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Tuesday, April 30 2013

John 13:31-35

          “A teenager came home from choir practice early one evening. His Dad asked, ‘What brings you back so soon?’

          “And his son answered, ‘We had to call off choir practice.   The organist and the choir director got into a terrible argument about how to sing, 'Let there be Peace on Earth,' so we quit for the night.’”

          Don’t you love it!  Our Gospel lesson today has that wonderful – and yet quite challenging commandment in it.  Jesus is talking, and he’s telling his disciples, “Love one another as I have loved you.” 

          I am often somewhat puzzled by that.  A commandment.  A new commandment.  Why does Jesus think that he needs to command us to love each other?

          Have any of you ever given any thought to that?  Why do we have to be commanded to love each other?  I’m not sure.  Quite frankly, I’m not sure.  But let me throw a few thoughts at you.

          Jesus calls this a new commandment.  Let me suggest that what Jesus is doing is just making it easier for us to remember.  We are familiar – at least I hope most of us are familiar with the Ten Commandments.  Ten.  Not so hard to remember all ten.  Well, maybe.  If you think you have trouble remembering all ten, and remembering them in order – try remembering 613.  That’s the number of commandments that a rabbi in the 3rd Century came up with for our Jewish friends to adhere to.

          No – I like that Jesus gave us just one – just one when it comes to our life with each other.  And of course there is another commandment – not given in our text today – but another commandment where Jesus tells us we are to love God with all your heart and soul and strength and mind. 

          But what I want to talk with you about today is this commandment where Jesus says, “Love one another as I have loved you.  By this all people will know that you are truly my disciples if you have love for one another.”

          Pretty easy to remember, don’t you think?  Not so easy to always remember to put into practice.

          Let me share with you a story about “An incident a couple of summers ago in San Antonio, Texas.  It was a hot, 99-degree August day when a ten-month-old baby girl was accidentally locked in a parked car by her aunt.  Frantically the mother and the aunt ran around the auto in near hysteria, while a neighbor attempted to unlock the car with a clothes hanger.  The infant was bawling at the top of its lungs, beginning to turn purple and foam from the mouth, a combination of anxiety and the intense heat inside the car.

          “It had quickly become a life-and-death situation when Fred Arriola, a tow-truck driver, arrived on the scene.  He grabbed a hammer from his truck and smashed the back side window of the car to free the baby.  Was he heralded a hero?  Not so.  According to an article in the San Antonio Tribune, he is quoted as saying, “The lady was mad at me because I broke the window.  I just thought, 'What's more important – a baby or a window?’”

          And Jesus says, “Love one another as I have loved you.”  Who showed the love of Christ, Fred Arriola, or the woman whose car window he smashed? 

          Folks, the most important thing for you to know – is that God loves you.  When we need forgiveness, God forgives – and God forgets.  It is the love of God for you that has brought you here today.  It is God’s love for you that welcomes you – and embraces you – and makes you a part of His family.  His Kingdom.   In turn, it is our love for God that makes us want to tell others about God’s love, Gods’ grace, God’s forgiveness.  To tell them about Jesus – about his life, his death, his resurrection –as the means by which we have forgiveness and the hope and the promise of eternal life with God forever. 

          So – if we have that kind of love for others – we will want to tell others about God’s love – and what God has done for them through His Son Jesus Christ.

          Now I don’t think there’s a person here today who would not agree that love is a good thing.  We all want – we all need to be loved – and to give love in return.  But you know – it isn’t always easy. 

          Like Lucy from the cartoon strip, “Peanuts.”  “Lucy stands with her arms folded and a resolute expression on her face, while Charlie Brown pleads with her. ‘Lucy,’ he says, ‘you must be more loving.  The world needs love.  Make this world a better place, Lucy, by loving someone else.’  At that Lucy whirls around angrily and Charlie goes flipping over backwards. ‘Look, you blockhead,’ Lucy screams. ‘The world I love.  It's people I can't stand!’”

