made

See the person in front of you 

Beautifully and wonderfully made

Regard them not as strangers but friends

Beautifully and wonderfully made.

This is how they will know you love me –

Love one another. 

Love one another when…

When neighbor is pitted against neighbor

When laws seek separation rather than unification

When your streets run with blood

When a neighbor is shot and killed, crucified

When your home has been turned upside down

When you are judged on the color of your skin and not the content of your character

When you are told who you are allowed to love

When…

Love one another

Amarse los unos a los otros

Just as I have loved you

Just as I have washed your feet

Just as I have brought life when there was death

Just as I have healed the sick, the blind, the lame.

Just as I have loved you

There is joy in this place

In these final words

In this last meal

During the end days

There is joy in this place

When love shines

When partisanship of political persuasion rise

When animus arises one against another

Let the love shine

Embrace the stranger

Hug the outcast

Love the unloveable

Hold on to the one who disagrees

Love one another

Love one another and the rest falls into place.

In the words of the King born in Atlanta; 

The King through Montgomery and Birmingham;

The King who made it across the river in Selma;

In the words of that King – fueled by the Prince of Peace:

“Now, we got to get this thing right. 

What is needed is a realization that power without love is reckless and abusive, 

and that love without power is sentimental and anemic. 

Power at its best, 

power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, 

and justice at its best is love correcting everything that stands against love. 

And this is what we must see as we move on.”

Love is the word made flesh.

Love is the one who kneels and washes the feet

Love is the one who sits and eats with those the world had thrown aside

Love is the one beaten, mocked, ridiculed, forgotten

Love is the one crucified

Crucified not for God, but for us

Crucified because the violence of the world could not understand 

pure love; gracious love; forgiving love; empower love;

Love: the word made flesh

Love is 

Rewriting the story

Correcting the misreading

Flipping the script

Love is 

the power that brings us closest to God

Closest to the divine spark that started it all

Love is poured out for all to see 

On the tree of Calvary

“Love one another, just as I have loved you.

They will know you are mine when you love one another.”


Sermon: Unraveled at the Crossroad

Unraveled at the Crossroad

Mark 15

(Prologue)

This day begins with the joy of Palm Sunday! The anticipatory zeal of the kingly entry into Jerusalem. The final push toward the glory of Easter. This day begin with the joy of the coming of the anointed king to restore order and take down the powers of the world.

This day ends, though, with the king being laid inside a rock hewn tomb. Killed a criminals death. Rejected and alone. This day ends with the fabric of reality becoming unraveled. 

As Jesus enters Jerusalem there is a tiny thread in the fabric of reality sticking out. He enters the city firmly aware of the cosmic shift that is about to occur, but the people are waving their palms – ready for the king to free them from the grip of Roman authority – if they only knew what freedom really meant.

Their cries of Hosanna – Lord, Save us – echo through the streets just as they did when the Maccabean’s delivered Jerusalem from the hands of Antichous Epiphanes – the last of the Greek overlords. They palms then, as they now hoped – would usher in a rebellion, and this new messiah would deliver them. Their eyes fixed on him, they waited for the rallying call – only when it came it was a cry from a cross and they were nowhere to be found. They throw their garments on the ground making way, unaware that one loose thread would change the world. Unaware of the unraveling at the crossroad.

(Scene 1: A worn garment)

When the disciples were told to get the colt for Jesus, they had no idea what was about to happen. He had been telling them for days that his life was about to end, and that he was about to undergo great suffering. He had told them about how they would have to pick up a cross to follow him, but they had no idea what any of this meant. They just went along with him, almost blind to the reality of which he spoke. 

Their aloofness was amplified when they witnessed the reception into Jerusalem. They had never seen anything like it. They had heard about the reception of Pilate when he arrived in the city, this had to be similar. People were throwing themselves at Jesus – he was the king come home. They watched as he went to the temple. Looked at it and then left the city for the night.

In that moment they were wrapped in a garment of awe. A garment of power they had never felt. They were with the new King of the Jews! Now was their time. Wrapped in this garment of awe, they were completely unaware of the loose thread that began to pull away.

They next day the went to the temple, that place where God lived behind the giant fabric veil in the Holy of Holies. They went with Jesus to pray and to study, but when their got there Jesus went nut. He tore apart tables and threw out the money changers. They watched as the temple authorities took notes. They heard Jesus claiming the temple for God and not humans. They did not see the thread in the Holy of Holies beginning to pull loose, they just knew that the garment of awe was unraveling.

Jesus came to the temple the next day and their world unraveled more as the authorities pulled threads out in their accusations of Jesus.

