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Holy Communion every Sunday at 10am
THE THIRD Sunday IN LENT
Who would have thought, as recently as our Thursday night Council meeting, that today we would all be worshipping from home, with church services cancelled for at least two Sundays? Be assured God is still with us.
As we enter a life of increased separation from each other, with large gatherings verboten, and fear of even small gatherings; hopefully we will all appreciate after this is over (and it will be over) being together again, embracing each other, shaking hands. God’s first great action in Jesus Christ was to call Disciples and thus begin the community we call the Church. Thankfully, this community can continue electronically, for this short time, until we all meet again.
What follows are the lessons for worship Sunday March 15th - the third Sunday of Lent; followed by my homily.
The story of God's leading the people out of slavery in Egypt back to the Promised Land under the leadership of Moses is filled with examples of the people's lack of faith. They repeatedly grumbled and quarreled with Moses as they faced hardships and an unknown future. In today's section, they want water. Moses prays to God and is instructed to take his staff and strike a particular rock at Mt. Horeb so the people have their water. Hear the first lesson from the 17th chapter of Exodus, beginning at the 1st verse:
From the wilderness of Sin the whole congregation of the Israelites journeyed by stages, as the LORD commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. The people quarreled with Moses, and said, Give us water to drink." Moses said to them, "Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the LORD?" But the people thirsted there for water; and the people complained against Moses and said, "Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?" So Moses cried out to the LORD, "What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me." The LORD said to Moses, "Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink." Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. He called the place Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarreled and tested the LORD, saying, "Is the LORD among us or not?"
Hear ends this lesson for today.
Romans 5: 1-11
Paul's great epistle to the People of God at Rome, whom he had not yet met, became a pillar of our Lutheran understanding of justification by grace through faith. After explaining to the people that both Jews and non-Jews are sinful, and unable to restore themselves to a righteous relationship with God, Paul proclaims the Gospel: we are accepted by God's grace in spite of our sin. In today's section, the apostle speaks of some of the results of justification. Listen to the second lesson from the 5th chapter of Romans beginning at the 1st verse:
Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person--though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life. But more than that, we even boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
Here ends this lesson for today.
Once again our Gospel for today is from John - the different Gospel. Last week Jesus encountered the faithless, but religious Nicodemus, today he meets the unnamed Samaritan woman by the well. Although she was not a proper Jew but a sinner given to adultery, she comes to faith in her encounter with the Lord, and because of her many other Samaritans also believed. For John, the critical purpose of the Lord's travels was to bring people to believe in him because of the marvels he performed. Jew or Gentile, faith in Jesus makes people right with God. Hear the Holy Gospel from the 4th chapter of John, beginning at the 5th verse:
So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob's well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.
A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, "Give me a drink." (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, "How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?" (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, "If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, 'Give me a drink,' you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water." The woman said to him, "Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?" Jesus said to her, "Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life." The woman said to him, "Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water."
Jesus said to her, "Go, call your husband, and come back." The woman answered him, "I have no husband." Jesus said to her, "You are right in saying, 'I have no husband'; for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!" The woman said to him, "Sir, I see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem." Jesus said to her, "Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth." The woman said to him, "I know that Messiah is coming" (who is called Christ). "When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us." Jesus said to her, "I am he, the one who is speaking to you."
Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, "Rabbi, eat something." But he said to them, "I have food to eat that you do not know about." So the disciples said to one another, "Surely no one has brought him something to eat?" Jesus said to them, "My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work. Do you not say, 'Four months more, then comes the harvest'? But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting. The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. For here the saying holds true, 'One sows and another reaps.' I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor."
Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman's testimony, "He told me everything I have ever done." So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. And many more believed because of his word. They said to the woman, "It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world."
This is the Gospel for today.
One of the most interesting features of John’s gospel book is that, unlike the other three earlier gospels (the so-called Synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, which follow each other more closely than John) John often presents the good news of God’s salvation through Jesus Christ in a series of long dialogues - sermons in disguise. These dialogue/sermons are not in the other gospels.
Last week we read the one with Nicodemus. He comes to Jesus, according to John, at night - a child of darkness and evil. Jesus tells him he needs to be “born from above”, but over and over again he fails to understand that concept. He asks, “do I have to enter my mother again and be born?” John’s community understood it very well: the Holy Spirit, like the wind, comes from outside of us and gives us faith - and that faith is in Jesus as the way to the Father.
