Finding Greatness In Discipleship

Hi friends!  Here is my sermon from this morning.  If you are preaching on this text and looking for a children’s sermon, I had all the kids wear crowns and we talked about what we would do if we were kings and queens and princes and princesses and then I talked about how Jesus said if we want to be great that we first have to serve others.  I charged the kids (and later the adults) to do at least one thing to serve others this week.

Enjoy!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
February 17, 2019

Mark 10:32-45

Finding Greatness In Discipleship

Okay, guys I had a moment this week.

I was having lunch with a friend of mine at Patriot Place and when we walked out of the restaurant, she said that she was going to go to Bath and Body Works to buy some soap.  I told her I was going to go with her, because I wanted to smell the new aromatherapy scents, but that I was not going to buy anything because – between by house and my office – I currently have plenty of aromatherapy lotion options in my life.

See exhibit A.

And also – for those of you who are keeping track – I literally just last weekend, preached a sermon about the stuff in our lives and how perhaps maybe it might not be a bad thing to either weed out the stuff we have or think twice before we acquire more stuff.

Right?

This is what I said last week:

When we stop and ask ourselves if we really need either what we are thinking of purchasing or getting rid of, we are giving ourselves the opportunity to calibrate our priorities.

What really matters?

The stuff we have accumulated?  The stuff we want?  The stuff our consumerist society is telling us we need?  The stuff somebody else has that we are now coveting?

Or our relationship with God?  Our faith?  Our ability to serve others?  The kingdom of God that we have the capacity to create right here on earth?

So there I was at Bath and Body Works, meandering through the aromatherapy section.

And then the saleswoman came up to me:

Just so you know, all of the lotions in the aromatherapy line are $6 today.

$6.

Y’all, they are usually $13.50.

So let me tell you about the moment when I came very close to needing an extra long time of confession this morning.

I did not buy the lotion. And, if I am being very honest with you all, I did not buy the lotion not because I thought rationally about the fact that I already have five bottles of the stuff and should use those before I get more, but mostly because there was a little voice in my head that said, you know, you probably should not buy something you do not actually need four days after you told your congregation not to do the same thing.

And also three days before you have to face them again.

So I did not buy the lotion.

Even though I really wanted to.

Sometimes even the preacher misses her own point.

In this morning’s scripture reading from the Gospel of Mark, James and John – the sons of Zebedee – kind of miss the point as well.

Now, for the sake of understanding the Gospel as a whole (since that is one of the reasons we are doing this Year of Mark), let us familiarize ourselves with who these men are.  They are disciples.  We are introduced to James and John very early on in the Gospel of Mar, in the first chapter.  They are fishermen-turned-disciples whom Jesus calls to follow him when they are fishing on the Sea of Galilee with their father, Zebedee in the first chapter of Mark.  Jesus later appoints them, in chapter three, alongside ten others, to proclaim the message and have the authority to cast out demons.

In addition to all of the miracles and healings and teachings that all of the disciples witness in the Gospel of Mark, James and John are two of the three disciples whom Jesus allows to enter with him into the house of the leader of the synagogue, where the man’s daughter is presumed to be dead, but is restored to life.  They are also two of the three disciples who bear witness to Jesus’ transfiguration, where he appears on a mountain with Elijah and Moses. We will hear that story in two weeks, on Mardi Gras.

So I guess you could say that these brothers kind of have a leg up (if you would call it that) going into this conversation with Jesus.  But here is where they miss the point.  For the third time, Jesus foretells his death and resurrection.  He tells the disciples that they are going to Jerusalem, where the Son of Man is going to be handed over to the chief priests and scribes and where he will be put to death and then three days later he will rise again.

And instead of asking, perhaps, how they can prepare themselves for this moment or what this might mean for this ministry they have been commissioned into, James and John say to Jesus, okay, well you just make sure that we are at your right and left hand, in all your glory.

So here you have Jesus saying, you guys need to pay attention, because your whole world is about to be turned upside down.  Then you have James and John saying, okay, well we want to make sure we are on top when all of that happens.

