Joseph’s Drowsy, Sleep-deprived Dream

In the name of the F, S, and HS. Amen.
Right now it is Christmas time. Young baby Jesus was just born three days ago. Joseph and Mary are by now super sleep deprived. It was not too long ago that I was that sleep deprived, actually it has quite let up yet, so I can still easily recall how Mary and Joseph are feeling right now. And during that time, there is plenty of time to reflect on: how you got to this point, your thoughts and hopes for the new baby, or think about new beginnings in general, and wonder about who your baby will be—what type of person your baby will be when he or she grows up.

I can imagine one of his sleep deprived dreams being about Abram.

Prior to Abram’s arrival on the scene, humanity has tried again to become fully corrupt. God washed it all away with the flood and started over with Noah and his family, only to have the drama play itself out in a similar way. As the quote attributed to Mark Twain goes: “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.” And as the world headed into total corruption with the sons of God marrying the daughters of man earlier, so here the whole world rebels against God by seeking to establish a name for themselves apart from God.

To do this they seek to build a city and a tower to the heavens. God then puts down this literal uprising by separating the people—confusing their language and dispersing them over the entire world (which is why you had to take a foreign language in high school). This is another act of God’s mercy, because he does not squash humanity like a bug and go start somewhere else, rather he seeks to give them what they desire, but through the proper channel. Humanity sought to make a name for itself, and it is important to note that the next thing that comes after the tower of Babel is the genealogy of Shem, whose name means “name.” God is now showing us that he wants us to be known by his name, and so through the line of Shem, we meet Abram.

Before we can fully meet Abram, we are given a small cast of characters. Abram’s father is a man named Terah. Terah has three sons, Abram, Nahor, and Haran, and Haran has a boy named Lot. Abram is married to a woman named Sarai, and Nahor has a wife named Milcah, who was the daughter of Haran. (We will see that in Genesis, the family tree could easily be at home in Alabama or Arkansas, or some other state where the family trees look a little strange. But this is all sorted out later in Exodus, so for now just enjoy the ride.) Haran dies. This is probably why Nahor married Milcah, because Abram and Sarai take Lot into their house and then Haran’s kids are taken care of.

Terah, maybe to escape the memory of his deceased son Haran, leaves Nahor in charge of the land in Ur (modern-day Iraq) and takes Abram and his lot to the land of Canaan, but stops in Haran, where Terah dies and Abram takes over the family, when Abram was 75 years old. When Abram is in charge, God comes to him and makes him a promise. This promise is God announcing the beginning of his plan of salvation so it is very important. God tells Abram that he is going to send him to a land that he will give him. God is also going to make a great nation of Abram and he will make his name (Shem) great so that he will be a blessing. And through this, all the families of the earth shall be blessed.
Let’s back up for a second. Terah, was a straight-running pagan at this point. There was nothing special about him other than he was in the lineage of Shem, but that didn’t mean he was a God worshipper, he just had the blood lines. It is very similar to the fact that the Stubbs name comes from England, my grandmother traced it down, and I even have the coat of arms on some glassware at home. Pretty cool, but I have never been to England. I am not English other than the fact that I can trace my bloodlines back to the first Stubbs (who apparently got crossways with the queen and got his hand chopped off—hence stub). Same thing for Terah and his family, they are pagan, but God sees something in them.

So there is no good reason for God to choose Abram and make these promises with him, but he does anyway (a point that St. Paul really drives home in Romans). But God does make these promises and notice that Abram can do nothing to undo them. They are not conditional statements: if Abram is a good boy and says his prayers at night, then God will bless him; these are everlasting, unconditional promises. It is God foreshadowing what will happen in Jesus Christ. We must always remember where the story leads since it is all one story.

So God tells Abram and his family to finish the journey to Canaan, and God will give Abram that land. Abram had never been there, but God tells him to go, so he went. (I wish they gave us that encounter like the do with Moses—alas have to wait to ask him in heaven.) And when Abram, Sarai, and Lot reach Canaan, they find it deep in the clutches of a severe famine. Oops. Abram decides that God must have brought them here too early (this is all new to Abram after all), so Abram takes his family to Egypt, a land where the Nile floods every year causing it to be almost famine-proof.

