Sermon: Christ/Sophia

Proverbs 8 (excerpts), Wisdom of Solomon 7:29-30

I have referenced Elizabeth Johnson’s book She Who Is: The Mystery of God in Feminist Theological Discourse throughout this sermon. This is the second in an Advent series called “Wings, Wisdom and Womb: Dwelling in our Feminine Divine.”

A few years after I graduated from seminary with a degree in feminist liberation theology, over 2000 feminist theologians and church folks and ministers gathered in Minneapolis for what turned out to the most controversial ecumenical church event in decades.  Unfortunately, I was not there. I do love a good controversy. I wanted to go, but I was still way too in debt paying off seminary. As it turned out, I missed the feminist theological event of the last decade or three. “The Re-Imagining Conference” — held in 1993 – caused tidal waves across the Protestant religious landscape because it did what its title said it would do. It re-imagined Christianity, placing diverse women’s experiences at the center of theology and also placing the Feminine Divine at the center of the worship and ritual life of the conference.

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Sermon: Spirit/Shekinah

This is the first sermon in an Advent series on “Wings, Wisdom and Womb: Dwelling in our Feminine Divine.”  I am very much indebted to Elizabeth Johnson’s book She Who Is: The Mystery of God in Feminist Theological Discourse throughout this sermon. I also consulted Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb’s book She Who Dwells Within: Feminist Vision of a Renewed Judaism.

Is it possible that She has been there from the very beginning of time, from the start of all that is, and we didn’t see Her? Let’s hear the familiar words from Genesis 1: “In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters” (Genesis 1:1-2). How many times have we read the beginning of our creation story and did not have eyes to see Her?

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Sermon: The Day of the Lord

 

Zephaniah 1:7, 12-18, Psalm 90:1-11, Thessalonians 5:1-11

Imagine the scene, if you will: It’s a Tuesday morning, and I’m sitting in my upstairs office with my nice hot cup of tumeric ginger tea beside me. My purring cat is asleep on my lap, and I’m snuggly and warm in my fake-sheepskin-lined slippers on this rainy morning. I turn to the lection passages for this Sunday, still a little sleep-fogged, hoping to find a word of truth and wisdom for me to preach on. The lectionary is a daily three-year cycle of scripture readings, and it always includes at least four readings — one from Hebrew Scriptures, one Psalm, one from the Gospels and one from one of the other books of the New Testament.  I decide to read each of these four passages out loud, as a way of more fully taking them in. This is the first one I read:

Helen reads Zephaniah in a passionate, heated manner.

That woke me up!  I think somewhere in the middle of reading that passage the cat jumped off my lap. The wrath and venom in it was so over the top that by the time I got to “their blood shall be poured out like dust and their flesh like dung” I was laughing. Maybe a little nervously, but laughing.

Next. Psalm 90 starts out promising — in fact, the first two verses of this psalm served as the scripture for our 25th anniversary celebration in 2000, which marked my first Sunday of  being the pastor here.

Helen reads the Psalm starting out warm and comforting and then getting increasingly worked up.

No wonder we didn’t use the rest of that psalm for our 25th anniversary celebration. By now, I’ve taken off my fake-sheepskin slippers. It’s getting hot in here, and I’m still not sure I’ve heard a word of wisdom. At least, not a word of easy wisdom.

Next. I turn to I Thessalonians, Paul’s letter to one of the first Gentile communities he established in Greece. I Thessalonians is the oldest book in the New Testament, written about 20 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection, during a time when Paul and other followers of Jesus are awaiting what they think will be Jesus’ imminent return, when he will come to judge the world:

Helen reads I Thessalonians 5:1-3

Clearly, there would be no escape from the theme of judgement and wrath. I’m not going to read the Matthew passage, but it ends with this verse:

Helens reads: “As for this worthless slave, throw him in the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Enough said.

