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Sermon for First Sunday of Advent, 2020 150 150 johnpaddock

Sermon for First Sunday of Advent, 2020

Gurdon Brewster was a seminarian at Union Seminary in New York City in 1961 when he did a summer internship at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia. Brewster was white. His father was a lawyer and his mother a pediatrician. He’d gone to boarding school at Philips Exeter Academy. He has written a fascinating account of his Atlanta summer in his book entitled, No Turning Back.[1]

What was distinctive about Ebenezer Baptist Church in 1961 was that the co-pastors were Martin Luther King, Sr. (known as Daddy King) and his son, Martin Luther King, Jr. Brewster, who’d never preached a sermon before he stood in the Ebenezer pulpit, preached a few times that summer to shouts of  “Amen!” and “Preach it, bother!” and “Praise Jesus!” It was quite disconcerting for this New England Episcopalian. But the shouts of encouragement from the congregation, were punctuated by the deep voice of Daddy King, seated nearby, saying “Make it plain, Brewster, make it plain!”

Not a bad bit of advice for any preacher, especially when the texts seem so dense, so laden with forgotten history and hidden meaning as these from Isaiah and Mark with their images of the end of the world, the great judgment, the coming of Messiah: the heavens torn open, mountains quaking, fires so hot the waters boil, sun and moon darkened, stars falling from the sky, and the powers of the heavens shaken. 

These are apocalyptic texts about the end times. But “apocalyptic” also means “an unveiling” or “revealing.” Biblical authors like Isaiah and Mark use these dramatic images of a supposed distant future to reveal something about the present. The 13th chapter of Mark was written around the year 70 of the Christian Era just as the Jerusalem Temple was destroyed and the residents of Jerusalem fled the city. The text purports to come from the mouth of Jesus forty years before as a future prophecy, but for the author of the gospel, it’s really a description of current events.

The apocalyptic language of Isaiah was actually a contemporaneous description of the destruction of Jerusalem in the first part of the Sixth Century Before the Christian Era. The Babylonians destroyed the city and the Temple, and carried the residents off into captivity for a period of fifty years. 

The Markan language about “the desolating sacrilege” and “the Son of Man coming in clouds” is actually taken directly from the Book of Daniel, another apocalypse written during the time of the Antiochus IV, the Seleucid Emperor who in 167 BCE desecrated the Temple with the sacrifice of pigs on the high altar and banned all Jewish religious practices.

So what we have here, to make it plain, are apocalyptic projections lifted from earlier contexts and applied to new, current situations.[2]

These authors are looking around at their contemporary world – especially at the earth-shaking events that called into question the survival of the world as they’ve known it – and they’re asking, “What does it mean?” and “Where is God?”

Isaiah laments, “You used to speak clearly to our ancestors, the great heroes of our past, so where are you now? You talked plainly to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, and Elijah. But you’ve hidden your face from us.” “Our world is falling apart. But you are the potter and we are the clay. Make us anew, and sculpt a new world for us.”

When terrorists strike, when hurricanes and earthquakes and fires and famines and floods and Pandemics occur – we, too, look back at the apocalyptic predictions from the past and ask, “Is this the time?” Is this the end? Daily, we listen to the news: economic news, the number of positive COVID tests and hospital admissions; we spin the dials of our radios, scanthe newspapers, click our keyboards, surf the channels of our televisions searching for pundits (prophets) to interpret the signs. 

  • “Is this the time?” 
  • “What does it mean?” 
  • “Where is God?”

Theologian Christopher Hutson has written:

Amid the smoke of battle, the fog of politics, the confusion of economic distress, the babble of would-be leaders wearing God masks and claiming divine authority, how shall we know which way to turn? God’s people should not be surprised or confused, because Jesus warned us ahead of time that such things would happen. 

