Friday, July 30, 2021

Daredevil Duck, Part 3

This is part of a series of posts that are a sermon I preached at Milton United Methodist Church on July 25.  The sermon was based on Ephesians 3:14-21 and John 6: 1-21.  

So you know what happens next.   Andrew, another disciple, brings a boy from the crowd to Jesus.  The boy has brought 5 barley loaves and two fish.  Maybe it’s his family’s lunch, - one reference I read said that it was “traveling food of the poor” - but whatever it is, he offers it to Jesus.  Interesting that Andrew doesn’t bring the boy and his lunch to Jesus because he thinks it will make a difference – he says in verse 9 “But what are they among so many people.”

What does Jesus do?  The order of his actions is important for us to see.  Jesus prepares the crowd to eat by telling the disciples to have the people sit down on the field in front of him, and then he takes the bread and gives thanks for it.  He gives thanks for a measly five loaves of bread.  It’s not nearly enough to feed more than 5000 people, but that isn’t what Jesus sees.  Jesus sees abundance, and he is grateful for it.  And he gives thanks for it.  And then – and then he feeds them all.

Think back to the church meeting we talked about a few minutes ago.  Why do you think we see scarcity instead of abundance?  I think we are like Daredevil Duck.  We are afraid.  We see how little we think we have, and we are afraid we will run out – that we ourselves will not have enough.  We see with eyes of scarcity because of fear.

Do you remember March of last year?  It was right when the pandemic was picking up steam.  The stock market reacted to the unpredictability – and to the fear the pandemic created - with large drops in value.  Whenever the S&P 500 index drops 7% from the previous day’s close, a “circuit breaker” is triggered – trading stops for 15 minutes to try to create a little calm in the system.  In March, the 7% circuit breaker was triggered four times.  Even one stop is pretty unusual – the breaker hadn’t tripped since 1998.  Four times is a lot.

At the same time, the leadership of the Foundation met together to talk about what was happening.  Remember, the Foundation’s assets are in the market.  We are invested for the long term, but even so, volatility like that is startling.  March happens to be the month when the Foundation’s Grant committee meets to award grant funds to churches and other ministries in our annual conference.  Most of our distributions are made at the direction of donors or depositors, but Foundation grants are made out of our operating account – we tithe our income to ministry.    Would the Foundation let go of 10s of thousands of dollars of operating income in the form of grants while the value of our funds were declining?  

The answer was yes.  

Not only that, but we made additional reserve funds available to the Bishop and cabinet for them to award to churches that needed help in the pandemic.

We are called to feed people.  We are called to be generous.  And the mission of the Foundation includes distributing funds to change the world. And we did.  We continue to do so.  Because that is who we are.  That is who WE are, together.  

Continued in next post

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Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Daredevil Duck, Part 2

This is part of a series of posts that are a sermon I preached at Milton United Methodist Church on July 25.  The sermon was based on Ephesians 3:14-21 and John 6: 1-21.  

As John 6 begins, Jesus is being followed by a large crowd of people.  They had seen how Jesus was healing the sick – they had seen these signs of God’s presence. So they followed Jesus.  He went up on a mountain and sat down with his disciples, and then they look around, and there are more than 5000 people gathered in front of them.  Gathered there in faith, motivated by what they had seen him do.

Jesus asks Philip, one of the disciples, a very important question – one that we need to hear, too.  “Where are we going to buy bread for these people to eat?”  

Why is that an important question?  Why does he even ask it?  These people had followed him, without his invitation, and gathered around while Jesus and those he travels with are sitting on the side of a mountain.  Why is it the disciples’ job to figure out how to feed all of these people?  

Why? Because it is.  Because Jesus says so.  Because this is why we are a church – to spread the good news of God.  When people are hungry, Jesus calls us to feed them – whether the bread they are searching for is made of flour and yeast, or the good news of life in Christ.  Jesus asks the question of Philip and of us because feeding God’s people is our job.  Job #1.

