A recent Facebook post by one of our RevGal’s provoked me to read my very first Kate Braestrup book, “Here If You Need Me.” I wrote to that RevGal and told her that I was mostly grateful, considering that reading the book had reduced me to weeping followed by other occasions of laughing out loud. In a timely manner, I appreciate Braestrup’s reflection on miracles, especially when she writes,

A miracle is not defined by an event. A miracle is defined by gratitude.

No doubt in my mind that the mother of Jesus wanted to save a wedding party and knew that her son could do it. If I’m honest I have to admit that this story in the Gospel of John cracks me up. I wonder, how did the mother of Jesus know that he could do this? Did she have experience of him doing similar things at the dinner table? I can just imagine the family gathered around for a meal and Jesus playfully changes the water or the milk or the juice into wine and the mother of Jesus just rolls her eyes and thinks, he’s doing it again….or maybe she’s exhausted from tending to a sick child and Jesus comes home from playing with his friends and heals his sibling, and she thinks, finally! I wish you’d come home a few hours ago… I mean, surely the mother of Jesus had experience with her son, doing this sort of thing on a regular basis, which she took for granted. A knowledge which assured her that he could save the wedding. This mother of Jesus knew her son and encouraged him to claim his identity fully. I imagine that although Jesus responded grudgingly, in the end he was grateful for this gentle push from his mother.  Her trust in him helped him recognize what God was doing inside, how God was preparing him and cultivating his identity. Her confidence helped him claim himself.

Whenever, however, one is able to claim one’s true self, there is cause for joy and gratitude.

This is perhaps the challenge of the church today – who are we? What is our identity today? What is our mission?

I suggest that the miracle of the wedding feast of Cana is an invitation for the church to claim its identity in hope, in joy, in gratitude, rather than in fear and angst over whether we will live. Live or not, there is still much to grateful for. Perhaps finding that gratitude is the miracle of our day?

Please go here for a discussion on the readings for Epiphany Two in Revised Common Lectionary and here for a discussion on Mark in the Narrative Lectionary.

Welcome to the preacher party. I’ll be here most of the day (except for three hours when I’ll be at the church for a Vestry meeting that will finalize the budget, most likely another deficit budget…for which finding gratitude may be miraculous..but I just don’t have the energy to get anxious about it. It is what it is). Anyway, I’ll be here with lots of coffee and tea and the last remnants of Christmas cookies…pull up a chair,  because we’re here if you need us, so let’s party!

67 thoughts on “11th Hour Preacher Party: Finding Gratitude (in all the wrong places)

  1. Ok, well, I am preaching on chronos time and kairos time: Cana, MLK week-end, and interim church as kairos times. Also: mom knows best. But for now, I’m going to sleep.

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    1. Yes, mom knows best! I like that. It’s a full Sunday for us in the USA, especially with the Martin Luther King, Jr remembrance day on Monday. I haven’t mentioned it in my sermon this year but we (the parish) are going to an ecumenical service this Sunday and our Bishop is preaching. Prayers for you as you enter this new parish and bring your wisdom to interim ministry.

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  2. I’m struggling with what to say to a congregation which will be reminded of the fact that the 38 year old son of a couple in the congregation died unexpectedly just after Christmas and this is their first Sunday back home after the death and that an 80 year old woman from the congregation was killed by a hit and run driver while out walking – and was seen by several members of the congregation who live in the same strata (read condo project). I’d be much more comfortable if it were a funeral.

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    1. maybe preaching as if it were a funeral is exactly what the congregation needs. . . the psalm could be used to assure the congregation that, in spite of tragedies, God’s love is steadfast. and wrap Corinthians Holy Spirit, healing, miracles and faith. . . just a thought – it would probably help the congregation, just having two deaths in a such a short period

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    2. Oh I am so sorry! Yes, the parish will all be grieving. Sharing stories is one of the ways of grieving that I encourage people to do, lifting up their loved ones. Stories can make us sad, but sometimes we remember funny things too, all in the lifting up the full gift of memory of the ones we love who are no longer with us. I have had people tell me that they are grateful that I say the name of the one who has died, they appreciate hearing the name said aloud. Days like these require clergy to be present in a bold yet gentle way – bold because we will life up that which is hard and gentle because we also bring forth the love. Many prayers for you, JERI and for the congregation.

