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Monthly Archives: February 2018

Weakness and Vulnerability: Divine Things (February 25, 2018)

Mark 8:31-38

Then [Jesus] began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32 He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” 34 He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. 36 For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37 Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38 Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

I said last week that the author of Mark’s gospel writes in a pretty unique style. Direct, fast-paced, only including details that help make the point and leaving out anything else. And that this author invites us, the reader into the narrative–to finish the story, as it were.

This text today is Mark at his/her finest! It’s pretty hard to miss the point here, isn’t it? Disciples of Jesus are those that follow him even though he’s heading to his own death. To do anything else is to put human things ahead of divine things. And that, Jesus makes clear to Peter, is satanic.

Mark doesn’t leave us a lot of wiggle room. If you put yourself and your own life ahead of your neighbor’s, you are in essence losing your life. Real life only comes by giving yourself away for the sake of others—which is exactly what Jesus says he’s doing when he talks about his death.

Mark’s direct writing style on display. And, as the reader, we are invited into the story right alongside Peter. Human things or divine things? Follow Satan or follow Jesus? Serve ourselves or serve others? It’s that clear, that demanding, and should be that simple.

But here’s the thing. Like a lot of folks, I want to let myself off the hook just a bit, justify serving myself and choosing human things. And the Jesus in Mark makes it pretty clear where I stand when I do that.

I’m not alone there. So the one thing we all have in common is that the Jesus in Mark would say the same thing to each of us that he says to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan!” Because we want a God who doesn’t address our refusal to follow. We want a God whose only job is to forgive us for choosing the human things. Then, we can continue doing so feeling like God is backing our human choices.

Because just like Peter, we much prefer a God who is more human than divine. A God who meets our standard of power and might instead of one who is weak and easily killed. We want a God who is strong enough to take care of school shootings and gun violence for us, not one who invites us to follow him into the powerlessness of the victims.

Just like Peter, we expect strength in our Messiah, just as we desire strength in ourselves. That’s a human thing, not a divine thing.

Instead of striving to be powerful and strong, what would it be like if we followed Jesus into the divine thing. Have you ever had a conversation with someone who approached life from the position that they are always correct? Hard to be vulnerable and weak with them isn’t it? An encounter with someone like that is not usually an encounter with the divine, vulnerable Christ.

So, what if picking up our cross meant that we were as vulnerable as Jesus? We think the divine thing is power, when in fact it is the very human thing. Are we avoiding vulnerability in order to appear strong? Get behind me, Satan.

Jesus says very openly in this reading that the divine thing is to pick up our own cross and follow him. Because it’s in the vulnerability of the cross that God is most fully present with Jesus. Perhaps the cross we pick up is that same vulnerability. Because when we acknowledge our own vulnerability we are then walk with others in their vulnerability. Rather than avoiding weakness and brokenness which is the human thing, perhaps the divine thing to do is recognize God present in weakness. Both our own and others’. Rather than judge others in their vulnerability, rebuking them for a lack of Messianic strength, we join them in their brokenness, knowing that we are following the one who picked up the weakness of the cross. Instead of meeting power with more power, strength with more strength, force with more force, we seek to join the presence of Christ in the weak, the victimized, the wounded, the grieving.

That’s the divine thing to do. Because it’s only through the cross that there is resurrection. It’s only in weakness that there is strength. It’s only in vulnerability that there is life. Mark seems pretty clear about that.

There are a bunch of students from Parkland, FL who have experienced extreme vulnerability, and seen it in each other. They’ve decided to walk together in that vulnerability and in so doing have been resurrected to a new life, a new purpose. They’ve found a new voice in their collective weakness. And that voice just might change our culture of violence.

So we pick up this cross of weakness, of vulnerability, and we follow Christ. Not because of our certainty, but because that’s where we meet him. Because that’s where we discover resurrection and life. As we embrace others in their weakness too, walk alongside them in their vulnerability too, we recognize Christ present with us together. And together we experience new life.

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Posted by on February 25, 2018 in Sermon

 

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Now is the Time (February 18, 2018)

Mark 1:9-15

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” 12 And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13 He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.
14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

I love the gospel of Mark. The author writes in a fast-paced style, leaving out things that aren’t necessary to his/her main point, with a literary style that ties everything together. The author pulls the reader into the story and continues to make us part of it. We are included as participants all through this gospel.