          You laugh, because you know it’s true.  There will always be some people we don’t like – we don’t care for – and people who are just plain difficult to love.  And they’re usually the people who are closest to us – at school – at work – members of our own families – the family next door – or perhaps even the people we sit next to in church.  Maybe that’s why Jesus gave this to us as a command.  He did not tell us to love as an option, but as a command because he knew how difficult it would sometimes be.

          All I can say is, they are among the ones that we are called to honor, to respect, to show kindness to, compassion, courtesy – to encourage – to pray for.   Just remember love is not determined by the way you feel about someone else.  Love is not about how you feel.   Love is something that you do.  When Jesus says, “Love one another as I have loved you,” he’s talking about putting love into action.  And what you also need to know is that right before Jesus tells his disciples to love one another – he has just finished washing their feet.  As an example.  In other words – the one who loves is the one who serves – others.

          Last week I talked about what happened at the Boston Marathon.  The horror and heartbreak that the city of Boston suffered two weeks ago brought out the best in many.  First responders and ordinary Joe’s and Josephine’s ran towards the places where the bombs went off.  I saw one news story where a college senior who, having finished the race, went to the aid of an injured man.   This young man took off his shirt and used it as a tourniquet.  From what I could tell, that young man’s actions saved the older man’s leg.  Interviewed in the older man’s hospital room, both men were of the same mind that they’re lives were forever linked – friends for life – because of the heroic action that the younger man took. 

          Those kinds of acts of love, and care, and sacrifice – and there are many that none of us even know about – are examples of what Jesus is talking about.  Now you and I are not likely to be in such situations.  The places where we serve are less tragic, less dramatic – not newsworthy at all.  But nevertheless – no matter what the situation – we will step up as followers of Jesus Christ – stepping up – as one who serves. 

          One other lesson that I see in what happened in Boston.  You’re familiar by now I am sure, with the phrase that’s been around since 911, “See Something, Say Something. Do something.”   

          I’m thinking of the guy who noticed a bloodstain and a torn tarp on his boat in his driveway.  He dialed 911, and reported what he saw to the police.  But the boat owner did more than just “say something.”  He took action.  He did something.  He got a ladder, climbed up the boat, and peeked under the tarp on his boat.   Now – I’ve gotta tell ya, I don’t know if I would have been so bold.  Or so brave.  That was a pretty gutsy thing to do.  But the fact that he did something – something that gave key information to the authorities about a terrorist – helped bring an end to the nightmare in Boston. 

          I’d like to apply that thought about “See something. Say something. Do something.” And use these three to illustrate what Jesus means when he says, “Love one another.”

          See something — see what Christ is doing in the world, and in the lives of those you meet.

          Say something — speak a word of encouragement.  You know, it’s so easy for us to criticize – give a roll of the eyes.  But how about if when we say something, it’s a word of encouragement.   Say a word of comfort.  Let your words to and about others be gracious.  Say something to someone about the good news of God’s love for them in Jesus Christ.

          Do something — let’s agree that we’re going to live our lives in such a way that others will know that we are disciples of Jesus Christ by the things that we do.  Jesus washed his disciple’s feet, then he offered himself as a living sacrifice on the cross.   That is His gift to us.  The Holy Spirit also gives gifts.  And let me tell you, these gifts are given to you so that you can do something.  Your gifts have not been given to you in order for you to deal with your problems. No!  You have been given gifts in order for you to serve others.

          So see something.  Say something.  Do something.  And then be something.  No!  Be someone — be someone transformed by the love of Christ – so that who you are at the core of your being is the person God wants you to be. Remember – that God loves you.  God loves you just the way you are – but He loves you too much to let you stay that way. 

          So see something, say something, do something, and be someone who is transformed by the love of Christ – someone who loves the way Christ loves you.

          My friends – may you be known for the love you show for others.  May you be known for having a servant’s heart.  May others see Jesus in you.


Posted by: AT 09:16 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, April 22 2013

John 10:22–30

            So how’s everybody doing?  I think for the most part, we’re doing OK, right?  But again we’ve been overwhelmed this week with bad news.  Senseless killings. Injury.  Maiming in Boston.  A tragic fire and explosion at a fertilizer plant in West, Texas.  I first saw the news of what happened in Boston on a TV monitor in the Phoenix airport on Monday.

