Sunday, March 31, 2013

Call My Name, Jesus, by Rev Steven R Mitchell

Call Me, Jesus

By Rev Steven R Mitchell

Mountain View United, Aurora, CO 3-31-2013

Based on John 20:1-18


        Have you ever watched a good “Who done it” mystery and found yourself so engaged in the story that you realized that every movement the character was making, every gesture made, every innuendo presented, you were looking beyond the surface and trying to figure out if that one piece had something significant to say about what would see later on in the story? 

        If we take this morning’s scene at the tomb here Jesus had been laid just a couple of days before we can see a number of suggestions in which to think about such as: Mary going to the tomb while it was still dark, one disciple out runs the other and yet doesn’t enter into the tomb, while the other after getting to the tomb, rushes in, they both see the wrappings lying on the ground, yet the head dress is neatly wrapped and placed by itself.  The tomb was totally empty with the two disciples, but when Mary Magdalene went back, she was speaking to two angels.  Why didn’t she recognize Jesus in her conversation, yet when hearing her name spoken, she then recognizes who she has been speaking with?  Is there any hidden meaning about Mary needing to turn around before she realized that Jesus was standing behind her?  Why are there only three members of Jesus’ group going to the tomb?  Is there something important about John believing, but neither he nor Peter understanding scripture? 

        There has been a group gathering during the Lenten season and studying a book by John Crossan and Marcus Borg titled “The Last Week”, which follows the last week of Jesus’ life as written by Mark.  As we started to study this book, it quickly became apparent to me that I too often do not look deeply enough into what is going on behind the story.  This book  challenges a lot of historical understanding that many of us have grown up learning about the ministry of Jesus.  Much of what most of us understand about the Good News that Jesus’ ministry proclaims has been romanized over the centuries, minimizing the actual message of Jesus.

        As a culture we have come to understand Jesus as a non-political figure, whose mission was healing the sick and teaching about the love of God.  We view the story of the Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem as only speaking about the resentment from the Religious leaders and not recognizing that it was a signal to Rome that Jesus was being seen not only as a King, but as a King, He was also a Son of God.  This was a direct attack upon Caesar who as Empire was thought to be the true Son of God, by virtue of his birth from the original Caesar who was declared a God.  We see the story of Jesus turning over the tables of the money changers as a way of his cleansing the temple from an activity that was somehow forbidden by God.  Yet, the money changers were actually there to do a service for those Pilgrims who journeyed from their homes afar to worship at the temple.  What Jesus was doing in that demonstration was to disrupt the business of the temple, which had over time bought into a system that rewarded the wealthy at the expense of the poor, a direct violation of God’s law.  Over the decades, the church has taken the crucifixion of Jesus and built a theology of “substitution” for our sins; Jesus died upon the cross sinless and by doing so, took upon himself all of our sins thus allowing entrance into heaven.  Yet the phrase, “take up your cross and follow me”, doesn’t point to substitution but rather toward a theology of “participation.” 

        What then was the ministry of Jesus?  What was His message, the Good News that He was preaching?  Jesus was preaching against a system that held most of the resources at the expense of those who had little to begin with.  Jesus’ message was that God created enough for all, but because of the greed of humanity, we tend to operate with a philosophy of “scarcity”  which leads to the excessive accumulation of resources and hindering the just distribution of God’s resources.  This can be understood through the story of the “feeding of the 5,000.”   Jesus was seen by Rome and the religious leaders of his day as an insurrectionist, which was the only crime that Romans use crucifixion as punishment.  Jesus was not an innocent man being unjustly crucified, he was a man who was exposing a corrupt system and was demanding change.  

        It was in this crucifixion on Friday that the Empire, who perpetuates this system of domination, said, “We are in control, we have the power, and we can stop you.”   Comes Sunday morning, Mary Magdalene goes to administer the ritual for the dead and finds an empty tomb.   The only thing that she can think to do is to run and tell Peter and John, who run to the tomb to see for themselves that the tomb is empty.  What they find is curious to say the least, for grave robbers wouldn’t have left the linen wrappings if they had taken the body, or if they did, they would not have taken care in folding the cloth that had wrapped Jesus’ head, first clue!  Scripture says that after John see’s the evidence “he believes, yet they do not understand the scripture about Jesus must rise from the dead.”

