Pentecost 15 – "Humble Yourselves" – Luke 14:1-14 – 8/28/16

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DonkeyInDitch PhotoToday we come to the 10th stop on the journey with Jesus since He set His face to go to Jerusalem. St. Luke has invited us into the home of a man who is a “ruler of the Pharisees”. It’s the Sabbath day, which means its Friday evening. The host has invited some friends, probably other Pharisees and Scribes, to come to dinner. He’s also invited a traveling rabbi, Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus is probably the guest Rabbi who will be reading and teaching at worship at the local Synagogue in the morning.

As we enter into this room, we see the host and all his guests reclining around the dinner table. Jesus must have arrived before most of the others because He noticed how anxious they seemed to be to claim a “place of honor” for themselves. The closer to the host, the higher the place of honor.

Where Jesus is reclining at this table is not clear. But wherever it is, He is definitely the focus of attention. Luke writes, “they were watching him carefully.” There is a darkness in those words.

It was customary for a pious Pharisee to leave the front door to his house open for the stranger and the poor man to come in. As we heard in our Epistle reading to the Hebrews, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” (Heb.13:2). You never know when an angel of God might show up at your door disguised as a poor man.

And so it is that a ‘stranger,’ OR WAS HE AN ANGEL, enters the house and comes right into where the dinner is in progress and stands right in front of Jesus. “And behold, there was a man before him who had dropsy.”

“Dropsy” is an old word for what we now call “edema.” Water collects under the skin and causes swelling and it can be very painful and dangerous. Here is a man who is ‘puffed up’ with water. Among the theologians of the day, it was believed that man is made up of two parts, blood and water and the more righteous you were, the more blood you had, the more water you had, the more sinner you were. Someone with ‘dropsy’ was obviously a BIG sinner.

Today, people with ‘edema’ go to the hospital and are treated with drugs or surgery. This man came to Jesus. Continue reading

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Pentecost 12 – "Don't Worry" – Luke 12:22-34 – 8/7/16

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“And he said to his disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing.”

Context is everything and the context is last Sunday’s stop on the journey with Jesus. “Someone in the crowd said, ‘teacher, tell my brother to share the inheritance with me.” And that led to a parable about a rich man who whose farm produced a bumper crop, which to him meant ‘early retirement’ with enough ‘social security’ to “relax, eat, drink and be merry” WITHOUT WORRY.

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Watching this guy celebrate his windfall last Sunday was like watching a multi-millionaire win the lottery only to announce that now, finally, he would be able to retire and enjoy life.

The great SURPRISE of course was the fact that the man had less than 24 hours to live and how much can you ‘relaxing and eating and drinking’ can you cram into 24 hours?

Last week we met a ‘fictitious’ man who came to the end of his life with great disappointment. A rich man upon whom abundance had been entrusted and at the end of his life, all he could say was, ‘why are treating me like this God? This is so unfair.’ And we all know that this ‘FICTITIOUS’ man is actually quite ‘NON-FICTITIOUS.’ The world is full of them. And, there we are in the crowd.

Now Jesus turns to His disciples and speaks particularly to them. They are His ‘SAINTS,’ His ‘holy-ones,’ His ‘set-apart from the crowd’ ones. They are not to be like that. “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing.”

There is a cultural gap here that need to deal with before we can begin to hear Jesus speak to us as we sit in the congregation along with His disciples. I would dare to say that none of us is anxious about the chance that we may starve to death or have no clothes to cover our bodies with. Granted there are people who legitimately worry about such things. And Jesus’ words mean what they say to them too. Continue reading

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Pentecost 11 – "Beware of All Covetousness" – Luke 12:12-31 – 7/31/16

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Character formation. That’s what these last several stops on the journey with Jesus have been all about. And it’s what the next several stops will be about as well. The formation of character. And not just ‘character’ in general but ‘Christian character’ specifically. Let’s talk about that for a few minutes before we get off the bus.

Character. The English word comes from a French word for the tool used for engraving in wood or stone. The verb means, “to engrave or scratch deeply.” An ‘engraver’ uses sharp chisels in all different shapes and sizes to ‘scratch deeply’ into wood or stone.

So ‘character’ is formed by all of those scratches and cuts that are engraved into us. ‘Character’ is the ‘imprint’ that moves us to respond the way that we do, not only to the changes and chances in life, but also the way that we respond to the daily responsibilities of our life as spouse and parent and son or daughter and employee and neighbor and citizen.