            But there I stood – like most of you – looking at that monitor.  In shock.  in awe.  Shaking my head, and I said out loud, “Who does this?  And why?”

            Folks – [tomorrow] [today] is known in the church as Good Shepherd Sunday.   All of our texts use this sheep and shepherd imagery as a metaphor to describe who Jesus is for us – and who we are as people who follow Jesus.   And that’s important for us to remember today – important for us to remember when we read or hear about these kinds of senseless killings – acts of violence – tragedies – tragedy that we ourselves experienced not 200 yards away from here with the crash of flight 3407 just four years ago. 

            So let me ask you a question.  When things like this happen – where do you go?  Where do you get your courage?  Where do you get your strength?  It would be my hope that we would turn to the Lord – to Jesus the Good Shepherd.  And that secondly – we would also turn to each other.  It’s just another reason – I’ve got to say it – it’s just another reason why church matters. 

            Now certainly – we prayed.  We all prayed.  Wherever we were on Monday – or on Wednesday – we prayed.  We prayed for the victims and their families.  For strength – for comfort – for courage.  Some of us turned to the Scriptures. 

            Psalms like today’s Psalm – the 23rd Psalm – many people’s favorite – because this Psalm reminds us that “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.”  Or maybe you turned to a Psalm like Psalm 18, where verse 2 declares “The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer, my God, my rock in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.”

            We turned to God.  To Scripture.  To prayer.  We turned to each other.   For strength. For comfort.  For courage.  

            Now, I have already used several metaphors this [evening] [morning].  I’ve talked about the Lord as our shepherd, our rock, our shield, our strength.  Those are all powerful metaphors – powerful ways to speak about who God – who Jesus – is for us.  But I want to throw one more metaphor into the mix.  Because this act of violence on Monday occurred at the Boston marathon – I want to use the picture of a runner – of running – as a metaphor to say something about who we are as followers – as disciples of Jesus Christ.

            The book of Hebrews puts it like this, “…since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith,…”

            Let us run the race.  I am a runner.  I have never run a marathon.  I have run a half marathon, one time.  Four years ago.  If you’ve ever wondered why there is a 13.1 sticker on the rear window of my car – and some of you have asked me about that – 13.1 is how long a half marathon is.  And someday – someday – it’s on my bucket list – I hope to put a 26.2 next to it – the length of a full marathon.

            But let me tell you something about running.  If you want to be a runner – it is not easy to get started.  Once you stop – it’s not easy to start up again.  Laying off running for even two weeks – can make getting started a tough thing to do.

            Running involves preparation.  Stretching, before and after.  Proper diet and nutrition and hydration.  For instance, you can’t just decide to run a marathon.  You have to train for it.  And what’s more – it’s also helpful to train with others – and to have someone to coach you during your training period.

            And then there are the occasional injuries.  Shin splints.  Sore muscles.  Joint pain – especially knees, and sometimes hips.  And sometimes, it’s boring.  So all of you non-runners out there are probably wondering, “why in the world do runners do this?” 

            I’ll tell you why.  I don’t know!  Actually, I do know why.  The benefits of running outweigh the costs. I like the way I feel, and the health benefits are great.  And when I ran the Buffalo half marathon.  I want you to know that I did not stop.  I did not walk.  I ran the whole distance. 

            Now most marathon runners also set goals for themselves.  Mine – was just to finish.  And quite frankly, to finish well.  I was hoping to finish in less than 2 hours and 15 minutes.  And I am happy to say, that I finished in two hours, 14 minutes, and ten seconds.  But I had to sprint the last quarter mile or so do that.  And let me tell you – crossing that finish line is an exhilarating experience.

            Now the wonderful thing I discovered about this race is that there are people all along the route who see their whole purpose in life that day is just to cheer the runners on.  Think about them as this great cloud of witnesses.  At the same time runners were encouraging each other.  On one particular hill, a guy ahead of me stopped to walk – and I just shouted, “Don’t stop!”  He picked up the pace and kept going.

