Smears of Messiness: Ash Wednesday, Ministering, Mothering, and Loving

minister mother

Tonight we honor Ash Wednesday.

Big black streaks will be smeared across the foreheads of my church folks in the shape of a cross. We will whisper words with each smear: remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.

The streaks of ash are messy and unkempt to remind us of the physical, human side of our faith.

Ashes are scattered when we grieve. Ashes cover the heads of those who mourn like Job and Tamar.

Ashes remind us to cry out to God in our mess- like the Prophet Jeremiah and the prophet Daniel.

On all other days of the year- our churches are cleaner, more presentable. With our Sunday-best clothes, or smiling faces over coffee hour, or Good News messages that leave little room for the mess, the grief, the smears…

But life isn’t tidy or Sunday-best.

We all could use a few ashes from the church: to make room for our grief, our mess, our streaked and smeared human form.

On Ash Wednesday, we are humbled with the reminder: we are dust.

Motherhood is also humbling. The daily tasks of diapers and runny noses and nursing are tactile and raw and real. I am used to the mess. My sweet son needs to cry on my shoulder- often smearing tears and snot into my hair. He turns to me when he’s sick and the stains on my clothes tell the whole story.

Loving one another comes with mess: spit-up on the clean sheets, cheerios covering the carpet, crumbs in grandpa’s beard, lipstick stains from mom’s exuberance…

This is the truth for all of us- beyond our Sunday-best. The sweetest parts of life often come with smears, with mess, with streaks that stain our physical lives and remind us that we are living, knee deep in this chaotic, beautiful world.

Ash Wednesday is an important day.

Let the ashes smear on your forehead.

Let the church meet you with messiness.

Let your community come together all at once to say: we are dust and ashes and crumbs and lipstick stains- and that is the beautiful part of our human lives.

Dust is holy.

And God is present in the dust and crumbs. Amen.

 

 

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On Mystery, Thirst, World Vision and God’s Identity: My Sermon at the Calvary Lenten Series

Last month, I preached at the Calvary Lenten Series in Memphis, TN. I felt honored by the invitation. Something about returning to Memphis after a few months away gave me courage to preach freely, to express my views and convictions without reservation.

So here is my sermon from that event. A few thoughts on mystery, thirst, World Vision, and the woman at the well. If you have a spare half hour, please watch it- and let me know what you think!

 

 

Also, here is a link to the article written before I preached:

http://www.calvarymemphis.org/peck

3 on 3: A Pet Blessing

Oliver 2

+ I now establish my covenant with you… and with every living creature that was with you: the birds, the livestock and all the animals… every living creature on earth. Genesis 9:9-10

This month marks 3 years on 3 legs for sweet little Oliver. He still purrs and over-eats and follows me around. He runs faster than ever. He plays with toy mice and shoelaces. He still sneaks outside if I leave the door open too long when I come home. Oliver is happy.

He beat the odds for cats with injection-site sarcoma.

On one of my recent hobbles around the neighborhood, I passed the Immaculate Conception ‘Blessing of the Animals’ service. The memories flooded back for me.

Three years ago, I took Oliver to that service. I remember gently lifting him out of his carrier. I felt protective of his half shaved body and the 8-inch wound held together with giant silver staples and black stitches. He lost his leg days before the blessing ceremony.

Father Val gently stroked him and whispered words of love to Oliver. He rubbed anointing oil on Oliver’s head. He gave us a small St. Francis charm to remind us of these holy moments of prayer.

I believe that blessing nudged Oliver down the road of healing- and I know that it helped heal my own aching heart as Oliver recovered.

Oliver has been my witness over the past decade. He’s been my prayer partner (he always seems to snuggle close during my morning devotion). He’s been my most patient listener and the first hearer of my sermons through the years. He’s been a comforter and an encourager to me.

Some might think animal blessings are silly, or excessive, or even inappropriate. But on the anniversary of Oliver’s amputation, I remember the tender blessing that Father Val offered Oliver and I’m grateful.

In my ministry I intend to maintain this [potentially silly and excessive] practice of blessing pets around this time of year–because this ceremony meant so much to me.

