2 Corinthians 9: The Spiritual Gift of Generosity

Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra
Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra

“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it. (Isaiah 55:10-11 ESV)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

The Prophet Isaiah draws a parallel between the generosity of God in watering the earth and the word of God powerfully accomplishing his purposes.  Because generosity is a tangible expression of love, is Isaiah, in fact, saying that love accomplishes God’s purposes?  Jesus thought so (Matthew 5:44-46).

In chapter 9, Paul continues his discussion of the drought relief fund for Jerusalem that he has been discussing.  Garland [1] noted these parallels between chapters 8 and 9 forming an inclusio (a literary frame around the discussion):

  Chapter

Text

8

9

The grace of God 8:1 9:14
Ministry/Service 8:1 9:12-13
Test 8:2 9:13
Generosity 8:2 9:11,13
Abound 8:2 9:12

This is inclusio is important because other commentaries have argued for a second letter being inserted in chapter 9 because they could not understand Paul’s apparent repetition.  Paul pauses in his letter to explain the relief fund, in part, because his Greek audience does not understand the Jewish concern for helping the poor.

For example, in verse 9 Paul paraphrases:  You shall give to him freely, and your heart shall not be grudging when you give to him, because for this the LORD your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake. (Deuteronomy 15:10)  Like the Romans, the Greeks saw only one reason for charity—to receive praise and honor from those receiving it.  Praise and honor from poor people was not interesting to them.  Praise and honor from God for offering charity to the poor, by contrast, was another matter.  In verses 7-12, Paul reminds them of God’s interest in generosity, especially to the poor, 4 times!

Paul drives his point home by reminding the Corinthians that the saints in Jerusalem will be praying for them (v 14) [2].

Generosity.  Do we count both the blessings and the cost when we donate money?  Paul reminds us:  God loves a cheerful giver (v 7)

[1] David E. Garland. 1999.  The New American Commentary:  2 Corinthians.  Nashville:  B&H. page 400.

[2] Later, in his letter to the Romans (15:30-31), Paul worries that the Corinthian gift will not be accepted.

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1 Corinthians 16: Unity and Diversity in Christ

Winter Trees by Sharron Beg
Winter Trees by Sharron Beg

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love…If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed. Our Lord, come! (1 Corinthians 16:13-14,22 ESV)

Many study groups fast forward through the final chapters in the Apostle Paul’s letters thinking that the names listed are difficult to pronounce and the overt lesson is over.  This is a mistake.

In Chapter 16 Paul deals with at least 3 very controversial issues in the church:

  • Mission giving and financial integrity;
  • Support and acceptance of church leaders; and
  • Boundaries on the Christian community.

Missions and Financial Integrity.  The Jerusalem council imposed 4 requirements on Gentile converts: …abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality (Acts15:29 ESV) [1].  Paul mentions only one requirement:  remember the poor (Galatians 2:10). By that, he particularly meant the poor saints in Jerusalem.  He reasoned: For if the Gentiles have come to share in their spiritual blessings, they ought also to be of service to them in material blessings (Romans 15:27 ESV).

It is interesting that Paul, who took no support from the church in Corinth (1 Corinthians 9), was especially careful to request that they appoint their own trustees for the collection for the poor saints in Jerusalem (v 3).

Church Leaders.  In the middle of church divisions, Paul sends in a turnaround team and highlights the work of theologically sound, local leaders.  In commending the household of Stephanas, he highlights their spirituality (first converts) and conduct:  they have devoted themselves to the service of the saints—be subject to such as these, and to every fellow worker and laborer (vv 15-16)

Boundaries on the Church.  While the church is open to everyone, the church does not consist of everyone.  Paul states:  If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed. Our Lord, come! (v 22) [2]  The mark of a Christian is love for the Lord, not affiliation or family ties.  Given this presupposition, Paul advises:  Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like adults, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love (vv 13-14).

The mention of the household of Stephanas (v 15) as well as Aquila and Prisca (v 19) [3] underscores the importance of family ministries, especially husband-wife teams, in the early church.

 

[1] This list contains 3 food requirements and behavioral requirement.  Each requirement focuses on sins of the body.

[2] “Our Lord come” is written in Aramic (μαράνα θά; Marantha) suggesting again that the earliest confessions included statements of Christ’s divinity and expectations of the second coming.

[3] Also:  Acts 18:2,18, 26;  Romans 16:3, and 2 Timothy 4:19.

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Romans: Faith Seeking Understanding

Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra
Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Romans: Faith Seeking Understanding

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Riverside Presbyterian Church, Sterling, VA.  Sunday, March 2, 2014.

