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Archive for October, 2014

This is a fun rap on the 95 Theses, not always historically accurate, yet pretty much on the mark. Enjoy! Blessed Reformation Day and All Hallow’s Eve!

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The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds. (From the Gospel reading: St. Matthew 11:12–19)

 The fall back position of men and women when caught in wrong is always self-justification resulting at times, for instance, a VIP in an abject apology on television and conveyed through social networking. The accused usually deflects his blame.  Bad advice, bad company, bad upbringing (you know, my parents), peer pressure…Why did you eat of  the tree that I said you should not?  It was the woman YOU gave me that made me eat.    My favorite is when a politician in order to self-justify a bad decision says, “I take full responsibility”.  Oh, really.  So someone is going to fire you?  I take full responsibility for my actions?  Really. 

 In fact, self-justifications do not have to wait until one is caught in wrong because the Old Adam likes to cling to them.  “I’ve worked hard all my life time, O Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes-Benz”.  I deserve it because I have worked hard all my life time.  “I’ve kept my nose clean”. “At heart, I’m a good guy”.  “I’m just following my dreams”.  A lot of this can be summed up with:   “I keep the Golden Rule”.  One day, after worship service, in which the famous Reformed theologian Karl Barth was preaching, a man said to the preacher, You know I think all of Christianity can be summed up by the golden rule, do unto others as you would have them do unto you.  And Barth asked the man what he did for a living, as astronomer the man said.  Hmm, responded Barth, so all of astronomy could be summed up, “Twinkle, twinkle little star, I wonder why the way you are”?  This is whittling down God’s Law to my size to hide. I was afraid, said Adam when the Lord called out to him where are you, so I hid.

 All of these thoughts and words are defensive sentiments and statements. We even use the golden rule, the Scriptures, to justify ourselves, remembering Satan quotes Scripture and warps it. They are all self-justifying moves in which the Old Adam, men and women, hunker down in themselves for self-defense.   But what is the Old Adam defending himself against?  A voice, at times muffled, at times screaming:  You should have, You could have, Why didn’t you, You better, Look at those around you, they do so much better, Get your act together, You better better yourself before it’s too late.  A young college student who wanted to do good by God knew exactly the path by which he thought he  could be good and so be saved in his day.  The talented and musical young college student left the university and music and joined a monastery. Monasteries were noted for their discipline, but one the college student entered was rigorous.

  •  A life of praying, that is, Praying the liturgy of hours, several times a day:  Matins @  midnight; Lauds @ 3 a.m; Prime  6 a.m.; Terce 9 a.m.; Sext or Midday Prayer 12 noon; None 3 p.m.; Vespers or Evening Prayer 6 p.m.; Compline 9 p.m.  Then inbetween:
  • A life of fasting
  • A life of attending Mass daily
  • A life of begging in the streets
  • A life of manual labor
  • A life of study

 Here was a self-improvement program, a purpose-driven life,  that would surely insure salvation and this earnest young college student threw himself into it with all his talents and abilities which were considerable, but something was not working.  All of this monastic discipline was not stilling the voice of relentless conscience, as it was still saying, You should, but not it’s not  enough, You must, but you haven’t, You could be better, but you’re not. Brother Martin wrote that it was the voice of God, an angry judge, he was hearing.  And there was only one of two responses:  pride or despair. Martin despaired. I think he was right that it was the Lord speaking to him, as  it was the voice of God’s Law.  Martin Luther began to realize what his brother Philip Melancthon years later would write as the Lutheran confession of Christ, that “…men cannot be justified before God by their own strength, merits, or works”.  Luther knew he could not justify himself, however an impeccable monk he was, as centuries early an impeccable Pharisee realized on the road to Damascus.  None of us can.  Luther could have run but he knew he could not hide from the living God.  Luther was like a deer caught in the headlights. All the self-justifying moves, burying us in guilt, can not justify.  The daily news is the story of one self-justification after another.  Then the living God showed the young college student now monk, Martin Luther, where and when and in whom Luther and the whole world was justified, made right. Later his brother in Christ, Philip Melanchthon wrote the clear confession from Scripture:

