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THE BAPTISM OF SAUL OF TARSUS: HIS CONVERSION

Appointed Scripture ReadingsActs 9:1-22 Psalm 87  Galatians 1:11-24 St. Matthew 19:27-30

Prayer of the Day

Almighty God, You turned the heart of him who persecuted the Church and by his preaching caused the light of the Gospel to shine throughout the world. Grant us ever to rejoice in the saving light of Your Gospel and, following the example of the apostle Paul, to spread it to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

About the Day: St. Paul’s life-changing experience on the road to Damascus is related three times in the Book of Acts (9:1-9; 22:6-11; 26:12-18). As an archenemy of Christians, Saul of Tarsus set out for Damascus to arrest and bring believers to Jerusalem for trial. While on the way, he saw a blinding light and heard the words: “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” Saul asked, “Who are You, Lord?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” In Damascus, where Saul was brought after being blinded, a disciple named Ananias was directed by the Lord in a vision to go to Saul to restore his sight: “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of Mine to carry My name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel” (Acts 9:15). After receiving his sight, Saul was baptized and went on to become known as Paul, the great apostle.(Source for the above: The Treasury of Daily Prayer)

Reflection on the Feast Day: Saul of Tarsus persecuted the Church as a Pharisee. Saul boasted in his own self-righteous works. It seems to me that the Church is initially persecuted by the church  What self-chosen works persecutes the Church today?  All forms of sexual thoughts and acts outside of marriage between a man and a woman.  All forms of greed.  All forms of anti-Nicene heresies. The list can go on and has grown tragically long within the Church.  And Saul, after his conversion, Paul, Apostle to the Gentiles saw such in Roman Empire and within his own congregations where he had preached the saving Gospel.  Today we wonder: why doesn’t the Church grow?  How can we make it grow?  We have the answer:  the Church will not grow with the doctrinal and moral rot we allowed into the Church. We have become decadent.  Solution?  Repent and return to the Lord your God, Who sent His Son to Saul of Tarsus and the Jews, and  the nations, that is the Gentiles. St. Paul was Apostle to the Gentiles.

Some fifty years ago, on my vicarage in a well-to-do north side Chicago suburb, the congregation had  a great honor.  The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) was having their global meeting in Chicago.  It was arranged the President of the LWF was to preach at Vespers at my vicarage congregation.  The President was a Lutheran pastor in Kenya.  In his broken English he preached that he was thankful that in age of colonialism and imperialism missionaries and pastors preached and taught the Gospel of Christ in Africa, very thankful; but the Pastor said, I look around at your country and see its problems, its immorality, and I begin  to think that the day will come that the Church in Kenya, “…will be sending missionaries to your country”.  The all-white congregation did not like that sermon.  I think that time has come for a new evangelization.  We need missionaries and evangelist to our decadent country in which everyone thinks they know what Christianity is.  We also need catechists who can teach sound Lutheran doctrine.  We need more Christian schools not beholding to the age.  We need to know that only in Christ’s death and resurrection we, like Saul of Tarsus, can have conversion from all our perversions, all the breaking and smashing of the 10 Commandments. We need to be saved.  Lord, have mercy. Lord, save Your people.

Pray for your pastor(s), rejoice in the Holy Ministry of the Church and your pastor feeding you the Word of God in Biblical teaching, praying, preaching and administering the Sacraments to all sorts of people in so many situations of life.

Concordia and Koinonia

I Timothy 1-15 Photograph by Lea Rhea Photography

The Collect of the Day

Lord Jesus Christ, You have always given to Your Church on earth faithful shepherds such as Timothy to guide and feed Your flock. Make all pastors diligent to preach Your holy Word and administer Your means of grace, and grant Your people wisdom to follow in the way that leads to life eternal; for You live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

The Appointed Lessons: Acts 16:1–5 Psalm 71: 15–24 (v. 6) 1 Timothy 6: 11–16 St. Matthew 24: 42–47

Bio:St. Timothy had Christian believers in his family. His mother, Eunice, was a Christian woman and was the daughter of a Christian woman named Lois (2 Timothy 1:5). Acts records that St. Paul met Timothy on his second missionary journey and wanted Timothy to continue on with him (16:1-3). Over time, Timothy became a dear friend…

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Psalm 27  Of David

The LORD is My Light and My Salvation

Note:  Much of the historical background of the Psalms of David is in the Story of the Two Kings, the rejected King, Saul, and the newly anointed King, David, and the struggle to death of the Two Kings.  This is recorded in 1 Samuel 16: 1-1 Samuel 31: 13.