The first Sunday in Lent is always Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness, but Mark’s gospel cuts to the chase. The temptation is two verses, no fluff, “And the Spirit immediately drove [Jesus] out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.”

That’s it. No description of the temptations. No conversation with the tempter. Not even a mention of whether or not he actually resisted the temptations (though we have to think he probably did). Sparse. Few details. Spirit drove him, 40 days, tempted, wild beasts, angels. That’s it. Then he starts his ministry with another two verses, “Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.’” Again, not a lot of fanfare.

Now, I guess we could compare Mark’s version to Matthew and Luke, then fill in some of Mark’s missing details from there. Because the other gospels include what the specific temptations were—there were three, apparently. They also have Jesus outwitting the devil with his vast knowledge of scripture and divine wisdom. We could spend our time doing that, emphasizing what isn’t in Mark. But then we miss out on what the author of Mark actually does do in this temptation text.

You see, Mark doesn’t care how many temptations there were or how Jesus overcame them. For Mark, the Reign of God begins today. Get on board, because now is the time. God’s reign has come, and nothing will be the same. It’s like an old B Western. “There’s a new sheriff in town. Things are gonna be differ’nt. You better get used to it.”

OK, bad metaphor. But in Mark, Jesus brings this sense of urgency, that time for opposition to God is up, that God’s reign of peace and compassion and justice have truly arrived and will be taking over.

And Mark has this way of inviting us to be part of that narrative. If Jesus is the one in whom all this comes, then now is the time to get on board. The time is fulfilled, Mark writes. The time is now.

So Mark only includes elements of the temptation that make those points. Jesus is driven into the wilderness by the Spirit. The implication and vocabulary implies that Jesus is possessed by the Holy Spirit. This is entirely God’s doing.

Cast out into the wilderness, Jesus confronts Satan, the personification of all things opposed to God. Get used to it, Satan, your 15 minutes of fame are up. And now is the time.

Jesus is with the wild animals, where he’s vulnerable. But nothing happens to him because this is a new day. In the reign of God those who are powerless will be vulnerable no longer. And now is the time.

John is arrested, Mark includes that. John’s ministry was the one that was calling for God’s justice. Now that ministry has been stopped by those threatened by it. Immediately, then, Jesus begins to proclaim that God’s justice has arrived. Those who been able to silence the voice of God’s justice are now done. And now is the time.

The author of Mark proclaims this as real, and present here and now.

And that’s where he/she invites us into the story. The time is fulfilled. These things are happening today. Jesus brings all that God envisions, and we are called to be part of it.

Mark would have us ask, where is Satan today? Think a minute and ask, “What are the forces, the powers, the institutions that are opposed to God today?” Mark invites us to confront them with Jesus, let them know their 15 minutes are up. God’s peace and compassion are going to be lived in this world—right now. By us.

Mark would have us ask, what are the wild beasts today? Think a minute and ask, “Who is preying on the poor, the weak, the vulnerable today?” Mark invites us to stand up to them with Jesus because in the reign of God those who are powerless will be vulnerable no longer.

Mark would have us ask, How is John the Baptist arrested today? Think a minute and ask, “What voices for God’s justice and peace are being silenced today?” Mark invites us to take up that cause and, with Jesus, proclaim God’s justice for all people. Those who silence the voice of God’s justice are now done.

The time is now, Mark writes to us.

I’m well aware that there has already been yet another school shooting in 2018. 17 more children have been killed. The time is now, Mark writes to us.

There is a war on the vulnerable poor right now. A budget proposal for 2019 includes drastic cuts to food stamps, grants for education, healthcare supplements for the poor, housing subsidies for the poor, among others. The time is now, Mark writes to us. “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

 
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Posted by on February 18, 2018 in Sermon

 

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The Power of Powerlessness (Ash Wednesday, Feb 14, 2018)