What do we do with these passages in Scripture — and there are many — that speak to the judgment and anger of God? Specifically, what do we do with this idea of the Day of the Lord, which is directly referenced in both the Zephaniah and Thessalonians passages and forms the context for the others? The Day of the Lord is The Big Day, the Judgment Day at the end of time when God or Christ will judge all people — and some will go to heaven and some will go to the weeping and gnashing of teeth place. It’s when God’s anger against human wickedness and God’s judgement against it will finally, fully come to pass.

And this Judgement Day, this Day of the Lord is not a peripheral idea in the Bible, even though I confess that I sometimes want to regard it as one, as I think many liberal Christians do.  As one encyclopedia of Christian theology says, “Few truths are more often or more clearly proclaimed in Scripture than that of the general judgement.” The prophets of the Hebrew Scriptures constantly refer to it; in the New Testament, the coming of Christ as the Judge of the world is often mentioned. Jesus himself not only foretells the event but graphically portrays it in his teaching. The Apostles give a prominent place to it in their writings. The book of Revelation is all about it.  What’s more, the encyclopedia continues, “The belief in the general judgment has prevailed at all times and in all places within the Church. It is contained as an article of faith in all the ancient creeds.” We don’t say the Apostles Creed in this church but it is an example of one of those ancient creeds that is still said every Sunday in many Christian churches and it includes this line: “He ascended into heaven. From thence He shall come to judge the living and the dead.” You can’t go to an old church in Europe and not see this Final Judgement depicted in often gruesome detail on some painting or sculpture or stained glass window. Like the painting on the cover of the order of worship, which was was painted in the 1400s by a German artist. You can’t really see this, but the folks on the left are the ones sent happily to heaven at the last judgement and the folks on the right are the ones who are engaging in the aforementioned weeping and gnashing of teeth.

What’s more, this idea of a Last Judgment is found in all Abrahamic faiths — Islam, Judaism and Christianity — as well as some other religions. And, it’s not just a relic of less enlightened times. There are many people in the world today who steadfastly believe in a Last Judgement in which infidels will be judged and punished and the faithful will be glorified. Because of the prevalence of this idea across cultures and its persistence over time, depth psychologists would say that the Last Judgment is an archetypal image in the human psyche — that is, it is a powerful image or idea that occurs over and over again in our religions, mythologies. and stories. It’s a kind of universal symbol, like the Great Mother, or the Wise Old Man, or the Tree of Life. One that keeps showing up in our collective psyche and that has layers of psychological meaning around it.

So what could this Last Judgment mean, psychologically speaking? I am serendipitously  reading a book by the depth psychologist Edward Edinger, who has written several books interpreting the Bible from that perspective. (This one was from The Bible and the Psyche: Individuation Symbolism in the Old Testament.) He says that the Last Judgement archetype refers to a “major encounter between the ego and the Self in which the former experiences a devastating insight into its defects… It is the experience of being seen by an Other often symbolized by the eye of God. The image of widespread destruction refers to those aspects of the personality which are not grounded in psychic reality and therefore cannot survive transpersonal scrutiny. If, in this encounter, the ego holds, it is followed by an enlargement of the personality”

Let’s unpack that, shall we?

“Last Judgement refers to a major encounter between the ego and the Self in which the former experiences a devastating insight into its defects… It is the experience of being seen by an Other often symbolized by the eye of God.” We talked about ego during our Lenten series on the soul. The ego is basically our everyday conscious, “ordinary” self. The ego builds and protects our sense of identity and esteem; it helps us regulate ourselves and control our impulses; it also helps us adapt to our environment — to fit in with where we are, to “play by the rules” so that we get affirmation and approval from our social world. It’s good and important to have a strong, healthy ego. The ego is also the part of us, however, that gets really attached to the idea that it is in control, that it’s the captain guiding the ship.  It does not like it when it realizes that this is not the case. Our ego is also the part of us that does not like to acknowledge there may be shadow parts of ourself — aspects of ourself that our ego has repressed as “not me,” as “evil” or “bad.” Those parts of ourself that we often had to repress to win acceptance from our family and peers. Those parts of the collective shadow that live in us — including the “isms” and phobias (racism, homophobia, etc.). We aren’t usually conscious of what is in our shadow, and all sorts of mischief and mayhem can result when we unknowingly project it outward onto others or become possessed by it or repress it to the detriment of our physical and psychological health and wholeness.