Forward

Good morning. Welcome to Riverside Presbyterian Church.

This morning we conclude our study of Paul’s letter to the churches in Rome. Although we are jumping into the deep end of the pool again, the lesson is easy. How can we be blessed by something we do not understand? Our salvation depends solely on faith in Jesus Christ.

Invocational Prayer

Let’s pray.

Eternal Father, Beloved Son, Spirit of Hope. Make your presence known to us this morning. In the power of his Holy Spirit, inspire words spoken and illuminate the words heard. In the precious name of Jesus, Amen.

Text

Our lesson today comes from Paul’s letter to the Romans 15:7-13.

Hear the word of the Lord:

Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.  For I tell you that Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God’s truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written, “Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles, and sing to your name.” [2 Samuel 22:50]

And again it is said, “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people.” [Deuteronomy 32:43]

And again, “Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and let all the peoples extol him.” [Psalm 117:1]

And again Isaiah says, “The root of Jesse will come, even he who arises to rule the Gentiles; in him will the Gentiles hope.” [Isaiah 11:10]

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. (Romans 15:7-13 ESV)

The word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

Introduction

How can I be blessed by something I do not understand? (2X)

As a teenager, I was passionate about my youth group. When the youth director left the church, the group collapsed. My last year of school there were three of us in the group: the Pastor, my best friend, and me. That whole year we meet on Wednesdays for pizza, Bonhoeffer, and the book of Romans. Since then, I have read the Bible through the lens of the Romans, particularly Romans 12:1-2—as written on the wall over there. In college, when I became bitter at life, it was the book of Romans that brought me back to God. Now, after the experience of serminary, I wonder how I could be so blessed by a book that I still understand only incompletely?

Clearly, this is not a new question. Faith is not irrational, but rather it is the beginning of rational discourse [1].

Organized speech always begins with assumptions. In the context of the scientific method, for example, the idea of faith is known as a hypothesis or an assumption. In the same way, even the words of this very sentence in my mouth are unintelligible without some prior agreement (an assumption) as to their meaning (2X).

Then, the logic of modern science and logic of faith are exactly the same. In the scientific method, the hypothesis provides focus for the research problem and a context for understanding it. In faith, we understand life in the context of the biblical narrative. In other words, our faith blesses us helping us to understand the will of God and our role in it.

Scripture Lesson

How can I be blessed by something that I do not understand? (2X) [2]

Paul’s answer to this question arises in verse 13. There Paul says: May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope (v 13). The blessings of God are joy, peace, and hope when we have faith [3].

Faith in what? In Corinthians, Paul wrote:  For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles (1 Corinthians 1:22-23 ESV) [4].  Our faith is in the resurrection of Jesus Christ after his death on the cross.

Reflection

Why does Paul spend so much time in his letter on the conflict between Jews and Gentiles? (2X)

It is useful to see Paul’s discussion of Jews and Gentiles as a conflict between brothers, Cain and Abel. No sibling should take precedence over the other in a healthy family. This concept allows Paul to use this tension between Jews and Gentiles as a kind of nature-nurture argument (2X) [5].

The nurture argument is that the law teaches us to give up our natural state of sin and thereby gain the blessing of God—this is a traditional source of Jewish pride. On the other hand, the argument is that human nature is basically good and we need no help from God or the law. For Paul, neither our natural abilities (Romans 1:18-32), nor the mentoring of the law (Romans 7:5) is sufficient to earn God’s grace. Neither brother—not the Jew by the law nor the Gentile through human nature—can claim the righteousness of God. (2X)

This is where the example of Abraham becomes important. Abraham was not righteous in himself nor through his actions. Paul writes: For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” (Romans 4:3 ESV; Genesis 15:6) (2X).  Like the prodigal son did not deserve his father ‘s forgiveness, neither do we deserve God’s forgiveness (Luke 15:11-23). So like Abraham, we have been justified by faith so that we can have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 5:1).

In other words, Abraham ‘s righteousness was a gift given to Abraham by God in response to his faith.

Application

In conclusion.  This argument Paul has a direct relationship with the divisions in the church today .

Consider the conflict over the last hundred years between liberals and evangelicals.  Neither through the natural goodness of human beings (nature) or through strict adherence to biblical principles (nurture) can we earn God’s grace. Salvation does not depend on being a liberal or evangelical.

How can we be blessed by something you do not understand? (2X)

In the eyes of God: There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28 ESV). In our context, one can say:  neither Liberal nor Evangelical, smart nor dumb, beautiful nor ugly, active or comatose, young or old.  We are all one in Christ Jesus. Our salvation does not depend on our gender, our culture, our pay, our intelligence nor our political correctness. It is only through faith in Jesus Christ so that we can approach God as sons and daughters.

