Fr. Fedor's Homily Notes

Seventeenth Sunday of the Year – July 28, 2019

Genesis 18: 20-31 Colossians 2: 2-14 Luke 11: 1-13


We are traveling along this journey of Jesus that St. Luke uses to describe for us what it means to take up the cross and follow Jesus. Thus far we have heard that we need to be fully committed to this way of guiding our lives, that the love of God is shown by our love of neighbor, that we are actively to serve others, and that we are also to listen to God who us a source of peace and a relief from anxiety.


Now, at another point in this journey, Jesus pauses and goes off by himself to pray. As a result, his followers ask him to instruct them on how to pray. Many thoughts are offered to us today about prayer, about this dialogue with God. There is, for example, the familiarity heard in the bargaining between Abraham and God. This give an insight into the intimacy of the relationship with God. The story also tells us that the justice of God is not automatic. There are no rigid sentencing guidelines that God follows. The justice of God is tempered with mercy which is seen as possible in the search for just individuals by Abraham in the account.


The thoughts Saint Pail presented to us today remind us that through the action of one person, Jesus Christ restored, by his death and resurrection, the relationship with God that had been harmed, or even destroyed, by sin. We have been reconciled with God, the source of love.


Most central to our thoughts today is how Jesus teaches us to dialogue with God. We hear Luke’s version of what we know as “The Lord’s Prayer.” We are more familiar with St. Matthew’s account. What Jesus gives is an outline of what we are to seek in prayer. Christ assures us that if we truly ask in prayer what he tells us, we will receive it. This is not same as suggesting that we will get anything we want.


We need to consider what the Lord’s prayer teaches us that we are to ask., what we are willing to commit ourselves to as followers of Jesus. We pray that God’s name be holy -that it be holy in us. We pray that God’s way of life rule and guide us – that God’s kingdom be evident in us. We pray that God truly be with us – nourishing and sustaining us in ways that are far more significant than mere material and passing things. We pray that God forgive us in the manner that we forgive others – perhaps the greatest challenge of this prayer. All of our prayers, all about which we dialogue with God, is to be guided by this framework.


Prayer to God is not magic. Like human dialogue, it seeks to reveal ourselves to the other, in this, to God. It is a loving dialogue of parent and child. At times it is bold, as in the case of Abraham. It is intimate at other times, as Jesus teaches us. Our prayer is to be based on a relationship which is constantly deepening, growing, richer and fuller. It is to grow in such a way that we continually reveal our confidence and trust in our good and gracious God.

Fr. Fedor's Homily Notes

Fifteenth Sunday of the Year – July 14, 2019

Deuteronomy 30: 10-14 Colossians 1: 15-20 Luke 10: 25-37


In what we heard this morning, Saint Luke continues to tell us of Jesus’ journey from Galilee to Jerusalem. This is the farm work he is using in order to describe what it means to be a follower of Jesus. Today we heard of an encounter that Jesus had along the way.


The stage is set for the very clear teaching of Jesus in Moses describing the expectations of God as simple. He states that commands of God are neither remote nor mysterious. Actually, those commands are very close to us and very basic because God’s has given us the ability to love. We are to love God and we are to love our neighbor. But there is a problem. To love makes a demand on us. It is a demand that we are frequently reluctant to hear.


The love of God eventually involves a complete surrender of ourselves to God. The more and more we come to know God, the more we realize the totality of God’s love for us. We come to realize that the only fitting response is one of total love in return. It is a love that does not question God. It is love that gives itself selflessly to God. It is a love that does not attempt to control God with what we want, or how we want things to be, or what we want for ourselves. It is a love which gives itself over totally to God. It is a love that constantly seeks to reveal the goodness of God. But our instincts are to hold on to ourselves, to protect ourselves. We are hesitant to let go of ourselves so completely.


Love of neighbor, as Jesus responds to the question that is asked of him, is a sign of our love for God. Jesus told the story of the Samaritan. What makes this particularly significant is that we need to remember that, earlier in this journey, the Samaritans had rejected him. It is quite hard to miss the point of the story told by Jesus because the imagery is graphic. Like in the parable, there all sorts of excuses which each of us an use for saying that we do not need to love our neighbor. Perhaps this is became of what they may have said or done to us. Or it is because we cannot expect much of a response from them in return. Or it may be because of their origin, their color, their beliefs. We can go on and on with excuses.


