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Exaudi 2018 The Mother of Christians and Her Testimony

jesus ascension cavedone.PNGExaudi, the Seventh Sunday of Easter (Mother’s Day)

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. John 15:26-16:4

May 13, 2018

The Mother of Christians and Her Testimony

 

Iesu Iuva

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!

 

Proverbs chapter 30: There are three things that are too wonderful for me, four I do not understand: the way of an eagle in the sky, the way of a serpent on a rock, the way of a ship on the high seas, and the way of a man with a virgin.  (18-19)

 

I’m not sure I understand the meaning of this proverb.  But I can think of another thing that is “too wonderful for me” and that I “do not understand”—the way of a mother with her child.

 

When the girl carries the little human being inside of her for months, and no one can see it, but she can feel her son or daughter moving inside of her.  She nurtures and cares for her child before anyone else has seen it.  For her the baby that has not seen the world yet is the center of her world.  Nobody else in the world will ever see that child the way she does.  This is too wonderful for me.

 

And then in pain and danger she labors to bring the baby into the world.  And then for months her baby is no longer within her, but almost as close.  She carries him or her on her own body,  feeds the baby from her own body.  This is too wonderful for me too.

 

But what amazes me even more is the love mothers have for their children not only when they are little but when they are grown.  Mother’s love is so tender toward their children, usually, but so fierce toward other people who appear to be a threat to their children.  Mothers are often blind to the faults of their children because their love is so intense.

 

Most of the time, love doesn’t come naturally to human beings.  Most people have to work at loving and showing love.  You seldom hear mothers say they are working on loving their children more.  For the most part God gives this love to mothers for their children.

 

So as we take today to honor our mothers and to show them our love, let us also consider our spiritual mother and the words of our Lord about her today.

 

We have a spiritual mother, and she loves us and cares for us like a mother loves her child.  She give us birth and nurses us like a mother does her child.

 

Learn, then, to understand this article [of the Creed] most clearly. If you are asked: What do you mean by the words: I believe in the Holy Ghost? you can answer: I believe that the Holy Ghost makes me holy, as His name implies. 41] But whereby does He accomplish this, or what are His method and means to this end? Answer: By the Christian Church, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. 42] For, in the first place, He has a [unique gathering of people] in the world, which is the mother that begets and bears every Christian through the Word of God, which He reveals and preaches, [and through which] He illumines and enkindles hearts, that they understand, accept it, cling to it, and persevere in it.

The Holy Christian Church, the Communion of Saints, according to Martin Luther in the Large Catechism, is “the mother that begets and bears every Christian through the Word of God.”  The Holy Spirit works through the Holy Christian Church to give birth to Christians and then nurture them in faith, by which they are holy, set apart for God.

 

Human beings do not build up the Church the way a businessman builds a clientele, the way a politician builds a political party, the way a general conquers a city.  The Holy Christian Church is the mother that bears and gives birth to Christians, to sons of God.  The Holy Church of Christ doesn’t win friends and influence sinners to like her and join her cause.  She doesn’t “sell” herself to sinners like a prostitute.  She doesn’t convince sinners to like her.  What happens to girls that are desperate to have people like them?

 

The Holy Christian Church gives birth to new people.  She gives people “birth from above”, rebirth, new birth, as Jesus talks about in John chapter 3: No one can see the Kingdom of God unless He is born again or born from above.

 

She is involved in a work that no human being has the power to do.  Human beings can build followings.  Gifted leaders can do this and so can gifted salesman and talented liars.  No human being is able to make someone go from being dead in their sins to being alive to God.

 

Only God can do this.  And if He does not do it, a person remains in his sins, and an enemy of God, and perishes forever.  This is why Jesus told Nicodemus: Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the Kingdom of God (John 3:5).

 

Jesus has been saying for the last few weeks that He was going to send the Holy Spirit to the disciples.  Forty days after His resurrection, His disciples saw Him ascend into heaven; we celebrated this on Thursday.  Before He ascended to sit at the right hand of the Majesty on High, He told the disciples not to leave Jerusalem until He had sent the promised Holy Spirit to them.  This Sunday, if we lived around the year of our Lord 31 and were with the disciples, we would be in a house in Jerusalem, praying and waiting for Jesus to pour out the gift of the Holy Spirit on us.

 

Jesus tells them (and us) in the Gospel today what the Holy Spirit will do when He comes—how He will give people new birth so that they become new creatures and sons of God.  The Holy Spirit will testify of Me or bear witness concerning Me. (John 15:26).  Then He says, “But you also will bear witness or testify, because you have been with me from the beginning (John 15:27). 

 

How does the Holy Spirit give people new birth, so that they enter the Kingdom of God and are saved from their sins and everlasting damnation?  He bears witness of Jesus.  He testifies to Jesus.  He tells who Jesus is and what Jesus has done.

 

If a pastor preaches principles from the Bible that will give you a happy life, that is not the proper work of the Holy Spirit.  It will not make you a new creature.  If he is preaching the actual law of God, it will indeed show you what is righteous and pleasing to God, but it will not give you life.  It will bring death and condemnation, because what God commands, you cannot perform.  The Law of God (but not human principles) must be preached, but that preaching is not the special work of the Holy Spirit to give you new birth, and to nurture you as a mother does her child.

 

The work of the Holy Spirit is to bear witness to Jesus.  He tells us what Jesus said and did; He tells us how Jesus suffered and died, descended into hell, and rose from the dead on the third day, ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God.  And He testifies to the good news of God, that what Jesus did was for sinners and their salvation.  He testifies that Jesus has reconciled you to the Father, if you are a sinner who cannot make yourself righteous, that through Him alone you are forgiven and counted righteous.  That is how the Holy Spirit causes people to be born again as new creatures who love God, hold to His word, who are holy and growing in the image of Christ’s holiness.

 

But the Holy Spirit does not do this testifying alone.  He does it through the mother of Christians, the Church.  He testified with or through the disciples, who received the Holy Spirit.  Then after the apostles died, through the believers who followed them.