For the “Self” in this quote, think of it as the Divine Spark in us that constantly calls us to greater wholeness and consciousness of what is not yet conscious. If you want, you could also call it Spirit or Soul or Truthas long as it has a capital letter at the beginning of it. An encounter with this Capital Letter Force is an experience of being seen for who we really are, including our shadow stuff — our pettiness, our woundedness, our complicity in untruth and injustice. It is an experience of being seen in our sin, a word that means those ways in which we miss the mark, the ways in which we are not in alignment with God or Spirit or Soul. As the Psalmist says, “You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your countenance.” There’s that Divine Eye, that penetrating gaze. As such, this encounter will feel like a judgment because it is a judgement. If you have ever felt a burning sense of appropriate shame or guilt, or remorse, or contrition, then you have had the experience of being seen and judged for your “defects,” for the ways in which you have missed the mark.  And it can be a devastating experience for the ego.

“The image of widespread destruction refers to those aspects of the personality which are not grounded in psychic reality and therefore cannot survive transpersonal scrutiny.”  I’m not exactly sure what Edinger means by “not grounded in psychic reality” but I hear it as those aspects of our personality that are not grounded in truth — not grounded in the truth of who we actually are, and not grounded in the truth of our Divine call. We can easily be swayed by other people’s agendas for our life; we can easily adapt or twist ourselves to meet others’ expectations and our own need for affirmation and approval. And we live within a system in which it is easy to be asleep to the truth — where we can be swept up in behaviors, attitudes, and economic and political systems that are “destructive for ourselves and others, without knowing it.” These ways in which we are grounded in untruth need to be brought under what Edinger calls “transpersonal scrutiny” or what we might call God’s Way or God’s Law or God’s Justice or God’s Truth.

“If, in this encounter, the ego holds, it is followed by an enlargement of the personality.” In other words, if our small self, our ego, can bear up under the scrutiny of this judgment, then we will be enlarged — more whole. When Jesus calls us to be “perfect, even as our Father in heaven is perfect” in Matthew, the word perfect should really be translated as complete or whole. We are called to be whole, as God is whole, as Jesus is whole — the human one who shows us how to be fully alive and aware in these bodies. We are called to the truth of ourselves, to the truth of our world — including our shadow, our defects (if you will), our limitations, and also, our unexpected power and beauty.

If we are on this path of awakening, of enlargement, then there are words of comfort for us, rather than words of wrath. Listen to the full passage from I Thessalonians, after Paul says: “There will be no escape” from the judgement of the Day of the Lord:

But you, beloved, are not in darkness, for that day (of judgement) to surprise you like a thief; for you are all children of light and children of the day; we are not of the night or of darkness. So then let us not fall asleep as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober…For God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ… Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing.”

So, may we be children of the day, awake to the truth of who we are and of our world. May we endure the day of our judgement when it comes and welcome it as the wake-up call it that it is. May we encourage and build each other up, as indeed we are doing. Amen.

Sermon: Happy are Those Who Mourn

Matthew 5:1-12 (All Saints Day)

Last year, as Patrick and I were driving into San Francisco on All Saints Sunday, he asked me what we were doing in worship, and I told him we’d be lighting candles and naming those we have loved who have died. He said, “Oh, you mean the service where everyone cries?” and his tone of voice made it clear that he was not happy that he would have to sit through another “crying Sunday” this year.

And lest you think I’m telling tales on my son without him being OK with it… Patrick stands up and say: “I”m Patrick Baggett and I approve this message.”

I think a 12-year-old boy — or is it young man?  — can be forgiven for not looking forward to a crying service. But I’m struck by how many adults avoid pain and grief. I know adults who have not held memorial services for their loved ones because they didn’t want to have a “crying” event. They just wanted everything to be happy.