And what was Philips’s answer?  It’s in verse 7: "Six months' wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.”  It’s interesting to me – and a little ironic – that all of the 5000 people are gathered because they have seen what Jesus can do, but Philip doesn’t see that at all.  All he sees is how many hungry people there are and how few resources he believes the disciples have.  It is a perfect example of seeing ministry through the eyes of scarcity.  

Have you ever experienced that? I know I have.  Perhaps you, like me, have been in church committee meetings, discussing a ministry issue, when scarcity rears its head.  The problem is discussed, and it seems to always circle back to statements like: We don’t have enough resources to do what needs to be done.  We don’t have enough money, enough interested people, enough time.  Sometimes it seems like all we have are eyes that see scarcity – and eyes that only see scarcity don’t see Jesus in the room at all.  

Continued in next post

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Monday, July 26, 2021

Daredevil Duck, Part 1

The following few posts are a sermon I preached at Milton United Methodist Church on July 25.  The sermon was based on Ephesians 3:14-21 and John 6: 1-21.  The Nancy mentioned at the beginning is the pastor of the church.

Nancy told me that she was sharing a series of sermons with you related to story books.  So I want to start today by telling you the story of the Daredevil Duck.  Charlie Alder wrote the book – it’s wonderfully illustrated – I recommend it.

Anyway, the story is about Daredevil Duck – the bravest duck in the whole world – except that he wasn’t.  He WANTS to be brave, but sometimes he’s not. His fears are many – he’s afraid of the dark, of things that are too fluttery, too wet, or too high.  

Amazingly enough (for me, especially since he is afraid of things that are too wet) one day he was floating on a lake, dreaming about being brave, when a chatty mole, named Chatty Mole, said, “Hello!”  Daredevil Duck was so startled that he fell off of his float, got out of the lake, and ran to his tricycle – he peddled away as fast as he could, hoping to get away from the mole.  But he got lost, and ended up right where he started.  Right next to Chatty Mole, who said, “Hello” again.  The Chatty Mole’s balloon was stuck in a tree, and he could not get it down, so he asked the duck to help.   The mole had to do some convincing, but finally Daredevil Duck agreed to try to help.

The Daredevil climbed the tree, inched out on a branch, and jumped! As he jumped, he caught the balloon string, and floated through the air.  He had rescued the balloon, and he returned it to the mole. Chatty Mole’s gratitude and happiness – and his belief that Daredevil Duck actually WAS brave, changed the duck.  The idea of helping someone else motivated the Daredevil, and then the act of helping transformed him.  He began to believe he was brave.  And his life was changed from that point on.

The story reminds me of the scripture that we heard today from John.  In the John passage, we hear two miracle stories – stories that we might not always hear together.  The first one – the feeding story – is so important for us to hear that it is in all four gospels.  It is, in fact, the only miracle that appears in all four gospels.  The second story of the pair describes Jesus walking on water.  

In our story, Daredevil Duck was afraid – of almost everything.  As we talk about these two stories in John today, I hope you will listen for that theme – how often are we afraid? And how are we called to respond to our fear?

Continued in next post

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Friday, July 16, 2021

Perspectives: Cover?


Funny looking watermelons? Or the epitome of "don't judge a book by its cover"?


Wednesday, July 14, 2021

God in Quiet Sounds, Part 2

This post, and part 1, are based on a Sunday School lesson I taught on 1 Kings 19.
Verses 9-10:  At that place he came to a cave, and spent the night there.  Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 10 He answered, “I  have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant,  thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking  my life, to take it away.”
I think the question that God asks Elijah in the cave is interesting:  “What are you doing here,  Elijah?”   God’s messenger sent Elijah to the cave, so it doesn’t seem that God would ask what he is  doing there.  I wonder if it is a different kind of question.  What are you doing here, Elijah?  Could mean – why aren’t you doing what I’ve told you to do – the  mission I sent you to do, instead of running away?