In Egypt, Abram makes a bad choice. He looks at his beautiful wife and comes up with a plan. Remember at this point that Abram is 75 years old, his wife is ten years younger than him as we find out later. And at 65, Sarai is still so beautiful that Abram knows without a doubt that Pharaoh will want her as his wife and will think nothing of bumping off Abram to get her. So Abram tells Sarai, “Tell everyone that you are my sister.” Abram knows that as a husband to an extremely beautiful woman, he is a threat, but as a brother, he must be wooed. In Middle Eastern culture, it is not just two people that are married—two families are united—way more so than here. So when courting a woman, even the Pharaoh would spoil the brother in an attempt to marry the sister—a fact that Abram exploits, not only to not die, but to become very rich as well.

The problem is that this marriage places the promises of God in jeopardy. What if Sarai, even though barren, finds out that it was Abram who was actually barren (these things are blamed on women in the bible), and Sarai bears Pharaoh’s child. Where is the plan of salvation then? So God steps in and influences the situation by afflicting Pharaoh and his household with plagues (hello Exodus). So Pharaoh, figures out that he has offended God by trying to make Sarai his wife, so he confronts Abram, who comes clean. Pharaoh then kicks Abram and his family out of Egypt, but luckily for him, Abram got to keep the riches as a parting gift. So back to Canaan they go, only this time with a great company including much livestock as well as male and female slaves (Hagar—the eventual mother of Ishmael—probably being one of them).

They must have been greatly blessed indeed, because when they get back, Abram and Lot (who was also spoiled by Pharaoh apparently) find out if they were to stay together, the land would not support all their livestock, so they decide to split up. Abram sweeps his hand over the entire land and says to Lot, “Ok, you may choose. Where do you want to live, and I will take the other portion.” Lot looks and he sees the beautiful and well-watered Jordan Valley and chooses that, leaving Abram the dregs. It is as if Abram told Lot there was one cupcake left and they would split it, and Lot took the top half with all the frosting, leaving Abram with a handful of dry cupcake. But Abram honored the deal and took the leftover and settled at the oaks of Mamre which are at Hebron (which later became the capital of Israel until David moved it to Jerusalem), and Abram built an altar and worshipped God.

As it turns out, Lot settled in Sodom (that Sodom), which, because it was such prime real-estate, was actually very war-torn. This land was ruled by four warlords, the chief among them was
Ched-or-la-o-mer. He took over what was the King’s Highway, one of the two trade routes going through the area. And warlords have to constantly re-claim their territory, and so Chedorlamoer sweeps through the land and re-conquers, one of the areas is Sodom, where Lot lives, who becomes a POW, taking him back north.

Someone luckily flees and tells Abram of this, and Abram gathers his own mercenary army of 318 fighting men and heads up the other trade route—the Via Maris—which is much faster in pursuit of Lot’s captors. Both trade routes meet in Damascus, and Abram overtakes them just north of Damascus and routes them, taking back all they had stolen which he brings to the king of Sodom.

While Abram is bringing the spoils to the King of Sodom, the King of Salem (which means peace), Melchizedek, comes and brings bread and wine because he was also a priest of God Most High. From the Letter to the Hebrews we learn more about this mysterious king, who steps into the story without introduction, and then leaves the narrative forever; he is clearly greater than Abram, because Abram gives a tenth of the spoils to Melchizedek the king of Salem. We learn from Hebrews that this is a prefiguring of the coming of Christ, who blesses Abram and what he has done.

The king of Sodom then tries to bless Abram as well with material wealth which Abram refuses, except what his men had already eaten, and what was due them from their part in the battle. This shows what type of man Abram is: he is not perfect, but he is loyal, and most importantly, he sticks to his promises, and he is not in it for person gain (necessarily). Abram is a good man, and a worthy man for God to use to bless the world.

Just then the baby Jesus cries in the night—he is hungry. Joseph goes to the crib and sees the infant there in his bed. Joseph scoops him up and hands him to his wife and says, “Merry Christmas.”
In the name of the F, S, and HS. Amen.

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Why Are Angels on Top of Christmas Trees?*

In the name of the F, S, and HS. Amen.
Do you know why the angel goes on top of the Christmas tree? Because that is the natural topper—we have one at the house that has a spinning color wheel (which I ripped the colors out because it was a bit too much for me). A tree is not finished—it is seen as missing something without the angel. You might say, but Father, we use a star on our tree. Well good news, the ancient Church Fathers believed the star over Bethlehem to be an angel anyway, so you are still good.