On Sunday, October 20th, at 4pm we’re having a pet blessing at Lindenwood Christian Church. We’ll gather in the garden, and all pets are welcome. All witnesses, prayer partners, patient listeners, comforters and encouragers are welcome. I think even sweet little Oliver will show up- I mean, you can never receive too many blessings.

Oliver3<

Memorial for Sarah Catherine Wender

Wender

Homily for Sarah Catherine Wender, preached July 9th, 2013

+ Matthew 5:1-12
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
‘Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Sarah dreamed big dreams.

On Sunday afternoon, I spent time with her family to plan this service. We thumbed through one of Sarah’s sacred journals. This treasure was a sketchbook of Sarah’s hopes and future plans.

She clipped images of bright rooms and blooming gardens. She collected pictures of abundant dinner tables and cozy living rooms.

Sarah dreamed big dreams.

In the front cover of her sketchbook, she wrote:

I want to write, to sew, to crochet, learn to create handmade dolls, learn how to make jelly and jams, canned fruit and veggies. I want a little garden with butterflies and birds. I want comfortable couches, rocking chairs, rugs, lots of hanging plants. I want to cook a lot for my family, my husband. I want to read everything- keep learning- growing, putting God and others before me.

Sarah dreamed bid dreams. She could picture a place where life would be simple, where her basic needs would be met and filled through the humble joys of snuggly places to read, homemade food straight from the earth, and familiar, loving people surrounding her.

Sarah cast a vision for her future and for her life. She longed for this peaceful, beautiful life where she could finally rest.

Sarah wrote a list of dreams in the cover of this sketchbook too. This was her list:

-I live clean and free
-I am good to the ones I love
-I forgive and I am forgiven
-I am a great social worker
-I have financial stability
-I own a car
-I have a career
– I have an adorable home to share with a man I love
-I make mamma proud

Sarah dreamed big dreams. Because of her imaginative spirit and her creative soul, it makes sense that Sarah would love the scripture reading from the Beatitudes, because this text is a text of dreams.

Jesus preached from the mountaintop to a group of people just like us, who were brokenhearted, thirsty, hungry, weeping, mourning, questioning and crying out.

Jesus preached images that resembled a beautiful dream. He said: picture this, all of you- the poor in spirit are blessed, theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Jesus said: Dream this, all of you, those who mourn are blessed, they will be comforted.

Jesus said: Vision this, everyone: blessed are the meek, they will inherit the earth.

These days, when we look around and see this aching world and all of the problems around us, when we turn on the news and hear about more dead ends, more failed plans, more hurting souls- we all realize that we would have to be DREAMING to believe in Christ’s message in the Beatitudes.

In fact, it would take the strength, and the imagination, and the bold faith of a true dreamer to read these words from the Sermon on the Mount and know they were true.

And yet, Sarah cherished the promises and hopes and dreams that Jesus proclaims in the Beatitudes. She carried around Emmet Fox’s book “The Sermon on the Mount” and she read and re-read its pages.

She rubbed the corners of each page and dog-eared each chapter and highlighted long sections of this book because Sarah had eyes to see God’s promise, God’s faithfulness, and Christ’s truth in the Beatitudes.

Today, we gather to celebrate Sarah Wender, one of the greatest dreamers we will ever know.

Every day that she lived, Sarah clung to these sweet words of Christ that promise us all: Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven.

We are here to honor Sarah by learning from her example. Let us all leave this place today and carry on what Sarah taught us. Let us dog-ear the pages and highlight these holy words from scripture.

May we all study these words… pray these words… internalize these words of hope until the pages of our bibles are worn thin- just as Sarah taught us.

But most of all, may these words whisper comfort to our aching hearts. May we all receive the good news from the all loving, all knowing God:

‘Blessed is Sarah, even in the moments she was poor in spirit, for hers is the kingdom of heaven.
‘Blessed is Sarah, even in the days she felt meek, for she will inherit glory.
‘Blessed is Sarah who hungered for knowledge, who thirsted for peace, she will be filled.
‘Blessed is Merciful Sarah, for today, she will receive mercy.
‘Blessed is Sarah, pure in heart, for today, she will see God.
‘Blessed is Sarah, peacemaker and friend, she has been called child of God.
‘Blessed are all of us who mourn today and in the days ahead, for we will be comforted. Amen.

