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Is There an App for That?

Children's sermon
For July 22, 2018:
  • Is There An App for That? by Mary Austin -- If only there were an app to bring people together. Citizen vs. non-citizen. White vs. black. Men vs. women. Straight vs. gay. Our divisions are deep, and we need an app -- or a Redeemer.
  • Second Thoughts: Sheepish Compassion by Chris Keating -- Jesus responds to the crowd with unending patience and mercy, filling them with compassion and hope.
  • Worship resources by George Reed that focus on inclusion and compassion
  • Sermon illustrations by Ron Love, Dean Feldmeyer and Tom Willadsen.
  • Different People, Better Party -- Children's sermon by Bethany Peerbolte -- At some point in every child’s development they begin to see that people are different. This week's Epistile gives Christians a way to handle differences.

Is There An App for That?
by Mary Austin
Ephesians 2:11-22

On a recent vacation, I was walking down a city sidewalk when I noticed that my journey was causing some consternation. Each restaurant or shop had a huge tv in the window, and I was blocking the view for patrons sitting at sidewalk tables. Patrons of all ages were sitting in cafes, enthralled by the World Cup matches being played. Rooting for different countries, they were united by their enthusiasm for the sport.

Some have dubbed this the “Google Translate World Cup,” noting that the translation technology brought people together like nothing else. “Across Russia for the last month, fans (and journalists) have used translation apps for everything: asking for directions, chatting with taxi drivers, getting slightly nerve-racking haircuts, checking into hotels, making friends, even flirting. The app’s camera function — which can scan and translate text — has allowed visiting fans to decode menus, decipher signs and read the names of subway stations, even if the Cyrillic alphabet remains a mystery to them. “It really helps,” said Rodrigo Ferreira, a Brazilian fan from Salvador who has been in Russia, with his brother Arthur, for almost two weeks. “It’s good for everything. We try to speak in English, too, but it’s been useful in bars, in restaurants, for meeting women”.” Google expected a surge in people using the app, but traffic has been twice as heavy as usual for this time of year.  Rooting for Croatia or France, Germany or Sweden? It didn’t matter – everyone needed Google Translate.  The app turned out to bring people together as much as the sport did.   

If only there was a similar app to bring people together around other topics. Citizen vs. non-citizen. White vs. black. Men vs. women. Straight vs. gay. Our divisions are deep, and we need an app -- or a Redeemer.

In the News
The President always stirs up strong responses, from people cheering about the mocking baby Trump blimp in London to people cheering his pardon of the Oregon ranchers who were embraced by the anti-government movement. His summit with Vladimir Putin inspired very strong reactions, including from fellow Republicans.  “Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker said the President "made us look like a pushover" and that Putin was probably eating caviar on the plane home.” Senator John McCain called Trump’s joint news conference with Putin "one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory." Trump sided with Putin on the issue of Russian interference in the 2016 election, taking Putin’s word over the assessment of the U.S. intelligence agencies. “Rep. Will Hurd, a Texas Republican and former undercover CIA officer, expressed shock at Trump's attitude towards Putin and Russia. "I've seen the Russian intelligence manipulate many people many people in my career, and I never would have thought the US President would be one of them," Hurd said.”

It’s not just the President who can divide us up. There are countless ways to sort people into categories. I often hear that we’re more divided than any other time in recent memory, and maybe we are. Video footage of random strangers being hateful appears weekly. Some people look like American citizens and some don’t – or so people assume. A woman wearing a shirt with the Puerto Rican flag was harassed by a man (who has now been charged with a hate crime) who apparently didn’t know that Puerto Rico is part of the United States. Mia Irizarry says she hopes the encounter, widely circulated in a video, “shines a light on what’s going on with racism” nationwide. The incident was more painful for Irizarry, she says, because a nearby police officer took no action while she was being harassed. The inaction was “an eye-opener,” Irizarry said. “In that moment, I realized that officer and that man were treating me like a minority. They were treating me as if I was less, so to speak,” she said. “I knew if I reacted, even if it was out of self-defense, I could’ve been criminalized. I could’ve been the one to have the bad rep.” Irizarry didn’t look like an American citizen to the man spewing hateful comments.

Author Colin Woodard says the issue is not that we’re not divided – we were never united. He believes that we are a nation of separate regions, with different beliefs and languages. His regions include: “Yankeedom: Consisting of New England and the upper Midwest, this region was founded by radical Calvinists determined to build a city on a hill in the new world. This region is notable for the value it places on education, its acceptance of state regulation…” and “The Midlands: Stretching from Pennsylvania to the plains, this region is the most typically “American” of them all. Founded by Quakers and populated by Germans at the time of the American Revolution. This region has been moderate, unconcerned with ethnic or ideological purity. The key swing region in national politics…

Tidewater: Occupying the area around the Chesapeake bay and founded by the English Gentry as a semi-feudal recreation of England. This region dominated early American politics, but soon declined with its lack of space to expand. Today this region is being eaten by the D.C exurbs.” Each region has different values, religious beliefs and traditions.

In the Scriptures
“Because of God’s great love for us,” this section begins. Every human change begins with God’s love for all of us. Where we see differences, God’s grace is a force for unity. We can either resist that movement, or become part of it.  It’s always tempting to resist – why join with someone who’s not as skilled, or as smart, or as special as we are? And yet God offers this starting word that all of our mental divisions don’t matter. In God’s love, all of us share the same place.

The change that Jesus brings to our lives makes us all heirs of God’s covenant, Paul tells the early church. Everything we once were, all of our cherished labels, Paul says, are now erased. Jews and Gentiles have been made equal in God’s sight, by God’s work through Jesus. The change in us, through Jesus, is so great that all of our former divisions become meaningless. All of us have been transformed in the same direction, moving us closer to God.

As Kyle Fever writes for Working Preacher, Paul is talking about unity, not uniformity. “This passage trumpets the good news that God has brought uncircumcision and circumcision together. One radical element of this message is that God’s unification of the two groups does not mean “uniformity.” One group does not fall under the power of the more dominant group. Rather, Paul says that God in Christ has made one humanity of the two. Gentiles do not become Jews; Jews do not become Gentiles. Rather, both Jews and Gentiles become united in Christ as Jew and Gentile. The uncircumcised are welcomed into the story of God played out through the people of the circumcision, to play their own part in the continuing story of redemption.”  