  1. Why do you think this Psalm was chosen for a Sunday after the Epiphany and especially for today, the Third Sunday after the Epiphany?
  • There are two Sections in the Psalm: vss. 1-6 and vss. 7-14  There is a difference between the two sections: What is it?
  • Vs. 1:  Is this verse Law or Gospel?  Vs. 1b:  What hymn does this Psalm share a similarity?  What other Psalm(s) are similar to this verse?

How is this verse fulfilled in the New Testament? Which NT Bible verses bear witness to the fulfillment?

  • Vs. 2:  Do evildoers assail you to “…eat up” your flesh?  What does that expression mean? 
  • Vs. 3, see vs. 11-12:  In what ways does the light of the Lord help or prevail in the battle(s) and struggles(s) that David and we go through?  What is the light at the end of the tunnel? 
  • Vss. 4-6:  What is David’s ardent desire in the midst of struggle and battle? What is the “beauty of the Lord”?
  • Vs.7:  What does the Face of the Lord signify? See Numbers 6:  22-27; 2 Corinthians 4:5-7
  • Vs. 5:  What is “the tent”?
  • What words does David employ as he correctly understands  his opponents? What do his opponents want to do to him?
  1. What is the opposite of trust in the LORD?

From Interpretation—A  Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching:  Psalms by James L. Mays (1994)

“The Psalm in its present form is a text to each and express trust for a way of life whose living will again and again be misrepresented, misunderstood, and put in question in the cultures in which it is undertaken.”

“When trust is kept a private matter, unspoken and unshared, it becomes a personal project and may decay into no more than our own resolution and willpower.  Trust needs the stimulus and renewal  that comes from confronting and contemplating religion’s representation of God in liturgy, architecture, and proclamation.

“In this Psalm, the opposite and counterpart of trust in the LORD is fear of human beings.  They are dangerous because of what they do through language.  By slander and lies they can place the self and the life of the faithful in an environment of falsehood. This psalm is  a refusal to let falsehood become the language world of existence.  In it praise and prayer it evokes the reality in whose life faith choses to live—the salvation of the LORD.”

Collect of the Day

Heavenly Father, You revealed to the apostle Peter the blessed truth that Your Son Jesus is the Christ. Strengthen us by the proclamation of this truth that we too may joyfully confess that there is salvation in no one else; through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Readings: Acts 4:8-13 Psalm 118:19-29  2 Peter 1:1-15  St. Mark 8:27-9:1

Confession of St. Peter

The confession of St. Peter did not arise in the imagination of Peter’s heart but was revealed to him by the Father. The reason this confession is important is seen in Jesus’ response: “You are Peter [Greek Petros], and on this rock [Greek petra] I will build My church” (Matthew 16:18). As the people of God in the Old Testament began with the person of Abraham, the rock from which God’s people were hewn (Isaiah 51:1-2), so the people of God in the New Testament would begin with the person of Peter, whose confession is the rock on which Christ would build His Church. But Peter was not alone (the “keys” given to him in Matthew 16:19 were given to all the disciples in Matthew 18:18 and John 20:21-23). As St. Paul tells us, Peter and the other apostles take their place with the prophets as the foundation of the Church, with Christ Himself as the cornerstone (Ephesians 2:20). The confession of Peter, therefore, is the witness of the entire apostolic band and is foundational in the building of Christ’s Church. Thus the Church gives thanks to God for St. Peter and the other apostles who have instructed Christ’s Holy Church in His divine and saving truth. (The Treasury of Daily Prayer, Concordia Publishing House)

This quote is from Pr. Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Sermon in1933, on the Confession of St. Peter, preached in Berlin’s Trinity Church:

“In the midst of the creakings and groanings of a crumbling and tottering church structure, which has been shaken to its very foundations, we hear in this text the promise of the eternal church, against which the gates of hell shall not prevail; of the church founded on a rock, Christ has built and which he continues to build throughout all time…Pay no heed to views and opinions, don’t ask for judgments, don’t always be calculating what will happen, don’t always be on the lookout for another refuge! Let the church remain the church! But church, confess, confess, confess! Christ alone is your Lord, from his grace alone can you live as you are. Christ builds.”

Peter’s Confession of faith is revealed to him by our Father who art in heaven. The Confession of Peter is not for Peter alone but for the Church and the world: In the world, but not of the world at all, so others come to Christ and know His salvation. Pr. Bonhoeffer cried to the Church in a soon to become Nazi Germany: “But church, confess, confess, confess!” The confession of faith is not for the mind alone but also for the tongue and His Word sanctifies our speech so that others may hear and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. The confession of that Jesus is Lord is embodied in our lives, as Jesus is, and will be in new creation at the Resurrection. Many are dying to hear. Many are dying to live. May the Lord give you an opportunity to zero in on this confession and so throw out the eternal life-line to those who are drowning as He has for you and your salvation. The Lord fishes us out of the depths into the depths of His love.

