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John 17:11-12: Unfolding Our Story

Ash Wednesday, March 6, 2019

When Jesus prays for his disciples, he speaks to a loving parent as if reporting in on a project.

I spelled out your character in detail
To the men and women you gave me.
They were yours in the first place;
Then you gave them to me,
And they have now done what you said.

Jesus speaks not only to this loving parent but to us today as he says,

They know now, beyond the shadow of a doubt,
That everything you gave me is firsthand from you,
For the message you gave me, I gave them;
And they took it, and were convinced
That I came from you.
They believed that you sent me.
I pray for them.

Jesus continues to speak to his loving parent,

I’m not praying for the God-rejecting world
But for those you gave me,
For they are yours by right.
Everything mine is yours, and yours mine,
And my life is on display in them.
For I’m no longer going to be visible in the world;
They’ll continue in the world
While I return to you.

Jesus prepares for his exodus to the resurrected life and as he does, he prepares us for our own exodus.

Holy Father, guard them as they pursue this life
That you conferred as a gift through me,
So they can be one heart and mind
As we are one heart and mind.
As long as I was with them, I guarded them
In the pursuit of the life you gave through me;
I even posted a night watch.
And not one of them got away,
Except for the rebel bent on destruction
(the exception that proved the rule of Scripture).

On this Ash Wednesday, when we consider that we are beautiful dust from a great star collision millennia ago, we remember that Jesus takes us with him on his great exodus to new life.

On this day when we remember that God is an ever-patient, always giving parent, we remember that the Spirit abides with us every step of our journey.

On this day when we remember that we are dust, we also remember that this glorious ash unfolds our hearts to pull us together in one great union with Christ.

On this day, we remember, and we celebrate this great blossoming gift of eternal love.


Listen to Steven Curtis Chapman’s Glorious Unfolding at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GKMjEvF2Fkw

Images from: https://www.stpaulsf.org/96 and http://stevencurtischapman.com/

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Mark 3: Unhardened Hearts

Monday, February 18, 2019

Chapter 3 of Mark’s Gospel opens with Jesus healing a man with a withered hand and he is immediately criticized for working on the sabbath.  The Pharisees have, in fact, been watching Jesus; they are waiting for him to slip up, to break one of the many rules the old law has laid upon the people.  They watched him closely to see if he would cure [the man] on the sabbath so that they might accuse him.  Jesus not only heals the man, he delivers a quick homily with both his actions and words: Is it lawful to do good on the Sabbath rather than to do evil, to save the life rather than to destroy it?”  But they remained silent.  Looking around at them with anger and grieved at their hardness of heart, he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand”.  Jesus does not allow his fear or anger to overtake him.  He chooses instead to speak and act with compassion.  He does what is good despite the evil that would prevent him.

When we read this story carefully we understand why Jesus then withdrew toward the sea with his disciples.  We live in a world of easily hardened hearts and for that reason we understand why a large number of people [followed Jesus] from Galilee and from Judea.  We also understand why Jesus warns those he has healed not to make him known.  He knows that he has come to soften hardened hearts.  He understands the Father’s plan and bows to it.  He heals, he counsels, he goes about his work knowing that he embodies a loving God . . . and knowing that his presence stirs up envy and hate.  He knows that his actions ripple into the darkness and disturb those whose hearts are stony.

Jesus appoints the Twelve and charges them with delivering the story of good news and in so doing he sends a wave of his own love into the world to soften the hardness he sees.  He appoints each of us as well.  He returns home where the streets are so crowded that his relatives are so fearful of the hardened Pharisees and scribes that they proclaim: He is out of his mind.   But Jesus moves forward and calls out those who accuse him of drawing his power from the devil himself.  He presents a simple yet effective response and then he warns all that they are in danger of committing a most egregious offense against the Spirit.  His accusers blunder on, hardening their hearts still more; Jesus moves forward as well, calling them to redemption.