Bridging this huge gap, which defined everything about daily life in Paul’s world, is not something that human beings have to work on. God has already done it, Paul says. If this were our job, we would grow weary, or give up, but this is God’s work.   

Our job, though, is to live with this transformation. We are called to live in the kind of spiritual community that reflects this unity. Our transformation is a gift from God, and we pay it forward with lives full of welcome for other people, reflecting the welcome we have received. We are no longer strangers to one another, but people who share a family.

In the Sermon
Division is easy. It makes life simple. It doesn’t require much thought. It’s our default setting. The sermon might look at the nuance beneath our divisions. How divided is America?  Business Insider set out to answer that question, and found that most of us are a bundle of contradictions. In Iowa, “farmers [are] trying to reconcile their core conservative beliefs — especially on social issues like abortion — with their need for immigrant labor. It shows many don't fit neatly into a single political party.” They also found key issues that most people agree on, including the idea that immigrants make our nation stronger. “Even after a presidential campaign in which the eventual winner used the anti-immigrant slogan "build the wall" at his rallies, most Americans see newcomers as a good thing. The most recent iteration of the Pew Research Center's survey showed 62% saying immigrants strengthen America and just 35% describing them as a burden.”

Our divisions are not as firm as they seem to be, suggests the example of a Jewish deli run by Muslims. “The Jewish delicatessen is an iconic American institution…Pastrami, corned beef, and brisket are usually the trifecta of meats atop the menu at traditional Jewish delis…” The deli was originally kosher and now the meats meet halal standards, but it has been owned by the same Muslim family for 50 years. “Today, even as Bed-Stuy faces vast socioeconomic change and gentrification, David's Brisket House has survived as a neighborhood staple and a truly unique blend of cultures.” We may be divided about health care and climate change, but beef brisket draws people together.

Or, the sermon might look at how we live with division. Do we despair and give up? Or do we seek out the common ground we do have? Paul is already assuming common ground when he writes to the early church.  As citizens of a divided nation, we might seek the same kind of shared purpose. God brings us together, but we need to practice living with the unity that God has created. Joan Blades knows that the country is hugely divided. When other people feel hopeless about that, she has an idea.  “We've always been proud of this country for having different [political and religious] beliefs, and being a proud, functioning democracy. We're not doing well on this right now," she says. "We need to reinvest and connect with each other." As the name implies, Blades believes that reinvestment and those connections begin with simple conversation in a living room of a house or apartment – a space nearly everyone has in common. After promising to leave judgment and political agendas at the door, she says, participants engage in the simple yet radical act of respectfully considering one another's points of view on the topic at hand. “It's just six people sitting around talking,” says Blades, who launched Living Room Conversations in 2011 with Amanda Kathryn Roman, a corporate leadership consultant, after testing the concept in a pilot program. "It's about creating good relationships with each other. This is really a listening program.”

Sorting people into categories and treating them accordingly is very simple. Finding the unity we have with one another takes energy. Fortunately, Jesus has gone ahead of us to do the work of creating unity between us and people on the other side of any divide we can imagine. Now our calling is to live with that unity, to bring it to light, to honor it in our shared life. There’s no app for that, but we have the power of Jesus on our side.

Sheepish compassion
by Chris Keating
Mark 6:30-34, 53-56
Nothing tries a preacher’s patience like a wedding party that is late for a wedding rehearsal. That’s not quite accurate. What really tries a preacher’s patience is a bridal party that is more than 30 minutes late for an outdoor wedding rehearsal on a sultry summer evening in the center of the humidity drenched Midwest, when that day was also the Friday of Vacation Bible School.

Context matters.

Try practicing being a non-anxious presence while waiting for members of the bridal party to slowly saunter – maybe sauna would be a better choice– into the outdoor venue chosen by the bride and groom because of its lovely view. The air temperature was somewhere north of 100 degrees, and the dew point around 70. It felt like the inside of a tropical fish tank, minus the fish. Fresh from their air-conditioned suites the bride’s maids gasp at just how sticky it is. “We didn’t know it was going to be this hot.” Prayer prevents a snarky reply, keeping the pastor’s tongue harnessed.

Of course, just arriving at the rehearsal is one thing. Getting the ball rolling is another. This requires ten more minutes and the assistance of two wedding coordinators. Watching the groom’s men trying to form a straight line was as painful as watching a field sobriety test on “Live PD.” Not pretty.

Watching their chaotic meandering and gawkish lollygagging was a reminder that being a shepherd to un-shepherded flocks is not for the faint hearted. Even assuming a more temperate climate, Jesus is still surrounded by thousands of hapless souls. Mark leaves out Matthew’s aside that the crowd was “harassed and helpless,” but the point is still made.

Ministry is a bit like herding feral cats.

Jesus takes the disciples to an isolated place for rest. Filled with astonishing stories of all they had done on their mission trip, the disciples are eager to tell their stories to Jesus. They are brimming with excitement, excited to tell Jesus what had happened. But with Jesus’ popularity skyrocketing, the disciples can’t even find time to squeeze in a quick supper with their Lord. Understanding their need for rest, Jesus tells them he knows just the place and instructs them to get in a boat.

But apparently the crowd ran faster than the disciples could row. They arrive by the score, milling around, hungering for anything he might say. In response, Jesus does not shoo them away, nor does he hide. Moved with compassion, Jesus begins to teach them many things.

Verse 34 of chapter six seems to be the fulcrum on which the story swings. “He had compassion on them.” Most of us would have run in the other direction. A few might have snapped and started yelling. Compassion fatigue is a real thing. Ministers and others in helping professions are not immune from burn out. It is easy to imagine Jesus saying, “What the heck? Can’t we cut a break?”

The story seems to echo other great shepherds of scripture: Moses leading the weary slaves to freedom; Ezekiel preaching visions of resurrection; Miriam banging her tambourine the rhythm of grace. The wilderness places are those places where the misfit and lost sheep are taught with compassion and mercy.

The miracle of the loaves and fishes almost seems like child’s play compared to the miracle of offering compassion on the harassed and helpless. Jesus reminds the disciples that their work has just begun, and he invites them to use their limited resources to prepare a feast for the crowds. No doubt the disciples think Jesus has gone mad. But God always provides in the wilderness. In compassion Jesus sees a need and responds, first by teaching and then by tending to more proximate needs.

