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SAINT MARK RECENT SERMONS

Love Our Neighbors

Pastor Cheryl Hoffman's sermon from July 14, 2024,

following the assassination attempt on former President Trump.

When major events happen like the one that occurred last night at the rally for our former president, pastors are caught in a predicament. Do we quickly change our sermon, so that we can, in some way, address what happened, or do we stay the course, & continue with the planned message. It’s a difficult choice, especially when the event involves politics, & is fraught with strong emotions on all sides.

Usually, I choose to stay the course, because the gospel speaks truth with a capital T into all situations, but today, it seems sacrilegious to talk about the beheading of John the Baptist, when yesterday someone took aim the former president’s head, & others took the bullets instead, & lost their lives.

And truthfully, I think prayer is a better option today, than a bunch of words. But before we pray, I will leave you with this truth from the gospel. No matter what foolishness people plan and do, God will not be silenced. Jesus followed John, the disciples followed Jesus, Paul picked up with the Gentiles, somewhere along the way, there were Sunday school teachers & pastors & camp counselors, who spoke to us. Now it is our turn to speak to others.

The world today is not anything like the Garden of Eden described in Genesis, but God is not dead, & in this, we rejoice. In him we do live, & move, & have our being.

PRAYER: Holy God, of the living, the dying & the dead, we give you thanks for all of your goodness. We place into your hands all that is ours & all that we are. We include our nation, & its divisions. We have forgotten that we are all brothers & sisters, & that we are each other’s keeper. We have replaced love with anger, we have replaced goodness with winning.

In this very delicate time, we ask that you turn hearts of stone into flesh & that handshakes replace anger. We ask that we lose our desire to fight. Instead, seek to serve you as you have served us, & love others as you have loved us.

Remember that our greatest command is to love our Lord, our God, with all our hearts, all our souls, all our minds. The second command is to love our neighbors as ourselves.

Loving God we pray for all of those who were present yesterday, those who have watched the news non-stop. We pray that you would treat them, & heal them of their trauma. We pray that you would show us our footsteps forward, as individuals & as a congregation, as we seek to be the body of Christ, in this community & in our world.

We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord & Savior. Amen.

© 2024 Pastor Cheryl Hoffman. All rights reserved.

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Trinity...the Very Mystery of God

Pastor Cheryl Hoffman's sermon from May 26, 2024.

Readings: Readings: Isaiah 6:1-8; Psalm 29; Romans 8:12-17; John 3:1-17.

You may know by now that Holy Trinity Sunday is not my favorite festival. In fact, it is probably my least favorite festival. There is no story to tell, no facts to deliver, no history to recount. Well, I guess I could recount the history of our creeds, but history is not my forte. This means many Holy Trinity pericope studies are reduced to pastors brainstorming ideas about how to best explain the concept of the Trinity – three persons one God.

I’m a widow, I’m a pastor, I’m a daughter, but there is just one me. Ice, water, steam. Apple seeds, flesh, and skin. A three-legged stool or three-leaf clover. You get the idea. These all work and yet none of them really explain or capture the true meaning behind One God in three persons, blessed, holy Trinity.

And then I thought, maybe the festival of the Holy Trinity should be my favorite festival precisely because our trinitarian God cannot be captured or explained or described. Because the Trinity is, in its essence, the very mystery of God. And rarely do we take the time to sit with and in the presence of the mystery and holiness of God.

Let’s take time now to sit a moment with the God of today’s Psalm. Try to imagine these words as you hear them. Close your eyes if that helps. Imagine the God these words describe. You don’t have to see a being. You don’t have to solve the mystery. Just be present.

“The voice of God is upon the waters, upon the mighty waters. The God of glory thunders.

“God has a powerful voice. A voice of splendor. A voice that breaks the cedar trees and bursts forth in lightning flashes. A voice that shakes the wilderness and causes the mountains to skip like a calf or a young wild ox. A voice that makes the oak trees writhe and strips the forests bare.

“God sits above the flood, enthroned as king forevermore. And in the temple of God all are crying GLORY!”

