Friday, April 28, 2023

Easter 4A

Acts 2 Pentecostal activities
teaching and fellowship
breaking of bread and awe

Acts 2:42-43
Acts 2:41 -47

41 they gladly received the word Peter preached and three thousand were baptized on that day!

42 They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. 44 All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45 they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.

46 Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.

Season and Day

A week of weeks, 7x7, Easter fills about 1/7 of the calendar year. The fiftieth day of Easter is the Day of Pentecost, the third of the church's Trinitarian festivals. At Pentecost we hear about people assembled in Jerusalem for the Jewish Pentecost to celebrate the wheat harvest along with God's gift of the Ten Words of the Sinai Covenant.

Every year the Fourth Sunday (day 22) of Easter is Good Shepherd Sunday with Psalm 23 as its centerpiece. We sing and hear at least one or two settings of Psalm 23, the Shepherd Psalm. Do you have a favorite hymn version, maybe a hymn-based or freeform anthem?

Luke Volume 2: Acts

During the rest of the church's year of grace the first reading comes from the Old Testament, but for Sundays of Easter, it's from the Acts of the Apostles. That's particularly apt because Acts brings us the paradigm-upending, life-transforming activities of the newly birthed church. Hearing from Acts every Sunday also is a bit ironic because the lectionary hasn't yet given us the Day of Pentecost account from Acts 2 that describes the Holy Spirit filling the world accompanied by sensory signs of wind and fire.

Luke's gospel emphasizes the Holy Spirit, carefully places everything in history, focuses on women and other marginalized populations, loves prayer, is really big on sharing meals. In his Acts of the Apostles, Luke continues in the same direction.

The lectionary selection formally begins by describing the Christian community, but it follows 2:41 that tells about the baptism of 3,000 people! This happens after Peter's sermon in Acts 2:14-41. Working Preacher's tagline insists, Good Preaching Changes Lives. You can describe what follows as a blueprint for ways to live out our baptism—how, then, shall we live baptized?

You know some of it: work for justice; defy empire; be God's shalom; practice resurrection. Be kind to planet earth. Be radically hospitable and love without reservation. Praise and thank God, because anything we do is the work of the HS and not our own.

Content and Context

You know about the distinction between real and ideal? Most scholars assume Acts records some events as they really happened and includes others that could show up when the Holy Spirit shows up. The title of one of Jürgen Moltmann's books is The Church in the Power of the Spirit [link to my blog and review]. The church – that's us! – still lives, breathes, serves, and hopes in the power of the pentecostal spirit of life, the spirit of resurrection.

"They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Awe came upon everyone…" Acts 2:42-43

Reading and interpreting scripture, gathering with others, food, and prayer. Most scholars agree "breaking of bread" refers to the Lord's Supper, probably in what looks to us like a home church. But without a doubt it also means routinely sharing vittles so no one has too much or too little, everyone has enough.

2:44 "all who believed were together and had all things in common."

Common ownership of goods and assets, selling stuff to provide for those in need may seem way out there beyond ideal. Even if we've done some anthropology field work or ministered in non-mainstream settings, most of us still tend to interpret scripture from a contemporary western viewpoint. However, in some rural communities and in many less-developed countries, fluid ownership of everything – "what's mine is yours as long as I don't need it right now and you do" – isn't uncommon.

Related to the real and the ideal, later in Acts Luke writes about discord, persecution, disagreements, fractured relationships, things not going well. All in all, he presents not only an ideal, but wisely brings up real situations that need resolution.

Koinonia is the Greek word often translated as fellowship, and our multiple meaning English word "common" comes from koinonia: routine, mundane, commonplace, ordinary (also with meanings of well-arranged, organized), jointly held… a common-wealth.

Where We Live

teaching – fellowship – breaking of bread – prayers – awe – all things in common

How well does today's reading describe church as you've experienced it?

• In your current context?
• Other churches you've attended or where you've been involved?
• Churches you've read about?
• The church you dream of?
• The church you're going to plant and establish?

Saturday, April 22, 2023

Easter 3A

broken bread, cup of tea, blue checked cloth
Luke 24:13-35

13 Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14 and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15 While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, 16 but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17 And he said to them, "What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?" They stood still, looking sad.

18 Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, "Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?" 19 He asked them, "What things?" They replied, "The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20 and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. 21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place.

22 "Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, 23 and when they did not find his body there they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see him."

25 Then he said to them, "Oh, how foolish you are and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! 26 Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?" 27 Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.

