Ed Giese's Web Log

Rhymes with 'easy.' My ongoing thoughts on culture, spirituality, and technology.

Roped Off

Posted on 2021-06-06 11:25:00 in Sermons

Mark 3:20-35 ESV

20 Then he went home, and the crowd gathered again, so that they could not even eat. 21 And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for they were saying, "He is out of his mind."

22 And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem were saying, "He is possessed by Beelzebul," and "by the prince of demons he casts out the demons." 23 And he called them to him and said to them in parables, "How can Satan cast out Satan? 24 If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25 And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. 26 And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but is coming to an end. 27 But no one can enter a strong man's house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man. Then indeed he may plunder his house.

28 "Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter, 29 but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin"--- 30 for they were saying, "He has an unclean spirit."

31 And his mother and his brothers came, and standing outside they sent to him and called him. 32 And a crowd was sitting around him, and they said to him, "Your mother and your brothers are outside, seeking you." 33 And he answered them, "Who are my mother and my brothers?" 34 And looking about at those who sat around him, he said, "Here are my mother and my brothers! 35 For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother."

Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ. Our text is the gospel that we read just a few moments ago. It is a difficult text, and I'm going to apply it to a subject that may be painful to some of you listening: the announcement that Pastor Ely made this morning, that he will be accepting the call to be Associate Dean at our St. Louis seminary. I know many of you are sad about hearing of his impending departure. Some of you, too, may be wondering what the path forward is for Christ Our Savior, a church that has twelve years of Ely's fingerprints on it now.

You might be wondering how a text that talks about "unforgiveable sins" might apply to how a little church can move forward when a beloved pastor gets called. But it turns out that this text is very important, in a number of ways, to Christ Our Savior's situation. Let's dive into the text.

The events described in our text today -- Jesus healing a man possessed by a demon, the pharisees' reaction, and Jesus' response to that, followed by the appearance of Jesus' family at the door -- appear in three of our Gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, in the same order with roughly the same details. Just as families have stories that help make sense of their lives together, memories that they repeat over and over, kind of like lessons, our reading today is something like that for the early church. Each of Matthew, Mark, and Luke are faithful to the story, but just as different family members learn different kinds of things from the same story, Mark has his own, unique way of looking at this one and learning from it. If we are careful, we can figure out what lessons he is drawing by looking at the details that he includes and leaves out.

Two details are unique to Mark in this text that give us a lot of insight into how he sees main event. The first detail is the last paragraph right before where our reading starts. Mark leaves out events that both Matthew and Luke include, about Jesus sending out the 12, so that right before our text today, we have the list of the apostles that Jesus chose. The first of these is Peter, who is the authority behind Mark's gospel. It is the only place where Mark puts Peter first. And last in the list, and so the last few words before our text today are the words, "And Judas, who betrayed him." If there was ever a believer of whom we can safely claim had committed the unforgiveable sin, that of sinning against the Holy Spirit, it would be Judas. I don't think it is insignificant that he gets mentioned here, for the first time, right before our reading. The other detail that Mark includes that is significant and missing from Matthew and Luke are the conversations of Jesus family that occurs at the beginning of our reading. The situation Jesus was in was beginning to look overwhelming, with all of the crowds and craziness around him all the time -- to the point that He and his disciples didn't even have time to eat. And the response of Jesus' family is, in translation, "he is out of his mind." The literal translation is, "he lost it."

There is one final detail that Mark includes, or rather, an explanation, which helps tremendously in understanding how he views this event. These are the words, "for they were saying, 'He has an unclean spirit.'" I don't think, honestly, that I would ever have made the connection to Jesus' warning about the unforgiveable sin to this accusation of the Pharisees if Mark had not pointed this out. Matthew and Luke do not provide this explanation. Yet, it is really a key to understand everything here. So, let's review the pieces we have here so we can fit them together a little better. We have, at the center, Jesus healing a demon possessed man, then the Pharisees making the accusation that it is by the power of the devil that Jesus drives out devils. Then, outside of this, we have, like a wrapper, the appearance of Jesus' family, in a very unusual role, wanting to take him out of His situation for His own good. Then finally, over it all, we have Peter, the first of the apostles, and Judas, the last, and the betrayer, watching all of this. I think with these pieces in place, we can learn something.

The third person of the Trinity, as Pastor Ely talked about last week, and I talked about on Pentecost, is the Holy Spirit: to believers, the comforter, the one called alongside us, and to unbelievers, the one who convicts, with regard to sin, and righteousness, and judgment. He also could be called, the Trinity being what it is, the "Spirit of Jesus" or "The Spirit of God." In theological terms, since God is love, we could also say that the Holy Spirit is a spirit of pure love. Both words "holy" and "spirit" are hard for us today. The word "spirit" is hard because we live in times where many people want to believe that human beings are just organic computers, and our thoughts or consciousness, what many of us unthinkingly consider our very being, are nothing more than the artifacts of a lot of calculations going on in neural networks. To someone who believes this, the word "spirit" is just a silly figure of speech, and this kind of thinking has affected even us, who believe differently. What is a spirit? It seems that some of the smartest among us deny it even exists, and the rest of us aren't sure exactly how to define it or what to think. Our spirits are real, though, even though they are encumbered by a body. My spirit can soar to heights unknown, drawn perhaps by beauty perceived through my body like music or a dream; but very often, that same spirit scrapes along, slave to the same sinful body that contains it, and spends its time in the mud and ashes. Not all spirits are encumbered by a body. The Spirit of Jesus certainly is not. It moves in love, where it will, though many do not understand its movements. One glory of Christianity is that God the Son, who is a Spirit, would choose to take on one of these bodies, and be encumbered, in order to raise us up. So "spirit" isn't really that hard to understand, but emotionally, it can be difficult, in our age of science and psychology.