The thing that I want us to consider is this, how does God form a good ‘Christian character’ in us? I’m not asking how God makes us righteous and holy in His sight. We know that He does that through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ on our behalf and through Holy Baptism that unites us to Jesus and His death and resurrection. God has already ENGRAVED His Name on us and we belong to Him. We are already saints before God and there’s nothing you can do to improve on that. Continue reading

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Pentecost 10 – "Teach Us To Pray" – Luke 11:1-13 – 7/24/16

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“And when the days drew near for him to be taken up, He set His face to go to Jerusalem.” (Lk.9:51). We come now to the 5th stop on this journey with Jesus to Jerusalem and as we said last Sunday, as the journey continues we can’t help but notice how interconnected each stop is to the others.

Last Sunday we were in the village of Bethany in the home of Martha and her sister Mary and the whole visit was about the “one thing necessary,” which was to sit at the feet of Jesus and listen to His word to YOU just like Mary did.

Which for us means, that we need to establish the HOLY HABIT of setting aside the chores of the day to carve out some time for reading our bible in our home. Because the bible is the very word of Jesus speaking to you through His Prophets in the Old Testament and Apostles in the New Testament. When you read your bible, you are sitting at the feet of Jesus, LISTENING to Him speak to you IN YOUR HOME just as Mary did.

So, if you weren’t here last Sunday I’d really encourage you to go to our web site and listen to the sermon. And if you were here last Sunday but you’re not today… well you get the idea. These two stops on the journey really go together.

On this morning’s stop on the journey with Jesus, we learn that there is also another side to this incredible relationship that we have with God. He not only speaks to us as a DEAR FATHER SPEAKS TO HIS DEAR CHILDREN but we may also speak to Him, AS DEAR CHILDREN SPEAK TO THEIR DEAR FATHER.

“Now Jesus was praying in a certain place…” Continue reading

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Pentecost 9 – "Hospitality to Jesus" – Luke 10:38-42 – 7/17/16

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“When the days drew near for him to be taken up, He set His face to go to Jerusalem.” (Lk.9:51). The journey continues. As we make our scheduled stops along this journey with Jesus to Jerusalem, its becoming more and more obvious to me, and I hope for you too, that each stop is connected to the others.

For example, two weeks ago, we watched as Jesus sent out His 72 messengers to “go ahead of Him, two by two, into every town and village where he himself was about to go.” They went out like LAMBS AMONG WOLVES looking for HOSPITALITY. And when they came to a house that welcomed them and invited them to stay, they were to announce His blessing of PEACE BE TO THIS HOUSE and say, “The Kingdom of God is at hand.”

If they were invited to stay, they were not to jump around from house to house but eat the food that was offered them and use that home as their base of operation for their mission in that area.

So today, on the 4th stop on the journey, we come to one of those homes where 2 of those messengers had found a warm welcome. When they returned to Jesus, they must have reported that when you arrive at the village of Bethany, He should go to the home of a woman named Martha and her sister called Mary. He would find a welcome hospitality with them.
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“Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary…”

Surely as Jesus entered this home, He pronounced His blessing, “Peace be to this house.” “The kingdom of God is at hand.”

This is the house that will be His home base for His mission in Jerusalem as it was just about two miles over the Mount of Olives to the city limits.

It was to this home that Jesus would typically retreat each evening when he was in Jerusalem if He didn’t spend the night praying in the Garden of Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives, about half way between the two.

Here, He who did not have a foxhole or birds nest to lay his head, found a welcome place to stay and eat a meal with dear friends. Continue reading

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Pentecost 8 – "The Good Samaritan" – Luke 10:25-37 – 7/10/16

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“When the days drew near for Him to be taken up, He set His face to go to Jerusalem.” The journey continues and today marks the 3rd stop on the way to the cross.

goodsamaritanAlong the way so far we have witnessed the way people respond to Jesus Christ. Some receive Him gladly and some gladly reject Him. Some receive His messengers into their homes and hear His name and His word proclaimed, and some shut the door and say, ‘go away.’

We watched the 72 return from their first missionary adventure all excited that “even the demons are subject us in your name,” only to hear Jesus respond with, “do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

Now on this 3rd stop on the journey, we meet a man who wants to know HOW he might be sure that HIS NAME will be one of those that are “written in heaven.”