Today we read the dialogue/sermon of Jesus with the Samaritan women at the well. It’s even longer than the one with Nicodemus, and I need to avoid being carried into an equally long sermon myself.
Basically, Jesus comes to a well in the non-Jewish Samaritan region, where he meets a single woman in the middle of the day drawing water. He asks her to get him some water, since he has no bucket and she does.
There begins an interchange with the woman. She is confused why he, a Jew, would speak to a single, unaccompanied foreign woman. That would be totally inappropriate by Jewish Law.
He then begins to speak of the “living water” that he offers. She, like Nicodemus, is now confused. He has no bucket and asked her for water - why did he do that if he has living water? The well, the woman, the water, is all a pretense for the sermon of Christ the Living Water, just as Nicodemus’ coming to Jesus was a pretense for a sermon on Being Born from Above.
John’s community around the year 100 ad believes, in the face of all its enemies, that they have Jesus - they have been born from above - they have the life-giving water of Baptism.
Just as Moses gets water from the rock (the first lesson for today) for the complaining travelers during the Exodus, Jesus gets living water for his followers - John’s community.
The story goes on and gets complicated. Jesus reveals to the woman at the well that he knows of her checkered past - she is probably a prostitute because she is at the well at the wrong time (good, married women go to the well early and supply the family with water, women of easy virtue go in the middle of the day, to avoid being shunned by the other women -they have no families to bring water to). When she hears Jesus she knows he must be a prophet. He then reveals to her that he is the Messiah (only in John’s gospel does Jesus come right out and say he is the Messiah).
In the end she, and her entire village come to faith in Jesus. Jesus does not come to the sinful woman, normally outside the faith of the Jews, with new rules, with condemnations; looking down his nose at her as “inferior”. He comes to her with acceptance, good news and the love of God.
Just as, in the Nicodemus story the Spirit comes, as the wind, from outside, where it will, by its own determination; so here the living water, the water which you drink and are never again thirsty again, comes as a gift from God. The woman and her village drink that water and are gathered even now with their heavenly father.
We are in the midst of nerve racking, anxiety producing times. You don’t need me to tell you that. If we were not in such times, why would we not be gathered in person around the Lord’s Table?
John’s community felt like strangers in their own land. They had been expelled from the synagogues because of their trust in Jesus more than the Law. They were treated as enemies by the religious leaders. So the huddled together with Christ as their savior. So they shared the living water of baptism. So they shared the meal of the Lord’s crucifixion. So they experienced the presence of the risen Lord. They did this while scared, anxious, cut off.
Unlike the plagues of the Middle Ages (plagues which, by the way, were still ravaging Europe in Luther’s time), most of us will survive this one and in a short time we will almost forget it. But, in the meantime, as all time, we gather, if not physically, spiritually, in the name of Christ, the one who has turned us around, given us new birth, filled us with the water of life which brings eternity before us.
During this Lenten season we don’t do extra things for God, but we are extra aware of what God does for us. We look back onto what God did in Jesus, the bringer of living water. We look back to what God did for Luther and all who suffered from plagues of all kinds, both man-made and natural. We look back on what God has done for each of us during our short or long lives. And we rejoice in what God is doing for us now. God has not gone away, God is not on holiday - God is still with us.
We hope to be able to gather again after a two-week period of separation at or before Palm Sunday to relive the Passion and Resurrection of our Lord, and once again physically to gather around his table in peace and confidence.
REPENTENCE: TO BE TURNED AROUND BY GOD.
Everybody knows that Lent is all about repentance - repentance gone wild. During the normal Church Year we have a confession at the beginning of every Eucharist. But during Lent, we are supposed to be so so very sorry for our sins that we never stop doing things and saying things to indicate our sorrow.
Ironically, the more we do things to show the world that we are sorry, the more we go against exactly what Matthew (6:11-6) reports Jesus as having said about true repentance:
1 "Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.
2 "So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 3 But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.*
5 "And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 6 But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
Repentance is a gift from God, it’s not something we do and offer to God. God has reconciled us long before we learn that we need reconciliation. God entered this fallen world in a special way in Jesus and atoned for all the fallenness that is in us and surrounds us.
