The Value of Life. Monday Monologues, April 29, 2019 (podcast)

Stephen W Hiemstra, 2018
Stephen W Hiemstra, 2018

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

In today’s podcast, I offer a prayer on life and reflect on the Value of Life

After listening, please click here to take a brief listener survey (10 questions).

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Hear the words; Walk the steps; Experience the joy!

The Value of Life. Monday Monologues, April 29, 2019 (podcast)

Also see:

Monday Monologue On March 26, 2018 

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Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

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Prayer for Life

Stephen W. Hiemstra, Twins
Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Loving Father,

All praise and honor be to you for you created us in your image and sustain our lives in the ups and downs of daily life. Blessed be your name above all names.

We confess that we have not always honored your name and acted in the manner of your sons and daughters. Forgive our selfishness focus on ourselves that we might cherish human life as priceless the way that you do.

Thank you for your gracious and merciful patience, for your covenantal love and faithless in spite of our lack of patience, inattention to your care, and spitefulness as sons and daughters.

In the power of your Holy Spirit, grant us strength to meet the day, grace for those we meet, and peace. In Jesus’ precious name, Amen.

Prayer for Life

Also see:

Books, Films, and Ministry

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Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter: http://bit.ly/Lent_2019b

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Value of Life

Stephen W. Hiemstra, Living in Christ

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

The value of human life has been neglected in many controversies in recent years. Once believed to have infinite value because we are created in the image of  God, the chipping away of this value has been dramatic during our lifetime.

The Lord’s Prayer reminds us to honor God’s name in keeping with the Third Commandment—do not take the Lord’s name in vain—because all the other commandments are leveraged on it (Exod 20:7). Why keep the other commandments, if we dishonor God’s name?

Intrinsic versus Market Value

The practical implications of honoring God arise because we are created in God’s image. Because we are created in the image of God, human life has intrinsic value—value in itself that does not change with life events. Because life has intrinsic value, we cannot accept discrimination, injustice, abuse, mistreatment of prisoners, weapons of mass destruction, euthanasia, abortion, designer babies, and a host of other detestable practices. Our human rights—a concept based on intrinsic value—exist because we are created in the image of a Holy God.

Our capitalist society focuses, not on intrinsic values, but on market values. Market values change with circumstances that are volatile. Your market value as a person implicitly depends on your productivity. If you are young, old, or unable to work, then you are a dependent and a burden on working people. The focus on market values inherently disrespects God’s image. When God is not honored; neither are we.

The strong influence of market values on our self-image explains, in part, is why depression rates tend to be highest among population groups—like young adults and senior citizens—who are unable to work. The rate of depression, suicide, anxiety disorders, addictions, and divorce appear to be correlated, in part, with changing job prospects.

Honor and Idolatry

When God’s name is dishonored, we also become more prone to idolatry (Rom 1:21-23). Why worship the God of the Bible when my income and status in society depends more on my family legacy, education, and hard work? So I naturally run to all sorts of substitutes for God that work, like insurance, to manage the ups and downs of life. Alternatively, I can obsess about the security of my home, spouse, and family.

The implications of honoring the name of God come together in the debate over euthanasia—the right to die. If my self-image and my dignity in society are both increasingly subjected to the same market values, then I will surrender myself to assisted suicide precisely when I need support from my family. And, of course, they will agree because I have become a burden both financially and emotionally. Consequently, euthanasia is evil masquerading as compassion. We are created in the image of a holy God who declares that life is good and sacred (Gen 1:31).

Link to Ethics

The question in ethics is on what you do about your faith.

When someone is speaking, do you honor them by listening or go to that happy place in your mind? Do you know the name of the janitor in your office or only the names of your supervisors? How do you show that the people in your life, including those really annoying people, are created in the image of God? 

Ethics is about who we honor and the choices we make.

Value of Life

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Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

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Pope and Contraception Get Second Look

Pope Paul VI. 2014. On Human Life(Humanae Vitae). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

The failure of many churches, especially protestant churches, to teach moral discipline since the 1960s is beyond dispute. The consequences have been stunning both in terms of cultural change and public health. For example, a recent report by the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states:

Half of STDs are among young people ages 15 to 24 years. These infections can lead to long-term health consequences, such as infertility; they can facilitate HIV transmission; and they have stigmatized entire subgroups of Americans.