A Wedding Homily (Glimpses of Grace: Day 23)

White Wedding

+ 1 Corinthians 13:4, 13 Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant… And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

Today, we are all preparing to spring forward.

At 2am, after the last piece of wedding cake has been swallowed…

After the last click of the photo booth has been clicked…

After Shawna and Jeff say: Goodnight Husband, Goodnight wife… we will all spring forward by one hour. It is daylight savings time.
Infants will lose their routines. Church goers will groan as the alarm rings tomorrow, spring-breakers will lament that this week- of all weeks- will have one less hour. Today, we prepare to spring forward.

For over 100 years, we have officially adjusted our schedules and our clocks once in the spring, and once in the fall.

Before we get lost in our griping and worry over this practice, we must remember why we will all adjust our clocks at 2am.
We do this for one reason only: To grasp more light.

Starting tomorrow, we will each be blessed with more sunshine throughout the afternoon.

Starting tomorrow, we will all receive a brighter evening commute. We will soak in more warmth through our windows as the day goes on.

Since the beginning of time- people around the world have engaged in a quest for more light. In ancient cultures, before we wore watches or listened to the chimes of grandfather clocks– people would build their days around the pursuit of more light. In Babylon and Egypt and ancient Rome- as civilizations began to measure time through sundials and water clocks in the 16th century BC– these first time-measuring instruments had different scales for different months of the year.

We humans have always searched for more light, and we have also searched for love. In fact, I believe, at the very core of the human soul- we are all wired with the desire for more light, and more love. Our scripture reading for today captures the essence of that which we long for: love is patient, love is kind… Jeff and Shawna chose a familiar scripture about love to mark this beautiful occasion. Deep down, we all know this scripture: Love is patient, love is kind… love is playful, love is sweet, love is courageous.

We didn’t read it that way-but starting today, this is what will be written. We have all come together in this chapel to celebrate Jeff and Shawna as they continue to write the story of love. Love is patient, love is kind… love is baking a pecan pie the first time you meet the parents…

Last night, Shawna’s mother pulled me aside and said: ‘Jeff baked me a pie, you know.’ Jeff and Shawna shared a Thanksgiving meal with her parents in the early stages of their courtship, and on that day- they continued to write this story: love is baking a pecan pie for Thanksgiving.

Love is dancing on the altar at your wedding rehearsal and in the middle of your living room when the Peanuts theme song comes on… in fact love is dancing every chance you get. If you watch these two carefully- it won’t be long before you see them break into dancing- at a concert, a party, or on the altar as they rehearse their wedding vows- Jeff and Shawna continue to write this story: love is spontaneous joyful dancing.

Love is enduring a kayak float together- even if kayaks invoke fears from the past. There once was a very tall man named Jeff who tried to kayak down the river with his friends. He fell, he flipped, he crashed, he rolled, he cursed, he fell, he flipped he crashed… That is the story of one of the worst days of Jeff’s life… and a few weeks later- he fell in love with an avid kayaker. Even after surviving one of the worst float trips of all time, Jeff jumped into a kayak again with Shawna as they continued to write this story: love is having the courage to kayak again.

Love is saying yes to this journey ahead, even if you’ve been hurt before. We are not witnessing the marriage of two foolish kids- unaware of what commitment means, unprepared for this sacred covenant. No, instead, we are all bearing witness to a courageous leap for two people who know what lies ahead. Jeff and Shawna both have encountered love before, they have endured loss. Today, they have said yes to one another- with eyes wide open. Jeff and Shawna are continuing the story of love. And We are all honored to witness their launch today.

As Jeff and Shawna began their story, we saw so many other stories unfolding around the world. Hurricane Irene battered the coast in the days before Jeff and Shawna connected. News channels reported tales of costly destruction and devastation. It was a dark time.