 “Our churches also teach that men cannot be justified before God by their own strength, merits, or works but are freely justified for Christ’s sake through faith when they believe that they are received into favor and that their sins are forgiven on account of Christ, who by His death made satisfaction for our sins. This faith God imputes  for righteousness in His sight. (Article IV of The Augsburg Confession)

 Jesus said from the Cross, It is finished.  Sinners are forgiven, once and for all.  Luther called the Cross, the “happy exchange” by which He bore all our peccadillos, our own terminal illness of sin, the whole thing.  In other words, this was the sweet swap:  the sinless One in the sinners’ stead.

  In the Lord of Rings, the Two Towers, Saruman was a good wizard who fell,and he turned his tower Isengard into a place of darkness, war, and industry for the dark Lord, Sauron. Saruman did so by damning the river so the fires of industry and war could burn unimpeded.  When the march of ents commences, they destroy the dam holding back the river, and the flood waters drowned out the fires of sin and evil.

 This is like our baptism into Christ Jesus.  The Lord’s Law thunders in our heart for fear of sinners, and the crucified and risen Lord flows forth in waters of rebirth, His forgiveness, His justification of sinners by faith in Him, not by Law, not having a righteousness that comes by the Law, but by grace. 

Baptism puts out the fires of sin and evil.  The Lord Jesus destroyed the damned dam of our own strength, merits or works to justify ourselves. There is no self-justification possible at the foot of the cross, only His undying love.  Luther knew that he did not open up the flood gates, God’s Word did. The Lord opened up the floodgates upon the Cross. Yes, as Jesus said, the Kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, men try to take it by the violence of their deeds of self-justification, a kingdom of glory.  The world wants Jesus and John to dance to its warped tunes, but the Lord will not.  He knows the accusation against Him, “a friend of tax collectors and sinners”.  A friend, who did so not to win their votes, but to win our souls from our selves. A true friend does not buy our faith, but has bought us by His blood from the fires of hell and gives us faith.  A friend, not to accept sinners, but transform them. A friend, who loves us, when we were not lovable.  All are sinners and fallen short of the glory of God, missing the mark. Nothing in any human arsenal of self-justification is left at the Cross.   Wisdom is justified by her deeds.  Wisdom is justified by Christ’s perfect deed, the Cross is the very pattern of His life in ours, His love perfecting our loves, His grace lifting us up in His forgiveness, His peace in the midst of the rage of our times, the rock of our salvation.  He commands, teaches and inspires our prayer. WE do not have the righteousness which saves, but, Christ, “…the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.”

 Today is also the commemoration of three Lutheran hymn writers who live in the rage of their times.  Philipp Nicolai (1556–1608) was a pastor in Germany during the Great Plague, which took the lives of 1,300 of his parishioners during a sixth-month period. In addition to his heroic pastoral ministry during that time of stress and sorrow, he wrote the texts for “Wake, Awake, for Night Is Flying” and “O Morning Star, How Fair and Bright,” known, respectively, as the king and queen of the Lutheran chorales. Johann Heermann (1585–1647), also a German pastor, suffered from poor health as well as from the ravages of the Thirty Years’ War (1618–1648). His hymn texts are noted for their tenderness and depth of feeling. Paul Gerhardt (1607–1676) was another Lutheran pastor who endured the horrors of the Thirty Years’ War. By 1668 he lost his pastoral position in Berlin (for refusing to compromise his Lutheran convictions), and endured the death of four of his five children and his wife. He nevertheless managed to write 133 hymns, all of which reflect his firm faith. Along with Martin Luther he is regarded as one of Lutheranism’s finest hymn writers.