The one who received the Lord’s recognition in this story is the one who did not look for excuses. He simply lived out the commands of the Lord in a concrete situation.


We, however, continue to make excuses. We want to protect ourselves. To give ourselves in love makes us vulnerable. Perhaps we will not be understood. Perhaps we will be rejected. We certainly do not want that to happen. Perhaps if we give, even more will be demanded.


To give ourselves completely to God or to another is not simple. In fact, it is difficult. Yet this is the challenge before us. This is the way in which we reveal and reflect our good and gracious God.

Fr. Fedor's Homily Notes

Fourteenth Sunday of the Year – July 7, 2019

Isaiah 66: 10-14c Galtaians 6: 14-18 Luke 10: 1-9


In any of the traveling that we do, especially traveling for pleasure such as a vacation, the focus is on the destination, whatever it might be. How often the question was asked: “Are we there yet?”


In St. Luke’s account we are following now, the destination of Jesus is Jerusalem. Unlike the pleasure and enjoyment we look forward to in our destinations, we know that for Jesus, Jerusalem meant betrayal, condemnation and execution. But it also was the culmination of his ministry of revealing God’s love for mankind. It is for this reason that today we hear the majestic words of Isaiah. As the goal of Jesus’ journey, Jerusalem also represented comfort, delight, prosperity, the overflowing torrent in the midst of drought. Like an infant in the arms of its mother, God comforts us. The passion and death of Christ in Jerusalem reaffirms the depth of God’s love through the total giving of Jesus on our behalf.


If the meaning of Jerusalem has gained greater depth because of the action of Christ, so Pail wants us to know the difference that is present in his life. As he concludes his letter to the Christians of Galatia, He wants them, as he would want us, to realize how he has been transformed by his faith in Jesus. His suffering, his marks of Jesus Christ on his body, are the evidence of the great extent to which he goes to confirm this transformation.


Primarily, today, our attention is focused on the actions ofJesus as he continues his travels. He sends out a large number of his followers to prepare the way for him.They were to lay the groundwork, facilitate the opportunities, for him to be received openly. They were to proclaim lofty ideals about the meaning of the kingdom of God being at hand, being present.


It is the total union with God and all that this entails that is now being made available. In addition to abandonment of the past and freedom for the future, to take up the cross daily along with Jesus requires an openness to the possibilities that are being offered and how these affect our lives and our values. A total commitment to Christ’s presence in the world means a commitment that shows a willing dependence on God and God’s love as it is to be shown to others no matter how we might view them. Our commitment is to be so complete, as Jesus told his followers, that it dies not require even simple everyday things.


The ideals that we declare and that we celebrate this weekend, a loft as they may be, are but a reflection, a very clear reflection, of the dignity and value that is to be extended to all persons as daughters and sons of our Creator God. In this respect, Pope Francis offers these words for our reflection: “Although the life of a person is a land full of thorns and weeds, there is always a space in which the good see can grow.”


In this way each of us are one with the 72 of the gospel in the living out of our daily lives. We are sent forth from this Mass to make ready, to make available, the presence of Jesus Christ in our lives and in the lives of others. Thus it is that, in and through us, by our union with Jesus Christ, our world is to learn of the abundant and enduring love of our good and gracious God.

Fr. Fedor's Homily Notes

Thirteenth Sunday of the Year – June 30, 2019

1 Kings 19: 16b. 19-21 Galatians 5: 1, 13-18 Luke 9: 51-62


Over the next few months, when we gather to celebrate the Eucharist, we will be going on a journey. Our travel guide will be St. Luke as he uses this framework of a journey by Jesus and his followers from Galilee to Jerusalem in order to give his account of the ministry of Jesus. More than just a clever technique. It is his way of responding to the challengeJesus makes to us of taking up the cross and following him – a statement which immediately preceded, in the Gospel, the passage we heard today.


If we want to travel with Jesus on this journey, we will learn what is involvedSpecifically, today, we learn that essential to doing this, taking up the cross, are both abandonment and freedom. To follow Jesus, to take up the cross, we must let go, abandon, what from the past holds us back, and be open to the freedom to take hold of what the future presents to us.