And honestly, I could criticize James and John for missing Jesus’ point that it is not about gaining power, but about Jesus’ ministry and this kingdom they are creating, but then I almost bought a sixth bottle of hand lotion that I did not need this week, so I think one moral of the story is that we all have moments in our faith journey where we miss the point.

So what is the point?

Jesus says this is not about power, but about discipleship; it is about service.

Whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all.  For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve.  For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many. Mark 10:43-45

For Jesus, the sense of urgency in these words comes from the fact that he knows what is going to happen in Jerusalem.  Later on, for the writers of the Gospel, the sense of urgency in these words came from the fact that Christians were facing persecution.  So you can see why it was so important that the disciples – and later on, the earliest Christians – to not miss the point that Christianity is about humble service and not about climbing to the top.  The stakes were really high; people’s lives were at stake.

I would argue that it is equally important for us today for us not to miss the point that Christianity is not about power and about trying to climb to the top and declare ourselves glorified; it is about humble servanthood.  It is about helping others.  It is about putting the needs of others before the wants and the desires of yourself. It is about being willing to get your hands dirty and do the hard work that Jesus says is required to be great.

It is hard, because we live in a country where, most of the time, we cannot even conceptualize our own privilege; and we are surrounded by this narrative of The American Dream and gaining more and climbing the ladder and that that is what it means to be great.

It is funny (well, not funny haha, but funny ironic) because this narrative even seeps into our church. How do we measure greatness in the church?  We quantify it with numbers:  Do we have more people in worship?  How many new members did we bring in?  How much money did we raise?

And Jesus says, “Whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant.”

Greatness is found in servanthood; it is found in service to God and in service to others.  Greatness is not found in how much money we have or how powerful we are or how important we think we are; greatness is found in what we are doing to help others and to make this world a better place. Greatness is found in what we are doing to spread the Gospel and to create the Kingdom of God here on earth. Greatness is found when we shine God’s light into the darkness of the world and when we share God’s love in real and tangible ways so that hate and evil do not win.  Greatness is found when we humble ourselves; when we become the hands and the feet and the face and the voice of Christ.

Not when we glorify ourselves.

I was working on my sermon on Friday and my sister texted me and told me there was an active shooter in Illinois, so I opened CNN to see if there were any updates and, I have to be honest, I got a lot more news than I wanted to know.

Our world is broken.

Our world so desperately needs the Gospel to not only be proclaimed, but to be acted out in real and profound and, yes, sometimes hard ways.

Into every generation, Christians are called to do just this.  We are called to do just this.  We are called to be servants, to enact the Gospel and to try to make this world a better place.

And are we always going to get it right the first time?  No, of course not.  Sometimes we will miss the point and have to be reminded and try again; the disciples did then and we will again, today.  But this is one of the reasons that we gather, as a community of faith; so that we can hold one another accountable.  This is why we do church.

So that we can try again. So we can strengthen our faith. So we can learn what it means to be Christ’s disciples.

This morning, I charge you with the same thing Jesus is charging the disciples with:  Go out and serve others.  Be in the presence of Christ by living out the Gospel and by making the world a better place.  Find greatness in discipleship.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

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When The Gospel Sparks Joy

Hi friends!  Here is my sermon from this past Sunday, February 10th.  For the first time, Bruce said to me after church, “I like the whole Year of Mark thing and I get why we are doing it, but I kind of miss the Old Testament.”   A year is definitely a long time to preach through one book!  I’m already starting to think about what I want to do next.  Any favorite sermon series?  Things you’d like to hear my thoughts on?

Enjoy!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
February 10, 2019

Mark 10:17-31

When The Gospel Sparks Joy

Marie Kondo probably loves this passage.

For those of you who do not know, Marie Kondo is an organizing consultant who has written several books and now has a very popular show on Netflix called, “Tidying Up With Marie Kondo.”  Her whole theory surrounding organizing has to do with whether or not your things spark joy in you and so her method involves you taking out all of your stuff, deciding what brings you joy and getting rid of the rest.

This method has led to many conversations in my house that end with, “But my fishing rods bring me joy!”

