Saturday, December 24, 2016

Let's Go Now!

Let’s Go Now!
2016 Christmas Eve Sermon
Luke 2:8-20

At the church-related elementary school I attended, the kindergarteners always acted out the Christmas story while the older classes narrated, reciting from the King James Version of Luke 2. At the appropriate time, the angels stepped onto a riser about the same height as the kneeling rail, so I suppose they were to appear as, in some sense, suspended in the air. The spotlight shone on them as the good news was pronounced to some poor shepherds down on the floor. The heavenly host consisted of 3 5-year-olds in converted white bed sheets with nylon wings and gold and silver garland halos. The year I was in kindergarten, my twin sister and I took our places on the riser, and the video evidence will forever show that my sister did not assume the appropriate cherubic posture quickly enough to suit me, which resulted in a swift elbowing from me and an emphatic show of standing the proper way. I am certainly thankful YouTube did not exist then!!
I wonder, what was it like when that first angel appeared to those unsuspecting shepherds? Was there any sort of warning? Did the hair on the back of their necks stand up, like when lightning is about to strike nearby? Did a vortex appear in the clouds, like in a science fiction movie? I imagine that when the heavenly host appeared to the shepherds, there was more coordination than 5-year-olds elbowing each other, jostling for the appropriate position. Though we think of angels as sweet and beautiful, with really nice singing voices, there must be something more to them than that: something very frightening. Perhaps you have seen the movie Dogma, a late-90s spoof on Catholicism, where an angel appears in bedrooms in the middle of the night, with a great deal of commotion, loud noise, a deep booming voice, and some fire and smoke. (You haven’t seen it? Well, don’t go rent it this holiday season…unless you already know who Jay and Silent Bob are and you like their movies…) While much of that movie is very irreverent, perhaps they are on to something with how angels appear: there must be something terrifying about a member of the heavenly host showing up on earth! There’s probably good reason the shepherds quaked, as the song says. Here was heaven, coming to earth suddenly, unstoppably, forcefully, even, as a whole host of them show up and start singing—singing not of their work but of what God has done, off yonder in a manger somewhere, a baby born to save the whole world. It was good news, but it sure was a surprise!
We don’t know much about the shepherds. Maybe they were outlaws. Maybe they actually owned their own sheep and were just working-class guys. Undoubtedly, they were smelly and dirty, and very unusual guests in a home in Bethlehem in the middle of the night (or did they arrive after daybreak—how long did it take to walk there?). No matter how much they might not have fit in there, though, they went—because when the heavens are torn open and God’s glory is revealed, you go—“Let’s go now,” they said. “Let’s go now and see it!” And they headed out, maybe still a bit scared, also very excited…and not skeptical. They didn’t say, “Let’s go see if this is really true. We’ve never seen angels before, so we don’t know if they’re really trustworthy…” Nope. They got themselves up off the ground and headed out: “Let’s go now to Bethlehem and see about what God has revealed to us!” And off they went!
Few people that I know of have ever seen anything like a messenger from heaven breaking through the atmosphere and setting up a racket to get their attention and sing about what God is up to. We’re just not that attuned to heaven coming near to earth—it seems a bit out of place, most of the time. We’re asked to believe a lot of things at this time of year. It seems that just the time some kind of feel-good story makes the news, someone’s questioning or debunking it. How much can we really believe? In our ordinary lives, angels don’t just interrupt our work or our sleep; bushes don’t burn without being consumed; donkeys don’t talk; the sun doesn’t stop in the sky. Though we may look for God in many places, so often we are attuned to how very “normal” our lives are. What is supernatural seems unlikely, maybe even unwelcome. What is not “normal” must have a scientific explanation. Everything can be explained. Everything.
But Christmas is a special time of year. Maybe we expect a random miracle, this time of year—or a brief glimpse of heavenly light, a faint sound of angel’s wings fluttering by. For all our explaining and planning and doing what we normally do, we stop at Christmas and expect something big to happen—maybe just because we know the story and we believe it, despite the skeptics. Hearing the Christmas story year after year makes space in our lives for the wonderful, the strange, the mysterious, the unexpected—the surprise of the supernatural—even despite ourselves, sometimes. One wonders if the angel tried to appear to shepherds in another field, but they were asleep or too busy to pay attention…not so for us, in this moment. In this moment, no matter how much we may have ignored it the rest of the year, we hear the angels; we know that heaven has touched earth. We may have been busy the whole rest of this season. Maybe Advent has come and gone and we hardly paid attention. But we’re here tonight. We have gathered expecting something. Finally, we have stopped and come to the place where we know heaven and earth meet because God is here. Though we may not expect God to show up anywhere else, we know for sure that God will be here, in church, especially on Christmas Eve. And we hear the good news now, too. With the shepherds, we see the angels show up—it’s scary and amazing and exciting, all at once! The news is that the world has been changed, that heaven has come down to earth, not just as angels breaking through the skies, but as a baby, placed in a manger, in some tucked away corner of Bethlehem, to some quiet, unknown parents (and they’re not even married yet!).
“Let’s go now,” the shepherds said. “Let’s go now and see about what God has revealed to us.” And after they went (with haste!) and saw, they told everyone there what they had seen and heard, and they left, praising and glorifying God. Once they saw the Savior of the world, they weren’t done being excited! They kept on praising God for this good news, even as they went back to the place they had come from—back to their normal lives, with smelly, dirty sheep…maybe checking the heavens every now and then, just in case…just in case…

