The Holy Spirit in the Church

Today’s reading is Ephesians 2:17-22Open Link in New Window

Here is today’s reflection by Richard.

In our sermon series we continue looking at the person and role of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Over the last two weeks Ian and Gaby have spoken about the Holy Spirit being one with God the Father and Jesus. Both have stressed the importance of the Holy Spirit in our Christian walk. Today we are looking at the Holy Spirit in the Church.

As I child I had both a clockwork train set and an electric train set, probably like many boys of my generation. My clockwork train set was a lovely tin plate Hornby one and I was thrilled to get it when I was six, now highly collectable—wish I had kept it!! The problem with a clockwork train set is that once the spring inside has fully unwound it stops, its source of power has gone unless you wind it up again. Now the electric train set I got one Christmas was a different kettle of fish—it was hooked up to a permanent supply of electricity and the train would go round forever. The only thing that stopped it were my parents, particularly if I left it running for ages in the front room!

A church which limits or ignores the Holy Spirit is like that clockwork train—it will run out of energy and power because it is operating out of its own strength. It will be ineffective. The church which is open to the Holy Spirit, is as God intended it to be and will be a powerhouse for the Gospel.

Why do I say this?

  • Because when you read the New Testament it is clear that the Holy Spirit was both the architect and power behind the early church.
  • In addition Jesus promised his disciples that when He was gone, he would send His Spirit to be with them.

John 14:15-17Open Link in New Window says

‘If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you for ever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.

Jesus words were fulfilled as we know at Pentecost in that upper room.

For those disciples who received the Holy Spirit marked by tongues of fire, it was not some kind of nice personal spiritual experience—it was utterly transformational. The disciples immediately went out and preached to the people assembled for the Passover festival. They spoke with boldness in different languages with power as a result many were saved. Acts 2Open Link in New Window talks of over 3000 people being baptised. Last week Gaby talked powerfully about being baptised and how it transformed her. What did these 3000 people do after they received the Spirit through baptism:

Acts 2:42Open Link in New WindowThey devoted themselves to the Apostles teaching, prayer and breaking of bread and the results were:

  • Everyone was filled with awe
  • There were many wonders and signs done by the Apostles. Peter, we read in the power of the Spirit and in the name of Jesus Christ healed a crippled man.
  • All the believers were together and had everything in common
  • They sold their possessions and gave to the poor
  • They kept praising God

And… Many people were added to their number.

This is a group of people utterly transformed by the power of the Spirit, it is like a wildfire.

This early church was completely Spirit filled, Spirit orientated and Spirit led, and this meant for practical matters as well.

In Acts 6Open Link in New Window we learn the church had grown to such an extent it was limiting the work of the Apostles. They were spending a good deal of time in the distribution of food to the poor rather than going out preaching the Gospel. So, they asked the wider group of disciples to appoint seven people to carry out the administration of alms.

What qualifications would you expect for this role?

Able administrators, proven managers, experts in logistics… perhaps? No, they were to choose seven people who were full of the Spirit and Wisdom. (One of those chosen was Stephen who was to die for his faith—it was said that he had the face of an Angel, he was so filled with the love of God.)

The results of this Spirit filled decision—the number of disciples increased rapidly and a large number of Jewish temple priests became believers. The fire keeps spreading and starts to reach other places.

We read later in Acts of the conversion of Saul on the Road to Damascus and in Acts 13Open Link in New Window, he is with a group of elders of the church in Antioch. Whilst they are worshipping and fasting the Holy Spirit said ‘Set Apart Saul (Paul) and Barnabas for the work to which I have called them. When they finished praying and fasting they placed their hands on them and sent them off. What does this say about the church—they put prayer and worship at the heart of everything they did. This allowed the Holy Spirit to lead them.

What a great model of church. It wasn’t a case of here are our plans, now let’s pray for God’s blessing. It was let’s pray and worship and see what God wants of us.

Again the result is the same—there is action and the Gospel spreads. If it were not for the likes of Paul, Barnabas and all the others we may never have heard about the life changing salvation that Jesus brings.