What does it mean to be happy? You ask almost any parent what they hope for for their child, and they will say, “I just want her to be happy.” But what does that mean? Does it mean a life of never crying? Of avoiding suffering as much as possible? For centuries, the meaning of happiness and the way to attain it has been a key question in philosophical debates about the meaning of human life, and of course the ancient Greek philosophers were right in on that debate. They felt the key to happiness was aligning one’s own will or being with that of the created order. If one could do that, then you would be makarios (mak-ar’-ee-os), a Greek word which means happy. That same Greek word, makarios, begins every sentence of the Beatitudes we just heard, where it usually gets translated, in most versions, as blessed.

The problem with the word blessed, however — as scripture scholar Susan Hylen notes — is that “blessed” sounds sort of unreal, like a quality only true saints have, only those especially awesome people whose lives of moral clarity and calling are inspiring but unattainable. Hylen suggests, instead, that we consider translating makarios as “happy” in this famous passage.  As in: “Happy are the poor in spirit. Happy are the merciful. Happy are those who mourn.” Now, “happy” is kind of a thin word in our culture. What’s that bumper sticker say? “If you’re not worried, you’re not paying attention?” There could just as easily be one that says, “If you’re happy, you’re not paying attention.” “Happy” denotes someone who’s skimming along on the surface of life, unaware of the unhappiness going on around them or in them.

But, of course, that’s not what the ancient Greek philosophers meant when they used the term makarios, for they were well aware of the human condition, of the suffering we experience. And that kind of surface happiness is obviously not what Jesus meant either, or else he could never have said “Happy are those who mourn.” “He is describing a deeper happiness, the kind of happiness that only comes from aligning one’s own will or being with God’s” (from the Hylen article linked above). This is the way the psalmist uses the word “happy,” which appears many times in the Psalms. “Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked or take the path that sinners tread” (Psalm 1:1); “happy are those who observe justice, who do righteousness at all times” (Psalm 106:3). As Hylen says, both the Psalmist and Matthew tie happiness to living our lives in a way that is oriented toward God’s will. Perhaps a better way of saying that is that we are happy when our being — when who we are, those qualities we embody — are aligned with who God is.

And the God of the Bible is not a God who doesn’t want to cry, who doesn’t want to feel, who doesn’t suffer, who doesn’t cry out.  Yesterday, the Worship Committee met to plan Advent. We’re going to be exploring the “divine feminine” within our own tradition to see how our ideas of God and of how God comes into our world open up when we use different metaphors and ways of thinking about the divine. Yesterday, I told folks that the Hebrew word for a woman’s womb and for compassion are related — and both are linked to the verb “to show mercy” and to “merciful.” So, when God is spoken of as compassionate and merciful, which God is spoken of all the time, the feeling texture of the word (in the original language) is that of the kind of fierce and vulnerable love that a woman has for her child (from Elizabeth Johnson’s book She Who Is: The Mystery of God in Feminist Theological Discourse). As Johnson says,”When God is spoken of as merciful, the tenor of the word indicates that the womb is trembling, yearning for the child, grieved at the pain.” So, when we grieve for others, when we grieve for the loss of those we love, then we are like God. When our hearts are soft and spongey, well-watered by our tears, then we aligned with God’s will. When we feel our insides trembling because of grief, then we embody God’s compassion and mercy. And we are happy.

“We can never be happy in the sense Matthew means by ignoring or downplaying suffering” (Hylen).  The paradox of happiness is that it holds hands with suffering and sadness. As the poet Mary Oliver says, “My heart dresses in black and dances.” To be truly happy we have to open our hearts to love. And if we love, we will suffer because we are fragile, mortal beings, and suffering and death will come to those we love.

Years before I had Patrick a parent told me that having a child is like having your heart walking around in the world, unprotected. I never forgot that, and I wonder sometimes if that’s why I delayed having a child for so long, because I wasn’t sure if my heart could take it, if I was ready to be so vulnerable. That’s a question for all of us when it comes to opening our hearts to love. But, if we do open our hearts to love and its attendant griefs, we are assured of true happiness. Listen to the way Mary Oliver says it, again, in her poem “In Blackwater Woods”:

Look, the trees
are turning
their own bodies
into pillars

of light,
are giving off the rich
fragrance of cinnamon
and fulfillment,

the long tapers
of cattails
are bursting and floating away over
the blue shoulders

of the ponds,
and every pond,
no matter what its
name is, is

nameless now.
Every year
everything
I have ever learned

in my lifetime
leads back to this: the fires
and the black river of loss
whose other side

is salvation,
whose meaning
none of us will ever know.
To live in this world

you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it
go,
to let it go.

