Categories
Emerging Church Prayer

Confessional Prayer for the End of the Liturgical Year

agriculture-1816_640Shepherding God, you want only goodness for your people. At the close of this liturgical year, a good look around makes it clear that your ways are not always human ways. If your ways were our ways, all would have safe housing, food and drink enough, proper care, and justice in all things. Too often, these basic needs are denied and people are left to wander far from your pastures. In a world of abundance, it is truly sinful that so many go without proper shelter, nutrition, and care. Show us how to change our ways lest we squander the blessings of this earth.

Steadfast and faithful God, have mercy on us. Grant to us the spirit of wisdom and revelation the Apostle Paul prayed for the church in Ephesus. We truly need the eyes of our hearts opened that we might see the hope you have for us, to experience the richness of your abundance, and the transforming power of life in you. There is so much more we could do with all that we have been given. Yet, we so often remain paralyzed by the overwhelming needs of the world around us. Sometimes, we even get lost in our own lives, forgetting that we have sisters and brothers who need us to reach out with compassion and grace. Let us breathe deeply your breath of life that we may awaken to the wideness of your mercy.

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God of promise and grace, usher in your reign of peace. Forgive us when we walk by the hungry and homeless people on the streets without even noticing. We seldom offer drinks to those who are thirsty or welcome the stranger among us with open arms. When we hear of those in need of clothing and healthcare, we often turn away. Instead of visiting those who are prisoners, we prefer to tell ourselves that they deserve to be there. It is too easy for us to turn away from those whose needs are greater than our own even while you call us to care for those who are hungry, thirsty, lost, naked, sick, or in prison. The news of murder and acts of terrorism are so common they fail to move us to action. Ambivalence and apathy often replace action in our daily living. We long for peace in the world, in our country, in our cities, in our homes, and in our lives. Teach us to walk in the way of peace.

Joyful, loving God, let the winds of your Spirit blow through our lives as we prepare for a new year, a new opportunity to serve you with our whole hearts. While the world is full of dark and broken places, remind us that we have not always failed. We have shared moments of joy and transformation. We have sometimes touched the heart of another with compassion and love. We have returned to you in gratitude for all of our blessings and asking forgiveness for all the ways we have contributed to the broken places. You continue to claim us as your own beloved children and we are thankful. May the joy of this knowledge enter us more deeply, enabling us to love our neighbors and ourselves. Hear our prayers in Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Photos used with permission. Pixabay.com

RCL – Year A – Reign of Christ Sunday – November 23, 2014
Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24 with Psalm 100 or
Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24 with Psalm 95:1-7a
Ephesians 1:15-23
Matthew 25:31-46

Categories
Prayer

Prayer of Confession

God of all times and places, in Christ you set us free to pursue righteousness and holiness without the limits of the laws given to Moses. You wanted us to worship you without the framework that had become distracting for some of your people. You set before us a life filled with grace and love and the ability to choose to follow you.

Forgive us when we mistake our ways for your ways.

God of boundless love and grace, in your house and at your table all people are equal guests. By Christ’s example our hospitality is boundless for those who come seeking sanctuary. You are not interested in pretty clothes or proper dress so much as you are in compassion and mercy. Nor are you overly concerned with our ways of doing things, as much as you are with our genuine desire to worship you with our whole hearts.

Forgive us when we mistake our ways for your ways.

Creator God, no heart is unknown to you and no mind is a mystery to you. You created us all to bear your image into the world, not just in our bodies, but even more so in the way we live our lives. You do not see the lines we draw on our maps, separating one nation from another. Our patriotism is not the religion you would have us practice nor our politics the righteousness you would have us seek.

Forgive us when we mistake our ways for your ways.

Saving God, not one soul lives outside the reach of your mercy. You would rather we pursue peace and justice than almost anything else. We use your name to justify our wars while your heart breaks over each life lost or destroyed. The independence and freedom of one nation need not depend on the destruction of another. The call to peace is louder than greed, fear, and lust for power if we take time to be still and listen.

Forgive us when we mistake our ways for your ways.