28 As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. 29 But they urged him strongly, saying, "Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over." So he went in to stay with them.

30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him, and he vanished from their sight. 32 They said to each other, "Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?"

33 That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem, and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. 34 They were saying, "The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!" 35 Then they told what had happened on the road and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

The 15th Day of Easter

Although this is Matthew's lectionary year and for Sundays during the Great Fifty Days of Easter the gospel reading usually comes from John, today it's Luke's Emmaus Road. Every year this stunning story is the appointed gospel for Easter evening, but on Easter this year I blogged about the first reading: the extravagant feast of fat things, the end of death, and the efficacy of God's Word from Isaiah 25:6-9

Emmaus Road

People have observed that Jesus in Luke's gospel always is on his way to a meal, at a meal, or leaving a meal.

On Earth Day weekend during Earth Month we hear about invitation, welcome, and food amidst ordinary activities. It's also one of countless times people didn't recognize Jesus when he first showed up. This time they didn't know it was Jesus, even though the wayfarers had just been talking about an empty tomb and suspicions that therefore, Jesus must be alive. Because the Sunday evening travelers hadn't seen Jesus themselves, were hopes they'd held for the redemption of Israel null and void?

Earth Month, Earth Day

The wellbeing and future of planet earth has reached a point of crisis in the pictogram's sense of both danger and opportunity. A half century and counting after the first Earth Day in 1970, creation is in serious peril. Species survival and the interconnected ability to feed everyone are major concerns.

Everyone needs nutrition; almost as much, everyone needs a companion to break bread with, if only along the way from where we've been to where we're headed. And sharing a meal can be a socially, culturally, humanly leveling experience. Regional dishes and national specialties are strong identity markers! What ones belong to you? To your family of origin? The country where you were born or other places you've lived? With table fellowship a keynote of his gospel, Luke counsels travelers to eat whatever their hosts provide [10:7-8]. Don't be fussy; partake of the food that's part of their hospitality—and also a slice of their culture.

What can we make of this resurrection evening account of walking, talking, wondering, meeting, and recognizing? How can we connect it with Earth Day?

What Happens After

What happened after? After the stranger who became their host broke the bread. After they knew it was Jesus because … they'd been there when he blessed, broke, and gave the bread to all those crowds on those wonderful occasions? Because they'd been in the upper room on Maundy Thursday?

When they reached Jerusalem, Cleopas and his unnamed companion told the eleven about their encounter with the risen Jesus Christ and how they recognized him because he blessed, broke, and gave them bread.

What happens to us after? After sharing a meal or a snack at our home or at someone else's? After catching a street taco or a bowl of pho to savor together? After we gather at the communion table?

The stranger they later identified as the risen Jesus Christ placed himself within the whole history of God's people, just as we do when we interpret scripture and celebrate the Lord Jesus' Supper. Our eucharistic liturgy with its narratives and actions are somewhat formal and quite ritualized, but it's the model for our being and acting after we leave the gathered assembly. After? We continue to place ourselves – in word and action – within the long history of all God's people.

Where We Live

Luke's volume 2, The Acts of Jesus' First Apostles vividly describes a newly birthed church alive with the fire and society-transforming power of the Spirit of Pentecost. We're two millennia beyond those years, and like God's people of every time and place, we get to become part of and tell the rest of the story.

As eucharistic people, we offer and return gifts of the earth to their Creator. Without a healthy planet, there's nothing to offer. Without a healthy planet, we won't have sacraments.

And the loaf can't benefit anyone until, unless, it's been broken in some way. The cup needs to be spilled, emptied to bring life. When we gather at the Communion Table we retell the history of God's people from the first creation through our hope for a fully restored new creation. Jesus hosts us at the Table of Grace where crumbs and fragments of broken bread, drops and splashes of fruit of the vine nourish and bring us together to become one body in Christ.

Regional dishes and national cuisines are strong identity markers. Cleopas and friend identified Jesus by the broken bread and poured out cup. Does Holy Communion mark our identity as God's? Will the world recognize us as the body of Christ because of broken and poured-out lives after and into another millennium?

Isaiah's Feast of Fat Things describes a finished New Creation; Luke's Emmaus Road is along the way. Let's follow this year's Earth Day hashtag, Invest in Our Planet and welcome God's promised New Creation.

Come, Lord Jesus!