 

Now it should be clear to you how much harder this is than building the membership of an organization we call “church.”  It is much harder to give birth to a human being than to get one to join something.  But this is even harder.  To be a member of the Holy Christian Church, you have to be born again of God by the Holy Spirit, and we can’t make this happen for anyone.  We can’t make a person be sorry for their sins and want to be free of them, fear eternal judgment; we can’t make a person who has been brought to that state of contrition believe that their sins are forgiven without their works, solely through Jesus Christ.

 

But we aren’t called to do that.  The Church simply bears witness to Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit.

 

The Holy Spirit is called in Greek “the paraclete”, which is translated “Helper,” and sometimes “Comforter.”  But the word implies “someone who speaks for you”.  An “advocate.”  It is hard to testify about Jesus—not because it is complicated, but because it encounters opposition.

 

Our flesh doesn’t want to talk about Jesus.  It wants to talk about ourselves and what we think.

 

But even more, the devil and the world do not want testimony to be given about Jesus.  Jesus warns the apostles: You will be put out of the synagogues.  Even worse, the time is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering God priestly, holy service.  They will do these things because they do not know the Father or Me.

 

To testify to Jesus and His free salvation is also testifying about human sin and helplessness in it.  We are telling the world, “There is nothing you can do to get right with God.  Everything you are by nature is sinful and unclean.  Only through faith in Jesus and His work are you saved.”  The world says, “Who are you to judge me?  Look at all your sins.”  And that is on a good day.  What the devil really wants is to kill us, if he can’t turn us away from Jesus.  Humanly speaking, it makes total sense that we want to find another way to “build our church” besides testifying to Jesus.  The stakes of testifying to Jesus are much higher than we want to believe.  Be sure—it comes with the price of death.  If the world doesn’t kill you outright, you will still have to die daily to remain in Christ and faithfully bear witness to Him.

 

Yet it is sinful for us to be afraid and to try to run away from this.  Jesus has not left us alone.  He sends us the Helper, the Advocate.  The third person of the Trinity lives in us, testifies to Jesus in us and through us.  That is why there is nothing better in the world than to have the Holy Christian Church as your mother.  In this Church that testifies to Jesus and holds to Him and His Word alone, the Spirit gives us new life, comforts and consoles us by pointing us to Jesus, who has made peace with God once and for all for us.

 

Our mother the church no doubt looks ugly and old fashioned to the world.  But in her the Lord and giver of life, the Holy Spirit, is present with power to do what no power in the world can do—to give us new birth by testifying to Jesus who was crucified for you and did away your sins.

 

Now He comes and bears witness that you are members of Christ’s body, begotten of God, by nourishing You with the body and blood He gave for you that you may have life.

 

Come, Holy Spirit.  Amen.

 

The peace of God, that passes understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

 

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Checks Jesus Signs. Rogate, the Sixth Sunday of Easter, 2018. John 16:23-30

jesus ascension.PNGRogate, the 6th Sunday of Easter

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. John 16:23-30

May 6, 2018

“Checks Jesus Signs”

 

Iesu Iuva

 

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!

 

When I was maybe seven years old my mom took me and my sister down to Danville, Illinois to see my great grandmother.  She was about 90 years old, but she was still a lot of fun because she gave me a black book that looked like a check book to play with.  This is great, I thought.  I started writing checks—Pay to the order of Karl Hess, $1 with as man zeroes after as I could fit on the piece of paper.  Then I gave it to my mom.

 

But she explained to me that writing a check doesn’t magically create money.  Of course, you have to have money in the bank.  Then, when you sign your name on the check, the bank sees your name and sends the money in your name wherever you directed them to send it on the check.  So I couldn’t write checks for a billion dollars in my great grandmother’s name and then sign my name on the check.

 

When I found this out, I didn’t think checks were so great anymore.

 

And a lot of us, or most of us, think like this about prayer.  We find out that we can’t write ourselves big checks for whatever we want, and we lose interest in praying.

 

Amen, Amen, the Lord Jesus promises—It shall be so, it shall be so: whatever you ask of the Father in My name, He will give it to you…Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.  (John 16:23-24)

 

Listen to the promise again.  It is a huge promise that Jesus gives His disciples: Whatever you ask of the Father in My Name, He will give it to you.  (John 16:23)

 

Incredible.  Whatever I ask?  It sounds like Jesus has given us a book of blank checks to draw on God the Father’s account.

 

Maybe you have never listened closely and heard the promise Jesus made here, so you’ve never tried to cash one of these checks.

 

But if you have, you almost certainly have had this experience: You asked God the Father for something, and He didn’t give it to you.

 

You prayed for success in your work, but you were unsuccessful.  You prayed for peace in your house, and the turmoil seemed to get worse.  You prayed for someone you loved to recover from their illness or have less pain, and God appeared to say, “No.”  You prayed God would make your church grow, but it shrank.

 

So you found yourself thinking, “Maybe it isn’t such a privilege to carry / Ev’rything to God in prayer.”  And you began to rely less on praying to God and more on your own work or on human experts to make your home peaceful or your loved ones get well.

 

But if you felt this way—experienced something like this—and I have, as have most Christians, if not all—it is not because Jesus didn’t mean His promise.

 

It’s because we overlook an important phrase in His promise.  He says: Whatever you ask of the Father in my name, He will give you.  Our Lord Jesus doesn’t promise that the Father will give us anything we ask, but only what we ask in His name.

 

If my great grandmother let me have her checkbook when I was seven years old, and write whatever checks I wanted, that would have been a big mistake.  Very quickly we would have ended up with a big pile of candy, and toy cars, plastic soldiers and guns, and no food, the gas and water shut off, and no money in the bank.  Instead, the bank only sent out money if her name was on the check.

 

It’s similar with God the Father.  All His treasure: power, His authority, His wisdom, His glory, He has entrusted to one man only.

 

He has entrusted everything to the man who doesn’t seek His own will and glory, but only the will and glory of God the Father.  God has put everything in the hand of this man, His Son, Jesus.

 

When God the Father gets a prayer that does not come in the name of Jesus, His Son, the righteous one, He rejects it—just as the bank would have rejected a check that I wrote on my grandmother’s account and signed with my name.