Cases reported for Syphilis, Chlamydia, and Gonorrhea rose 31 percent over the period from 2012 to 2017 showing infection among 2.3 million Americans in 2017 after declining since the 1940s.[1]This statistic does not include hepatitis or AIDS, both of which are also sexually transmitted and especially prevalent among homosexuals.

Introduction

Unlike the protestants that began loosening restrictions on contraception in the 1930 Lambeth Conference of the Anglican Church (87), Pope Paul VI ignored advice consistent with the protestant position to issue a papal encyclical, Humanae Vitae, on July 25, 1968. The encyclical affirmed the traditional church teaching on the issue of contraception. The encyclical states:

In considering the problem of birth regulation, as is the case for every other problem regarding human life, one must look beyond partial perspectives—whether biological or psychological, demographic or sociological—and make one’s consideration in the light of an integral vision of man and his vocation, not only of his natural and earthly vocation, but also of his supernatural and eternal one….Marriage, therefore, is not the effect of chance or the product of the evolution of blind natural forces, it is a wise institution of the Creator for realizing in mankind His design of love.(52-53)

This encyclical was not popular among Catholics, especially American Catholics, and it was widely ridiculed by practically everyone else.[2]Now, after all the negative consequences of the sexual revolution of the 1960s, Christians are taking another look at this encyclical.

A Second Look

The foreword to this publication by Mary Eberstadt cites four prophecies made in the encyclical that appear to have taken place:

“a general lowering of moral standards throughout society; a rise in infidelity; a lessening of respect for women by men; and the coercive use of reproductive technologies by governments.”(11)

The absence of a consensus on morality promoted uniformly by American churches has led to the perception that the church itself is irrelevant. The decrease in marriage, increase in illegitimacy, and increase in abortion have largely been ignored by the church. Secondary effects of the demise of the family like suicide, drug abuse, incarceration, and abuse of women get talked about without linking them back to the root causes (13). Safe irrelevance, not hard morality, tends to the be watchword in churches hemorrhaging members and young people.

In this context, Pope Paul VI encyclical is getting a second look by Christian leaders wondering what went wrong in our generation (35).

Assessment

Pope Paul VI’s encyclical, On Human Life, raises the important issue of contraception. It is worthy of discussion, especially as fertility rates decline in America below the population sustaining level of 2.1 children per adult woman. As an economist, I have long linked declining fertility rates to the need for immigration. If for no other reasons than to keep our Social Security and Medicare programs viable.[3]Support for families and basic morality is a prerequisite for a viable economy and for preventing social diseases that are devastating for the individuals affected and for the economic viability of our health care system.


[1]https://www.cdc.gov/std/stats17/2017-STD-Surveillance-Report_CDC-clearance-9.10.18.pdf.

[2]I still remember John Carson’s comment—if you don’t play the game, you don’t get to make the rules.

[3]Both Medicare and Social Security are pay-as-you-go programs. This means that employed young people pay for the benefits of retired old people. If you have fewer young people than emerging old people, either rates have to increase or benefits have to decrease.

Pope and Contraception Get Second Look

Also see:

Thompson: Paul’s Ethics Forms Community

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Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter: http://bit.ly/Lent_2019b

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Easter. Monday Monologues, April 22, 2019 (podcast)

Stephen W Hiemstra, 2018
Stephen W Hiemstra, 2018

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

In today’s podcast, I offer a prayer and reflect on Easter.

After listening, please click here to take a brief listener survey (10 questions).

To listen, click on the link below:

Hear the words; Walk the steps; Experience the joy!

Easter. Monday Monologues, April 22, 2019 (podcast)

Also see:

Monday Monologue On March 26, 2018 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter: http://bit.ly/Lent_2019b

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Mark 16: Easter (3)

Empty Tomb on EasterBy Stephen W. Hiemstra

“And he said to them, Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified.

He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him” (Mark 16:6 ESV).

One of the most vivid memories I have as a young person was the experience of an Easter sunrise.  Easter is mysterious, earth-shattering news.  How could I sleep through it?

Funeral

At my grandfather’s funeral, I was given a head of wheat which hangs now in my kitchen.  The wheat reminds me of Jesus’ saying:  “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24 ESV).