So I will get back to why I think she might appreciate what Jesus is saying but let’s back up for one minute.  We know from last week that Jesus is traveling to Judea. We have passed the halfway point the Gospel of Mark (we took our midterm exam a few weeks ago) and so now the stakes are higher, right?  The cross is on the horizon.  This message about the Kingdom of God is growing increasingly relevant, critical and challenging for people.

Take the man in this morning’s scripture, for example.  He runs up to Jesus and kneels before him and asks him what he must do to inherit eternal life.  After Jesus reminds him of the commandments, the man affirms that he has followed these commandments since he was a young boy.

But then Jesus says there is more:

You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.[1]

In other words, Jesus is saying that you can follow all of the commandments, but if you really want to inherit eternal life, you have to get rid of your stuff.

You can understand why I think Marie Kondo probably appreciates this story.

Alas, though, Jesus is not talking about minimalism here; Jesus is talking about the Kingdom of God.

Jesus goes on to further explain this to his disciples:

How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God![2]

Then he offered an outlandish metaphor:

It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.[3]

Now, for those of you currently listing off all of the things in your head that you really do not want to get rid of in order to get into heaven, know that you are in good company.  Jesus’ words were not exactly well-received.  The rich man?  Well, scripture says this makes him sad and he walks away.

When [the man] heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.[4]

The disciples seem a little frustrated. Peter says to Jesus:

Look, we have left everything and followed you.[5]

It is almost as if he is saying, Jesus what more do you want from us?

I suppose we could ask that same question today. We are here, are we not?  We come to church, we participate in the life of the community, we pledge our money, we volunteer our time, we care for one another, we donate to collections taken for those less fortunate than us and we even give MORE money when our team wins the Super Bowl!

What more does Jesus want of us?  Can’t we at least keep our stuff?  I like my shoes!

There are some really important lessons in this passage about the kingdom of God and how we live out our faith, lessons that go beyond de-cluttering.  The first lesson is something that we sometimes miss because it is at the very beginning of Jesus’ exchange with the man (and by the end, we might be too focused on getting rid of our stuff) and it is that this is about God and not about people or even about stuff.

The man says to Jesus, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” and right off the bat, Jesus knows he is missing the point.  Jesus answered, “Why do you call me good?  No one is good but God alone.”[6]

In other words, our focus and priority should always be first on God.

Do you remember the children’s sermon I did a few years ago where I talked about how we should prioritize our lives?  I had one tennis ball, a few golf balls, a handful of rocks and sand and tried to fit it all into a jar.  I explained that the tennis ball represented God, the golf balls represented the important things in your life, the rocks represented the quasi-important things in your life and the sand represented the unimportant things in your life.  If you try to fit everything into the jar but start by adding the sand – the unimportant things in your life – you cannot fit everything in.  But if you start by adding the tennis ball, then the golf balls, then the rocks and then the sand, everything fits perfectly.

The same is true here.  God should alwaysbe our first priority; even Jesus says, don’t call megood, God is good!  First and foremost, when we talk about the kingdom of God, we need to glorify God.  We need to remember that God is good!  We need to think about the ways that God has blessed our lives and touched us with grace.  When we think about our lives and our faith, we need to put God at the center; when we think about the church, we need to remember why we gather in the first place; when we enter into relationships with other people, we do so remembering that they are holy and sacred covenants.

Jesus says:

No one is good but God alone.[7]

This is what it means to enter the kingdom of God.

The second lesson in this passage is that the kingdom of God is not about rules that we are supposed to follow along a clear trajectory to get to heaven, but about our core values and who we are as human beings and the world we are creating here.  The man in this story is very proud of himself for following the commandments in his life – he even added that he had kept these commandments since he was a young boy; but Jesus says there is more to it than that. Jesus says that it is not just about following the commandments, but about how we live our lives and the intentions behind every decisions we make.