 What sustained these men through such turmoil?  The rock of salvation, Jesus Christ.  Faith can only have something or someone to seize for salvation and this is the justification of the sinner by Christ’s Atonement, once and for all from the Cross, preached and taught into our ears and hearts, by sermons, and sung into our souls the very Word of Christ Jesus.  He alone sustained these pastors in the overwhelming flood of sin and death in the flood of Holy Baptism by the blood of Christ.  Nothing we can do can forgive our mortal sin, except true God and true man, Jesus Christ. These pastors knew His justification by grace alone, through faith alone.  Paul Gerhardt, from “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded”:

 

What language shall I borrow
To thank Thee, dearest Friend,
For this, Thy dying sorrow,
Thy pity without end?
Oh, make me thine forever!
And should I fainting be,
Lord, let me never, never,
Outlive my love for Thee.

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World War II American Patriotic Anti-Nazi Poster public domain image: Vintage Patriotic Anti-Nazi Poster from 1943 World War II: THIS IS THE ENEMY in large text below an image of a menacing swastika sleeved hand driving a bayonet through the Holy Bible by artist Barbara Marks; published by the Office of War Information, Washington, D.C. printed 28 x 20 inch color lithograph by U.S. Government Printing Office: 1943-O-533688; a public domain image of a historic U.S.A. American Government Patriotism Symbol copyright free image of a patriotic WWII Anti-Nazi poster titled This is the Enemy. .

This World War II American anti-Nazi poster is definitely from a different era.  The concern clearly expressed is that the Nazis were the enemy of the Christian faith represented by the  Bible.  The Nazis were trying to kill the Bible, that is the Word of God.  In fact, the Nazis even produced their own Bible which is called “the Hitler Bible”.  Hitler and company did their own version of the commandments, Hitler’s 12 commandments.  

The federal government produced this poster in ’43, and 71 years later, government (federal, state and local) is trying to do what the Nazis could not.  A Houston mayor subpoenas pastors for their sermons because they brought a lawsuit against the city regarding LGBT style legislation for unisex public bathrooms.   Prayers in school and at public events forbidden. Anti-Zionism is just a mask of the new antisemitism. Universities and the military removing Bibles in their guest rooms, curtailing the Gideons.  The social ostracization of churches who deny same-sex ‘marriage’ (pseudogamy, false marriage) as “homophobic”. I do not think that we are living a nation that is Nazi, but it must be remembered that when the Nazis began their campaign against Church and synagogue, many thought this was a good thing.  Those who did not,  said little or nothing. 

The knife to Scripture was not  first wielded by secularist proponents, but by friends of the Bible:  19th and 20th Biblical scholarship.  The Biblical scholarship that denied Scriptural inerrancy and authority.  It was less like a knife and more like a scalpel, removing those living parts of God’s Word that do not comport with the secularist, worldly agenda:  ordination of men, abortion, greed,lust, same-sex marriage and the denial of gender, etc.  Again, this was done within the Church, by ‘friends’ who were (are) trying to make the Bible relevant, timely, palatable and all under the rubric of ‘doing good’.  This reminds me Julius Caesars’ response as Brutus knifed him to death, Et tu, Brute?  Satan quoted Scripture to Jesus for Him to  use the Word for His own purposes for ‘doing good’, on His terms,. This is grim.  This is the struggle of our time, against the zeitgeist of the powers and principalities in the heavenly places (see Ephesians 6:12 ).

The most sung and loved of the sizable number of Reformation hymns is “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” by Dr. Martin Luther, the last stanza, emphasis my own:

God’s Word forever shall abide, No thanks to foes who fear it;

For God Himself fights by our side with the weapons of the Spirit.

Were they to take our house, Goods, honor, child or spouse,

Though life be wrenched away, they cannot win the day.

The Kingdom’s ours forever!

 Jesus promised that the gates of hell shall not prevail against His Church.  Then Peter tried to deter Him from being crucified. Peter eventually denied Jesus three times.  The dark army was moving and it was met by the Lord of Hosts upon the Cross.  He is  risen.  He then sent the Church militant moved out into occupied territory with His Word alone.  