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  3. JERI, My thoughts and prayers are with you. I have a sketchy draft of something about family, about expectation and about gifts…but I am not quite sure where I am going with it. I have a feeling that perhaps an evening at my mum’s 70th party tonight will bring new insight into the concept of a family miracle for a community event….hmmm. Just praying I have enough time in the morning to re-read what I have and make any major changes before I need to leave.

    Better go though -help yourself to tea and shortbread – I need to wash a whole mountain of dishes and shove on another load of laundry before extended family all descend on us for a buffet lunch but I will be back later this afternoon to party some more before tonight’s celebration.

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  4. Terri,
    thanks for hosting. i look forward to meeting you in a week or so.

    I am a week behind in the RCL, working with Isaiah and the Baptism of Jesus.
    Do not be afraid!
    I now have two weeks away, one week annual leave, and one week study leave.
    I will be back in time for Transfiguration Sunday.

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    1. Pearl, are you going on the RevGal big event? Alas, I won’t be there, I don’t cruise. But the other Teri will be and she’s delightful. You’ll have a fabulous time, if that is what you are referring too when you say you’ll meet me (or rather the other Teri) in a week or so.

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  5. Good morning preacher friends! I had to write my sermon yesterday because, as I said, I get to spend three hours or more of this day with the Vestry finalizing the 2016 budget. Yay me!!! And, my husband is home today as well as my son, so while my husband is a gracious loving man he is also very present (and distracting to me). Anyway, a draft of a sermon I have, trying to be a little playful and thoughtful about the nature of miracles. I don’t however even mention MLK, Jr….and given the direction the sermon has taken, it would be too out of context to bring him in…but we will life him up in the prayers and we have a big community service later in the day which many of us will attend.

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    1. I struggled with the context issue as well, but since there is no other mention of MLK in the service other than one of my prayers, and my first take on the community is that it would do well to hear it at least mentioned and to have the issue of justice raised as a God priority, I decided to go for it. We’ll see.

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  6. Goodness me! It is already after 12; I have spent the morning at the vet as my dog injured a paw while we were out walking earlier! Anesthesia, antibiotics, stitches, dressings, recall on Monday… ugh!

    So, now I have to try and gather together the thoughts I had earlier in the week and see if they still mean anything. I use the NL so it is a collection of parables; and I think I thought I’d simply talk about how much we all love a good story, and how we learn so much through living out stories… and a play with history – his-story…. I don’t really know anymore!
    Will have a good read through Spill the Beans I think – and may just do a whole lot of adapting…

    My head is also already on its way to Florida to meet up with BE9 travellers. This time next week I will be on the beach!

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    1. Oh gosh yes, that would be terribly distracting to me – knowing I was leaving for a great trip and time in warm weather! But it sounds like you have some direction for your sermon this week, a collection of stories is always fun, with a little something to tie them all together….like Jesus’ parables all pointing to the kingdom of God is like….

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  7. I am not cut out to be a sunrise person.

    Up early today because we are our session/deacon retreat, including officer training and 2016 goal setting, today. It starts at 8:30 and I am bringing the donuts, and I absolutely must stop at Starbucks…and church is 40 minutes away. ugh. I need to leave in 15 minutes and here I am perusing the internet, trying to remember what scripture reading I thought would go with a particular section of the retreat.

    Later today, when I get home and have a little recovery time, I’ll be writing on the NL passage. I think I might end up reading but not preaching the parable of the sower–I feel like it gets so much air time that I’d rather focus on the second half, particularly the whole “scatters seed then sleeps and wakes, sleeps and wakes, until it grows, he knows not how” business. and maybe mustard seeds.

    I titled my sermon “powerball” because why not? Surely I can find some way to make that work. lol.

    If you’d like a donut, feel free to sneak one–I’m sure we’ll have plenty. I always have a hard time choosing, and end up with extras!

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    1. I make reference to the powerball too, as in some people hope for a miracle….but in the end that miracle might be a curse because I’ve read that some lottery winners end up filing for bankruptcy because they can’t handle the winnings…is it a miracle or a curse? So, yup, I am sure you can make it work…

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  8. The fussy (thought thank God not as much as this past week) face 14 month old and I are working on the parables of Mark. My brilliant idea was to encourage the congregation to find their own parables in which to share the good news. And that’s all I’ve got. That and some coffee. My kid will also probably share her cheerios if anyone wants. 🙂