Let us be in that temple now with Isaiah who himself saw this very thing, God sitting on a throne, high and lofty. And this temple, however you imagine, it is filled with the hem of God’s robe. See what Isaiah sees, “...and the hem of his robe filled the temple.”

Above, God was attended to by Seraphs, each with six wings. “With two they flew, with two they covered they feet and with two they covered their faces – calling out to each other ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.’ And their voices shook the thresholds and filled the space with smoke.”

Now, take a few breaths and come back to this temple, to this sanctuary. Do a quick assessment of your feelings. Isaiah felt overwhelmed. The glory and greatness of God only reminded him of his sin and smallness. He’s concerned that he has laid eyes upon the glory of the Lord in his fallen state. Surely, he is not worthy to live. Surely, he is lost forever.

But not so. The seraph cleanses Isaiah with a coal, his guilt is removed, his sin blotted out.

And, now what? What difference does this make? Isaiah doesn’t have the words of Paul, but we do. “Brothers and sisters, we are children of God. Can you grasp that truth – that we are children of God, that Jesus is our brother – our sibling. And as children of God, we are beneficiaries of the richness of God’s kingdom.” We are inheritors, heirs, co-heirs with Jesus. And so, we dare cry out, Abba, Daddy, Father, Pappa.

Does this make sense to you? If it does, then you are wiser than I, than Nicodemus, than are most of us, who know only, God is good, all the time. And, that all the time, God is good. Even this we sometimes find hard to grasp. But, we hold onto it as tightly as we can, with both hands, because this is what we believe deep down.

It doesn’t matter if it’s Father, Son, or Holy Spirit, one in three, or three in one. God is God, and we are forever God’s children. It’s not about a theology, it’s about a relationship. It’s about being in relationship, with God as beloved children, with each other as siblings, with the world as neighbors.

And, the one thing that holds it all together is love.

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart.”

“Love one another as you have been loved.”

“Love your neighbor as yourself.”

“For God has so loved you, that he gave his Son to die for you, that you might have eternal life.”

Let it be so. Amen.

© 2024 Pastor Cheryl Hoffman. All rights reserved.

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Efficient, Prolific, Adaptable & Tenacious

Pastor Cheryl Hoffman's sermon from April 28, 2024

Readings: Acts 8:26-40; Psalm 22:25-31; 1 John 4:7-21; John 15:1-8.

My trip abroad was more than just a sightseeing trip. In fact, sightseeing was not its primary focus. It was primarily an educational experience, geared toward understanding the world at the time of the Apostle Paul, the Roman Empire, and the early converts to the Way, or faith in the resurrected, Jesus Christ.

For the first time in my pursuit of education I found history to be fascinating. I still don’t remember dates and who was emperor when, but I have a much better sense of the bigger picture, and why Greek gods and Roman imperialism matter. I also have a better understanding of Paul, and what he likely did and didn’t write, and why.

Context is everything. This I already knew, but now, the contextual puzzle has a few more pieces, and makes a lot more sense.

 

In our study time, both before and throughout the trip, we discussed more than just Paul and his letters. We also discussed the gospels, including when and why they were written. We looked at each gospel through the same lens, by asking the question: If Jesus is the Messiah, then what does it mean us (meaning the group of people for, and to whom, the gospel writer is writing)? And, of course, each gospel writer writes to a different group of people.

 

When John wrote his gospel, probably sometime between 95-100 CE, the people were starting to divide into camps: those who believed Jesus was the resurrected messiah, and those who did not. No longer was “The Way” a movement within Judaism. It was becoming its own way, without requiring one to follow any Jewish traditions or practices.

 

People were being persecuted, thrown out of their synagogues and families, for their lack of loyalty to the old faith. And, the believers of Jesus wanted, needed to know: if Jesus is the messiah, then is he enough – on his own? So, John writes a series of dialogues and stories to show that Jesus is not just enough, but indeed, more than enough, in and of himself.