God who is slow to anger and abounding with steadfast love, you invite all who are weary to come to you and set our burdens down. You would give us rest if we would but learn from you. Your gentleness and humbleness make an easy yoke and our hearts and souls would find much needed rest. Your ways are easier than ours if we walk with you. We spend needless energy asserting our opinions and trying to make others see how wrong they are. You would rather we bear your yoke of gentleness and humility, extending mercy to our neighbors.

Lord, in your mercy, forgive us when we mistake our ways for your ways.

Amen.

RCL – Year A – Fourth Sunday after Pentecost – July 6, 2014
Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67
Psalm 45:10-17 or Song of Solomon 2:8-13 or
Zechariah 9:9-12 with Psalm 145:8-14
Romans 7:15-25a
Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

 

Categories
Musings Sermon Starter

A Tough Thought… or Two

By word of warning, this week’s lectionary contains complex theology. Here’s my attempt at distillation…31257464416_ORIG

This week I find myself strangely drawn to Abraham. It’s not his parenting skills I admire for sure. Last week we read how he exhiled one son into the desert because his wife told him to. This week we read how he was prepared to sacrifice his only remaining son, the son for whom he’d waited his entire life. What strikes me about Abraham is his faith. On the one hand his faith seems so simple and uncomplicated, but on the other, Abraham’s faith is deeper and more true than I can really understand. He spent his life responding to God’s call in one way or another.

I’m not a fan of the concept of God setting things up just to test a person’s faith. I just don’t believe God does this to anyone, let alone to people who are clearly faithful. So there has to be another point to this story about Abraham and Isaac. What would make a person willing to sacrifice that which he or she holds most dear?

For Abraham it was trust in God. Whether it was trust that God would provide an alternative sacrifice or trust that God would make sacrificing Isaac worth it, can’t be clearly determined. There is more here than blind trust, though. God and Abraham had a long relationship in which God often asked that Abraham do unusual things while God took care of the impossible. Considering this, it is highly likely that Abraham desired to please God more than he desired anything else. He was not perfect to be sure, but he did seem to strive for righteousness to a degree that modern thinking has a hard time understanding. He would do anything to be “right with God.” For many of us in Mainline Christian traditions, we don’t spend much time thinking about righteousness or just what, exactly, God might be asking of us. The idea of pursuing righteousness or living holy lives does not much trouble the hearts and minds for many Christians. What if we let ourselves be concerned with such things?

Like my response to Abraham this week, I find myself surprised when I read the passage from Romans and nod again and again in agreement. Of course, my understanding of sin may be a bit different than the Apostle Paul’s. Yet, the point he makes about where and how we put ourselves out in the world, how we use our bodies, or allow ourselves to be used, rings true all these centuries later. Should we not endeavor to follow God more deliberately knowing that we are set aside for holy purposes in Christ? I think of all the suffering in the world, all the struggles for power and position, all the hoarding of resources and wonder what would happen in the world if we all took the idea of being enslaved to righteousness with the reward of sanctification a little more seriously.

This concept that we are set aside for a holy purpose resonates with something deep within me. Would I be willing to sacrifice that which I hold most dear if God asked it of me? I want the answer to be, “Yes, of course.” However, I honestly don’t know what I would do. I’m pretty good at telling God that I am willing to serve wherever God may call. Underneath my prayerful words, though, are all the qualifiers and preferences I have about my willingness to serve. I admire Abraham for his trusting pursuit of righteousness. Likewise the Apostle Paul. Realistically, though, I have a ways to go before there is clear evidence of sanctification in my life. Perhaps it’s time to pursue righteousness, a life lived in covenant with God, self, and neighbor, with far more intention and enthusiasm.

We are sanctified. It is time to pursue righteousness.scan0005

RCL – Year A – Third Sunday after Pentecost – June 29, 2014
Genesis 22:1-14 with Psalm 13 or
Jeremiah 28:5-9 with Psalm 89:1-4, 15-18
Romans 6:12-23
Matthew 10:40-42

Categories
Prayer

A Prayer for the Hagars and Ishmaels

Incline your ear, O Lord,
   and answer me,
for I am poor and needy.
 
Preserve my life,
   for I am devoted to you;
save your servant who trusts in you.
 
You are my God;
   be gracious to me, O Lord,
for to you do I cry all day long.