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  9. We are using MLK lessons including his own writing for the Epistle:
    “In the midst of all of our scientific and technological advances, we still suffer the plague of racial conflict. We have not learned the simple art of loving our neighbors, and respecting the dignity and worth of all human personality…
    It has always been the responsibility of the Church to broaden horizons, challenge the status quo, and break the mores when necessary. Such was the role of Amos and Jeremiah, of Jesus and Paul, of the early Church, of Savonarola and Martin Luther, of Livingston and Schweitzer…
    [T]he Church should try to get to the ideational roots of race hate…take the lead in strong Christian social action. It is not enough for the Church to be active in the ideological direction; it must also move out into the arena of social action. The first act in this area should be the Church’s determination to purge its own body of discriminatory practices…”
    I’m talking about when the church gets it wrong, the need to confess and repent before/in order to move to reconciliation and talking about some of what we’ve gotten right, starting those conversations and sacraments (marriage) for all.

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  10. I’m checking in and coming by to offer encouragement and cinnamon toast. No preaching for me tomorrow, which is just as well, because my spouse not only has to write his sermon but received a phone call last night that one of his favorites, a pillar of the church, had died. So now he has a big funeral to plan for as well. The kids and I will be hanging out inside, away from the elevated pollen count. Feel free to send entertainment ideas 🙂

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  11. Good morning! I frequently follow this thread, but I think this is my first time posting (at least in a number of years). I am preaching the Wedding at Cana story and thinking about how to connect the miracle of water into wine with the tragedy of the water crisis in Flint, Michigan. Jesus didn’t just want more wine at the party – what if it was about justice for what was likely a poorer couple whose family couldn’t afford enough wine to meet the expectations of the wedding traditions? How does this miracle story speak to a community who can’t drink their water?

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    1. Yes, huge issues around the water crisis in Michigan and how actions by the state legislature and Governor caused the problem, by seeking a cheaper source for water and dropping the more expensive source, but now the Governor and legislature claim they don’t have the money to fix it and are calling for a federal disaster assistance. Its a terrible act of injustice all around by leaders who have been to focused on their agenda and not on what is the good of the people. SOOOO, how is Jesus consider the good of the people, including saving face for this wedding family?

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  12. My first time back in ages( and possibly my first time posting on the new page – yes it’s been that long!) I’m working with the Wedding at Cana and the theme of transformation so far. Just spent the day with our teenagers preparing them for confirmation which is joyful but tiring too so I’m a little underpowered!

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  13. I am also on the Wedding at Cana. It is 6pm here and the snow is lying outside so I am more focused on that than a sermon. We are on the west coast of Scotland and snow does not normally lie here so I am a little concerned about tomorrow morning and how we are going to clear the paths to the church. But so far there is no sermon for them to hear so maybe I should just focus on that first!! Tired an unmotivated just now. Good to hear all your ideas – hoping to be inspired.
    I have just made a lovely warming beef stew if anyone wants some.

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  14. So I wrote my sermon yesterday. I’ve gone back to it several times today and tweaked it, edited, it, added to it…and now I am not sure there is anything else I can think of to make it “better.” It’s not a great sermon, but I think it will do for tomorrow, when the parish will hear that the Vestry has passed, yet again, a deficit budget. Granted, the deficit budget that we passed last year came in at 50% less of a deficit, so we made some strides, but its a trend that makes people anxious….sigh. So instead I am focusing us on gratitudes, as in miracles can be just that which makes us feel grateful….I’ll post it in a bit. Must say, I’ve read some other good sermons today, which folks have been generous enough to link on this page.

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    1. About five years ago, after the annual meeting, a man whose family was fairly new to the congregation and to the Episcopal Church came to me. He said he didn’t understand why the parish leaders were apologetic about a deficit budget; to him, that said we were pushing ourselves and taking risks and trusting that what God intended for us would find a way to happen. That he loved it! He later told me that that was the moment when he absolutely knew our congregation was where he wanted to be. One can only dream of a parish filled with people who have this hope and vision, and there is a practical side to all of it, but ever since then I’ve looked a deficit budget differently!

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  15. Hi everybody. I am on the NL, behind, doing the 2nd Mark 1 reading for the Call to Worship and Prayer of Confession and last week’s preaching text, Mark 2, for tomorrow. I have a draft of a sermon whose point seems to be removing barriers for others to see/hear the love of Jesus. I had thought of incorporating some of the other aspects of the text but as I wrote, that seemed to be the clearest message in me. I don’t want to muddy it up with other ideas too. We are having the first of a few sessions to talk about who we are. The former moderator who is organizing it seems to be communicating the conversations as a how will we be here in 2 years. I am telling people it is about figuring out who we are, who we want to be and what mission to focus on. That conversation will likely include our cumbersome but beautiful and historic building and our severe lack of funds and dwindling membership. (We did just take in 2 members but…). So, maybe people being desperate for the love of God and desperately wanting to take their friend with them hits us better than anything else. I will come back to it in a few hours to see how it sits then.

