In Christ Alone

“In Christ Alone”

Acts 4-12 salvation, sun

Acts 4:1-17 (4:12) – October 15, 2017

“How many of you remember a time when you were so excited about something that you could barely wait to share that news with another person? Maybe it was getting accepted to the university you dreamed of attending? Or maybe it was that you are finally pregnant after years of waiting? Or maybe it was that you have now been confirmed to be cancer free after lengthy treatment? Or maybe it was when your special someone asked you to marry him? Or maybe you got the job you so desperately hoped for? This exciting news is changing your life, and you want to shout it from the mountaintop!” [1]

With exciting news of that magnitude of importance, who wouldn’t want to share something so earthshaking that is turning your life upside down?

That’s the case here in Acts chapters 3 and 4, where Peter and John are in Jerusalem, telling people about the Messiah Yeshua, the risen Jesus, risen from the dead. Do you know? Have you heard? This news is so exciting that it’s changing my life! Anyway, that is the story that Peter, John, and the rest of the disciples are sharing in downtown Jerusalem at the beginning of Acts 4.

But then, there’s a hitch. A problem, a complication.  Reading from Acts 4:1-2, “The priests and the captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees came up to Peter and John while they were speaking to the people. 2 They were greatly disturbed because the apostles were teaching the people, proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead.” In fact, these religious leaders are so upset, they toss Peter and John in prison.

Peter and John—and countless others throughout the centuries—were thrown into prison because of their beliefs, and because of their witness. It doesn’t matter whether it’s during the persecutions of the Roman emperors, the upheavals and persecutions of the religious wars of the 1500’s and 1600’s, or more modern persecutions and executions of the 20th and 21st centuries, people are still imprisoned for their beliefs. People are still persecuted for naming the name of Jesus Christ in a public forum.

This good news is an extremely important thing to proclaim. In many places in the world today and throughout history, this message of Jesus Christ crucified and risen from the dead is an extremely dangerous one to proclaim, too.

There must be something behind this God-sent boldness that energizes so many people!

“Solus Christus,” or “By Christ Alone” is another one of the foundational principles that sets Protestants apart. Another of the rallying cries of the Reformation, this important principle means Jesus Christ alone is the mediator between God and humanity. Not the priests as mediator between us and God, and not the sacrifices in the Temple as a necessary covering to allow us to come to God, but salvation comes through Jesus Christ alone.

Certain other faith traditions put extra emphasis on the saints, or the Virgin Mary, or on the church hierarchy. Yes, these ought to be honored. Absolutely we have the saints and Mary the mother of Jesus as our blessed examples and those we hold up as special before God. Plus, as the apostle Paul and Doctor Luke tell us repeatedly in the New Testament, we are all called saints of God, so we are all examples for one another.

Back to our passage from Acts 4. What happened to Peter and John? “The next day the rulers, the elders and the teachers of the law met in Jerusalem. They had Peter and John brought before them and began to question them: “By what power or what name did you do this?”

The religious leaders of Israel had thought they had gotten rid of their problem some weeks ago when they had a rabble-rousing rabbi called Jesus crucified. But, no! More and more problems kept cropping up, ever since they had “misplaced” this rabbi’s body, and then there were some scattered reports of Him being raised from the dead, being alive again.

The religious leaders brought Peter and John before them, and asked point blank: “By what power or what name did you do this?”
What is the foundational principle for Peter and John? Just as Acts 4:12 tells us, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”

What is another way of saying this great Good News? “The message of Jesus entails “salvation” (soteria) — a divine reality that generates wholeness, restoration, and reversal of societal norms (“healed” in Acts 4:9 is literally “saved,” sesotai)” [2]

We can say for sure that Peter, John and the other disciples would absolutely agree with the Reformers: “Solus Christus,” or “By Christ Alone” are we saved.

That was one principle that Protestants were willing to die for, and did.

What about you? What about me? Are we willing to proclaim Christ? Why does Peter say it so clearly? Because he has been with Jesus. So, too, we are with Jesus. “By Christ Alone” we are saved, we are restored, and we are walking by His side.

Praise God, alleluia, amen.

[1] https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/worship/lectionary-calendar/fourth-sunday-of-easter7#preaching

Preaching Helps and Worship Resources, Rev. Dawn Chesser, Prayers, Lectionary Hymns, United Methodist Church General Board of Discipleship, 2015.

[2] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2388  Commentary, Acts 4:5-12, Troy Troftgruben, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2015.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2017: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)

 

 

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We Cannot Keep from Speaking!

“We Cannot Keep from Speaking!”