The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all the saints. Amen!

bread loaf and cups
Earth Day 2023 Invest In Our Planet

Saturday, April 15, 2023

Easter 2A

1 Peter L8 rejoice with unutterable and exalted joy
1 Peter 1:1-9

1 Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ,

To those who reside as aliens, scattered [NRSVUE: to the exiles of the dispersion] throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, who are chosen 2 according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, by the sanctifying work of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling with Jesus' blood: May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the fullest measure.

3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to his great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, 5 who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.

6 In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various temptations, 7 so that the genuineness of your faith, being more precious than gold which perishes, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ;

8 and though you have not seen him, you love him, and though you do not see him now, but believe in him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, 9 obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your lives. …


The day of resurrection is the day after the Sabbath (Shabbat never changed from Saturday; Sunday is the main worship day for most Christians because of Jesus' resurrection); the day after Shabbat is the first day of a new week. The day of resurrection is the eighth day of the old week. This eighth day initiates a new creation, and therefore is a new first day of creation.

Easter is a season of 50 days, 7 times 7, a weeks of weeks. "7" is the number of perfection in Hebrew numerology. In many words, the prefix "pent" means 50: pentagram, pentagon, pentangle, pentameter. The Day of Pentecost is the 50th day of Easter. This year the day of Pentecost will be on May 28. Where will you be then?

Especially Orthodox churches celebrate the seven days from Easter Sunday through Easter Saturday as Bright Week, and consider the entire week a single day, the first day of the new creation. Bright Week also is the 8th day of [the old] creation. We sometimes talk about Eighth Day Theology.

Some baptismal fonts have 8 sides (octagon) to help demonstrate our baptism into the new creation, our baptism as a new creation In Jesus Christ's death and resurrection.

It's important to remember the new creation is not pristine; it carries scars from our old, deadly pasts. Today's gospel reading in John 20:19-31 shows us Jesus' scars. It also recounts Jesus' bestowing the gift of the Holy Spirit and the office of the keys—binding and loosing (retaining and forgiving sin) in the gospels of Matthew and Luke.

1 Peter and 2 Peter Authorship

The pair of letters or epistles 1 Peter and 2 Peter definitely were not written by Peter the Apostle, and most likely the same individual didn't write both. Despite many Old Testament quotes and allusions the actual apostle Peter would have known, 1 Peter and 2 Peter were written to mostly gentile churches who wouldn't have been familiar with them, though some Christians in the massive geographical area these round robin communications may have reached probably were diasporic Jews.

Because of textual references, casual readers long have insisted 1 Peter and 2 Peter were written to "a persecuted church," though scholars now say there's no historical evidence of systemic, targeted persecution of individual Christians or groups by any official entity. However, people apparently were being harassed and mistreated because of their trust in the risen Christ and their resistance to empire. How about us? How about people around us?

Claiming authorship then was very different from now; there weren't any copyrights, trademarks, or other legal protections for creative or inventive output. Using someone else's name was a compliment, and a famous person would be more likely to get readers than an unknown would.

Today's Second Reading

During the Great Fifty Days of Easter, the first reading comes from the Acts of the Apostles instead of from the Old Testament. Today's features a sermon by the historical Peter recorded in Acts 2:22-32.

This letter addresses recipients as aliens, exiles, as a diaspora, people far from home, yet chosen and sanctified for the obedience that implies faithfully keeping Torah. Love of God and neighbor, justice and inclusion for everyone would defy what Paul of Tarsus and his cohorts would refer to as the powers of this world. Covenantal obedience would resist the dehumanizing violence of empire and in the wake of his life, death, and resurrection, it would affirm Jesus as Lord, as the letter's author does. In any case, whatever their geographic or religious origin, those who received this letter had been "born again" or reborn into God's family. What about us?

Birth. Inheritance.

In God's mercy we have been born again, birthed a second time. through Jesus' resurrection from death. The apostle Paul tells us the good news of the gospel is death and resurrection, and next week's scripture from 1 Peter 1:23 announces we have been born again through God's living and enduring word. I love that the NRSV says born "anew" because it reminds us our old identity and ways of being and acting are gone as creatures reborn of Water, Spirit, and Word.

We do nothing to achieve our first birth. Our second birth also is by grace and not by our own choice. We only need to live into birth.

Like birth we cannot enact, we only need to claim and receive an inheritance. Over the next few weeks we'll be hearing about a lot of outreach and direct action in the Acts of the Early Apostles. We'll observe how the freedom of knowing life as gift over, beyond, and in spite of anything they could do gave those early apostles confidence and effectiveness they otherwise wouldn't have possessed. How about us?

