What’s Wrong with You? – Sermon on Matthew 9:1-8 for the Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity

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Matthew 9:1-8

And getting into a boat he crossed over and came to his own city.

Jesus Heals the Paralytic Lowered from the RoofAnd behold, some people brought to him a paralytic, lying on a bed. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.” And behold, some of the scribes said to themselves, “This man is blaspheming.” But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts? For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”– he then said to the paralytic – a “Rise, pick up your bed and go home.” And he rose and went home. When the crowds saw it, they were afraid, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to men.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

What’s wrong with you? Self-diagnosis is one thing. But if someone were to follow you for a week, see everywhere you went, hear everything you say, and know your every thought, what would they say is your biggest problem?

Maybe, they would say you spent too much time on your phone and not enough time paying attention to your kids. Maybe, they would say that you spread rumors about people when you don’t really know the facts. Maybe, they would sayyou get angry too easily and quickly.Maybe, they would say that you are lazy and waste time at your job. Or maybe, they would say that your schedule is too full and you are neglecting more important things.

Getting an outside, impartial observer can be helpful in diagnosing your problem. But even people who have total access to your life might not correctly diagnose your biggest, most central flaw.

Now, imagine the scene in this house. Jesus is in His hometown. Mark tells us (Mk. 2:1-12) that Jesus is in His own house preaching the Word of God to the people gathered there. So many people come to hear Him that there isn’t any more room inside the house. But imagine that you are one of the people who are blessed to be inside.

As Jesus preaches, you notice sounds of footsteps coming from the roof. Then you start to hear faint sounds of scraping and pounding making the walls shake slightly. Some sprinkles of dust fall from the ceiling. A few blows later, and a thin beam of light hits the floor. You look up toward that hole and you can just barely make out the shape of fingers reaching through the hole. Suddenly,the hole expands as a bunch of rubble falls to the floor. Dust and straw fill the room. You turn your head away for a moment so that the dust doesn’t fall into your eyes. And then, when it sounds as though the debris has settled, you look up once again and notice a huge bundle being slowly lowered by four ropes.

The bundle finally reaches the floor, and the sheets fall flat revealing a man. He lies there. One arm is bent over his chest and the other lies motionless stretched out at his side. His legs are crossed, but in the most unnatural way. You wait to see him maneuver himself into a more comfortable position, but he doesn’t. In fact, the only sign of life is his eyes darting back and forth and his chest rising as he breathes a little frantically. You diagnose the problem: this man is paralyzed. And you think to yourself, “Well, whoever brought him here did the right thing. If anyone can help this man, it’s Jesus.”

Jesus looks up at the hole in the roof. He sees the faces of the people who have safely lowered their friend down. Then, Christ looks at the man and says, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.”

Think about this for a moment. This man’s biggest problem seems to be apparent to everyone but Jesus. The friends are probably up on the roof thinking to themselves, “Wait, what? We didn’t lug him up here, rip off the roof knowing that we’ll have to fix it ourselves, and lower him down to get forgiveness. What gives?”

But Jesus knows what this man’s biggest problem is. Christ knows what this man needs most. But don’t run too quickly with this either. Yes, the forgiveness of sins is what we need for our eternal welfare. Forgiveness is more important than food, clothes, shelter, and the ability to walk. But Jesus doesn’t always forgive people before He heals them.

In fact, in all the previous healings in Matthew, Jesus doesn’t follow this order. Chapter 8 contains Jesus’ first healing in Matthew. Jesus heals a leper and doesn’t absolve him. Then, He heals the centurion’s servant, but Jesus doesn’t announce forgiveness there. He heals Peter’s mother-in-law and large crowds with no mention of forgiveness. He casts out demons from two men, no absolution. And as chapter 9 continues, Jesus keeps healing, but He’ll tell people that they are healed because of their faith in Him. And we can’t (at least we shouldn’t) conclude that in those instances Jesus cared more about their physical well-being than forgiveness.

Put that on the back-burner for a moment because Jesus isn’t done diagnosing people’s problems.

Ministry of Word and Sacrament, Keys IconAfter telling the paralytic, “Take heart, your sins are forgiven,”Jesus diagnoses the scribes’ problem. They were grumbling in their minds thinking, “Just who does this guy think he is? Forgiving sins is God’s job.” But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts?”