The tree is seen as missing something without the angel because angels play a major part in the nativity scene. We have all heard the story before, a town so swollen with people that there is no place for a woman who is, as a seminary buddy would say, fantastic with child, and her husband. No one can be bothered to really pay the attention that the event required because they were all out, caring for themselves.

Enter the angels, who, upon the arrival of Jesus, appear to the shepherds to announce the birth of the savior of the world. And simultaneously, the entire cosmos is filled with the joy that the earth cannot bother to spare, much less to comprehend. But the angels are aware of the magnitude of this occasion because they were able to watch Jesus descend from heaven and be Incarnated.

Angels were created long before us, so much so that even before the world was created, the angels had already had a war in heaven resulting in 1/3 of heaven’s population being cast down to earth. Why were they cast down, why did they go to war with each other? Because, some theologians say, God revealed to them his plan to become one of his people, uniting all to his divine life through this little baby nestled up in a feeding trough between the ox and the ass.

The angels rebelled because they saw this as an unreasonable action on God’s part. “Why unite yourself to such unsavory creatures?” Even the dumbest and most ugly angel is far superior to even the smartest and most beautiful person ever created. It would be akin to Albert Einstein saying that he was going to bestow all his intelligence on a worm. “Why? All worms do is blindly burrow through the dirt. They have no knowledge of the world outside the ground other than being food for animals larger than them or baking on the sidewalk after it rains too much. These invertebrates are not worthy of Einstein’s knowledge.”

And God said, “I will do it one better, not only will I dwell among men, but through my union with them, they will be higher than you, and you will worship man because you worship me.”

For some (1/3 the bible tells us) this was too much. They rejected both God and the creation that he made and even the name angel—becoming instead demons. And since their fall from heaven, they have sought every possible avenue to subvert God’s plan.

But in the Incarnation, the Angels are so joyous because they recognize the depth of what it means—for them it means the vindication of the angels over their fallen brethren and the beginning of Satan’s (the chief of the fallen angels) getting his just deserts. For man, the angels see the beginning of their entrance into heaven.

As a result of Jesus’s birth and his eventual passion, death, and resurrection, the relationship between angel and man has changed. In the Old Testament, the normal disposition of someone who encountered an angel was fear, and the normal posture was face-down prostration. But notice when the Angel Gabriel comes to Mary, not once does she cower in fear. Yeas, she is a bit disconcerted, but that is about the extent. And the multiple times that the angel appeared to Joseph, there is not even any mention of Joseph’s fear.

Because of Christ the whole relationship has changed. Now the relation is brother to brother not inferior to superior. Now the humble shepherd is able to stand right beside the glorious angel in the worship of God. In fact, at the birth of Jesus, the Angels give a page of their song book to us as they sang “Glory be to God on high” a song we sing “with angels, archangels, and all the company of heaven” every time the mass is celebrated.

The gathering of the angels signifies God blessing and favor. The angels show that God is dwelling among his people in Jesus Christ. And the angel atop our Christmas trees is a reminder to us that because of Christ our place is in the highest heaven with the God who loved us enough to become a humble baby in a manger born in a town where no one noticed.
In the name of the F, S, and HS. Amen.

*Since this is now online, I should probably be responsible and cite my sources. A lot of the material comes from Scott Hahn’s new book Joy to the World: How Christ’s Coming Changed Everything (and Still Does).

Lather, Rinse, Repeat: The Story of Noah

In the name of the F, S, and HS. Amen.
Today we focus on the story of Noah, but we will continue past where most tales of Noah end to find out that after the floating zoo reaches its port of harbor—unlike the children’s song—everything is not hunky dory dory for the children of the Lord.

Last week we left off with the lineage of Seth and the lineage of Cain. Cain’s line rejected God and deteriorated to the point where Lamech took two wives and was boasting of how little he regarded the lives of his fellow man for he killed a man simply for offending him. Seth’s line on the other hand was steadfast in their worship of God. But the sons of God (the God-worshippers of Seth’s line) saw that the daughters of man (the God rejecters of Cain’s line) were beautiful and married them and the children—God bless them—took after their mothers. The entire world had been corrupted in 10 generations save for our hero Noah and his family.