 

So how does this help us with today’s gospel lesson? The primary image for today is the vine. And, because John talks about the vine producing fruit, most of us see, in our head, a grape vine when we hear this text.

 

But, when I think about vines, grapes aren’t the first thing I think of. I think about ivy, and morning glories, and Virginia creeper, zucchini, watermelons, pumpkins, and the weedy vines growing in gardens and flowerbeds (that no matter how much you pull out there is 3x as much still there the next day).

 

In general, vines are efficient, prolific, adaptable, and tenacious. There are some that are temperamental, like perhaps the grape vines grown for wine. This vine’s health and thus the quality and quantity of grapes, and subsequent wine, depend upon any given season’s temperature, rainfall, pruning, mildew, pest, and disease exposure. If everything is just right – cheers! If not, better luck next year.

 

Wild grapes, however, will grow with the resilience of most other vines. And what vine is more fruitful than a zucchini? This tendency and tenacity of vines got me thinking a little differently about today’s gospel lesson. “I am the vine. You are the branches.”

 

The vine’s ability to adapt, to climb to reach sunlight, to spread out to increase its leaf or root base, even to become carnivorous, if it must. And, its prolific tenacity. Do you know anyone who is more tenacious than God? Or more generous or gracious?

 

And, the more you try to ignore and avoid God, the more he finds ways to reach out, and wind a tiny tendril into your day and life, then another and another. You can forget trying to chop the vine down. It inevitably comes back again. The vine just keeps hanging around, reaching out. Until one day you realize, you are so intertwined with the vine that it’s hard to tell where the one of you ends and the other begins.

 

This makes it sound like vines are predators, encircling its host until it smothers and takes over. But, this is not how most vines work. Most vines use their host, whether it be the ground, a tree, a fence post, or the side of a house, to help it grow either up or out, or both. This doesn’t mean vines can’t be irritating or pesky, or just a downright pain. But, let’s be honest, God can be irritating, pesky and even a downright pain at times, too.

 

It’s actually the vine who needs the host, the tree the trellis, the fencepost. Does God NEED us? Need? Maybe not, but God has ordered the world in such a way that he is counting on, even depending on us, to help spread the good news of the gospel, to help grow the kingdom, to be the branches to his vine that will bear the fruit to feed the people of God.

 

I don’t think that there is any other plant alive, besides the vine, that could even hope to accomplish all that.

 

So, is Jesus enough? This is what the gospel of John has to say: “I, Jesus, am the vine; you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.”

 

Amen.

© 2024 Pastor Cheryl Hoffman. All rights reserved.

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"I Will Forgive Them & Remember Their Sin No More"

Pastor Cheryl Hoffman's sermon from March 17, 2024

Readings: Jeremiah 31:31-34; Psalm 51:1-12; Hebrews 5:5-10; John 12:20-33.

I thought I was going to go down one path when I began to pull together today’s sermon, but as I started to read through the lessons again, I felt myself pulled in another direction.

In fact, I never got past the reading from Jeremiah.

 

This brief lesson contains one of God’s most awesome promises. If John 3:16 is the gospel in a nutshell, like Pastor Marschhausen claimed last week, this promise sums up God’s saving grace, “I will forgive their iniquity and remember their sin no more.”

We say, and I like to believe that God is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow, but there are places in scripture that indicate God does indeed change: God changes his mind about Nineveh, Jesus relents and heals the Canaanite woman’s daughter.

This lesson from Jeremiah is another text that suggests some growth, if not change, on God’s part, when it comes to God’s relationship with his people.

 

But if we want to fully grasp the breadth and weight of this change, we must go back a few weeks. Four weeks ago, to be exact. Now, I know this is a challenge, but I believe in you.

 

I want you to think all the way back to the first Sunday in Lent. I want you to think back to the Old Testament reading on that day. At the beginning of the reading we heard God say, “As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you.” Do you remember this reading?

 

To whom was God speaking? Does it help if I tell you the reading was from Genesis? Let me finish the verse: “As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals, and every animal of the earth with you ... as many as came out of the ark.”