Let’s go now. You and I. Let’s gather before the manger and see the creator of the universe, come as a helpless baby. Let’s gather and see the one who is able to redeem us, to make us spotless before God. Let’s gather at his table, hear the words of life and grace and love and peace we need to hear—not from angels but from the very Savior himself. And then, let’s go. Let’s go out into the world, glorifying and praising God, along with the shepherds…along with the blind who see and the deaf who hear and the lame who leap…along with the oppressed who are freed and the hungry who are fed…let’s go now, and share the grace and love of God. Love has come. Christ is born. Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors! Merry Christmas!

Darkness Will Fade

Darkness Will Fade
2016 Longest Night of the Year Sermon
December 21, 2016

Isaiah 9:2-7
The people walking in darkness have seen a great light.
    On those living in a pitch-dark land, light has dawned.
You have made the nation great;
    you have increased its joy.
They rejoiced before you as with joy at the harvest,
    as those who divide plunder rejoice.
As on the day of Midian, you’ve shattered the yoke that burdened them,
    the staff on their shoulders,
    and the rod of their oppressor.
Because every boot of the thundering warriors,
    and every garment rolled in blood
    will be burned, fuel for the fire.
A child is born to us, a son is given to us,
    and authority will be on his shoulders.
    He will be named
    Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.
There will be vast authority and endless peace
    for David’s throne and for his kingdom,
    establishing and sustaining it
    with justice and righteousness
    now and forever.
The zeal of the Lord of heavenly forces will do this.

To say that darkness has seeped in a bit this year would be an understatement. It seems the darkness has been busy extinguishing bits and pieces of light in my life for quite a while, and I hardly even noticed it until recently—kind of like when the light fixture in your den keeps having bulbs burn out and it’s not until you’re down to 2 and you can hardly see across the room that you realize just how dark it’s gotten in there. Sometimes, the invasion of darkness is quiet and slow and almost unrecognizable…
All of this makes me wonder if Isaiah’s “people who walked in darkness” even knew they were walking in darkness. It makes me think of my childish impressions of what people call “the dark ages”: Were there really no lights then? Did everyone just stumble around blindly, grasping for things? Did the sun not shine for a whole epoch of time?

That’s silly, but still I wonder: how do we know when we’re people who are walking in darkness? Maybe it’s not until we see the light that we realize how dark it’s gotten. Our bathroom light fixture has two bulbs in it; one had been out for quite some time—I had forgotten it was even there—and when the other one blew, we replaced both, and we were amazed at how bright it was! We could see ourselves in the mirror again!

Isaiah says,
“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light.
    On those living in a pitch-dark land, light has dawned.”