This poses the question: does a person need to understand an experience that is between them and God in order to believe?  I often have conversations with people where at some point they begin to share experiences that cannot be explained by our current knowledge of the laws of physics, yet they firmly believe in those experiences.  For example: We hear stories of people who had feelings of danger if they take the scheduled flight they have booked, cancel their plans, and then learn about that particular flight ends with the plan crashing.  When we hear stories such as these, we have no physical proof about to back up these claims, but because of the deep sincerity of their sharing, we believe what they are telling us as truth. 

Then there is Mary’s story at this empty tomb.  She is the one who goes early in the morning to tend to Jesus’ body and finds the tomb empty.  After telling Peter and John, she finds the courage to return to the tomb after they have gone where she encounters two people that she supposes to be angels.  She is weeping over not finding Jesus’ body.  It isn’t until she turns around that she realizes that there is a third man at the tomb.  She doesn’t recognize who she is speaking with until he speaks her name “Mary”, then she realizes this is Jesus, her beloved teacher.

I wonder how many of us have conversations with angels over and over and do not recognize them to be of God?  I wonder how many times many of us have encounters with Jesus and do not recognize it that is until we finally hear our name spoken?  An empty tomb – not really, for once she is able to open herself up to finding Jesus in a form she was not expecting to find, she was no longer alone, the tomb was no longer empty. 

What I gain from this story comes from the different reactions of Peter, John, and Mary.  Peter is never said to “believe” while at the tomb, but eventually becomes the cornerstone of the church.  John, doesn’t need much to believe that Jesus is alive, yet doesn’t need to understand what scripture says about Jesus rising from the grave.  Mary doesn’t seem to pull it together until she hears her name called by Jesus.  We have three differing experiences and all three come to recognize that Jesus is not dead, but alive.  This gives hope for each of us that we don’t have to react to the message of Jesus’ resurrection in just one particular way, but can honor our own experiences in what “Jesus resurrected” means to each one of us. 

The ultimate message about the empty tomb comes back to what the message of the crucifixion.  In the death of Jesus, Rome was saying that the god Caesar won.  In the empty tomb the message to the world is that God won, that death was not the end, but that Jesus is still alive, alive in his disciples and alive in the church today.  The empty tomb has put those who live by the theology of scarcity on notice that God is still in the game and through those who chose to participate with Jesus working toward creating God’s kingdom here on earth.   Amen

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Extravagant Expectations, by Rev Steven R Mitchell, for Mountain View United Church, Aurora, 3-17-2013

Extravagant Expectations

By Rev Steven R Mitchell

Mountain View United, Aurora, CO 3/17/2013

Based on Isaiah 43: 16-21 & John 12:1-8


        Last Sunday we focused on the power that comes through praying and Jesus telling us: whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.  This week, I would like to follow up with that statement by exploring a portion out of Isaiah 43 and John’s story about the situation that occurred between Jesus, Mary sister of Lazarus, and Judas Iscariot.

        The book of Isaiah is written by several authors, speaking to three different periods in the life of Judea.  The first part of Isaiah was speaking about Judea’s sin and its downfall.  The last part of the book speaks to the restoration of Judea after those in exile return to Jerusalem.  The middle portion of Isaiah which includes chapter 43, written near the end of captivity, speaks about hope for the future.

        In this chapter we see where Isaiah is talking to the Hebrew’s about their memories of how God had freed them from slavery; God parted the waters so that they might escape Pharaoh’s army and it was God who un-parted the waters drowning Pharaoh’s army.   There was a lament within this community of people whose life’s had been uprooted by the Babylonian Empire and forced to live in Babylon.  Granted their live in Babylon was far more comfortable than was their ancestors who were enslaved in Egypt, yet they were feeling abandoned by God.  It seemed to them that God had turned his back upon them, orphaned, and abandoned in a foreign land.  These were a people whose hope for the future came through reminiscing over the “good old days”, the things that “had been.”