As I read though parts of Acts the more and more excited I got about the role of Holy Spirit in the church.

The Spirit is not just about spreading the Gospel, his work underpins the very fabric of a church community. Given free reign the Holy Spirit builds the body of the church by using the gifts of Gods people. In Corinthians 12Open Link in New Window St Paul outlines the gifts of the Spirit given to individuals for the building up of the body of Christ:

  • a message of wisdom
  • a message of knowledge
  • gifts of healing
  • miraculous powers
  • prophecy
  • distinguishing between spirits
  • speaking in different kinds of tongues
  • the interpretation of tongues

And in Corinthians 13Open Link in New Window we learn that the greatest gift is love and this is given to all of us by the power of the Spirit. Love enables the body of Christ, us, to work together, to live together and most of all to serve each other and those around us.

I have spoken this morning about the Holy Spirit in the early church and I have only just scratched the surface. We have seen its rapid growth and its decision making through the power of the Spirit. Of course, we know it wasn’t perfect because Paul and the other letter writers were often correcting errors and poor behaviour of early church communities. But in terms of the pattern for church it certainly serves as an excellent example. Their priorities were:

  • Prayer
  • Worship
  • Openness to God’s leading and the Holy Spirit’s prompting
  • Action and service

What does this mean for St Matthew’s today? Are we open to the power of the Holy Spirit not just as individuals but as part of the body of Christ?

As Ian reminded us in the first sermon of this series in the St Matthew’s church profile it said this: our church seeks to honour God through Word, Spirit and Sacrament.

  1. This is a good start—at least we recognise that the Holy Spirit plays a vital role in our church along with the Scriptures and the Sacraments. I do believe the Spirit does and has worked within our church over the years and many of us are open to the work of the Spirit within our lives as individuals. I see many of the fruits of the Spirit exhibited in our St Matthew’s community and in particular the love we have for each other. This has enabled us to support each other through the biggest crisis since the 2nd World War and I do not say that lightly.
  2. We have had prophecies in services and people touched by the Holy Spirit in services. Indeed, Minty and I were both overcome by the Holy Spirit some years back on the same day when we were prayed for after a service. We both ended up on the floor and both of us subsequently were ordained. The re-ordering of the church to create the upper and lower spaces was before my time but I know it was a prayerful and Spirit filled decision to go ahead.
  3. I do believe we need to engage corporately and intentionally with the Holy Spirit again in St Matthew’s. I know that all of us would love to see our church grow and reach out to all those people who are seeking something to fill that God shaped hole in their lives. There is a needy world out there, people have had the opportunity of the last year to think about their lives and what it all means. With the power of the Spirit they can be reached.

I would encourage everyone to re-read the book of Acts—it is breath-taking and that same Spirit is with us today.

I am going to say a short prayer inviting the Holy Spirit to come afresh in each one of our lives and the life of St Matthew’s.

Dear Lord
We pray for your Holy Spirit to come in power in St Matthew’s today.
Lord, inspire and lead us by the power of your Spirit, refresh each one of us and prepare us for the work you want us to do in pursuit of your Gospel.

In Jesus name amen.

There will be a video version of the service.

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The Holy Spirit in Jesus

Today’s reading is Matthew 3:13-17Open Link in New Window

Here is today’s reflection by Gaby.

The Holy Spirit and the father and Jesus are one… We can’t have a favourite member of the Trinity. If you want more of one you’ll have more of all three… The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Jesus, he is Jesus’ presence with us. Good luck getting Jesus without more of his Spirit.

Health warning: Today this is not just an intellectual topic to think about and ponder it’s one to be experienced and joined in with.

Last week Ian taught us about the Spirit in creation and reminded how the Holy Spirit was present at Creation, helping God form the earth and everything around it and in it, how the Spirit came upon certain judges and Kings at certain times to help them, people like Samuel, Sampson and David. and reminded us about Acts and the day of Pentecost when we saw the out pouring of the Holy Spirit of all those in one place. He challenged us to think about other times in both the old and New Testaments when we could see the Holy Spirit working and to also think about how could we respond to the Holy Spirit and whom the Holy Spirit is to us and then we ended with the most popular prayer of the church Come Holy Spirit.