            And by now you’re probably all wondering, “This is all fine and dandy Randy, but where are you going with all this?”  Glad you asked.

            When you think about it – life – the Christian way of life – is a lot like running.  When the Apostle Paul knew that his end was near, he was able to say, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”

            Perhaps you’ve heard it said that the Christian life is not a sprint.  And that’s right.  It’s not a sprint.  It’s a marathon.  The life of faith is not a quick dash to the finish line.  We’re in it for the long haul.  Sometimes our faith – like a runners muscles – gets stretched.  And we need proper preparation – we need training.  Again folks – that’s why church matters.  This is where we get our training.

            Proper nutrition is required for all runners, whether running a marathon, or 5K race.  As disciples of Jesus Christ, we get proper nutrition from the Word of God.  From bread and wine.  In the waters of baptism.  The Holy Spirit energizes us.  We encourage each other along the way.  Oh – and Jesus is our coach.

            Do you see?  We need God.  We need Jesus the Good Shepherd.  We need each other.  It’s why church matters. 

            After those bombs went off in Boston – we heard numerous stories of heroes.  Firefighters; police officers; first responders.  Ordinary bystanders who ran towards the scene to help.  The surgeon who finished the race – and an hour later was performing surgery on bomb victims.  The man who finished the race – and kept on running for another two miles to the nearest hospital to give blood.  On Tuesday, New England Patriot wide receiver Danny Amendola pledged to give $100 to the fund for victims for every pass he catches this season – and $200 for every dropped pass.  Let’s hope he drops a lot of passes this Fall when he comes here to Buffalo.    

            This past week on Facebook, lots of people posted a picture of Fred Rogers – we remember him as Mr. Rogers – along with a saying that he is known for.  I’ve put it up on the screen for us to look at.  “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of ‘disaster,’ I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.”

            It was Edmund Burke who said, “All it takes for evil to succeed is for good men to do nothing...”

            Yes – there are evil men and women in the world.  Bad things do happen to good people.  There are no guarantees in life.  That’s just the way it is.  Sometimes life delivers a sucker punch, and knocks you down.  And I think of the image of 78 year old Bill Ifrig – running his 3rd Boston Marathon.  He was 15 feet away from the finish line when the blast went off.  You saw it.  His feet gave out from under him, and he crumpled to the ground.  An assistant came – lifted him up – and took him by the hand – and walked him to the finish line. 

            If the image of Jesus the Good Shepherd doesn’t work for you – think of yourself as Bill – and that helper who picked him up – took him by the hand – and led him to the finish line – as Jesus.  OR – think of that helper as one of the  disciples of Jesus.  Maybe someone – a disciple – like you and me.  We are the helpers.  The hands and the feet of Jesus.

            As followers of Jesus Christ – we can make a stand against evil.  We do not have to and we will not live in fear.  And what’s more, we can make a difference in the life of someone – anyone – who is injured – suffering – lonely – someone who’s been knocked down.  We can do this because of who we are – because of whose we are – and who we refuse to be.  

            So let us run with confidence the race that has been set before us.  Let us be the hands and feet – let us be the voice of Jesus – to a hurting world.  And please know that no matter where you are in life today – no matter what’s going on – no matter where you may be hurting today – maybe the world is treating you unfairly…    

            …turn to Jesus – He is your rock – he is your strength – He is our Mighty Fortress – the Good Shepherd – the Good Shepherd who cares for you.   Amen

Posted by: AT 10:30 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Wednesday, April 03 2013

Luke 24:1-12; I Corinthians 15:12-26

          So how are you doing with your brackets?  Now if you’re scratching your head over that question, I’m talking about March Madness – you know – the NCAA college basketball tournament.  My bracket’s doing just find because I didn’t bother filling one out this year.  But if you’ve been following the games – then you know that there have been a lot of upsets.  The biggest one being that college down in Southwest Florida – Florida Gulf Coast University.  Made it to the Sweet Sixteen.  That’s as far as they got.  

          But they upset a lot of teams.  They upset a lot of people’s brackets.  Maybe it’s because of teams like Florida Gulf Coast University that they call it March Madness.