It reminds me of watching T.V. shows from the 1950’s.  Shows like “Leave it to Beaver”, or “The Ossie and Harriet show”, or “My Life with Joan.”  These shows reflected what life was like in those years following the Second World War.  Well, maybe “reflecting” isn’t exactly the right word to use.  These shows spoke to what America “wanted life” to be, not what life was really like.  For those of us who lived during that time, we might do well to remember that life at home was rarely like it was at the Nelson or Cleaver home.  Yet, to younger generations watching these re-runs on T.V. understand this as what life was like 50 or 60 years ago.

Yet God tells these exiles (and there’s a message for us as well), “Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old.  I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?   God wasn’t telling these people to forget the past.  First off, it is never advisable to forget the past, for the past has several important functions.  One is, we learn from events of the past.  Secondly, it gives us a marker as to how things presently are going.  Thirdly, there is comfort and security that comes with remembering the past.  When all three of these aspects are used in a healthy balance it helps to give us the courage to move forward.  It is when we reminisce to the point that we want to re-create the past as our future that it becomes unhealthy and actually prevents our ability to live expectantly and to move forward.

I see this often when a person has worked most of their lives for one company.  They seem to do pretty well for the first twenty years or so being flexible when the company makes changes in its business practices but by the last five years or so prior to retiring, there grows a greater resistance to company changes (and I ‘m not speaking whether or not the changes are good or bad) making those last few years become very unhappy for that individual.  There seems to be a propensity to remember “the way it use to be” and a lot more voicing “we’ve never done it that way before.”  What happens when this type of thinking starts, it becomes very hard for the company to bring everybody on board as it moves toward its new set of goals, and those who are unable to make those transitions move by being pushed and feeling very miserable, often times making it miserable for those they are working with. 

It also inhibits the ability to “envision” what the future holds when we start to cling to the past.  I wonder if this was a part of what was going on at Lazarus’ banquet when Mary broke open a bottle of nard and began to anoint Jesus with it.  For most of the last three years, Jesus’ focus was on teaching and healing out in the countryside and small villages, but now Jesus’ focus has changed, he is now on his way to Jerusalem to confront the spiritual leaders about the injustices of a system that is beneficial to the upper class at the expense of the poor. 

Jesus had spoken to his disciples three times before arriving to Bethany about his pending death should he go into Jerusalem.  Each time his disciples resisted these conversations.  Jesus had been presenting a new plan, a new vision, but they could not hear this new plan, let alone having the ability to envision what Jesus was getting ready to do, except for one woman, Mary the sister of Martha and Lazarus.  Mary seems to have been the only person who actually was hearing what Jesus was saying about what would happen to him if he went to Jerusalem. 

After the raising of Lazarus from the dead, Jesus knew that his life was in danger and went into hiding.  Then six days before the Passover Feast, he comes back to Bethany and is the honored guest at a large banquet.  I assume it was a “thank you” dinner for bringing Lazarus back to life.  Mary is often described as the one who would sit along with the men and listen to what Jesus was teaching.

Nard is an ointment used in the burial process and I suspect because Lazarus had died, they had purchased this ointment and probably had some left over.  Scripture says that Mary took this ointment and poured it on Jesus’ feet.  Generally when someone is being anointed, you pour the oil upon the persons head, yet Mary started with Jesus’ feet.  According to historians this is what one does as part of a burial ritual.  So John is telling us that Mary understands what is going to happen to Jesus, in the act of her anointing his feet.  In Mark 14, Jesus tells those who are hassling Mary, “She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial.

Judas is another key figure in this story as John tells it.  John indicates that Judas is very upset with Mary “wasting” this ointment on Jesus in this way.  I can just hear him screaming, “Why are you being so extravagant in using this oil that could be sold for a year’s wages.”  If Judas was so pre-occupied with doing business as usual, of doing things the way we’ve always done it, then of course he would see the advantages of selling the oil because the money could be used to promote the ministry as it had been operating in the past.

Yet scripture makes it very clear that Judas was also dishonest and was skimming money from the communal purse.  I wonder if when we get into the “remembering the way it use to be” mode and not open to new opportunities, if we too are not “stealing” from God’s treasury!  If we are unable to see the new things that God has in store for us, and we keep spending our resources to continue to do the status quo, are we not actually stealing from “the purse?”  My mother use to say it in this fashion, “Why throw good money after bad?”