The challenge of showing compassion to the harassed and helpless remains today. Recently, the plight of children at home and abroad have reminded us why the miracle of compassion both astonishing and rare. In the isolated places of today’s world, children have often become the untended sheep in need of care.

We watched as rescuers made their way to those young soccer players in Thailand who were trapped in a cave. We waited breathlessly as the teenagers were lifted from what would certainly have become their water-filled tomb. In response to their plight, the world prayed and offered encouragement. Even world soccer federation FIFA got into the act by offering to host the youngsters at the World Cup.

Sometimes, shepherds show up with just what is needed, but even that is costly. In France, for example, a 73-year old grandmother named Martine Landry helped two African teenagers find asylum. She was arrested and charged with facilitating illegal immigration. This week, the courts threw out her case, noting that Landry was just trying to help. Landry says she’s ready to do it all over.

Which is good because other children are still languishing including at least 3,000 who were been separated from their parents at the United States’ southern borders, or the ever-rising numbers of children in foster care in the United States, or the innumerable refugees seeking asylum worldwide. These are the isolated places where sheep without a shepherd have gathered. The concern is whether the world – and specifically the church – has the capacity of Jesus to offer compassion.

Faced with a huge bread and fish shortage, the disciples freaked. The stores are closing, and their wallets empty. It would be best if Jesus just sent the crowds away. That is the cry we often hear coming from our own voices: “It would be easiest if the government just deported the kids. It would be easier to ignore the cries of refugees. Why don’t we just send those foster kids elsewhere?”

Without raising his voice, Jesus says, “You give them something to eat.” When the disciples keep protesting, the voice of compassion says, “How many loaves have you? Go and see.”

He did not say, “Go and be anxious,” or even “Go and worry.” He just said, “go and see.” It’s not a bad benediction, especially on a stifling hot Sunday when the helpless and harassed abound.


From team member Ron Love:

All of us are rejoicing that the 12 boys, ages 11 to 16, and their soccer coach have been rescued from the Tham Luang Cave in the Chiang Rai Province of northern Thailand. The members of the Wild Boars soccer team, after two days of searching, were located 2.5 miles from the cave entrance. After being trapped in the cave for nearly two weeks, the rescue came soon enough for the boys’ survival as the oxygen level in the chamber where the boys were located had fallen to 15 percent from a normal level of 21 percent. Over 1,000 volunteers from a number of different countries, all of whom can be regarded as shepherds, participated in the rescue. One shepherd, Thai Navy SEAL diver Saman Kunan, was a shepherd who lost his life as he ran out of oxygen. Kunan was placing reserve scuba tanks along the rescue route when he died. This task was necessary as much of the cave was flooded as a result of monsoon rains. The boys did not enter the cave on a lark or out of curiosity to explore; but, they were following a local custom of initiation into manhood by walking barefoot through the cave tunnels to write your name on the wall at the end of the cave.

Application: We often get discouraged by what we read in the news, but the Tham Luang Cave rescue demonstrates that there are countless good shepherds in the world.

* * *

The death of Maurizio Gucci is being reviewed by People magazine as a part of their series on crime. Maurizio Gucci was the owner of The House of Gucci, an affluent fashion empire. On the sunny morning of March 27, 1995, just after 8:30 a.m., the 46-year-old Maurizio Gucci left his stylish Milan apartment and strolled fifty yards to his office. As he climbed the steps in the office foyer, a well-dressed gunman burst in upon him, shooting Gucci in the back and shoulder with a 7.65-mm pistol. As Gucci laid crumpled on the red marble floor, the assassin shot him in the face. After a two-year investigation his ex-wife, Patrizia Reggiani, and four accomplices, were arrested. After a five-month trial Reggiani was found guilty and served 18 years in prison. Reggiani was vindictive after Maurizio told Reggiani he was going on a short business trip and never returned. Instead, he moved in with a much younger woman. Reggiani still claims her innocence but she did say, “It was early in the morning when I received the telephone call…saying Maurizio was shot. I was very happy because all my problems were gone.”

Application: When Jesus discusses the difference between a good shepherd and a hireling, Reggiani is definitely an example of a hireling.

* * *

When my son Adam was an infant and would not sleep, I would take him downstairs to the living room. I would then turn on television to the Tonight show with Johnny Carson, and we would romp together on the floor. I began to notice that every time a commercial came on, Adam would pause from our play and cock his head toward the television set. That was the first time I noticed that commercials had a higher volume than the regular program.

Application: As shepherds we do not have to use deceit to share our message and offer our services.

* * *

As a chaplain in the Army on numerous occasions I witnessed this lecture and demonstration to the lowest ranking enlisted men – the privates. As sad as the lecture was, it contained nothing but truth. The demonstration was for motivational purposes. The privates would be told that the entire Army was dedicated to this – and then the officer would use his index finger to demonstrate pulling a trigger. From the quartermaster to food services, from the medical teams to civil affairs, from financial management to the judge advocate, from public affairs to transportation, from tanks to artillery, they all serve one purpose, and that is to keep the private healthy and safe enough to pull the trigger of his rifle. Absent of a private pulling a trigger, the Army has no mission.

Application: Because of the menial tasks assigned to privates and being on the lowest rung in a very hierarchical system, it was difficult for a private to realize his importance and that all the branches of the service were working as his shepherd.

* * *

Anastasia Psaltopoulos wrote an article for People magazine in which she tried to justify herself for helping her mother, Marie-Jeanne, die by euthanasia. The last line of her article reads, “More than ever, I’m convinced that this subject needs to be talked about and the taboo that surrounds it set aside. There shouldn’t be any shame in a death by euthanasia.” The Psaltopoulos family travelled from Boston to Brussels where euthanasia has been legal for sixteen years. Marie-Jeanne had Parkinson’s disease and did not want to cope with the loss of motor skills and memory. She was refused permission because Parkinson’s disease is not a fatal disease. As Anastasia wrote, “You die with Parkinson’s, not from it.” When Marie-Jeanne developed a brain tumor she applied again for permission. This time she was granted the right for euthanasia. The evening before her scheduled death, the family hired a chief to prepare her favorite meal, and according to Anastasia everyone was in a celebratory mood. Yet, in trying to justify euthanasia Anastasia had to deal with the harsh reality of a voluntary death supported by family members. On Thursday, June 22, 2017, the doctors gave their final approval and set the date and time for the procedure. It would be the following Tuesday, June 27 at 2:15 p.m. Anastasia wrote about her feelings when the date was officially scheduled, “I knew, of course, that euthanasia was a planned death, but when the date and time was laid on paper, it seemed offensive to me.”