And the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great and was not going to get better, so God decided to hit the reset button and start again with Noah and his family. God tells Noah to build an ark (a floating zoo). The dimensions are 450 feet long by 75 feet wide, by 45 feet tall with three decks inside taking Noah roughly 100 years to build. He is to gather a pair of all land and air animals (the fish are on their own) to repopulate. And from the clean animals, Noah is to bring seven pairs that he may be able to make sacrifices to God and not kill off a species every time he does so.

And for seven days the animals begin to board the ark two by two. And at the end of those seven days, when all the animals are on board along with Noah and his wife, and their sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth and their wives, Noah closes the door and God pulls the plug on the world. God allowed the forces of chaos to again enter into the world. In the beginning it is said that God held back the forces of chaos represented by the waters above—the sky—and the waters below—the sea—and gave us this nice home in the middle chaos free. But when he decides to start over, he pulls the plugs above and below, allowing that chaos to reenter the world both from above and below.

Now we always think of it merely raining for 40 days and 40 nights, but this is only half the picture, remember it was also flooding from the bottom as well so the world flooded fairly quickly as far a world flooding goes. And after all the chaotic waters re-entered the world, the water level was over 22 feet above the mountains. Mount Everest is 29,029 feet tall, so the water rose to roughly 29,051 feet. (That’s a lot of chaos.) And Noah and his floating zoo remained adrift for 150 days.

And at the end of 150 days the wind of God’s creative force (we know this as the Holy Spirit) again begins to blow over the water, banishing the chaotic water back to where it belongs, and the water begins to subside and the ark begins to sink. And the ark is blow to Mount Ararat, where it strikes bottom as the waters recede. (The water has already sunk over 12,000 feet at this point since Mount Ararat is 16,854 feet tall. Imagine here the earth slowly rising out of the water—slowing being re-created or birthed as the waters fell.)

At the end of 40 days, Noah felt that the water had subsided enough that he could start checking to see if the water was low enough for everyone to leave, so he opens the window to look around. He sees death everywhere and so he sends out a raven, and the raven does not return but “goes to and fro over the earth” doing what ravens do as carrion birds, cleaning up the aftermath of the flood. (I just noticed this aspect when I was researching this). Noah also sends out a dove to see if the land is inhabitable, but the dove does not find anything.

So Noah waits seven days and sends out another dove, which comes back with an olive branch, so now the water has subsided below the tree line, or we can also read this another way: God has again given the earth form (ala the first three days of creation).
Noah waits another seven days and sends out a third dove, which doesn’t come back because she has found her a home or another way: God has now filled the world (ala the second three days of creation). Noah then lets everything off the boat which also goes and re-inhabits the land.

Now creation has again been fully restored or re-created, the only thing left is for Noah to offer sacrifice to God (read here that Noah joins God in the rest of the seventh day). God then vows that he will never again destroy the earth by water. He then sets Noah and his family over creation, giving them everything to be care for, just like in Eden. Then God goes above and beyond Eden and even gives Noah the animals for food as long as they first drain the blood (more on this when we get to Exodus and Leviticus).

God then seals his vow by making a covenant with Noah and through him to all humanity that he will never again destroy the earth by water. And as a reminder to us, he places his bow in the sky and in Revelation we see that he also places on in heaven as well to show that this promise is ever on his mind. And this is where all the children’s stories end. Everything is hunky dory. But this is not where Noah’s story ends.

Noah and his family begin to re-inhabit the earth and set up shop. Noah planted a vineyard and from the fruit of that vineyard he made wine. One day, he partakes too much from the fruit of that vineyard and gets drunk and passes out naked in his tent. And Ham sees his nakedness which results in the cursing of Ham’s con Canaan. Huh?

Well in Leviticus 18 we learn: “You shall not uncover the nakedness of your father, which is the nakedness of your mother; she is your mother, you shall not uncover her nakedness.”

Uh oh, things just got really weird. Uncovering nakedness is biblical euphemism of another biblical euphemism of “knowing.” So while Noah was passed out drunk, Ham took advantage of the situation and knew Mrs. Noah resulting in Canaan. This can be the only explanation of why upon waking the next day and learning of what happened, Noah curses Canaan, Ham’s son. The reason for this was probably to take control of the rule of the new land, but it’s still gross and probably made for really awkward Thanksgiving dinners for the next 350 years of Noah’s life.