This time of year we don’t have to imagine what walking in darkness is like. As the literal darkness comes upon us, there are many who suffer mental and emotional distress just from the lack of daylight we experience. When we set our clocks back the first of last month, we may have been surprised by the darkness that seemed to come out of nowhere, but we’ve gotten used to it by now, most days.
But no, Isaiah’s people weren’t stuck without sunlight for years and years. They seemed without guidance, without one to lead them home, without the presence of the God they had had to leave behind in Jerusalem. They walked as though they couldn’t see where they were going because God seemed so far from them. They lived through war and political maneuvering that left them without much hope for the kind of life they felt promised by the scriptures they had always read, the God they had (almost) always worshiped.
If you haven’t stumbled around in the dark recently with the threat of stepping on Legos, I’d say you’re not missing much. Though many of us seem to have a knack for finding darkness on our own, its undeniable creep gets to us all, at times. Isaiah doesn’t promise that the darkness all goes away, but he does proclaim the arrival of a light that, at the very least, holds the darkness at bay. This light makes it possible to see where one is going, to have a sense of direction and purpose, to find hope even when much of life seems uncertain.
Isaiah speaks of one who is to come, who will be called Wonderful Counselor—that is, whose decisions will be wise; Mighty God—that is, a son of God; Eternal Father—that is, one who will care for the people of Israel; and Prince of Peace—that is, one who will no longer wage violence and war but a way of life that sustains the value of the people, rather than oppressing them. For Isaiah’s first listeners, this would have been a king—a real, true king, one of David’s line. This child who was born would be an earthly ruler anointed by God to shepherd the people Israel. So many years later, we hear these words differently…
In the midst of darkness, we await a Wonderful Counselor, whose wisdom will turn our hearts to the right and set us on paths that lead to life. We await a Mighty God, whose power will not be like the grasping, insecure power of rulers who seek to dominate and control others, but whose might will deliver us from the brokenness we continue to wage upon ourselves and each other. We await an Everlasting Father, who will care for us in ways an earthly father could never even imagine—one whose protection, nurture, support, and even discipline will be life-giving and life-changing. We await a Prince of Peace, whose peace will engender freedom and wholeness for all people. In the midst of darkness, we know with Isaiah the hope that darkness will fade, that one will again come into our lives who will brighten up all the darkest corners of us and turn the deepest midnight into light. Indeed, that one has come…and will come again!
If you find yourself in darkness this season…if the darkness has crept in, just a little bit, or overwhelmingly, take heart—have hope—a child is born to us, and he is everything we’ve been waiting for in the dark. And his light makes the darkness fade—sometimes slowly, as his love gently takes us back over from darkness; sometimes dramatically, as we see what has been hidden in plain view and turn back to his ways.

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness will not overcome it.” Thanks be to God. Amen.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Confessions of a PastorWifeMom

I haven't written a blog post for a long time. I confess I've been a bit preoccupied with a few things...

There was a moment of joy, the thrill of being out all by myself, sometime at the end of May or the beginning of June. I forget exactly when it was. The newborn was all set to be without me, for at least an hour. I left the house by myself, for the first time since said child had arrived on the scene on April 13th (the day the stomach virus that had made its way through the 4-year-old and the husband finally got to me). It was the last time I got my hair cut. That was just about 6 months ago.

6 months. In that time, I have contemplated scores of blog posts. I've even started writing several of them, typed with one hand on my cell phone, while the baby nursed (I found 3 nearly finished ones in the Memo app when I saved this one there...I mean, I'm writing this one on my phone while I wait for the pharmacy to get both the prescriptions the pediatrician's office sent in earlier, after both boys were diagnosed with walking pneumonia this morning.) I keep thinking there will be a time when I will get everything done. Won't the day come when I feel like I have accomplished all I wanted to, as a pastor, as a mother, as a wife...a responsible adult...but I confess it feels like I am always waiting for the time to show up when this will all happen. And I confess that waiting and trying to do it all leaves me frustrated, more often than not.

You know how many things I've started in my life and never finished? More books than I can probably count (books I started reading, not books I started writing, just to be clear!). Multitudinous art and crafty projects. Plans for what to do with old high school t-shirts. Scrapbooks from any time period--I've never finished a one. Add to that the number of times I haven't cleaned the house and you might wonder what I ever do with any of my time...