 

Now, what was the covenant that God made with Noah and his descendants?

 

Never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.

 

And what was the sign of this covenant?

 

The rainbow.

 

And, what is supposed to happen when the rainbow appears?

 

“I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.”

 

I will see it and remember.

One more question about this very first covenant between God and all of creation. What started this whole Noah thing? You know, the ark, the flood. .

 

Now let’s move on to Jeremiah and the lesson we heard today. In this text the Lord mentions two covenants. The first is the one he made with the Israelites when he brought them up out of Egypt. This was the Old Testament lesson on the third Sunday in Lent, two weeks ago. You didn’t get the covenant language, just what was necessary on the part of the Israelites. Do you remember, or want to take a guess?

 

These are the words that God spoke to the people through Moses regarding this covenant. “Now therefore, if you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples. Indeed, the whole earth is mine, but you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation.” Now what is it the Lord spoke that the people must obey, what covenant do they have to keep? Right, the Ten Commandments.

 

Do you hear how this covenant differs from the one God made with Noah? With Noah, the burden is on God to remember the covenant, and promise not to destroy all of creation again, at least not by a flood, even if he does get fed up with the people’s sinful behavior and godless rituals.

 

But now, now the people have some skin in the game. God had brought them out of Egypt and freed them from slavery. But, if they wanted to remain in Yahweh’s good graces, they were going to have to pull their own weight, and clean up their act. I mean, it’s only ten commandments, right? How hard could it be?

 

You know enough of your Old Testament. How did the Israelites do? What grade would you give them on fulfilling their part of the covenant?

 

You might think, at this point, the Lord might throw up his hands and say, “Enough is enough,” or “You made your bed, now lie in it,” or maybe, even trade the Israelites in for a newer model. But, instead, we find him making yet another covenant with his people. A covenant that will not be like the one he made with those he led out of Egypt, a straight forward covenant they agreed to, but, nonetheless, broke.

 

“I am going to try yet again,” says God. “Clearly, starting over didn’t work. I just ended up with different people in the same chaotic throws of sinfulness that existed before the flood. And, I promised not to do that again. And, laying down the law hasn’t worked either. Now they know what they are doing is wrong. Even so, they are just as sinful. Any way you look at it, we end up in the same place.

 

“The people sin. I am frustrated, at best, or furious, and ready to smite the whole lot of them.

 

“There is only one solution. I will forgive their iniquity and remember their sin no more. I will create them with hearts that instinctively know how to love and be children of God. But I know that over time they will fail and fall and sin yet again, and so, there is only one answer. I will forgive them, and remember their sin no more; because always I will be their God, and they will always be my people.”

 

There are no more glorious words, no more life-giving promise than this, as we bring Lent to a close and approach Holy Week.

 

“I will forgive them and remember their sin no more; because always I will be their God, and they will always be my people.”

 

Amen.

© 2024 Pastor Cheryl Hoffman. All rights reserved.

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                    Careful What You Ask For

Pastor Cheryl Hoffman's sermon from January 28, 2024

Readings: Deuteronomy 18:15-20; Psalm 111; 1 Corinthians; Mark 1:21-28.

There are any number of roads we could travel down with this week’s texts. They all have something to offer us. But I’m going to take us down “be careful what you ask for” street.

For those of us in Bible study, today’s text from Deuteronomy should sound familiar. It is one of the texts the authors held up as a Messianic prediction text. A text that foretells of the coming Messiah.

 

What I learned this week, that I’m not sure was made clear by the authors of our book, is that it was first a “Jewish reinterpretation of this text that understood it as a promise of a single, messianic prophet at the end of time that the Christian church later accepted and not the other way around." Jewish Study Bible

 

The Israelites trembled in fear before God and they demanded an intermediary. “Ask, and you shall receive.” Moses was appointed God’s spokesperson. The first of the great prophets.

But be careful what you ask for. The Israelites weren’t always all that fond of the words Moses spoke on behalf of their God. And, there was the boring manna, the poisonous snakes, the rules – oy vey, the 613 mitzvot (or laws) – , the wandering (40 years of wandering). All of this when Israel was on God’s good side.