 

Yet Jesus promises His disciples who believe in Him: In that day, you will ask in My name, and I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf; for the Father Himself loves you, because you have loved me and I believed that I came from God.  (John 16:26-27)

 

He promises us: My Father Himself loves you because you believe in Me.  It’s not just that I will pray for you.  The Father will hear your own prayers because you believe in Me.

 

*That’s why being baptized, as Elliot is today, is so great a privilege that we constantly remind ourselves of it, everytime we invoke the Name “of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” perhaps making the sign of the cross.  When we are baptized, God places His own name on us.  He gives us His name.  He covers us with the righteousness of Jesus so that we may approach God the Father in that righteousness and be received as God’s sons and heirs.  He cleanses us in our Baptism with the atoning blood Jesus shed on the cross for our sins.  And so we come to the Father as though we were Jesus Himself.

 

From this day forward Elliot may call on God as her own father and be assured God will hear her and not turn her away.  And it will be her parents’ task, along with her godparents and all of us, to teach and encourage her to come with confidence into God’s presence and call Him Father.

 

Those who don’t believe in Jesus can’t do this.  They can’t come to the Father because they do not know Him.  They certainly cannot call Him “Our Father.”  They can’t receive what they ask.  They are writing bad checks, signed with their own names instead of the name of the Father, His Son, and the Holy Spirit.

 

These prayers don’t please God.  They anger Him, because prayers offered without faith in Jesus are all aimed at getting what we want for our own sinful purposes.

 

That’s often the reason why our prayers, the prayers of Christians, receive no answer or are answered, “No.”  Not that God won’t hear us.  If you believe in Jesus as your Savior, God receives you.  He doesn’t look at your long track record of sins and failures.  He doesn’t look at the evil motives that fight in your heart with the Holy Spirit.  He looks at the righteousness of Jesus that covers your sins, the suffering and death that cancelled your sin, applied to you in Baptism.

 

But to ask the Father in Jesus’ name isn’t just to come in Jesus’ righteousness by faith.  It is also to ask for the things Jesus signs his name to.  Jesus doesn’t sign His name to all our desires.  It’s not always Jesus’ will that we escape difficulty, weakness, suffering, death.  Paul prayed that his physical weakness, his “thorn in the flesh”, would be taken away, so that he would be able to labor harder in the preaching of the Gospel.  But Jesus said, My grace is enough for you, because my power is made perfect in weakness.  (2 Cor. 12:9) 

 

So how do we pray “in Jesus’ name,” according to His will?  How do we know what that is?

 

We receive His Word.  In His Word, we receive His Holy Spirit who comes into us and teaches us what to pray for.  Just like you eat every day, so you need to feed on Jesus’ word every day, so that the Holy Spirit can teach us to ask not what we will according to the flesh, but what Jesus would sign His name to.

 

Still, when you don’t know how to pray or what to pray for, you shouldn’t be afraid to ask the Father.  He won’t cast you out, because He has already received you through the blood of Jesus and put His name on you in Baptism.

 

And He has given you the Holy Spirit, who prays within you according to God’s will when you don’t know how to pray.  He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God, Paul tells us in Romans chapter 8 (Rom. 8:27).

 

Jesus has also given us the very words to pray with Him to His Father in the prayer He gave us.  When you pray them, you are praying in the Name of Jesus, asking for things God will surely give you.  Look at the Small Catechism when you get home and remind yourself of the great things you are asking for when you pray that prayer together with Jesus.

 

When you pray it and other prayers that are in Jesus’ name—that are according to His will and offered in faith in Him, you have the assurance God the Father will not only listen, but will surely say “Yes” to them.  That is why we finish our prayers with “Amen”.  We are saying, “It shall be so.”

 

And Jesus gives another promise to us—that as you do this your joy will be full.

 

At St. Peter, we are a lot like the disciples of Jesus after He died.  We are full of anxiety, fear, distress.  Much like one of Jesus’ friends, Martha, to whom He said, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and distressed about many things, but one thing is necessary.”  (Luke 10:41-42)

We need not be.  Jesus has given us His access to God the Father.

 

Until now you have asked nothing in My name.  Ask, and you will receive, that Your joy may be full.”  (John 16:24)

 

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!

Soli Deo Gloria

 

He Will Convict the World. Cantate, the Fifth Sunday of Easter, 2018.

peter preachingCantate, The Fifth Sunday of Easter

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. John 16:5-15

April 28, 2018

He Will Convict the World

Iesu Iuva

 

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!

 

Last week Pastor Chehab preached to us, and many of you were excited by his message.  Which is good.  It should be exciting to us to hear how the power of God rescued a man who did not know Jesus Christ from the worship of an idol, from the everlasting darkness that is the only future for those who do not believe in Jesus Christ.

 

There was another message in Pastor Chehab’s sermon too, though, for those with ears to hear.

 

He told about how in 20 years growing up in Lebanon, which he said was 50 percent Christian then, he had never heard the Gospel.  In his experience the Lebanese Christians had mostly kept Jesus locked up in their families and churches, as though He belonged to them only.

 

What a terrible indictment of the church in Lebanon when he was growing up there, don’t you think?  I think of myself with this: how sorry I would feel in front of my Lord, if someone were to say to Him about me, “I never heard Him talk about you, Jesus.  I never got the sense that Karl wanted to talk to me about You.”  I would grieve if that is the impression people got about Jesus from me: that they never sensed the greatness of His love for them, the joy of His salvation, the freedom He gives through freely giving Himself to pay for our sins.

 

Yet I have no doubt that there are people who would say this about me—that I was content to keep Jesus as though he were only for me and people like me, instead of the one who gave Himself for all people.

 

It would also cause me pain if people were to say about the congregation that I pastor, “They don’t really care about bringing Jesus to others.”  And yet people do say this; I’ve heard them say it.  Many times.
Are they totally wrong?  Aren’t we more scared to tell the gospel to others than we are joyful to do it?  Don’t we expect people to come to us rather than we go to them?  And when they do come, even then don’t we expect them to get on board with what we’re doing rather than going to them and showing them?