My family could answer that: I work. A lot.

But you know what I want to do with my time? I want to write (well, and read, too). I would love to find the time some of my colleagues find, to publish, either on the internet or in actual book form, nearly every thought it seems they have. In fact, I have a Bible study on the book of Joel that I think may just be worth publishing, now that I've reworked it and taught it several times. I even joined a professional organization almost expressly because it has an agreement with a publisher, and I thought that would be a way to get this Bible study at least considered for publishing. I still haven't figured out how to do that through this organization, but at least I've gained some colleagues and found some useful Facebook groups, anyway.

Sometimes I wonder if everyone has these dreams they fully expect never to realize. I assume they do...but then I know some people do get published, and some do find themselves in the ministry setting they've always longed for. Some people do feel like all of their gifts and talents are being used to the best of their ability. So, I don't know what I should do differently. I know I need a haircut. I know I don't regret that the time and energy I have left after I spend too much of it on the church/denomination and other organizations I serve goes to being a wife and a mother--and sometimes that's not nearly enough time or energy for either of those. I want to write...but I want to love my children and my husband more. I guess that's not too bad of a thing to confess, after all. And maybe it's just the season I'm in right now. And that's ok.

But I sure could use a haircut.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Words Fail...

It's Friday afternoon. The baby is still asleep in the car seat, where he has been since we returned from a trip to the eye doctor a while ago. Older brother and dad are gone on an outing for the day. There's nothing good on TV at 3:00 on a Friday afternoon. As I look around the room for what to do next--some work on my day off? What else is there to do? I guess I could fold some laundry--I see the blog post I had started to hand write last night. Last night. When what was on my mind was two police shootings of black men in two days. Last night. When the news of 200+ killed in Iraq by ISOL was still rolling around in the back of my mind, trying to make some sense, though it happened days ago. Last night. Before I got up and saw today's news.

Today. What do I write now? I have had blog posts in my head for months now, but never the time to type them up and publish them. And none of them is terribly important, now. Not now. Not with today's news. 11 police officers shot, 5 of them dead, in Dallas. A (black) man found hanged in a public park in Atlanta. 4 people shot, 1 dead, in Bristol, TN--much closer to home. All of that added to the week's other news is a lot of loss. A lot of brokenness. A lot of hurt. Not a lot of sense...

What do I write now? Our heat pump has been repaired. We might actually have functioning air-conditioning for the rest of the summer. The trip to the eye doctor's office was a bust because the contact manufacturer sent contacts with the wrong prescription. The baby is still asleep. He's been asleep for most of the afternoon, except to nurse for a few minutes. What does all this news mean to him, anyway?

 But what about the news? What is there to say? And what will I stand in the pulpit and say on Sunday? I wish I could say that I won't think about it because today is my day off. But what will I say? For now, I will listen. Words fail. I will have to preach on Sunday. It will have to be God's words. I cannot ignore the news any longer, though there's something "safe" in just preaching what I had already planned on. I have to say something, though. Something about this news, about this darkness that has been closing in all week...I will have to do something, too. For now, words fail.

Lord, have mercy on us all. Amen.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Christmas Eve Message 2015

Some thoughts from Christmas Eve...