As Jeff and Shawna continued their courtship- stories of famine and draught political tensions swept through our communities. These reports cast a shadow on our daily broadcasts. We cannot open the newspaper or turn on the Television without hearing more about these dim stories.

So today, we must cling tightly to what we are witnessing here at Lindenwood Christian Church- because we watching new hope spring up between Jeff and Shawna. These two bright, motivated, passionate people are joining forces and their commitment will mark our community.

Together, Jeff and Shawna will work for justice and mercy.

Together, Jeff and Shawna will bring more compassion to their surroundings.

Together, Jeff and Shawna will remind us all that the world is still filled with joy and laughter and romance.

Love is patient, love is kind, Love is Jeff and Shawna on March 9th, vowing to love one another and stand by one anther from now until their last days.
If you have eyes to see, then you know that today is a blessing for all of us here. This is not just a wedding. This is not just a party with a fun photo booth waiting…
Today we have all received the gift of more light.

Jeff and Shawna- you are a light to this family, this church, this community and this world. Through your continuing story of love, you will teach us all that love wins, hope prevails, and the darkness will never overcome the light. All of us here, your cloud of witnesses, will spring forward with you today- rejoicing together in your love. Amen.

Homily for Billy Buchanan

A reading from 1 Corinthians 13:

 If I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith… but I do not have love, I am nothing…  love is patient, love is kind, love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude… love does not rejoice in wrongdoing but rejoices in truth, love bears all things, love believes in all things, love hopes in all things, love endures all things… now faith hope and love abide, and the greatest of these is love.

Today is a day to say goodbye. We’re not ready. We don’t understand. We’re unprepared. And yet, Billy is no longer with us.

Our hearts are broken today. We have lost a friend, a brother, a travel partner, and an adventurous spirit.

We have questions. We’re angry. We’re hurting. I can see the tear-stained cheeks of Billy’s people here.

Tonight, most of all, we are here to honor Billy’s life.

Unlike just about every other person in Memphis, I did not have the chance to know Billy personally (After moving here, I kept waiting for him to call me!)

Instead, I’ve had to learn about his bright spirit through the eyes of all of you, his friends.

I shared a moment this morning with some of his nearest and dearest. You should have heard their tributes to Billy in my office. An image of him started to appear through the stories and memories of Charles, Stephen, Chris, Linda, Drew and Jeremy.

I got the sense that Billy was the glue that ran through his community. I heard the same stories that so many people have shared tonight.

By all accounts, Billy was larger than life.

He never turned his phone off.

He always brought a cake to the party.

He loved a good bargain.

He valued the art of surprise and celebration

He never met a stranger.

He taught people how to love, and he loved people well.

As long as there was a party, he was in his element.

He made friends easily, he offered himself to others without hesitation.

Billy was the glue of his people and his community, he held them together. So it makes sense, on a day like today, that we feel unglued or scattered or lost.

Billy was larger than life.

Even though I didn’t know Billy personally, I know something about him, because I’ve seen the way you all love him.

I know something intimate and true and transcendent about Billy’s character and Billy’s heart when I see all of you here and when I read what you wrote on his memorial webpage.

Your love for him is a tribute to his impact in this life.

Your vivid memories and crystal clear expressions of your love and adoration of Billy tell me more about Billy’s essence and soul than anything else.

Billy is  no longer with us, and yet, I am convinced that Billy is beyond us now, in a state with no more time, no more age, no more burdens, no more pain. Billy has left behind the burdens of this world. And now, Billy is a part of that larger truth of enduring love and bright sun and the warm breeze we will feel all summer, year after year– because these are the things that are larger than life.

When I was in the presence of those who loved Billy most this morning, and in the presence of all of you tonight, something beyond facts and beyond reason started to happen- undeniably, when you spoke about Billy and when you remembered Billy and when you wept for Billy, you all filled with light and warmth.

Billy’s essence endures among us through that bright light and warmth I see in all of you—because these are the things that are larger than life.