Application: By hiring a chief for a favorite last meal, it sounds like the Psaltopoulos family was participating more in an execution than a scheduled death. We are to shepherd individuals to their final days, but it is offensive to shepherd someone to Tuesday, June 27 at 2:15 p.m.

* * *

When a pastor friend of mine, Mike Henderson, was growing up in Inman, South Carolina, in the 1950s, he would often go to Rexall Drug store and order a banana split. It was served in a nice glass dish. He would then go and sit at a table and relish his treat. He noticed, and wondered, why when a black person ordered a banana split it was served in a paper cup. When Mike returned to Inman on his 25th birthday to nostalgically walk through the town, he returned once again to his favorite haunt Rexall Drug. He once again ordered his banana split, and once again sat at the table with his glass dish filled with a sweet treat. He then realized why African-Americans were served ice cream in a plastic cup. Mike wrote, “The it dawned on me. African-Americans were not allowed to sit down in the store and eat at a table. This was more than just a political belief. It was a deeply held religious and moral belief that the races should not be together in any way.” Mike went on to write, “On that day in 1978, I sat in Rexall, spoon in hand, and thought of my African-American friends and what we had done for decades in the name of religious beliefs.”

Application: As shepherds, we are entrusted to be sure that everyone has a place at the table.

* * *

With the new “zero tolerance” policy of the Trump administration on immigration, more people than those trying to cross into the United States from Mexico are being affected. Many servicemen, who joined the military when the recruiting program offered immigrants a legal path to citizenship, are suddenly being discharged. Some of the soldiers are given no reason. Others are being told that it is for security reasons. Panshu Zhao enlisted in the Army under that program. He grew up in eastern China where he fell in love with America. Every day he read the Bible that his parents gave him. He watched Hollywood movies. He studied the ideas of democracy. When Texas A&M University offered him a scholarship to get his Ph.D., he immediately accepted and came to the United States. Now, this Ph.D. candidate who enlisted under the military’s immigration policy, has been discharged. Zhao described his experience with these words, “It’s like you’re dropped from heaven to hell.”

Application: As shepherds we need to protect individuals from being dropped from heaven into hell.

* * *

In South Carolina, over the past 20 years, nearly 7,000 underage girls, many as young as 12, have married men in their 50s, 60s and 70s. But, also on record are cases when a man of 18 has married someone as young as 14. These arrangements are possible because of a 1962 law that sets no minimum age for marriage as long as the bride is pregnant. In the face of repeated petitions to change the law, the state legislators refuse to do so. In South Carolina, children can get married before they are old enough to drive.

Application: As shepherds we are entrusted to bring about social justice.

* * *

In Latin the word “pastor” means “shepherd.” It came from the same base that produced “pascere” which means to “feed” or “pasture.” A pastor is an individual who shepherds others, caring for their most basic needs. Traditionally in the church the position of pastor is rightfully held by the ordained clergy. This does not preclude the laity from being pastoral in relationship to others. As shepherds, let us go forth with the charge of John Wesley embedded in our souls: “I look on all the world as my parish; thus far I mean, that, in whatever part of it I am, I judge it meet, right, and my bounden duty, to declare unto all that are willing to hear, the glad tidings of salvation”

Application: As shepherds, let us be sure that we provide for the needs of all individuals.

* * *

Pope Francis made a pilgrimage May 2017 to Fatima, Portugal, to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the three illiterate shepherd girls who had a vision of the Virgin Mary. The Pope said we can learn, in his words, from “the immense ocean of God’s light” that was bestowed upon the three girls. The Pope went on to share the meaning of that message when he said in his homily, “Our Lady foretold, and warned us about, a way of life that is godless and indeed profanes God in his creatures. Such a life, frequently proposed and imposed, risks leading to hell.”

Application: As shepherds we do receive visons that can cast light upon the problems in our churches and communities.

* * * * * * * * *

From team member Dean Feldmeyer

Ephesians 2:11-22
Working Together & The Art Of War
In this morning’s lesson from Ephesians, Paul warns the church to eschew the temptation to divide the church into groups, especially Jewish Christians vs. Gentile Christians. We serve the Gospel better when we work as one.

The Roman army knew this better than most.

Some historians believe that the Phalanx (Greek) or Maniple (Roman) was the most effective instrument of war until the invention of gun powder. First invented by the Spartans, it was perfected by the Romans. Simply put, it worked like this:

Roman soldiers would stand side by side with their shields locked together. The first row of soldiers would go down on one knee and brace the shield with their shoulder. A second line of soldiers would step forward with spears or thrusting swords over the top of the shields. On command, the soldiers would either stay in place and wait for the enemy to come to them or the shield holders would stand and move slowly forward, foot by foot.

An example of how effective the phalanx was in battle can be found in the Battle of Watling Street which took place in Roman-occupied Britain in AD 60 or 61 between an alliance of 100,000 indigenous British warriors, led by the Iccini queen, Boudica, and 10,000 Roman army veterans led by Gaius Suetonius Paulinus using the phalanx as their primary mode of combat. At the end of the battle the Romans had suffered 400 casualties, the British had suffered 80,000.

(For a film clip illustrating the use of the Phalanx, see “Gladiator,” the scene depicting “The Battle of Carthage.” Warning: it’s very violent.)

* * *

Ephesians 2:11-22
From Many, One
Where do we find these groups of people: The Golden Tribe, The Border Tribe, The Mining Tribe, The River Tribe, The Merchant Tribe, The Jabari Tribe, and The Priestly Tribe? Can you guess? If you guessed the mythical country of Wakanda, you are right.

These are the tribes whom the King of Wakanda must unite in the film “Black Panther,” if they are to survive as a people.

But watch the movie closely. There may be only seven mythical tribes identified in the film but there are more than ten real African peoples represented by the costumes. An observant movie fan will see Zulu Headdresses, Masai warrior costumes, red earth tones favored by the Himba people of northwest Namibia, lip plates as worn by the Mursi and Surma people of Ethiopia, Igbo war masks,  Basotho shoulder blankets, Yoruba robes, Nigerian or Yoruba diviners belts, Ndebeleh neck rings, and Touareg scarfs.