What if Mary Had Scrapbooked…
Christmas Eve Message 2015

Do you ever wonder if Mary scrapbooked? Sometimes I think we’d all like to see Mary’s baby book for Jesus, and a scrapbook of her engagement, maybe, too. Some selfies of the trip to Bethlehem would answer quite a few questions for us. We’d really like to see a snapshot of the angels—either Gabriel or the whole host of them. I heard a preacher once say that all angels are male, and how that was important for people to understand. I’m not sure why it was so important, but I can say that people have spent a lot of time trying to draw or paint or sculpt what the angels looked like.
And wouldn’t it be nice to know more about the shepherds that showed up? Did they smell as bad as we think they would have? How long did they stay? What did they do with their sheep? What did they do after they left?
Maybe we’d also like to know what the manger actually looked like. I read an article a couple years ago that talked about how there is no way Jesus was born out back in a stable or a cave with no other family around because that is not how the culture would have worked. There may not have been room in the guestroom (which is one translation of the Greek word that’s usually translated as “the inn”), but there would have been space for Mary and Joseph in a common room, where animals also spent the night inside. If Joseph were traveling back to his ancestral home, any distant family member would have been obligated to welcome him, if he could state his lineage. So, where did they stay? Were there really animals in the room with them? And what family members attended to Mary? How did the whole birth go?
The writer of Luke does tell us several interesting details about the birth of Jesus: who was the ruler at the time, why Joseph and Mary went to Bethlehem, and who came and visited after Jesus was born—but he seems to tell us just enough to leave us wanting more information. Maybe it’s the scientific nature of our society, or maybe it’s just human nature: we want all the facts and we want to know who is right about them and who is wrong. Just what did Jesus look like? And how old was Mary? We want the facts. Just the facts.
Yet, Luke, or more importantly, God, just doesn’t quite work that way. Luke apparently tells us just as much as we really need to know, though we might think we need to know more. And the writer of John, well he doesn’t satisfy our curiosity about Jesus’ birth at all! “The Word was with God and the Word was God,” and all this other nonsense—what does it all mean?
It’s quite an incredible story. And God had been telling the people for years that something was going to happen—we hear that from Isaiah and all the prophets. Still, for as much as the prophets had nagged and preached for years and years, the people still didn’t understand what God was doing. With as many details as we can gather from Luke, there is still enough mystery about the whole thing that we may very often just miss what is going on here. You see, as incredible of a story as it is, and with as many questions as it leaves us with, what Luke does tell us is meant to be enough. Verse 20 ends with this statement: “Everything happened just as they [the shepherds] had been told.” Though we don’t have all the details here, we have confirmation, and there are witnesses, that the story is true…even if we don’t know how it all looked. And isn’t that what faith is about—that we believe in what we haven’t seen? The writer of Hebrews even defines faith that way, right?
It is mystery, this incarnation, why God would come as a plain old human baby. The real human nature of Jesus is both the greatest gift and the biggest scandal of all. For God to become one just like us means not only that God knows what we’ve been through but also that we can learn to become more like God…if we are willing to. And though we’d like to see some scrapbooks of Jesus’ birth and life, sometimes his being just like us gets a little too close for comfort. You mean that God would be here in our midst? Would come to show us a new way of being? Would expect us to pay attention to such an incredible story? It seems too good to be true…or too difficult to be true, sometimes. We might be a little more comfortable with such a story and such a God if we could keep a safe distance. We might like it if Jesus weren’t quite just like us. If here weren’t really human, then we could give ourselves a break. But one of my friends likes to point out that Jesus was not a superhero whose superpower was dying for our sins. Jesus was a real human, just so that the rest of us humans could be changed forever by his simple birth, his life, his death, and his resurrection.
It is a strange story, indeed. If we are familiar with the “end” of it, then the fact that the beginning is a little mysterious should not surprise us at all. In a few months we will again tell ourselves more of this strange story. We might again wish for some snapshots or actual film footage of what went on. And we will again be left with a whole lot of questions…but God has given us imagination, even without all the details. And better than that, God has given us certainty in the promise of God’s Word and through the living flesh of God’s Son that, indeed, it is true, and we are right to come in praise and celebration, with joy and hope, even in the dark of night, looking for a little baby boy. Jesus. The Christ. Emmanuel. God with us.

Christ is born! Merry Christmas!

2015 Sermon for the Longest Night

I'm a little late posting this, but this was my sermon for my Longest Night of the Year service, on December 21st.

God’s Lifelong Love Letter
Longest Night Service 2015

2 But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days. 3 Therefore he shall give them up until the time when she who is in labor has brought forth; then the rest of his kindred shall return to the people of Israel. 4 And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God. And they shall live secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth; 5 and he shall be the one of peace.
~Micah 5:2-5 NRSV

See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2 Beloved, we are God's children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.
 ~1 John 3:1-2 NRSV

I made what may ultimately be a mistake when I downloaded what my cell phone calls “Kids Mode.” My son loves to use my phone in Kids Mode. He has developed a certain sense of entitlement about it, that he should be allowed to use Kids Mode when he wants it, at any given moment when I am not actively using my phone…and sometimes when I am using it! Sometimes, I attempt to entice him to use his own Leap Frog tablet, which has a number of similar features and, probably more importantly, is something I never aspire to use for my own purposes.