The different passage from God’s speaking to us in the Scriptures give some good examples. This is evident in the story of Elisha and Elijah. Elisha is called to take up the mantle, the role, of prophecy. He is to carry on the work of Elijah. At first he hesitates. And then he acts. He abandons what he has been doing. This is graphically illustrated for us in the cooking of oxen over the fire made from his plow. Nothing is left of what had been before.


St. Paul is writing to the Christians at Galatia. The felt that they had to follow Jewish practices in order to be true followers of Jesus. Paul tells them that they are not to subject themselves to obligations of the Old Covenant with all of its rules and regulations which was most often just a matter of formalism an show. They are to allow the Spirit to act in and through them. The key to following Jesus was to be free from the expectations of the “flesh”, the “world” so that they could be free to enjoy the love of God and free to love others. The expectations of the wold, of the “flesh,” are limiting, restrictive, demanding. Think of the examples of advertising that wells us what we need to be or to have. These are such thing as the perfect look, or entertainment, or possessions, or drugs, or alcohol or sex, or manipulation or control. There are many fantasies that are portrayed to us that really frustrate us or restrict us.


Jesus, as we are told in the Gospel passage we heard, had three encounters. Each taught a lesson. The Samaritans reject him. The world response, voiced by his follows, is to destroy. The response if Jesus was that we ought not be hindered by revenge. Simple let them be. To the one whom he says that he has no place to call home he is showing that he is not restricted by time of place. As to the one who wishes to bury his dead, he counsels to be totally unattached, noting is to hold us back, the restrictions of he past are to be abandoned.


To take up the cross daily as Jesus urges us means the abandonment of any of those things that restrict, that control us, that limit us. These can be expectations others have of us or we have of ourselves. They cam be prejudices we harbor, as well as anger, hatred or envy. But that abandonment also means true freedom. It means greater opportunities to experience God’s loving presence around us in all persons and in all of creation. It also means that we can show true freedom in the choices made and the actions performed. Following Christ and carrying the cross daily with him is the ultimate act of reflecting our faith and trust in our good and gracious God.

Fr. Fedor's Homily Notes

Corpus Christi – June 23, 2019

Genesis 14: 18-20 1 Corinthians 11: 23-26 Luke 9: 11b-17


Of the various thoughts or images of the Eucharist that this annual celebration of Corpus Christ, the Feast honoring the Body and Blood of Christ, call to mind, the most significant to me is “simplicity.” We come together weekly to celebrate the Eucharist. We do not gather for entertainment or to view some grand production. Rather we gather for worship, the acknowledgment in payer and praise, of our loving God. It is worship as we understand Jesus Christ handed over to us, as we heard St. Paul tell us. It is worship of God to hear Gd speak to us and then to consume and make part of ourselves the Real Presence of our Lord.


To focus our thoughts today we listened to the word of God presented for our consideration. We heard first about Melchizedek, a somewhat mysterious person. His sacrifice, unlike that of other Old Testament priests, was not of an animal. His priesthood is seen as being prophetic. His actions speak of something deeper. He uses bread and wine, the food of a simple meal. Thus the Eucharist is pre-figured. It is a mystery to be celebrated by a new High Priest, Jesus Christ.


In the Gospel we are presented with the story of the multiplication of the loaves. It is a genuine feeding of hungry persons that arises out of compassion and concern. It is also a clear reference to the Eucharist. It is an event that is difficult to understand, like the belief that the bread and wine is the Body and Blood of Christ. But it is a very real event that is made evident by the act of collecting leftovers.


Along with these recollections, Paul reminds us that at the Eucharist, the sharing of the loaf and the cup, the Body and Blood of Christ, was very much a part of the life of the early Church. The Apostles had received the very clear message that they were to share this meal. It was nut just a memorial, but the way in which the Lord was made genuinely present with them.


As much as we are one with that tradition of the Church over the centuries in this simple act of worship, we are also one with all who share this Eucharist now, here and throughout the world. How awe-inspiring ought this to be to realize this!


What we possess in this time that we come together in this act of worship is the opportunity to be one with God through Jesus Christ as well as one with one another. This very act calls on us to consider this time to be the most inspiring, uplifting moments of the week.


When we share this mystery of the ages, we share this Lord who binds us together, We are brought into contact with the God of our Faith.