Peter - cannot stop Acts-4-20_2

Acts 4:1-20 – June 21, 2015

Ever had this situation happen to you? Just when you thought you had taken care of some pesky problem, here it comes, all over again! Sort of like the carnival game Whack-a-Mole. Just when you whack at all the moles, and think that they are all gone—that your problems are all solved—here they come again! Popping up all over the place.

I suspect the ruling council in Jerusalem felt this way just about now. Here they had rid themselves of that troublesome Rabbi Yeshua, or Jesus, some weeks ago. They had even gone to their Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, to get his permission to put this upstart Rabbi to death. They got some people to accuse Jesus of insurrection and treason, so He would be killed by crucifixion. That was it! Done! One great, big, pesky problem taken care of!

True, there were some rumors about Jesus coming back to life a few days later, but that was just a rumor. Resurrection? Hah! Sounds pretty far-fetched to me. It was far-fetched to the ruling council, to the Sanhedrin, too.

They didn’t figure on Peter, John, and the rest of the disciples. They didn’t figure on the blowing of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, or the energy of the new believers in the Risen Jesus.

Our summer sermon series, Postcards from the Early Church, reminds me a bit of a radio serial. You might remember those! “When last we left our intrepid heroes . . . “ Last week, we saw Peter and John about to enter the Temple in Jerusalem for daily afternoon prayers. A long-time beggar, lame from birth, asked Peter and John for alms—for money. Peter made that extraordinary statement to the lame beggar: “Silver and gold I have none, but what I have I give to you. In the name of Jesus of Nazareth, stand up and walk!”

As I mentioned in my sermon last week, Peter suits the words to his action. He leans forward, grasps the lame man’s right hand, and raises him to his feet.

What happens next? “Immediately his feet and ankles were made strong.” Whatever congenital defect there was in his feet and ankles was immediately, miraculously healed. The ex-lame-beggar could walk. And not only totter around, but leap in the air! He praised God right there inside the Temple, giving immediate public testimony to God’s mighty power!

This was a big problem for the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem, believe me! Just when they thought that pesky Rabbi Jesus was all gone, permanently taken care of, they have even more miracle-workers on their hands. The disciples, the friends who had been with Jesus.

The Sanhedrin—the Jewish leaders—quickly grabbed Peter and John, and threw them into prison. Right after this marvelous miracle! I am sure the bystanders were asking, “What gives? These men did a miracle! Why are you arresting them?”

But—are we surprised? Looking at the Hebrew Scriptures, many of the miracle-working prophets were misunderstood, mistreated, imprisoned. Exiled, and even put to death, sometimes.

The Jewish leaders needed to get on this miracle stuff right away. Try to hush it up. See whether they could sweep the whole business under the rug. But—there was a problem. This was a very public miracle, done in downtown Jerusalem, at the height of rush hour. Or, the equivalent. Afternoon prayer time at the Temple in the city center.

We see from this reading today that the leaders had Peter and John thrown into prison overnight. For working a miracle! For doing what God had called them to do!

This makes me think of the Civil Rights movement and marches of the 1950’s and 1960’s. A friend of mine, Ken, (a recently retired seminary professor) marched alongside of African-American activists. A good friend of this church, Pastor Gordon, attended several marches in the South during the 1960’s. It was a tense, even dangerous time. Both my friends were jailed in the aftermath of the marches. Both are proud to say that they were imprisoned for standing up for a Godly cause.

Back in Jerusalem, the day after the miracle occurred, Peter and John were hauled out of prison and brought in front of the Sanhedrin. The ex-lame-beggar was there, too! The Jewish leaders could not deny that this man—who everyone knew as lame from birth—now had full use of his fully-restored feet and ankles. The news of the miracle was traveling around Jerusalem like wildfire! The leaders knew they had to let Peter and John go free.

But Peter wasn’t done yet! Just like the carnival game Whack-a-Mole, where the Sanhedrin desperately wanted to make all those pesky miracle-working moles go away, Peter kept on popping up. And, he spoke to the learned Jewish leaders and teachers, too.

Peter quoted from Psalm 118 in his defense of the miracle he and John had done. He said to the Sanhedrin, “by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by this name this man stands here before you in good health. 11 He is the stone which was rejected by you, the builders, but which became the chief corner stone. 12 And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.”

Talk about in your face! Peter had a lot of guts, speaking to the ruling leaders of his country like that!