Resurrection Reminders

The mystery of resurrection is everywhere in nature.  Sunrise is the resurrection of the day.  Springtime is the resurrection of the seasons.  The metamorphosis from caterpillar to cocoon to adult butterfly is a beautiful, dramatic resurrection.  The Apostle Paul writes:  “all of creation groans in anticipation of our redemption” (Romans 8:19-23).

Messianic Prophecies

Prophesies of Jesus’ resurrection start early in scripture.  Systematic theologians see salvation history as creation, fall, and redemption.  Because sin is the cause of death, eternal life requires forgiveness of sin which is brought about in Christ’s resurrection.  This transition is prophesied in Genesis:  “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Gen 3:15 ESV).

Other theologians see resurrection arising out of righteous suffering.  The prophet Job writes not only of Christ, but his own resurrection:  “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another” (Job 19:25-27 ESV).  At the birth of the church on Pentecost (Acts 2:27), the Apostle Peter sees resurrection prophesied by King David:  “For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption” (Psalm 16:10).

When asked to produce a sign Jesus himself spoke of the sign of Jonah (Luke 11:29-32).  In the belly of the whale Jonah prayed:  “I called out to the LORD, out of my distress, and he answered me; out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and you heard my voice” (Jonah 2:2 ESV).  And the whale spit him out on dry land, another resurrection story.

Old Testament Resurrections Accounts

Resurrection did not start with Jesus.  Some see the story of the binding of Isaac as a resurrection account [1] and a prophecy of the cross (Genesis 22:1-18).  The prophet Elisha raises the Shunammite’s son from the dead (2 Kings 4:32-37).  In the valley of bones, Ezekiel prophesied about resurrection of the Nation of Israel (Ezekiel 37:3-6).  The exodus of the nation of Israel from Egypt and the return of the exiles from Babylon are both resurrection accounts where a dead nation rises to new life.

New Testament Resurrection Accounts

In the gospels, Jesus himself performed several resurrections.  He raised Jairus’s daughter from the dead (Mark 5:22-43).  He raised the widow’s son (Luke 7:12-17).  Most remarkably, after lying four days in the tomb he raised Lazarus from death (John 11:1-45).  Like other resurrections, Jesus’ healings and exorcisms brought hope where there was none.

Some scholars believe that John Mark’s gospel recorded Apostle Peter’s testimony while he was in Rome during AD 41-54.  Mark later traveled with Paul.  Mark’s role was to teach about the life of Jesus.  Later, Luke may have assumed this role in Paul’s missionary team.

Mark’s Unusual Ending

Interestingly, Mark did no see the gospel ending with Jesus.  Neither did Luke whose gospel was followed by the Book of Acts.  Mark’s gospel starts with:  “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mark 1:1 ESV).  Scholars believe that Mark’s gospel ends with the woman going out from the tomb to relay the angel’s message:  “But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee” (Mark 16:7 ESV).  Likewise, our part in salvation history is to pass on the story.  As the hymnist Katherine Hankey (1834-1911) writes:  “I love to tell the story, of unseen things above, of Jesus and his glory, of Jesus and his love…” [2]

Christian Hope

Christian hope starts with the resurrection: we know that death is not the end of life’s story.  And because we know the rest of the story, we can invest in life and live each day with boldness and joy.

[1] Did Abraham believe God would raise Isaac from the dead?  Why did the angel have to tell Abraham twice?

[2] www.hymnsite.com/lyrics/umh156.sht

Mark 16: Easter 2

Also see:

A Roadmap of Simple Faith

Christian Spirituality 

Looking Back 

A Place for Authoritative Prayer 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter: http://bit.ly/Holy_Week_2018

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Easter Prayer

Tulips 2018

Merciful Father:

All praise and honor are yours for you place eternity in our hearts and sent your Son Jesus to save us from our sins.

We confess our foolishness for presuming on your grace and thinking that mercy through Jesus is cheaply available without true devotion and faith.

Thank you for the love that you demonstrated in the death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, our savior and eternal role model.

In the power of your Holy Spirit, dwell in our hearts that Christ’s salvation will nourish our faith daily. Wipe away the despair of loneliness and doubt. Grant us the strength to be faithful stewards of your grace to those around us that your peace may remain our peace, now and always. In Jesus’ precious name, Amen.