Amen.

Sermon: Transforming Martyr Trauma

Sermon by Sheri Hostetler during our series “Becoming a Trauma-Informed Community,” Sept. 10-Oct. 8, 2017.

A reading from The Martyr’s Mirror:  “The Story of Maekyn Wens, and Some of Her Fellow-Believes”

“The north wind of persecution blew now the longer the more through the garden of the Lord, so that the herbs and trees of the same (that is the true believers) were rooted out of the earth through the violence that came against them. This appeared, among other instances, in the case of a very God-fearing and pious woman, named Maeyken Wens, who was the wife of a faithful minister of the church of God in the city of Antwerp, by the name of Mattheus Wens, by trade a mason. About the month of April, A. D. 1573, she, together with others of her fellow believers, was apprehended at Antwerp, bound, and confined in the severest prison there. In the meantime she was subjected to much conflict and temptation by so-called ecclesiastics, as well as by secular persons, to cause her to apostatize from her faith.”

I’m going to paraphrase here, because what follows, I think, is too traumatizing to bring into this space for some people. Maekyn refused to refute her faith and consequently, a few days, was given a death sentence. Before being led to the stake, she had her mouth screwed shut — which was not uncommon during that time. Otherwise the Anabaptist martyrs would speak or sing as they were being burned at the stake, and were so compelling that they often ended up converting people to their movement as they were dying.

The testimony continues: “Hence the Lord shall hereafter change their vile bodies, and fashion them like unto His glorious body. As it says in Philippians 3:21: “Christ will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself.”

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Sermon: Becoming a Trauma-Informed Community

 

This the first sermon in the series for our Back to the Basics series entitled “Becoming a Trauma-Informed Community.

Luke 24:13-35

I’m going to tell you the story about the worst and best day of my life. A year and a half ago, Patrick got sick and didn’t get better. He began losing weight; he had headaches that wouldn’t go away. We went to the doctor three times, made one visit to the ER… and I can’t remember how many times I called the Kaiser advice nurse. And then, at 3 o’clock in the morning on Dec. 5th — Jerome’s birthday — I awoke to find Patrick having a seizure beside me in bed. Words can’t describe the panic that ripped through my body. He was calm as we rode in the ambulance to the hospital, but in the emergency room, with several doctors crowded around his bedside, he became incredibly agitated, trying to pull the IVs out of his arm and crying out in a way I had never heard before. I couldn’t bear to be in the room with him. I was too frightened, panicked. In order not to completely freak out, I had to leave, go into a quiet room and text the prayer warriors in my life to ask them to pray for Patrick. I calmed down and went back to Patrick. But then, I would find the panic overtaking me again, and I would go back to the room to breathe or drink the cool orange juice that the nurses had left for me. Jerome was my rock, as he always is. He alone stayed with Patrick throughout that whole three-hour ordeal in the ER at Children’s Hospital, calming his own fears enough to be steadfastly present.

In trauma terms, my nervous system was hyper-aroused. Or, put another way, I was extremely neurologically dysregulated. Leaving the room, calling in support, breathing all helped to bring that arousal, that dysregulation, down to a place where I could function. Sort of. Jerome was able to maintain a more steady neurological state than me. Though he, too, was frightened, he was able to stay in what trauma experts call the “resilient zone” or the “window of tolerance.” Thank God one of us was.

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Sermon: Must Antifa Bear the Cross Alone?

By David Brazil

Matthew 16:21-28

Good morning, and thank you for your hospitality.  Let’s pray.

As you’ve heard, my name is David Brazil; I’m the organizer for the Faith Alliance for a Moral Economy and I co-pastor a house church in Oakland called the Agape Fellowship.  I’m also a poet, translator, editor, curator, and a community organizer beyond my professional work.