One of the periods of Christian history we tend to overlook is the two centuries, from AD33 to AD312 (The Edict of Milan), in which the Church grew greatly under mild and severe persecutions.  The Church had no churchly institutions.  No government to give them a hand to help, but the hand of government to hurt and martyr.  No Bill of Rights protected their religious freedom.  They lived in a society in which sexual immorality was taken for granted, from the almost pornographic statuary of Greece and Rome to acceptance of deviancies of all descriptions. The Church had the Bible, the Word, the Sacraments, prayer, faith, hope and love, weapons of the Spirit, the armor of God (Ephesians 6).  The Lord watched over His Church, His bride, His body and still does. 

It may be that the chastisements of the Church, mild and severe, are the Lord’s way of teaching us the faith anew.  His Word will not be killed, on purpose or by accident by the hand of mortal man,but the Word dies in our hearts when we seek other comforts and hopes, however pious looking. When the religion of the self’s symbol is a mirror, rapt continually looking at ourselves, we do not see the enemy coming from behind. The Church had enemies and Jesus said, Love your enemies, yet they were still enemies. It is those times when Christ and His Church seems to have had no enemies may be the times of faithlessness and apostasy.  When the Church is derided,denied and decried, then rejoice and be glad, said Jesus, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.This does not mean we are to be “nice” and not say anything when wolves in sheep’s clothing preach a false Gospel.  As a dear colleague liked to say, Nice is the enemy of the good.  Americans want to do right and when someone says I am hurt by what you Christians say or do,an American’s response: “Oh, we do not want to hurt anyone.”  The answer of “no”  maybe that is the very thing they and we need to hear.

You may not have not heard of Hitler’s ‘Bible’.   One website said there is only one extant copy of Hitler’s ‘Bible’ because it is guessed the rest were burned by churches…may be even in one of the Nazi book burnings.  This World War II poster is scary.  When the Apostle Paul was imprisoned, he wrote his brother Pastor, Timothy this:  

Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound! (2 Timothy 2)

Paul was bound but the Word is not. He was chained as criminal for the crime of preaching Christ which is no crime.  Luther and the Reformers knew this. They knew the knife of those who denied the authority of Scripture alone.  They did not prevail. Luther and company did not prevail, the Lord did. He still will.  He calls us, as He did the blessed Reformers:  Confess Christ! Fear not, I am with you until the end of the age. You do not build the Church, I do.  You are to confess. Confess Christ as Lord! Confess Christ so that saints are remade in Baptism. All the saints surround the Church encouraging us to look to Jesus Christ alone, His grace alone, as  His baptized saints. 

Let us pray…Almighty and gracious Lord,  pour out Your Holy Spirit on Your faithful people. Keep us steadfast in Your grace and truth, protect and deliver us in times of temptation, defend us against all enemies, and grant to Your Church Your saving peace; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever

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Almighty God, You chose Your servants Simon and Jude to be numbered among the glorious company of the apostles. As they were faithful and zealous in their mission, so may we with ardent devotion make known the love and mercy of our Lord and Savior Christ, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Scripture Lessons:  Jeremiah 26: 1-16; Psalm 43;  1 Peter 1: 3-9;  John 15: 12-21

 Alleluia.  You did not choose Me, But I chose you. Alleluia.

About Saints Simon and Jude:  In the lists of the twelve apostles (Matthew 10:2-4; Mark 3:16-19; Luke 6: 14—16); Acts1:13), the tenth and eleventh places are occupied by Simon the Zealot (or ‘Cannanaean”) and by Jude (or “Judas,” not Iscariot but “of James”), who was apparently known also as Thaddaeus. According to early Christian tradition, Simon and Jude journeyed together as missionaries to Persia, where they were martyred. It is likely for this reason, at least in part, that these two apostles are commemorated on same day. Simon is not mentioned in New Testament apart from the lists of twelve apostles. Thus he is remembered and honored for the sake of his office, and thereby stands before us—in eternity, as his life and ministry on earth—in the Name and stead of Christ Jesus, our Lord. We give thanks to God for calling and sending Simon, along with Jude and all the apostles, to preach and teach the Holy Gospel, to proclaim repentance and forgiveness, and to baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (John 4:1-2; Matthew 10: 28:16-20; Luke .24: 46-49).