 

 

My prayer is that each one of you will take to heart what I am saying, and that I will also take it to heart.  Because Jesus, the Son of God, loves all men.  He loves sinners, even though their hearts are made of stone.  He loved Pastor Chehab and called him out of darkness.  Jesus loves the youth that have disappeared from our church and gone to follow the world and the devil.

 

He loves sinners, and He has the power to save them.

 

He has the power to save them even through the weakness of the people in His Church, even through you and me.

 

And He has sent this power of God that breaks stony hearts, that pierces the darkness of our hearts, to dwell among us.

 

This is what He told the disciples in the Gospel for this Sunday: But now I am going away to Him who sent Me, and none among you ask Me, “Where are You going?”  But because I have spoken these things to you, pain has filled your heart.  But I tell you the truth, it is better for you that I go away.  For if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you.  But if I go away, I will send Him to you.  (John 16:5-7)

 

Jesus was sitting at the table of the last supper, talking to His disciples after the meal, before He went to the Garden of Gethsemane.  When He told them He was going away, they were so full of pain they didn’t even think to ask Him where He was going.  But we know where He was going.  He was going to ascend to the right hand of His Father.

 

But you might not know why He was going to ascend.  Paul tells us: He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things (Ephesians 4:10). 

 

Jesus was not going to the right hand of God to escape from us and the sin and suffering we have here.  It was to fill all things.  Listen to me.  It was to do the work He was doing in Galilee throughout creation.  To preach the gracious, free forgiveness of sins.  But He would do it through His disciples who received the Helper, the Holy Spirit.

 

All the disciples could see as they sat at the table with Jesus was their own pain that they wouldn’t have Jesus with them anymore.  They could not see that Jesus was going to spread His Kingdom of salvation throughout the whole world, to all people.  That He would bring salvation to many people, all over the earth, and that He would do it through them.

 

This is what Jesus is still doing at the right hand of God.  By sending the Holy Spirit on His believers, He spreads the good news of righteousness and a completed salvation.  People believe and are added to His Kingdom of righteousness.  And He will do this whether or not we try to help Him.  He doesn’t tell the disciples, “If you are obedient, the Holy Spirit will convict the world.”  He simply says, “When He comes, He will convict the world of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment.”

 

This solves one of our problems, one of the reasons why we are afraid to speak about Jesus to others.  Many of us are afraid we will offend people and drive them away.  But Jesus tells us the Holy Spirit will do the convicting.  We simply open our mouths and deliver Jesus’ Word.

 

It also answers another problem that we have, which comes from a false idea about how Jesus saves people.  Many of us think that people should just come to church because it’s part of what good people do.  The third commandment and the first commandment tell us that we are supposed to worship God and listen to His Word, so people need to just do it.  If they don’t, maybe we need to make worshipping God more appealing to them.  But Jesus doesn’t say people will be saved that way.

 

He says that the Holy Spirit will convict the world.   The word means “rebuke, convince someone of guilt, show someone or something for what it is.”  For a person to be saved and be a Christian, they must be convicted. 

 

They must be convicted of sin.  They must be convinced that they are not good in the eyes of God, but sinners on their way to everlasting damnation.  That in God’s eyes they are sinners even when they do what the world calls good.  That if they do not believe in Jesus they are sinful in the sight of God because they despise His beloved Son.

 

A person will not accept this because I say it or you say it.  The Holy Spirit must speak it to them with divine power and authority and drive it home into their hearts.  But Jesus tells us clearly that the Holy Spirit will do this—and He will do this not from heaven, but through the word of the apostles, through the apostles.

 

The apostles were not supermen, were they?  Moments after this supper they went with Jesus to the Garden of Gethsemane.  They fell asleep while He suffered.  When they woke up they all abandoned Him.  They were not glorious, holy men—not in themselves.  Jesus had to pick them up from their fall.  He had to bear their sins on the cross.  Then He had to convince them they were forgiven, they were righteous, so that they would be able to speak in His name.

 

That is the other thing that the Holy Spirit must do to the world through us.  After He has convinced the world of sin, He must convict the world of righteousness.  Think of how hard it must have been for the disciples to believe that they were righteous in God’s eyes after they denied Jesus.  How hard is it for you and I to believe that God’s verdict on you and me is, “Righteous?”  Today, tomorrow, every day of our lives?  It is very difficult to believe if you are conscious of the sins of your past, and if you look into God’s law and see the sins of your heart today.

 

In fact it’s impossible.  No one believes this by their own free choice.  It is a work of God’s power, a work of the Holy Spirit.

 

Yet it is a fact; Jesus has reconciled the whole world to God.  He has justified the entire world by His death.  The world does not believe in Jesus and so it pushes righteousness away and remains in its sins.

 

But this is what the Holy Spirit says to you and to everyone who hears the Gospel: You are righteous before God because Jesus, the Son of God, made fully payment for your sins on the cross.  Even your lack of zeal to see your neighbor saved, and your own weak faith.  They are not counted to you because they have been counted to Jesus.  The Holy Spirit convicts us that this is true.  That is why the preaching and speaking of God’s Word is the only way people are saved and His Church is built.

 

Pastor Chehab talked about “the dynamite”, the power of God in the Gospel.  It does not always happen that we see explosions.

 

But this power is present with us, no matter how big a bang it seems to make.

 

It convinces us that Satan has been judged and condemned, so that we go forward into the world confident of victory, even when it seems that the world and the darkness will swallow us whole.

 

And it is also what gives us love and zeal to tell the Gospel of Jesus to people around us.  There is no one whose heart is too strong, too hard for the Holy Spirit.  There is no one who has sinned too much, for whom the blood of Jesus will not atone.  Jesus sends the Holy Spirit to us in the word and sacraments and He convinces us that with all our ongoing weakness we are righteous in God’s eyes.  As often as we fall and as deep as the fall has scarred our hearts, the Holy Spirit proclaims the same Gospel, that we are righteous through our Lord Jesus Christ.

 

Since He does this for us, we cannot lock him in to stay with us only.  What He does for us, what He says to us, He wants to say to everyone around us.  That is why He ascended on high—to give this gift to men.