    In the meantime, I have a large pot of baked potato soup ready and am about to make a huge pot of chili. As one son came home, vomiting, yesterday and the other has been napping since he came home from a basketball free throw contest a couple of hours ago, complaining that his stomach hurt even after the tournament, so its not nerves, chili may not be a wise choice. Good for the extreme cold coming tomorrow but not likely to be eaten by anyone but me.

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  16. Happy to have finished my sermon while the sun is still up. Here’s the gist:
    God told Moses to say: I have heard the cry of the Israelites and I have seen how the Egyptians oppress them, press them, squeeze them.
    We have multiple identities, sometimes in harmony, sometimes in conflict. Sometimes we elevate one identity above others. As Christians we are called to live out of our Christian identity which is not separate from but co-exists with our other identities. Dr. King’s Christianity looked different than the Christianity of the white clergy who wrote an open letter telling the black folk in their community not to demonstrate with King…
    This wasn’t the first time the church has been wrong. The very first slave ship to reach the American continent was named Jesus, a British ship, given to its captain by the head of the Church of England…
    We in the Episcopal Church have decided that all of the sacraments are for all of the people. We do not restrict the sacrament of ordination to male people and we do not restrict the sacrament of holy matrimony to heterosexual people…
    There is still deep and abiding racial animus; the old race hatred lingers on and other biases have come out of their closets, biases against Muslims and Arabs – who aren’t all Muslim, biases against Spanish speaking folk, particularly Mexicans which is interesting in Texas where Mexicans pre-date Texans in many places and now, biases against those who have been driven from their homes with nothing but their children in their arms from war, even though some of those wars have our nation’s fingerprints on them…
    Dr. King was a great man. And he was a flawed man. And God used him. But he wasn’t out there alone. Dr. King was surrounded by Dorothy Height, Diane Nash, Amelia Boynton and Fannie Lou Hamer the way Moses was surrounded by Yocheved, Shifra, Puah, Miriam and Pharaoh’s daughter. Dr. King also had the sage counsel of his friend Bayard Rustin, an openly gay black man…
    We in this Episcopal Church and in our larger global church are talking seriously about race and reconciliation…
    Too many folk are trying to be reconciled without confession or repentance, even in the church and we know better.
    We have these multiple identities as women and men, gay, straight, bi and trans, black and white, Caribbean and Latino, American and Episcopalian, members of Trinity and the five o’clock gang. And in all of these things we are God’s children and we are Christian. Sometimes some of us look more like the Egyptians doing the oppressing and sometimes some of us look more like the Israelites being oppressed. And God is watching all of us, listening for the cry of the broken-hearted, raising up deliverers from among us to do the work of justice.

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  17. Checking in here– trying to wrap my head around sermon time– doing wedding at Cana– Sermon is “From Mishap to Marvel” and we will be reading a letter that we received from Islamic Center in response to our letter of support in worship paired with scripture. Excited about that because this is in the tradition of faith communities sharing letters with each other and the letter will help our parishioners to understand why we (the leadership) wrote to their community to offer our support in light of so much hate. And it is New Member Sunday and our small community will be welcoming a handful of folks formally for the first time since our basement flood last Lent. But we also had a death this week and there are hard anniversaries coming up. Using MLK prayer that I discovered about different names for God (across faiths) and that will be a wonderful tie-in to the letter that we received.

    I made a recipe (a new one) for the sitter to pop into the oven…but I haven’t gotten very far on the Cana sermon. The children’s story is going to be shaped around Cana and also a quote: “Mishaps are like knives; they either serve us or cut us, as we grasp them by the blade or the handle.” James Russell Lowell. I like that Jesus (finally) decides to make the most of the mishap…leading way to marvel. And how sometimes we need other people to help nudge us in that direction (i.e. Jesus’ mom). But I have a feeling it will be a late night. Short sermons (homilies) are very hard to write for me. Succint-ness is not my strength but having 3 year old children helps.

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    1. I’m not sure what short means to you, but I just mentioned, in reply to Karla, that I am working to preach sermons that are under 1000 words, in the 900 range. I’m trying to consistently write something meaningful, yet short and to the point….it is in fact quite challenging, as you say.