The other word, we may have even more trouble with: "holy". When I explain the word "holy" to my confirmands, which is where we get the word "saint" as well, I always talk about furniture like our altar here. It is a table. It is made out of wood. The same kind of wood, nice hardwood, might make a great game table for my house. But even though it is made of the same material, and made much the same way, once we make it an altar, we never think, "hey, let's get a few beverages and some chips, a deck of cards, and play some poker up here on the altar." No, we would never do that. It is "holy---" not because of what it is made of, or even how it was made, but because we have set it apart. It is no longer something for common use. All of us show some extra respect and reverence toward it. We put railings, or ropes, around it. The idea of a holy altar recalls -- it's not the same, only similar in idea -- the holy places in the temple. If you were not a Levite, certified by birth certificate, and you tried to enter the holy of holies, you would not have made it. They would have killed you first. They would not tolerate you physically desecrating their holy place. The idea of "blasphemy" is the idea of desecrating a holy place in our minds, or with our words. The ropes around holy things are not just physical, but mental and spiritual as well.

Now, our trouble today with "holy" is not that our larger society denies it exists, as many people do with "spirit." Our society today has all kinds of things that are roped off, words you'd better not say, thoughts you'd better not think. We just don't use the word "holy" for them. Some of these things we would all agree are bad to say or think, but people get fired, ostracized, driven out, and dehumanized for saying things that most people 5 years ago would have considered common sense. So, "holiness" as a concept is still very real. It's just that the things that WE think are holy, we've lost interest in defending. In the Catholic neighborhood where I was a young schoolboy, if a child carelessly swore by God's name, some random adult would walk up and slap him. That happened in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. But it's not happening anymore. Oh, there are words we can't say, but every possible profanity has been made out of things that Christians used to think were holy. The central words of Jesus in our event today speak to this. I won't say it is wise, but Jesus says, if you do happen to profane, blaspheme, sin, against Him--against the Son of Man, all can be forgiven. But there are ropes, even for Jesus. Blaspheme against the Spirit of God, the Spirit of Love, the Spirit of the Father, and you will not be forgiven, ever. We like to think of Jesus as all sweetness and light, but here, the Pharisees touched a nerve. He calls them out, like someone in my old Catholic neighborhood, to verbally slap them and to warn them in these crushing terms.

Another way I know things have changed is that Lutheran pastors, when the subject of the unforgivable sin used to come up, used to always assure worried listeners that if they were worried about having committed this sin, then they had not committed it. Many words have been written, printed, and taught concerning this sin, and every Lutheran teaching I've read agrees that you can't trip over this sin by accidentally telling the wrong joke, or saying something inappropriate. In fact, all we can do is warn about this sin, because only God knows who may have committed it. I say these things now, but I almost wondered whether to spend the time, because it's been years since I heard anyone actually worried about having committed this sin. In my grandparents' generation, they worried about it frequently. So, what's changed? Do we know more about the Bible than they did? I don't think so. I think, rather, that we have refocused the commandments so they're all about people and not about God.

Don't murder? Of course not; in fact, don't even make anyone feel unsafe! But that's about people; that's about us. On the other hand, "don't misuse God's name---" that doesn't get you a slap anymore; in fact, many of us barely even frown when someone does it. We live in a world with phones that throw at us words, words, words, vying for our attention and getting it anyway they can---if blasphemy works, it's another tool in the toolbox. There's no such thing as bad publicity. The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about. Make a joke; no one can get mad at a joke. And whatever you do, don't get too serious about anything. What are you anyway, some kind of fanatic? We are surrounded by these attitudes, and we have succumbed to them and in some ways even adopted them. The spirit of my grandparents rises up, indignant, and warns us, that some words and attitudes sink in and cannot be taken back. Some things wash off, but other things stain. We hardly seem to care anymore.

You know, even Jesus' own family thought He was crazy. Peter, at the top of the list of the apostles, denied Jesus, and called down curses on himself to disavow knowledge, on the same night that Judas, the last on this list, betrayed Him. Yet they were forgiven. I think this teaching of Jesus was actually a comfort to Peter, rather than the scary thing we think it is. You see, Peter didn't have thousands of years of Christian culture emphasizing the love of God and the grace of God -- Peter saw, as a first-Century Jew, the judgment of God, and the wrath of God. And what he heard in Jesus' teaching wasn't the scary part about the unforgivable sin. The people who blaspheme the Holy Spirit don't weep bitterly; they don't care. They are right -- they are always right -- and they'll even throw God under the bus to suit their own needs. Peter had done terrible things to Jesus on Good Friday dawn. But he didn't refuse the conviction -- when the cock crowed, he remembered. And all the sins against the Son of Man, as Jesus tells us here, will be forgiven.

Jesus was ready to do this for Peter. He was ready to forgive his family. Unlike the Pharisees, they may have been weak, but they never actively rejected His Spirit. So we aren't in such bad company when we realize how little we care sometimes. Ironically, it is our encumbered spirits, dirty as my spirit is, and far as it seems from holy, I am a saint. I am a holy one. There are ropes around me. Why? Not because I've had such pure thoughts, surely. No, it's because the guy who said, "if you profane me, if you commit blasphemy against me, if you call me the devil, if you treat me as nothing, you can be forgiven." For He came to forgive. He came to live the perfect, holy life I never could, and then, when that was done, He took up my sins, my filth, my guilt, and he carried it to a cross. They nailed Him to that cross, and my sins along with it. He became filthy, forsaken by the Father, so I would never feel that. In return, it seems, I make jokes. Hey God, can't you take a joke? They Holy Spirit is grieved by me at times; but God forbid that I would ever blaspheme against the one who convicts me in my guilt and comforts me in my suffering. So yes, I am holy. I am set apart. It's up to me to act that way. You are saints, too... never forget it. You may not even always be comfortable with the thought, but there are ropes around you. "Here is a holy one, be careful!" The spirits that surround us see this, and the Holy Spirit is by our side.

It is this sense of the holy, as hard as it is to recall in our unholy times, that must be our guide in everything we do as a church, especially the matter of who plays this role, the role of pastor, and how we treat each other during this crucial time.

I've known for months of the possibility of Ely leaving for St. Louis. It felt, from the beginning, to be a different matter for me than the recent call to the Boston area. As I reflected on what I could do for you, whom I love so very much, there was a part of me that wanted to just serve you full time. It would be a big hit to my retirement, I thought, but I could quit my day job and do it, at much reduced pay, until I retire, I thought. I kind of daydreamed about telling you about this ... to let you know how much I was willing to put on the line for you ... to share that possibility with you. I daydreamed this way, some of the time, during the months while the Seminary went through their exhausting process with Ely.