Jude appears in John’s Gospel (14:22) on the night of our Lord’s betrayal and the beginning of His Passion, asking Jesus how it is that He will manifest Himself to the disciples but not to the world. The answer that Jesus gives to this question is a pertinent emphasis for this festival day: “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word, and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him” (John 14:23). Surely both Jude and Simon exemplified, in life and death, their love for Jesus and their faith in His Word. Not only are we thus strengthened in our Christian faith and life by their example, but, above all, we are encouraged by the faithfulness of the Lord in keeping His promise to them to bring them home to Himself in heaven. There they live with Him forever, where we shall someday join them.

(From The Treasury of Daily Prayer, Concordia Publishing House)

Reflection: The Prayer of the Day above speaks of the “glorious company of the apostles” but of course by any worldly standard they were not glorious.  As the apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians, We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things.” (1 Corinthians 4: 13)  Not exactly a job recruitment pitch for the apostolic Church, unlike the ‘ministries’ we see wearily promoted on TV. Simon and Jude have no extant writings, scant mention in the Bible, no founders  of  ‘great’ ministries,  but the Lord called them to the one holy, catholic and evangelical Ministry.  Their glory, like ours, is a borrowed one, a given one, one given to sinners: the love and mercy of Jesus Christ which by the Lord, the Holy Spirit, in prayer,  we can make known as glory in clay jars (see 2 Corinthians 4:6-8)

It is Pr. Dietrich Bonhoeffer who provides a good commentary on the Apostles Simon and Jude and the apostolic Church from his book, The Cost of Discipleship, in this reflection on the Beatitude from St. Matthew 5.  Remember and note:  everything Bonhoeffer wrote was in the time in Germany of the rise of Nazism and the descent into darkness, yet most in Germany thought this was ‘light’ and ‘goodness’, the Nazis put men back to work, Germans were feeling good about Germany again and the like.  I am patriotic but I do not worship our country and neither are we to despise it.  I find Pr. Bonhoeffer’s  writings prescient in that they are so relevant and close to the bone in our day:

“Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted.” With each beatitude the gulf is widened between the disciples and the people, their call to come forth from the people becomes increasingly manifest. By “mourning” Jesus, of course, means doing without what the world calls peace and prosperity: He means refusing to be in tune with the world or to accommodate  oneself to its standards. Such men mourn for the world, for its guilt, its fate and its fortune. While the world keeps holiday they stand aside, and while the world sings, “Gather ye rose-buds while ye may,” they mourn. They see that  for all jollity on board, the ship is beginning to sink. The world dreams of progress, of power and of the future, but the disciples meditate on the end, the last judgement, and the coming of the kingdom. To such heights the world cannot rise.

Simon and Jude did not follow the world, nor a churches in captivity to the world, but held captive to the Word of God, Jesus Christ and so also free, freed to follow Him and free to serve.  The actual Reformation Day is this Saturday (2015)  Luther and the Reformers clearly preached the Word, not following a worldly church and worldly doctrine.  Upcoming is All Saints Sunday, and the saints did not look to the world for their light and follow the glow of their “devices” but the light shining in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 4: 6)

A blessed feast day to all in the Lord!

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This painting is by the English artist and poet, William Blake. It depicts the Lord’s Parable of the 5 wise and the 5 foolish virgins. This parable is the basis of Philip Nicolai’s hymn, Wake, Awake for Night is Flying.

Almighty God, the apostle Paul taught us to praise You in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs. We thank You this day for those who have given to Your Church great hymns, especially Your servants Philipp Nicolai, Johann Heermann, and Paul Gerhardt. May Your Church never lack hymnwriters who through their words and music give You praise. Fill us with the desire to praise and thank You for Your great goodness; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Bio: Philipp Nicolai (1556–1608) was a pastor in Germany during the Great Plague, which took the lives of 1,300 of his parishioners during a sixth-month period. In addition to his heroic pastoral ministry during that time of stress and sorrow, he wrote the texts for “Wake, Awake, for Night Is Flying” and “O Morning Star, How Fair and Bright,” known, respectively, as the king and queen of the Lutheran chorales. Johann Heermann (1585–1647), also a German pastor, suffered from poor health as well as from the ravages of the Thirty Years’ War (1618–1648). His hymn texts are noted for their tenderness and depth of feeling. Paul Gerhardt (1607–1676) was another Lutheran pastor who endured the horrors of the Thirty Years’ War. By 1668 he lost his pastoral position in Berlin (for refusing to compromise his Lutheran convictions), and endured the death of four of his five children and his wife. He nevertheless managed to write 133 hymns, all of which reflect his firm faith. Along with Martin Luther he is regarded as one of Lutheranism’s finest hymn writers.