“And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test…” This is the kind of thing that LAWYERS love to do. “Lawyers” are experts in the “LAW.” They know it inside and out and they know how to apply it to specific situations. So, what if you’re chopping wood and the head of your axe comes flying off the handle and strikes another person and kills them? Are you guilty of murder or not? Are you as guilty as if you used the same axe to INTENTIONALLY hit and kill the same person? What does the LAW say?

Why do you want to know? Is this a real dilemma or are you just ‘testing’ this lawyer to see if he’s any good? Maybe you’re looking for a good lawyer to handle your case and you want to know if this one will represent you well. Continue reading

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Pentecost 7 – "As Sheep Among Wolves" – Luke 10:1-20 – 7/3/16

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Last Sunday we began the journey to Jerusalem behind our Lord, Jesus Christ. “And when the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set His face to go to Jerusalem.”

It is the journey of Isaac, who willingly, obediently followed his father, Abraham to the place of sacrifice only to be spared because a ram got its head caught in a thicket of thorns and was laid on the wood and sacrificed in Isaac’s stead.

Now Jesus, led by His Father, willingly, obediently, “sets his face” to go to the place of sacrifice where He will be caught in a thicket of thorns and be laid out on the wood and sacrificed in YOUR STEAD.

If you’ll remember from last Sunday, the journey to Jerusalem passed through the region of Samaria and the Samaritans didn’t receive Him very well at all and the disciples wanted to call down fire from heaven on them and Jesus said, ‘calm down boys.’ Because the only fire that is going to burn anyone is the fire of the Father’s wrath for your sin that is going to come down on Him.

So this morning on this 2nd stop on the journey, we’re still in the region of Samaria. And instead of sending down fire on the stubborn Samaritans, Jesus sends out more messengers. “After this the Lord appointed seventy two others and sent them on ahead of him, two by two, into every town and place where he himself was about to go.” Continue reading

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Pentecost 6 – "Dealing With Rejection" – Luke 9:51-62 – 6/26/16

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“When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.”

rejection1This is the great turning point in Luke’s gospel. Luke has organized his gospel of Jesus Christ geographically. Everything up to this point in Jesus’ adult ministry has taken place in the region of Galilee.

But now Jesus begins to make His way from Galilee to Jerusalem. He’s on a JOURNEY. It’s a JOURNEY that began in heaven and proceeded through the virgin’s womb and through His baptism in the Jordan River. He spent a good deal of time in the region of Galilee in villages such as Capernaum and Chorazin and His hometown of Nazareth.

But the destination had always been Jerusalem. And the timetable was the Festival of Passover. It had been scheduled before there was evening and morning the first day. He was to be the Passover Lamb that was slain for the sin of the world.

The plan is for us to follow Jesus on this JOURNEY to Jerusalem. Actually, as much as it’s possible, we want to JOURNEY along with Him, not as a spectator but as a participant. St. Luke is our tour guide and although he includes more than this, we’re going to make 22 stops along the way including today. The journey ends at the cross, just outside the city of Jerusalem.

Along the way Jesus will encounter lots of interesting people, some with physical issues, some with spiritual issues. He’ll meet some who are jealous, some who are afraid of change, especially the change that He seems to want to bring. He’ll meet some who are weak and some who are strong and some who are caught somewhere in between. And hopefully, at several places along the way, He’ll meet you and me.

So, enough of the introduction. The journey begins. “When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.”

The first stop along the way is Samaria. Continue reading

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Pentecost 5 – "What Have You To Do With Me?" – Luke 8:26-39 – 6/19/16

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I think that you probably feel the same way that I do, the world is going crazy. It’s insane. And I know that every generation since Noah has said the same thing – ‘how much worse can it get?’ And every ‘next generation’ seems to take that as a challenge. And yesterday’s insanity becomes today’s normal at quicker and quicker rate and the spiral spins faster and sucks more poor souls into it and where will it end? And when will it end?