Closing Prayer

Let’s pray.

Heavenly Father. We give thanks for Paul’s teaching in Romans. Thanks for the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit and the blessings lavished on us day after day, despite our ignorance. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

References

Dunn, James D.G.  1993.  “Letter to the Romans” pages 838-50 of Dictionary of Paul and His Letters.  Edited by Gerald F. Hawthorne, Ralph P. Martin, and Daniel G. Reid.  Downers Grove:  InverVarsity Press.

Hays, Richard B.  1989.  Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul.  New Haven:  Yale University Press.

Hays, Richard B.  2011.  Interpretation:  A Biblical Commentary for Teaching and Preaching—First Corinthians (Orig pub 1997).  Louisville:  Westminster John Knox Press.

Hiemstra, Stephen W.  June 2009. “Can Bad Culture Kill a Firm?” pages 51-54 of Risk Management.  Society of Actuaries.  Accessed: 18 February 2014. Online:  http://bit.ly/1cmnQ00.

Schaeffer, Francis A.  2006.  Escape from Reason:  A Penetrating Analysis of Trends in Modern Thought (Orig pub 1968).  Downers Grove:  IVP Books.

Wallace, Daniel B.  1996.  Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics:  An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament.  Grand Rapids:  Zondervan.

Footnotes

[1] The slogan – faith seeking understanding (fides quaerens intellectum) – is attributed to Archbishop Anselm of Canterbury in the eleventh century. AD 1033-1109. http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/anselm

[2] The text of today’s sermon is Romans 15:7-13 that sums up Paul’s epistle (Hays1989, 70-71). Paul premise described in verse 7: For Accept one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. (Romans 15:7 NIV) (2X). The word therefore ( Διὸ ), refers to verse 1, which refers to the weak and strong in faith. It says: We who are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak and not to please ourselves (Romans 15:1 NIV). Ironically, the weak, in this context refer to Jewish Christians concerned about the food laws (Romans 14:2).

This implies that verse 7 deals with Jews and Gentiles. If you do not see this point, Paul cites four passages together Jews and Gentiles: 2 Samuel 22:50, Deuteronomy 32:43, Psalm 117:1, and Isaiah 11:10. It is clear that Paul focuses on the reconciliation of Jews and Gentiles in the church of Rome.

[3] James D.G. Dunn Theologian (1993) believes that Paul has three goals in Romans: An apologetic objective, a missionary objective, and a pastoral objective. These objectives overlap in their discussion of Jews and Gentiles.

[4] In fact, the whole of 1 Corinthians 1:17-23 is helpful. Also: (Hays 2011, 27-35).

[5] My thanks to Professor Rollin Grams of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, Charlotte, NC for suggesting this argument ET/NT 543 New Testament and Christian Ethics, 20 to 24 May 2013.

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Romanos: La Fe Buscando Entendimiento

Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra
Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Por Stephen W. Hiemstra

Iglesia Presbiteriana de Riverside, Sterling, Virginia Marzo 2, 2014

Prefacio

Buenos días. Bienvenido a la Iglesia Presbiteriana de Riverside.

Esta mañana llegamos a la conclusión de nuestro estudio sobre la carta de Pablo a las iglesias en Roma.  A pesar de que hemos saltando  en la parte profunda de la piscina otra vez, la lección es fácil.  ¿Cómo se puede ser bendecidos por algo que no entiende?  Nuestra salvación depende solamente en fe en Jesucristo.

Invocación

Oramos.

Padre Eterno, Hijo Amado, Espíritu de la Esperanza. Haga su presencia conocido entre nosotros esta mañana.  En el poder de su Espíritu Santo, inspirando las palabras pronunciadas e iluminar las palabras escuchadas. En el precioso nombre de Jesús, Amén.

Texto

Nuestra lección de hoy viene de la carta de Pablo a los Romanos 15:7-13.

Escuchen la palabra del Señor:

Por tanto, acéptense mutuamente, así como Cristo los aceptó a ustedes para gloria de Dios. Les digo que Cristo se hizo servidor de los judíos para demostrar la fidelidad de Dios, a fin de confirmar las promesas hechas a los patriarcas, y para que los gentiles glorifiquen a Dios por su compasión, como está escrito: «Por eso te alabaré entre las naciones; cantaré salmos a tu nombre.» [2 Samuel 22:50]

En otro pasaje dice: «Alégrense, naciones, con el pueblo de Dios.» [Deuteronomy 32:43]

Y en otra parte: «¡Alaben al Señor, naciones todas! ¡Pueblos todos, cántenle alabanzas!» [Psalm 117:1]

A su vez, Isaías afirma: «Brotará la raíz de Isaí, el que se levantará para gobernar a las naciones; en él los pueblos pondrán su esperanza.»  [Isaia 11:10]

Que el Dios de la esperanza los llene de toda alegría y paz a ustedes que creen en él, para que rebosen de esperanza por el poder del Espíritu Santo (Romanos 15:7-13 NVI).