And also – are we supposed to be concerned with what is to come or what is happening now?  I do not know if this was intentional or not, but the man asks Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life (meaning, what do I need to do here to make sure I can get into heaven after I die) and Jesus uses this exchange as an opportunity to then teach the disciples about entering the kingdom of God and I do not think he necessarily just meant heaven; I think he meant the kingdom we are creating here one earth.

Because otherwise, what is the point?  Are we just supposed to aimlessly follow rules so we can get to heaven?  Or are we supposed to live our lives with meaning and purpose and intention so we can both strengthen our faith and also serve others in the Body of Christ?

This is not just about the commandments; this is about the kingdom.

And here is where the stuff comes in.

The third lesson I am drawing out of this passage comes back to Marie Kondo.

Now, if you want to prooftext and nitpick Jesus’ words here, in this particular translation of this particular Gospel’s telling of this exchange between Jesus and the rich man, Jesus does not tell the man he had to sell all off his stuff; he says, “go, sell what you own,” which I guess technically could mean some of your stuff.

(Although there are other accounts where Jesus says to sell everything, so I would not recommend avenue of exegesis.)

However.

I do think this Marie Kondo method of, does this item spark joy in my life, can actually give us a really good starting point when we think about the stuff we own and are surrounded by and whether or not it distracts us from our core values or hinders our ability to deepen our relationship with God, strengthen our faith and serve others.

And I think this is sort of twofold; first of all, the less money we are spending on our own stuff, the more we have to give to others.  But even more than that, when we stop and ask ourselves if we really need either what we are thinking of purchasing or getting rid of, we are giving ourselves the opportunity to calibrate our priorities.

What really matters?

The stuff we have accumulated?  The stuff we want?  The stuff our consumerist society is telling us we need?  The stuff somebody else has that we are now coveting?

Or our relationship with God?  Our faith?  Our ability to serve others?  The kingdom of God that we have the capacity to create right here on earth?

The metaphor about trying to get a camel through the eye of a needle is ridiculous and it is ridiculous because it is meant to make us think and, quite frankly, it is meant to make us a little bit uncomfortable.

Because it is meant to make us pause and reflect and think about what we truly need to be fulfilled, to strengthen our faith and to enter the kingdom of God.

So what does it take?  What does it take to enter the kingdom of God?  What is Jesus asking us to do?  How are we going to follow through?  Are we even going to come close to living up to the grace that has been given to us?

As you think about these questions, you might think that you are being asked to do the impossible; that there is no way you can give away all your stuff in order to follow Jesus and create the kingdom here. Not today, Satan!, right?  Stay away from my shoes!

It is okay to feel this way, to be uncomfortable with what you are being asked to do.  But our faith is supposed to make us uncomfortable; because that is when real transformation happens, the kind that can change the world and bring the kingdom of God here, in our midst.

And so as you leave church today and reflect on these exchanges between Jesus and the man and Jesus and the disciples, I want to encourage you to give this back to God.

After the camel and the needle metaphor, the disciples are so confused as to who would even qualify to get into heaven at this point and do you know what Jesus said?

For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.

For God, all things are possible.

We were not meant to figure this all out by ourselves.  And so as we try to prioritize God in our lives, as we look at the kingdom of God as something that is happening and that we can help create here, in our own lives and as we start to weed through some of our own stuff and try to decide what we really need, we need to ask God to help us; to open our eyes, our ears our minds and our hearts.

For God, all things are possible.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

***

[1]Mark 10:21, NRSV
[2]Mark 10:23, NRSV
[3]Mark 10:25, NRSV
[4]Mark 10:22, NRSV
[5]Mark 10:28, NRSV
[6]Mark 10:17-18, NRSV
[7]Mark 10:18, NRSV

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To Bless The Vulnerable

Hi friends! Sorry I didn’t get to post this on Sunday – we hosted an impromptu Super Bowl Party (although does anyone follow Young House Love on instagram? Apparently you’re supposed to call it “the big game” because “super bowl” is under copyright – who knew?) and I also figured no one would be listening to my sermon during the Super Bowl anyway – ha!