The makers of the film believed that inclusivity and cooperation were important themes and they wanted them to be represented in the costumes and jewelry of the characters.

* * *

Ephesians 2:11-22 / Mark 6:30-34, 53-56
Church One and Church Two    
Fresh out of seminary, I was appointed to serve a rural Ohio circuit of two churches. For the sake of anonymity, we’ll call the churches “Church 1” and “Church 2.” Both of the churches were United Methodist about a mile and a half from each other.

Unfortunately, they had never quite gotten over the merger. That’s the 1938 merger, not the 1968 merger.”

See, Church 1 was a Methodist Episcopal Church and Church 2 was a Methodist Protestant Church and when the two splinter denominations, along with the Methodist Episcopal Church (South) all decided to merge into the Methodist Church in 1938, my two churches didn’t rush into the union.

Oh, they called themselves “United Methodist,” (from the 1968 merger) used the United Methodist Hymnal and everything, but they just couldn’t bring themselves to worship together.

You wanna merge? Sure, come on down here and join us. That was the attitude of both churches.

Until tragedy struck. During my brief tenure with those two churches there were two terrible tragedies. A teenage girl, the darling of the church and her high school, was killed in a horrible, single care accident on her way home from the homecoming dance.

A year later, two little girls, preschoolers, were murdered by a relative in an Angle Dust driven frenzy of hallucinations. paranoia, and panic.

And at both of those times, the two churches came together as one. Both of the families were farmers and neither had to harvest their own crops. Farmers from the two churches did it for them. Food and friendship swamped their home. And love filled the air. The funerals were standing room only.

Those grieving families were like sheep without a shepherd but their friends saw them and had compassion for them.

* * *

Mark 6:30-34, 53-56
Moms Come Together In Compassion
I’ve been a mom on more than one occasion.

When my kids were in elementary school it was announced that the needed “Room Mothers” for the classrooms to help with parties and whatnot. Most of the moms in our community, however, were working moms (my wife included) and could not take half a day off to bake nut-free cupcakes and take them to school and serve them to a bunch of screaming, sugar-wired kids.

But I could.

I was a pastor working about ½ mile from the school and I could, in fact, occasionally take time off to bake something and take it to the school and serve it at a party. Sometimes I even took my banjo ad sang some songs with them. The kids all referred to me as “Mr. Mom.”

Lately, I have become a mom, again.

I have joined the Ohio chapter of “Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense In America.”

Here’s how their web site describes the organization: Moms Demand Action was founded by stay-at-home mom Shannon Watts on December 15, 2012, in response to the devastating shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. While much of the country was floundering about like sheep without a shepherd, unarmed by grief and shock, the organization quickly flourished into a leading force for gun violence prevention, with chapters in all 50 states and a powerful grassroots network of moms that has successfully effected change at the local, state and national level.

They support the 2nd Amendment, but also believe common-sense solutions can help decrease the escalating epidemic of gun violence that kills too many of our children and loved ones every day.

Moms Demand Action envisions a country where all children and families are safe from gun violence. The nonpartisan grassroots movement has grown to include a chapter in every state across the country. They believe that we are facing a public health crisis: seven American children or teens are shot and killed every day.

Their compassion has led them to confront the issue and those who have refused to address it through sensible legislation: Their web site concludes with this paragraph:

“For too long, the gun lobby has dominated the conversation about gun violence. American families are being destroyed and we have had enough; we will no longer stand by and let elected officials, corporate leaders and other influential voices turn their back on sensible gun laws and policies. We are organizing to apply pressure that will result in stronger, sensible gun laws and policies that will protect our children and families. The momentum is with us, and we are winning.”

Makes me proud to be a “mom.”

* * *

Ephesians 2:11-22
Choosing Sides
When I was sophomore in high school I was a big, athletic kid, over 6 feet tall and about 210 pounds. I played both ways on the Junior Varsity Football team, tackle and linebacker. I played basketball and was okay but not great. I lacked the requisite coordination to dribble and think at the same time. I could get rebounds, however, so I got to play some.

But baseball and softball were my nemeses.

I had neither the crisp depth perception nor the sharp hand/eye coordination required to hit a round ball with a round stick or to judge the speed and distance of a ball as it flew into the outfield, or maybe that was just over second base… I could never tell.

So, when it came to “choosing up sides” for a friendly game in physical education class or with my buddies in the sandlot, I was always chosen early in touch or flag football, middle of the pack in basketball, and last in softball or baseball.

It was humiliating. The time would come for the two baseball illuminati to make their divine choices as to who would be graced with the opportunity of playing on their team and I, along with a couple of other guys would stand their looking at our shoes until we got to the point where someone said,

“Okay, you guys just pick a side and go.”

Then came Coach Shultz. Coach must have been picked upon when he was a kid because he didn’t allow such behavior. He had iron clad rules against that kind of thing that were enforced with swift and brutal consequence as befitted the times.

When it came time to divide up into teams there was no choosing sides. Coach Schultz had us stand in a line and count off by some random (or so it seemed) number and then he would say, “Okay, ones, fours, sevens and nines on that end and everyone else on that end.”

And, amazingly, the talent was almost always evenly distributed between the sides and no one had to be humiliated in the process.

Coach Shultz knew about things like justice, compassion, and kindness. And he knew that dividing people up according to talent or ability was a cruel and painful process even for a big athletic kid like me.

* * *

Mark 6:30-34, 53-56
Compassion In The Midst Of Chaos
“Hours of boredom interrupted by occasional moments of panic.”

This phrase has been used to describe such work as flying an airplane, being a police officer, and working in a hospital Emergency Room.