What is best for us, and what God wants from us is not hollow words of “I’m sorry”, or “I repent”; but a fuller understanding of all that God has done to redeem us in our fallenness. In Jesus’ mission statement in Matthew 1 17 we learn about repentance - being turned around:
From that time Jesus began to proclaim, "Be turned around, for the kingdom of heaven has come near."
We need to act as if we have been turned around, not just in outward things we do, but in our innermost heart. We need fully to understand that God’s willingness to turn us around is a keen insight into God.
We learn that God wants us, through the words of Jesus, to “love our enemies…forgive those who have done us wrong.” That’s not just a command to us, it’s a powerful insight into who God is - what God is like. From Jesus’ parables, such as that of the man with the two sons (Prodigal Son) we learn that God loves the wayward, as well as those who have trouble forgiving their brothers, and that God invites us all to his party!
So for Lent try something inside: try changing your feelings about someone you hate - for whatever reason. Try forgiving someone who has wronged you. You don’t have to tell them or make a big stink about it - just keep it inside. In time, it might begin to show.
We’ve all heard the terrible story of the little boy, right in our own east end, who died in a frozen garage because his father put him there for some reason only he knows. When I heard the newscast I was in the car. I started to daydream about the little boy in heaven - playing in an open field, having fun, being at peace at last. God had turned his life around - but unfortunately it had to be in the life to come. Then I began to think about the father. In the open field I saw him, too, playing with his son. He, too, had been turned around by God - but, again, in heaven. The forgiveness that God offers is so often so hard to grasp - we are so full of hatred for the father, that we can’t include him in the picture of the boy in heaven. But try picturing it - try to fathom the love of God.
We all need to grasp the full love of God and apply it to our lives. Don’t wait until you die and go to heaven. That should be what Lent is all about.
THE RICH AND THE POOR UNITED IN HOPE.
Our four gospels, none written before 70AD, narrate Jesus as speaking predominantly to the poor, the outcast, those not included in the religions of the day. With these people, who gathered on the street corners and outside the Synagogues, Jesus delivered a message that God did include them in the Lord’s plans for humanity. He proclaimed the presence of the Kingdom of God, for them, and the good news, for them, and that God changed them. He emphasized values other than wealth and fame - mercy, reconciliation, love, sharing. He taught them that God did care for them, that God had a great future, an eternal future, for them. In their difficult and often short lives, Jesus proclaimed that God understood, that God was present. Jesus gave them hope.
Generally, we call Jesus’ associates (including his Disciples) “outcasts”. There were lots of outcasts in those days - in fact more who were excluded from society than included. [That’s why we need to be concerned when we read about the polarization of our country today - very rich and very poor, but a shrinking middle class.]
In Jesus’ day all single women were subjected to strict regulation as to where they could go and with whom. Anyone who was what we call today “handicapped” (born or later became blind, crippled, deaf, etc.) was considered a sinner and excluded from society. Synagogue worship was for men only, and those who had paid their fees to get in, and had the right clothing to wear. Finally, those who weren’t Jewish, including the half-Jewish Samaritans [descendants of the former “northern Kingdom” of Israel wiped out by the Assyrians in 722BC.], and the hated Romans, were considered unworthy of normal interaction. They had no hope.
The Biblical picture of The Jesus of the Poor, while encouraging to the Mother Theresa’s and Salvation Armies of today, is often hard for us “mainline” religions to understand since we don’t have very many of today’s “outcasts” sitting in our pews. Are we, like the religions of Jesus’ day, exclusive clubs, not open to everyone? Are we part of Jesus’ followers, or do we represent exactly those groups that opposed Jesus, and that he seemed to speak against?
We need to learn hard lessons from the realistic study of what Jesus taught, from realizing who “hung out” with Jesus, and from understanding Jesus’ message’s appeal to outcasts. Are we giving hope to all we meet? Although our churches are officially open to everyone, who really comes? Have they voluntarily not come, or is it difficult for them to come for some other reasons. How can we make it easier for church outcasts to come in and receive our message of hope?