But on that note – the RCC Super Bowl Challenge is on! I always tell the church that, if the Patriots win, Bruce and I would match, dollar for point, the total number of points the Patriots scored and donate the money to the church. At halftime (when the score was 3-0) our Financial Secretary texted me and said, “The church isn’t going to make any money.”

Granted, the Patriots helped us out a little bit more in the second half, but the challenge has sort of become a free-for-all – people are multiplying the number of points scored by the number of members in their household, by the number of Super Bowls Tom Brady has won, by the MVPs number or just arbitrarily giving me $20 because “that’s what I have in my wallet.” We also have a couple of Patriots-haters that are donating $3 for the Rams – ha!

So if you’d like to join in on the fun, you can send cash or a check to:

Rehoboth Congregational Church
P.O. Box 325
Rehoboth, MA 02769

Write “Super Bowl Challenge” in the memo line and let us know what your challenge is!

Here is my sermon from Sunday. Kind of a tough passage to preach on, but a really good message when you do the research and look at what Jesus is talking about.

Enjoy!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
February 3, 2019

Mark 10:1-16

To Bless The Vulnerable

Last Monday, some of my colleagues asked me if I was enjoying the Year of Mark.  I told them that I liked the linear trajectory of preaching through the gospel, start to finish, and that it was giving me the opportunity to preach stories that I sometimes overlooked in the lectionary.

One of them asked, “Did your congregation enjoy the whole year-long idea?”

I responded, “They seem to.  They like that it is a continuative narrative.”  And then I added, “I think they also like watching me squirm through some of the harder stories to preach on,” and we all had a good laugh about the time I preached on John’s beheading the same day there were several guests in worship for a baptism.

Fast forward to Tuesday morning and I was putting together the bulletin for this morning’s worship service.  I opened up my worship planning google doc to see what the scripture was and then plugged it into the online bible browser I use. And there is was, in big bold letters: Teaching about Divorce.

You can imagine the thoughts that went through my head.

I took a photo of the scripture and posted it on my Instagram story with the caption, “Come to church on Sunday and watch me squirm while I try to preach on divorce.”

A few hours later I received a direct message from a friend of mine from seminary who shared with me that he had preached on this same passage a few months ago and that, even though he was really nervous, several people said it was the best sermon he had ever delivered.  We went back and forth for a little bit and I shared that one of the things I was most nervous about was that I was going to lose people before I even started preaching; that people would read or hear this scripture and feel anxious about what I was going to say before I said anything at all.

Lance said he understand; that he actually started with a long disclaimer and just asked people to trust him.

So this morning, I am going to ask you the same thing – please trust me.  I am not going to preach about our marriages or divorce today– because that is not what this passage is about.  I am going to talk about the context that Jesus was speaking in and the greater implications of his words and his teachings.

Okay – deep breath, everyone.  Let’s talk about context.

Jesus did not bring up the subject of marriage and divorce by himself; this was a direct answer to a question he was asked by the Pharisees.  Jesus had traveled to Judea and was teaching a crowd that had gathered around him when a group of Pharisees asked him, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”

Jesus answered their question with a question, “What did Moses command you?” and the Pharisees responded, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her.”

So let’s talk about Moses for a second:  You all know him, right?  As a baby, to save his life, his mother put him in a basket and sent him floating down the Nile River, where he was rescued by Pharaoh’s daughter.  Later in life, he saw God in a burning bush, brought the Hebrew people out of Egypt, parted the Red Sea and then issued the Ten Commandments from God.

There is obviously more to the story than this; the Books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy – the second, third, fourth and fifth books in the bible (in the Old Testament) – contain this Mosaic narrative that is filled with laws, commandments and practices about how we should live our lives.

Some of them are easier to follow than others (but that is a sermon for another day).

The Pharisees, when they asked Jesus about divorce in this passage from the Gospel of Mark, were making a very specific reference to a law given by Moses in Deuteronomy 24:1-4.  Here is what that passage says:

Suppose a man enters into marriage with a woman, but she does not please him because he finds something objectionable about her, and so he writes her a certificate of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house; she then leaves his house and goes off to become another man’s wife. Then suppose the second man dislikes her, writes her a bill of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house (or the second man who married her dies); her first husband, who sent her away, is not permitted to take her again to be his wife after she has been defiled; for that would be abhorrent to the Lord, and you shall not bring guilt on the land that the Lord your God is giving you as a possession.[1]

In other words, men were allowed to divorce their wives for no other reason than they found “something objectionable about her.” And if that woman remarried, but then that man found something objectionable about her and divorced her, her first husband was not allowed to remarry her because she had been defiled.