Does God sometimes ask us what we are doing? Why we aren’t doing what we have been  called to do?
Verses 11-14
He said, “Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.”  Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces  before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was  not in the earthquake; 12 and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the  fire a sound of sheer silence. 13 When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out  and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, “What are you doing  here, Elijah?” 14 He answered, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the  Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the  sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.” 
Question:  Why do you think God chose to speak out of the quiet rather than the climatic (wind,  earthquake, fire) elements?
  • Fire, wind, and other natural elements were often objects of pagan worship – perhaps God  wanted the contrast between the prophets of Baal.
  • In the story that is right before this one, when Elijah is competing with the prophets of Baal, God  appears in fire.  Maybe Elijah would have expected God to come again in fire.  Perhaps there is  a point to be made that God comes in unexpected ways.
  • Maybe God knew Elijah needed theophany in the quiet, so that’s what He did.
Think back again to the pandemic.  What was your faith like at the time?  Was God near or  far?  Were there times when God came close to you in an unexpected way?
  1.  I couldn’t pray. Just couldn’t. And I remember a peace in that – it was OK.
  2.  For a lot of the time, I couldn’t be creative.  I love to make cards, but couldn’t.  Until the day I  realized I couldn’t pray, but I could sit down and make a few cards, and it felt great. It was a  strange way to find a peaceful presence of God.
Have you ever experienced God in the quiet?  Or in loud or dramatic ways? I remember one year we were finishing a retreat with the church youth at Spring Heights.  We were in a circle, having a closing prayer, about to board the vans.  Steve started praying and the wind blew around the circle.  It was a quiet reminder of the presence of God

How can we discern God’s voice in difficult and uncertain times?


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Monday, July 12, 2021

God in Quiet Sounds, Part 1

This post, and part 2, are based on a Sunday School lesson I taught on 1 Kings 19.

As I was reading the lesson, I was reminded of what it was like a little more than a year ago,  at the beginning of the pandemic.  Think back with me.
  1. If you watched the news at the time, there might have been a  count of the people who had died  so far, or were sick so far.  It was small compared to now, but at the time, it seemed large.
  2. I remember being told not to gather in groups of more than 25 or so, then 10 or so, and then to  just stay home.
  3. I remember going out early on Saturday mornings to the grocery store.  Steve and I would get  up at around 7:00 and go shopping, thinking that there would be fewer people there, and that  there might be more food.  I remember toilet paper shortages, and one Saturday when the only  meet seemed to be shaved steak. I remember taking Josh grocery shopping when he was home  for spring break – and we could find ramen noodles.  There were lots of empty shelves.
  4. I remember the stock market dropping – some days so fast that they would stop trading.
What do you remember?

What did it feel like? How did you react emotionally?
  1. I couldn’t watch the news.  If we were, I would feel anxiety building, and I would have to  physically leave the space.
  2. I remember anxiety and grief – alternating.  Tension headaches.
  3. I remember when there were times when it was hard to sleep
I want to bring this to mind as we look at the scripture for the day, which is 1 Kings 19:9-18

The passage is about the prophet Elijah.  He is a prophet in the Northern Kingdom, during the reign of  Ahab and Jezebel.  Altars are being torn down, and prophets of God are being killed.  Elizah is the only remaining one.  He confronts Ahab and the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel.  It’s a bloody scene –  read it in Chapter 18.  It ends with the death of 450 prophets of Baal and Jezebel threatening to kill  Elijah.  

Elijah flees and goes by himself into the wilderness.  He is frightened.
Verses 4-8 of 1 Kings 19
4 But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a solitary  broom tree. He asked that he might die: “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no  better than my ancestors.” 5 Then he lay down under the broom tree and fell asleep. Suddenly an angel  touched him and said to him, “Get up and eat.” 6 He looked, and there at his head was a cake baked  on hot stones, and a jar of water. He ate and drank, and lay down again. 7 The angel of the Lord came  a second time, touched him, and said, “Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for  you.” 8 He got up, and ate and drank; then he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty  nights to Horeb the mount of God.