And will God finally say ‘ENOUGH’ and turn His back and walk away and leave us without hope? Because if we were God, that’s what we’d do. But thankfully, “my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Is. 55:8-9)

And so it is that we find our Lord, Jesus Christ, not fleeing but sailing right into the insanity. “Then they sailed to the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee.” Continue reading

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Pentecost 4 – "Forgiven Much to Love Much" – Luke 7:36-50 – 6/12/16

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It was common practice for the Pharisees of a local synagogue to invite the visiting Rabbi to dinner the night before worship. A good chance for them to get a preview of what Scriptures the Rabbi would be preaching on and formulate some clever questions or additional insights to add that would make them look real “smaht” in front of all the people.

“One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and took a place at the table.”

Law as MirrorAt these pre-Sabbath dinners, the Rabbi was always the special guest and was treated with a special courtesy. But not here. This Pharisee didn’t even extend his guest the common courtesy of a bowl of water for him to wash his feet. Nor greet him with the customary kiss on the cheek. Nor anoint him with some perfumed oil to refresh him and cover the smell of sweat.

The word on the street was that this Rabbi was a “friend of tax collectors and sinners.” (Lk. 7:34) And that great crowds were calling Him a ‘great prophet.’ (Lk. 7:16)

But “FRIEND OF TAX COLLECTORS AND SINNERS” and “GREAT PROPHET” were contradictory terms. There was something wrong about this Rabbi. What seminary did he graduate from anyway?

And yet, this Pharisee invites this Rabbi to come to house for dinner. And as we’ll see, there are others there too. Other Pharisees. Witnesses that will testify to what they hear and see.

Luke gives us none of the chit-chat between host and guest before dinner. He just says that He entered and “he took his place at the table.” Literally, He ‘reclined’ at table. It’s a strange position that you and I probably couldn’t hold for as long as it takes to say, ‘please pass the peas.’ Seated on a cushion, leaning on one elbow, feet extended behind you. (We should appreciate chairs more than we do.)

And then, at some point during the meal, “Behold!” “Idu.”

Whenever you hear the word, “Behold” it always means something shocking and unexpected is about to happen, as in, “Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son and you shall call his name, Jesus…” (Luke 1:31) Or “Behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel and said, ‘why do look for the living among the dead, he is not here, he is risen!” (Lk.23:14) Or “behold, I am making all things new.” (Rev. 21:5)

“Behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee’s house…”

“She brought an alabaster flask of ointment, and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment.”

Who is this woman and what moved her to behave like this? Luke doesn’t tell us who she is or what happened that moved to do the daring thing and her barge in on this dinner just to see Jesus and spend this precious bottle of ointment on Him. We can only imagine.

Whatever it was, it must have been deeply personal and meaningful to her that on seeing him she’s overcome with emotion. She’s bawling her eyes out as she gets down on her hands and knees behind him. Her head is hanging over his dirty feet and her tears are splashing down on them. She has forfeited all sense of pride and self-dignity, and begins to wipe his dirty, wet feet with her hair. And then she opens the alabaster flask of perfume and pours it onto his feet.

“How beautiful the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation…” (Isaiah 52:7)

Jesus has brought her some GOOD NEWS – some Gospel. He has proclaimed peace and brought good tidings and announced salvation TO HER. We don’t know any of the details but we do know that it must have been something very special, very life changing. And we say that only because of the way she is acting here. She’s not acting this way SO THAT Jesus might give her some GOOD NEWS. This is the FRUIT that the gospel bears.

Simon however sees it much differently. “Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw who was touching him, he said to himself, ‘If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.”

There are plenty of cases in the Gospels where Jesus blasts the Pharisees for their arrogance and self-righteousness – ‘white washed tombs full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness,’ for example. But that’s not the way He responds to this Pharisee on this night. He tells Simon a parable in the hope that Simon might turn and respond differently.

“Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he answered, ‘say it Rabbi.’ “A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denari, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” Simon answered, ‘The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.’ And he said to him, ‘You have judged rightly.’

It’s a very short parable. Very simple and straightforward. Not a lot of details to keep track of. Two debtors. One has racked up the equivalent of 100 weeks wages, the other 10 weeks.

100 weeks wages in debt. It’s not too hard to imagine how that might happen. A business failure. A medical emergency with no health insurance. Your house burns down or is destroyed in a flood and no home owners insurance. Just like that, you’re 100 weeks wages in debt. And how will you ever pay that off?

As for the other, I’ll be the average American has at least 10 weeks wages racked up on his credit cards.

But the lender decided to cancel the debts of both.