In the simplicity of these few moments together, our God, through the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ that we receive, is joined with us and joins us together with one another. It is in this way that the full importance of who we are and what we do in this time and place allows us to experience the full reality of our good and gracious God.

Fr. Fedor's Homily Notes

Most Holy Trinity – June 16, 2019

Proverbs 8: 212-31 Romans 5: 1-5 John 16:12-15


As Church, today, we pause to acknowledge a distinctive foundation of our Faith. The God in whom we profess belief exists as a relationship. God is Father, God is Son, God is Holy Spirit. God is one God. We experience God in the Three Persons God is. God is Creator, God is Redeemer, God is Sanctifier.


As we listened today to God speaking to us in the Scriptures, what were we told? In the passage from the Book of Proverbs, an image of the Wisdom of God as portrayed in the creation of all that is. The act of creation, as it is described, is loving, even playful. It is not some cold, mechanical placing into existence of the universe. Rather it is a creative act of love. That is the first understanding, the first image, given to us about God. The source of all that exists is a personal, loving, but complex, being; a Being who is the very essence of love as is evidenced in the action of creation.

In the Gospel of John, Jesus Christ, as he lives among us, is much more than a teacher or a prophet. He, along with the Creator Father, and the Sanctifier Spirit, are interrelated. This same God reaches out to us, seeks a relationship with us. This is the underlying purpose of God becoming man in Jesus Christ. God who has been known before in the great acts of history and the development of mankind in the past, especially in the covenant with the Chosen People of old, is now with us. He and the Father possess the same things. He and the Father are one. What this would mean in creation and history, a loving relationship between Creator and creation, would continue to develop and grow through the abiding presence of the Spirit of Truth.


All of this is not simple. Indeed, it is complex. It demands, as St. Paul tells us, genuine faith. It demands absolute confidence and trust in this complex but loving Divine Reality.


It is a mystery, yes. It is not easy to understand or explain. Is this not always the case with love? This, however, is the revelation made to us by Jesus Christ, God who became man. Revelation tells us, we who are creatures and reflections of God, that God is a relationship. As reflections of God, we are to live in a relationship with God and with one another.


All of this profoundly affects the values and the outlook we have about ourselves and about others. Each person, every person, possesses a basic worth and value because all relate to God who relates to all as Father to children. All are to relate to one another as images of God, as reflections of God, as brothers and sisters.


The basic revelation about God made to us by Jesus Christ, complex as it may be in one sense, is also simple an direct. The best expression of what we are, the source of genuine happiness for us, is found in how we live and how we reflect the abiding and loving relationship between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. How is that we reflect, day after day, the Trinity of Persons who are a truly good and gracious God?

Fr. Fedor's Homily Notes

Pentecost – June 9, 2019

Acts of the Apostles 2: 1-11 1 Corinthians 12: 3b-7, 12-13 John 20: 19-23


It may be a bit confusing to hear different accounts about the handing over of the Holy Spirit such as we did today. On the one hand there was the very descriptive, and even colorful recollection of Saint Luke in the Acts of the Apostles: he writes of wind and fire and being understood in different languages. On the other had, there is the Gospel account in which Jesus is said to breathe upon the Apostles and tells them to “Receive the Holy Spirit.”


There is no real contradiction. Rather, the different writers of Scripture emphasize different experiences which took place to assist those who read or listen to their words in understanding that the Spirit of God embraces us and is known to the world through us.


The desire of God to be known and to be recognized in the wold is the main purpose of the work and ministry of Jesus Christ. This is also an on-going and continuous process. God is not apart from us. God is not separated from us. God seeks to be united with us. Because through the declaration of Christ the Spirit of God is present with and in us, the revelation of the goodness of God is to be found with us. This is our task. This is our opportunity as believers who are filled with the presence of God, the Holy Spirit.It is incumbent on us that the Spirit of the Lord be made evident now just as much as in the days of the early Church.


In the life and the history of the Church, the greatest sign of the presence of the Spirit has been viewed as the simple survival of the Church over the centuries. It has survived despite the human frailty and sinfulness present with it from the highest leadership all the way down. It has survived, as well, despite persecution and many different efforts to destroy the Church that continue even to the present day. That survival only confirms that the Spirit of God is present.


The real presence of the Spirit of God in us individually and in us as the body of believers we are as Church is not simply survival in the midst of failure and opposition. That presence is also found in the manner in which each of us and all of us reflect and reveal God. So, how is this presence to be known?