What does this passage tell you about the nature of God?  For me, it reminds me that God is caring, not judgmental.  And that God is a God who sends us forth.

Have you ever felt God’s presence through the gift of a meal?  I remember when my mother-in-law died.  Even though she and my father-in-law were not members of our church, the church prepared a bereavement meal for all who attended the funeral.  I think it was God's presence for all of us through a meal.

Have you ever felt the presence of God through someone else – a messenger?

To be continued in the next post.


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Friday, July 09, 2021

Perspectives: Lens Ball

 Looking through the lens ball, the world turns upside down.  Do we always assume our view is right?


Wednesday, July 07, 2021

Book Review: From Pew to Pulpit


Information about the book
Clifton F. Guthrie.  From Pew to Pulpit: A Beginner's Guide to Preaching.  Abingdon Press, Nashville, TN, 2005.  (Cokesbury/Amazon)

The book is written to provide guidance for lay persons to who are venturing, as the title says, from pew to pulpit in order to preach.  From Amazon:  "Written with the needs of those for whom preaching is not their sole or primary occupation in mind, it begins by emphasizing what every preacher brings to the pulpit: an idea of what makes a sermon particularly moving or memorable to them. From there the book moves into short chapters on choosing an appropriate biblical text or sermon topic, learning how to listen to one's first impressions of what a text means, moving from text or topic to the sermon itself while keeping the listeners needs firmly in mind, making thorough and engaging use of stories in the sermon, and delivering with passion and conviction. The book concludes with helpful suggestions for resources, including Bibles, commentaries, other print resources and websites."

As the Summary describes, this is a practical book that leads a lay person through a process of developing, delivering, and evaluating a sermon.  I found it to be encouraging to lay person, respecting their gifts and experiences.  The bulk of the book outlines steps to take to develop a sermon from a scripture reference.  I especially liked its approach to study of scripture and the author's on focusing on a message.  I used the book as one of the texts for our Conference CLM Course.

Posts about book

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Monday, July 05, 2021

Parker the Bear

Once upon a time there lived a very small bear.  One clear morning, he found himself on a shelf in what he later learned was a gift shop at Great Smoking Mountain National Park.  The trek there had been long and arduous, and he had felt a little sick and a whole lot scared..  He had been packed in boxes with other bears - big ones that elbowed him out of the way, and small ones that were as frightened as he was.  When his box was unceremoniously dropped on the floor, he quickly ducked his head to avoid the sharp box opener that ripped through the tape keeping the box closed.  The young college-aged clerk grabbed handfuls of his companions and pulled them out of the box - he kept doing that until it was finally the bear's turn to be lifted up and dumped on a shelf with the other stuffed animals.  What would happen next?  Is this where he would be forever?

Later that day, a very tall man and a short woman with dark hair walked by his shelf.  They stopped and looked at all of the stuffed animals.  He knew he wasn't very special, that he looked just like the other small bears, but he liked these two people, and he hoped they noticed him.  Amazingly, the woman picked him up.  "Isn't he cute?: she told the man.  The bear's heart dropped when she sat him gently back on the shelf, and walked away.  He didn't know why, but he felt his heart break a little.  "Come back!" he thought.

And then they did.  The woman picked him up again, and said, "Let's get him.  We'll take him with us, and take pictures with him in the park..

"Sounds good,"  said the man.

"Do you like this one?"  she asked.  Please, please please like me! the bear thought.

"Yes, he has personality."  The bear's heart leapt.  He had personality!  He didn't know what that meant, but he was happy about it.

The college kid scanned the bear's tag at the check-out counter, and dropped him into a plastic bag.  The world began to bounce as he was carried out of the store and outside.  Outside!

The next thing he knew, the woman had pulled him out of the bag and sat him in a planter.  She took his picture with a large camera and with her phone.  When the man walked up, she said, "I think his name is Parker.  Parker the Bear.  Because he's from a national park."

He had a name!  He had personality (whatever that was)!  He was outside!