Whether you’ve ever gone to church or not, Whether you’ve ever prayed or meditated or wondered what is beyond us or not,

I imagine most of us have experienced those quiet moments where we all start to realize that no matter what we do, or where we work or who we know– the core of who we are goes beyond the lives we live-

We are all made to bring more love and compassion and grace into this world. And even when we’ve left this world, that compassion, love, and grace lives on—because these are the things that are larger than life.

For all of you here who knew Billy: you were blessed. You were in the presence of someone whose life was an example of that love bears all things, love believes in all things, love hopes in all things, love endures all things described in our  scripture reading.

There is a time for us to mourn and to cry. There is a time for us to remember. But most of all, today is the day for all of us to draw near to one another and reflect that essence of Billy, that warmth, that light, so that we can carry each other through this. And so that Billy continues to live on through the compassion, love and grace that he showed each of us- because these are the things that are larger than life.

We are called to carry Billy’s torch after he is gone. We are called to honor him by loving well the way he loved. If we do this, we know that death will never have the final word. We know that hope will always conquer our mourning. Amen.

Copyright © 2012 Sarah Taylor Peck. All Rights Reserved.

Day of Prayer

Image

My Prayer From the Steps of City Hall

(I served as intercessor for: Business, Economy and Employment)

God of grace and hope: we lift up Memphis, Tennessee in our prayers.

For all those who work hard to provide for their families, for those who shape our city, and for those who contribute services to this community: we give thanks.

We lift up our economy, our workforce and our businesses. May these systems that sustain our livelihood be blessed by your guidance and your wisdom.

We are grateful for the able bodies and discerning minds you created in each of us.

We follow in the footsteps of your people who came before us. We are writers and scribes, bakers and carpenters, midwives and tax collectors, teachers, landowners, and more.

We give thanks for the opportunities we have to work for change and growth and good.  

And yet, we know there are so many among us over-worked, under-paid, or unemployed. Draw us together so that we may bring hope to the hurting and relief to the worried. Restore our faith that even those among us with great needs will be on their feet again.

May our empty storefronts be filled.

May our industries grow.

May our creativity guide our future vision for Memphis.

God, make us into a city of good stewards where we provide opportunities for all to work and earn a living wage.  

Make Memphis into a place where people find their purpose.

Make Memphis into a place where people fulfill their calling.

Make Memphis into a place where we recognize the worth of all people, and where everyone receives the encouragement they need to thrive.

Draw out our generosity, compassion and mercy, O God, so that we might reveal the redemptive plans you have for us in Memphis. Amen.

Copyright © 2012 Sarah Taylor Peck. All Rights Reserved.

Sandy Arterburn Memorial Service Remarks

I am here to honor Sandy, and I know all of you are here to do the same.

I actually never met her.

But I know something about Sandy because I love and adore her daughter Bethany.

And I know something about her because I know that Sandy and Danny were side by side in marriage for 41 years.

In the foyer before the service when I met Danny, he took my hand and he told me a little sliver of their love story. Four days after Sandy turned 18 years old, they eloped. They made promises to each other as teenagers that they would stand by one another in sickness, in health, in good times and in bad, in the rough patches and in the moments of bliss…. 18 years old, they made these promises to one another, and they kept them.

I know something about Sandy because I heard her love story, I heard about her long lasting marriage.

I know something about Sandy, because I browsed those pictures in the hallway tonight. If you haven’t looked at those pictures yet, spend some time at that center table and take a look- because there is something you will notice.

Sandy has this stance- in so many of the pictures out there- you can see Sandy in this stance- it’s the stance of an embrace. I saw a picture filled with smiles- and Sandy in her stance- embracing little Walker Chad. I saw a picture overflowing with joy- and Sandy there in her stance- embracing beautiful Stevie as a little girl. In another picture filled with light and hope, I saw Sandy in her stance, embracing Jeb under a tree.

It’s that stance of an embrace, arms stretched out in love and tenderness and that stance runs throughout those pictures in the foyer.

I know many of you were robbed of the chance to meet Sandy too- because we lost her too soon.

Let me tell you this: The best way that we can honor Sandy tonight is to love and embrace the people that she loved and embraced.

We are hurting tonight we because we grieve and weep for Sandy. We are hurting tonight because with Sandy, we lost a place of refuge in her arms—that stance of an embrace.