Romans 8: 38-39

For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

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Ears You Have Dug

The appointed Psalm for the Second Sunday of Epiphany, Year A (2023, 15 January) is Psalm 40: 11. In verse 6 the ESV translation is of part of the verse, “…you have given me an open ear”. In Hebrew, it is literally, “…ears you have dug”. Did you your Mom ever tell you when you were a kid, “You need a cleaning of the earholes”? Luther, in his commentary below, has some to teach us from the mines of Scripture about hearing and the speaking.

Luther’s Commentary on Psalm 40:6: But thou hast pierced the ears for me. Or, ears you have dug

Why not the eyes or the tongue? In the first place, he commends obedience and, second, faith, for faith comes by hearing (Rom. 10:17), not by seeing. And here is a golden word that we might learn to have ears. And it is to be noted with regard to the individual words that “ears” are plural, “thou hast dug through” (pierced) is a compound, and “for me” is singular. We have two ears, first, so that we may be more apt to learn than to teach, to hear than to be heard, to yield to one speaking rather than to speak. For we have only one tongue, and this is enclosed by 28 teeth, of which the first four are sharp, and besides by two lips, while the ears are out in the open.

Second, (we have two ears) in order that only one might listen to the detractor and accuser and the other might serve the other side, for otherwise a person will often err, and be led astray, as happened to David through the detractor Ziba.[1]

Third, [we have two ears] in order that a person may not be irked or tired of hearing the same good word frequently, for there are two ears and this means that one should hear the same thing twice or more often.

Fourth, on the left side, evils, reproaches, and disparagements should be heard for Christ’s sake, but on the right-side good things concerning Christ and heavenly matters. Now you search out many other things.


[1] Cf. 2 Samuel 16: 1-4; 19: 24-30

The Lamb of God is also the Good Shepherd. Lamb and Shepherd are two aspects of the one Office of Christ. He bore our sin as the Lamb of God and so leads His people as the Good Shepherd of His flock.. The slaughtered lamb is the wounded Shepherd:
and with his wounds we are healed (Is. 53).

Concordia and Koinonia

Text:  John 1:29-42, especially the italicized verses

29 The next day (John the Baptizer)  saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.’ 31 I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.” 32 And John bore witness: “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33 I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizeswith the Holy Spirit.’ 34 And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.”

Jesus Calls the First Disciples

35 The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples, 36 and he looked…

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Psalm 29  King James Version

29 Give unto the Lord, O ye mighty[1], give unto the Lord glory and strength.

Give unto the Lord the glory due unto his name; worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.

The voice of the Lord is upon the waters: the God of glory thundereth: the Lord is upon many waters.

The voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is full of majesty.

The voice of the Lord breaketh the cedars; yea, the Lord breaketh the cedars of Lebanon.

He maketh them also to skip like a calf; Lebanon and Sirion like a young unicorn.

The voice of the Lord divideth the flames of fire.

The voice of the Lord shaketh the wilderness; the Lord shaketh the wilderness of Kadesh.

The voice of the Lord maketh the hinds to calve[2], and discovereth the forests: and in his temple doth every one speak of his glory.

10 The Lord sitteth upon the flood; yea, the Lord sitteth King for ever.

11 The Lord will give strength unto his people; the Lord will bless his people with peace.

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  1. What are the meteorological effects used by David?
    1. In what role would David have personally experienced these weather phenomena? 
    2. Have you ever been caught in rough weather?  How did it make you feel?
    3. What are other Biblical narratives involving weather storms?
  2. Why do  you think this Psalm was chosen for the Baptism of Our Lord? What are the similarities and differences between Psalm 29 and St. Matthew 4: 13-17?
  3. To whom is the Psalm addressed: A. God;  B. heavenly beings;  C. Creation; D. Glory itself.
  4. Psalm 29 speaks of the “cedars of Lebanon” being broken.  What was partially built from the cedars of Lebanon (cf. 1 Kings 5)?   What would the breaking of the cedars of Lebanon and oak trees have meant to the Israelite worshiper of the LORD?
  5. What is “glory”? 
  6. What is holiness?  How would you describe the Holiness of God? The splendor of holiness? See Leviticus 20: 26;  1 Peter 1: 16.  What is the reason for the holiness of Christians?
  7. What is the “voice of the Lord” (qal Adonai)?  This phrase is used in this Psalm seven times.  What does the number 7 symbolize in the Bible?
  8. “The Lord sits enthroned over the flood”:  What does this verse remind us of in the Bible?
  9. In verse 11, the Lord will give “strength” and “peace”. What is “strength”? Peace?