As commentator Scott Hoezee brings out, “the Spirit led them to a lowly little textual nugget embedded deep inside one of the lesser known of all the psalms and prompted Peter to use that little verse as the perfect summary of what God’s ways are all about.” This idea is something that Peter repeats again and again. The stone which the builders rejected has become the cornerstone of the building. The most important part of the whole structure. “That’s my Rabbi, Jesus of Nazareth. Oh, and by the way? You Jewish leaders crucified Him!” (That’s guts.)

By Peter quoting this psalm, he reminded these leaders of an unpleasant confrontation between Jesus and the Jewish leaders, shortly before His death. I appreciate another commentator’s words: “It was to say, in effect, “Jesus told you so.” How this citation must have stung in the ears of the Sanhedrin. The One they thought they had rid themselves of was still speaking to them, through the apostles.” The Jewish leaders didn’t have just one pesky problem any longer. The problem had multiplied.

Oh, my goodness. The Sanhedrin tries to tell Peter and John and the rest to shut up. To keep quiet about this Jesus person!

But it does just as much good as attempting to hold back the wild waves of the ocean. In other words, it doesn’t work at all. There is far too much power, far too much momentum behind that crashing ocean wave of testimony.

Despite the stern orders to “pipe down! Sit down and shut up!” Peter and John refuse. Their response? “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; 20 for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.”

What about us? Are we eager to tell people about what we have seen or heard? What about the mighty deeds we have experienced? Or, perhaps you haven’t had God do anything extraordinary in your life lately. Can you tell people about how God has been faithful? God has continued to walk with you, each and every day. I encourage you to tell someone! Amen!

Praise God, each of us can talk about something God has done—for each of us. God has given each of us a new day, each and every day. Praise God! That is truly something to praise and thank God about. Can we all say Amen? Amen! And again! Amen!

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my daily blog for 2015: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind .  Thanks!)

From Fearful to Fearless

“From Fearful to Fearless”

Pentecost stained glass - Boone Tabernacle Church of God in Christ

Pentecost stained glass – Boone Tabernacle Church of God in Christ

Acts 2:1-18 – May 24, 2015

Everyone feels afraid, some time. I know I usually do not make sweeping statements like that, but I feel safe in making that particular one: everyone is afraid, sometime. Being fearful; it goes with being human.

If we look at the disciples, gathered in that upper room—the same upper room where their leader and Rabbi Jesus had them gather together to eat the Passover dinner on Thursday in Holy Week—we can see several good, valid reasons for them to be afraid.

Confusing events happening in short succession. This was compounded by the followers of Jesus scattering, running away, frightened by the very real, very legal, very official things happening to Jesus just before His crucifixion.

     Let’s fast-forward past Easter Sunday, past the weeks when the risen Jesus was occasionally present with the disciples. Past the time of the Ascension. The disciples still must have been frightened to death of the authorities. But, I suspect they needed to talk about the happenings of the past few weeks, too. Debriefed. Tried to figure things out, as best as they could. We go to the day of Pentecost, another major feast day for the people of Israel. And where are the disciples? Back in Jerusalem, in the upper room, hidden away from the authorities.

Let’s begin to read our scripture passage for today, starting at Acts chapter 2, verse 1: “When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues/languages as the Spirit enabled them.”

If we were watching this scene as it happened on television, or in a movie, the special effects would be awe-inspiring! Can you see it now? Except, this was long centuries before the time of anything approaching motion pictures, even electricity. Imagine what it was like for these few dozen people, gathered together to pray in the upper room.

The biblical record refers to the coming of the Holy Spirit as being similar to the blowing of a violent wind. I’m sure this was an eye witness report. That must have been what it really felt like! Buffeted about by the sheer power of a strong wind—except—they were all inside the house, with all the doors shut tight! Let’s continue with the next verses:

Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome 11 (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues/languages!” 12 Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”

Here in these verses, we take a tour of Asia Minor, and parts of Africa and some of Europe. That’s how far the Jewish people had dispersed, in the past few hundred years. Observant, practicing Jews had settled in these far-flung places many years before. Their present-day descendants were fully enculturated, and spoke the local languages and dialects as their own. However, some still came back to Jerusalem on a pilgrimage, to worship at the Temple. As I mentioned, Pentecost was a big festival in the Jewish religious calendar.

Moreover, these dispersed Jews from far-flung provinces were amazed that home-grown Jews from Galilee, the boondocks of Israel, were able to speak many regional languages and dialects so fluently! Wonder upon wonder!

These Galilean Jews had gone out on the street, rubbing shoulders with all and sundry outside. They all had gotten a big shot of courage from somewhere, and were communicating the good news—to everyone. To all of these visitors to Jerusalem, who in turn could take the good news of the Gospel with them, to all parts of the Roman Empire when they returned home.