More threads were pulled when Jesus dared talk of destroying the temple and rebuilding it. More unraveling  at the talk of wars and rumors of wars. Threads ripped when they were told they would be persecuted.

The garment of awe was slowly being unwoven leaving them naked and afraid.

Jesus spoke of the coming of the Son of Humanity – the one who would bring about God’s final judgement and their warm garment became less so. He spoke of the necessity of staying awake for they would not know when the Son of Humanity would come and they shivered in the cold – no warmth to be found. 

They watched as his feet were anointed and he spoke of his own burial – and they shook naked and cold. 

Then as they heard him say one would betray and another deny – their world unraveled. It spun out of control as they watched his arrest and his trial. They saw him naked on the cross. Their world had come completely unraveled on the crossroad. The garment of awe they wore a few short days ago was gone and they were now naked and shivering – their world unraveled.

(Scene 2: Unraveled)

Our journey is not so unlike the disciples. We come to church ready to be wrapped in garment of awe. We know the great things Jesus as done. Many of us have seen first hand what happens when Jesus is present. We have seen loved ones healed; we have have been healed. WE have made or are slowly making our way through grief – accompanied by Jesus. We have felt the warmth of family or friends just when we have needed it. Like the disciples we have walked along the crossroad with Jesus and seen and heard amazing things – and we are wrapped in a garment of awe.

And then it happens, the unravelling begins. The elation of the moment gives way to the reality of the world around us. The garment of awe is unraveled one tread at a time.

Within in 48 hours this week 5 lost their lives to the lead of bullets in seven shooting incidents. Their deaths were barely a blip on the radar – murder has become so routine that it is just passingly mentioned on the news – a pull on the tread.

Our state has become a tinderbox of emotions as the specter of discrimination hovers like the shadow of Jim Crow. Laws passed that implicitly allow for discrimination cloaked in the garment of religious piety – threaten to obscure the image of God in one another. A tug at the thread.

Your friends are getting sick; growing old and more frail by the day; your children are involved in things that make you sick to your stomach; your rent is due and the money is gone; your table is bare and there are mouths to feed; your job sucks your soul; your world is unraveling one thread at a time. And that garment of awe that was so warm unravels leaving you naked and shivering. Fearful and wary. 

And in the cold we grab for whatever can keep us warm. Pills. The bottle. The comfort of power when we act out against people we love. 

We try to find something in things garments studded with deception and lies. We wrap our selves in self-centeredness and self loathing. Our world is unraveling and we cling to whatever we can that promises to keep us warm.

(Scene 3: The great unraveling)

And as the world is unraveling. As Jesus is tried and convicted. Crucified and mocked. Something is happening. Though the disciples world is unraveling and all they know seems to be disappearing – something is happening in the Holy of Holies. That loose thread is beginning to pull. That loose thread is beginning to tug at the fabric of reality.

As Jesus is on the cross another unraveling is happening – an unraveling that will mend all the torn garments of the world. The garments pulled apart by outside  forces and the ones ripped apart in grief. The garments left on the roadside for the coming of the king and garment  hung out to dry. There is an unraveling about to happen that will mend all the torn garments.

There on the cross as the noon day sun was swallowed by the clouds. And Jesus – alone and naked on the cross – his life unraveled – cries out totally alone, “MY GOD! MY GOD! WHY HAVE YOU FORSAKEN ME?” As Jesus lungs bellow for the cry of one totally unraveled – the words shoot through the clouds into the heavens and into the ear of God. They cry of the dying Jesus travels though the cosmos and into the throne room of God and in that cry. In that confession of utter abandonment. In that gasp something happens. With the final cry fro the carpenter from Galilee the fabric of reality becomes unraveled.

The thread in the temple tares and the veil between God and humanity rips apart from the top to the bottom. The separation between God and the world is forever destroyed. The fabric of separation is unraveled and in the cry of Jesus – the broken are restored. The torn are mended. The ripped are sewn together. In the unraveling of the veil there is not longer any things that separates our cries from God!

(Scene 4: Unraveled at the crossroad.)

The thread that comes form the unraveling of the veil between God and humanity is the very threat that begins to weave together the brokenness around us.

The thread of the veil weaves itself into the healing that we feel when the hand of a friends holds ours. 

The thread of the veil weaves itself into the peace we feel in the middle of the chaos.

The tread of the veil weaves itself into the anger we feel as innocent lives are lost daily. It is the thread that gives us strength to look at our neighbors not as threats but as children of God who need to be loved.

The thread of the veil that on one side touched God and on the other touched the world is the thread that will unite God’s children in the face of discrimination.