Merciful God of all, it is so easy to forget that you hold this world in your hands. We think it is ours to do with as we choose. We think that we can decide who has your favor and who does not. Yet, if we listen to your Word, we know this is not true. We know that you call us to much greater things. You would have us care for the earth and welcome all people. You protected Hagar and Ishmael, claimed them as your own. Will you do the same for those who now wander in the wilderness?

Do you hear the voices of those cast out of their homes in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Ukraine, Africa and other places where the violence of war makes new refuges every day? Do you hear the cries of those who wander without homes in every city and town? Do you see the tears falling from the eyes of hungry children everywhere? Do you feel the anguish of those who live with unrelenting symptoms of mental illness? Do you know the pain of rejection felt by LGBT youth no longer welcome in their homes or churches when they claim who their identity? Do you witness the foolishness of racism that harms so many innocent lives? The voices that cry out to you are more numerous than I can bear. Will you claim them all as you did Hagar and Ishmael so long ago? Will you call to them and show them that life is possible even in the midst of the desert when death looks like the only option?

Patient and steadfast God of life, I hear you even as I add my own cries in the wilderness. As I ask you what you will do, if you will claim these suffering souls as your own, you ask me the same. You tell me that they are already yours and ask when those who claim your name will act accordingly. You have shown us how to be merciful and loving when you saved Hagar and Ishmael with your love and grace. You offered them life beyond their imaginings. You wait for us to hear your Word and follow you with our whole lives. You desire for all your people a life of abundance beyond our imagining. Will your steadfast love endure until no one wanders in the wild places cast-out, forgotten, waiting for death?

Have mercy on those of us who think ourselves righteous because we live in homes apart from war, poverty, hunger, and disease. Open our lives to the cries of our neighbors that we might claim with your love, name them sister or brother. Teach us the way of gratitude and mercy that benefits the whole of creation.

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Gladden the soul of your servant,                                              (photo from unsplash.com)
   for to you, O Lord,
I lift up my soul.
 
For you, O Lord,
   are good and forgiving,
abounding in steadfast love
   to all who call on you.

Amen.

RCL – Year A – Second Sunday After Pentecost – June 22, 2014
Genesis 21:8-21 with Psalm 86:1-10, 16-17 or
Jeremiah 20:7-13 with Psalm 69:7-10, (11-15), 16-18
Romans 6:1b-11
Matthew 10:24-39

Categories
Musings Sermon Starter

Responding to Yet Another Shooting

I don’t know about you, but I am tired of the anger, the blame, the fear, and the complete lack of change. Yes, I am talking about “gun violence”, but I could make this statement about other things as well. It’s easy to be outraged when a person open-fires in a school, a mall, a theater, or anywhere else. And it’s easy to blame politicians for not enacting gun-control, blame the shooter for not seeking proper mental health care, blame whomever didn’t report odd behaviors of the shooter to proper authorities before the shooting. The more anger and blame, the more fear takes root and we become more cautious around strangers, more afraid of “others,” and worry for the future of this country. These are not necessarily inexplicable reactions, but when we are governed only by our emotions nothing changes except our own anxiety seems to dramatically increase.

Processed with VSCOcam with x4 presetLiving in fear and anger is not how we are called to live as Christian people. This week we read the creation story in Genesis and are reminded that all human beings are made in the image of God. We are enlivened by the breath of God. This is not something we are to bury within us or ignore in others. We are to seek out the holy in ourselves and in others and we are to breathe deeply of the Holy Spirit. This will not change the world exactly, but it beats living in fear and anger. Breathing deeply slows our thoughts and our heart rates, giving us time to let emotions settle and a way of peace to emerge.

This does not mean we do nothing. In fact, it means we follow Jesus’ commandments to love our neighbors and ourselves and, through this, we make disciples. Making disciples is secondary to following Jesus’ commandments, though. The call is to peace. It always has been. The world is a chaotic, stressful place and, likely, always will be. But for those who follow Jesus, it is also a place to live in love and peace. This call is not in spite of how things are, rather it is because of how they are; left to our own devices fear, anger, blame, and anxiety rule the day. Jesus knew the challenges we face, and he knew the need for a constant reminder to seek peace and live in love.