Notice that. Jesus says that doubting that He, a man, has the authority to forgive sins is evil. He doesn’t beat around the bush. Jesus calls out their evil. And He proves that He has the authority to forgive sins. He tells the paralytic, “Rise, pick up your bed and go home,”and the paralytic does, which proves that Jesus does indeed have the authority to forgive sins.

What’s your problem? I hope you see that it doesn’t matter so much what your problem is when you see that Jesus knows what it is (He does), and Jesus fixes the problem (whatever it is).

See Jesus’ pastoral heart. Jesus calls Himself the Good Shepherd, and ‘shepherd’ is what ‘pastor’ means. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, knows the needs of His flock, His sheep. Answering the question, “What’s your problem?” isn’t so important because Jesus knows what your problem is. He correctly diagnoses it and fixes it.

While everyone in that house – the listeners, the scribes, and the friends who lowered that man down from the roof – might have been scratching their heads when Jesus tells this paralytic that his sins are forgiven, the paralytic lying there heard the exact words he needed to hear. He needed to hear that his sins had been removed from him as far as the east is from the west, so that is precisely what Jesus gave him.

The scribes needed to hear Jesus call out their evil. And the crowds needed to see that God had given men (plural [foreshadowing Jesus giving the authority to forgive sins to all Christians]) the authority to forgive sins on earth (Mk. 2:10). Jesus gives each person exactly what they needed.

So, you here today, what’s your problem? Well, Jesus, the Good Shepherd, is here today. Surely, the Lord is in this place even if you, like Jacob in our Old Testament text, didn’t know it. This is the gate of heaven (Gen. 28:10-17), right here in this sanctuary. Jesus is here to give you exactly what you need. Jesus is here to give you His Word, Law and Gospel. Jesus has called you to put off your old sinful self, to put away your sin, and to be renewed in your minds (Eph. 4:22-28).

Communion Cross with JesusJesus is here, here to give you exactly what you need. He comes to give you His Body which was hung on a cross to endure the wrath of God for your sins. He comes to give you His Blood which He shed for the forgiveness of your sins. Whatever your problem is – even if you are unclear what it is – Jesus is here to deliver you from it. Amen.

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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Table for 4,000, Please? – Sermon for the Seventh Sunday of Trinity on Mark 8:1-9

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Mark 8:1-9

In those days, when again a great crowd had gathered, and they had nothing to eat, he called his disciples to him and said to them, “I have compassion on the crowd, because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. And if I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way. And some of them have come from far away.” And his disciples answered him, “How can one feed these people with bread here in this desolate place?” And he asked them, “How many loaves do you have?”They said, “Seven.” And he directed the crowd to sit down on the ground. And he took the seven loaves, and having given thanks, he broke them and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; and they set them before the crowd. And they had a few small fish. And having blessed them, he said that these also should be set before them. And they ate and were satisfied. And they took up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full. And there were about four thousand people. And he sent them away.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The last food you ate came from God even though it didn’t come directly from God. An exception will be made if you gathered up manna in your yard this morning. If you did, let me know. I’d like to come over this afternoon, so I can have a taste before it goes bad tomorrow. Talk to me after the service.

Your food comes from God, but God in His infinite wisdom has seen fit to give you that food through a long food-pipeline. Through farmers and ranchers who grow and raise the food. Through factories and workers that process, grind, and package. Through truckers and train engineers who haul. Through construction workers who build and maintain the roads and buildings. Through plumbers, electricians, engineers, and mechanics who design, make, and keep the roads, railways, machines, and buildings working. And even through insurance agents, accountants, and computer programmers who make all the work efficient and organized.

In fact, I bet if you and I sat down and put our minds together, we could figure out how every wholesome task performed in the world ends up putting food in our mouth. (Maybe we can do that while we enjoy that manna of yours.)

Now, God doesn’t have to use this massive, intricate food-pipeline. He could feed us directly as Jesus does in this text. God is the author of all good work and a master at it all.

This crowd has been with Jesus in a desolate place for three days hearing Him teach. They were so excited to follow Him that these silly people didn’t bring any food with them. Jesus tells the disciples that He has compassion on the people because if He sends them away, they won’t make it home. Some of them will faint and die of hunger. The disciples ask, “How can one feed these people (4,000 men plus women and children [see Mt. 15:32-39]) with bread here in this desolate place?” Their question is legitimate. Even if you had the means to pay for it, I bet you’d have a hard time buying enough bread for a crowd that size if you went to Hugo’s right after the service.