They walked to the car, and the woman sat him on the dashboard.  Full of excitement, he watched the trees go by as they drove.  There was sunshine, and shadows, Everything was green and beautiful.  That very day, he stood on the Appalachian Trail, he climbed a mountain, and he saw a hotel room for the first time ever.  He sat with the couple by the pool that evening, while the woman colored what she called card fronts, and the man listened to music.  They talked to each other, and seemed to be very close.  

He found out as he listened to them, that their names were Steve (the tall one) and Kim (the short one).  A day or two before, they had been at the beach, but had had to leave quickly because  a hurricane was coming to shore.  He didn't know what that was, but it sounded large and mean.  They had been disappointed to "lose their beach vacation" as Kim said, but he was happy they had.  He had been adopted!

In the couple of years after that momentous day, he had traveled with them everywhere, and he was in countless pictures.  He saw more of Tennessee, a whole lot of West Virginia, lighthouses in Ohio.  He flew on a plane to Orlando, and got to see where Mickey Mouse lives.  He went to a place called Tuscaloosa several times, and learned to say "Roll Tide!" with Steve.  A time came when there wasn't much travel, but he still went with Kim and Steve to what they called State Parks on day trips, walking on beautiful paths with them.  One summer, he road in a caravan of cars to move their son Josh to a place called Henderson.  Along they way, he saw mountains, deserts, prairies, windmills and fields.  He got to ride in the moving van with Steve, and in the regular van with Kim.  A cat named Percy, who seemed nicer than the cat who lived in their house (Sprocket) came with them on the long journey.  The next year, he road in another caravan, moving their other son to Lexington.  It was a shorter trip, but just as exciting (this time with two cats). 

When they were home, he lived in a tree - he was pretty sure it wasn't a real tree - high in the air.  He was glad he was high up because the cat who lived there looked like he could eat Parker.  

His heart was full.  He loved Kim and Steve, and he thinks they love him, too.  He helped them when they were  a little sad because, they said, he reminded them to have fun.  He hadn't felt special at all on the day he met them, but now he had a name, he had personality, and went with them almost everywhere they traveled.  He even liked the cat from a distance.  He was home and loved.  He was Parker the Bear.


Friday, July 02, 2021

Perspectives: Noticing more

During the pandemic, when we were home more than usual, I really noticed the mocking birds.  We must have had a nest somewhere in our yard.  At one point, there were several juvenile birds in our back yard.

Did you notice more in nature during the pandemic?


Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Preaching Presentation Hints

I'm teaching the Conference CLM class, and we just finished a month talking about preaching.  What follows are the 10 preaching presentation hints I shared with the class based on my own experience (so, grain of salt time)

  1. It is the great debate – what to use in the form of notes for your sermon.  I think the answer is that you have to use what works best for you.  Just remember that the sermon is not a reading – it is a speech.  It is talking.  And it is relationship building with people.  Don’t sacrifice the connection because you are too busy reading from a manuscript, or searching through your notes.
  2. That said – the best way to accomplish that is to practice ahead of time.  Out loud.  If you are comfortable, with someone to listen to you.  Saying it out loud means that you will hear what you are saying and catch those things that don’t flow well, or don’t make sense.  Someone else can help you with that, too.  Saying it out loud means that you will be more familiar with it – more confident in it. Saying it out loud means that you can time it. 
  3. Speaking of timing, honor the time that you have been given. 
  4. Ask someone to watch you preach.  Are there any strange habits you have?  My church has a pulpit that extends down the sides, so that when you preach, you are in a U shaped area.  I caught myself leaning on the sides and hunching my shoulders.  Be aware of what your body is doing when you preach and don’t let it be a distraction. 
  5. If you are using notes at a pulpit, turn the pages in a way that no one sees them move.  Just pull them across rather than turning them like a book.
  6. Speak more slowly than you think you should.  Speak more clearly than you might usually.  Aim your voice to the people who are listening.  Pause when you need to.
  7. If there is a microphone, use it.  Even if you think you are loud enough, use the microphone.  Don’t ask if everyone can hear you without it, because those who can’t, won’t tell you.  There will be those who cannot hear you.  Use the microphone.    If microphones make you uncomfortable, practice with one until you aren’t any more.  I am serious about this.  Use the microphone.
  8. Make eye contact.  Or at least look where the people are. 
  9. Have water available.
  10. Stop when you are finished.  Don’t keep going.  End.  And be done.