From Interpretation, a Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching: Psalms, by James Luther Mays:


[1] Or “heavenly beings”, Hebrew, “sons of God” or “sons of might”

[2] Or, “Possibly the sound of God’s voice frightens the deer, causing them to give birth early.  However, the consonants in “deer” are the same as those “oaks”;  this reading continues the idea that God’s voice shakes the trees.” (LSB footnote)

The Magi brought gifts fit for a King. Are you fit for the king?  I have sympathy for those who work at a YMCA on January 1st because on that federal holiday, they are open for all those fresh with new year’s resolve to get fit. It’s a good resolution.  But as someone wrote that willpower is depletable resource…I would say, severely depletable. It’s more than a makeover on the surface but in the heart and will that is needed.  If we could get fit for the King, the Lord our God  would not have had to send His Son, the Son of David. But He did and we rejoice.  We are not fit for a king because of original sin and it’s bitter fruit of unbelief.  This King makes us fit for His kingdom by His reign of grace, mercy and peace in His forgiveness by faith holding Him who holds us. 

Light is sign and symbol of seeing with heart, soul and mind by faith through God’s Word.  Light does not shine from us but on us that we not lose our way, physically, intellectually or spiritually. We only can be oriented correctly by light, instruction, guidance, wisdom, mercy. It was  once pointed out to me that physically you can bring light into the darkness, but you can not physically bring darkness into  the light.  I can cup my hands like making a snowball  so that the interior is darkness and I open my hands and the dark dissipates.  But we can spiritually bring darkness into the light.  In fact, by nature, separated by sin from the Lord, we are darkness (Ephesians 5:8). Into the darkness the light shines, Jesus Christ.  This is the great theme of Apostle and Evangelist remembered this day in the Scripture the Lord breathed into him to write.  The Magi were led by  light and finally to see the light of love’s pure light, Jesus Christ, the dark world needs and yet knows not Him.  This is the light of His Word made flesh that His Church is to shine in the world.  In Thy Light do we see  light.

 The Latin word for ‘dayspring’ or ‘sunrise’ or “east” is “oriens”.  From “oriens” we have our word “orient” and “orientation”.   A boy scout needs a compass to point to the north in the wilderness so not to be lost and find his way.  Pilgrims in Jesus Christ, like the Magi, need the Lord’s compass which points to true east. Christ’s star rose in the east and guided the Magi to His crib, our Altar.   His Word is Lamp unto our feet (Psalm 119).  The Temple in Jerusalem faced the east.  Traditionally, Christian church buildings faced the east and Christians are buried facing the east.  In the Church, in times past, the west was considered the haunt of the demonic but the east is from whence comes our Savior and so we face His way and are oriented.  

Who were the Magi?  Dr. Jeffrey Gibbs, Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, points out in his commentary that  in the Greek translation of  Daniel 2: 2,  of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, it is written:   “…wizards and the MAGI and the sorcerers of the Chaldeans” could not interpret it.  “These various Babylonian practitioners of  occult learning, which would be considered damnable to a first-century Jewish audience…the magi are not”wise” in any learning that conforms with truth and piety.  And is exactly why Matthew’s original readers would have been surprised by their appearing in Matthew 2: 1, which is probably why  Matthew marks their appearance with LOOK!  BEHOLD! (Mt. 2: 1).  Anytime Behold is used it is get our attention, this is just amazing.  Magi did not worship the God or Israel:  they were in league with a supernatural power that opposed the one true God.  No one would expect MAGI to come in search of the Child-King whose birth was prophesied in Holy Scriptures. What, then are THEY doing here?  To underscore how the original readers/hearers of Matthew’s Gospel would have considered the Magi to be most ‘unlikely devotees'”. And that’s the point:  the magi get it. Behold! They knew the star meant the King of the Jews was born and to get the right directions to Bethlehem they obey God’s Word in the Bible.  The Biblical scholars in Jerusalem do not want to worship the true King or believe the Bible.  Sounds to me like too much Christianity these days. .  Herod says he does but we know it is for one purpose to kill the true King.As unlikely devotees as all the Gentiles who are called by the Word of God to Jesus Christ?  Yes.  Just think: the Magi followed God’s Word to the Child (Mt. 2:  5-6)!  And that is the only way they could find the Way.