 

Not just in foreign mission fields, but also very near, where our neighbors and relatives are worshipping idols and are bound for hell.  That’s why He sends the Holy Spirit to you. He wants to use you—us—to speak this gracious, joyful news, and give the gift of righteousness.

 

And though that can be hard, it is also exciting.  Because the Holy Spirit will not only rescue Pastor Chehab and followers of Islam’s idol, but also those who are in just as deep a darkness in our own families and neighborhoods.

 

It will be so, because the prince of this world has been judged.

 

Amen.

 

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!

 

Soli Deo Gloria

The King of Love My Shepherd Is. Misericordias Domini 2018

jesus good shepherdMisericordias Domini—The Third Sunday of Easter

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. John 10:11-16

April 13, 2018

The King of Love My Shepherd Is

 

Iesu Iuva

 

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!

 

In the Old Testament, kings and other leaders were called “shepherds”.  Like a king, a shepherd guides, protects, leads.  But nobody thinks a shepherd is a king.  Kings sit on thrones, in palaces, exalted above their people.  Shepherds stay with their flock, in the cold, in the rain, in the danger from wolves.  Shepherds personally lead their sheep to places where they can eat and lie down in safety.  They personally care for the sick and weak sheep, and they go into dangerous places to seek the lost sheep.

 

Lots of people fear their king and the kings representatives—the police, judges.  But sheep do not fear their shepherd.  They know Him.  He is near to them; they come to him for help and protection.  They know his voice as it calls out to them over the fields because he is always in their midst.  He is their safety and their helper.

 

Jesus could have called Himself “the good King”, because He is our King.  He is more majestic, rich, noble, and powerful than any king on earth.  But He never calls Himself “king.”  He calls Himself “the good Shepherd.”

 

He does this so that we know who He is and what we can expect from Him in His Kingdom, and where we should look for Him.  We should expect Him to be good and kind so that we are not afraid to come to Him, no matter what we have done.  And we should expect Him to be found among His sheep who hear His voice.

 

Even now that He is risen from the dead and exalted to the right hand of the Father, we should expect to find Jesus among His sheep, shepherding them.

 

When we say people are “sheep”, we mean that they are dumb.  People who are sheep are easily led, naïve, easy to take advantage of.  They follow without thinking wherever they are led.

 

That is because sheep only have one quality that keeps them alive—they listen to the voice of their shepherd, stay close to him, follow him.

 

Jesus’ kingdom is a kingdom of sheep.  People who have nothing going for them spiritually at all, but they hear the voice of the good shepherd.  We should not expect to find Jesus among the people we think are spiritual masters, great saints.  If a person is a great saint, if he is holy and strong in faith and good works, it is only because that person knows that he is nothing.  About 1500 years ago there was a Christian hermit who lived in the desert.  When he grew very old, some people came out to him looking for wisdom, and he told them, “When I was young, I used to say to myself, ‘When I am old, I will finally be able to accomplish something good for God.  But now that I am old, I see that there is nothing good in me at all.’”

 

That is where Jesus is found.  He is not found among those who think they are something spiritually.  He is found among people who know that they have nothing.  They have nowhere to go and nothing to bring to God.  They have nowhere to go except to the sound of their shepherd’s voice.

 

What does His voice sound like?

 

To the self-sufficient who trust in themselves, His voice sounds like foolishness.  His voice sounds fanatical to the world when it says that unless our righteousness exceeds the spiritual giants of the earth, we will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

 

But to His sheep, who say with St. Peter, Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life (John 6:68), His voice has a different sound.  Peace be with you, he said to his terrified disciples on the evening of Easter.  I know my own, and my own know me, He says in the reading today, and I lay down my life for the sheep.  His voice proclaims that He Himself is our peace, the atonement for our sins, our wisdom….righteousness and holiness and redemption (1 Cor. 1:30).  He defends us and answers for us before God and the devil and the world.

 

Shepherds do not abandon their sheep when they run off, or when they do something dumb and hurt themselves, or when they are weak and can’t keep up with the flock.  Shepherds on earth do this because their sheep are their livelihood.  They are worth money.

 

That’s not why Jesus is good to His sheep.  He doesn’t need anything we have.  Yet He chose to come down to earth and live among His sheep.  He wanted to camp out among us like a shepherd does with his sheep, and endure the storms and the wolves and lead us to safety and pasture.  I am the good shepherd.  The good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep…The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.  I came that they may have life and have it abundantly (John 10: 11, 10)

 

So He became a man and lived among us.  Then He laid down His life for us to protect us from the devil, who wanted to separate us from God forever by holding our sins over our heads.  But Jesus died for our sins so that he could not do it.  And that is what His voice says, when it echoes out from the Scriptures, when it is preached faithfully by faithful shepherds.  It tells us that however weak and helpless and dumb we are spiritually, however far we have strayed, we belong to the Good Shepherd.  He does not abandon us.  He does not chase us away.  When we stray, He goes after us until He finds us, even when everyone else has given us up for dead.  When we are sick and weak, He does not leave us behind, but tends to us until we become strong.

 

In the Old Testament reading, God has harsh words for the shepherds of Israel in the time of Ezekiel.  He is speaking to the leaders of God’s people, in particular the ones who were supposed to minister to them and teach them God’s Word, the priests and the prophets.

 

For thus says the Lord God: Behold, I , I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out…I will seek the lost, and bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak…

 

Christians often fall into the trap of thinking that if they are injured or weak, they do not belong to Christ at all.  There are Christians who have a weak conscience, and they continually struggle to believe that their sins are really forgiven.  Then there are those who are injured and have sins that they keep struggling with—a bad temper, maybe, or a lack of zeal to hear God’s Word and seek the lost.  Christians struggling with sins like these, because they are weak, are often tempted to think that they do not belong to Christ at all because they are not strong.  And other Christians see their faults and say, “These people are no Christians at all.”

 

Then there are those who are strayed and lost.  Some people fall into open, grave sin and deny Christ.  They commit adultery, or they become addicted to alcohol, they abandon God’s house and no longer come to worship; or even like Peter, they openly deny Jesus.  They have strayed.  And often they think that they have fallen too far for Christ to receive them.  And Christians and churches and pastors often say and think, “It’s a waste of time to try to bring them back.”