The following data seem to indicate that, as ER’s go, the phrase may be extremely accurate:

1. Number of ER visits in the United States annually: 136.3 million
2. Number of injury-related ER visits annually: 40.2 million
3. Number of ER visits resulting in a hospital admission annually: 16.2 million (about 15%)
4. Number of ER visits that result in admission to critical care each year: 2.1 million
5. Percentage of patients seen within fewer than 15 minutes in the ED: 27 percent
6. Average time spent waiting in the ER before seeing a physician, nurse practitioner or physician assistant: 24 minutes
7. Average time spent in the ER before being sent home: 135 minutes
8. In the U.S. overall, there are 42 ER visits per 100 persons every year.
9. ER visits that result in admissions to the same hospitals: 11 percent
10. Percentage of visits made to ERs in metropolitan areas nationwide: 85 percent
11. Nationwide ER visits by insurance:
• Private insurance as the expected payment source: 29 percent
• Medicaid or Children's Health Insurance Program: 35 percent
• Medicare: 18 percent
• No insurance: 14 percent
• Unknown insurance: 13 percent
12. Percentage of emergency physicians considering leaving medicine due to reductions in emergency care reimbursement: 34 percent
13. The concerns emergency physicians have about efforts to reduce emergency visits:
• Patients might go to a less skilled site even though they have medical emergencies: 44 percent
• It won't reduce patient volume: 44 percent
• Healthcare spending won't be reduced: 41 percent
• Patients might not get the care they need: 38 percent
14. Number of ER physicians who believe that eliminating federal subsidies could increase the overall number of ER: 42 percent.
15. Acuity of ER patients' illness or injuries since Jan. 1, 2014:
• Greatly increased: 14 percent
• Slightly increased: 30 percent
• Remained the same: 42 percent
• Slightly decreased: 10 percent
• Greatly decreased: 2 percent
• Not sure: 3 percent
16. The volume of less severe illnesses in the ER changed due to urgent care centers:
• Greatly increased: 7 percent
• Slightly increased: 16 percent
• Remained the same: 43 percent
• Slightly decreased: 17 percent
• Greatly decreased: 5 percent
• Not sure: 11 percent
17. The five hospitals with the most ER visits are5:
• Florida Hospital Orlando
• Lakeland (Fla.) Regional Medical Center
• Yale-New Have (Conn.) Hospital
• Genesys Regional Medical Center (Grand Blanc, Mich.)
• Memorial Hermann Southwest Hospital (Houston)


* * * * * * * * *

From team member Tom Willadsen:

2 Samuel 7:1-14a
Good idea…wait!

Application: “If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.” The first time I heard this quip I was really pleased. Later I read Psalm 2 and found that the psalmist said
He who sites in the heavens laughs
The Lord holds them (kings and rulers) in derision.

David has a plan that sounds pretty good. The wars are over. The people are settled. There appears to be a period of actual calm, so perhaps this is the time to do something memorable, even dramatic, in gratitude to the Lord. Nathan thinks so, at first.

But no, the Lord tells Nathan that it is not David, the former shepherd, composer of psalms, skilled military commander, who will construct a dwelling place for a Lord. For generations the Lord’s presence has been in temporary digs. Think a Winnebago travel trailer instead of a solidly constructed building made of stone. “Nope, the time’s not right, Dave,” says Nathan.

Oh sure a joint will be built, just not by you, King and Composer. Instead, your family, the “house” of your descendants will be a permanent—always cherished, always protected, loved relentlessly house.

Perhaps what Nathan is conveying to David is the different English speakers often make between “house” and “home.” The building’s nice, but not essential. It’s love and commitment that make a home. Or it’s the difference between the church and the building.

The church is not a building;
The church is not the steeple;
he church is not a resting place;
The church is the people.

* * *

Psalm 89:20-37
David’s line shall continue forever

Application: The Lord makes a strong promise in this reading. David’s descendants will always reign and be protected. Even when they stray, or violate the statutes or do not keep the commandments, God’s love will be steadfast. Yes, they will be punished, but never forsaken.

George Strait sang about love like this is “Love Without End, Amen,” by Aaron Barker. Here’s the last verse and chorus,

Last night I dreamed I died and stood outside those pearly gates.
When suddenly I realized there must be some mistake.
If they know half the things I've done, they'll never let me in.
And then somewhere from the other side I heard these words again.

And he said, "Let me tell you a secret about a father's love,
A secret that my daddy said was just between us."
He said, "Daddies don't just love their children every now and then.
It's a love without end, amen, it's a love without end, amen."

Ephesians 2:11-22
No longer strangers and aliens, but citizens…members of the household of God…
Application: Echoes of the psalm passage above are present here. Ephesians makes the all-inclusive nature of God’s love even more stark.

Pick up on the language of citizenship and non-citizenship in your remarks. These terms have filled the airwaves all summer. Who’s a citizen? Who’s entitled to safe entry and residence in this nation of immigrants? Whose families can remain intact on arrival, and whose are split? The acceptance of everyone described in Ephesians is not presently being expressed at our nation’s borders.

On June 24, President Trump’s spokesperson, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, admitted on network television that the United States has a two year backlog in processing asylum cases. Asylum seekers were at that time being turned away at the border and asked to return in a few months—in violation of international law.
Asylum seekers are not sneaking across the border on their way to being undocumented aliens. Asylum seekers are fleeing homes (not houses, see above) because they fear for their lives because of the threat of violence, torture and death.

As a nation we need to commit more staff and resources to processing, welcoming, sheltering and integrating into society asylum seekers. Ephesians reminds us that these are divine ideals and expressions of faith.

* * *

Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

Application: Word of Jesus’ ability to heal and his astounding teaching has made it hard for him to get away for a staff retreat with the disciples. People are hungry, for teaching, for healing, for guidance (Do they see themselves as sheep without a shepherd?), oh and also the traditional hunger, for food.

There’s no escaping the demands of the crowd.

This reading does a curious thing—it identifies the demands of the crowd; mentions their need for a shepherd, then skips completely the miracle of feeding 5,000 men (?) with five loaves and two fish. Jesus’ compassion to them is mentioned, but his taking care of their physical need to eat!

(Next week’s gospel passage, John 6:1-21 covers the catering event which this week’s Mark passage omits.)

The more interesting facet of Mark’s accounts of feeding many people, comes in Mark 8, where the disciples are faced with a situation similar to the one recounted in Mark 6: compassion, lots of hungry people, not enough food.

The disciples ask, “How can one feed these people with bread here in the desert?”

Jesus asked them “How many loaves do you have?”


At this point, Jesus has got to be rolling his eyes. Not even two chapters ago, they had 5,000 hungry men (?) to feed and only five loaves and two fish on hand. Yet he managed to feed all of those people and there were even leftovers! Hey, disciples, clue phone…do you think he could, I don’t know…do this again? He did. Next time pay attention.

* * *

Psalm 23
Psalm 23 is an obvious echo of Mark 6:34, in which Jesus has compassion on the people who’ve been following him, seeing the miracles he’d been performing, on whom Jesus has compassion because they are like sheep without a shepherd.