The powers that be will lull us to sleep by reassuring us that they have our best interests at heart as they pursue their worldly agendas. They play to our fears, our prejudices, our self-interests, so we do not notice their demonic behaviors. Beware. Keep alert. Keep awake. The one who endures to the end will be saved.[3]

The reality is that although there may one day be a final apocalypse, there have already been multiple apocalypses – ends of worlds as we have known them. The Babylonian Captivity, the Antiochine desecrations, the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE, The Black Plague, the Middle Passage, the Trail of Tears, the Holocaust, 9/11, multiple hurricanes and tsunamis, Global Economic Recession, climate change, the Covid Pandemic. Each was an unveiling. 

  • September 11 brought to an end the view that we were immune from evil; and revealed that the United States was not the City on a Hill and a New Jerusalem for all people.
  • Katrina revealed the racism and poverty that had been so carefully hidden from plain view. 
  • The economic apocalypse of 2008 unveiled the greed and collusion that was rampant among bankers, financial institutions, markets, government, and rating agencies. And it revealed the cooperation of many of us who – even if we didn’t know the details of what was happening – nevertheless enjoyed the easy credit, consumer lifestyles, and the upward-spiraling Dow Jones. 
  • And the pandemic has certainly revealed just how fragile we are—fragile health, fragile jobs, large and small businesses as risk.

Here at the beginning of Advent, we’re invited to open our eyes and to stay awake. As the world rushes toward another Christmas, with its Black Fridays, Electronics Mondays and 4 a.m. store openings and stampedes, let’s pause to recognize that whenever one world ends, a new one emerges. The Potter’s hand is at the wheel as she reworks the clay and recasts her creation.

The people of God are asked to watch for signs of it, and to listen for the voice of God. It’s a time of waiting for the holy to be born. 

But it’s not just a passive waiting, like a person standing at a bus stop. Rather, it’s an active time of caring for one another, serving the victims, and ministering amidst the brokenness of the latest apocalypse — all the while listening, watching, waiting on God. 

Advent – God is coming – when, where? 

God is speaking – how, what?

God is creating – why, who?

God is. Listen! Watch! Wait!

[1] Gurdon Brewster, No Turning Back: My Summer With Daddy King, Orbis Books: 2007.

[2] See David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, editors, Feasting on the Word, Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, 2008, p. 22. 

[3] Ibid., p. 24.

Sermon for The Last Sunday After Pentecost, November 22, 2020 150 150 johnpaddock

Sermon for The Last Sunday After Pentecost, November 22, 2020

Always Aim for the Center

This is Christ the King Sunday. Actually, that title is a designation that was adopted in the 1925 by Pope Pious XI.  The Episcopal name for today is The Last Sunday after the Feast of Pentecost. But since the collect for today refers to Christ as “King of Kings and Lord of Lords”, and this morning’s Gospel refers to the Son of Man sitting upon his heavenly throne—It’s been very easy to adopt the Roman Catholic term. 

The Good Friday image, of course, has Jesus wearing a crown—it’s made not of jewels and gold, but of thorns. His kingly robes are stripped from him and he reigns from a throne of wood in the shape of a cross. And on the cross is a sign naming him “King of the Jews”.

But the title of “King” still rankles in our context with its suggestion of royalty and wealth, earthly power and empire. It even spills over into our liturgical life where our bishops wear the trappings of royalty with their purple shirts, copes, and miters. 

Libby Howe, a pastor in our partner denomination, The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, recently wrote the following: 

At least in the United States, Christ the King has become a triumphalist and militaristic image of Ameri-canity bearing no resemblance to the ethic of compassion envisioned in Matthew 25. Because of this perversion, I along with other church leaders, grumble about Christ the King Sunday every year. Can we just not do Christ the King Sunday? Can we skip over the Sunday where we feel compelled to proclaim Jesus as king but use our theological scalpels to detach him from everything associated with kingship and consumer culture like wealth, conquest, victory, supremacy, and nationalism? The grumbling about Christ the King Sunday has become as much a part of the script as the holiday itself, not unlike the annual Feast of Complaining about Commercialization that accompanies Christmas. You know, right before we all go out and buy stuff.” Howe then goes on “to imagine Christ the King Sunday as Christ the Center Sunday.”[1]

Now that’s an intriguing idea. It is immediately stripped of thoughts of hierarchy and power, and it focuses us on what should really be the center, the heart of it all. Another writer, Audrey West, who teaches New Testament at the Moravian Theological Seminary in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, shares this story of a short video about archery. 