True, I could preach about the erasing of the Tower of Babel’s barrier, the division of separate languages, and the ease of communication that took place here on Pentecost. I could talk about the birthday of the church, and how the church began its great mission of spreading the good news. But—I wanted to focus on the disciples. How they went from fearful to fearless.

Let’s turn back to our scripture passage: “13 Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.” 14 Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. 15 These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! 16 No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: 17 “‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. 18 Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.”

Did you hear what Peter said? It’s because of the Holy Spirit. Everything is because of the Holy Spirit! That is exactly why the disciples poured out into the street after their fiery experience in the upper room! After the wind of the Holy Spirit swept through that room, their hearts, and their very lives. It didn’t matter—men, women, whoever was there. Each one in that room had the Spirit energize their hearts and their minds. The Spirit came with fire!

What is more, we see from the prophet Joel that the Spirit was prophesied to be poured upon all people. Sons, daughters, young men, old men, even men and women servants. I think that is everyone. We are all going to get power from the Spirit of God. The ruach ha kodesh, the Holy Spirit. What’s more all of us have the possibility of going from fearful to fearless!

Here is the last of today’s reading from Acts: “20 The sun will be turned to darkness  and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord. 21 And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’”

Pentecost was not just a one-time-only event. Sure, Dr. Luke put this account down on paper so we all could remember, so we all could see the power of God as it happened so long ago, in Jerusalem. But—we can see the power of the Spirit of God now, each and every day. We can tell others about what the Lord has done and is doing in our lives—how the Spirit of the Lord blows through our lives on a regular basis–today.

The important thing about the arrival of the Spirit of God was not the wind or the flames. That’s just the exterior way we all knew that the Holy Spirit had arrived! But the disciples knew, from experience, that God was now with them in power and in might. The same way the Spirit is with us, today. That knowledge changed the disciples from fearful to fearless, and that knowledge can do the same thing for each of us, today.

Is there a Pentecost in our lives today? Is the Holy Spirit living, breathing, active in our lives, today? Please God, yes. God can enable us to go forth from here in the Spirit’s power, to share what God has done for each of us. And the response? As Peter quoted from the prophet Joel, “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Amen, and amen!

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my daily blog for 2015: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind .  Thanks!)

We All Are Witnesses!

“We All Are Witnesses!”

Jesus laid down His life for us 1 John 3-16

Luke 24:48 – April 19, 2015

Have you ever been confused by the number of hurried, jumbled nature of things happening at once? And the speed at which these things happen? This experience is more common than we might think. Just think of this past week, preparing for the Not-So-Lent fish fry at our church, and everything that had to be done by yesterday afternoon!

However hurried and jumbled this past week has been around here, it pales in comparison with our Gospel reading today. The end of the Passion Week must have been momentous and confusing for the followers of the Rabbi Jesus. Some confusing and jumbled things were happening very quickly. From the big festival entrance on Palm Sunday to the Passover Dinner of Maundy Thursday evening, to the arrest, trial and Crucifixion on Good Friday. Events happening in short succession from morning until night. Everything happening one thing after another. This was compounded by the followers of Jesus scattering, running away, frightened by the very real, very legal, very official things happening to Jesus on Thursday night and Friday during the day.

Let’s fast-forward to that Sunday morning, the first day of the week. The disciples still must have been frightened to death of the authorities. But, I suspect they needed to talk about the happenings of the past few days, too. We can see that from our scripture passage.

We pick up the narrative right after the events of the Road to Emmaus. To fill everyone in, two followers of Jesus got on the road to Emmaus that Sunday. As they walked, they talked. Debriefed. Tried to figure things out, as best as they could. And what circumstances they needed to figure out! A Stranger began to walk with them on the way, and unbeknownst to them, it was the risen Jesus, incognito. He shared with them a summary of all that He had come to earth to do. Of His ministry, His message, and His purpose. And still, they did not know it was Jesus.

Not until dinner that evening in Emmaus, when the risen Jesus was revealed when He blessed and broke the bread. And then—Jesus disappeared! The other two at the dinner table didn’t waste any time! They ran back to Jerusalem, to the Upper Room, to tell what they had seen. Yes, they were witnesses. Eye witnesses, verifying everything that had happened that day.

Our Gospel reading for today picks up the story at this point. All of the followers of Jesus are gathered together in the Upper Room, and are talking about the story of the road to Emmaus. Do they believe? Or, don’t they? Are a few skeptical? Or doubtful? Are some still frightened?