Now as my own anger settles, I ask myself what is the loving and peaceful response to gun violence and every other kind of violence? Nearly anything that decreases fear and increases a sense of hope and safety. In practical terms, we need better mental health care from awareness to treatment. We also need to know more about cultures and religious traditions not our own to decrease our mistrust and misunderstanding. We need media to publicize these kind of events without glamorizing them so that ideas do not take root in other unstable minds. Politicians should stop listening to lobbyists and pay more attention to what their constituents actually need.

This list could go on and on. Maybe some of you are in positions to make big changes. Most of us are not. While my heart breaks every time I hear of another shooting, I refuse to live in anger and fear. I will continue to seek out Christ in other people, even in the perpetrators of violence. I will pray for healing for individuals, for our country, for the whole of creation. I will not give up hope that human beings can do better than we are now.

I’m not an optimist by nature. Yet, I choose to believe that humanity is meant for good. We are capable of taking better care of ourselves, one another, and creation. Just today I said to a patient who is very fearful that Satan has taken over the world, “I have to believe that Love is stronger than evil. Sometimes it seems that evil is winning because the suffering in our lives or in the world feels overwhelming. Then I look around and see all the beauty and wonder that is still in the world and in every person.”

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Finally, brothers and sisters, farewell. Put things in order, listen to my appeal, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the saints greet you.

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.

RCL – Year A – Trinity Sunday – First Sunday after Pentecost
Genesis 1:1-2:4a
Psalm 8
2 Corinthians 13:11-13
Matthew 28:16-20

Both photos in this post are from unsplash.com

Categories
Prayer

Pastoral Prayer for Pentecost

2013-05-19 12.56.28God whose very breath gives us life, allow your Spirit to blow freely through this place. May we feel your mighty winds clearing away our disbelief, our reluctance, and our ambivalence leaving only the full knowledge that we are yours. We rejoice to be part of your amazing creation. May the winds and flames of Pentecost remind us of all that you
created us to be.

When your people wandered in the desert, you longed for a time when all your people would be prophets. Put your Spirit on us, this day! We want to be your voice in the world. In the face of violence, let us speak words of peace – no longer ignoring senseless shootings, murders, domestic violence, rape, and all the other forms of violence that make us want to turn away. When we see nation rise against nation, let us proclaim a still more excellent way in Israel, Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, Russia, Ukraine, Africa, and every place in this world where there is war and the threat of war.

Even as we ask for words, we also ask for the courage to listen to voices of those who are often silenced. Let us be companions to the lonely and forgotten. Open to us the way of compassion and kindness to those most in need – the refugees and immigrants who come in need of sanctuary and new beginnings… those who are hungry and homeless without hope… those who struggle with symptoms of illness in body, mind, or spirit… those who discomfort us or face the world with anger…

Patient and ever-loving God, we know that all the broken and bruised places in this world and in our lives is not what you desire for us. You remind us that we are one in Christ. Moreover, we are called to see Christ in our neighbors as well as ourselves. The labels we apply to each other are meaningless in your sight. You do not see us as black or white or red or yellow or brown or male or female or transgender or gay or straight or liberal or conservative or sick or well or poor or rich anything else; you see us as each your beloved child. Stir your Spirit among us and within us until we are no longer content in our pews. Guide us to new understanding of what it means to be the body of Christ here and now. Free us from all fears and anxieties that prevent us from living the Good News loud enough
for all who pass by to want to join in your joy. Let our hearts pour forth living water into this thirsty world.

Holy God whose strength and wonder we cannot begin to image, may we breathe deeply of your Spirit. As we celebrate the beginnings of your Church, open us to all that is beginning to grow in us and around us. We would like to lay our burdens at your feet, but we cling to them because we can’t imagine ourselves without them. Set our heads and our hearts on fire that we may be so bold as to trust you with our whole selves, making it possible for
greater trust among our neighbors. We would be the people you called and created us to be. Breathe on us anew this day.

In gratitude for the grace you have given to us, we pray. May our
meditation be pleasing to you, for we do, indeed, rejoice in you! Let your
mighty winds rush through us as we pray in Christ’s name. Amen.