(From The Treasury of Daily Prayer, Concordia Publishing House)

Reflection:  The last fad in congregational music was “Christian music”.  My response was, Yes, I love Christian music,written and composed by Heerman, Nicolai and Gerhardt!  On this day we sing to the Lord in the words and music by the 3 great Lutheran hymn writers commemorated  and it is all thoroughgoing Christian and Biblical music.

Now the latest buzz phrase has been: “praise songs”.  Both my wife and a colleague  responded to “praise songs”:   ‘We sing praise music every Sunday!”  Listen to the hymns below!  As friend and colleague once would say:  “Lutheran hymnody is my glossasalia.” Just think: these hymn writers and pastors were probably not paid a cent for their hymns, fought false doctrine  and disease and the devil, and in the midst of all that, in the Lord they had joy to sing and pray and write hymns.

The other criticism is that Lutheran hymnody is not personal enough and expressive of ‘my’ feelings.  Can anyone, if you will, top, the sheer intimacy, poetry and passion of Paul Gerhardt in O Sacred Head, Now Wounded?

What language shall I borrow
To thank Thee, dearest Friend,
For this, Thy dying sorrow,
Thy pity without end?
Oh, make me thine forever!
And should I fainting be,
Lord, let me never, never,
Outlive my love for Thee.

What sustained these men through such turmoil?  The rock of salvation, Jesus Christ.  Faith can only have something or someone to seize for salvation and this is the justification of the sinner by Christ’s Atonement, once and for all from the Cross, preached and taught into our ears and hearts, by sermons, yes!  But also by hymnody.  In the Service Book and Hymnal (1958), the former worship book of the ELCA’s predecessor Lutheran denominations,  the forward states that they wanted the hymns to be more “devotional” and have a less of  a “didactic” content.  They were so wrong!  The didactic or teaching content of Lutheran hymnody is so important because it is the objective Word of God written in Scripture sung in words and music. Consider “Wake, Awake, for Night is Flying”:  this hymn is the Parable of the Foolish and Wise Virgins (Matthew 25: 1-13) set to music. It is usually sung in Advent, pointing to the time on earth when the Bridegroom arrived and the time to come when those who are eager for His appearing, He will come again.  It is didactic and so instructional.  Dispensationalist and millenialist false doctrine is shown for what it is in that magnificent hymn of Scripture by the true and correct doctrine of our Lord’s parousia, in Scripture, correctly taught.  At Concordia Junior College, I took a one credit course on hymnody.  Professor “Ollie” Rupprecht pointed out that J.S. Bach had some 80 volumes in his library (quite an expensive acquisition in that day) and 60 volumes were on Lutheran Doctrine. This doctrine has been derided as too “sterile”.  It is not.  Like Jack Webb in Dragnet said: “The facts, ma’am, just the facts.” The objective justification by the life, word and work of Jesus Christ is the reason to sing.

We give thanks to the Lord, the Conductor of the  “choir immortal” (from “Wake, Awake”),   for all church organists (underpaid and being squeezed out by contemporary worship), church musicians, choirs and the Lord’s people who sing their praise of their Lord through hymns replete with the Scripture, that is, the Word of God and so the Holy Spirit.  Pray for your organist, choir director, choir members and church musicians in petition and  praise to the Lord and tell them all this  Sunday:  thanks!

Philip Nicolai:

Johann Heerman:

Paul Gerhardt:

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Cartoon of the Day

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