 

But that is not the kind of shepherd that Jesus is.  He doesn’t abandon the weak and the sick.  He is with them.  That is what He calls His kingdom.  His church is not an army of spiritual giants but a flock of sheep who have nothing good spiritually except their shepherd.  He doesn’t abandon the weak and wounded.  He binds them up with the forgiveness of sins, and makes them strong by feeding them with His Word and His body and blood.

 

Nor does He give up on the lost, the strayed, and the fallen.  He seeks them out so that they may have life.

 

Where the shepherd is, there His sheep will be also.  We hear His voice that calls us to good pasture at the altar.  In His goodness He feeds us His body and bids us to drink His blood that we may have abundant life.  And when we become strong from this food, we also become patient with the weak and injured and eager to see those who are lost and strayed return to the flock.  We go out with Him to find them as He found us.

 

We think that we will find God among the strong and noble things of this world.  But the good shepherd is found among what is foolish, weak, and sinful.  We find Him when we hear His voice proclaiming the forgiveness of sins to sinners who seem to be beyond hope.  If you are such a sheep, strayed, lost, weak, injured, hear the voice of the good shepherd who has come to find you today.  I am the good shepherd.  I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father, and I lay down my life for the sheep.  (John 10:14-15)

 

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!

 

Soli Deo Gloria

In A Broad Place. Quasimodogeniti 2018

jesus thomas.PNGQuasimodogeniti—The Second Sunday of Easter

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. John 20:19-31

April 8, 2018

“You Have Set My Feet in a Broad Place”

 

Iesu Iuva

 

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!

 

A week ago from last night, we observed the vigil of Easter.  It started after darkness had fallen.  Then the new paschal candle that through most of the year stands next to the baptismal font was lit from a fire outside.  Everyone had little candles in their hands, like we do on Christmas Eve, and they were all lit with the fire from the candle that symbolizes the life of Jesus that conquers death.  Then we processed into the totally dark church.

 

Then there were several readings from the Old Testament.  All of them pictured some part of Jesus’ descent into the darkness of death and His resurrection.  One of them was the story of Noah, who went into the dark, cramped box called the ark for a year as the wrath of God descended and wiped out all life from the earth.  After he had gone in with the remnant of animal and human lives that would repopulate the earth, the Scripture says, The Lord shut him in (Gen. 7). 

 

In the Gospel reading, the disciples are also shut in.  Eleven men (ten on the evening of Easter), plus others, probably, are sitting in a living room with the doors shut (or locked).  They don’t go out lest people recognize them as the disciples of Jesus, and the chief priests do with them as they had done with Jesus.  They are alive, but in a prison, fearing that at any time there will be a knock on the door that will mean the end for them.

 

Even worse, they are shut up in the darkness of a bad conscience.  Have you ever been in a narrow place where you couldn’t stand up straight, where you were so packed in that you couldn’t move?  It’s like that when you have a conscience that condemns you as a sinner.  You would like to believe that you are at peace with God, but your sins press in on you, bind you up.  Every time you get your head above water another wave of condemnation hits you.  For the disciples of Jesus there were two waves that kept crashing into them.  The first was the events of the last week, the flogging, mockery, and crucifixion of Jesus, which made it seem that their faith in Him had been misplaced.  The second was the way they had abandoned their Lord when they were put to the test.

 

Some of you, most of you know what it is to have done what the disciples did.  You were faced with some temptation or other and you abandoned Jesus.  Maybe it was long ago.  And when the memory of it returns, you are closed in, shut up, fighting for air.

 

Or it is simply the awareness that every day, no matter how faithfully you have tried to live a new life in Christ, you have never quite accomplished it.  You always fall short of what a Christian life should be.  And so you are always in a dark room, like the disciples, fearing that when the knock comes on the door, you will not be ready to stand before God.

 

And others are closed in by the feeling of despair that your faith in Christ is in vain.  When you see how your life and the life of Christians does not seem to be one of “victory on to victory”, but instead one wave of trouble after another, the darkness closes in on you, and you are tempted to think that it is foolish to put too much confidence in Jesus.

 

When I was a little kid, I watched a movie on TV one Saturday.  You may have heard of it; it was called Star Wars.  There is a scene in that movie where the heroes jump into a garbage compactor to escape a bunch of storm troopers who are shooting at them.  They are knee deep in garbage and nasty water trying to find a way out when they realize there is some kind of giant snake swimming around their legs.  One of them gets pulled under, but then for some reason the snake lets him go.  They quickly discover why.  The walls have begun to close in to crush the trash.  They try desperately to brace the walls with big pieces of metal, but nothing works.  At the last minute their robot friends contact them on an intercom and manage to shut down the garbage compactor by hacking into the computer.  Then one of the robots hears them screaming over the intercom and thinks he is too late.  But they are shouting for joy because they have been saved.

 

That was what happened to the disciples.  In their cramped prison, with the doors shut, Jesus suddenly appears and says, Peace be with you. 

 

Instead of the knock on the door that means the end, Jesus comes in without knocking.

 

He doesn’t show them their sins and let the walls close in on them forever.  Instead, He shows them the marks in His hands where the nails had been and the place where the centurion’s spear entered His side, proving He was really dead.

 

Those marks are all there is left to say about their sins, their abandonment of Jesus.  Those marks are the signs that the walls of judgment have stopped closing in on them forever.

 

Then, as if that was not enough, He sends them out of their prison.  Therefore Jesus said to them again, “Peace to you.  Just as the Father has sent Me, I also send you.”  And having said this He breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven them; if you bind them, they are bound.”  (John 20: 21-23)

 

Jesus has the authority to open up the doors and unlock the chains of darkness, sin, death, and a bad conscience, and the authority to lock people in.  He has this authority because He was bound in that prison for us.  That is how He got the marks of the nails and the spear.  He also burst those chains and broke out of that prison for us.  That is how He stood before them alive after those mortal wounds being inflicted on Him.

 

Since He conquered sin and death, He owns them and is able to release from them.

 

And He not only released the disciples from their sins; He gave them His authority to release others.  He authorized them to forgive sins and to bind, to release and lock up.