Where We Live

Those of us who receive this letter along with Luke's Acts as twenty-first century apostles may marvel again at the boldness and world-changing power of the nascent church's testimony in words and action. Despite being written later than Acts, our readings from 1 Peter make a fabulous coupling with it to help us consider our presence and ministries (outreach and direct action?) as Jesus' representatives.

Although technically the world has basked in the reign of the Holy Spirit of Pentecost for two millennia, every year we revisit stories of Jesus and his original disciples to literally inspire us into possibilities God gives us as new creations in Christ, called and sent as the obedient presence of the (crucified and) risen Jesus Christ into a devastated world and a desecrated creation.

Can we, do we, greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, or as my illustration says, rejoice with unutterable and exalted joy?

Saturday, April 08, 2023

Five Minute Friday :: Own

flower with segullah in Hebrew
Five Minute Friday :: Own Linkup

Although I contacted the domain host and the person I talked with did his best to update my desert spirit's fire blog on the CMS, it still doesn't load correctly and there seems to be zero way to contact blogger directly. If the blog didn't date from July 2002 I might give up and start another, but I don't want to lose all that content and I really really like the blogger interface, so migrating to another CMS with the same name isn't an option. Therefore… I'm playing here on my scripture blog again and I'll replicate everything on desert spirit's fire.


When we own something, it belongs to us. Some ownership of an item or object, a success or a failure, is a clear choice—when you purchase something, for example. Sometimes we need to own a circumstance or outcome that happened because of many factors, so that particular owning is a bit complicated.

…if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, then you shall be my special treasure or possession – segullah – סְגֻלָּה – among all the peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. Exodus 19:5-6

Just as God claimed Israel as God's own during their desert trek toward the Land of Promise, in baptism God owns and possesses us. We belong to God! God chooses us, claims us, and charges us to be part of the reign of heaven on earth. As the PCUSA's Sixth Great End of the Church expresses it, "The exhibition of the reign of heaven to the world." That means the world sees heaven when they observe us! It's both gift and response ("responsibility") because God's promises have a condition.

Almost immediately before giving them the ten words (or commandments) that describe how God's people are to live out their relationships with God, known and nearby neighbors, and with strangers (sojourners, aliens, foreigners in scriptural terms), God tells them if they obey and keep covenant, then God will treasure them, "own" them, in a particular way.

Yes, God loves each of us and all creation unconditionally. But keeping Torah and keeping our baptismal covenants carry the distinctive responsibility of owning them by acting for the good of friends, neighbors, newcomers, strangers, frenemies, and even enemies to help create a flourishing common-wealth.

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Easter Evening 2023

Easter Resurrection 2023
Isaiah 25:6-9

6 And in this mountain shall the Lord of hosts make unto all people a feast of fat things, a feast of wines on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of wines on the lees well refined.

7 And God will destroy in this mountain the face of the covering cast over all people, and the vail that is spread over all nations.

8 God will swallow up death in victory; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from off all faces; and the rebuke of the people shall God take away from off all the earth: for the Lord hath spoken it.

9 And it shall be said in that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for God who will save us: this is the Lord; we have waited; we will be glad and rejoice in God's salvation. KJV, alt.


Whether at a close to Saturday midnight Easter Vigil, a sunrise service, the regular Sunday morning hour, or easing into afternoon or early Easter Sunday evening, as Act III, the first Eucharist of Easter concludes the three act liturgy of the Triduum or Three Days. Easter isn't simply a isolated special day; Easter is fifty days, a week of weeks, and occupies about one-seventh of the year. It's that important!

Today's First Reading I

Sometimes referred to as an example of apocalyptic writing, Isaiah 25:6-9 is the Hebrew scripture reading for Easter Evening every year. We find it amidst writings mostly from Isaiah of Jerusalem (pre-exilic First Isaiah, chapters 1-39), yet chapters 24 through 27 probably come from at least a century afterwards. Despite all of Isaiah rocking a considerable sense of hope with salvation for all creation, this passage may have been written from Babylon during the exile, or probably even later, during restoration of the city of Jerusalem, rebuilding the temple, and rediscovery of Torah.

These imaginative words remind us the God of Israel is God of all people, a God on the side of everyone. All Saints Day pairs this extravagant banquet with Jesus raising dead Lazarus [John 11:1-44].

Today's First Reading II

In the northern hemisphere we've cycled from browning autumn root crops, leaves falling from trees and decaying to enrich the ground, shorter days, longer nights into an apparently quiet, still, and silent winter that in many aspects feels similar to the stillness and quiet near-silence of the desertscape's surface.