It begins with a young man gently tossing a six-inch wooden disk into the air above his head. Seconds later an arrow speeds its way into the face of the disk, fracturing the wood into pieces that scatter on the ground beside the man’s feet. A high-speed camera, replayed in slow motion, captures the arrow’s impact nearly dead center in the disk. 

The next target is a two-and-a-half-inch plastic ball. Again, the arrow launches toward its target and hits it nearly on center. Whether viewed in real time or in slow motion, the evidence is clear.

The archer’s arrow flies three more times, each time into an ever-smaller target, a golf ball, then Life Saver candy, and finally an aspirin tablet. In each case the arrow goes straight to the mark, even when the target is not larger than the diameter of the arrow itself. 

When the show’s host asks how it’s possible to shoot an arrow so accurately using a handmade bow, especially when the target seems so small, the archer replies, “The center of an aspirin is exactly the same size as the center of a beach ball. Always aim for the center.[2]

Christ as the center of our lives: our worship, our prayers, our work, our play. Christ the center. 

I was thinking about this parable of the sheep and goats. What’s striking about them is that neither the sheep nor the goats were aware of what they were doing or not doing that would earn them eternal life with God. Both groups asked, “When did we see you hungry, thirsty, a stranger, naked, sick, in prison?” 

The difference between the sheep and the goats was that the sheep were focused on doing right and caring for others—especially the weak and the poor and the vulnerable. They had the same values as Jesus. Like a laser they are those who are centered on the love of neighbor. And in this parable Jesus is saying that loving and caring for the neighbor is the same as loving God and God’s Son. “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”

So here we are today, marking the end the Church year, and poised to begin a new one next week on the First Sunday of Advent. The year ending has been one of great difficulty, struggle, and grief. The year to come promises to be similar—at least until late spring or summer—in terms of the Pandemic. We’re hopeful that there will be vaccines and treatments that will be broadly available by mid-year. But both years—and all years are years of the Lord—time marked with Christ at the center . . . at the center of our devotion, the center of our ethics, the center of our behavior. 

One of my favorite hymns is St. Patrick’s Breastplate, and my favorite verse goes like this:

Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

Always aim for the center.


[1] Christian Century, November 4, 2020: Reflections on the Lectionary p. 23

[2] Christian Century, October 7, 2020: Reflections on the Lectionary p. 21

Zoom Theology 640 427 johnpaddock

Zoom Theology

We meet twice each month, the first and third Tuesday, to share and discuss our beliefs, values, and commitments. This is not an effort to convert or evangelize, but an effort to hear and understand one another.

Topic: Zoom Theology
Time: Mar 2, 2021 06:30 PM Eastern Time (US and Canada)
Every 14 days, until Mar 16, 2021, 2 occurrence(s)
Mar 2, 2021 06:30 PM
Mar 16, 2021 06:30 PM

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Receive the Holy Spirit

Zoom Healing Service

John Paddock is inviting you to a scheduled Zoom meeting.

Topic: Tuesday Zoom Healing Service
Time: Apr 6, 2021 12:00 PM Eastern Time (US and Canada)
Every week on Tue, until May 25, 2021, 8 occurrence(s)
Apr 6, 2021 12:00 PM
Apr 13, 2021 12:00 PM
Apr 20, 2021 12:00 PM
Apr 27, 2021 12:00 PM
May 4, 2021 12:00 PM
May 11, 2021 12:00 PM
May 18, 2021 12:00 PM
May 25, 2021 12:00 PM
Please download and import the following iCalendar (.ics) files to your calendar system.

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Exodus: Walking in the Wilderness 150 150 johnpaddock

Exodus: Walking in the Wilderness

Today, we begin a nine-week series of lectionary selections from The Book of Exodus

Exodus is about the birth of the nation of Israel. Gilgamesh in Babylon, and Romulus and Remus in Rome are examples of the foundation stories in other societies. In Genesis we were introduced to Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob and Rachel and a host of others who represented the matriarchs and patriarchs, the ancestral tribes. In Exodus we witness the formation of a national identity as the tribes escape from Egypt, wander in the Wilderness, begin to formulate laws and worship practices that will define them as a people. In fact, the rest of the Torah and the books that follow in the Hebrew Scriptures are a continuation of these same themes that arise in Exodus. 