          Folks – let me tell you on this Resurrection Day – that there are people out there – people who you know – people who are our relatives – maybe even people that we live with – who would say, “You Christians and your celebration of Easter.  You insist on believing that stuff about Jesus.  You actually believe in that resurrection stuff.  You Christians.  You’ve got your own version of March Madness.”

          You know that there are people out there who say that.   For the moment, let’s just call them skeptics or non-believers – people who way, “Jesus–back from the dead? I don’t think so.” Or, “The resurrection is a lie!”  “You Christians are mad!  What you believe in – it’s madness.”  

          But you know what?  Every time we tell the resurrection story, there’s just going to be someone out there who will say, (whispering) “The story’s not true, don’t believe it. Somebody made it up. Somebody is trying to trick you. Dead men don’t rise. God doesn’t forgive sin. You’re a miserable loser and don’t deserve the love of God.”

          Can we take just a few minutes here this morning to take those lies head on?  I’d like to confront that nonsense and tell you the truth about why we’re here today.

          It seems to me that there are three and only three responses that you can make when you hear the good news of Christ crucified, dead, buried, and risen from the dead.  Three responses:

  •       You simply don’t believe it.  It’s either a legend – a story that somebody, or somebody’s made up – or it’s a grand hoax.  But regardless of how the story came to be, it never happened.
  •      A second response is that you’re not sure.  You’re a skeptic.  Maybe it happened and maybe it didn’t – but you’re just not sure.
  •       And the third response is that you believe it.  You believe that Jesus was crucified.  He was dead.   He was buried.  And that he really did rise from the dead.


          There are no other choices.  But let me tell you that there is one thing non-believers and believers agree on.  One thing atheists and genuine disciples of Jesus Christ agree on.  Christianity rises or falls on this one thing – the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.  IF it is a lie – if it is a hoax – if it is a legend – than what in the world are we doing here?  What in the world?  If the resurrection never occurred – then the atheists are right.  But if it did occur – if it really did occur – then the atheists are wrong.


          Let me throw a few things at you – information that every one of us needs to know before we make up our minds about the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.  And this is not an exhaustive list by any means.  I just don’t have enough time this morning to present all of the evidence to you.  I mean – it’s one of the things that I get excited about – preaching an Easter morning sermon.  I love throwing this kind of stuff out to you.

          What do we know?  Well, what we know is that the early followers of Jesus proclaimed that Jesus was literally raised from the dead!  A physical, bodily resurrection in space and time.  And furthermore, he appeared to well over 500 people in at least 12 different episodes over a period of 40 days. 

          And what I want you to think about is this.  I know.  I’ve said it numerous times before – and I’m going to keep on telling you this.  If the resurrection is a lie – if it is a hoax – then who made this story up?  Obviously – the ones who told it – believed it – proclaimed it – wrote about it.  Those first disciples. 

          Okay you say.  But maybe the disciples took Jesus’ body.  Just stole it right out of the tomb.  Maybe they staged the whole thing!  But you see – there’s a problem. Many – most – of those disciples died for their belief – for their proclamation that Jesus was risen. Would they be willing to die for a lie?  Would you? 

          When Matthew was being cut in two – when Peter was being crucified upside down – when Stephen was being stoned to death – did any of them say, “Wait, wait, wait!  That whole resurrection thing?  We just made that up.”  No.  None of them – not one of them said that.  And why would they make it up?  They had nothing to gain from it.  Financially – politically – socially or otherwise.

          In fact, it was Paul who said, “I have suffered the loss of all things for the sake of knowing Jesus Christ my Lord.”

          Speaking of Paul, there’s a guy who had it all.  A Pharisee who believed that he followed the Law of God so closely that he himself was without sin.  So zealous was he for God and the Law of God that he was a persecutor of the church.  When he rounded Christians up – had them put into prison – or even had them put to death – he thought he was doing God a favor. 