RCL – Year A – Pentecost – June 8, 2014
Acts 2:1-21 or Numbers 11:24-30
Psalm 104:24-34, 35b
1 Corinthians 12:3b-13 or Acts 2:1-21
John 20:19-23 or John 7:34-39

Categories
Musings Sermon Starter

A Few Words

Every time I read Psalm 68 I remember a Bible study group I led early in my career. Someone shared parts of this Psalm as the opening devotional, commenting particularly on the psalmist’s invitation to ascribe glory and power to God. Another person in attendance immediately asked, “Why? Why should we give God credit for our strength, our success, our own achievements?” As a new and young pastor, I was rather taken aback by the question. I don’t remember where the conversation took us that night, but it’s likely that my answer is very different now.

It is like answering a question in German when the one who asked only speaks English. It’s not as simple as saying that God created all that is and so we must respond with gratitude and glory.

The need to worship God, the ability to ascribe to God glory and power, is born out of experience rather than intellectual decision. I think of that parishioner who asked the question in Bible Study. Clearly, there was something missing from the church experience if, after many years of membership, he was asking why we ascribe to God anything.

30510_387050549163_6316799_nIt’s easy for me to say that I can’t imagine my life without God. The times I have felt hopeless would have gone very differently if I did not believe in a loving God. The times when I have experienced joy would have just been happy little momentswithout God. I would not be who I am if I did not believe that Jesus died on my behalf, that God loves the particularity of me.

I also know that anyone listening to me can point to any place of war, tragedy, violence, poverty, hunger, homelessness, etc. and say that God is absent from the world. The language of faith is particular, as “ingroup” speak. We ought to be living an embodiment of the words we speak. We should, in this way, become the word incarnate. Talk less.

RCL – Year A – Seventh Sunday of Easter – June 1, 2014
Acts 1:6-14
Ps 68:1-10, 32-35
1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11
John 17:1-11

Categories
Musings Sermon Starter

Whether We Know it or Not

2014-05-12 20.44.33I can’t shake the idea that Paul’s sermon to the Athenians could take place in almost any town in the U.S. today.

There are many churches. Just as Paul could tell those Athenians that it was easy to see how religious they are, it would be easy to see how religious we are too. Right? There are churches everywhere. While our churches are all clearly labeled and no altars are inscribed ‘to an unknown God,’ some could be. Paul found a single altar ‘to an unknown God’ and used this to tell the people about Jesus. What would he say to us now? How well do we really know this God of ours?

This week’s text from John’s Gospel opens with Jesus saying, ‘If you love me, you will keep my commandments.’ Jesus’ commandments are simple enough in theory – Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and all your mind and love your neighbor as yourself.

The kind of love that Jesus embodied has been distorted by rules and tradition. We like things to feel safe and predictable, familiar and comfortable. It’s good to know the rules. The problem is that the love Jesus offers isn’t something that can be contained like that. It’s meant to be challenging and sometimes discomforting. Loving God and loving our neighbors and ourselves does not leave room for hatred and judgment. It does not endorse violence or war. It does not attribute higher value of one person over another.

It’s easy to claim that God is on our side or preach that God loves this kind of person but not that kind of person. It’s easy to let ourselves think that our thoughts and actions are what God wants. It’s much more difficult to contemplate a God who might want different things, things truly grounded in love.

Sometimes it’s hard to remember that Jesus broke Jewish laws and traditions all the time to reach human beings and change their lives. I don’t think he’d be thrilled with all the laws and traditions we’ve placed between ourselves and those real human beings who need to experience the transforming power of love.  It is easy to fool ourselves into believing that our God needs traditions because we feel that we need them.

What it comes down to is this: Has God become unknown to you?

RCL – Year A – Sixth Sunday after Easter – May 25, 2014
Acts 17:22-31
Psalm 66:8-20
1 Peter 3:13-22
John 14:15-21

Categories
Poetry

For Your Consideration

In recognition of Mental Health Sunday in the United Church of Christ, I am posting the following poem from Barefoot Theologypg. 164-165. I wrote this poem based on many real conversations I’ve had over my years as a clinical chaplain in a psychiatric hospital. My hope is that one day, mental illness will be seen for what it is – a medical condition – and that people who live with mental illness will no longer be stigmatized. The Church in all her varied forms must lead the way to inclusion and radical welcome for all God’s people.