The great prophets of Israel continually refer back to the Exodus period as the time when the essentials of Israel’s identity emerged—not unlike the ways that some people in our land refer back to the founders to find clarity about American identity and mission…Washington, Jefferson, Hamilton, Madison, Adams and so on. 

The Book of Genesis ended with Jacob’s son Joseph serving as Pharaoh’s right-hand man, administrator of Egypt’s vast food stores that had been put aside against a coming famine. The famine began and Joseph brought his extended family from Palestine to Egypt where they were shielded from starvation.

Exodus begins when, we’re told, “a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph.” Actually, it was at least several hundred years later, and a new and different dynasty of Pharaohs had arisen. Over those centuries the Hebrews had flourished and multiplied. 

The new king was afraid of this large number of foreigners in his land. So he “set taskmasters over them to oppress them with forced labor to build supply cities for Pharaoh. But they continued to flourish and multiply, “so that the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites.” They became ruthless, imposing more and more harsh labor and tasks. 

Finally “the King of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other Puah, ‘When you act as midwives to the Hebrew women, and see them on the birthstool, if it is a boy, kill him . . . .’” But the midwives refused and they lied to Pharaoh with a tale about how the Hebrew women were so vigorous that they gave birth before the midwives could arrive.

Then came the directive to the Egyptians that they throw all the male Hebrew children into the Nile to be drowned. Of course, this sets up the story of the birth of Moses and how he survived with the connivance of his mother, sister, and Pharaoh’s daughter.

These stories were so formative and powerful for the Jewish people that when more than a millennium later a young woman gave birth in the little town of Bethlehem, some early Jewish Christians told the story against the backdrop of Exodus: a child was born to be God’s anointed. When the evil king Herod heard the news, he tried to kill him by ordering the deaths of all the young male children. The baby Jesus’ parents, Joseph and Mary, fled into Egypt, only to return some years later after Herod’s death. So the new Moses also came up out of Egypt. Moses the lawgiver on the mountain of Sinai; Jesus, in his sermon on the mount, reinterpreted the law. Exodus becomes a template which we can lay alongside subsequent experience in order to discover its meaning. 

In our Exodus passage this morning, please note that the midwives, Shiphrah and Puah, are named. Pharaoh, the powerful king of all Egypt, is not. 

John Goldingay, an Old Testament scholar, wrote the following in his commentary on this passage:

Telling us the midwives’ names makes them real people; not just anonymous functionaries. They are people who revere God. Exodus knows them by name; we know them by name; God knows them by name. We’ll later discover the names of Moses’ parents and his sister. They’re real people. It is less important for the representatives of the Egyptian court to be so. Not naming them suggests that they are subordinate to the story. . . . The Scriptures have a different scale of values; it’s not Pharaoh and his daughter who count. Pharaoh is someone the newspapers think is important and powerful, yet he can be defeated by three or four women.[1]

We have all observed in recent decades, that the role and place of mainline religion and institutions have diminished in our society. New kings, new values have emerged, that don’t know the old ways. There are a plethora of new spiritual associations. The rise of social media have provided millions with virtual friendships and community that were once experienced in neighborhood faith communities. For some, the reaction has been a tighter grasp on what they call the fundamentals. Fundamentalisms have emerged in almost all of the world religions.

Others have simply left their faith traditions and communities. Some have called them the “nones”—n-o-n-e-s, not n-u-n-s—the box they check when surveyed about their religious preferences; or what Bishop Spong has called “the Church alumni association.” 

Still others, like you and me, are wrestling with questions about how to go forward when the landscape has changed. What do we do in this new environment? We’ve left the settled ways—as difficult as they might have been in Egypt. Now we wander in an unknown wilderness without familiar landmarks or maps. Is there a Promised Land in our future? What is it and what will it look like? How do we live in the meantime? These are the questions of Exodus. 