          But Paul had an encounter with the living – risen Christ.  There are three separate accounts of this event in Paul’s life in the New Testament.  One of the best pieces of evidence I can give you is the conversion of Paul.  He went from being a persecutor of the church to being the greatest missionary the church has ever known.  Do you think he would have done this – do you think he would have changed if he was not convinced?  If he knew the resurrection of Jesus was a lie?  Do you think that just before the executioner swung his ax – just as Paul was about to be beheaded by the Romans – that Paul changed his mind?

          No.  The amazing thing is that Paul was a changed man.  All of the disciples were changed men and women.  When Jesus was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, didn’t they all run away and hide?  And Peter.  Peter later denied Jesus.  On the first Easter morning they were all together in the same room with doors locked and windows shuttered for fear that what happened to Jesus might now happen to them. 

          After the resurrection –with the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost – weren’t these changed men and women?  Why?  Because they heard and touched and saw and ate with the living, risen Jesus.  And nothing could dissuade them – nothing – not even the threat of the loss of all things – not even the threat of death – could dissuade them from proclaiming Jesus Christ crucified and risen from the dead.

          By the way – I like Paul’s argument for the resurrection.  In I Corinthians he says,  “Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say  there is no resurrection of the dead?  If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our      proclamation  has been in vain and your faith has been in vain.   We are even found to be  misrepresenting God, because we testified of God that he raised Christ—whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised.  For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised.  If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.  Then those also who have died in Christ have perished.  If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.

                But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died.

          Listen!  There are many other pieces of evidence that can and should be examined.  But it is enough for us to know that the lives of those first followers of Jesus were changed.  Enough to know that the life of Paul was changed.  And enough to know that my life is changed.  That the lives of many of you have been changed.

          Why?  It’s all because of Jesus.  A dead Jesus can’t do anything for anybody.  But a living, risen Savior can make all the difference.  And since Jesus is risen from the dead – it means that he is alive.  He is alive today!  And if he is alive today – he can make a difference in your life.  Whether you are an atheist – an agnostic – a skeptic –you’re just not sure.  Or whether you’re already a believer.  All I ask is that you examine the evidence.  That’s all I ask. 

          Because none of us was there – none of us can prove the resurrection.  But then again – no one can prove that it didn’t happen either.  And all attempts – all of the arguments I have heard to explain away the resurrection – just fall flat on their face.   For instance, there’s the swoon theory which suggests that Jesus didn’t really but fell into a swoon and just appeared to be dead.  Yeah, and after having his heart pierced with a Roman lance, he just kind of resuscitated in the tomb, rolled back the stone, and overcame the guards outside his tomb single handedly.  Or that the women went to the wrong tomb, saw that there was no body there and declared Jesus risen from the dead.  Or the theory that the disciples stole the body.  Well, we’ve already talked about that.  Or the wackiest theory is that the Romans stole the body, or the Jewish religious leaders stole the body.  Well, why would they do that?  They were the ones who wanted to suppress all talk of resurrection.  If they had the body, all they had to do was produce the body and all talk of resurrection would have ended right then and there.

          Folks, If you’re still saying that it just never happened – or you’re just not sure – examine the evidence.  Try to prove to yourself – try to prove to me – give it your best shot – that the resurrection never happened.  If you can prove it to me – then I will stop preaching.  I’ll live my life differently.  I’ll get into another line of work.  But only if you can prove to me that the resurrection of Jesus never happened.

          So let me ask you.  Is the tomb empty?   After you examine all of the evidence – an honest and earnest examination of all the evidence – I’m here to tell you that there’s only one conclusion.  The tomb is empty.

          You don’t have to park your brains at the door to believe the resurrection of Jesus.  That Jesus lives.  And that he lives for you.  And because he lives – because he is raised from the dead – what that means is that death does not have the final word.  Jesus has the final word – and that someday our dead bodies will be raised – and we will live with Christ forever. 

          The bottom line on all this is that He is able – He is able to turn our March badness – our March sadness – or what some might even call our March madness – into March Gladness. 

          Christ is risen! [He is risen indeed!]

          Christ is risen! [He is risen indeed!]

          Christ is risen! [He is risen indeed!]  Alleluia!  Amen

Posted by: AT 01:14 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email

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