So it is here where Ian finished that I start. I will be sharing a bit of testimony about the Holy Spirit and speaking about Jesus’ relationship with the Holy Spirit which we see in perfect clarity at his baptism.

The Holy Spirit is God, He is the Spirit of Jesus and he is certainly a person and not an it. I could refer to him as a her because we don’t know if the Holy Spirit has a gender but because he is a person not an it I will for simplicity say “he”.

When I was a child the Holy Ghost was not something I was taught or knew about. I had no experience of him nor any realisation that he was anything other that part of a creed.

But back to the plot… here is Jesus, he is being obedient to his father by being baptised. He had no sins to forgive yet but he knew that he had to be baptised. So Jesus goes into the waters of baptism, he comes up out of them and sees the heavens open up and the Holy Spirit shaped like a dove descends on him resting on him and a voice from God the father “This is my beloved son with whom I am well pleased.”

This is one of those perfect moments where we see the Trinity together. The only moment where it is so clearly written. This is the best picture in the Bible of the Trinity.

We have seen in Genesis where the Spirit is hovering God is creating and John 1Open Link in New Window tells us that the Word was with God… hence Jesus was also at the creation of the world but here we have them all there together… this is a key moment.

But the thing about the Trinity is that you look for relationship of one and you always get three. You can’t seek God the Father without finding Jesus, or look for more of Jesus without finding the Holy Spirit or seek the Holy Spirit without being filled more with the Father’s love. Jesus is who he is because of the Spirit and the Father that’s why it is so important to understand the Holy spirit.

At Jesus’ baptism we see the Spirit descend upon Jesus. We haven’t seen the Holy Spirit take a form before and don’t again. Wouldn’t it be lovely if every time we welcomed the Holy Spirit there was a little room full of doves descending on people… that may actually be what happens, we just can’t see it.

Let’s think about this. Jesus is in total obedience to God doing something he doesn’t need to, to show a group of people that he is subject to his Father’s will, being baptised by his slightly alternative cousin who is a fiery preacher and whom most of us would probably keep our head down and walk past without stopping if we saw him in public. The effect is world changing, a visible manifestation of the Holy spirit and a voice from heaven. Isn’t that the kind of affirmation we all want and need from God? Sometimes people on Alpha say things like, I’d believe in God if he came down from the clouds and spoke to me or appeared to me. There are people in the congregation that things like that have actually happened to and it can be a bit awe inspiring and scary.

We may never know the truth but perhaps sometimes we have missed out on our extreme God moments before us because we haven’t wanted to do something like baptism if we don’t need to, perhaps we would stay away from an extremist like John and if we heard the voice of the Spirit telling us to do something we might not recognise it as God and therefore miss out on the amazing blessing that followed.

When I was 23 I felt a strong tug to be baptised. I read the Bible and was challenged by it that baptism was a key part of the Christian conversion. I wasn’t part of an Anglican church at the time. I decided that it would be obedient, like Jesus did to be baptised. I had an amazing experience. I was baptised in the sea in Tenerife and I felt phenomenal and filled with the Holy Spirit. I felt, warm, peaceful and full of light. It was phenomenal and a total step of obedience. I felt God’s love surrounding me. Water baptism and the Holy Spirit are very close to one another as we see here.

This descending Holy Spirit came about through Jesus’ obedience to God in getting baptised. Even Jesus needed more of the Holy Spirit.

So here we see our first point is that Jesus experienced the Holy Spirit. He had the Holy Spirit descend on him. He was filled by the Holy Spirit. That meant that he was ready to go… into the desert… the toughest part of his ministry. Spirit fills Jesus and leads him into the temptation.

That’s not really what we expect when we first get filled with the Spirit. I always thought that being filled with the Holy Spirit will give us peace like the dove and help us learn to float and not worry about anything, a bit like going on a spa retreat but think again! Jesus was filled with the Spirit then the Spirit led him into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan… nice combo. That would probably fill most of us with doubt and we would be defeated by the devil.