Simon certainly understands that Jesus is making a comparison between this woman and himself. She is the 500 denari debtor and he is the 50 denari debtor. And although Simon may disagree with Jesus’ assessment of his own debt, he at least appreciates the fact that Jesus is perceptive enough to see that Simon is only 1/10th the sinner as this woman. Or as he would probably prefer to put it, ten times better than her.

But Jesus turns that completely around. He doesn’t disagree that this woman is the 500 denari debtor in His little story. She is. And Simon is clearly the 50 denari debtor in the story. But He turns this Pharisee’s world upside-down by saying that it’s the 500 denari debtor who is in a better position before God than the 50. “Now which of them will love him more?”

“The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” Jesus has caught his host in his own words. “Isn’t this why you showed me such little common courtesy compared to the great love this woman has showered on me, Simon? You’re ‘little sin’ renders you incapable of ‘much love’ because all that you know is ‘little forgiveness.’

“But this woman ‘loves much’ because her sins were GREAT. “Forgiveness” of all her debt means release from the dungeon, HOPE FROM HOPELESSNESS, and a new life, “God loves even ME.” That’s why she treats me as she does and why treat me as you do.”

So Simon, who is in a better position before God? You or this woman?”

“The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” “You have judged rightly.” THE GREATER THE SIN THE GREATER THE FORGIVENESS. THE GREATER THE FORGIVENESS THE GREATER THE LOVE. That’s the way it works in the Kingdom of God.

The way to increase your love is to increase your sin which makes the forgiveness like a banquet to a starving man as opposed to desert after dinner and ‘it’s looks good but I’m pretty full right now.’

Which doesn’t mean that we should SIN ALL THE MORE so that GRACE MAY ABOUND ALL THE MORE and our LOVE INCREASE ALL THE MORE. It means that we should stop pretending and stop kidding ourselves. “If we say that we have no sin we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.”

While everyone else is trying to prove how much better they are compared to everyone else and they’re not really THAT BAD and at least their not like THAT SINNER, Jesus wants us to see that “there is no distinction, for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” (Rom. 3:23).

It does you no good to dull the razor sharp edge of the Law so that it won’t cut you so deeply. Let the Law INCREASE YOUR SIN. Let it MAGNIFY YOUR UGLINESS. Let it COMPOUND YOUR GUILT, that the FORGIVENESS OF YOUR SINS MAY BE SWEETER THAN HONEY, and that you may LOVE MUCH.

This is what St. Paul is getting at when he writes to the Romans, “The Law was added SO THAT THE TRESPASS MIGHT INCREASE.” How counter-intuitive to fallen man is that?

The Law is there, not as a LADDER TO CLIMB to get closer to God, or as a guide to separate the sinner from the saint. It’s the mirror of God that, if you will look into it HONESTLY, shows us what we really look like before God who is holy and says ‘YOU SHALL BE HOLY.”

The LAW is in place so that our debt MIGHT BE INCREASED. “FOR WHERE SIN INCREASED, GRACE INCREASED ALL THE MORE.” (Rom. 5:20).

This is no CHEAP GRACE against which we have borrowed so heavily. God doesn’t just make an ‘ADJUSTING ENTRY’ in the books and use His divine erasure to rub out the debt that we owe and write in a zero balance due. The debt that we could never repay and that would send every one of us to prison forever was paid in full by God Himself in the life of His only begotten, dearly loved Son, Jesus Christ.

If you want to see YOURSELF BEFORE GOD, and how UGLY you are, just look at Jesus Christ and Him crucified. That is YOUR SIN THAT HE BEARS for you. That is YOUR HELL HE SUFFERS for you. That is YOUR DEATH HE DIES for you. This is YOUR DEBT HE PAYS for you.

“You see this woman, Simon? You want to know why she is acting this way? It’s because she has been FORGIVEN MUCH. But Simon, THE ONE WHO LOVES LITTLE, SHOWS HOW LITTLE THEY HAVE BEEN FORGIVEN.”

“And He said to her, ‘Your sins are forgiven.’

“Those who were there said among themselves, ‘Who is this, who even forgives sins?’ Don’t expect much love from them.

But what about Simon? How did he respond? Luke doesn’t tell us. He leaves us hanging, wondering. How will this go?

And what about us? How will it go for us when He invites us to ‘eat with him’ and serves us His body and His blood, given and shed FOR YOU for the forgiveness of your sins? Forgiven much or forgiven little?

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