2014-05-12 14.57.47

Unworthy

So many tearstained faces fill my days
crying out because they will never be good enough
for God to love them
They are bound up with shame forced on their
innocence and cannot see their way to freedom

I ask what they have done that is so sinful
These women, men, and children
only recount a list of evils done to them
held close by the pain they’ve inflicted
on their own bodies trying to be rid
of a hurt deeper than they can speak

Why do you think that God cannot love you
if you have committed no horrific sin?
All of them confess that they are worthless
yet they believe in Jesus,
that Jesus died to save the world

Yes! God so loved the world
without excluding you!
Would you give your life
for something without value?

They all agree that dying for something worthless
would be rather stupid and pointless
God so loved the world . . .
are you part of the world that God so loved?
Yes
Then you are not worthless
Jesus died for you as well as the rest of creation
Are you sure?

Absolutely!
Are you willing to tell God that a mistake has been made,
that you are outside the bounds of God’s love for the whole world?

Well, when you put it that way
maybe I am wrong
maybe God loves me
maybe there is hope
maybe I am more than this collection of pain

Yes! We are, and always have been!

RCL – Year A – Fifth Sunday of Easter – May 18, 2014
Acts 7:55-60
Psalm 31:1-5,15-16
1 Peter 2:2-10
John 14:1-14

Categories
Musings Sermon Starter

There’s More to the Story

I used to think that Easter was the easiest Sunday to preach. The story tells itself and there’s so much else going on in the service that a brief sermon highlighting resurrection couldn’t go wrong. However, as the years have gone on and my ministry has changed, I find Easter a particular challenge.

Cape Trip May 2010 103

This year in the Easter worship service there will be no musician, just me and my IPOD. Moreover, I feel the need to communicate the Gospel in a way that people wrestling with various mental health crises and symptoms might actually hear. I can’t spend too much time with the specifics of the Easter story because someone will ask out loud why Jesus doesn’t appear to us the way he did to Mary. Some others might volunteer that they, too, have seen angels. Someone else will ask where the tomb is and if it’s still empty. I’ve come to understand that these tangents are likely on the minds of anyone paying attention to the story. Yet, none of this is helpful, really. The issue at hand is not what happened on that first Easter morning, but on what is happening now.

I want people who come to chapel service to hear a word of hope, to know that the resurrection is for them, and to experience forgiveness and acceptance at a really deep level. Yes, I know this is a lot to put into one sermon. This message of Jesus’ radical love is essential. Too many people tell me that they do not feel “good enough” for God to love them. They tend to believe the basics of the Gospel message except that they somehow exclude themselves. They conclude that Jesus couldn’t possibly love them even though he seems to love everyone else.

Somehow in the midst of the unbelievable story of the empty tomb, I have to make it believable on a personal level. Beyond believable, I have to make it real and livable today. A group of people will gather in a chapel without all the fanfare of a traditional church Easter celebration and they will look to me to say something that eases the suffering in their own lives.

The question that keeps echoing through my thoughts is this:  Who are you that you alone would be excluded from the love God has for the whole of creation?

With the scent of anointing oil and spices lingering in the air, women weeping, and angels in white, I think we forget that the tomb was empty. It wasn’t empty for no reason. It wasn’t empty for Jesus’ sake. It was empty for us, all of us. You know—God so loved the world. It really doesn’t matter who you are, what you’ve done or not done, what diagnosis you carry, what job you do, how much money is in your bank account, the size of your house, the car you drive, your gender identity, your sexual orientation, your relationship status… none of this matters because God loves us whether we believe it or not.

The appropriate response to “Christ the Lord is risen today!” perhaps ought to be “Thanks be to God!” Now let us go and live our lives in gratitude and as a testimony to the power and grace that conquers death with the promise of new life.

RCL- Year A – Easter – April 20, 2014
Acts 10:34-43 or Jeremiah 31:1-6
Psalm 118: 1-2, 14-24
Colossians 3:1-4 or Acts 10:34-43
John 20:1-18 or Matthew 28:1-10