We need to study Scripture carefully. Jesus wasn’t really against wealth - only when it obscures our relationship with and dependence upon God. Jesus didn’t choose to speak only to outcasts, but was over and over again rejected by the religious leaders (in fact it was they who ultimately had him executed).
In Matthew 19:23-26 we read:
Then Jesus said to his disciples, "Truly I tell you, it will be hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God." When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astounded and said, "Then who can be saved?" But Jesus looked at them and said, "For mortals it is impossible, but for God all things are possible."
Salvation, Jesus proclaims to rich and poor alike, is by the grace of God - not because of our money, or poverty; our fame, or infamy; but because of God’s love.
We recently read from Luke’s gospel that God seeks out the lost - lost rich people as well as lost poor people:
So he told them this parable: Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.' Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.
We need to be sure that our struggling church reaches out to everyone in our community. So we participate in the Maureen's Haven Homeless Meal and Shelter Program, every Third Thursday at the Presbyterian Church. So we contribute food and school supplies to C.A.S.T. And we continue to look to new ways to be Christ to the outcasts who are all around us - to bring hope. Have we done enough?
We realize that even though we may not be the same kind of outcasts that followed Jesus, we are none-the-less humans in need of the message of God’s love. Some of us may drive fancy cars and live in nice houses, but still we worry about sickness, unemployment, emergencies and disasters. Floods and hurricanes destroy fancy houses as well as poor people’s shacks. Even the little we have can obscure God from our views. We need to focus clearly on the gift of salvation from God. We who are in the church need the gift of hope as well as those who are outside.
Particularly, those of us who are regular church-goers need to avoid thinking that the act of attending worship somehow merits us for salvation. Salvation is by God’s Grace, only, nothing we do effects that. So when we meet someone who is not a “regular” we need to not look down our noses at them, but to look them straight in the eye with words of welcome and encouragement. They stand before God the same as us, and God gives them Hope in the presence of Christ.
Maybe Jesus hung out with outcasts because the “in crowd” didn’t like him, didn’t feel the need for his message, didn’t want to be seen with such a strange person. Would we welcome Jesus if we saw him today - if he came to church?
We are united not by our social status, our money, our race or ethnicity; but, we are united by our Baptism into Christ, and in the holy hope of eternal life.
THE ORDINARY BECOMES HOLY
Earlier this year, our gospel was John’s story of the miracle of the making of water into wine at the wedding at Cana. For John’s gospel, this is the first miracle of Jesus. In John’s gospel miracles aren’t deeds of practical necessity - curing a sick person, feeding a lot of hungry people, walking on water to catch up with Disciples - they are deeds designed to show forth Jesus’ glory. How appropriate during this Epiphany season when we think that God not only came to our world, but God told everyone about it, too.
Although any wedding in ancient Israel was a big deal - the entire town showing up, meat being eaten for once, lots of wine to drink, dancing all night - the people in the tiny village of Cana had probably been to many weddings. Perhaps some even didn’t want to go. A wedding was a time to show off the new couple - the bride and groom. It was a time of celebration so everyone put on their best and came.
If you were not the servants who filled the large jars with 120 gallons of water only to then serve the water to the person in charge of the feast as finer wine than had been served and totally consumed first, you might not know what had happened. By the time of this miracle the guests were all totally drunk, and probably didn’t even notice the new wine. But Jesus’ followers noticed it.
How many things happen all of the time in our lives that are ordinary to us; but, on deeper thought are miracles. Every night of the week from October to March Maureen’s Haven or John’s Place feeds and houses about 30-40 homeless people. Our people gathered last Thursday to help do just that. It seemed so ordinary - familiar faces gathering roast pork, pea soup, veggies, noodles, desserts, etc. to feed some people in a church basement. But this event wasn’t ordinary - for God was at work there. This service provided a warm meal and a warm bed for people who would otherwise be cold and hungry.
God is at work in churches through the world when a tiny wafer and a small amount of wine are blessed and shared in remembrance of Christ’s love and sacrifice, and in celebration of our Lord’s resurrection. When we eat that tiny meal, Christ is with us, in with and under, the wafer and wine. God is at work forgiving us, renewing us, giving us joy - celebrating along with us his great feast of victory.