When we place ourselves in the thick of these intense stories from Mark’s Gospel, we see that our own lives echo the events on the written page.  We too have been accused unjustly.  We too have been the unjust accusers.   We have both hardened our own hearts and watched with sadness as others harden themselves against us.

In our search for comfort and joy we fall prey to darkness from time to time on our journey.  We succumb to anxiety, impatience, anger, fear and sorrow.  We may let these experiences harden our hearts . . . or we may expect God’s ransom and healing.  We may look for desolation . . . or we may anticipate God’s love.  Psalm 95 is the perfect prayer for us when we feel a certain coldness begin to settle into our hearts.  And for that reason we pray . . .

Just and gentle God, send us the patience we need to hear your word and act in it.  Fortify us in your love.

Good and gracious God, guide us with the wisdom we seek and hope for in you.  Counsel us in your fidelity.

Compassionate and wonderful God, forgive us our endless errors and wanderings.  Call us back to you.


A re-post from February 18, 2012.

For a beautiful music video of Psalm 95 click here, or go to:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_7IryEV4F2c&feature=related

Images of hearts in nature are from: http://www.funzug.com/index.php/nature/awesome-hearts-by-the-nature.html

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Matthew 7:13-28: A Prayer in Duality

Giovanni Battista Tiepolo: Jesus Walks on Water

Fourth Sunday of Easter, April 22, 2018

Given that Jesus asks us to be in the world with him, acting as his witnesses and ministers, but not of this world, we reflect on the evidence of duality that surrounds us. In the last two days, we examined elements of duality we find in the Hispanic culture, and we have opened ourselves to an invitation to share our own examples of duality. As we consider that apparent contradictions that color and shape our lives, we meditate on the words of Jesus, Paul and John.

We see that great love can rise out of great hatred.

I have given [those you gave me] your word, and the world hated them, because they do not belong to the world — just as I myself do not belong to the world. I don’t ask you to take them out of the world, but to protect them from the Evil One. (John 17:14-15)

We see that perfection can rise out of imperfection.

Do not conform yourselves to the standards of this world, but let God transform you inwardly by a complete change of your mind. Then you will be able to know the will of God—what is good and is pleasing to him and is perfect. (Romans 12:2)

We see that divinity can rise out of humanity.

Do not love the world or anything that belongs to the world. If you love the world, you do not love the Father. Everything that belongs to the world—what the sinful self desires, what people see and want, and everything in this world that people are so proud of—none of this comes from the Father; it all comes from the world. The world and everything in it that people desire is passing away; but those who do the will of God live forever. (1 John 2:15-17)

And so we pray.

James Tissot: Christ Walks on the Sea of Galilee

Divine yet human Jesus, you guide us like an older brother, asking us to be like little children in the hands of the Creator.

Powerful yet gentle God, you protect us like a devoted, merciful father, guarding your little ones against the cataclysms that haunt a beautiful world.

Challenging yet heartening Spirit, you remain with your little ones like a loving mother, healing our wounds, nurturing and sustaining our hope.

Good and gracious God, lead us, protect us, and transform us as we navigate the turbulent waters of a world that presents us with so much destruction together with so much promise.

Just and merciful God, reconcile us, open us, and teach us how to straddle two worlds, how to be divine and human, just and merciful, honest and loving.

Giving and receiving God, embolden us, test us, and become one with us as we live in duality, as we remain in your world to build your kingdom with you.

Amen.

Fear and trust, doubt and faith, when oceans rise, my soul will rest in Your embrace, for I am Yours and You are mine. We reflect on the duality of our existence as we listen to the song OCEANS (Where Feet May Fail) by Hillsong United at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FBJJJkiRukY&list=RDFBJJJkiRukY&t=207 

Tomorrow, the gift of duality.