So I invite you to walk this Exodus journey with our ancestors in faith, seeking their wisdom, their insight, and the light of God. They eventually left Egypt where they were enslaved and walked into an unknown future. They walked that way, some resisting, others trusting, but everyone uncertain. May we continue to walk this way together.

In the name of God: our Creator, Redeemer, and Guide. Amen.

[1] Exodus and Leviticus for Everyone, John Goldingay, Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville: 2010, p. 10

Prayer for a Pandemic 150 150 johnpaddock

Prayer for a Pandemic

Prayer for a Pandemic, by Cameron Bellm
May we who are merely inconvenienced
     Remember those whose lives are at stake.
May we who have no risk factors
     Remember those most vulnerable.
May we who have the luxury of working from home
     Remember those who must choose between preserving their health or making their rent.

May we who have the flexibility to care for our children when their schools close
     Remember those who have no options.

May we who have to cancel our trips
     Remember those that have no safe place to go.
May we who are losing our margin money in the tumult of the economic market
     Remember those who have no margin at all.
May we who settle in for a quarantine at home
     Remember those who have no home.
As fear grips our country,
     let us choose love.
During this time when we cannot physically wrap our arms around each other,
     Let us yet find ways to be the loving embrace of God to our neighbors.

Tuesday Healing Service Liturgy 1024 683 johnpaddock
Receive the Holy Spirit

Tuesday Healing Service Liturgy

Tuesday Healing Service

12 Noon

Adapted for online or conference call during a time of Pandemic 

Celtic Healing Service (Taken from the Iona Abbey Worship Book)

Greeting:   Please take a few moments to center yourself and come into the presence of the Divine Healer. (Observe a few moments of silent gathering.)

Opening Prayer:

Leader:      If you come to this virtual gathering in certainty or in confusion, in anger or in anguish

All:            This time is for us.

Leader:      If you come in silent suffering or hidden sorrow, in pain or promise

All:            This time is for us.

Leader:      If you come for your own or another’s need, for a private wound or a wound of the world

All:            This time is for us.

Leader:      If you come and do not know why, to be here is enough

All:            This time is for ALL.

Leader:      Come now, Christ of the forgiving warmth, Come now, Christ of the yearning tears, Come now, Christ of the transforming touch

All:            This time is for YOU.

Opening Responses:

Leader:      Loving God, you share with us the care of creation, and call each of us by name. We remember that those who encountered Jesus found acceptance, healing and the possibility of new life, that the disciples, though imperfect human beings, through prayer and touch, helped others to find healing in the power of your Holy Spirit. 

                  So, in the name of the Triune God we pray…..

Leader:      We gather in your presence, God,

All:            In our need, and bringing with us the needs of the world.

Leader:      We come to you, for you came to us in Jesus,

All:            And you know by experience what human life is like.

Leader:      We come with our faith and with our doubts.

All:            We come with our hopes and our fears

Leader:      We come as we are, because you invite us to come,

All:            And you have promised never to turn us away.

Leader:      Jesus said, “So come, you who are troubled and I will give you rest.” So come, you who are burdened by regrets and anxieties, you who are broken in body or in spirit, you who are torn by difficult relationships, by doubt, you who feel deeply within yourselves the divisions of our world, Come… for Jesus invites us to bring him our brokenness. 

Readings  can be inserted here… Gospel for the Day and Reflections

Prayers of the People

Leader:      Loving God, we hold in your healing presence those who suffer pain and ill-health, with their families, friends, and those who care for them.

All:            May they know the deep peace of Christ.

Leader:      Loving God, we hold in your healing presence those who suffer in mind and spirit, and all those who care for them.

All:            May they know the deep peace of Christ.

Leader:      Loving God, we hold in your healing presence the suffering people of our world, and the places where people are experiencing divisions, injustice and violence.

All:            May they know the deep peace of Christ.

Leader:      Loving God, we hold in your healing presence those struggling to overcome addiction or abuse, those supporting and working with them, and all whose suffering has distanced them from those who love them.