You have to remember that only in very exceptional cases were women allowed to initiate divorce; divorce was, culturally and legally, left to a man’s discretion.

And you also have to remember that women had nothing; they were not educated, they could not purchase property of their own, they had no power.  If a man divorced his wife, for no other reason than he found “something objectionable about her” then she had nothing.

No home.  No possessions.  No way to sustain her life.

Let’s bring it back to Jesus and this morning’s teaching on divorce.  The Pharisees referenced this law when they asked Jesus if it was lawful for a man to divorce his wife.

And Jesus said, no.

This was not just about divorce; this was about whether or not it was okay for a man to abandon someone who was vulnerable.

And Jesus said, no, it is not okay.

It is not a coincidence that this narrative and lesson about divorce stands in conjunction with Jesus welcoming children into his midst and blessing them.  Because they, too, had no power.  They, too, were vulnerable.  They, too, could not just be abandoned.

The scary thing about this passage is that it can be used to manipulate people (both women and men) to stay in marriages that they should not be in.  Scripture is a very powerful thing.  When we gather for worship or bible study or even when we read scripture on our own, we have to remember that with this power comes great responsibility; the responsibility to see and understand and question and wrestle with the big picture.

And believe me when I say that I am not downplaying the importance of the covenant of marriage.  But I really do not think that was Jesus’ point.  I think when Jesus was teaching in Judea, he was talking much more broadly about covenant; about our covenant with God and with the human beings we do life with.  It is our responsibility to reach out to the marginalized, the lift up the vulnerable and to search every corner of this earth for the abandoned.  As Christians, we are called to affirm the powerless and hear the voiceless.

Jesus said we are called to leave no one behind – not women, not children.  If we are lucky enough to be born into this world with privilege then we are to, like he did when he welcomed those little children into his arms, bless those who stand on the margins.

When two people get married, we talk about them entering into the covenant of marriage; but covenants are not just about marriage.  Covenants are two-way agreements where both parties assume some sort of obligation.  God made covenants with us – with all of humanity – and in those covenants, God not only made promises to us, but, in upholding our end of the covenant, we also made promises to God; promises to be faithful to him and to care for this world and for one another.

When Jesus was talking to the Pharisees, he identified the vulnerable groups of people in his midst – women and children. This morning, I ask you to think about this – who are the vulnerable among us?

And then ask yourself this question – how can I bless them?

This passage is about covenant; the covenant we stand in with God and the covenant we stand in with our Brothers and Sisters in Christ.  Today we need to remember that with this covenant comes responsibility; the responsibility to look beyond ourselves, to serve others and to lift up those in need.

We are so very blessed; I know we all face challenges on a daily basis and I am not saying that life is easy or anything, but we live in a time and in a place where we are safe, we have freedoms, we have homes that are warm and keep us sheltered from this blistering cold that we experienced this week, we have access to clean drinking water and food and healthcare – all of these things are luxuries that much of the world, parts of our own country, in fact, does not have.

Jesus told the Pharisees that they could not divorce their wives and leave them abandoned; that we are called to be more faithful than that.

Today, it is just as important that we ask ourselves, how can we be faithful – not necessarily in the covenant of marriage, but in the covenant of our faith, as Christians – to the vulnerable?  How can we bless them?  How can we uphold our covenant?

Think about that this week.

And do me a favor – try to do one extra thing that will help someone in need.

One thing that might make them less vulnerable.

One thing that might give them a voice, give them power.

One thing that might draw them in from the margins of society.

One thing that might change their life.

Go and bless others.

Let the vulnerable come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belong.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

[1]Deuteronomy 24:1-4, NRSV

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