But watch what Jesus does in slow motion. He becomes the master of many trades all at once. He plows, plants, harvests, threshes, grinds, and bakes bread in a moment. Then, He sails, fishes, processes, cleans, and cooks fish to give the crowd a second course.

Yes, Jesus does this with what the disciples have among themselves. So, in a small way, He works within His creation and preserves the food-pipeline. But He certainly didn’t need to use what the disciples had because when it is all said and done, there are seven baskets of leftovers. The disciples end up with more than they had at the beginning.

This is a miracle. No one can feed such a large crowd, but Jesus can and does. But this miracle of feeding the 4,000 pales in comparison to the miracle of food that will be on your plate at lunch. The same Jesus is working through hundreds if not millions of people to make sure you have a bite later when He could simply make the food appear on your plate without any of them.

You are constantly surrounded by miracles. But you have gotten so used to seeing them that you don’t see the splendor and glory of God’s provision for you.

Do you realize how miraculous farming and gardening is? You take a seed – a tiny part of something, put it in the ground, and you get more of that same thing. How many thousands and even millions of tomatoes are in a single tomato seed when God uses His creation to nurture and grow that seed? We hardly give tomato seeds a second thought. But in each of those seeds is a lifetime supply of tomatoes for you and your family. But it is a lot less work for you to simply go to the store and purchase more tomatoes.

We are too easily bored with God’s miracles. And worse, we even grow to despise God’s work among us.

We get excited when a child takes her first steps. Her body has miraculously formed and developed the muscles, bones, and tendons needed to support her frame. Her mind has learned to control all those parts of her body so she can keep her balance. But how many weeks pass before her parents are tired of keeping her from walking to the garbage can, tipping it over, and rummaging through the contents? They wish she were still stationary.

Think for a moment of the miracle of life. Your body is made up of somewhere around 35 trillion individual cells that serve various functions. If the DNA in those cells were laid out end to end, it would travel from here to the sun and back 100 times. From the moment you were conceived, the information in your DNA would fill 600,000 pages. And right now, in each of the 35 trillion cells of your body, biological “machines” are copying volumes of information into amino acids which are taken by other machines and folded in very specific ways into proteins. So, don’t let anyone tell you that you are lazy.

These miracles are going on all around you and inside of you. And as we are able to learn even more about how this all works, it will simply get more intricate and amazing. You are fearfully, wonderfully, and miraculously made. And the fact that all of this is done because of your Creator should cause you to fall on your knees in reverence and praise.

From a seed producing a plant that produces more fruit and more seeds to a child learning to walk to your cells writing and rewriting the information that keeps you alive, God keeps this creation working. But because all of this happens every day, it doesn’t capture our wonder and amazement as much as if it only happened once.[1]

The feeding of this crowd does show us that Jesus is God in the flesh. But that is not Jesus’ purpose in feeding the crowd. Jesus did not do this miracle to show the crowd that He is divine. Rather Jesus’ purpose in feeding and providing for them is His own compassion.

If Jesus provides so richly and abundantly for a crowd who got themselves into trouble by something so simply as forgetting to bring their lunch, how much more compassion will He have for you, sinner? You who are rightful recipients of death – the wages of sin – will Jesus not have compassion on you?

He does have that compassion and He has given that compassion. He has come in your flesh after your likeness. He died on the cross and shed His blood for you to give you His forgiveness and righteousness. And this same Jesus will provide for your needs in this body and life as well.

To this hungry and dying crowd of 4,000 in a desolate place, Jesus brings life on the third day. Just as He fed the people on the third day, He has risen on the third day for your justification.

So, rejoice and trust your Savior. When Jesus said, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things…,”your food, drink, clothing, shelter, and everything you need for life, “all these things will be added to you,”He meant it. Amen.

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

[1]Revised from a quote by John Donne, “There is nothing that God has established in the constant course of nature, and which therefore is done everyday, but would seem a miracle, and exercise of our admiration, if it were done but once.”

Before the Throne of God – Sermon for Holy Trinity Sunday on Isaiah 6:1-7

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Isaiah 6:1-7

1In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Isaiah 62Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. 3And one called to another and said:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lordof hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory!”

4And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. 5And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lordof hosts!” 6Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Why do you come to church?

Last year, Gallop polled fifteen hundred adults[1]to see why they go to church. They gave seven options, and here is the order those options were ranked:

  1. Sermons or talks that teach me more about Scripture.
  2. Sermons or talks that help connect religion to my life.
  3. Spiritual programs geared toward my children.
  4. Lots of community outreach and volunteer opportunities.
  5. A leader who is interesting and inspiring.
  6. Social activities to get to know people in my community.
  7. Good music.