Why was Jesus able to beat Satan? He had the affirmation of his father that we see here, this is my son with whom I am well pleased… and he had the Holy Spirit who had descended upon him… the Spirit was key.

The Spirit also leads him into the wilderness where one might of thought there was nothing but actually the biggest temptations for Jesus came from nothing, maybe the same is true for us.

The drink I had the other day claims to “Help your defences” and we need that. That’s what the Holy Spirit does. Otherwise we just fall to every temptation… shall I have another glass of wine, shall I watch another episode, shall I stay up for just another half an hour… shall I stay in bed another 30 minutes, answer yes to one and then the defences fall and you end up saying yes to more of them… and the less we fight temptation the more we fall and the temptation becomes part of our lives and stops being a sin because it’s just what we do… even writing this sermon I got completely tempted to read my crime novel or watch Netflix… or sleep… slightly ironic no?

However the Holy Spirit can help us say NO. The Holy Spirit helps us to be ready to face the desert and the temptations. We can say NO to Netflix, to unreasonable demands from our bosses, to another lie in, to being greedy with our time or money, to sexual immorality or whatever. The Spirit helped Jesus so he’ll help us. The devil casts doubt… if you are… Jesus is secure in his identity and the experience is so important because it helps you resist temptation.

Jesus went into the desert as Luke 4Open Link in New Window says full of the Holy Spirit but he comes out “in the power of the Holy Spirit.” He wasn’t just filled he was able to walk in the Spirit’s power too. Wow. What does that mean? What does that even look like?

Well, look at the things Jesus went on to do, he did miracles, he healed people, he had supernatural knowledge about fish with coins in their stomachs, he raised dead people, he fed thousands of people, he acted with kindness and compassion, he expelled demons, he stepped in the path of an angry mob trying to execute a woman, he walked a fearless path of speaking words that made some people love him and others detest him. Then he fully conscious of what he was doing gave himself up to his enemies to be tortured and killed. This gorgeous, loving, miracle working Godman died for our sin. Then he was raised by the power of the Holy Spirit and lives forever.

That is what the power of the Holy Spirit looks like.

Jesus said he only did what he saw the father doing… the things he did and therefore the things the father did are pretty cool. I want more of these things in my life… I want to see miracles happen when I pray, I want to find miraculous sources of money when I need them, I want to stand up for injustice and win, I want to see the sick healed, I want to speak words about God that lead people to him. In short I want more of the Holy Spirit. I want the power of the Holy Spirit like Jesus had.

John said that there was one coming who would baptise them with the Holy Spirit. Submerge them. Cover them, cleanse them. Jesus left people cleansed by the Spirit. Look at the healings he did, look at the demons he sent off… the power of the baptism of the Holy spirit was massive. I don’t know about you but I often pray for the big miracles and forget to pray for the small. This week I had a mini miracle as I had the second vaccine. Anecdotally I’d heard the second Pfizer jab was tough and hits people quite hard. I didn’t have time to feel ill this week so I prayed and I was fine. This gives me faith to pray for healing of the much more serious injuries or illnesses that are about. If you’re sick or been in hospital this week and I know about it, rest assured I’m praying for your healing.

Have you been baptised in the Holy Spirit? Have you been baptised and cleansed with the Holy Spirit?

If you have you’ll know about it. If you haven’t then it’s really not hard. The Holy Spirit is seeking people out. Jesus wants you to have the Holy Spirit and the power of the Holy Spirit so you too can go out and do the things Jesus did.

The Holy Spirit is the person through whom the miracles happen. It wasn’t that Jesus did the miracles because he was God. That would make it impossible for us to do the same things. No, Jesus did all the amazing things he did through the power of the Holy Spirit. The same Holy Spirit whom we can have living in us. Because it is the Holy Spirit who did them then it is possible for us.

You can do miracles IF you have the Holy Spirit. The same spirit that raised Jesus from the dead is in us Romans 8:11Open Link in New Window tells us. We have access to all this. We can do the things he did because it is the same Spirit.