What does it mean to be in the world but not of it? Visit this site: https://412teens.org/qna/what-does-in-the-world-not-of-the-world-mean.php

Images from: http://imaginemdei.blogspot.com/2014/08/walking-on-water.html and https://www.pinterest.com/pin/67342956905003354/

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Tobit: Prayers for Death . . . and Birth

Juan de Valdés Leal: The Archangel Rafael

Fourth Sunday of Advent, December 24, 2017

God hears the pleas of two desperate people in two distant places, and he sends his special messenger Raphael to guide Tobiah in the healing of Sarah and Tobit.  Tobiah is first the faithful son and later the courageous and abiding spouse.  Sarah sees no reason for her existence based on a series of marriages that fail because a demon has become enamored of her. She becomes separate from everyone in her intense and desperate grief.  Tobit, a good main who is faithful to his Jewish beliefs, has also become separate his blindness. Yearning for the light, he seeks death rather than continue in the darkness.  He, like Sarah, feels alone; they both search for the reason that God has visited punishment upon them when they know themselves to be innocent of doing wrong.  They stand judged by others because Old Testament thinking saw misfortune as a punishment for sin.  Some of us may from time to time feel like this man and woman.

Yesterday in chapter three, we read that Tobit and Sarah’s desperation has reached such depths that each, in distant privacy, prays for release from this world.  As they pray for death, their prayers rise to God intertwining like spirals of incense.  God hears these petitions and sends Raphael to accompany the faithful Tobiah in his journey to knit together these wounded souls.  God intervenes when we sometimes least expect it . . . and in very surprising and confounding ways.

Rembrandt: The Angel Rafael Leaving Tobit and his Family

The journey that Tobiah takes is a long and complicated one.  Yet he accepts his father’s request, finds a traveling companion (Raphael in disguise) and perseveres faithfully without fully understanding how his actions will result in anything good.  He continues, he obeys, he listens for and answers the call.  This is how we must live.  It is how we must act.  This is how we find consolation and healing. It is how we encounter God.  This is how we become wounded healers.  This is God’s plan.

So after reflection with the story of Tobit, we pray.

Sometimes we must reach the point of desperation in order to know what we truly hold sacred . . . and that we are sacred healers.

Sometimes we must fall into the abyss in order to find God’s abiding presence . . . and our own divinity.

Sometimes we must cry out from our aloneness in order to understand that true and deep hope is also bold and outrageous . . . and that God’s best hope lies in us.

Sometimes we must be victim to our darkest fears in order to lay aside our anxieties . . . for then we see them as prison bars that separate us from God.

Sometimes we must be blind in order to see.

Sometimes we must feel unloved in order to be loved and to love truly and deeply.

Sometimes we must reach the point of desperation in order to know what we truly hold sacred. And in that spot, in that distant place that is actually dep within, we will find our consolation, our birth in Christ.  Amen.

For a beautiful rendition of Angels We Have Heard on High, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v5mdybeyLVc

Adapted from a reflection written during Advent 2007. Tomorrow, on Christmas Day, the Messiah arrives.

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Eustache Le Sueur: Christ Healing a Blind Man

Isaiah 40: Seek Consolation

Third Sunday of Advent, December 17, 2017

The End of the Exile

Be comforted, be comforted, my people, saith your God.  Speak ye to the heart of Jerusalem, and call to her, for her evil is come to an end, her iniquity is forgiven; she hath received of the hand of the Lord double for all her sins.  The voice of one crying in the desert: Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the wilderness the paths of our God.  Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low and the crooked shall become straight, and the rough ways plain.  And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh together shall see that the mouth of the Lord hath spoken . . .  Behold the Lord God shall come with strength, and his arm shall rule.  Behold his reward is with him and his work is before him.  He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and shall take them up on his bosom, and he himself shall carry them that are young . . .

From time to time we reflect on the ideas of exile and doom . . .  today’s dawn brings consolation.

Who hath measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, and weighed the heavens in his palm?  Who has poised with three fingers the bulk of the earth, and weighed the mountains in scales, and the hills in a balance? 

After the darkness . . . comes the light . . . more revealing and more wonderful than we have ever imagined.

Do you not know?  Hath it not been heard?  Hath it not been told you from the beginning?  Have you not understood the foundations of the earth?  . . .  And to whom have ye likened me, or made me equal?  saith the Holy One.  Lift up your eyes on high, and see the one who has created these things . . . not one of them was missing.