We as people of God need to be listening to the ever speaking God who says, “See, I am doing a new thing!  Remembering the past is a proper thing to do.  But to honor our past, to honor our history, we must live expectantly, trusting the words that God spoke through Isaiah and know deep in our heart that God is doing a new thing with us!  It is in our history that we can gain the courage to trust in God’s leading.  It is through listening to God’s Spirit that we will gain the vision, the “new things” that God has in store for us.  God asks, “Do you not perceive it?  Let us be like Mary and act with “extravagant expectations.”   Amen

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Faith That Moves Mountains, by Rev Steven R Mitchell

Faith That Moves Mountains

By Rev Steven R Mitchell

Mountain View United, Aurora, CO 3-10-2013

Based on Mark 11:11-14, 20-25


        One of the Lenten studies being offered this season is in the study of Jesus’ last week as told through the eyes of the writer of the Gospel of Mark and presented in the book “The Last Week” by Marcus Borg and John Crossan.  For those of us reading this book and have been attending the Wednesday evening classes are finding ourselves challenged in the way that we have been taught to understand Jesus and the basic message that he brought through his ministry.

        Over the next few weeks I will be sharing with you some of the idea’s that both Borg and Crossan present about how they understand Marks narrative of Jesus’ life and in particular his last week of life.  Just to refresh your memory, Mark is the oldest of the Gospels with the Gospels of Matthew and Luke based on his narrative. 

This morning’s scripture contains a story about a fig tree that had leaves on its branches.  Jesus see’s this fig tree in the distance and is hungry, so walks over to see if there are any figs on the tree in which he could eat.  Finding no figs on the tree because it wasn’t the time of the year to have any fruit, Jesus through a fit and curses the fig tree.  The next morning as Jesus again passes by this tree, Peter see’s that the tree has died over night and calls Jesus’ attention to it.  Jesus then seems to side step the issue by telling Peter to “have faith in God.”   Then Jesus expands on that statement by saying, “…if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them.  Therefore, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.”  Then Jesus goes on to say, “And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.  So we have a fig tree that is cursed because it was out of season, a mountain that can be tossed into the sea if you believe hard enough, and a couple of conditions in prayer.  One condition is to “believe” enough otherwise it will not be answered and the second is to “forgive” the person that you hold something against so God “may forgive” you your sins.

Mark was a master at framing his stories in such a way as to let us understand what the main point of the story is about.   As was customary in Hebrew culture, Mark often weaved several seemingly unrelated incidents into a powerful message.  In this morning’s scriptures, I left out the story of Jesus turning over the tables of the money changers at the Temple in order to keep a tighter focus on this morning’s theme, “Faith that moves mountains.”  I will deal with the actions of Jesus in the temple at a later date, but this morning focus on the fig tree as it relates to “faith” and how that corresponds to the example of “moving mountains”.

Why would Jesus be so unreasonable and vindictive as to curse a fig tree for not having figs?  That doesn’t seem very much to be in the character of Jesus, to me.  We are given a clue by Mark that this story of the fig tree is not to be taken as a factual event, but rather more “symbolic” of something deeper with the statement, “it was not the season for figs.  The fig tree and the lack of fruit relates to the first century Hebrews understanding of the condition of “faith practices”, or the lack there of at the Temple in Jerusalem.

  Symbolically speaking, the fig tree had foliage but it wasn’t producing any fruit.  In other words, it had the outside appearances of being a “healthy” plant, doing and being what it was designed to do, yet in reality it lacked the true substance needed to produce fruit.  This fig tree when seen as a symbolic example can be applied to almost any part of our lives.  It can be applied to us specifically, meaning we can look healthy and have “it all together” so to speak, on the outside, but lack what we need on the inside in order to produce the fruit we are capable of.  Ultimately when we are not producing this fruit we will eventually wither and die.

Our government can also be an example of the fig tree.  As long as it’s operating, it may think as if it’s doing what it’s supposed to do.  Yet the purpose of government is to serve the needs of its people.  When it ceases to protect its citizens and becomes self-serving, it no longer is doing what it was intended to do and it will eventually come to its end.  We saw this in the French revolution as the general population toppled its disconnected leaders.  We saw it through the revolutionary war between the colonies and Great Britain.  We are seeing it today within our own life time with revolts such as “occupy wall street.”  Ultimately, all corrupted governments come to a very ugly ending.  In the morning, as they went along, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots.