So today the journey we have made is that we see Jesus’ obedience to God in being baptised which led to him being descended upon in the form of a dove by the Holy Spirit and we heard of the audible voice of God affirming Jesus and speaking of his love for him and pride in him. We then see Jesus led into the wilderness where he beats the temptations of the devil. He comes out FULL of the Holy Spirit and goes on to do amazing miracles and actions. In fact the Bible tells us “the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.“ John 14:12Open Link in New Window Now that’s something to think about.

We see from Romans 8:11Open Link in New Window that the same Holy Spirit is in us. So I guess the challenge is what are we going to do about it? Are we prepared to be obedient, are we ready to ask for the Holy Spirit to help us to resist temptation so that perhaps we too may walk out of the temptation we face in the power of the Holy Spirit. Are we ready to receive the Spirit and Ask him to speak to us and then act upon the small still voice that he speaks into our heart. Are we ready to live like Jesus did relying on the Holy Spirit?

Are you in a desert? Is this the toughest part of your life so far? Ask to be filled with the Holy Spirit so that you can make it through and perhaps you too will be able to walk out in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Let’s pray.
If you want to then please speak this out loud.

Lord Jesus,
We confess that we have not always allowed the Holy Spirit access all areas in our lives. Please forgive us. Come now Holy Spirit and help us to hear you and respond to your promptings in our lives.
Amen.

There will be a video version of the service.

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The Holy Spirit in the Bible

Today’s reading is Psalm 139Open Link in New Window.

Here is today’s reflection by Ian.

Available from 2pm Sunday.

This week we begin a short series look the Holy Spirit. This follows on from our recent series before Easter, looking at Paul’s letter to the Galatians, which ends with Paul’s encouragement to ‘live by the Spirit’, and a look at what such a life looks like.

I sometimes hear people say to me as a Christian minister, ‘I understand the idea of God, and I can relate to Jesus as a person, but I find the idea of the Spirit of God difficult’. In Christianity, the Holy Spirit can be the person of God who is most difficult to grasp. That the Sprit is one and the same as God and one and the same as Jesus, can feel like something we want to understand, but we can struggle to.

God is God, ‘Father, Son and Holy Spirit’, three persons, one God, the Trinity. So, it is vital for our faith and our relationship with God, that we grow in understanding of God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It is through the person of the Holy Spirit that God reaches out to his people. It is through the person of the Holy Spirit, that we see the Love of God. And as we receive that love, it is the Spirit of God who helps us spread and grow in that love, and pour out our lives in faith, and to live our lives to their full potential.

In the St Matthews church profile, prepared for when you were seeking a new vicar in 2018, it says as follows:

We are a church that seeks to honour God through Word, Spirit and Sacrament.

  • We want to delight in God’s Word.
  • We want to be open to the empowering of the Holy Spirit.
  • We want to know the grace of Christ as we gather around his table.

Our preaching and teaching of God’s Word, in knowing the Word made flesh in Jesus Christ, is at the heart of how God is calling us to go deeper in our faith—please do join a home group if you can, use bible notes for your daily reflections, make sure you have a good copy of the Bible yourself.

Our valuing of the Eucharist in the rhythm of normal church life is central to who we are, and encountering the grace of Jesus Christ’s giving of himself for us, through the sacrament of Holy Communion is at the heart of our life and worship as a Christian community.

We’re now going to spend some time on understanding the place of the other statement—‘being open to the empowering of the Holy Spirit.’

This week we begin this series on the person and work of the Holy Spirit, by reflecting briefly on the Holy Spirit throughout history, right from the very beginning of the Bible in the Book of Genesis, to the end, and the Book of Revelation.

In Genesis 1:2Open Link in New Window, we read, ‘Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.’

In the Book of Revelation, at the end of the Bible, when John had a vision of heaven with God, at the end of all time, when all thing will be made new, he was ‘in the Spirit’, and it is the Spirit of God speaking, as we hear the exhortation, ‘those who have an ear, listen to what the Spirit says to the churches. “I am the Alpha and the Omega” says the Lord, the beginning and the end, who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty’. From the beginning of time it has always been God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.