The holy ones who wait and watch and witness . . . will receive their comfort . . . a consolation more intense and enduring than they have ever dreamed.

Youths shall faint and labor, and young men shall fall by infirmity.  But they that hope in the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall take wings as eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint. 

Last Christmas Day we read and reflected upon the beginning of Romans 11 in which St. Paul brings to us, God’s Remnant, the message of our creator’s Providence and Fidelity.  He reminds us that God understands the human condition and that he sends us his grace to overcome our fears and the darkness.  God also understands rupture and the deepest places of the heart that suffer from the pain of disconnection and separation . . . and God wants to heal this . . . to call us back . . . to gather us in his arms.  God wants to give us his Consolation.  God is the Forgiving Father of the Prodigal Son story.  We may be either the Straying Child who has spent his gifts carelessly, or the Remaining Child who is jealous and bitter at the Father’s generosity toward those who return.  Or perhaps we have found a place where we can numb ourselves . . . remain aloof . . . protect ourselves from the suffering and undergoing of life that we are meant to experience.  Or maybe we are Children of the Light . . . who struggle with self . . . who rise to the undergoing . . . who falter and stumble but who turn to God always as the first and last source and sustenance.  Most likely we are all of these . . . and we do well when we reflect that our true Consolation rests in openness to reconciliation with God and with others.  We do well to rely on God’s Providence and Fidelity and meditate on this idea, as we do on Christmas Day each year, that we are to be God to one another.

So on this Sunday of joy amidst darkness and waiting we, like God, are to abide with those who have broken faith with us.  We are to remain faithful, remain present but without participating in any dysfunction.  We are to be hopeful, to be open to the potential of something greater which God sends through his grace rather than our works.  We are to abide without fear, because God is with us, especially in our moments of deepest terror.  And we are to remain merciful, imitating Christ, because God always comes to his remnant, to those who wait, and hope and seek.

For a musical version of Isaiah 40, visit James Block’s recording at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RgsdhQzVfSQ 

From a reflection written on Christmas Day 2007.

 

 

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Ecclesiastes 1: Seek Trust

Blaise Nicolas Le Sueur: Solomon Before the Ark of the Covenant

Second Sunday of Advent, December 10, 2017

Vanity

This book was written not by Solomon as claimed, but by a writer who actually identifies himself “as a subject (4:13, 8:2, 9:14-16, 10:16-17 and 20), noting conditions of oppression (4:13), injustice (4:8, 5:8), and social upheaval (10:6-7).  The language . . . is a late form of biblical Hebrew, coming closest of any Old Testament book to post-biblical Mishnaic Hebrew.  The presence of Persian loan-words requires a date well after Israel’s release from exile in 539 B.C.E.  Fragments of the book found among the Dead Sea Scrolls of the Qumran community date to the mid-second century B.C.E.  Most scholars date the book’s composition between 300 and 200 B.C.E.”  (Meeks 986)  The Mishnah is a collection of oral literature of the early Hebrew people who appear to us as the first portion of the Torah.

We find the theme of this book laid out clearly in the first chapter: All is vanity that does not come from God.  It does not take any time at all for us to put this reading into the context of our own lives.  What does take some time is to determine what to do with this self-knowledge.

We have entered the season of Advent – an exciting, mysterious time in the liturgical calendar that we associate with a feeling of expectation – a time of promises and fulfillment.  We in the northern hemisphere also associate this time of year with the coming on of darkness and cold; while in the southern hemisphere, Advent is experienced as a time of lengthening days and rising temperatures.  I often think that the later is more apt.  Warmth, light, ease of days, promise . . . Christ.  The writer of Ecclesiastes tells us that all else besides a life that acts in this promise is futile.  As followers of Christ, our example of living in hope is paramount for ourselves, for our community, and for the greater world.  We enact Christ when we put aside the vanity that we are all, and take on the understanding that The Promise is all.