In the tradition of the Church, as derived from the sacred writings of Scripture, the presence of the Spirit is known in a variety of ways. These ways are referred to as gifts of the Holy Spirit,. We are to exhibit the wisdom that is the deep appreciation of the complexity and beauty we are as creations of God. We are to show that understanding that is an insight into the mystery of life and love. We experience the counsel that gives direction to our choices. We are strong in the fortitude of living out our full potential. Our knowledge is a constant process of learning about God, about ourselves, about all of creation. Our piety is evident in our respect for ourselves, for others and for God. In all of this, the fear of the Lord is the awe present in our lives as we observe the wonder of all that is and all that we are.


Through the gift of Christ we are endowed withe these signs of the Divine Spirit with us. It is this Divine Spirit, the Holy Spirit, that leads us and guides us to reveal in every aspect of our lives a true reflection of our good and gracious God.

Fr. Fedor's Homily Notes

Ascension of the Lord – June 2, 2019

Acts of the Apostles 1: 7-11 Ephesians 1: 17-23 Luke 24: 46-53


The thinking of the Apostles, in the way that Luke described them to us, may well have been that now Christ’s ministry was over, his presence among u is finished. They were looking “longingly” as Jesus departed from them. On the other hand, the Apostles were quickly reminded that this event of the “Ascension,” Jesus’ departure from them, actually was turning a page. They were challenged, as are we. What are we to do now in response to what the ministry of Jesus was all about?


God became man in Jesus Christ to restore mankind, to reconcile mankind with God. This was proclaimed by Jesus totally giving of himself in the crucifixion. God’s action was not defeated by the death on the cross. It was not the end of Gods’ acting on our behalf. In and through the Resurrection what was proclaimed and what was realized was that over all things, even death itself God triumphs. God overcomes in the Resurrection.


But it does not stop there. Understanding this is the key to the celebration of the Ascension. Rather than a conclusion, it is a beginning. The ministry and mission of Jesus Christ, to reveal God to mankind, was not the action of one person alone at a given time in history. Rather that mission and ministry of Jesus takes on a new dimension, a new direction, in and though us, as the living, vibrant, Body of Christ in the world today. We are to continue that restoration and reconciliation as Church.


I have often made use of the term”Church.” Most persons, I imagine, identify a reference to “Church” as meaning the institution or structure. While hierarchy and organization are important parts of what we identify as “Church,” especially in terms of teaching, leading and unifying, we must also realize that we are joined together by our belief and by joining together in Eucharist, the “Comm-union” we share. We are to stand before the world as those who are truly affected by our belief and as those whose lives seek to live life in view of that faith. We are to seek to make known our loving God in what we are and how we live – as “Church.”


The reality of the presence of Jesus Christ in the world continues now with us. It is to be witnessed to the world in which we live and act today. This world, the world now, needs so desperately to learn the truth of God with us now, As the Apostles went about their work, in the world then, they did so in an amazing fashion, traveling long and difficult distances, from Spain to India, spreading he Gospel. We can do no less today with means that stretch the imagination.


What is to guide and inspire us is found in the words of St. Paul. Filled with the Spirit of Wisdom and with hearts that are enlightened may we make known the hope that we are to be, may we show forth the real power of God’s presence with us, may all parts of us – Christ’s Body the Church – radiate an enriching fullness of life because God’s love is lived and revealed in us and because the power and potential of God’s presence is known in us.


We celebrate the Ascension as a reminder to ourselves that we are not to be idle in our lives but that we are to go forth, here and now, declaring in our lives the truth of our good and gracious God.

Fr. Fedor's Homily Notes

Sixth Sunday of Easter – May 26, 2019

Acts 15: 1-2, 22-29 Revelation 21: 10-14, 22-23 John 14: 23-29

I find it fitting that we conclude the Easter Season this week, on a positive note, considering “What can be, what is to be.” What is to be through and in us in view of the faith that we profess, a faith in the person, the message, the actions of Jesus Christ.