No matter what brings you here tonight, whether you knew Sandy personally or simply through the reflection of her in her children and her husband, remember that tonight we are here to honor her and care for her. But more than that, we are called to step in and offer that same stance over and over again to all those that Sandy loved.

If you have ever come to church, if you’ve ever prayed, if you’ve ever lifted your heart in devotion to our creator- than you know it all leads to this moment, when we are called to be the place of refuge and strength to our friends, to those we love. We are called to this stance: the open arms of an embrace, so that we can carry Chad, and Matthew, and Walker, and Stevie, and Jeb, and Kevin, and Bethany, and Danny every single day, until they have the strength to stand again.

And now, as we pray, in the spirit of that stance we are all called to take, I invite each of you to reach out and hold hands with your neighbor as we pray:

God, we stand here tonight hand in hand. Bind us together in support and love and unity.

We are here because we need each other. Let us be unified as care and compassion incarnate.  

All of the Sundays we’ve come to church or prayed or cried out to You point us to this moment, this action, as we reach out to one another, hand in hand. Taking on that stance of an embrace.

Give us the endurance to hold each other up.

 Give us the strength to embrace Danny and Chad and Bethany and Matthew in this time of deep heart ache.

Give us the wisdom to know when our words will be encouraging and helpful.

Give us the restraint to know when silence is the most healing power of all.

God may your healing spring forth, may a peace that passes all understanding hover over Danny, and Bethany, and Chad, and Matthew every single hour of their days.

May we all stand firm, side by side with Sandy’s family as that place of refuge that they will need for this journey ahead. Amen.

Copyright © 2012 Sarah Taylor Peck. All Rights Reserved.

What did it look like?

Easter after Easter, I wonder: What did the resurrection look like? That moment when death becomes life again…

What did it look like—that first moment when the tomb- the place of mourning—is emptied?

What did that beautiful moment look like when hope trampled fear once and for all?

Easter after Easter, I have questions. How did the resurrection happen? Did Jesus rise up from the ashes like a phoenix or did his lifeless body just take a breath again? Was it more like a lightning bolt? Or waking up from a dream? How can we know for sure?

Whether we have questions rooted in wonder, or questions burdened with doubt, the good news of Easter is that we don’t have to know what the resurrection looked like or how exactly it happened.

Even our ancestors- the earliest disciples of Christ- did not see the resurrection unfold. They stumbled upon an empty tomb- hours after the light shined in the darkness.

We don’t have to know how the resurrection looked or felt or smelled or tasted or even how it happened. We’re called believe what it means:

in midst of despair and weeping and gnashing of teeth- God says to God’s people: tombs will be emptied.

Hope will be restored.

The darkness cannot overcome the light.

Every place of mourning and suffering and hurting will be restored because Christ is risen indeed.

So we can question all we want. How did this happen? What did it look like? It doesn’t matter.

This is what Easter means: We are so loved by our Creator that even death has no sting. Our pain and suffering will never overcome the light- no matter what it might seem like day by day.

This is what defines us as God’s people.

Living and present God, we stand here in awe and wonder.

sometimes it feels like our pain is written in stone, chiseled into boulders that crush our souls.

But this morning, as the sun rose, Easter came once again.

You remind us today of the good news: crushing stones are rolled away.

The pain we bury deep in our hearts will be brought back to the light,

because every tomb is emptied.

Every hurt is healed.

We do not know what the resurrection looked like or how it happened.

But we do know what Easter preaches to all of God’s people.

In Easter, God , you proclaim to us: We have permission to heal, we are blessed to recover, we may have the courage to hope. We need not be bound by fear.

In Easter, God, you proclaim: weeping will cease.

In Easter, God, you proclaim: We are made in the image of glory.

In Easter, God, you proclaim: Death has no power over us, because we are children of an eternal, living spirit.

And so, in Easter- Let us proclaim: Alleluia. Christ is Risen, Christ is Risen indeed! Amen.

Copyright © 2012 Sarah Taylor Peck. All Rights Reserved.

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