Joel 2:1-2, 12-17

Blow the trumpet in Zion; sound the alarm on my holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble, for the day of the Lord is coming, it is near— 2 a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness! Like blackness spread upon the mountains a great and powerful army comes; their like has never been from of old, nor will be again after them in ages to come. . . .
12 Yet even now, says the Lord, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; 13 rend your hearts and not your clothing. Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing. 14 Who knows whether he will not turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind him, a grain offering and a drink offering for the Lord, your God? 15 Blow the trumpet in Zion; sanctify a fast; call a solemn assembly; 16 gather the people. Sanctify the congregation; assemble the aged; gather the children, even infants at the breast. Let the bridegroom leave his room, and the bride her canopy. 17 Between the vestibule and the altar let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep. Let them say, “Spare your people, O Lord, and do not make your heritage a mockery, a byword among the nations. Why should it be said among the peoples, “Where is their God?’ “

As the people of Jerusalem try to rebuild the city after returning from a 70 year exile held captive in Babylon. They are experiencing the worst disaster that anyone can remember. For an agricultural society, a plague of locusts means starvation and death. But this plague tops anything that even the oldest people have ever heard about. It’s overwhelming. It’s hopeless.

I think that in some ways we share that experience of hopelessness. There are things in our world that we can’t even imagine fixing. Our country is more divided than ever before; greed, lies, obstruction  seem to grow unchecked; an all-out war on the most vulnerable among us seems to actually be deliberate, our national leaders seem more out of touch and uncaring than ever.  There are 2400 homeless children in Jefferson County, yet the obstacles and the anger around any address of the issue seem insurmountable.

It just seems like there’s nothing we can do. Sometimes, as if we’re experiencing a plague of locusts, we can feel powerless.

And that’s what the people of Israel were experiencing too.

Our tendency when we feel overwhelmed is to pull in, hunker down, and make sure our own little corner of the world is safe. If the world is falling apart, we’re going to do what we can to stay clear of that. We’re going to remain where it’s safe, put in a security system, buy a handgun, and do what we can to make sure we’re going to be OK.  If the situation is bigger than our ability to deal with, we take care of ourselves first.

But here’s what Joel’s people in Jerusalem did in the face of a hopeless situation. All of them together threw their lot in with God. They recognized that their situation was bigger than their ability to deal with, so they—all of them together—publicly turned to God for hope and help. Maybe God would do something, maybe not. That was up to God, not them. But they called everyone together to fast and pray and see what God would do. And they did it openly and publicly.

15Blow the trumpet in Zion; sanctify a fast; call a solemn assembly; 16gather the people. Sanctify the congregation; assemble the aged; gather the children, even infants at the breast. Let the bridegroom leave his room, and the bride her canopy. 

For Joel and his people, the response to despair wasn’t “how can I survive this?” but “how can we help each other seek God in this?” And everyone participated.

As church, as the body of Christ, as followers of Jesus, this is what we can offer the world. A public, altogether, open, everyone involved, plea to God in the midst of things that seem impossible.

We say God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.

We say God is our refuge and strength.

We say God is with us in the midst of difficulties.

We say Jesus brings among us the mercy, compassion, love, and forgiveness of God.

We say that this is unconditional.

We say we trust God in these things.

Here’s our chance to live those things we believe. Let us come together during this season of Lent. Let us, as the whole congregation of Lutheran Church of the Master—all of us—call upon God to spare our world, to end hatred, to stop terror, to put an end to poverty, to protect the vulnerable, to do those things that we ourselves can feel powerless to do.

15Blow the trumpet in Zion; sanctify a fast; call a solemn assembly;  16gather the people. Sanctify the congregation; assemble the aged; gather the children, even infants at the breast. Let the bridegroom leave his room, and the bride her canopy. 

This Lent, as we gather each week, both on Wednesdays and Sundays, across ages, ethnicities, genders, faith backgrounds, let us remind one another of God’s promise of hope and newness. Let us discover our own part in God’s promise. Let us, altogether, publicly and openly, call upon our God. Let us share with the world what we believe our God can do. Amen.

 
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Posted by on February 14, 2018 in Sermon

 

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It’s Not Always Easy to Listen (Transfiguration B, February 11, 2018)

Mark 9:2-9

Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, 3 and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. 4 And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. 5 Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 6 He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. 7 Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” 8 Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus. 9 As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.

According to some scholars, the Old Testament prophet Zechariah writes that on the day of the Lord, those who aren’t keeping the festival of booths will be punished by God. The way one keeps the festival of booths is by building little dwellings, tents, booths, to remind one’s self of the flight from Egypt and the 40 years wandering in the wilderness.