 

By the time Israel is exiled from the promised land, and the prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah are on the scene, they are longing for a return to the days when God spoke to them directly. “Ask and you shall receive.”

 

But be careful what you ask for. Enter Jesus, Son of God. Fully human, yet fully divine. Emmanuel, God with us.

 

Jesus came to speak for God, to speak as God, and boy, did he have a few things to say. Some things were really cool. “Your sins are forgiven, your faith has made you well, take up your mat and walk home, today these words have been fulfilled in your hearing, take and eat, Lazarus come out.”

 

But other things – “you fool, you hypocrites, if anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother, if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. Sell all that you own and distribute the money to the poor.”

 

Those are some pretty hard sayings coming from the mouthpiece of God. And, it wasn’t just what the Messiah, for whome they had prayed for, said. It’s also what he did.

In today’s gospel reading we find Jesus doing what all good rabbis do on the sabbath, he goes to his local synagogue. And, there he teaches the gathered congregation. And, they are astounded! Astounded.

 

I’ve had some good sermons. Maybe even some outstanding sermons, but I’m not sure I’ve ever astounded anyone. They were astounded at his teaching. Astounded, because it was different from the scribes who relied on the teachings of others. Astounded, because it had its own authority. Astounded, but they still unaware of who stood before them.

 

With the exception of one. One cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.”

 

And, who was this one who cried out? An unclean spirit. It is, also, an unclean spirit who first introduces Jesus to the wider population in the gospel of Mark. “I know who you are Jesus of Nazareth, Holy One of God.”

 

Jesus doesn’t seem to be too thrilled about this impromptu introduction. He silences the spirit and casts it out. The people are so amazed by the exorcism they don’t seem to have heard the unclean spirit’s words. But, they had seen, and heard, enough from Jesus to spread the word, making him a super star in Galilee.

 

But their astounding amazement will only last so long. Soon, Jesus will be the one labeled “Beelzebub” and his hometowners will be the ones doing the casting out. The very people, who had been praying and asking to once again hear the voice of God, will begin plotting to silence it because this Messiah is not the one they wanted.

 

We have a pretty short epiphany season this year, which is sad. I say this because epiphany is the season, in which the texts are set, to reveal or give light to just who this Jesus of Nazareth is. And like today’s gospel congregation, we are meant to be astounded by the things Jesus says and does.

 

Have we ever seen or heard anyone with such authority? One who can draw others to him with a simple call to, “Follow me!” One who can silence and cast out demons. One who next week will demonstrate the power to heal.

 

This God of ours is truly beyond anything we have ever seen or known. And, sometimes we forget this. I often think our biggest sin is not that we doubt God exists, but that we make the God, in whom we believe, too small.

 

If you remember our “breakfast church,” back in November, we were told to pray until something happens. But, that kitten story was also a reminder to be careful what you ask for. You just might get it.

 

Today, we’re invited to remember, and consider, the astounding things God has done; to dare to ask, and be open to any answer which may come our way. Open ourselves to be astounded.

 

Now to him, who is able to do immeasurably more than all we can ask or imagine, according to his power at work within us, to him be glory in the church, and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever.  Amen

© 2024 Pastor Cheryl Hoffman. All rights reserved.

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Follow Me!

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Pastor Cheryl Hoffman's sermon for January 21, 2024

Readings: Jonah 3:1-5, 10; Psalm 62:5-12; 1 Corinthians 7:29-31; Mark 1:14-20.

 

Jesus said, "Follow me!" Immediately Simon and Andrew left their nets and followed him.

 

Jesus said, "Follow me!" James and John left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him.

 

Every time I hear this story I’m amazed at Simon, Andrew, James and John's willingness to leave what was and, without question, walk obediently, and blindly, into the unknown.