But, you know, that was me in my comfort spot. The Holy Spirit is in charge of calls of pastors to churches, and there are ropes around that process. My daydreams didn't really include that. I kind of forgot -- the reason I'm here, and the only reason I came -- was because this man sitting here asked me to come, back in December of 2015. No one from the church ever called me, asked me, or approved of me. And now that this man is leaving, should I just assume that of course you want me to stay? This past April, I got an unpleasant reminder from God that I can't make easy assumptions about what the congregation might want, or how much, when push comes to shove, all of you even respect me in the office of pastor. No, I'm here because of Ely -- we all need to remember that, and as we let the Holy Spirit work in this situation, none of us can make easy assumptions about where the Spirit might lead.

I'll have more to say about my role moving forward to the church council moving forward, but it all should be part of a larger formal process. Your church leaders need to get involved. You all need to be involved, to one extent or another, because it is a holy process, one where the Holy Spirit is intimately involved. Pastor Carlos Boerger, from St. Paul's Lutheran Church downtown, is our "circuit visitor," and he will help you understand the process that a church goes through when it needs a pastor. I want everything here to be done where the Holy Spirit can lead wherever He will.

Regardless of what happens, Ricki and I are both praying for all of you, that you as a group make the relationships among the saints your highest priority. I hope that, long after Ely and I are just pictures in a file somewhere here, that someone remembers that a couple of guys used to hammer on relationships. No, scratch that: I pray that even when you don't remember us at all, that you still treat each other as flawed, sometimes difficult, but holy, saints of God, and that your love for each other is obvious to everyone, especially the Holy Spirit, the spirit of love, that comforts you all. Put up some more ropes around each other, and do it. You will do well, regardless of what happens! I pray it in Jesus' name. Amen

The New Obedience

Posted on 2021-06-02 07:30:00 in Spirituality

Just last year, we made obedience a central theme of our preaching at Christ Our Savior. It wasn't exactly an ironic choice, but we realized that, as Lutherans, it was maybe a little unusual. Because Lutherans are so worked up about making certain that salvation -- the teaching on which the church will either stand or fall -- never includes the idea of us earning anything to get it, oftentimes we avoid obedience in sermons because some worry it will leave the impression that, "you do must do this to be saved."

Yet, obedience is a central part of Lutheran teaching. Article 6 of the Augsburg Confession, which is titled The New Obedience, states:

It is also taught that such faith should yield good fruit and good works and that a person must do such good works as God has commanded for God's sake but not place trust in them as if thereby to earn grace before God.

As I was preaching my way through the gospel of Matthew (those were most of) the texts last year, I began to get a sense that the obedience that Matthew felt strongly about is what I would call "healing obedience." It is the obedience of the reformed sinner: the alcoholic, the criminal, the outcast. A Christian saved from such a background clings to obedience as someone who escaped from drowning clings to a life preserver.

Not every Christian brings the experience of a past life of manifest sin to the walk of faith. The gospel of Luke, written as it was under Paul's direction, seems to emphasize what I would call "striving obedience." It is the obedience of the person who was a rule follower, zealous to succeed, but who discovered the emptiness (or wrongness) of his own path. I'm not claiming that such a person did not sin, and doesn't regret past actions -- Paul certainly did! -- but that the personality that was used to striving before depends on obedience differently as part of the walk of faith.

This distinction between types of obedience may seem like a pointless, or needlessly analytical, observation, but I feel that this distinction helps me make sanse of Christian history. It also may help navigate the waters we find ourselves in today. I've never heard anyone make this distinction, though certainly someone else has seen it, even if it hasn't been expressed this way. I am going to explore the area more fully, if for no other reason than the idea of the new obedience lets us know that the old obedience was always lacking somehow. There is something left in the gospels that I am not seeing. I'm going to pray for guidance and inspiration to see it.

Some of the questions I want to answer with the Bible:

  • What are some examples of the two kinds of obedience I mentioned?
  • Are there other kinds worth mentioning? What are they?
  • Obedience is always good, but what about imperfect obedience? Do the two types of obedience fall short in different ways?
  • Can the church, consciously or unconsciouly, favor one type of obedience, by, say, designing its doctrine around strivers or reformed sinners? Do different church bodies today "specialize" in different types of obedience?
  • Is our current cultural moment, obsessed as it is with the unbridled freedom of the individual, interacting with these types of obedience to deform them and make our walk of faith less effective? How?

I could think of more questions, but these are enough to go on for now.

Milk and Honey Blogging

Posted on 2021-06-01 22:30:00 in Technology

One of the Old Testament's more famous expressions is "a land flowing with milk and honey." I remember hearing this expression as I was growing up, and while I certainly understood the reference to food, and perhaps the sweetness of honey, I don't think I understood the full significance of the description until years later.

We talk today with other expressions, such as "living off the fat of the land." The idea is of eating well every day: steak and cake, rather than celery and cereal. Old Testament diets certainly differed from ours today, but they still had different notions of "living off the fat of the land" than milk and honey. No, the significance of these terms was not that of never-ending feasts, but of a land that could sustain them during bad times. After an army invades and takes your stored food, or in the year of a famine, there might be little enough to eat; but a land flowing with milk and honey (wild goat's milk) will keep you alive even when things are bad.

This concept of milk and honey applies to many things. Do we want surroundings that can support "never ending feasts" or ones that will "keep us alive" during lean times? I think that this trade-off is one that we are called upon to make often. It has happened in blogging. Maybe not religious blogging -- yet -- but certainly in political blogging.

In the early days of blogging, people hosted small websites with thousands of no-name hosting companies. Many used Wordpress for their software, but many others had other solutions which have faded away. As high-end bloggers started being able to support themselves simply by blogging, they started to gravitate toward platforms that would maximize their incomes. For a number of years now, that has meant the big social media companies. There, a successful blogger can attract a large audience and easily generate high traffic to get paid. More is better. People slowly forgot or simply neglected things like syndication, trackbacks, and other primitive mechanisms for building traffic. Some of these became problematic because of spam and abuse, and once again, the big companies, with their paternalistic moderation, allowed more growth and bigger.