 

That is how Jesus comes into the midst of us in the prison of sin and a bad conscience and stops the walls from closing in on us.

 

He comes and proclaims release by sending out first the apostles and then ministers to preach His death and resurrection and the forgiveness of sins.  He entrusts to His believers the power to forgive and retain sins.

 

The message that He proclaims to us is not, “If you do this and that, you will be forgiven.”  He proclaims that sinners are bound and condemned to eternal death.  But to those who feel their chains, He proclaims unconditional release.  You are released, He says, because I have been released.  I bore your sins.  See the marks in my hands and my side.  I was closed in by death and judgment.  But now I am risen.

 

And if you still find yourself to be a sinner and wonder if you are still set free, see these marks.  They are the answer to any accusation made against you.

 

Jesus wears those marks before God His Father.  They always stand before Him.  He cannot see or hear about your sins without seeing the nails that went into His Son’s hands, and the spear that went into His side when He died for those sins.

 

Those marks always stand before God and speak louder than our sins.  They say, “It is finished.”

 

But Jesus still comes into our midst to proclaim peace to us, to release us from our chains and darkness and our old life.  It is His voice that speaks when the minister, called to exercise the public office of the Keys, says, “As a called and ordained servant of Christ, and by His authority, I therefore forgive you all you sins, in the name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit.”  Amen.

 

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!

 

Soli Deo Gloria

 

He is Going Ahead of You. Easter 2018

jesus empty tomb.PNGThe Resurrection of our Lord—Easter Day

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Mark 16:1-8

April 1, 2018

He is Going Ahead of You

 

Iesu iuva

 

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!

 

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!

 

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!

 

The women were the strong ones that first Easter.  They got up early in the morning, at the first opportunity, and went to Jesus’ tomb.  It would have been easier to avoid going to His grave.  We have all heard stories about people who would not go into the hospital room where their father or mother was in their final hours because they couldn’t bear to watch them die.  I’ve done things like that; avoided or put off facing death, facing people who were mourning a death.

 

And it’s what the eleven men whom Jesus had called to follow Him had done.  They all—except for St. John—had abandoned Him when He was arrested.  They weren’t there when He died.  No doubt they were scared that they would have to suffer with Jesus.  But I’m sure it was also because they couldn’t stand to watch Jesus their Lord die.

 

So now on the first Easter the women show great strength because they do not hide from His death.  They go out to finish His burial as soon as the day of rest was over, at first light.

 

Ah.  It’s very sad.  It’s so sad.

 

Our lives are so full.  Our calendars are so full.  We have so much at our fingertips in this world.  Right now your phones are seconds away from your hands, and in them there are games, there are your friends, you can talk to whomever you want.  There is music of all kinds.  You can buy just about anything by tapping the screen a few times.

 

Even those of you who are too old to be tied to smartphones have a life that is so much more full of possessions and activity than your parents had.  They had their work, their family, not much money.  Maybe they had a club they belonged to.  Probably they had their church.  And they had a limited selection of vices to choose from—booze usually, maybe gambling, women.  But we have a million things to do and a million ways to be entertained.

 

But one thing we do not have.  When our full lives with a million options come to an end, we do not know how to die.

 

We don’t face death.  We keep it out of sight, and pretty it up, and lock it out of our minds probably more than any generation before us.

 

Jesus’ disciples also could not face His death.  Tied up with His death was also the shameful fact of their betrayal of Jesus, how they had left Him alone on the cross.  They had not understood or believed Him when He told them that He was going to be killed and rise the third day.

 

Even these women who had not fled and who showed strength and love and went out to His tomb to anoint His wounded and dead body—they had not understood or believed Jesus either.  What are they talking about as they walk?  “Who will roll away the stone?”  They aren’t discussing how He said He would rise.

 

To not believed God is to call Him a liar, or to consider His words not worthy of attention.  They should have known that no word drops from Jesus’ mouth casually.  Every word He speaks comes to pass.  His words are like light and dry ground and ocean and sky—more real than these things.  The earth you stand on and the air you breathe are less substantial than Jesus’ word, because those things came into being because He spoke them.

 

Yet we also don’t believe Him.  It’s why we have other things to do than hear His word and why, even when we hear it regularly, we doubt it.  It’s one thing to understand the message of the Gospel, that Jesus died for our sins on the cross and rose to declare the forgiveness of those sins, the end of our death and separation from God.  It’s something else to draw comfort and confidence from those words so that we have joy in suffering and confidence in the face of death.

 

Not believing God is the source of all your other sins, whatever else they may be.

 

So the angel that surprises the women at the tomb says wonderful words to them, the disciples, and us.  “You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified; He is not here, He has risen.”  These words are full of joy and wonder not only for Jesus, but for the disciples who have failed Jesus, fallen away from Him because they did not believe His words, and for us who have done the same.  “Go, tell His disciples and Peter that He is going before you to Galilee.  There you will see Him, just as He told you.”

 

Hear those words, because God sends them not just to Peter and the disciples but to you.

 

They had all fallen, and Peter had even denied that He was Jesus’ disciple.  But the angel makes angels of the women—messengers.  Go tell them not only that Jesus has risen.  Tell them, “He is going before you and you will see Him.  He is still leading you, teaching you.  He is still your Lord.  You still belong to Him.”  They had failed Jesus when the test came, but that is gone.  It is not spoken.  It’s not held up in their faces.  They are unworthy to have a share in Jesus, who conquered death, because they did not believe Him.  But they share in Him anyway.

 

The bloody wounds in Jesus’ hands and feet that stained His grave clothes were for them.  His death and lying in the tomb is where God put their sins and death, and ours, and also the root of them all—unbelief.  He laid them on Jesus.  And He is no longer there being held by them.  “See the place where they laid Him.”  It’s now empty.

 

He is loosed from your death. The bonds of your sins has been broken.

 

The disciples and you and the whole world has been made new.  It is more solid than the earth you stand on and the sun in the sky.  They will not remain, but the word of this Easter victory, the word of God’s justification of us sinners, endures forever, as long as Jesus lives.