Do you notice anything missing from that list? Anyone? Bueller?

No mention of receiving forgiveness.

Each of those responses is starting with the premise that when Christians gather together they are the ones doing something. “I’m learning. I’m becoming more religious. I’m doing my duty for my children. I’m helping my community.” And each of these responses is dead wrong.

When Christians gather together to hear God’s Word, God is the One who is acting, and we are the ones being acted upon. He sends His Word to convict of sin. And God sends His Word to forgive sin. That is why we want our service to be filled with Scripture. We want everything to be centered around God’s Word – Law and Gospel.

Isaiah tells us about what happened to him while he was at church one day.

Isaiah was a normal dude. He wasn’t a priest, so Isaiah couldn’t enter the holy places of the Temple. So, Isaiah is in the courtyard of the Temple where the laity would gather to offer their sacrifices and hear the Word of God. It was how God’s people did church in Isaiah’s day.

But while he is there, God gives Isaiah this vision to see what is really happening. Isaiah sees the Lord high, lifted up, and sitting on the throne. In the Gospel of John, we are told that Isaiah saw Jesus on that throne (Jn. 12:41) with the train of His glorious robe filling the Temple.

But Jesus isn’t alone. With Him are the seraphim – glowing, fiery angels with six wings. Why six wings? God didn’t create them with unnecessaryparts, and they aren’t mutations. These angels are perfect. Perfectly created, and perfect in their conduct. The angels never sinned and didn’t need to be redeemed. But even they need to cover the parts that show their creatureliness.

Each seraph calls out, “Holy, holy, holy is Yahweh of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory.” This threefold ‘holy’ is not just repetition. Each of these holy’s stands on its own; it could be translated, “Holy One. Holy One. Holy One.” Three distinct Holy Ones each deserving of praise. Isaiah only sees one – Jesus, but the seraphim are worshipping Three – Holy Father, Holy Son, and Holy Spirit.

Isaiah sees and hears this as he is there to worship at the Temple, and it is true for us, even though we don’t see it, every time we gather for worship as well. Every time Christians gather together, more are there than can be seen. Jesus promises that the Trinity is with even the smallest congregation (Mt. 18:20).

Wedding Feast of the LambHebrews 12[:22–23]tells us that there are many more here today than our eyes can see, “But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering,and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect.”

Isaiah sees what we can’t see, and he hears the worship we can’t hear. So he cries out, “Woe is me! For I am lost.” Essentially, Isaiah is saying, “I’m cooked.” Before the lofty throne of the Almighty, Eternal, Triune, Holy God, Isaiah figures God is there to punish him. How incredibly sad!

Isaiah is a Christian. He believes that God is “merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin” (Ex. 34:6-7).

If God had wanted to judge Isaiah, He could have opened up a hole in the ground and swallowed Isaiah to the pits of hell. God doesn’t toy around when it comes to executing judgment.

But Isaiah knows his sin. He knows that his sin isn’t something outside of him that sort of hovers over him. And his sin isn’t just something recorded in a divine naughty-or-nice list. Instead, Isaiah knows that his sin is on his lips, in his body, and part of who he is.

We wouldn’t have done any better than Isaiah did if we had this same encounter. We would have been just as terrified. The sins that we commit and don’t even think about would have been equally exposed. And we know that we have no excuse and no alibi when standing before the God and judge of all creation. We would rightly fear the Holy Trinity who after killing the body can throw us into hell (Mt. 10:28).

But when God appears to sinners. He isn’t there to destroy them. He is there to redeem them, forgive them, and comfort them. Jesus did not come into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.

That seraph, that messenger of God, takes a burning coal from the altar and touches Isaiah’s lips, and absolves him: “See this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”

What comes right after this text is comical. We, at least I, forget that sometimes. There is the Holy, Holy, Holy, Triune God and forgiven Isaiah. And God asks a question. “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?” God could have just given Isaiah his marching orders, “Ok, Isaiah. Now that I’ve forgiven you, you’re going to do something for Us.”

No, God gives Isaiah a chance to confess that he is forgiven. And Isaiah does, “Here am I. Send me.” Isaiah, the man cleansed of unclean lips, is given the task of proclaiming God’s Word as God’s prophet.