As we move through this day and begin this week after spending a day or days of Thanksgiving for the bounty of the earth, we will want to pause to examine our spiritual bounty as well.  Just as we examine our relationships with family and friends, we will also want to examine our relationship with the Creator, the Redeemer and the Comforter.  We will want to unfold the miracle of this love so great that it overcomes all trials and injustices.  We will want to allow ourselves to step into that which is not in vain.  We will want to remember, we will want to trust, we will want to believe, we will want to hope.

We already know that there is nothing new under the sun . . . and so what we hope to experience is that which is new . . . that which is not in vain . . . and that which is worthy of every ounce of strength we have in body, mind and soul.

Like the audience of Ecclesiastes, we who have returned from exile will want to reunite in intimacy with our God and so we might try to spend more time this season with this book of wisdom, parsing out its verses to complement our days.  In this way, we might hope to be full of God’s wisdom rather than our own, we might hope to live in God’s love rather than our own, and we might hope to be Christ rather than an empty vanity of vanities.

To celebrate this Second Sunday of Advent, we join voices with this traditional hymn, O Come, O come, Emmanuel at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7xtpJ4Q_Q-4 

Meeks, Wayne A., Gen. Ed. HARPERCOLLINS STUDY BIBLE (NRSV). New York, New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1989. Print.  

A Favorite from November 30, 2009.

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The Nativity of Jesus

Isaiah 9:6: Seek Wholeness

First Sunday of Advent, December 3, 2017

For a child has been born for us,
    a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
    and he is named
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

In this special time of year we may well want to consider where and how to find the wholeness we seek; and we need do nothing more than remember God’s gift of self in the form of a vulnerable child.

We can easily imagine how easy it is to reject the idea that an infant might be a Wonderful Counselor and yet Jesus reminded us that we will want to be innocent as children if we want to enter the New Kingdom. How might we surrender to God’s care of us this week?

It is equally impossible to think of the child as Mighty God when we see him in swaddling clothes in a poor stable because there is no room for him in a proper inn or home. How might we rely on God’s strength in us this week?

An Everlasting Father has the power to save, to renew and transform. Again, we wonder how a child might rescue us from a strange and conflicted world. How might we trust in God this week as we unburden ourselves to the Creator?

As Prince of Peace Jesus brings healing and consolation. Yet again, we marvel at these simple gifts that are freely given. How might we seek wholeness this week as we reveal our worries and woes, our pain and suffering to this small yet marvelous child?

Each day this week, we reflect on the concept of Wholeness in God, in Christ and in the Spirit as we enter this first dark week of the Advent Season.

To watch the London Symphony Orchestra from Handel’s Messiah, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MS3vpAWW2Zc

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Deuteronomy 5:15: Our God

Friday, September 16, 2016sabbatday

The writer of Deuteronomy records Moses’ words faithfully.

Don’t ever forget that you were slaves in Egypt and God, your God, got you out of there in a powerful show of strength. That’s why God, your God, commands you to observe the day of Sabbath rest. (MSG: The Message)

Through Moses, God calls us to rest in the Lord each Sabbath day.

Remember that you were slaves in Egypt, and that I, the Lord your God, rescued you by my great power and strength. That is why I command you to observe the Sabbath. (GNT: Good News Translation)

Through his prophet, the Lord reminds us that we were once slaves, rescued by God.

Remember that thou also didst serve in Egypt, and the Lord thy God brought thee out from thence with a strong hand, and a stretched out arm. Therefore hath he commanded thee that thou shouldst observe the sabbath day. (DRA: Douay-Rheims)

Through the voice of scripture, the Lord calls us to rescue others just as we are rescued.

And thou shalt remember that thou wast a bondman in the land of Egypt, and that Jehovah thy God brought thee out thence with a powerful hand and with a stretched-out arm; therefore Jehovah thy God hath commanded thee to observe the sabbath day. (Darby: Darby Translation)

Through the work of Christ among us, through the consolation and power of the Spirit, the Lord Our God asks that we show mercy to all, as the Lord has shown mercy to us.