If that was on his mind, I understand Peter’s outburst about building three booths for Jesus and his important companions. That doesn’t mean, however, that even as these words were coming out of Peter’s mouth he was already regretting them. “It’s good to be here at the end of the world. Why don’t we settle in and do something religious.”

He is so scared out of his mind that the world was coming to an end that he tries to do something godly, religious. I don’t know what it is he’s trying to say, but I empathize with him. Have you had that happen? Some words come out of your mouth and you immediately think, “Oh. That was a mistake.”

What regrettable thing would you say if suddenly you saw Jesus as he really is—as eternity sees him? What would you do if, suddenly, the authentic, full-blown Jesus became real? Like, really real. More than a historic figure, more than a symbol, more than an important person that whose teachings we ought to follow. But, undeniably, in your face, without question, life-changingly real?

Because that’s what just happened to Peter, James, and John. This whole Messiah-thing with Jesus just got real. Jesus is changed right before their eyes. Moses and Elijah suddenly appear, chatting with him, the two all stars of All-Stars. The voice of God from the clouds declare Jesus as the Son, the Beloved of God. And then commands them to really listen to him.

I think it would be a really good day if the worst thing I did right then was utter something religious.

But that’s what’s going on in the Transfiguration. Jesus suddenly gets real for these disciples. He’s something really unique and special to God, no messing around with this. God says listen—not to Moses or Elijah—but to Jesus.

So the question for us as we head into Lent is, “Is Jesus real? Is he worth listening to?” And the question to ask right after that is, “If so, how can we hear Jesus more clearly? What voices are we listening to instead?”

Whether Jesus is worth listening to above all other voices is up to each of us, I guess. I’m here to tell you he is, and I’ve been telling you that for 20 years here, and some of you must agree at some level because you keep paying me to tell you that he’s worth listening to. But the “realness” of how deeply we listen, how seriously we take him, is up to us.

I think it’s easy to listen to Jesus when he’s healing us, or when he’s Transfigured and looking all-powerful. But it’s not so easy when, as he tried telling his disciples right before this text, he’s going to be hanging dead on a cross. It’s not so easy to listen then. God’s beloved? I like saviors who aren’t killed. I like winners.

It’s not so easy to listen to him when he tells you to follow him—even to a cross.

It’s not so easy to listen to him when he tells you that you have to forsake voices that are contrary to his. Even if it’s family, church, boss, or government.

It’s not so easy to listen to him when he says that the way to fully live is to give yourself away. Even to those who hate you or make fun of you.

It’s not so easy to listen to him when he says that the way to get ahead is to serve those who are behind, who have less power or status or money or privilege.

It’s not so easy to listen to him when he says that in order to see him you have to look for him in the faces those who are different than you, in race, language, politics, citizenship, sexual and gender identity, or religion. Not just see Christ in them, but treat them as if they were Christ himself—because he tells you they are.

We begin Lent this Wednesday. The season of really listening to Jesus. The season of taking him even more seriously. The season where we might want to consider turning down the voices that are contrary to his, so we can focus on listening to him with more attention.

It won’t be easy. Lent never is. But perhaps a way to see Jesus as he really is—transfigured, glowing, full-blown Messiah and Beloved of God—is to listen to him. And not just hear his words, but actually follow them.

Join the rest of this community in some Lenten disciplines to help us listen more clearly. Download the daily devotional booklet we’re using this Lent. Spend some time each day with it. Come on Wednesday evenings and practice listening to Jesus in different ways. If it would help, follow the practice of giving something up for Lent. But not for the sake of piety, but so you have something to remind you to listen to Christ.

The Transfiguration of Jesus happens so that we can know how important it is to listen to him. Whether in the brightness of his glory or in the depths of our fear, God still says, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!”

 
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Posted by on February 10, 2018 in Sermon

 

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#MeToo, Discipleship, Service, and the Gospel (February 4, 2018)

Mark 1:29-39

As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. 30 Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. 31 He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them. 32 That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. 33 And the whole city was gathered around the door. 34 And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him. 35 In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. 36 And Simon and his companions hunted for him. 37 When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.” 38 He answered, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” 39 And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.