After this we get what is called the Table of Nations, which is a list of the generations of all of Noah’s children—Shem, Ham, and Japheth. Most people skip this part, but in it we learn that from the line of Ham—the wicked line—comes all of the enemies that the nation of Israel will encounter through the rest of the Bible. But we also learn that Shem is the father of the Shemite—Semite people. He is the father of Eber, from which we get the name of his people, the h-EBER-ew people, which is where we leave our story for now.

Beloved, notice, it happened AGAIN. God reset the whole world, removing all evil from it. Yet here we are again, in another garden (vineyard), which is tended by a man whom God designated. The man then partakes of the fruit of that garden, resulting in his nakedness which then results in the condemnation of another child who spawns another evil nation. Nothing has really changed. We keep on messing it up, and a new way needs to present itself, so God starts the long process of our salvation in Jesus Christ.

In the name of the F, S, and HS. Amen.

The Discovery of Nudity: The Introduction of Sin

In the name of the F, S, and HS. Amen.

Today we begin our journey of self-discovery as we journey through the Old Testament. We need to know these stories because they inform us as to who we are. But more than that, they show us who God is. And they also show us why we need a savior.

Two weeks ago, we worked through the beginning of the world and saw perfection. This week, it all comes crashing down with the introduction of the serpent, the most crafty and sneaky of all the beasts of the field made by God. But this is no mere snake, this is something to which Eve feels inferior.

I like how C.S. Lewis accounts for the presence of such an animal in the Chronicles of Narnia. This is a being that is far older than the world around it and is pure evil, from a land torn apart by a horrendous war, seeking to find a new chance to corrupt this freshly created world. Lewis calls her Jadis in the Magician’s Nephew, and the White Witch from the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. We know the serpent as Satan, a fallen angel who has set himself up as God’s arch enemy and seeks to corrupt all that he creates out of revenge for his failed coup.

Shortly after the perfect creation of the world, this thing enters the scene, tromping up to Eve (for at this point it had legs—imagine a snake with legs) and climbs up a tree and plucks an apple from it and shifts it to its tail to hold casually as it seduces Eve.

Serpent: “It looks good doesn’t it? Have a bite; I can assure you that this fruit is better than anything you will ever taste.”
Eve: “We cannot eat that.”
S: “Why not? The two of you have been given this whole realm and God tells you that you cannot eat of its fruit—even when it is so delicious?”
E: “No, not all fruit, just the fruit of this tree, or we will die.”
S: “Surely not this fruit (takes a bite). See, I did not die. God just knows that this fruit will allow you to truly see and be like Him.”

So Eve waits, and waits, but the serpent does not fall over dead, she takes the apple from him, and takes a bite for herself. When she did, a strange feeling coursed through her body, ecstasy like nothing she had ever felt before. She turns to her husband and hands it to him and he eats as well. The two sink down to the ground and rode the wave of that apple—two junkies experiencing their first high.

Now notice that Eve did not have to search for Adam. He was right next to her the whole time. One of the jobs that God had given him during the creation of the world was to guard the garden—to keep it. Initially when this job description came up, who would have really thought it would be needed for God had just created the world perfect. But God knew that this was not man’s final place, but his testing ground.

Adam was supposed to prevent the serpent from getting into the Garden. Failing this, he was supposed to step in between Eve and the serpent and put his own life at risk. Failing this, he was supposed to say anything at all to prevent his wife’s corruption. And failing this, he should have chosen to listen to God’s command and not eat of the fruit, but Adam is a complete failure.

When Adam and Eve both wake from their sleep, they immediately know something is different. Imagine the first hangover. Then they get up and look at each other, knowing they have just done what God forbade. Then they see each other, and what they see is just not right. (Remember at the Transfiguration, the word for Jesus’ changing was metamorphose—like going from caterpillar to butter fly? Well this would be the opposite, going from butterfly to caterpillar.) They look at each other and they are mortified, and grab the closest thing they can find—fig leaves (a very itchy choice apparently)—and cover themselves.