Easter Prayer

Also see:

Books, Films, and Ministry

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Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter: http://bit.ly/Lent_2019b

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Mark 15: Holy Saturday (3)

Frank and Gertrude Hiemstra, GraveBy Stephen W. Hiemstra

“And Joseph bought a linen shroud, and taking him down, wrapped him in the linen shroud

and laid him in a tomb that had been cut out of the rock.

And he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb.” (Mark 15:46 ESV)

Jesus is buried on the Day of Preparation which ends at sundown when the Jewish Sabbath begins. This detail in Mark’s Gospel is important because burial was forbidden on the Sabbath[1] and executed criminals could not hang overnight (Deut 21:23). The Gospels mention nothing taking place on the Sabbath while Jesus lay in the tomb and the narrative resumes on the following day. In other words, Jesus rested in the tomb over the Sabbath. Holy Saturday was a day of mourning and grief.

A Grieving Holiday

Grief is more than crying. In Jesus’ Beatitudes, Matthew records: “Honored are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” (Matt 5:4) Luke records: “Honored are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.” (Luke 6:21) Both accounts of this Beatitude are written in the form of a lament which has two parts.  In the first part, one empties the heart of all grief and pain and anxiety in prayer to God; in the second part, having been emptied the heart turns to God in praise. In the lament, when we grieve, we make room in our hearts for God.

The Theology of Lament

The most famous lament in the Bible is cited by the Gospel of Mark as Jesus’ last words: “My god, my god, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34)[2] These words come from Psalm 22 verse one which turns to God in verse 19: “But You, O LORD, be not far off; O You my help, hasten to my assistance.” At a time when much of scripture was memorized, rabbis would cite the first part of a passage knowing that the audience would fill in the missing part. Knowing this tradition[3], Jesus could cite the first verse in Psalm 22 knowing that people hearing him would know the Psalm and how it ended.

Jesus gave us a template for dealing with grief the night before during his prayer in Gethsemane. Mark records that Jesus’ prayed three times:  “Abba! Father! All things are possible for You; remove this cup from Me; yet not what I will, but what You will.” (Mark 14:36). Jesus is aware that he stands before the cross and does not want to die; still, he yields to God’s will. Each time we face pain and grief we are faced with a decision: do we turn to God or do we turn into our grief? Our identity is crafted from a lifetime of such decisions.

Joseph of Arimathea

The story of Joseph of Arimathea is instructive. Mark records: “Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the council, who was also himself looking for the kingdom of God, took courage and went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus.” (Mark 15:43) Asking for the body of a man just crucified for sedition took guts. Yet, with no expectation of resurrection, on a day when Jesus’ inner circle was in hiding and in fear, Joseph “took courage” and asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Then, he buried him in his own grave [4].

Holy Saturday Reveals our Theology

Holy Saturday is a time to reflect on Christ’s crucifixion. Are we among those happy to see Jesus in the tomb or are we looking forward to the kingdom of God like Joseph of Arimathea?

Footnotes

[1] Burial is work, hence forbidden on the Sabbath (e.g. Deut 5:12-15).

[2] Also: Matthew 27:46. The direct citation of an Aramaic expression—“Eli, eli, lama sabachthani?” in both the Mark and Matthew accounts makes it more likely that these are the actual words of Jesus. This is because the most important expressions in the Bible are cited directly rather than translated or, in this case, the actual words are both cited and translated.

[3] Jesus does exactly that in Matthew 21:16 citing Psalm 8:2.

[4] What a picture of substitutionary atonement—Jesus was buried in my grave so that I do not have to be.

Mark 15: Holy Saturday 2

Also see:

A Roadmap of Simple Faith

Christian Spirituality 

Looking Back 

A Place for Authoritative Prayer 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter: http://bit.ly/Holy_Week_2018

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Mark 15: Good Friday (3)

Paining of the crucifixion
The Crucifixion

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

“And when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said,

Truly this man was the Son of God!” (Mark 15:39 ESV)

Second Trial

Pontius Pilate gets right to the point:  “Are you the King of the Jews?”  Jesus answers with two words–σὺ λέγεις—which means:  you say (Mark 15:2). The chief priests accuse him of many things.  Pilate asks Jesus a second question:  “Have you no answer to make?” (Mark 15:4)  Jesus does not respond (Isaiah 53:7).  Pilate is amazed.