The veil between God and humanity was unraveled in the cry of Jesus on the cross. The fabric of reality was unraveled in on that cross in Jerusalem all those years of ago – the the divine thread continues to weave its way into healing and reconciliation.

Beloved friends – the world around us is unraveling, but because of the cross we can see God is present in the unraveling. God hears the cries of God’s people. God hears the lament and wailing – the cries of confusion. So when the news gets too much to bear; when the pain is to great; when the grief too deep and anger too real – remember that on the cross of calvary – the great unraveling occurred and in all of that – in all of that – there is no longer anything that can separate you from the love of God. For the veil is torn. 

When the world is unraveling around you – with the veil torn know that God is now with you – so nothing can be against you. On the cross God gave everything up for you – ripping apart all that would separate you. For on the cross – in the great unraveling – who will separate you from the love of Christ? Will hardship or distress? Persecution or famine? Nakedness or peril or sword? No – in all these things you are more than conquerers through the unraveled loved of God! Nothing- neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, no blood in the streets, nor unjust laws, nor piles of debt, nor hospital stays, nor tears, nor anything all of creation will be able to separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

The veil is torn and the fabric of reality forever altered. The cross of Calvary. They cry of Jesus restores that which is unraveled. Makes new that which was old. Mends the broken and heals the hurting. The veil is torn and the fabric of reality is made new. 

Thanks be to God.


Open Letter to our Legislators

For those who don’t know, the Indiana House just passed out of committee a so-called Religious Freedom Act. Though it has only made it through committee and it has yet to go through the whole House – through which it is sure to pass – it has already gone through the State Senate and the Governor has promised to sign it. This legislation is all but a done deal. And so, I have been thinking and praying all day about how best to respond to this since I read the news.

The gist of this act is that it would allow businesses to refuse service to anyone they believe is acting against or contrary to their (the business owners) religious convictions. The lightening rod for this act was a bakery that refused to make a cake for a same-gendered wedding based on the owners convictions. The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Tim Wescor, says, “We need to be protected from the government interfering in our religious exercise.” And for me, this very statement is the problem with the legislation. It acts in the assumption that businesses are religious institutions. A Southern Baptist pastor says that this law is needed because he can not bend his beliefs.

The thing is no one is seeking to bend beliefs. What people are seeking is the ability to buy goods and services without the risk of being discriminated against. I find it fascinating that many of those in favor of this legislation are the same people who argue that we should let the free market fix everything – this legislation is an attempt to undermine the free-market – but that is another issue.

The reason I am against this legislation is not because I am a lefty liberal, but because I am a proud American Baptist and a Christian. This legislation, though guised in the cloak of religious liberty, in fact is the first string to be pulled out of our basic civil rights. We have yet to see how it will unravel, but by allowing this legislation to pass our state is starting to say it is ok to have businesses that cater to this group and not that group. The are beginning to put the signs up above the water fountains that say one is welcome and the other is not. This state is beginning the slippery slope of legalized discrimination.

This legislation is painted as an act that will protect religious freedom – as if God needs to be protected. This is the God who created the cosmos out of nothing. This is the God who created humans from stardust and dirt. This is the God who parted the Red Sea. This is the God who sat in a fiery furnace with three boys who refused the orders of the King. This is the God who put on human clothes and commanded us to Love God and love our neighbor. To treat the “outsider” as a beloved child of God. This the God who came to protect us from each other. This God does not need to be protected by a piece of legislation.

This act is an affront to the very message of God – to love neighbor. To act hospitably towards those who seek service. To be gracious to those we disagree with. To care for and love each other. This act elevates the privilege of one group above another. And worse it is the state allowing it – an affront to the separation of church and state.

This legislation is not about trying to protect ones faith. It is about saying one faith is held in higher esteem than another; more specifically it is saying that one interpretation of that faith is held in higher esteem.

The bottom line is this – God doesn’t need protected. God is perfectly capable of protecting God’s self. If you want to truly be a faithful business person and honor God perhaps it is best to follow Martin Luther’s advice from this little story:

Martin Luther was once approached by a man who enthusiastically announced that he’d recently become a Christian. Wanting desperately to serve the Lord, he asked Luther, “What should I do now?” As if to say, should he become a minister or perhaps a traveling evangelist. A monk, perhaps.

Luther asked him, “What is your work now?”

“I’m a shoe maker.”

Much to the cobbler’s surprise, Luther replied, “Then make a good shoe, and sell it at a fair price.”

You don’t need to discriminate against someone to be a good Christian. You don’t need to put little crosses or Bible verses on things. Just do what it is your are called to do – and do it the best you possibly can. That is showing your faith more strongly that refusing service to someone because you disagree with them – because you are doing what God has given you the gifts to do for someone other than yourself.