This may all be fairly irrelevant, except for one thing that is true about both my phone and my son’s tablet: they have video and audio recording capability, which seems to be quite intriguing for him. No matter how often he records himself, though, what he says or sings always has a similar message: how much he loves his mom, and, to a lesser extent, his dad, and anyone or anything else that is on his mind at the time. I must admit that I am not in any way upset to have multiple video and audio clips of my 4-year-old professing his love for me. I only hope that I will somehow be able to retain these clips for the next 20 years, or so, to listen to in times when he won’t be caught dead admitting I am even his mom, much less how much he loves me.

All this is to say that I have begun to wonder if much of our life experiences and our faith experiences are not God’s seemingly repetitive recordings of one completely life-altering truth: how much God loves us. Now, I’ll be honest: the prophet Micah does not just talk about God’s love. And scripture does not tell us only of God’s love. There is much more to God than that. But even in the midst of some pretty scary stuff, Micah looks ahead to a day when a promised leader will come and bring peace to the people…that one we believe is Jesus…who came from a small backwoods town that no one would have thought twice about. But when it came to where and when and how it would all happen, there was God, saying as God had so many times before, “I love you a lot…enough to come and walk right along with you, to make things right again…”

So much of our lives does not feel like a message of love from God. Perhaps the problem is that we are not always interested in how much God loves us. We find many other shiny things to chase after, and we become weighed down with so many burdens that love for us from others, especially from God, seems terribly unlikely. How can God love us, when we are sometimes grumpy? When we are sometimes so pitiful and unhappy and petty? How can God love us, when we keep making the same mistakes, over and over again?

More than this, though, we are often plagued by a seeming certainty that God, indeed, does not love us. The job didn’t work out the way we thought it would. The diagnosis was not what we had hoped for. The mail came, and there were no seasonal greetings, but bills we know we can’t quite pay. No, perhaps God does not love us. After all, things seem so bleak all around us. People are killing other people. People are living without basic needs being met. Cash flow seems to be drying up for all but a privileged few. There is fear…uncertainty…anxiety…a certain sense of darkness and gloom that seems to settle over everything. Does God love us? Really?

And then, from the midst of the trials and conflicts and persecution of the early church, the writer of 1 John, speaks: “This is the message that we have heard from him and announce to you: ‘God is light and there is no darkness in him at all.’” And later on he reminds us, “See what love the Father has given us [lavished upon us, one translation says], that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are.”

That is what we are. And God loves us so much…

A couple of years ago there was a popular love song called “I Choose You,” by Sara Bareilles, which I really liked. Part of it goes like this:

There was a time when I would have believed them
If they told me that you could not come true
Just love's illusion
But then you found me
And everything changed
And I believe in something again

My whole heart
Will be yours forever
This is a beautiful start
To a lifelong love letter

Have you seen any of God’s lifelong love letter for you recently? It’s hard, this time of year. There’s a lot else going on. We are pulled in many directions. We seem to live from emotion to emotion, from party to party…or maybe just from day to day, holding on as tightly as we can. Sometimes, the love of God does seem like an illusion.

But some guy came from some backwater town, a long time ago, after being born in a crowded house without a guestroom for his mom and dad to stay in…and he was God. And he came to show us love in person. Because the only thing that’s better than a letter is a face-to-face visit…and God came and did that because a love letter was just not quite enough…

It’s dark outside. I have to admit, the darkness feels like it’s been winning a bit, lately. Some days have been kind of rough, too busy, emotions a little too raw, sleep a little too scarce, the news a little too painful. Two funerals in Advent is plenty.

But that writer of 1 John tells me this:

9 God's love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.
~1 John 4:9-12 NRSV

“We love because he first loved us.” God does love us. The Bible—that love letter—tells us so. Thanks be to God. Amen.