Again, the encouragement that Jesus is giving his disciples about “having faith in God and with that faith one can move mountains”, is related to the fig tree story and therefore to be taken symbolically.  One of the most powerful examples within my life time about “faith” and moving mountains is found in the life of Dr Rev Martin Luther King, Jr.  If there is any one man in America that could be compared to Jesus and his message of “justice”, it is Dr King!  Dr. King became the face and voice of a movement that demanded equality, not toleration of “separate but equal” standards.  He preached the message of God’s vision for all humanity and in doing so knew and predicted that he would be killed for speaking the truth and exposing the evil of racism in our country. 

Jesus did this same thing.  Jesus saw how a system of domination had taken over his country and the religious heart of the Temple.  Jesus was aware that to truly fight this evil he would have to go to the capitol and confront the religious leaders themselves, who had sold out and were a part of the domination system that was choking the Hebrew nation.  Jesus knew that once he was in Jerusalem that the odds of being killed were very great, but because his “faith” in “just treatment” for all was so great, he was compelled to face the injustice that the religious leadership had bought into.

We still have “mountains to through into the sea” in this country.  Our government has become so controlled by a system that feeds on the lives of our citizens that they no longer lead by are lead.  Just a few years ago the Supreme Court deemed that “Corporations” are persons, which means that these new “persons” hold the same legal rights as you and I.  The problem is that the greatest portions of our countries wealth is held by very few, who have unlimited resources in which to influence our elected officials, who buy into this powerful group in order to be able to maintain their elected status.  We are living in an age not unlike that of Jesus’ time, where we are being used, abused, and robbed by a domination system that exists only for power at the expense of those who are not a part of that system.

It’s hard for the church to voice it’s disapproval too loudly because we benefit from this system.  We receive huge tax breaks, yet if we were to start to actively speak out against this domination system, we risk losing our voice in this system, we risk losing heavily.  What would Jesus say to us today in light of this Mountain that needs to be faced?  I believe he would tell us to have faith that could move mountains, or end up like the fig tree. 

We can bring this “faith” issue and moving mountains down to our own personal lives as well.   We all face what seem to be insurmountable mountains at times in our lives.  Some of us feel that our whole life is plagued with a mountain that needs to be moved.  So what do we do when we pray with a truly deep sincerity of believing and our prayer isn’t answered?  Are we subject to reticule as Job was by friends, saying that our “faith” isn’t strong enough?  Or do we rationalize that our prayer isn’t being answered in the way that we are expecting it to be answered?  Or do we look for the “silver” lining within that mountain, once again rationalizing that our prayers are not answered in the way that we had envisioned?

I have no answer to that piece.  What I can tell you, is look at what happened to Jesus as he prayed to have his mountain casted down into the sea, or Dr King as he too prayed to cast the mountain of racism down into the sea.  These men died for their faith not seeing the answer to their prayer, yet because of their faith, we recognize these injustices and it gives us hope that as we earnestly pray things will change for the better, if not while we live, then sometime in the future.  It’s been two thousand years since Jesus lived and we are still working at casting down the mountain of injustice.  We are able to do this not just because of the faith that Jesus displayed, but with our own faith in those same principles of “justice” and “grace”.   Amen

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Images of Christ (series), Bread of Life, by Rev Steven R Mitchell

Images of Christ (series)

Bread of Life

By Rev Steven R Mitchell

Mountain View United, Aurora, CO 3-32013

Based on John 6:26-38


        This morning’s text picks up the day after Jesus taught and feed dinner to 5,000 people.  As the new day dawns, the crowd was looking for Jesus and discovered that he had gone to the other side of the lake.   Hey Jesus, why did you go over there?  Why don’t you stay here and give us more?” asks the crowd.  Jesus responds with, “26 you’ve come looking for me not because you saw God in my actions but because I fed you, filled your stomachs—and for free. 