All:            May they know the deep peace of Christ.

Leader:      Loving God, we hold in your healing presence those facing bereavement. We also pray for those who have died.

All:            May they know the deep peace of Christ.

Leader:      Loving God, we give you thanks for those who have had health restored and prayers answered.

All:            May they know the deep peace of Christ.

Leader:      We hold in your healing presence and peace those whose needs are not known to us…. And those whose names we do not know, but who are known to you and for whom we have been asked to pray. And we name in our hearts those who are close to us…

All:            May they know the deep peace of Christ.

Leader:     In this time of pandemic, Dear God, we hold before you all those who are fearful, those who are sick from the virus, all who are isolated. We pray for those who have lost their jobs and their livelihoods. We lift up the businesses, the non-profit organizations, the civic groups that are hurting. We pray for our cities, towns and communities. We remember the students and their teachers and families. And we especially remember those who are experiencing homelessness and the imprisoned.

All.            May they know the deep peace of Christ.

Leader:      May your wisdom, God, guide nurses, doctors, hospital personnel and those who work in every part of our Health systems across the world. We pray for those who work in the coast guard, armed forces, emergency services, and all first responders. And we pray for those who manufacture medicines and medical equipment, researchers and epidemiologists, and government decision-makers at every level.

All:            May they know the deep peace of Christ.

Leader:     Let us pray for the Church. May we find ways to continue the work of ministry and worship in this time of trial.

All:            May we know the deep peace of Christ.

At this time we will name those for whom we have specific requests. We will ask each worshipper, one at a time, to voice the names which are on their minds and in their hearts.

All:            Spirit of the living God, present with us now, enter us body, mind and spirit, and heal us of all that harms us, in Jesus’ name we pray.  Amen.

Leader:      God of compassion and love, we offer you all our suffering and pain. Give us strength to bear our weakness, healing even when there is no cure, peace in the midst of turmoil, and love to fill the space in our lives.  I ask the Holy Spirit to anoint you with God’s deep love and grace. Amen.

Leader:      For loving the world and knowing our names

All:            Thank you God

Leader:      For your strength that fills us and your love that heals us.

All:            Thank you God

Leader:      For your presence here with us today and for your hand that leads us into tomorrow

All:            Thank you God

Leader:      Come bless us, hold us, wrestle with us, warm us in your embrace

All:            For we are your people and you are our God.

Leader:      Glory to God from whom all love flows, glory to Jesus who showed his love through suffering, and glory to the Holy Spirit who brings light to the darkest places. Amen. 

Prayer of Confession: 

Merciful God,

For the things we have done that we regret, forgive us

For the things we have failed to do that we regret, forgive us

For all the times we have acted without love, forgive us

For all the times we have reacted without thought, forgive us

For all the times we have withdrawn care, forgive us

For all the times we have failed to forgive, forgive us

For hurtful words said and helpful words unsaid, forgive us

For unfinished tasks and unfulfilled hopes, God of all time, forgive us and help us to lay down our burden of regret.

Celebrant:   May God have mercy on you, pardon and deliver you from your sins, and give you time to amend your life.  Amen.

The Peace of the Lord   

Leader: The Peace of the Lord be always with you.

All:   And also with you. 

Leader: In the words our Savior taught us we pray

All:  Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your Name, 
        your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven.

Give us today our daily bread.  
 Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.

 Save us from the time of trial, and deliver us from evil.

 For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours,

 now and for ever. Amen.

The Blessing:

Celebrant:    In darkness and in light, as we sleep and when we wake, in rest and in work, in sadness and in joy, may we be aware of your holy presence and mindful of your faithful love.

         I bless you, in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Sacred Spirit, the One and the Three. May the light of the Trinity shine bright upon you, may the night call down peace, and when you come into the nearer presence of God may the door be open wide for you to go in to your joy.  

All:   Amen


Celebrant:    Go in the peace of the Three in One, who is ever present, and be of service to the world! Alleluia, Alleluia

All:   Thanks be to God! Alleluia, Alleluia

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