First Trial

The night before, the high priest asked Jesus if he is the Messiah (Christ).  Jesus responded using the words God from Exodus 3:14 saying:  “I am”.  Then, in case anyone misunderstood him, he paraphrased the messianic prophecy in Daniel 7:13:  “you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven” (Mark 14:62 ESV).  The high priest accordingly accused Jesus of blasphemy which is punishable by stoning under Jewish law (Leviticus 24:16).  But since Rome reserved the right to decide all cases of capital punishment, the chief priests accused Jesus of the political crime of sedition—treason against Rome.  This is why Pilate asked Jesus:  “Are you the King of the Jews?” (Mark 15:2)

What Kind of Messiah?

Realizing that Jesus is innocent of the charge of sedition, like a good politician Pilate begins working the crowd.  In offering to release a prisoner named Barabbas, who was guilty of both sedition and murder (Mark 15:7), Pilate is effectively asking the crowd what kind of Messiah they prefer.  The crowd asked for Barabbas who was known to be a Jewish nationalist—in other words, the crowd prefers a kingly Messiah.

Messiah means anointed one in Hebrew which translates as Christ in Greek.  Three types of roles are anointed:  prophets, priests, and kings.  In his earthly ministry, Jesus embodied the first two roles (prophet and priest), but the crowd wanted a king—someone to drive the Romans out—as we saw earlier in Mark 11:10.

So Pilate gave them what they wanted (Romans 1:24-25), washed his hands of the decision, and sent Jesus to the cross.

Mark 15: Good Friday 2

Also see:

A Roadmap of Simple Faith

Christian Spirituality 

Looking Back 

A Place for Authoritative Prayer 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter: http://bit.ly/Holy_Week_2018

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Mark 14: Maundy Thursday (3)

Foot washing

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

“Three times a year all your males shall appear before the LORD your God at the place that he will choose: at the Feast of Unleavened Bread (הַמַּצּ֛וֹת), at the Feast of Weeks (הַשָּׁבֻע֖וֹת), and at the Feast of Booths (הַסֻּכּ֑וֹת; Deuteronomy 16:16 ESV).

Holy Week as we know it is often celebrated at the same time as the Jewish Feast of Unleavened Bread (Festival of Matzos) often called Passover.  Dates differ because of differences in the calendar rules.  In Jesus’ time, Passover was one of three festivals that required the faithful to travel to Jerusalem.  The other festival familiar to Christians is the Feast of Weeks commonly known as Pentecost.  The Feast of Booths is a harvest festival in the fall.

Passover Backstory

Passover commemorates the release of the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt.  God instructed Moses to tell the Israelite to sacrifice a lamb and place the blood of the lamb over their door-posts so that the angel of death would pass them by.  On the night of the Passover, the angel of death struck down the first born of Egypt and passed over the Israelite households.  Pharaoh reacted immediately by expelling the Israelite slaves.  They left so quickly that there was not time to bake bread for the journey.  Instead, they prepared bread without letting the dough rise—unleavened bread (Exodus 12).  Mark 14:12-26 describes how Jesus and his disciples celebrated the Passover meal in Jerusalem now remembered as the Last Super.

Covered by the Blood

The Last Super is important to Christians because it introduces the new covenant in Christ.  The word, covenant, found in v. 24 appears nowhere else in Mark’s Gospel and alludes to the covenant meal that Moses and the Elders of Israel shared with God on Mount Sinai (Exodus 24:9-11).  The grim symbolism of the wine as the blood of Christ is an allusion to the blood of the Passover lamb (Exodus 12:7) which alerted the angel of death to pass over households displaying the blood.  In this sense, as Christians we are (like the door posts) covered by the blood of Christ.  By Jesus’ blood our sins are forgiven and we are passed over (Hebrews 9:11-28).

Where Does Maundy Thursday Come From?

Where does the name, Maundy Thursday, come from?  One theory is that it is Middle English for the Latin word, Mandatum, which means command.  According to some traditions, Maundy Thursday focuses on Jesus’ lesson on servant leadership:  “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet” (John 13:14 ESV).

Mark 14: Maundy Thursday

Also see:

A Roadmap of Simple Faith

Christian Spirituality 

Looking Back 

A Place for Authoritative Prayer 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter: http://bit.ly/Holy_Week_2018

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