When we take our newborn children during their first year of life to the doctor for their “shots” which will prevent pneumonia, measles, whopping cough, tetanus, mumps, and polio; God is at work there. For thousands of years children died of any of those diseases - now thanks to the work of doctors and researchers, they no longer suffer. God is at work again.
God is at work in all the world, in the ordinary - in our daily living. When we call our elderly neighbor before we go shopping and ask if she needs something - God is at work. When we gather our children and grandchildren to come to worship on Sunday - God is at work. When we visit a sick friend in the hospital - God is at work. When we share our food through C.A.S.T. by putting a few things in the box in our lobby - God is at work. God cares for the world - through us, through ordinary life.
When God is working, the ordinary becomes holy.
Pastor Speaks on 50 years of Ministry
Shortly before I was ordained, on May 26, 1968, one of my favorite Professors gave some advice to the graduating class. He said, “It is not necessary that you be successful, only that you are faithful.” For a long time I didn’t understand those remarks. I though our job was to build bigger and wealthier churches. I though we had been trained to do things even better than the previous generation, and so to cause the church to take on new ventures. I thought the achievement of “success” was a critical reason for all those classes, readings, field work, and lessons.
50 years later I understand exactly what Dr. Heineken meant by that. Even though he was an old man by my 1968 judgment (he was probably the age then that I am today) he could see the future. The age where numerical and financial growth marked “success” for a pastor or a congregation, was over by 1968. The time when a aging Pastor’s life was marked by how he spearheaded a new pipe organ installation or steeple construction at one church, and a new gymnasium venture at another church, and how he brought in 100 new members to yet another church, was, in 1968, in the past. These should never have been criterion for judging ministry, a congregation, or a pastor in the first place.
One of the insights of our founder, Pastor Martin Luther, was that the goal of the church is not to amass wealth and power, not to force people to faith, not to threaten them with eternal damnation - but, to proclaim the Word and administer the Sacraments.
The word of God given to us through Jesus Christ is the Gospel of Grace. Simply put, God loves you - God loves us all - not because of what we do, or say, or even believe, or think, or achieve, but because of his Son’s death on the cross and glorious resurrection on Easter. Thanks to Pastor Ogilvie who preached that Gospel message so boldly and emotionally from the pulpit on Sunday.
On May 26 1968 I was Ordained to a ministry of Word and Sacrament. As the world goes I don’t think I have been very successful - but I have tried always to be faithful to our God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and to administer Baptism and Holy Communion in regular, public ways, so as to make clear to people the loving presence of God.
At the service and dinner in Honor of my 50th Anniversary many people got up and spoke well of me - so much so that I wish I could meet the person of which they spoke. But the kindest things they, especially our Spiritual Son Pastor Kevin Ogilvie, said were that I tried my best to be faithful.
When I first came to Advent, in March of 1970 (48 years ago) I was told by Synod officials that they had great hopes for Advent under my leadership: growth and eventual financial independence. The area they said would soon be a new Levittown, with houses, malls, development - and even a bridge to Connecticut. They offered to help support us for three years, but knew in that time we would be way up on our own feet. The same time they sent me to Advent, they opened a mission in Wading River, so powerful was their faith, if not in God, at least in success.
Well, Advent has not experience great growth and financial progress. But we are here - the Gospel is, and has been proclaimed and the Sacraments administered for lo these 48 years. We have tried, as a congregation, as a team, to be faithful. What has been done has been done as a team, not by me alone. What we have done has been by God working through the Holy Spirit. We shall let God decide if we have been successful.
In 1974 the Synod, shortly after it abandoned and closed the mission in Wading River, said our time was up and they would no longer support us with $3,000 a year towards our $15,000 budget. That same year the People of Advent offered special pledges of $3,600 to make up for that loss. We’ve never become wealthy, but we have always been faithful and god has always been there.
The age of rapidly growing suburbias, the age of wealthy city churches with tall spires and fancy pipe organs is over. Every church struggles. But we continue to be called by God to be faithful to the Good News or reconciliation with God, of peace, and of hope. As the church did under Luther, and through all ages, we will change and adapt by the power of the Spirit to do what needs to be done for the sake of the Gospel, not human visions called “success”.
I am grateful to God that you, the People of God at Advent, and all my family and friends and ecumenical comrades, who met together last Sunday, have stood together all these years in faithful proclamation of God’s Word.