La palabra del Señor.  Gracias a Dios.

Introducción

¿Cómo se puede ser bendecidos por algo que no entiende? ( 2X )

Cuando adolescente, estaba apasionado de mi grupo de jóvenes. Cuando el director de jóvenes salió la iglesia, el grupo se derrumbó.  Mi último año de la escuela el grupo estaba tres personas—el pastor, mi amigo mejor, y yo. Ese año entero nos reunimos los miércoles por la pizza, Bonhoeffer, y el libro de Romanos. Desde entonces, he leído la Biblia a través de la lente de los romanos, particularmente Romanos 12:1-2—como esta escrito por allí. En la universidad, cuando me convertí en amarga a la vida, fue romanos que me trajeron de vuelta a Dios. Ahora, después la experiencia del seminario, me pregunto: ¿cómo puedo ser tan bendecida por un libro que entiendo todavía incompletamente? (2X)

Claramente, esto no es una pregunta nueva. La fe no es irracional, sino que es el comienzo de un discurso racional [1].

Discurso organizado siempre comienza con suposiciones. En el contexto del método científico, por ejemplo, la idea de la fe es conocido como una hipótesis o una suposición. En la misma manera, incluso las palabras de esta frase en mi boca es ininteligible sin algún acuerdo previo (un suposición) en cuanto a su significado (2X).

Entonces, el lógico moderno y el lógico de la fe son exactamente lo mismo.  En el método científico, una hipótesis proporciona el enfoque en el problema investigable y un contexto para entenderlo. En la fe, se nos da un enfoque para la comprensión de la vida en el contexto de la narrativa bíblica. En otras palabras, nuestra fe nos bendice al ayudar a comprender la voluntad de Dios y nuestro papel en él.

Escritura

¿Cómo se puede ser bendecidos por algo que no entiende? [2] (2X)

La respuesta de Pablo a esta pregunta viene en el versículo 13. Allí, Pablo dice: Que el Dios de la esperanza los llene de toda alegría y paz a ustedes que creen en él, para que rebosen de esperanza por el poder del Espíritu Santo (v 13).  El bendecidos de Dios son alegría, paz, y esperanza cuando tenemos fe [3].

¿Fe en qué? En Corintios, Pablo escrito: Los judíos piden señales milagrosas y los gentiles buscan sabiduría, mientras que nosotros predicamos a Cristo crucificado. Este mensaje es motivo de tropiezo para los judíos, y es locura para los gentiles, (1Corintios 1:22-23 NVI) [4]  Nuestro fe es en el resurrección de Jesucristo después su muerto por la cruz.

Reflexión

¿Por qué Pablo pasar tanto tiempo en su carta sobre el conflicto entre los Judios y gentiles? (2X)

Es útil para ver la discusión de Pablo de Judios y gentiles como un conflicto entre hermanos, como Caín y Abel.   No hermano debiera tener prioridad sobre el otro en una familia saludable. Este concepto permite Pablo a utilizar esta tensión entre Judios y gentiles como una tipo de naturaleza-nurture argumento (2X) [5].

El argumento nurtura es que la ley nos ensena a renunciar a nuestro estado natural de pecado y ganar la benedicion de Dios—la fuente tradicional de orgullo judío.  Por lo contrario, el argumento naturaleza es que los humanos son básicamente bueno y no necesita ayuda de Dios o la ley. Por Pablo, ni nuestras habilidades naturales (Romanos 1:18-32), ni la tutoría de la ley (Romanos 7:5) es suficientes para ganar la gracia de Dios. Ninguno de los hermanos, ni Judio por la ley ni gentil por la naturaleza, pueden reclamar la justicia de Dios.

Aquí es donde el ejemplo de Abraham es importante. Abraham no era justo en sí mismo ni por sus acciones. Pablo escribe: Pues ¿qué dice la Escritura? Le creyó Abraham a Dios, y esto se le tomó en cuenta como justicia. (Romanos 4:3 NVI; Genesis 15:6) (2X). Al igual que el hijo pródigo no se merecía el perdón de su padre, ni qué nos merecemos el perdón de Dios (Lucas 15:11-23). Así que al igual que Abraham, ya que hemos sido justificados por la fe, tenemos paz para con Dios por medio de nuestro Señor Jesucristo (Romanos 5:1).