 

Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened.  For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.  Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.  1 Cor. 5:6-8

 

You really are “unleavened.”  You have been cleansed of sin.  These words are more solid than the earth, but the faith with which we grasp them isn’t.  Otherwise we would not fear death at all, and nothing that comes after today would interrupt our joy.

 

Nevertheless, come with your fear and your trembling faith and say, “Lord Jesus, I would like to believe what you say firmly, but my heart is too weak.  But I come with my doubt and eat Your body and drink Your blood, asking You to make my hear wider, so that the joy of Your Easter may enter in, that I may follow after where you have gone ahead as your disciple.”

 

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!

Soli Deo Gloria

Shut In. Easter Vigil 2018 Gen. 7:16

March 31, 2018 1 comment

easter vigil.PNGVigil of Easter

St. Peter Lutheran Church

Genesis 7:16 (Daniel 7, Gen. 22, Ex. 14)

March 31, 2018

Shut In

 

Iesu Iuva

 

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!

 

And the Lord shut him in.  Gen 7:16

 

All the readings for the vigil are ominous except for the first.  Abraham is told to go offer his son as a burnt offering.  Isaac asks, “Where is the lamb?”, seeing the knife in his father’s hand.  “The Lord will provide Himself the lamb, my son.”

 

Then at the Red Sea.  Israel is trapped between Pharaoh’s chariots and the deep waters.  They cry out and Moses says to them, “The Lord Himself will fight for you; you have only to be still.”  Then they have to walk into the sea, with the surging, massive walls of water towering over them on either side.

 

Nebuchadnezzar tells the three young men, “If you are ready to bow down to the god I have made, well and good.  Otherwise you will be thrown into the burning fiery furnace, and what god will be able to rescue you from my hand?”  They say, “Our God is able to save us from the fiery furnace.  But even if He doesn’t, we will not bow down to your idol.”

 

But Noah has to go into an ark of gopher wood along with 2 of every kind of animal, into a cramped, dark, soon to be foul-smelling box.  It’s probably better than trying to stay outside in the rain.  But Noah doesn’t know how long he will be locked into this tomb with the remnant of God’s creation as His wrath wipes out every living thing from the face of the earth.  And even if God tells you he will bring you out again, who doesn’t feel afraid when asked to go into a dark hole, like a coffin, even if they promise you they will bring you out later?  He has to trust God.  Then Genesis says: The Lord shut him in.

 

Imagine the sound: the ark door slamming shut.  The roar of the blazing furnace when its door is opened.  The sound of Abraham tying the knots that bind Isaac to the altar, the sound of the knife leaving its sheath.  The sound of the roaring wind and waters at the Red Sea as men, women, and children walk in their midst, where no human foot has ever walked.

 

These all have the sound of finality, like the last things the people hearing the may ever hear.

 

Final like the sound of the book slamming shut in the Tenebrae services.  This was the sound the women heard at Jesus’ tomb as Joseph and Nicodemus rolled the great stone in front of the entrance and sealed His body in.  The end.

 

And it was the end.

 

But the one who was sealed into the tomb Himself is the end, and the beginning.  His are time and eternity.  He is the alpha and the omega.  The world’s beginning, in all its goodness, came from his mouth, just as with the cry of His voice it will end.

 

And the sound of His grave shutting was the end of the world that had been before.  It was the end of the wicked, their death-knell.

 

When the ark opened again, God’s enemies, Noah’s enemies were no more.  Israel’s enemies lay on the shore.

 

So when Jesus was sealed into the grave and death.  It was the end of His enemy and ours.  He descended into hell and destroyed our oppressor.  He went down in exaltation with the double-edged sword that comes out of His mouth and ran it through our enemy and oppressor, and the devil’s power seeped out of him like blood on the word that is preached to us, the word of Jesus’ death for our sins.

 

When the book closes on our life, and the door of the ark is shut, and the knots are tied, the knife is raised, the walls of water loom over us, close us in, and we hear the roar of the furnace, it is the end for us—of the vestiges of our slavery, of our unholiness.  We are sailing through the flood and the fire into Jesus’ resurrection.  When we pass through, the fire cannot burn us.  The devil cannot touch a hair on our heads.

 

We aren’t scared when we read about Noah going into the ark or Shadrach and the others going into the furnace because it has already happened and we know the ending.  But it was different for Abraham and Isaac as the old man arranged his son, his only son on the wood.  He had to see past the eyes of his son, looking at him, and see what he could not see, see the lamb that God would provide by faith.

 

So it is for us.  We have seen the lamb whom God provided die, and we have seen Him rise.  But we must also see what we cannot see; see Him opening the door that He has shut on us, with which He has shut us in.

 

We are already in the dark hold of the ark.  We were shut up with Jesus, closed in with Him, buried with Him in Baptism, so that we may rise with Jesus and come out into a broad place, into a new world, as people belonging to that world, who are all brothers of Jesus the righteous.

 

But while you are shut up in the darkness and hear the roaring of the waves, destruction all around you, fear not.  It will not harm you.  The Son of God who is with you in the flame will not allow a hair of your head to be singed.

 

He is the eternal, consuming fire, but He does not burn you.  The light shines quietly on you and gives light, just as the paschal candle gives the light of the fire outside, but we are not burned.  The consuming, eternal fire shines in His flesh, and from the light in Him we have been set alight.

 

All unseen, while all was still dark, He descended into hell in victory and shattered the ancient foe forever.  And now the window of the ark has opened, the stone has been rolled away, and He has risen, bursting open the grave.  “Death is swallowed up in victory.  Oh death, I am your pestilence, Oh hell, I am your poison.”  They cannot hold you because they cannot hold Him.

 

While you are shut in, He will be your light in the dark, cramped hold, as the flood rages around you.  His hand that shut you in will open it again for us into a new world after we have come with Him through the great deeps, and in Him conquer.

 

Let us gladly die with Jesus.  Since by death He conquered death,

He will free us from destruction, Give to us immortal breath.

Let us mortify all passion That would lead us into sin;

And the grave that shuts us in

Shall but prove the gate to heaven.

Jesus, here with You I die,

There to live with You on high.  (LSB 685 st. 3)

 

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!

Soli Deo Gloria

 

 

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