What happens, though, when the hosting company suddenly decides that they don't like you or your message? Traffic begins to dry up, because the platform, which makes millions of decisions every second about which content to feature, gets nudged, maybe only slightly, to disfavor you for some opinion you have expressed. You are, perhaps, using a "free" service, so what cause for complaint do you have?

The kind of blogging I'm experimenting with here is both scalable and also transportable. Of course, I'm not looking to make my living doing it, so I don't worry about every bit of traffic. Still, though, if I suddenly got big, I would have to worry about scaling a database, because my site doesn't use one. Also, all of my content is stored in source files that use Markdown, which has the happy quality of being very readable even without anything more than a printer to put it on paper.

I predict that in another 10 years, it will be much more common to consider adaptability at both ends: scalability, in case of unexpected popularity, and portability, which would allow quick movement to another platform, even one that offers minimal technology, in exchange for full independence.

On State Religions and Christianity

Posted on 2021-05-30 17:30:00 in Culture

This is a further continuation of this dialog concerning whether it is consistent of a Christian to want to make the government Christian, if one had the power to do so. It is based on an argument in Blooms The Closing of the American Mind, where Bloom avers that perhaps the rights in the bill of Rights inevitably led to the moral relativism that completely dominates the university today.

I wrote a continuation here but there were some loose ends that seemed worth wrapping up. The overall subject is huge and beyond the ability of a few fun little dialogs to cover completely. Still, it is interesting and worthwhile to think some of it through.

Aaron: Hey Dijon, I was thinking about our conversation the other day and realized that we never quite finished everything up. I told you I had a revelation, and I never did finish telling it all to you.

Dijon: The part of the revelation you gave me left me at most partially convinced. I agree that perhaps forcing people to convert would be counterproductive, but why wouldn't a Christian want to ennoble the citizens of her own country to make them more likely to become Christians, at least?

Aaron: You have a point. No Christian would want to do much less than give everyone she knew the best chance of becoming a Christian. And, of course, not all Christians agree that government forcing conversions or penalizing apostasy and unbelief is bad. It has been common. To this day in Europe, some countries force citizens to support the state church. I'll leave it to you to compare the relative strength of Christianity between Europe and North America to judge how effective a conversion strategy this is.

Dijon: Yes, I think I was the one that made the point that the Establishment clause was almost certainly designed to prevent strife between competing Christian groups, rather than, say, Muslims.

Aaron: Indeed, many early Americans thought even Roman Catholics were outside the pale. But we're talking about my beliefs as a Christian here, or at least, what I think the most enlightened Christian views would be. And these, as I said the other day, would be informed by the distinction between God's revealed and hidden will.

Dijon: I remember you making this distinction, and I think it's intriguing, but I'm not sure it makes your case. God may not have spoken directly to Christain leaders in the New Testament, but surely they would all have the attitude of Paul in Acts, "I would to God that not only you but also all who hear me this day might become such as I am—except for these chains." Paul was a prisoner, and still he was trying to convert people, even kings. So why not a ruler doing the same?

Aaron: Yes, but Paul writes in Romans 9 that if he could save a few of his fellow Jews, he would allow himself to be cut off. He doesn't say that falsely, but he also knows that it is ultimately up to God who believes and who doesn't. The language of earlier Acts, "and all who were appointed for eternal life..." It is a mystery who believes in the end, and why. It is not a simple matter of having the correct public policy, whatever that might be. All we have to go on are the very limited bits of advice that the New Testament does give to rulers.

Dijon: But wait--you said in our previous conversation that the New Testament said nothing to rulers. I hadn't thought about that, and it was maybe one of the things you said that I agreed with and understood. So what does the New Testament say, after all, to rulers?

Aaron: I guess I misspoke. Compared with, say the Koran, the New Testament says next to nothing. But not nothing. The kinds of "rulers" that Paul writes advice to are Christians who have some limited authority. You may not like this, but one of the main examples are slave owners. But also fathers and husbands.

Dijon: Yeah, the patriarchy, basically.

Aaron: That's not fair. Early Christianity was radical in its day, and Paul's main concern was that it not be so radical that it became a social movement, destined to be a flash in the pan. Or at least, that was God's goal, apparently, because Paul wrote in that fashion. So, he didn't tell slave owners, "you must free God's people." Instead, he said to treat servants (slaves) fairly, and not harshly. Likewise, he told fathers not to "exasperate" their children, and to love their wives as themselves.

Dijon: All that seems like common sense.

Aaron: A lot of what the Bible says could be called "common sense." Look, I don't want to do a Bible study with you. But if we did look around, I think you could distill the teaching of the New Testament to those having authority, it would be three simple principles. First, laws are your tool. Someone who has control over the stars (as I was using an analogy last time) should, in fact, move them to get the desired result -- which is people treating each other fairly, wickedness being restrained, and safety and peace being ascendant. Second, reason is your guide. The Roman church's philosophers would later come to speak of "natural law," even though the Bible does not use this phrase. Paul, though, does say (Romans 2) that even unbelievers have the requirements of the law written on their hearts. So, following reason will be a good, if imperfect, guide. Finally, do your duty. This seems trite, but compared with considering oneself a god, looking at ruling as a calling or public service was a huge step forward, and something we tend to take for granted today. These three principles apply to everyone in authority, even authority over a family.

Dijon: People don't need religion if all they need to know they learn in kindergarten. None of this has convinced me yet that a Christian shouldn't try to make a nation Christian, if one is in charge.

Aaron: I seem to have failed to convince you that my restraint is for the best, or best in line with Christianity. Let me try one final time, then I'm going to just wait until we both change our perspective a little, or something. You can agree with me that the third principle, do your duty, would mean something like, be competent?

Dijon: Yes, sure, competence seems like a good word for doing your duty.

Aaron: And what is competent? Is harshness competent? When the prisons are full, is that competent? When people are walking on eggshells and afraid to say the wrong things, but harboring animosity inside, is that a sign that leaders are competent?

Dijon: No, obviously. Please don't press like that. I get it. You don't need to convince me that, at least in some situations, less government is better. Maybe not all the time, though.

Aaron: OK, sorry. So we agree at least on the idea of competence, and how it is more competent to use no more force than necessary. But more force can become the way of things in tribal situations, where one side feuds with the other, and recriminations go in both directions. When a country is evenly divided (as ours is today) and one side then the other gets into power, if both use their chances at power to settle scores and dominate, then things can spiral out of control.