En otras palabras, la justicia de Abraham era un don concedido a Abraham por Dios en respuesta a su fe.

Aplicación
En conclusión.

Este argumento de Pablo tiene una relación directa con las divisiones en la iglesia hoy.

Considere el conflicto sobre los últimos cien años entre liberales y evangélicos. Ni a traves de la bondad natural de los seres humanos (la naturaleza) ni a traves de la estricta adhesión a los principios bíblicos (la nurtura) podamos ganar la gracia de Dios. La salvación no depende de ser un liberal o un evangélico.

¿Cómo podemos ser bendecidos por algo que no entendemos? (2x)

En los ojos de Dios: Ya no hay judío ni griego, esclavo ni libre, hombre ni mujer, sino que todos ustedes son uno solo en Cristo Jesús (Galatas 3:28 NVI).  En nuestro contexto, se pueda decir: no hay Liberal ni Evangélica; inteligente ni tonto; bello ni feo; despierto ni comatoso; joven ni viejo, todos somos uno en Cristo Jesús. Nuestra salvación no depende de nuestro género, nuestra cultura, nuestro sueldo, nuestra inteligencia o nuestra corrección política. Es sólo a través de la fe en Jesucristo para que podamos acercarnos a Dios como hijos e hijas.

Oración

Vamos a orar.

Padre Celestial. Damos gracias por la enseñanza de Pablo en el libro de Romanos. Gracias por la iluminación del Espíritu Santo y de las bendiciones que se prodigan en nosotros día tras día, a pesar de nuestra ignorancia. En el nombre de Jesús, Amén.

REFERENCES

Dunn, James D.G.  1993.  “Letter to the Romans” pages 838-50 of Dictionary of Paul and His Letters.  Edited by Gerald F. Hawthorne, Ralph P. Martin, and Daniel G. Reid.  Downers Grove:  InverVarsity Press.

Hays, Richard B.  1989.  Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul.  New Haven:  Yale University Press.

Hays, Richard B.  2011.  Interpretation:  A Biblical Commentary for Teaching and Preaching—First Corinthians (Orig pub 1997).  Louisville:  Westminster John Knox Press.

Hiemstra, Stephen W.  June 2009. “Can Bad Culture Kill a Firm?” pages 51-54 of Risk Management.  Society of Actuaries.  Accessed: 18 February 2014. Online:  http://bit.ly/1cmnQ00.

Schaeffer, Francis A.  2006.  Escape from Reason:  A Penetrating Analysis of Trends in Modern Thought (Orig pub 1968).  Downers Grove:  IVP Books.

Wallace, Daniel B.  1996.  Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics:  An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament.  Grand Rapids:  Zondervan.

**********************************

[1]El eslogan—la fe buscando entendimiento (fides quaerens intellectum)—se atribuye a Anselmo Arzobispo de Canterbury en el undécima siglo.  AD 1033-1109.  http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/anselm 

[2]El texto del sermón de hoy es Romanos 15:7-13 que resume toda la epístola de Pablo (Hays1989, 70-71). Paul premisa se describe en el versículo 7: Por tanto, acéptense mutuamente, así como Cristo los aceptó a ustedes para gloria de Dios. (Romanos 15:7 NVI) (2X). La palabra, por lo tanto (Διὸ), se refiere al versículo 1, que se refiere a los débiles y fuertes en la fe. Allí se dice: Los que somos fuertes debemos soportar las flaquezas de los débiles, y no agradarnos a nosotros mismos (Romanos 15:1 NVI). Irónicamente, los débiles, en este contexto se refieren a los judíos cristianos preocupados por las leyes de la alimentación (Romanos 14:2).

Esto implica que el versículo 7 se ocupa de Judios y gentiles. En caso de que no ve este punto, Pablo cita 4 pasajes que unen Judios y gentiles: 2 Samuel 22:50; Deuteronomy 32:43; Psalm 117:1; and Isaia 11:10. Está claro que Pablo se centra en la conciliación de Judios y gentiles en las iglesias de Roma.

[3]Teólogo James D. G. Dunn (1993) considera que Pablo tiene tres objetivos en Romanos: un objetivo apologética, un objetivo misionero y un objetivo pastoral. Estos objetivos se superponen en su discusión de Judios y gentiles.

[4]En realidad, todo de 1 Corintos 1:17-23 es útil. Also: (Hays 2011, 27-35).

[5]Mi agradecimiento al Profesor Rollin Gramos de Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, Charlotte, NC por sugerir este argumento en ET / NT 543 del Nuevo Testamento y la ética cristiana, mayo 20-24 2013.

 

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