You are to remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and Adonai your God brought you out from there with a strong hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore Adonai your God has ordered you to keep the day of Shabbat. (CJB: Complete Jewish Bible)

When we refrain from gossiping we free others from the personality we have set in stone with our unkind words. We make room for growth in ourselves and others.

When we speak for those who have no voice we free others from the curse of invisibility. We nurture hope in the darkness.

When we include those excluded by others we open our lives – and the lives of all – to the outrageous possibilities engendered by God’s healing love. We embody mercy and compassion.

You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out of there by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to observe the sabbath day. (NRSV: New Revised Standard Version)

God, Adonai, Jehovah, the Living One, this is whom we find when we compare varying translations of this verse. God’s wisdom, Jesus’ strength, the Spirit’s compassion, these are gifts we receive and share when we consider how enormous is the love of Our God.  

As we consider these verses, we might listen to Chris Tomlin’s HOW GREAT IS OUR GOD at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KBD18rsVJHk 

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Psalm 23Shepherding

Thursday, April 21, 2016psalm23_1024

A Favorite from April 10, 2011.

I attended a memorial service yesterday preceded by a celebration of the life of the deceased.  These things are never easy.  Part of the service was the comforting 23rd Psalm, the Old Testament reading was from Proverbs 3 (wisdom as a feminine force) and the New Testament was John 14 (Do not let your hearts be troubled . . . I am going to prepare a place for you.)  Scripture has the power to heal . . . if we allow it.

I am struck by how often we turn to the divine seeking solace – expecting the comfort and wisdom of the words to be instant much like our meals in the microwave, our movies on demand, and our relationships which must fulfill some purpose for us in order to be profitable.  The sermon today was given by Bishop Newman and he spoke of his time as pastor at the Cathedral of Mary our Queen when he asked a sound engineer to find the places in the immense building that did not receive sound well.  He referred to these places as “dead areas” and he asked us to think of the dead places in our lives that were like the deadness of Lazarus which we had heard in today’s Gospel (John 11:1-45).  He asked us to think of the “little deaths” we experience: addictions that govern us, work losses that discourage us, damage to relationships, troubles in a marriage that gnaw at us; and he asked us to think of how we resolved these problems or how we stirred ourselves to address these dead places.  Surely goodness and mercy will follow us all the days of our lives . . .

As he spoke, I thought of the dead zones in my life, and I thought about the opportunities I have been given for resurrection and redemption.  Surely we will dwell in the house of the Lord forever . . .

We must be persistent and fearless in our pursuit of God’s understanding and in our practice of God’s love.  I will fear no evil, for you are with me . . .

We must be courageous and creative in our determination to resolve the problems that create dead zones in our lives.  Your rod and staff comfort me . . .

We must always take all problems with our enemies to God, remembering that God alone can deal with betrayal and deceit.  You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies . . .

We must remember that God constantly seeks new ways to love us and to bolster us on our journey.  You anoint my head with oil, my cup overflows . . .

We cannot hear God through the cacophony of our days.  We must make a quiet place where we might allow rest and restoration because he makes me lie down in green pastures . . .

We must look for our imperfections, confess them, and ask God to heal them for God is more powerful than any force we know, even death.  He called the dead Lazarus from the tomb, and so he calls us to come to him for healing.  The extent of our “deadness” or the number of the “little deaths” in our lives is unimportant.  God is more powerful, and more loving, and more present than we have imagined.  The Lord is my shepherd . . .

I love Marty Haugen’s version of this Psalm from the GATHER hymnal which we so often sing, and which I use as an opening prayer in my classes during this time of year: Shepherd me, O God, beyond my wants, beyond my fears, from death into life . . .

Let us rejoice that God is among us always to comfort, to heal, to restore, to transform and to redeem.   And let us open ourselves more to God’s wise and merciful shepherding.

Listen to the Marty Haugen setting of the 23rd Psalm at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L55J02iTGjM   

Tomorrow, crossing the Jordan.

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