Dijon: Sadly, this seems kind of familiar. I guess you're driving at how Christianity could be just another tribe, if they weren't careful, and so it is better to be less imposing. That makes sense -- but what if you know you are right? I keep asking that.

Aaron: I think that is kind of what I'm saying, but not all. Just barely over a century before the Constitution was adopted, Europe settled the end of the Thirty Year's war, a devastating conflict involving politics and religion mixed together in the worst sort of way. It was all of the badness of the no-separation approach of Medieval times rolled into an ugly conflict that left over 8 million people dead.

Dijon: Yes, I'm familiar with this. The Peace of Westphalia. You like to talk about this.

Aaron: For good reason! A lot of the great things about modern international relations got their start at Westphalia. First and foremost was the idea of national sovereignty. Regardless of how convinced a national leader was that his religion was the correct one, even if he thought the other country was all going to hell, national sovereignty established a limit of what that king could reasonably do.

Dijon: I think I see where you're going with this. So, a Christian, like a country, needs to respect other people's boundaries, even if he thinks they are tragically, eternally wrong, or there will be endless war and death?

Aaron: Pretty much.

Dijon: OK, your last swing of the bat connected with the ball. I'm not sure if it's a home run or a foul ball yet, I have to think about it. It seems to me, based on the Bible, you still could say that making them go to church, or at least having taxes to support churches, might be a good thing. By the way, I think I'm still right--A Christian ought to pass laws, or want to, that make people more virtuous and more likely to become a Christian.

Aaron: Ha! So I'll agree with you on this with the tiny quibble that we cannot predict what will make them Christian. More virtuous is certainly better.

Dijon: But some Christians may want to go further, and do things like have the taxes, right? Would the Bible say no?

Aaron: All that has been tried. And in some cases, maybe it was right. I'm just going to say two things. First, rather than the seeds of relativism, the idea of rights and restraint -- the things in the Constitutional Amendments -- were almost certainly more a matter of Westphalian avoidance of violence at the local and national level. Second, the only way that those rights are going to be maintained, in my opinion, is if people feel so strongly about things like faith and salvation, that they are not matters of opinion, and that others are tragically wrong in matters of fact and reality. Only those kinds of differences make the rights a matter of life and death. To the relativist, a matter of personal verbal safety may be reason enough to jettison them.

Dijon: You seem to be shifting to politics now. Wow, that was some "revelation" you had. You almost sound like a different person talking.

Aaron: Haha, these things happen. Enjoy your evening with your daughter.

Worship at COS

Posted on 2021-05-30 12:00:00 in Spirituality

Most weeks for the past six years, I have been at Christ Our Savior. Today, though, I am watching from home. To keep myself from letting my mind wander, I am keeping these notes. I also am chatting with other worshipers. It is true that we can think about other things, and when we are not present in worship, this is a stronger tendency.


Pastor Ely is doing the announcements. He is recalling many of the veterans who are and were members of Christ Our Savior. Ely is asking for his prayers on his call.

Thoughts on Trinity Sunday

I've preached many Trinity Sundays. It is a celebration of a doctrine. The Trinity is a self-defining teaching of the Christian church, and yet, the Trinity is not ever spelled out in a single verse or passage of Scripture. So, in a sense, this Sunday (and the Trinity) validates the interpretive principle of looking at multiple passages and drawing conclusions from their logical combination. This is perhaps not immediately obvious.

The Athanasian Creed

I remember reading somewhere that some scholars believe that the earliest uses of this creed were chanted or sung, rather than spoken. It is an interesting reflection of Christianity's dependence on its doctrine that the church would sing something like this.

Many people who read this creed look at the almost pedantic repetition of "is" and "is not". For myself, though, the thing that stands out is that the Athanasian, alone of the historic creeds, reviews and asserts the conclusions from the Council of Chalcedon on the nature of Christ. Many people say that they "believe in Jesus," but Christians have come to believe that you must understand Him and who He is before that statement has much meaning.

Children's Sermon: Baptism

Pastor Ely went over the children he has baptized through the years and spoke about how the Trinity is the central teaching of baptism as it is practiced. It is a central part of the Lutheran life to remember baptism daily.


Ely begins by talking about how the Trinity cannot be explained. It is not a matter of understanding, but faith. Indeed, while we use the word "trinity" in popular culture as any group of three, the original word was designed to be nonsensical. It came from combining 3 and 1. And of course, two numbers were different.

From this, Ely turns to the Gospel (John 3, the dialogue with Nicodemus) to speak. He leads up to Nicodemus's question: "how can these things be?" Ely then turns to say that we, too, find things in Scripture that we find hard to understand. In Nicodemus's case, Jesus is right there beside him physically, but in our case, God is also with us, through His Spirit.

For myself, I wonder at Jesus' explanation to Nicodemus. Jesus points out that the snake on the cross was a "type" of himself. We have learned, in the succeeding centuries, that not everyone should just make types on their own. There is no end of it. So I'll leave for another time the idea about how Jesus can use something to explain Scripture that the church should now limit itself to.

In John 3:16ff, Jesus shows not only who God is, but what God does. Pieces of the Trinity are there, but also the action of the Father loving the world, and giving His Son. Nicodemus responds to this doing. John shows Nicodemus growing in faith. He does not appear in this chapter again, but he becomes a special character later.

We do not need to understand God to have a relationship with Him. Like Nicodemus, we do not need to "get" everything. This is an important point in our "scientific" age, which refuses to accept anything without "proof". This skepticism may serve us well sometimes, but it serves us well as we walk with Him.

The Two Ditches of Prayer

Posted on 2021-05-25 22:30:00 in Foundations

Note: This post is one of a series of 'foundation' posts I hope to write, where I share things I've learned through the years and have frequently repeated to others.

There are two dangers, like two ditches on either side of a narrow path, which we encounter when we pray. The dangers both involve our expectation of how God is going to respond to our prayer.