In the Peace of Christ,

Rev. Justin Thornburgh, Emerson Avenue Baptist Church


Sermon: Light at the Crossroad

Light at the Crossroad

John 3:14-21

Click here for audio.

This passage is probably the most famous passage of all Scripture. It is emblazoned on T-shirts. Bumper stickers. It is the first Bible Verse many of us memorized as kids. In fact we are reminded of by a silly guy in a rainbow wig every time there is a touchdown at a football game. John 3:16 is everywhere. Even those who have never stepped foot in a church probably know it. 

It has become the litmus test for many of God’s faithful. It has become a de-facto creed for many of us who are non-creedal people. It is the statement of faith many use to proclaim their devotion to God. 

John 3:16 has become the “way” to declare that you have been saved. I know it, I believed it, I am saved. But what I think has happened over the course of time is that this passage has become about a conditional God – a God that demands certain words. A God that demands that a sacrifice be paid, and only after that sacrifice are we considered worthy. That whosoever believes in Him. We make that phrase a condition of faith. It has been read as a passage about how much God loves us, and that is we only love him back then we get our reward. But I want us to consider, this morning, that this is not a passage so much about how much God loves us, but rather it is a story of what God’s love looks like. It is a story that takes the conditionality out of God, and shows us that God’s love is extravagant and life altering. 

Translated more literally this familiar text says:

This is the way God loved the world: with the result that he gave his only son, in order that whoever believes in the son should not suffer eternal death, but have eternal life now. 

And it goes on:

God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the word, but to save the world. 

This is what God’s love look like. 

It is Light at the crossroad.

****

Old Nicodemus’ world was falling apart around him. The Roman occupation of Jerusalem was starting to weave itself into every aspect of his life – against his will. He was a man who trul loved the Lord, sought to serve God in any way possible. He came to the Temple to be always in the presence of God. He studied the Ancient texts of the tradition. He sat on the steps and taught about Moses and the Prophets. He was there daily praying the Psalms to God. 

He was in the Temple to worship, but the occupation of Rome had dug its talons into the Temple leadership. He saw how they put their relationship with Rome above their relationship with God. He saw the short cuts and the cuts off the top of temple taxes. He watched as his beloved temple began to resemble more and more the place of worship Amos warned about. His world was falling apart.

Then, yesterday, this madman comes to the temple and begins knocking over the tables and releasing the animals meant for sacrifice. This man came to the temple yelling something about how it would would be torn down and in three days would rise again. Even though, the temple was not what it could be, it was Nicodemus’ places and now it has been threatened by this Galilean.

But something happened as he watched this. He heard the words of this madman. He heard about how there was something fundamentally new in his words – that there the walls they had built to protect God were unnecessary. That God is for all people and that the rules and dogmas they had enforced had become idols and walls to keep people from God. There was power in the madman’s words.

Old Nicodemus wanted to know more. He followed the man from the temple. He watched as the man and his friends walked through the city. But as night drew its shade around the city, the excitement of the day began to make itself known in his weary bones. His arthritic knees were not accustomed to all of this walking. His twitching hand kept him from steading himself, and outside the city walls he stat on a rock. In the darkness. On the road. He sat. 

And as he sat, the tears began to well in his old wrinkled eyes, following the course of the crows feet they began to fall on his hands. The tear began to pour. He followed this stranger thinking it would be something new, “I am a foolish old man,” he wept. His mind reeling he, longed for the warmth of his mat in the temple. He regretted his foolishness following the madman. He enveloped himself in the darkness. 

Fearful, he felt alone. Abandoned. His anger at Rome burning. His rancor at the leadership rising. His self-loathing engulfing. The dark wrapped its leathery wings around him like a chrysalis that from which a butterfly would never escape. The darkness surrounded him. It threatened to swallow him whole, and he wanted – he longed for a way out of the darkness.

He sat down on a bench like rock along the crossroad. And through his tears he heard a voice. A voice that said to him something that cracked the chrysalis of darkness, that pierced the shell of pain. That caused him to stop his weeping and look out. Look up.

****

This winter has been one of the darkest I can remember. I don’t necessarily mean dark as in the amount of sunlight, but rather in the news that we hear. I suppose I am not the only one here who has noticed that. In fact, I have had several people tell me they have stopped watching the news or reading the paper. When a story comes on NPR they turn off the radio – the news out there has gotten so bad – so dark – that it seems safer just to ignore it.

But we can’t ignore it. We can just try to sweep it under the rug – because it is happening to us. To those we know. To those we love. 