And you here today, you saints, you who have come into the presence of the Holy, Holy, Holy God, you too have been cleansed. Your guilt has also been taken away. Your sin has been completely atoned for. As you leave this place, go with a clean conscience. Go and do everything that God calls you to do this week. Go be God’s salt and light in this world.

And come back. Come back next week before the throne of God to once again receive His grace, mercy, forgiveness, and love. Amen.

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds inChrist Jesus. Amen.

[1]http://news.gallup.com/poll/208529/sermon-content-appeals-churchgoers.aspx?utm_source=alert&utm_medium=email&utm_content=morelink&utm_campaign=syndication

Comfort – Sermon for the Third Sunday in Advent on Isaiah 40:1-8

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Isaiah 40:1-8

Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.Isaiah 40 1
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
and cry to her
that her warfare is ended,
that her iniquity is pardoned,
that she has received from the Lord’s hand
double for all her sins.

3 A voice cries:
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord;
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be lifted up,
and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
and the rough places a plain.
5 And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
and all flesh shall see it together,
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

A voice says, “Cry!”
And I said, “What shall I cry?”
All flesh is grass,
and all its beauty is like the flower of the field.
7 The grass withers, the flower fades
when the breath of the Lord blows on it;
surely the people are grass.
8 The grass withers, the flower fades,
but the word of our God will stand forever.

Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Do these verses scare you? After all, they talk about warfare, iniquity, sins. Wilderness, desert. Mountains pressed down. Valleys raised. And you are in the midst of it all. Frail. Like grass that withers and like flowers that fade.

No. These verses don’t cause you to worry. They do not cause anxiety. You probably don’t give any of those things a second thought T because through it all you hear of the constant, abiding, eternal Word of your God who speaks comfort to you.

You heard it at the beginning of our service, but it bears repeating. “Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I will say, rejoice” (Php. 4:4). Why should you rejoice? Because God comes to comfort you. “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.” Those seven words are enough for endless sermons.

Luther Isaiah 40 ComfortThe only people who can be comforted are those who are troubled, afflicted, and uncomfortable. And God says, “Give them a double dose. Give them two shots of comfort.”

Who gets this comfort? God’s people do. That means you. You are those for whom Christ was born. You are those whom God claims as His own. You are the people for whom Christ has died. Christ is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. That means your sin is included. The Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier of all people calls you, “My people.”

And just in case you don’t get the fact that you are God’s people, His children, God calls Himself, “Your God.” He is not ashamed to claim you as His.

So, play the first verse of this text backwards. God says to you, “I am your God. You are My people. And I give to you comfort on top of comfort.”

The context in which these verses were written helps us see how comforting these words from God are. God tells Isaiah to tell Jerusalem that her warfare is ended. But, when Isaiah writes these words, Jerusalem isn’t even at war. Now, Babylon will come and besiege Jerusalem, and God’s people will be taken into exile. But even before it begins, God comforts His people with the promise that her warfare will end.

Advent Wreath 3God’s anger is but for a moment, and His favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning (Ps. 30:5). And even before the suffering begins God preaches comfort to His people.

That final line of v. 2 may still make you scratch your head a little bit. This talk of receiving “from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.” What is that all about? It sounds like punishment, but it is not.

The people of Isaiah’s day didn’t pay double for their sins, not even close. The wages of sin is death. The people of Jerusalem didn’t die twice; they didn’t’ get a double dose of hell. These words are not about punishment. Instead, they are about God’s mercy and grace.

You see, God doesn’t want you to receive any of His wrath or judgment. He doesn’t want you to pay for any of your sin. He doesn’t want you to spend eternity in hell. So be comforted. Christ has come. Jesus has ended your warfare and pardoned you. You receive double from God for all your sins because your sin is punished – not on you but on Christ. And in return, you are given His righteousness, holiness, innocence, and His good works.

This is how God’s accounting works. Here is how God manages the debt of your sin. Jesus doesn’t just simply get you out of debt. He gives you an increase. Imagine if you stole from God $1,000 worth of stuff. Instead of simply forgiving the debt and calling it even, God gives you $1,000 more (Pr. David Petersen). That is how your God is for you.

God with UsHere is your hope, Christian. You have God’s comfort in all things. Heaven is on your side. Your warfare is ended. Your iniquity pardoned. And no one, not even God Himself, can charge you for your sins because His Word of comfort stands forever.

So, rejoice. Rejoice in the Lord always. Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel, Jesus, God with you, shall come to you. Amen.

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.