Throughout the Bible, from the account of creation in Genesis, we can see the role of the Holy Spirit in bringing order out of chaos and working in and through God’s people, through humanity, for the purposes of God. It can be a modern misconception / misunderstanding, that somehow, the role of the Holy Spirit is limited to the New Testament.

As we have already heard, the Spirit participated in creation. The Spirit gave life to humanity and to all other creatures. As the psalmist writes in Psalm 104:30Open Link in New Window, ‘When you send your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the earth.’

When in Genesis 2Open Link in New Window it says that the Lord God formed the people from the dust, and breathed into their nostrils the breath of life’, the word for breath is the word translated elsewhere as ‘Spirit’.

The Spirit came upon certain prophets, Judges and warriors in ways that gave them extraordinary powers from God; Gideon, Samson, Saul (although the Spirit also departed from Saul).

The Spirit inspired holiness in God’s people, and was crucial in helping them anticipate and look forward to the ministry of God’s Messiah, Jesus Christ. Isaiah 11Open Link in New Window is a preview if you like of the work of the Trinitarian God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. ‘The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him – the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and fear of the Lord.’

Looking forward to the ministry of Jesus Christ, the Spirit inspired the ministry of the prophet Isaiah, which links us so clearly to the New Testament, and the ongoing presence and work of the Holy Spirit.

In the Old Testament, we can clearly see what God does through history by his Holy Spirit. And it is personal. It is God encouraging ordinary men and women like you and me, through the person of the Holy Spirit. God the Father never acts alone in our lives.

As you think about the Spirit of God, the person of the Holy Spirit, where else can you think of in the Old Testament where the Spirit of God is mentioned?

The New Testament is saturated with examples of the work and presence of the Holy Spirit. The pouring out of the Holy Spirit becomes deeper and wider through Jesus—who is filled with the Holy Spirit. The Spirit descends on him at his baptism. And we shall be hearing more about the Spirit and Jesus from Gaby next week.

Our short series will be ending at Pentecost, when we read about the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the Acts of the Apostles. I mentioned earlier, that the Book of Revelation at the end of the Bible has the Holy Spirit engaging with the churches, to draw them back into a relationship with God.

Right at the end of Revelation 22Open Link in New Window, which one commentators described as a sort of triumphal finale in the Bible, Jesus, the fulfilment of God’s plan of the world, the fulfilment of all the prophecies inspired by the Holy Spirit of God, Isaiah’s ‘Everlasting Father, Prince of peace, He who is before all things, says, ‘The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let those who hear say, “Come!”. Whoever is thirsty, let them come; and whoever wishes, let them take the free gift of the water of life.’

The Bride, that is ‘the Church, welcomes Jesus, the Bridegroom as he comes in glory, and the Church does so, because the Spirit of God, who teaches us to pray, is praying in the same way himself.

The Holy Spirit of God is present in all times and in all places.

  • To know God is to know the Holy Spirit.
  • To know Jesus is to know the Holy Spirit.

It was Athanasius who said, ‘We share in the divine nature through our sharing of the Spirit.’
As you think about the Spirit of God, the person of the Holy Spirit, where else can you think of in the New Testament where the Spirit of God is mentioned?
Psalm 139Open Link in New Window says,

Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.
If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
and the light become night around me,”
even the darkness will not be dark to you;
the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to you.

How do you respond to the Holy Spirit? Who is the Holy Spirit for you?

Can I encourage you and invite you, wherever you are in your faith journey, and as we begin this short series getting to know the Holy Spirit of God better, to say that simplest, yet most powerful and wonderful prayer of the Church ‘Come Holy Spirit…’.

When we pray, ‘Come Holy Spirit’, we are praying for an increased sense of the presence of God in our lives, a longing for God’s empowering presence in our lives.

As you do so, trust in God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, to enter into your life in a new way, to receive and know the true depth of his eternal love for you.

Come Holy Spirit…

There will be a video version of the service.

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