Although John uses very descriptive and unusual language, in what we have heard today, he had both vision and certainty of a new reality, a new Jerusalem, that is evident among those who believe and live their faith in Jesus Christ They are to be a new Jerusalem, a new sign, a new symbol, a true revelation of God’s presence on earth. Jerusalem, in the Old Covenant, was the center, the place where the presence of God was understood to dwell. It was the central sign and symbol of God’s presence in the world. In John’s vision, that sign, that symbol, of God’s presence, the New Jerusalem, was not a temple, but was to be visibly experienced in the Church, in us.

It may not be immediately evident but the account we heard from the Acts of the Apostles today points to the same vision. It does so, however, in a specific and very human way. A dispute has arisen between believers from the Jewish tradition and new believers who were not part of that tradition. Arguments of this nature are part of being human. The practical manner of resolving this dispute did not rely on a decision of a leader of the group, but recognized the active presence of the Spirit of God with then, and that this presence was a real part of the life and action of the Church.


The clearest insight today into “what can be, what is to be,” is found in the farewell address of Jesus to his close followers. The experience which they had for the last two years was now over. The adventure they had been sharing was now taking on a new dimension. Jesus tells these followers two things. One was that unless he goes, the Spirit will not come. Unless he goes, they will stagnate. They will not grow. The other is that in his going, he gives them peace – a deep, inner peace. It is a peace that comes from the presence of the Father, Son, and Spirit with them. It is a deep union with God in this way, and with its attendant love, that will bring true peace and security.


“What can be, what is to be.” This is the vision we have as we are renewed in faith. It is a vision we represent. It is a vision which we show as we gather today in Eucharist. This act of worship now is not a static attendance, an observance of an obligation. It is a dynamic encounter with our God who is present and active through the Word, through the Eucharist, and through us.


This is an encounter with God that occurs when as we bring our belief to be shared with one another. This is an encounter with God that we experience in the presence of God in the Eucharist we receive.


What we share in this Eucharist is what we take from this place. This is what can be,what is to be. It is a declaring by our lives – in our actions day after day – of the peace of Christ we experience with one another in loving union with our good and gracious God.

Fr. Fedor's Homily Notes

Fourth Sunday of Easter – May 12, 2019

Acts: 13: 14, 43-52 Revelation 7: 9, 14-17 John 10: 27-30


I have found many of the messages that we hear from Scripture during the Easter Season to be somewhat troubling because they appear to contrast so much with what is experienced or evident in our world today. One of the things that is apparent to me is a significant fear of what is different. Such differences include a person’s place of origin or color of skin, or form of worship, among other things. Such fear, expressed in various ways, is contrary to what we believe. Such fear calls into question or suspicion so many persons and things. Yet everything around us, all persons with whom we share the gifts of life, are part of and reflections of God’s creation.


What we celebrate at Easter is the deep assurance, the deep conviction, the deep confidence, that comes from being a part of the magnificent plan of our loving God that gives life, that give hope, that embraces all of creation.


What our God tells us through the Scriptures that we have heard today is that if we firmly believe that we are part of the eternal life that Christ has won for us through his resurrection, then our attitude toward life is to be one of confidence and not fear. We are to have faith on other human beings as creatures of God rather than immediately questioning them or doubting them. We are to look at the world, both large and small, not with skepticism an d doubt, but with hope and with trust gained through faith in the Risen Lord. Cynicism and negativity simply do not have a place alongside genuine faith.


When Paul and Barnabas were rejected by their own people who plotted against them, they confidently and fearlessly turned to the willing ears of the non-Jews. This was a radical step in the life of the early Church, but they were confident in their action and in their faith. They were rewarded for this by the response of so many.


The vision of John as he was addressing the ones who had survived persecution, tells those who have been through trials and distress, who have suffered persecution for their faith, that they can be confident and without fear because they will come to a point where there will be no thirst or hunger, no weeping or tears.


Our greatest confidence, our greatest reason to be without fear, comes from the words of Jesus as he describes himself as the Good Shepherd. He knows his own. He knows us and will care for his own. No one will take them out of his hand, no one will destroy them. They will, indeed, have eternal, unending life.


The Resurrection of the Lord that we celebrate during this Easter Season is the basis, the reason, that we who profess faith have no cause to fear. Jesus repeatedly tells us: “Do not be afraid.” We may well describe a variety of persons and situations which cause fear, but doing so is really a challenge to us. It is a challenge to rise above the prejudices of a limited and selfish vision. It is a challenge to us to examine the depth and degree of our genuine faith and trust in our good and gracious God.