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Monday, June 28, 2021

Why Preach?

What is the purpose of preaching? I think anyone you ask would have a different answer to that question.  Preaching is such a centering point of our worship experiences, that asking its purpose is an important question.  I think it is a question we need to ask, because the "why” question is always important.  So, why preach?  What is the “so that” of preaching?

Fred Craddock was a Professor of Preaching at Candler School of Theology at Emery University in Atlanta.  His definition is “Preaching is making the revelation of God present and appropriate to hearers.”  The author of From Pew to Pulpit, Clifton F. Guthrie, said in his book: “Aim rather that your preaching will have a cumulative effect on the faithfulness of your hearers.  Trying to change or convert them all at once can be manipulative, and conversion really God’s business, anyway.”  Reading that, I can conclude that one of the purposes of preaching is to have a ‘cumulative effect on faithfulness.’  In Preaching Grace, Kennon L. Callahan says that most sermons that are preached are helpful, and after reading his book, I think he would say that the main purpose of preaching is to help the listeners.  
“Most preaching shares help and hope.  People discover the love of God.  Grudges and resentments no longer have power over them. Forgiveness and reconciliation come.  Anxiety and fear lesson. Anger and rage become strangers.  Serenity and peace enter their lives.  Compassion and community become good friends.  Lives are richer and fuller.” 
It’s a tall order – but be sure to see it in parallel with what Guthrie said – a cumulative effect on faith.  We don’t have to – and are not able to – accomplish everything Callahan says in a single sermon.  Still, preaching is meant to be helpful.  In fact, a question you can ask yourself as you prepare a sermon – How will this be helpful for people?

The purpose of your preaching and my preaching is to be a means of God’s grace to enter into our lives.  What I say when I preach (or any other time) does not really have the power to transform people’s lives.  That isn’t to say that words aren’t powerful – they certainly are – they can heal or hurt, encourage or diminish.  But, God’s work is God’s  work, and none of us is God.  Preaching is a means of grace by which others can come to know God, through God’s action, through us as preachers.  Rest in that.  Find peace and joy in that.  What happens after the words are spoken – in the air between you and your listeners – is shaped by God.  You may never know the effect of your preaching – you should never assume that it has no effect just because you don’t know what it is.  What you are doing when you preach is sacred.

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Friday, June 25, 2021

Frog in Hand



Thursday, June 24, 2021

Existing for Someone Else

Our CLM Class is reading Faith Sharing Congregations by  Roger K. Swanson and Shirley F. Clement.  Have you ever thought of the unchurched as homeless? 

What does it mean to have a home.  Home is where you belong.  Home is where you are safe.  Home is, hopefully, where there are people who care for you.  "Everybody wants to go where someone knows your name."  This quote from Swanson and Clement's book started me thinking about hospitality in a different way.  A few thoughts:
  1. What about those who have been joining us online.  Do they feel like they have found a home?  How do we make it home for them?  How do we connect? How do we offer hospitality?  How do we involve them in ministry?
  2. What about those who we say we are trying to reach?  What are we doing to reach them?  Would our plans and actions change if we thought of them as "Homeless."  Would ilt add to our urgency?
  3. What about those who join us in the church building?  How do we welcome the stranger - the stranger who is homeless?

Someone asked the other day if those who are joining a particular church online are contributing to the church financially.  The answer was no.  Does that change how we offer a home to the homeless?

If we are unique as an organization - in that we exist not for ourselves but instead for those who are not part of us, then how does that change or enhance our answers to these questions?  How do we live into the idea that we exist to serve others? Would that change the question about financial support? Would it change the priority of our ministries?  

Lots of questions.

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