The first danger is fatalism. This is the danger of the person who will say, "God answers every prayer, but with yes, no, or wait." Those three responses exhaust every possible outcome. We may as well be praying to a rock, or a statue. The same "answers" will always come from anything, or anyone, you might pray to, because there are no other possible answers than "yes," "no," or " wait." This observation is thus meaningless. Not harmful, perhaps, but not helpful, either.

Fatalism is also a danger for peoplw who emphasize strongly that every prayer should end with the words, "Thy will be done." This is obviously a petition in the prayer Jesus taught us, and it is not meaningless (like the "yes, no, wait" claim above). Many people, though, misunderstand Jesus' words. He is not telling us that we ought to stop and remind ourselves before we finish praying that the Father will not change His behavior because we asked Him to, or that He is going to do whatever He does regardless of our prayer. No, Jesus is having us ask that the Lord break down every barrier that does not want God's name to be holy, or His name to be hallowed.

What fatalism does is get us to believe, before we even rise from our knees, that God has many reasons to ignore us, and we should just buck up and prepare to get an answer we don't like. Such prayer may seem "deep" and "spiritual," but it is so draining that eventually it will sap us of our energy.

The second danger is manipulation. This is the danger of people who pull out verses such as, "in that day, you will ask the Father whatever you want in my name, and the Father will hear you." Even the holiest of our prayers can be tainted with selfishness. The woman who prays that her husband will attend church may spend more time thinking of how nice it would be to sit with him there, and not so much how God is missing him if he stays home.

This ineradicable selfishness does not enter into the theology of the manipulators. They claim, boldly and happily, that if one prays with sufficient faith, one will receive the desire that one pours out to God. When disappointments ineviatably come, the manipulator says, "you did not pray with sufficient faith." Here, unlike the fatalist, it is all up to us, rather than being up to God. Many have lost their faith, or had it weakened to the vanishing point, because they mistakenly believed that they could pray in faith an restore sick children, or perform nearly miraculous deeds.

I think that the fatalist is not really different from the manipulator. Instead, the fatalist anticipates possible failure, and reinforces against the disappointment with the arguments above. The manipulator is more innocent, but also a bit more selfish. There is no reason to think one is better than the other; but they do have differing opinions, and may not always get along.

The way to avoid these two ditches is to realize that God never really says "no" to us, but rather that He has something even better in mind. Jesus famously in the garden of Gethsemane asked for a way out of the suffering and humiliation He faced; there was no relief for Him there, but what He got was much better in the end. Similarly, Paul says that God declined to remove his "thorn in the flesh," but it is noteworthy that Paul did not consider this an offense of God, but rather something to brag about, because God told Him directly that weakness of the infirmity was better than strength.

Every time you pray for someone or something, you should be positive that the prayer will be answered. When you are disappointed, do not be shy about bringing your complaint to God. He is faithful, and this expectation will lead -- after some regrettable heartache in some cases -- to a greater awareness of How God works, which is the mystery of the ages.

Another Dialog on Making America Christian

Posted on 2021-05-23 22:30:00 in Culture

This is a continuation of this dialog concerning whether it is consistent of a Christian to want to make the government Christian, if one had the power.

Aaron: I had a revelation after our discussion yesterday about whether a Christian ought, if she had the power, to make the government of the United States (or any other country) Christian.

Dijon: I'm interested to hear it. I don't think you did much more than bluster during our last coversation. I'm still thinking it would be consistent for a Christian to want this, regardless of anyone's fondness for the U.S. Constitution.

Aaron: Well, it's hard. I'd like just to quote the Bible, but
the New Testament was completed while Christians had no political power at all. In fact, persecution was more common during the apostolic age than anything like power. So the Bible doesn't give advice to Christian leaders at all.

Dijon: But we were not talking about exercising power, but gaining power. The question is whether a Christian should try to control the government and make it Christian.

Aaron: Yes, precisely. Paul tells Christians to respect the governing authorities in Romans 13 and to pray for those in power in 1 Timothy. There are other passages as well. But none of them ever say to take over the government. From this, I'd say it is not recommended that a Christian actively try to take over the government.

Dijon: Respect those in authority, sure. But that doesn't mean one can't try to take over, right?

Aaron: Come on. Do you think you should pray for those in authority at the same time you are trying to take their jobs from them?

Dijon: So then, George Washington was sinning when he rebelled against the English authorities?

Aaron: Some people thought so at the time. But it is more subtle than that. I'm going to try to stop blustering, and explain it. The best way I can think to understand it is that Christians cannot change God's authority or laws, any more than one could move a star in the sky. What the Bible told the early Christians was that the secular authorities were also agents of God, so that their "stars" were also to be viewed as unchangeable.

Dijon: That seems to make the Christians look like they enjoyed being powerless. So, you seem to be trying to avoid my question simply by saying that Christians should not seek authority. OK, I'll do one better, then. What if a Christian woke up and found herself in authority? Like when Constantine converted to Christianity? I mean, he was already the emperor, but now he was the emperor and a Christian. So what was he supposed to do?

Aaron: As I said, the Bible did very little directly to guide someone like Constantine. But historically there have been three different solutions that Christians have used to answer the question.

Dijon: Now we're getting somewhere! So what was the first solution?

Aaron: Think of what I should do if I could control one set of stars in the illustration I used above. As an earthly ruler, I no longer live under two sets of immovable stars, but I have one I can move and one I cannot move. The first solution might be called aligning the stars. In short, it says that the Christian ruler's job is to make the earthly laws line up as closely as possible with God's laws.

Dijon: Aha! I knew it! That is pretty much to make the country Christian, as I have been saying! So, that brings our conversation to a close... oh, but wait, you said there were two others. And I suppose you prefer one of them. What was the second?

Aaron: The second is abdication. It claims that if you found yourself in a position of earthly authority, you should surrender it, because it is only a matter of time before you were corrupted as the world is.

Dijon: This is kind of cheating. You can't say that the answer to taking over the government is not to take over the government. Plus, I'm not sure I agree that any real people would do this. Weren't you saying just yesterday that we have to be practical? Which groups ever did this? I'm assuming that the Roman church is an example of the first solution.

Aaron: You are right about the Roman church, although you could include Calvin's Geneva in this category. And examples of the second group can be found among the anabaptists and their heirs, like the Mennonites and the Amish.