(This portion is largely a repeat of the secondary article for April 22, 4th Sunday after Easter)

T.G. Sheppard was a popular country singer in the early ‘80s, who took his stage name from this morning’s gospel lesson. His lone appearance on the pop Top 40 was “I Love ’em Everyone.” Here’s part of the refrain:

Big, little or short or tall, wish I could've kept them all
I loved 'em every one
Written by Phil Sampson, recorded by T.G. Sheppard

At first I thought this isn’t really good sermon material for a proper, Mainline congregation, even in 2018, but imagine it really was The Good Shepherd singing those same words…aren’t they, when wrenched from their original context apt for how we see Christ? He wishes he could have kept us all; (That is, some of us have strayed.) “Big, little or short or tall”…isn’t that everyone? Even kids with chicken pox? Christ loves us, everyone.

I have to confess that the image of a church’s pastor as shepherd has made me a little sheepish during my career, because of our low regard for sheep. Sheep aren’t very bright; symbolically they are naïve, weak and defenseless. Sheep need a strong, vigilant shepherd to keep the wolves at bay. They need collies to nip at their heels and drive them into the fold, where they will be safe.

At my ordination I was very pleased that my friend Augusto, a native of Ecuador gave me the charge and reminded me that I had already begun toiling in the Lord’s vineyard. His accent made it sound like “bean yard,” which is much more humble place to minister. I was pleased that he did not reference my “shepherding a flock.”

Actually, sheep are sophisticated at protecting the vulnerable among them. When a member of the flock is ill or lame, the other sheep surround and protect the vulnerable one, the one predators are most likely to attack. I heard a large animal vet tell me once, “A sick sheep is a dead sheep.” By the time she was able to spot the ailing sheep, it had gone so long sheltered and protected by the other members of the herd that it was very sick. Sheep are not hunters, but their herd mentality—at least when it protects the weak and vulnerable—may be something we might want to recommend to modern Christians.

Psalm 23 may be the most recognized passage of scripture. I cannot recall its first line without picturing a man I often used to see on what they now call the Red Line in Chicago. The guy appeared to be homeless, but I can’t say for sure. He would rock back and forth and intone, just above a whisper, “The Lord is my shepherd, the Lord is my shepherd…” The words were like a mantra, or a sonic security blanket. And I’d look out the window at the tenements right next to the el tracks on the northside of Chicago and wonder, when the last time sheep grazed there. A century ago? What made these words so comforting, so far from their origin?

I was called to make a bedside visit to someone who believed she was dying and wanted to reconnect with The Church. She had not been Presbyterian per se, but I was close enough to comfort her in her fear of death. I asked if she had a favorite passage of scripture, or one that would comfort her in that moment. She asked me to recite the 23rd Psalm. I did and she moved her lips silently with my words. When I stopped I asked her what her favorite part of the psalm was. I watched her face as she recued the tape loop in her memory. She stopped at “he restores my soul.” “That’s my favorite line,” she said.

“Good choice,” I replied, “did you notice that’s present tense? Right now God is restoring your soul.”

It took a while for that idea to settle. As she faced death, God was in the process of restoring her soul. 

Even people who have never seen a sheep know this psalm, which can make it difficult to preach, or to find something new to say about it. Protection, security, comfort, someone watching over you.

* * *

Jeremiah 23:1-6
No prophet of doom, this time…

Application: Jeremiah, like many prophets is out of sync with society. When the people were smug and complacent, he told them not to trust these deceptive words: “This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord.” The temple, yes, the one David’s son Solomon had built, is no stony insurance policy. Though the people believed that as long as the temple stood they possessed God’s favor…if the temple’s in good shape, we’re in good shape, as is our connection to the Living God. Jeremiah called that notion “deceptive words;” perhaps a better translation is “the Big Lie.”

In chapter 23 after the people have been invaded, crushed and had their built reminder of God’s favor destroyed, after the people have been scattered by incompetent and inattentive shepherds. After the humiliation of exile to Babylon…the days are surely coming when the remnant of David’s descendants will return and be restored and prosperity will return. Jeremiah’s message is one of hope to a people crushed into hopelessness. It’s a reminder of God’s promise to David through Nathan. It even is a promise Christians claim as we hear stories and sing songs at Christmas time about “Royal David’s City.” There’s hope. When the days are shortest and darkest, when exile and its humiliation is at its worst, there is hope. Amen.

by George Reed

Call to Worship:
Leader: With God as our shepherd, we shall want for nothing.
People: God restores our souls as we are led into righteousness.
Leader: God sets the table for us in the presence of our enemies.
People: God anoints us so that we may bless those separated from us.
Leader: Therefore, goodness and mercy are always ours.
People: Reconciled, we dwell in God’s presence forever.


Leader: God calls us together to renew us and bless us.
People: We come as God’s people to receive God’s gifts.
Leader: We celebrate our unity as children of our God.
People: We reach out in love to embrace all of God’s children.
Leader: Like all families, we are not all alike. 
People: As God’s family we are all loved and will love all.

Hymns and Songs:
I’ll Praise My Maker While I’ve Breath
UMH: 60
H82: 429
PH: 253
CH: 20

All People That on Earth Do Dwell
UMH: 75
H82: 377/378
PH: 220/221
NNBH: 36
NCH: 7
CH: 18
LBW: 245
ELA: 883
W&P: 661
AMEC: 73
STLT: 370

We Gather Together
UMH: 131
H82: 433
PH: 559
NNBH: 326
NCH: 421
CH: 276
ELA: 449
W&P: 81
AMEC: 576
STLT: 649

Alleluia, Alleluia
UMH: 162
H82: 178
PH: 106
CH: 40
W&P: 291
Renew: 271

We Meet You, O Christ
UMH: 257
PH: 311
CH: 183
W&P: 616

Love Divine, All Loves Excelling
UMH: 384
H82: 657
PH: 376
AAHH: 440
NNBH: 65
NCH: 43
CH: 517
LBW: 315
ELA: 631
W&P: 358
AMEC: 456
Renew: 196

Jesu, Jesu
UMH: 432
H82: 602
PH: 367
NCH: 498
CH: 600
ELA: 708
W&P: 273
Renew: 289

O God of Every Nation
UMH: 435
H82: 607
PH: 289
CH: 680
LBW: 416
ELA: 713
W&P: 626

As We Gather
CCB: 12
Renew: 6

Your Loving Kindness Is Better than Life
CCB: 26

Music Resources Key:
UMH: United Methodist Hymnal
H82: The Hymnal 1982
PH: Presbyterian Hymnal
AAHH: African American Heritage Hymnal
NNBH: The New National Baptist Hymnal
NCH: The New Century Hymnal
CH: Chalice Hymnal
LBW: Lutheran Book of Worship
ELA: Evangelical Lutheran Worship
W&P: Worship & Praise
AMEC: African Methodist Episcopal Church Hymnal
STLT: Singing the Living Tradition
CCB: Cokesbury Chorus Book
Renew: Renew! Songs & Hymns for Blended Worship

Prayer for the Day/Collect
O God who created us all out of the same earth:
Grant us the wisdom see the unity you created humanity to be
and then to live into that reality;
through Jesus Christ our Savior.  Amen.