There’s one phrase in this gospel text that, unfortunately, needs to be lifted up and delved into. One phrase that, even now, will be misused to counter the gospel of freedom, the message and purpose of Christ.

That phrase is, “Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.”

You know, in this congregation, I normally wouldn’t feel a need to preach on this particular phrase. Yet in the context of our culture right now, I am compelled to do so. To not do so would be unfaithful to the nature of the gospel and of Christ himself as it applies to our culture.

Simon’s mother-in-law was healed, and she began to serve them.  It’s necessary to be reminded, yet again, that this text has nothing to do with the place of women or the role of women as lesser people who are there to serve the men. In the Christ-like empowering of women to claim their place as full human beings, and with the work of the Holy Spirit in things like the #MeToo movement against harassment and abuse, we need to hear again that the wording of this text cannot be used to counter what God is doing.

170 brave girls-now-young-women, stood up and testified against Larry Nassar, a man who took advantage of power he had over them as young gymnasts in order to sexually abuse them. Many of these young women are also calling out those who, by doing nothing, are complicit in this horrific abuse.

Many governmental leaders in our country are being called to account for their actions as sexual predators, harassers, abusers of women.

Men in all walks of life who have exploited their power at the expense of women are finally being stopped.

This is what the gospel is about. Lifting up those who are exploited. Empowering those who have less power. We are seeing, right now in our culture as these things are happening, the power of Christ’s gospel to restore us and set us free. Make no mistake about it. Jesus is disrupting a culture that is abusing power and taking advantage of the other.

This isn’t about political feminism. This is about all people being created in the image of God and all people being recognized as fully human. That’s the point of the gospel. That’s what Jesus came to do.

That’s what’s happening in this text.

Simon’s mother-in-law isn’t healed so she can be relegated to her appropriate female role as one who serves men. No, she is healed because that’s what the kingdom of God is about. She serves because that’s what disciples of Jesus do. All disciples. Never, ever, is the gospel about giving more power to those who already have it. Never, ever, is the gospel about keeping power away from those who don’t have it. It’s always about seeking out those who are abused, who are harassed, who are pushed down and restoring them to dignity and the fullness of their humanity as people created in the full image of God.

Perhaps you are hearing this and thinking, “Really, Pastor Rob? Here in this congregation we already know this. We already understand that in Christ all people are to be loved, valued, and respected. We get that this is the freedom proclaimed in the gospel and made real in Jesus. We know this already. Do you really need to go into for a whole sermon?”

Yup, I do. Because just like every week at communion, whether there are first-time visitors or not, it’s important that all of us hear again that Christ’s table is for all. That God’s grace is unconditional. That rich and poor, black and white, female and male, young and old, gay and straight, believer and non-believer all have an equal place at this table. We need to hear it again and again so that we not only experience it, but so that we can live it in service to others.

With this text too. We need to hear over and over that any kind of exploitation is sinful. Any taking advantage of power is evil. Any actions that are oppressive, abusive, or aren’t grounded in dignity and respect run counter to the gospel of Christ. We need to hear it again and again so that we not only experience it, but so that can live it in service to others.

And live it we must. When the evil of misogyny is still excused by many.

Live it we must. When there are still those who, even in the name of Jesus, continue to be complicit in oppressing women.

Live it we must. When power is idolized in order to take advantage of others.

Live it we must. When the resurrected Christ is already paving the way through the empowering of women in our society.

Live it we must. As disciples of Jesus, we’ve got to live this gospel that reveals that all people are created in the image of God and need to be treated that way.

Live it we must. Because Simon’s mother-in-law is healed and restored.

Live it we must. When she serves, she’s living as a disciple of Jesus, who said of himself, “For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve.”

I think in this congregation we pretty well get this. But many in our world do not. And so, as people who have been healed in all kinds of ways by Jesus, we leave here to serve. We uplift. We empower. We respect. We see the dignity of Jesus Christ in each person, regardless of sexual or gender identity.

That’s the power of the gospel. It disrupts our culture of sexism and misogyny. And it restores us as people created in the image of God.

Healed by Jesus, we go and we serve. All people. In the name of Jesus. Jesus heals us, and we begin to serve. Amen.

 
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Posted by on February 4, 2018 in Sermon

 

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