Suddenly they hear God coming down the path, and so they dive into the bushes to cover what they had done. But they were not very good at hiding, this being their first time, so imagine them hiding about as well as a toddler hides when they first learn to play hide-n-go-seek. Sure their heads were covered, but their feet were probably sticking out so God knew exactly where they were. “Where are you?”

When they don’t immediately come out, God sticks his head in and asks them why they didn’t come?
Adam: “We were scared because we are naked.”
God: Have you eaten the fruit I forbade you to eat? (He is asking to give them a chance to repent.)
A: “She made me, and you made her.” (God ignores this childish attempt and turns his gaze on Eve.)
E: “The serpent deceived me.” (You can see the line of each person pointing to the other like children.)

And God curses the serpent, removing his feet and then foretells of the serpent’s demise: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall crush your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”
To Adam and Eve, he tells them the results of their action: pain will now be introduced to childbirth, not merely physical but real pain because now each baby born will one day die. Eve will burn with desire for her husband and he will, in turn, use this to rule over her making them unequal in Adam’s eyes. The ground they are about to inhabit will not be like the ground of the garden, where food effortlessly grows—now he will have to work, and now one day he will die.

God then sends them out of the Garden because their sin means they cannot live there any longer. But God does not send them away empty; he gives them clothes of leather—so something has to give its life because of their sin. And God bars the door as they leave. They are no longer welcome.

But despite their absence from the Garden, they are still loved by God, and even still blessed. Adam knows his wife Eve and they bear a son Cain. And again Adam knows Eve, resulting in their son Abel. These brothers were very different from each other. Cain is a worker of the ground—a farmer. He works hard and really values what he is able to produce. Abel is a shepherd, and gates haven’t been invented yet, so I’m sure Abel’s sheep were always getting into Cain’s crops and that probably got on Cain’s nerves.

In the course of time, both men offer a sacrifice to God. Cain gathers a handful of grain at random and places it on the altar to offer it to God. Abel selects his prize lamb, the firstborn of the flock. Not only that, but he offers to God the best portions of the lamb as well. Abel’s offering is more pleasing to God, because it cost Abel more. Cain simply reached in a gathered the required amount, Abel took the best he had to offer, so it is no wonder that it was more pleasing to God.

This act is the final straw for Cain. His little puke of a brother has finally done it, and shown him up in front of God. The next day as Abel is out allowing his sheep to graze (probably on Cain’s crops) Cain lays in wait. Then he sees his opportunity and springs out with a rock the size of a bread loaf and smashes skull—Abel is dead on impact.

God gets wind of this and confronts Cain, who is very much unrepentant: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” So God causes Cain to wander the earth (a very difficult task for a farmer). Cain then complains to God about his punishment, claiming it to be a death sentence. But God protects Cain, sealing him with a mark. And with this mark of protection from those around him, Cain takes his family and settles in the land of Nod.
Cain rejects God, and as a result of this rejection, his further generations become worse and worse, culminating in Lamech, who takes two wives (now women are seen not as helpers but as property) and Lamech boasts about killing a man simply for offending him.

On the other side, Adam knew his wife again and they bore another son, after the image and likeness of Adam, after the image and likeness of God and named him Seth. This line followed the ways of God as opposed to the line of Cain. And Seth begets, Enosh, and Enosh begets Kenan, and Kenan begets Ma-hal’alel, and Mahalalel begets Jared, and Jared begets Enoch, and Enoch begets Methusalah, and Methusalah begets Lamech (a different Lamech), and Lamech is the father of Noah.

Beloved, we have heard two different stories today and each story came to the same conclusion: Adam and Eve tried to become like God and failed, and Cain tried to obtain God’s favor on his own terms and failed. Each failed because their ideas were born not of God, but of the serpent. They failed because they sought a shortcut that cut out God. We know that because of Jesus’ perfect obedience to the Father and our birth in him, we have obtained the favor of the Father that was denied Cain, and when we reach heaven, we will be incorporated into the very life of Christ and therefore will have obtained that which was denied Adam and Eve.

But as a result of their actions, sin has now entered the world. Not as a one-time thing, but as a condition of separation from God. The rest of the story is how God ends this separation through Jesus Christ—a process that takes a long time to develop and will not completely finish until we get to heaven.
In the name of the F, S and HS. Amen.