Wintry days lengthened as earth produced tender green sprouts, tulips, crocus, and spring agricultural crops (my header collage illustrates a few, although peach trees are only in bloom now, peach and other pit fruit will arrive fairly soon) all remind us of God's gift of the agricultural cycle, God's gift of land.

The vail – KJV, "veil" in modern English – or shroud of death becomes a festal tablecloth as God prepares and serves a bountiful spread of a covenant meal shared by God and people. That eschatological feast – as we called our extravagant potlucks in divinity school – will be God's sign that death and dying are no more.

God will swallow up death and the shroud of death – coverings that hide the light of life, anything that lessens our joy – into God's own being. God will obliterate all the different kinds of death. Did you know the pall that covers the casket at a Christian funeral is a baptismal garment signifying death and resurrection?

Where We Live

But the church has celebrated the Day of Resurrection for two millennia; most readers of this blog have observed a few decades of Easters. We look around us and still see, still experience hatred, poverty and injustice. Illness, death, and dying. Grief. Tears.

Although agriculture's seasons of tilling, planting, growing, and harvesting keep cycling continuously, our theology tells us Easter, the event of Jesus Christ's resurrection, that eighth day that's also the first day of the new creation, marked the end of death and dying. Jesus' death and resurrection concluded ongoing cycles of poverty, illness, injustice.

Despite the dawn of the new creation on the day of resurrection two thousand years ago, God's renewed, restored natural creation and righteous society has only begun. It still waits – and hopes – for us to help finish it. Theology of the cross emphasizes Saturday, the interstitial time of winter-like quiet when apparently nothing happens yet everything happens. But God calls us to live as fully alive, resurrected, and redeemed people of the cross.

In the Acts of the Apostles [Acts 1:4-8] when the risen Jesus' followers ask him if now he'll finally restore the reign of heaven to earth, Jesus basically tells them "the question is wrong," and to wait until they've received the gift of the Spirit because then they'll be his witnesses in word and action. In the power of the Spirit they'll be the ones to bring heaven to earth.

On the third day, the third act of the Triduum aligns and unites nature and history, but wait! Filled with the Spirit of the Day of Pentecost that's the fiftieth day of Easter, like Jesus' original disciples, we become agents of the justice, inclusion, and freedom of a finished new creation. Amen? Amen!

Saturday, April 01, 2023

Five Minute Friday :: Break

bread and cup
Five Minute Friday :: Break Linkup

I knew I knew where to plug in the new IP address on my desert spirit's fire blog, but evidently not. I'll phone the domain place and this time I'll Five Minute Friday here on my scripture blog and copy-paste over there later.

News break. Breaking day. Day break. Water main break. Lunch break. Break dancing. A break in the routine. Break a bone. Relationship breakup. Break bread. Don't break your promises. God doesn't! I want to write about all of those!

Our host Kate begged for a break in school shootings (others, too) that have become routine.

What's my focus this time?

For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, "This is my body that is broken for you. Do this in remembrance of me."

In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me."

For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes. 1 Corinthians 11:23-26

As Jesus breaks bread and blesses wine, he tells us to "do this—in remembrance of me."

Bless and break bread, pour out wine? "Do this" blood of the new covenant announcement?

Re-membering means re-collecting pieces and putting them back together to restore a broken whole that weaves together past and present.

When the church obeys Jesus by breaking bread and pouring out wine in his memory, part of the liturgical action includes retelling the story of God's people from creation through redemption in order to make it part of our own history. This remembering becomes about all of us throughout the history of the cosmos. We recollect how God has led us, how even those hard days didn't last forever… we again trust God whose final answer always is resurrection from death that breaks lives, shatters dreams, looks as if it annuls promises.

Do we need bread and wine to remember Jesus? Well, throughout the records of Jesus' life we find Jesus feeding strangers and feasting with friends; Jesus tells us people will come to the banquet from the east and the west, the north and the south … and about giving his broken body for the life of the world. The Welcome Table, the Calvary Cross, and the Reign of Heaven are tightly bound together.

When Jesus breaks bread and blesses wine, he tells us to do what he does—"in remembrance." Do we need bread and wine to remember Jesus?

We are breakout people! Wherever we go we become a living and a life-giving memory of Jesus. In us, Jesus again becomes alive in the world and we become a living connection to the heaven of God's reign on earth. Will people recognize us as the body of Jesus Christ when we break open our hearts, share our substance, and pour out our lives? I hope so!

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