Fishing was their vocation. Fisherman was their identity and, it was probably the identity of their family members for generations. As fishermen, they knew who they were and what was expected from them. They cast their nets by night and mended them by day. Their labors provided food for their families, as well as, for others in the community. Fishermen described these four men and they, in turn, helped define what it meant to be fishermen.

Then, on some unimportant, otherwise unidentified day, they heard a man's voice saying, "Follow me!" and they left it all behind. And, it appears they did so without weighing the pros and cons, without second guessing, and without looking back.

 

When is the last time you heard anything so compelling you were willing, with or without weighing pros and cons, to give up the very things that define who and what you are? When was the last time something happened, or someone came along and convinced you that your identity needed redefining?

 

Before we pursue these questions, let me clarify a widely prevalent misconception. While Peter, Andrew, James and John left their nets, their vocation, and all those things they had and identified who they were, they did not jump ship, abandoning everything, and everyone, they knew.

 

All four fisherman were from Capernaum, a town in the Galilee region. This town became a home base for Jesus' ministry in Galilee. The town will come up several times in the remaining weeks of Epiphany, including a story about Peter's mother-in-law. There are also later texts, in which we find the disciples back in a fishing boat, meaning that while they were no longer fishermen, they were still men who fished.

 

This clarifies Jesus' call, "Follow me!" His words are best understood as an invitation to change identity and purpose, rather than a call for reckless abandonment to start over. I must admit, for me personally, starting over, even when not done recklessly, has the bigger appeal. I’m one of those people who likes the idea of a clean slate, redefining my destiny. I was in college when I realized "starting over" isn't really possible. It was a sociology professor who put it into words, saying, "No matter where you go, there you are."

 

No matter where you go, there you are. You can pick up and go anywhere you want, any time you want, but when you get to where you’re going, the same you will be there. The only thing that will have changed are the surroundings. It’s one of the easy, more obvious lessons in life, but its truth can be frustrating when you really do want things to change.

Enter Jesus and his call, “Follow me!”

 

We readily hear this text as a call to be a disciple. We accept, with our mind, at least, that Jesus calls us to follow and be a disciple, just as he called Simon, Andrew, James and John. But, then we move on, as if that’s all there is to it. In reality, however, the call to follow, when heeded, is an extraordinary disruption in a person's life.

 

Jesus' call, “Follow me!” is a call to change, not the place of action, but the person and the action itself. Being a disciple isn't about the travel and physical following of Jesus. Being a disciple is about what you do and why you do it.

 

Note that Jesus doesn't politely ask the men, “Will you please consider leaving what you think you know about who you are, and follow me, so I can show you the real you?”

 

No, he imperatively says, “FOLLOW ME!” Jesus' call to discipleship is an imperative to be something other than we are.

 

Over the next couple of weeks, the two sets of brothers will learn about what they’re being called to by observing Jesus. Those same observations speak to us. They are not just nice narratives recorded to be bedtime stories. They’re examples of what lies ahead, for these one-time fishermen, and for us.

 

The call is to gather, teach, cast out demons, heal the sick, feed the hungry and raise the dead. But, the call starts here, not out there.

 

“Follow me!” Jesus says, and be changed from the inside out. But, the change won't happen overnight. The gospels include stories of the disciples’ fights, denials, betrayals, lack of faith, misinterpretations and total cluelessness. Sometimes you wonder if they are ever going to get it right. But, by the last chapter, through the gracious mercy of God, they are transformed from fishermen into apostles and disciples of Jesus Christ.

 

This same gracious mercy which transformed Simon, Andrew, James and John, is the gift of light God offers us today.

 

“If you wish to be my disciple you must change who and what you are. If you wish to change who and what you are, you must be my disciple and follow me. The journey will require you to experience betrayal, denial, and death on the cross. But, it’s the only way to change who you are, wherever you go.”

 

Jesus said, "Follow me!" Immediately Simon and Andrew left their nets and followed him.

 

Jesus said, "Follow me!" James and John left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him.

 

Jesus says, "Follow me!" And you…. Well, you fill in the blank. Amen.

© 2024 Pastor Cheryl Hoffman. All rights reserved.

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