The Lord is clear in His Word:

All we like sheep have gone astray;
   we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the LORD has laid on him
   the iniquity of us all.
(Isaiah 53)

In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes. Last verse of Judges.  It all sounds like the disorientation of our time. We lose our way so easily.     We seek direction from people who say they know the way but do not have the good guide, the Bible.  People say I can feel God in a beautiful sunset etc.  God has left His witness in nature, His creation, no doubt about it but it won’t tell us His will, His plan for us, our forgiveness and salvation.    “… vague religion-all about feeling God in nature, and so on-is so attractive. It is all thrills and no work; like watching the waves from the beach. But you will not get to Newfoundland by studying the Atlantic that way, and you will not get eternal life by simply feeling the presence of God in flowers or music. Neither will you get anywhere by looking at maps without going to sea. Nor will you be very safe if you go to sea without a map.” (C.S. Lewis) The Lord caught the attention of Persian astrologers, the magi and led them by a star.  But it was finally the Bible, the Word of God, that led them to Bethlehem, the map of pure doctrine.  Doctrine, teaching is life.  Don’t trust your senses to find God, He will find you by His Word. His Word is more trustworthy than even your thoughts and feelings.  His Word orients you to your heavenly home. Next week we will hear of another epiphany, the theophany of the Lord’s Baptism. He is born and baptized into our sin so we are washed clean for the journey of our lives. We are born lost, we need directions and instruction from our first priests, Dad and Mom.  Instructed according to the Bible, then pastors and other Christians instructed from the guidebook, the Bible. 

The narrative in Matthew clearly wants to move from signs in the natural world to the prophetic Scriptures, from lesser to greater, as it were.

T. S. Eliot, the British poet, wrote The Journey of the Magi and at the end, one of the Magi reflects:

All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.

We live in a culture clutching their gods:  self, money, fame, power…any person, place, thing or devil can be a god.  Worshiping the creation of our own hands. By nature we are made to worship and adore and until shown the way, we are lost…and now we are found.  It is a daily dying and rising in Jesus Christ as we turn to Him in sorrow and joy in true repentance as He guides us home.  As He guides us, by His Word, His Bible, we can guide others clutching their gods.  So He has formed His Church His Body, He the head to bring to light the unsearchable riches of Christ, 9and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things, 10so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. 11This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, 12in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him.  We are called by Him in the geography of His mercy to shine on the waste and wrath of our time, so that together, washed in Baptism, washed in the blood of the Lamb, we can show forth His Word, His light, His Star to guide others to worship Jesus Christ, in the unity of the Holy Spirit in the glory of God the Father. Amen.

“Today, having a clear faith based on the Creed of the Church is often labeled as fundamentalism. Whereas relativism, that is, letting oneself be “tossed here and there, carried about by every wind of doctrine”, seems the only attitude that can cope with modern times. We are building a dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one’s own ego and desires.

We, however, have a different goal: the Son of God, the true man. He is the measure of true humanism. An “adult” faith is not a faith that follows the trends of fashion and the latest novelty; a mature adult faith is deeply rooted in friendship with Christ. It is this friendship that opens us up to all that is good and gives us a criterion by which to distinguish the true from the false, and deceit from truth.”

From a Sermon preached by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI) in 2005

From a Sermon on New Year’s Eve by Pastor C. F. W. Walther:

For Baptism is a bath that washed me not only once when I received it—washed me pure with Christ’s blood—but it continuously washes me clean even daily for as long as I hold it in faith. For just as that same water of the flood drowned the sinners, but Noah with his relatives were brought to salvation and carried to Mount Ararat, so also did the water of my Baptism drown my sins, but my soul was brought to the eternal mountain of divine grace. And just as once those same waves of the Red Sea, which swallowed up Pharaoh and his army, were a protective wall for Israel, so also has my baptismal water swallowed up all of my damnation and is for me a sure wall before God’s wrath and punishment….

Now then, all of you who believe in God’s Word, let your watchword for entering the new year be this: “I am baptized!” Although the world may laugh at this comfort, the enthusiasts vex its confidence … nevertheless, abandon any other dearly held pledges and speak only throughout the entire year to come, in all terrors of conscience and necessity through sin and death: “I am baptized! I am baptized! Hallelujah!” And you shall prevail! In every time of need, you will find comfort in your Baptism; on account of it Satan will flee from your faith and confession; and in death you will see heaven opened and will finally come into the joy of your Lord to celebrate a great year of jubilee, a year of praise, with all the angels forever and ever. Amen!

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