Dijon: Hmmm. Everyone has heard of these groups, but they are not really that significant in numbers. But I suppose this is who you are going to say we should follow?

Aaron: No, not actually. Because, you see, if you think about it, there is not really any difference between the Amish and the Catholics in this matter of aligning the stars.

Dijon: Wait, I thought you said one group said align the stars, and the other said to abdicate.

Aaron: But the abdication meant to withdraw into small communities, separate from the world, almost like a monastery enlarged to a town. Within these communities, they thought they could do an even better job of aligning the stars. So, when you think about it, the abdicators are just as enthusiastic about aligning stars, but just more pessimistic about doing it for large groups of people.

Dijon: You really did seem to have some revelation. Just last night you were saying all kinds of things about not wanting to force others into your beliefs, and now it's all about lining up stars. But I imagine you've saved the one you actually agree with to last.

Aaron: Of course! The last group of Christians said that God's will regarding the running of the world is hidden, unlike His revealed will for the church, and the two should not really mix. The revealed will (His Word) is, in the end, all about grace and forgiveness, which makes a beautiful way of running a church, but a pretty impractical way of running a country.

Dijon: You know I'm not a huge believer in grace even as a religion, but OK. So, this is a first-rate dodge. You say you don't believe in abdication, but you also don't believe that Christians should presume to run the world because God's will there is hidden.

Aaron: But I didn't say that. I said that you can't align the constellations if you are a Christian. But if a Christian controls the laws, then the goal shouldn't be to force everyone to believe, but rather to allow Christians to live peaceful lives in "Godliness and holiness" as it says in 1 Timothy 2.

Dijon: I'm not sure I see how this is any different from what I am saying. If a Christian is supposed to encourage, with laws, for people to live in "Godliness" and "holiness" isn't that the same as making the country Christian?

Aaron. No. I'm trying to speak precisely here, I'm sorry, let me clarify. A Christian should govern to allow Christians to live this way, not force anyone else to. It is the ultimate religious liberty. And it is not about faith, as good as this is, but rather competence. A well ordered society is the best for people to come to faith, not by compulsion, but by attraction.

Dijon: And which Christian group practiced this?

Aaron: Lutherans.

Dijon: I should have guessed. You seem to idolize those guys.

Aaron: Haha, no I don't idolize them. And they weren't always that great about doing this, in fact. They were always slipping into the trap of telling Christians that even if the government was rapacious, capricious, and unjust, they should pray for them and live by the laws anyway.

Dijon: Hmmm... maybe it's better to do it the Catholic way.

Aaron: I don't think so. But I'm sure you're tired of me talking about this. Let's talk about another wrinkle in my revelation that makes the subject even more interesting, but later.

Dijon: Sure, I still want to hear about George Washington, and how, according to your explanation, he wasn't sinning. But for now, I gotta go, too. Later!

The Comforter

Posted on 2021-05-21 22:30:00 in Spirituality

26 “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. ...

“I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you. 5 But now I am going to him who sent me, and none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ 6 But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. 7 Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. ....

12 “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14 He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15 All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Jn 15:26–16:16). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Note: When I preached this sermon, I had as an illustration a birthday cake for the church with about 100 candles on -- a candle for 20 years.

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our text is the gospel reading for today that we heard just a few minutes ago, and I want to start by continuing, in a more grown-up way, the children's sermon that you heard, too. On the occasion of a birthday, we who are a little older than those kids are might be inclined to look at the candles, and look back over our lives, and reflect on how things have gone, and ask what future candles will be representing. Will they good years or bad ones?

American Christians today could be forgiven for feeling that, perhaps, many of the happier years are sitting there already as candles on the cake, and the candles yet to be lit, in another year, will be representing sadder ones. I was talking to a friend this past week, and we both agreed that it seems that everyone appears to be grouchy, out of sorts, in a bad mood these days. I don't know for certain if it's COVID hangover, or cultural uncertainty, or something else. I have some strong suspicions though, which I'll share in a bit.

The story is told of three friends who went to different colleges. I'm going to leave the names of the colleges out, so you can fill in blanks with your own choices once you have heard the story:

The three friends were on spring break, and short on cash, and found themselves close to the water, but not able to afford anywhere much fun or anything to do, so they were walking around in an industrial area near the docks. There was a sign on a door they walked by saying, "Harbor tours, $5."

The first one said, "I don't know, it seems too good to be true."

The second one said, "don't be such a wet blanket, it's spring break, maybe it's a volume discount sort of thing. What do you think," he asked the third one, who simply replied, "I'm not sure what to think."

So the second friend said, "I'm going in," and didn't come out. The first friend asked the third, "do you think we should follow?" And he again answered, "I'm not sure." So the first friend went in.

Finally, after a long pause, the third one also went through the door, where like the other two, he was hit from behind and knocked out. All three came to on a life raft, without their money or much of anything, floating out in the bay.

"I knew this was a bad idea, the first one said."

The second one said, "stop being such a downer, I'm sure they're going to send someone out to pick us up."

The third one said, "No, they're not. I did this last year."

It would be a great American sermon if I used this text to tell you, somehow, that of course they were going to send a boat out to pick us up. We Americans love a happy ending, and we're addicted to the idea, I'm not sure where it came from, that with progress and human cleverness, things will just keep getting better and better forever. But we need to be realistic about some of the candles on this cake here.

I did a little online research, and I discovered that many historians agree that 536 was perhaps the worst year to be alive in the northern hemisphere. A volcanic eruption in Greenland or somewhere in North America put so much ash in the air that the sun's rays were blocked. Snow fell in June, and no crops survived for three years. Many died of famine. Just six years later, the Eastern Roman empire, barely recovered from this awful weather event, was struck by the first wave of a bubonic plague that killed about a third of the population. The Roman empire was Christian at that point; in fact, the ruins remain today of a huge church whose construction was halted by that plague and never resumed. I wonder what those unhappy Christians thought as they were recovering from famine only to face the plague. No, things don't always just get better and better.

Our text says a lot about how we should look at the candles on the cake. I think it is a great time, as we remember the coming of the Holy Spirit, to think that this same Spirit is active in our own time.