You watch helplessly as someone you love is nearing the end of her life. That though she has lived a long life, you know the end is near. You watch knowing that there is nothing we can do – death is the inevitability we all face – but why does if have to be so hard? With our broken and breaking hearts we helplessly watch as the dark tries to overtake the light.

The spiral of pain and hurt you have endured has produced a storm cloud of depression that wants to drown you. Thought of suicide shoot though your brain like lightening bolts. Shocking your nervous system into doing things that are against your best interest. The clouds of darkness overshadow any hope, any joy, any chance at happiness. The dark clouds cover any light that may try to come through.

Your home life is in shambles. You are doing the best you can to make ends meet, but there is never enough. You wake up in cold sweats wondering how the mortgage is going to get paid this month.

You struggle to get out of bed in the morning. The pain in your aching joints makes slumber the most appealing of choices.

You have lost the love of your life. The one who you knew better than anyone else and who knew you – words are not enough to name the grief you feel. The tears have dried up one day only to flow like a water over a dam the next. 

Anger burns at a sister being beating by addiction. Rage rises as government seems to prefer an amoral status quo that rewards those with means while neglecting the least among us. Fury boils your blood as yet another innocent life is taken because of our nations idolatry to guns. 

It goes on and on and on – the darkness overtakes the light of day. And as that darkness grows – it swallows us. It engulfs us and we become beholden to it. We become agents of darkness. We, trying to protect ourselves from it become self-centered. We become arrogant. We start worrying about what is best for us. How we can best get ahead. It all becomes about us and as it does – the darkness spirals around and around – turning us on ourselves – on each other. We begin to act out. We begin to do the things that are defeating us. We become agents of our own darkness…

And we sit on a rock. Tears welling up in our eyes. Hopeless. Alone. We sit on the crossroad. Between light and darkness. Hoping. Longing. Desiring for something better.

****

And through his tears he heard a voice. The voice of the madman. The voice that said to him something that cracked the chrysalis of darkness, that pierced the shell of pain. That caused him to stop his weeping and look out. Look up.

The voice came from Jesus. “This is how God loves the world: that God gave his only son  in order that whoever believes in the son should not suffer eternal death, but have eternal life now. 

God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the word, but to save the world.”

The voice comes in the middle of the night. Piercing the chrysalis of Nicodemus’ darkness. The voice of Jesus comes and says that the love of God is made known in the power of the cross. That like the bronze serpent that was lifted up and all the wandering Israelites need to do was look at it and they would be healed, so, too, Son of Humanity would be lifted up on the cross for the saving of the world. That lifted on the cross, when would be lifted from the dead and lifted to the right hand of the Father. That through the cross, the darkness would be forever banished.

God sent the Son into the world to save the world. To pierce the shell of darkness that is swallowing up the world. God sent the Son into the world that we might be saved.

That when that friend is nearing the end, you go – yes sad – but with the hope of the promise that she is a child of God. That you are a child of God. That the darkness of that night is no match for the light of the Cross. That on the cross was nailed your sorrow and grief, it was lifted up and transformed by the light of God’s love.

When the storm clouds of depression hit your, and the lightening shoots through your body. When the dark thoughts of suicide cover everything else – there is the cross. The sign of death transformed into the promise of new life. That there is hope even when it seems there is nothing else. There is the promise that in the cross there is life. There is the promise of a new life. Not with out pain. Not without sadness. But a new life that is with the One who knows suffering and pain. The one who knows humiliation and scorn. That you are not alone. 

The cross is the place of anxiety and dread. It is the place of worry and doubt. The cross is where those are lifted up. Where those feelings are given a place. Given a name and allowed to be said. On the cross is where they are changed into perseverance and calm – resourcefulness and hope. Lifted up on the cross they are given new meaning.

When the grief is to much, look to the cross. Look to the crucified Son of God – God’s beloved – and see the promise that is in the once crucified and now risen Son. Know that in your grief the grief of the Heavenly Parent, too, wept.

This is the world of a God who loves the world. Who shows the world how much he loves it by giving his Son to us. Not to judge. Not to condemn. Not to cause bitterness and division. Not to bring infighting and hated. But to save us. To Save you. To save me! 

That is the the work of God. That is the power of God. That is they light at the crossroad. That when we are engulfed in darkness – God’s very own came to bring light. Came to bring hope. Came to bring transformation and reconciliation. That in our darkness there a light that will not be overcome that will always be shining. That is covering us with outstretched hands. Without condition – God has done this – there is nothing we can do to earn it. It is our gift. It is our light. 

Look to the cross. High and lifted up. Look to the light. 

Thanks be to God!!!!!


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