But of all the things I can say about myself, what I really want to talk about today is that I am a Christian.  I’m an adult convert to Christianity, baptized in 2014, and so I am still on the beginning of a walk that many of you have been on for many years, or for your whole lives.  (In fact, I don’t really know if I was baptized as an infant, since my parents passed away before I thought to ask, so I might well be an Anabaptist!)  My professional work is interfaith, and my co-pastor and I describe Agape as a “Christian-interfaith” house church.  So I often have to be very thoughtful about how I speak about my Christian faith, especially given the many wounds that imperial Christian hegemony continues to inflict.

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Children’s Story: King Neb Gets Burned

By D. Byram

This story is called,

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego Get Arrested …

but Nebuchadnezzar gets BURNED!

Before I start, let me just say that any city named Babylon is bound to be number ten on the top ten most touristy places to visit in central-wherever we are.  Anyways, the King of Babylon, this dude named Nebuchadnezzar, was very full of himself. I guess he wanted everyone to know that because one day he decided to make a huge statue of himself in the town square, right in front of the Starbucks.  The point of the statue was to make everyone kneel down and worship it when the marching band played.  And if you didn’t, well, how to put this delicately? You get tossed into a roaring fire.

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Sermon: A Single, Holy, Living Sacrifice

By Sheri Hostetler

Romans 12:1-8

During our communion litany, we say together a prayer that ends with this line: “Made one in Christ and one with each other, and one with all creation – we offer these gifts and with them ourselves.”  There’s actually five additional words to this prayer —  “and with them ourselves, a single, holy, living sacrifice.” Sometimes I take out those five words “a single, holy, living, sacrifice” and sometimes I don’t. I wonder how many of you notice this. Actually, sometimes I take those words out of my copy of the prayer and forget that I left it in your version of the prayer that’s in the order of worship. That’s not so bad. But sometimes, I take it out of your version and leave it in mine. That’s a bit more embarrassing, when I alone am saying “a single, holy, living…” Actually, the people that do the litany with me up here are usually reading off of my copy, so — ha ha.

Obviously, I have some ambivalence toward those words — a single, holy living sacrifice — words that come directly from our reading for today. Sometimes, I am put off by the violence of them and I just can’t use them.  The image of an innocent lamb or goat being slaughtered on an altar? No, I do not want to bring that image into this space. The story where Abraham thinks God is asking him to sacrifice his son, Isaac, and he ties him to the altar and has the knife above his head before God says, “Just kidding!’? No, thank you. I’ve always thought of that story as one of the Bible’s “texts of terror,” the feminist Biblical scholar Phyllis Trible’s phrase for those scripture stories that seem to divinely sanction violence.

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Reflection: Listening to Other People’s Voices, “Arts Sunday 2017”

By Lisa Hubbell

What I’ve been given to say today is about listening to other voices.

If this were a Quaker meeting, we would all settle back into silence, to give more time for Shannon’s words to sink in and work on us, along with whatever God guides us to pay attention to in that time. I’d like to take a brief moment to do that.

….

That is one of the ways I’ve learned over time to listen more deeply to other people’s voices. Lately, I’m learning to notice how much space I take up with my own voice. It humbles me to confront this.

I am a person both of creativity and of privilege. I was raised a Quaker girl in California in the ’60s, by white activist parents with Ph.D.s. Given that, I was encouraged to express myself and speak up more than most people, even if I got in trouble for it a lot of the time. Read more

Sermon: Walking in the Way of Righteousness

By Joanna Shenk

Psalm 85:8-13

A few weeks ago I was having a conversation with a loved one in which they asked me if I thought holiness and righteousness were important… or if I valued them as a Christian. I can’t remember exactly how they said it, but it was said in a way that assumed I probably didn’t think they were important. I explained to them that it was frustrating to be asked the question in that way because it put me on the defensive… like I needed to prove something to them. To their credit, they understood and agreed it made for better conversation if they asked me how I understand holiness and righteousness or what has been my journey with those things.

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