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  18. A bit late working although I’ve given it a lot of thought. I am on my kindle as my computer crashed and burned this week. Lost everything. Sigh – lesson learned.

    So, messianic secret, and I am toying with the blog about Alan Rickman – The Keeper of the Story.

    BTW, how do I log in on the Spill the Beans site and can I recover issue 17 to finish out Epipany?

    Bagels to share.

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  19. So I am 390 words in. Yes, sad to say, at this time of day, I count words. It’s hard to do this while everybody else is watching football!!!

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    1. I always count words. I use to aim to have under 1300 words, but recently my goal is to have under 1000 words, somewhere in the 900 range. I’m exploring what its like to preach short, concise, and yet thought provoking sermons (well, hopefully thought provoking)…..I kind of like it to be honest. So, in that regard you are almost half way done…just sayin’

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      1. Somewhere, early on, I heard the expression, “The mind can absorb what the seat can endure!” I’m a 1000 word/5000 character preacher too; fortunately, that seems to be just about the length that my mind works with well for exploring one idea. I imagine this is partly dependent upon one’s tradition; my Episcopal congregation is quite happy with that. Blessings to both of you as you figure out what to say in what feels like the right amount of time.

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  20. This is what I can hear taking place downstairs in our apartment:

    My children are talking downstairs trying to decide which of them are baby Jesus and which is Mary.
    I just heard: “Baby Jesus, do you need money?”
    “Is it dinner time?”
    (Um yes, Mommy thinks, while she struggles with the sermon; I am hungry and yeah, Jesus probably could use some cash…)

    “But we are playing baby Jesus.”
    –they just told the sitter who is trying to get them to clean up.

    Someone just mentioned hay.
    “Don’t fall baby Jesus.” my one son says…

    My other son must have become baby Jesus.
    His brother says, “He won’t let me play baby Jesus.”

    OMG. I am NEVER going to get this sermon done. #hanginginthereuntildinner

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  21. Sat on the back porch and got the notebook and felt tip version scribbled in. Now to get it shaped up and ready for the tablet…

    Preaching the back half of Mark 1 to well and truly launch the NL for the spring. Before I could get rolling on my notes, I had to do a little side-line brain dump about earlier so that I wouldn’t end up processing the connections between my Star Word (authority) and this passage within the sermon!

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  22. We’re doing MLK tomorrow, and the guest preacher has gotten too sick to come. Enter alternate guest preacher–a fabulous and highly respected member of the congregation–for two of the services, thanks be to God. But I need to come up with something for the short, kid-interactive service. Any easy Ida’s out there? We have both MLK and Rosa Parks stained glass windows, but I have used those in previous years; I could refer to them, but I need a different angle.

    Lots of candy in my house…please, help yourselves and save me!

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  23. I’m finally settling in to actually write, and I realize that I’m not entirely sure how to begin. I’m tempted to begin with the example of a dandelion puff…but then I think I might want that for the children’s time, so I need a different beginning. Then I think I should *start* with powerball, but I’m not certain what exactly I want to say about that yet, so that’s terrible as an opener.

    Clearly I need to have more sugar today to try to bring my mind under control. (hahahahahahahahah.)
    In related news: I ate 3 donuts at the elder/deacon retreat. And I just had some of the last of the peppermint bark. Please, someone take the sweets away.

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    1. Oh geeze, if I ate that much sugar I’d be comatose, I just can’t handle it…still, how to begin? How to begin? That is so often my problem, that or, how to end. But I know you will figure it out, have some great intro to your sermon and a good ending, too. Just in case, however, I will hold you in prayer…

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  24. Okay..sitter is leaving…and I am as done as I am going to be. Need to pay bills and go to bed.
    I am playing around with Jesus’ initial reluctance– that line, “of what concern is that to you and to me?” and closing with an anonymous parable about a mouse and a mousetrap. All the animals don’t want to be bothered until the mousetrap goes off –not actually catching the mouse– but a snake which then bites the farmer’s wife and then each of the animals quickly sees how the concern is theirs… the point being that we are all connected and any one of us can be like Jesus’ mom or a wedding guest who nudges and asks what role we each play in helping the celebration or joy to continue, pain to be alleviated, and communal bonds to deepen and be nourished, instead of languishing at our peril. It seems to me that *something* happens betw. Jesus’ initial reluctance and those servants filling those stone jars. T

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