Pastor Ely preached last week from the same portion of John's gospel as we read today. Our readings don't always move forward; in fact, last week's reading actually comes after today's. But Pastor Ely spoke about how John was remembering Jesus and writing his Gospel for people who felt that the world was a hostile place for their beliefs. By the time John was writing this Gospel, even though the events he remembers and describes happened before pentecost, the people who first heard his gospel regarded that first day of the church as a distant memory, or perhaps had not even been born when it happened. The Holy Spirit came down with great power and enthusiasm (if I may use that word) on that day of the first thousands added to the church. There were many days afterwards, though, that were just ordinary days, both good and bad.

Jesus says, as part of this same talk he gives to His disciples, "In a little while you will not see me, then a little longer, and you will." When we read this prediction of Jesus, from our vantage point, we assume that Jesus is talking about how he will be killed, and the disciples will not see Him until He comes again at Easter. But many in the age of the apostles could be forgiven for remembering these words of Jesus and thinking that He would return very soon, perhaps any day. I wouldn't be surprised if some of those on the first Pentecost of the church weren't more expecting Jesus to return, rather than the Holy Spirit to come.

I think that many Christians in the age of the apostles would have been horrified and disappointed if they realized that the Father intended to put so many candles on the cake. Many of them would have acted very differently, and perhaps the church would have have even survived. The apostles themselves, in that upper room, obviously had no idea what was going to happen at all, so it seems strange that Jesus would say they He had given them His Word. There was a lot of the Word they didn't get.

And, in fact, it's well worth noticing that Jesus says that they are not meant to know everything all at once. "I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now." It certainly doesn't make much sense that things were going to get so incredibly happy for the church, that they couldn't "bear them." We don't use those words when we're talking about good things. It's something I've noticed years ago, that when a spouse or a long friend or loved one dies, that people think they're over it when they're not. Suddenly a billboard, or a plate of food, or some other seemingly unrelated something brings back memories, and the grief is suddenly real again, tears and all. Perhaps you've experienced this. I have. What is going on, in my mind, is that God gives us grief on the installment plan. If we had to do all of our grieving for a very close person all at once, it would kill us, as I have also witnessed. So, Jesus knows of what He speaks when he says, "you cannot bear them now," and He doesn't mean it's because it's all so wonderful.

So, then, how did Jesus mean to continue to share? Our Lord and Savior talks to us through His Word most clearly, but also through things that happen in our lives, and it is often here where it is so hard to bear. But he does not leave us alone. The ESV translates the word Jesus uses for the Holy Spirit as "Helper," but the most literal translation is "advocate," which word itself comes from the Latin "ad" and "vocate", or "one called alongside." In fact in the original language, the word, paraclete, means exactly this, "one called along side." The Holy Spirit is called to our side to make the things Jesus says bearable -- to help us bear them.

Jesus says of the Helper, "he will declare the things that are to come." This sounds like predicting the future, or what we would call prophecy -- and surely the Holy Spirit has done this -- but another more common occurrence is another way to take those words, which is that the Holy Spirit helps us understand those candles as they move from the future to the present, and helps us bear them, especially when we need comfort or encouragement to do so. Brothers and sisters, I submit to you that this is truly what empowers the church and sets it apart from the world -- this Holy Spirit, this Helper, this Advocate, who is called to our sides and makes the unbearable into something bearable.

I don't want to go into detail about Jesus' words this morning about how the Holy Spirit confronts the world. To us, in the church, the Holy Spirit is a beloved advocate, giving life and explaining God's work to us. To the world, however, the Holy Spirit shows a different face: one that convicts. The Holy Spirit convicts the world with regard to sin, and righteousness, and judgment. Occasionally -- for some of us, frequently -- we fall back into the world's way of thinking about things, and when we do, we suddenly see this other side of the Holy Spirit. It convicts us when we are in the wrong.

We moan and complain to God about the bad things in our lives, despite the overall evidence that we are wealthy, comfortable, and free from many of the terrors that beset our ancestors and Christians of old. When that happens, we stop trusting in God and try to make the world in our own images, and it never works. We simply find ourselves separated from God. But the Holy Spirit convicts us with regard to righteousness, which is to say, He shows us Jesus dying on the cross, and we see that God both loves us and wants us to repent. This is the source of all true life. Put your faith in Jesus and you will watch the Holy Spirit go from convictor to advocate.

Along with life, the Holy Spirit brings hope. We are talking in our midweek Bible studies about Peter's first letter, and that letter focuses on a living hope which we have in Jesus. All of us "hope" that 2021 will be better than 2020. But we honestly have no guarantee that it will be. Time will tell. But the living hope that the Holy Spirit gives us is sealed in heaven, where our Savior lives and sits who died for us. This isn't just some empty hope for a better tomorrow, but the certainty that Jesus rose from the dead, and because of this, we are free from the sin and its attendant death that used to cloud around us like flies around livestock. Who wouldn't want that?

It must have been great to be there on the first day of Pentecost and see the tongues of fire, like the little candles on the cake, on the heads of the disciples. It must have been amazing to see the well-known phenomenon of ecstatic speech, as it existed in Jesus' day among many Greek religions, turned into something beautiful as, instead of words no one could understand, people of every language heard the truths and glories of God told them in a way that tugged on their heart strings. But, you know, we don't have it so bad. We have all those candles to look at, and while those early Christians could not bear the knowledge of all that was to come, the Holy Spirit has made it known and comforted the church for centuries.

We're not out of the woods. If you want to think the way the world thinks, there is always plenty to worry about. For my part, I worry a lot about these phones we all carry around. I think that the technology is amazing, and I'm going to use it as best I can to spread the Gospel even, but the technology is so new that we don't understand yet how dangerous it might be. Remember how I said everyone is grouchy? I think the phones may have as much to do with it as COVID. We'll need to find out, and I pray to God that the damage from overusing or misusing phones and their technology isn't as great as a plague or a famine, but it could be, it could be.

A few sentences after our reading today, Jesus says to his disciples, "in this world you will have trouble." He surely spoke the truth. But He immediately followed that by saying, "but take heart, for I have overcome the world." Oppressed Christians through the years have sung beautiful songs, like "we shall overcome." It is true, we "shall," by God's grace. But with the Helper at our side, it is also true that we have overcome. Your hope is in front of you! Let's march out with it in confidence. Amen.

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