We praise you, O God, for creating us all from the same earth.  In wisdom you made us to be one family of humanity.  Help us to use that wisdom to experience the unity of our sisters and brothers with us.  Then help us to live into the reality of being one people.  Amen. 

Prayer of Confession
Leader: Let us confess to God and before one another our sins and especially treating others as if they are different from us.  
People: We confess to you, O God, and before one another that we have sinned.  You created us to be one people, one family of humanity but we have divided ourselves into tribes.  We identify with those like us to the exclusion of those who look, talk, or act differently from us.  Forgive our shameful attitudes and actions and by the power of your Spirit renew us into the unity of your family on earth.  Amen.  
Leader: God created us in love and in love reunites us with the divine and the earthly families.  Receive God’s love and grace and live in the unity God created us to be. 

Prayers of the People
We worship and adore you, O God, for making us your children and brothers and sisters with all humanity.
(The following paragraph may be used if a separate prayer of confession has not been used.)
We confess to you, O God, and before one another that we have sinned.  You created us to be one people, one family of humanity but we have divided ourselves into tribes.  We identify with those like us to the exclusion of those who look, talk, or act differently from us.  Forgive our shameful attitudes and actions and by the power of your Spirit renew us into the unity of your family on earth.

We give you thanks for all the blessings we have received.  You have gifted us with a beautiful world and you have given us a wonderfully diverse family of humans to belong to.  We are truly blessed by the multitude of gifts that others offer to our world. 

(Other thanksgivings may be offered.)

We pray for one another in our need.  We pray for the divisions that divide and harm us.  We pray for those who suffer hatred and violence because others do not see them as sisters and brothers.  We pray for the unity of all flesh into your loving family. 

(Other intercessions may be offered.)

All these things we ask in the Name of our Savior Jesus Christ who taught us to pray together saying:

Our Father....Amen.

(Or if the Our Father is not used at this point in the service)

All this we ask in the Name of the Blessed and Holy Trinity.  Amen.

Children’s Sermon Starter
Talk to the children about the soccer boys who were trapped in the cave.  Talk about how scary that must have been and how people all over the world came to help them and so many worried about them.  We are so glad they are safe.  Just like people were caring about those boys, God is always caring about all of us.  We call that compassion.  God has it for all of us and wants us to have it for others. 

Different People, Better Party
by Bethany Peerbolte
Ephesians 2:11-22

At some point in every child’s development they begin to see that people are different. As a parent it is a quick education in what is socially acceptable to comment on and what is not, because kids will comment on everything indiscriminately. Ephesians 2: 11-22 gives Christians a way to handle differences in the community that may help parents navigate this uncomfortable phase. Christians are first asked to reflect on themselves and remember at times they have been part of the unpopular crowd. We are asked to remember when Christ chose to stand next to us and welcome us in and how amazing it felt to have someone on our side. Now that we are part of a community we should see our differences as a strength and be the ones who continue the tradition of welcoming in outsiders.

The opening of this children’s sermon tries to help children see the differences that exist between them and the children around them. Depending on your church’s experience you may want to choose different things with which to separate the children.

Say Something Like:
Everyone stand up and face me, I am going to ask you a question that has two answers. If you would answer one way you will stand to my right, if you would answer another way stand to my left. There are no wrong answers and I want you to answer truthfully for you so don’t just follow a friend okay. Let’s give one a try.

What do you like most at birthday parties, cake, or ice cream? (you can raise a hand to show which side the cake people should stand on and which the ice cream people should stand on) Wow look at all the awesome differences!

Okay here is another, would you say you are a better singer, or dancer? Wow looks like we would have a great party with people so sing and others to dance.

One more -- if you could only have one person over for dinner tonight would you invite a friend or a family member? Looks like you all would have a great time with someone you loved very much. Okay have a seat.

In our Bible lesson today we learn that differences make being part of a group fun. Like when I asked about singers and dancers that would be fun to have different people together doing those things. Without singers what would the dancers dance to? And without dancers the singers would be just singing to the wall, that’s no fun.

Sometimes our differences can make things difficult. When you have cake and ice cream eaters at a party you have to buy both which can be expensive, but I think it is worth to see everyone enjoying the treat. And then you get to have a bite of both cake and ice cream.

There are lots of things that make us different. Some of those things we share with s couple people, other things might make us very different and we might feel like the only ones who are like that. When we feel alone and apart from the group the Bible calls that feeling like an outsider. You feel like you are outside the larger group. That can feel sad, or mad, and usually pretty lonely. Jesus would always find those outsiders and welcome them into the group. He would invite them to dinner and sit with them to chat. The Bible verse today says “hey remember when you felt like an outsider and Jesus welcomed you in? Now you are part of the group and it is your job to find the outsiders and make them feel welcome too!” That way our group, our church, can be filled with different interesting people, and our parties can be the greatest!

Let’s say a prayer together:
God of celebration, Thank you for inviting us to be Christian. We love the different people who are here and how we work together to show love. We know other people who feel like outsiders. Help us welcome them so they can be a part of our love too. Amen.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

The Immediate Word, July 22, 2018, issue.

Copyright 2018 by CSS Publishing Company, Inc., Lima, Ohio.

All rights reserved. Subscribers to The Immediate Word service may print and use this material as it was intended in sermons and in worship and classroom settings only. No additional permission is required from the publisher for such use by subscribers only. Inquiries should be addressed to or to Permissions, CSS Publishing Company, Inc., 5450 N. Dixie Highway, Lima, Ohio 45807.
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