        How many of us are always on the lookout for a good bargain?  I know that I have shared with many of you that I rarely pay retail!  It’s a genetic thing with me.  I was raised to always look not for just a “bargain”, but for “value”.  I have been raised to be discriminating in what I purchase, looking at not only the price of a thing, but also place a “value” upon it.  This means that I have to look at what I’m thinking about purchasing from multiple perspectives.  How useful is this item?” “Is this a onetime use purchase or will I get multiple usages out of it, and if multiple uses, how many times?” “Is the quality matching the asking price or does the asking price need to come down to match the quality of the product?” 


These questions are all subjectively based on one’s “system of value.”  I have friends who place a greater value on being the first on their block to possess something, there by willing to pay full retail.  I have other friends who place greater value on utility, and depending upon the need will wait until the product has been on the shelf awhile and then buy once it goes 20% or 30% off retail.  Sometimes the “need” of a product supersedes the basic criteria in determining when one will buy.  For example, you have a tire that blows out while on a road trip.  You need a new tire to continue on, so it doesn’t matter if there is a sale or not on the tire your car requires, you simple pay what you have to in order to continue on.

        I think we use the same approach in our personal lives, often times without realizing that we are basing our actions on a “system of values.”  Upon our first meeting of a person we use our system of values to make the “do we become friends” decision.  Value questions such as: “What can I gain from this friendship? Will this person ‘embarrass me around my other friends?  How much time will this friendship require?  What will this friendship cost me?”  I am not saying that our systems of value are right or wrong, they just are.  It’s a tool for us to function on a day to day basis.

        As Jesus is speaking to those who were looking for him, Jesus is questioning “why” are you following me?  You are looking for me because you are looking to be feed, but you are looking for the wrong food.”  Jesus is telling them that their “system of value” as to why they are looking for him is not the best basis.  Jesus was saying to them, “you are looking for something that doesn’t last, but I can give you something that will always last, but you have to change your “system of value.”  There are repeated themes in scripture about this, such as Jesus requesting water of a Samaritan woman at a well.  He tells her that the water in this well will leave her thirsty after drinking it.  But if she sees Jesus as the “living water” and drinks of his word, she will never be thirsty again.  Jesus is asking her to change her “system of value.”

        Who or what do you rely on most in everyday life?  Where do you find your fulfillment each day?  Is it from your work?  If so, what is it about your work that sustains you daily?  Or is it the security of a home – a sanctuary from the world that you find at home?  Maybe it’s in the relationships with your family or friends?  These are the questions that Jesus is asking the crowd.  This is the question that Jesus is asking you!  Are these the things that will last for you?  What “system of value” do you live by and is it enough for you?

        Once a month we come to gather around this table that has bread and wine on it.  We call it communion.  We hear the story over and over, “I am the bread of Life”.  “This cup is the cup of life.”  What is Jesus saying to us when he likens himself to bread?  We can read in this story that the crowd has already seen Jesus do miraculous things, yet they are asking him to do another sign that will surely show them that Jesus is of God.  “Moses fed our ancestors with bread in the desert. It says so in the Scriptures: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’”  In other words, this group understands Moses being able to sustain physical life while they traveled in the dessert.

        Jesus responds with, “The real significance of that Scripture is not that Moses gave you bread from heaven but that my Father is right now offering you bread from heaven, the real bread. The Bread of God came down out of heaven and is giving life to the world.” “I am the Bread of Life. The person who aligns with me hungers no more and thirsts no more, ever.”  Bread is a symbol of the most basic food needed to sustain life.  Jesus is telling us that He is of God, that through the gift of God in Jesus, we can have what we need daily for the rest of our lives.  I think a more modern way of conceptualizing this is in the phrase that we tell every young person.  You get an education, because whatever you gain in life can be taken away, except your education, your knowledge.  

In essence, we understand Knowledge as a primary necessity, a thing that will help you get through life daily.  In understanding Jesus as the son of God, Jesus represents the ongoing gift that God gives us, which is love.  This love was demonstrated most graphically by Jesus dying for His message.  This is what this bread on the communion table says to us.  Jesus invites us to “buy into” him and receive and live by God’s “system of value.”   We are asked to adjust our “system of value” to align with the value of God.  Let us search our hearts this morning and re-alien our “system of values” to that of God’s as we come to this table of love.   Amen