Let’s transition to today. Here and now. I can hear some people today, scoffing at the idea of some guy rising from the dead. And then, miraculously traveling alongside of two other guys? Good as new—in fact, even better? No way! Not a chance. The other two must have been hallucinating. Or dreaming. Or maybe, seeing a ghost. They can’t believe. Or, won’t believe.

As we start the Gospel reading today, the risen Jesus suddenly appears to the group in the locked Upper Room. What does He say? “Peace be with you.” A common greeting of the time, yes. However, Jesus is also calming their hearts, their spirits, their anxieties, their emotions. “Peace be with you.”

How does the risen Jesus immediately respond to the disciples? “Don’t be frightened! It is I, myself.” He emphasizes His identification. “I, myself!” It’s not anyone else, but Jesus! He lets them know that He is solid and corporeal, not a ghost. Not a spirit. And, Jesus doesn’t criticize His followers for being afraid! For feeling uncertain, doubtful and anxious!

I wonder whether you have ever had a kind and patient teacher, or instructor, or coach. When you were afraid, uncertain, or anxious, did this kind and patient person get angry with you? Or, upset? Or, did this person continue to be open and willing to help you? Generous with time and welcoming to your attempts? That is Jesus, all over. To a T.

Jesus even volunteers to eat a piece of fish, just to show everyone that He was, indeed, for real! An actual, physical person. (A ghost or spirit couldn’t eat or drink!)

What’s the big deal?

Jesus tells us. Wait—He tells the disciples, first. They are to proclaim what they have seen and heard. They are to be witnesses to the power of the resurrection. They are to tell how the risen Jesus has made a difference in their lives! And boy, that was a big difference!

When we read the book of Acts, that is exactly what we see. The disciples are witnesses of what they have seen and heard, witnesses of the power of the resurrection. Time after time, no matter what, the disciples tell others about how Jesus lived, preached, did miracles, and rose from the dead. Then, how all that has made an earth-shaking difference in their lives.

Our second Scripture reading today is from the first letter of the Apostle John, chapter 3. This passage also tells about the power of the resurrection. The aged apostle John mentions this in verse 16. John was giving his friends some instructions, even some admonitions. We are told to love one another. Why? Because of the One who laid down His life for us. That’s why. And following His example, we ought to be willing to lay down our lives for each other.

This is the message that Jesus told the disciples to start to carry, when John was a very young man. Looking at 1 John 3 and 4, some decades later, we see the aged John still carrying the message Jesus told him to, the message of sacrifice, hope, and resurrection. Let me read two verses: 4:13-14. “We know that we live in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent His Son to be the Savior of the world.” John is still being a witness, all those decades later, at the close of the first century!

Dear friends, our Lord Jesus gave specific instructions to His friends, to go and be witnesses. He gives those same instructions to us. We are to be witnesses of the power of the resurrection. The aged apostle John continued to do that, all of his life.

Can you think of someone who was a witness to the power of God, in your life? Someone who immediately comes to mind for me is Miss Rose. I met her almost thirty years ago, when my older two children were very small. She was a witness to the power of God, and to God’s love. She communicated God’s love to everyone she ever met, just about! A little lady, a dynamo for God, she would tell everyone about God and how much God loved them.

I met her again, ten years ago when I was a chaplain intern at the Presbyterian Homes. She was a resident there. I was so happy to see her. Miss Rose and her joy in the Lord bubbled over and communicated to everyone she met there, too. Even though she was in severe, chronic pain, she witnessed to the power of the resurrection. She asked people she met, “Do you know Jesus? Can I tell you about Him, and what He’s done in my life? Can I tell you my story?”

Each of us has an opportunity to be a witness, to communicate the Good News about the risen Jesus and the power of the resurrection. We can communicate by words, by a smile, by being kind, through our actions, through our generosity.

Think about someone who impacted your life, who communicated the Good News to you. There’s a great example for you! Just like Miss Rose is a marvelous example for me, to be a witness despite pain and suffering, even through difficulty in my life. I can still communicate God’s love, just like the aged Apostle John did, too. He was even in prison when he wrote his first letter, on a little island in the Mediterranean Sea. That didn’t make any difference. John still told his story, how the risen Jesus made a difference to him.

What is important is that we get out there and start being a witness, telling people about the power of God, and about how much the risen Jesus has changed our lives. Can you be a witness? It’s as simple as telling your story. Can you tell the story of Jesus and His love? Jesus loves you. Jesus loves me. Jesus loves all of us.

Be witnesses to God’s love and power.

Alleluia, Amen.

 

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my daily blog for 2015: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind .  Thanks!)