Blog Space of Rev. Adrian J. Pratt B.D, pastor at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, Ellicott City, MD

Sunday, June 21, 2020

A Little Letter with a Big Punch


Note: This Blog will be taking a Summer Break for the next few weeks. 
Sermons will continue to be posted on our sermon blog site which can be found here.

This past Sunday here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, we took a look at Paul's letter to Philemon. An online service can be found here, a transcript can be found here.

Philemon is one of the smallest books in the canon of Scripture. It is a personal letter to a man, called Philemon, regrading a slave owned by Philemon called Onesimus (which means 'useful'.)

Sometime before the letter was written, Paul has converted Philemon and his whole household to Christianity. Paul then left town and, when he writes the letter, has now been imprisoned for his efforts to spread the gospel. Onesimus, hearing of Paul's situation, goes 'absent without leave' from his Master, in order to minister to Paul's needs and see that Paul is taken care of.

Paul is extremely appreciative of all that Onesimus is doing for him. Yet he recognizes that there was a problem. Onesimus was a runaway slave. He should have been meeting the needs of Philemon, not the needs of Paul. In another of his letters, Paul had written that slaves should obey their masters as a way of witnessing to Christ.

If it were not for the gospel message, the whole thing could have been dismissed and ignored. But because of His belief in Jesus as 'Way, truth and life', Paul is not prepared to just let things be. So he writes to Philemon.

The basis of his argument is that because in Jesus Christ, Philemon and Onesimus were now brothers in the faith, Philemon should welcome Onesimus back into his household. Onesimus had acted upon the guidance of the One God they all shared a belief in. Paul believed that “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28)

Furthermore, the work Onesimus had performed had been of great benefit to Paul. In his letter Paul makes use of Onesimus's name. In verse 11 he writes to Philemon that “Formerly he was “useless” to you, but now he has become “useful” both to you and to me.” Paul knew that losing the service of a slave had financial implications and offers to pay Philemon for any loss of income.

It's a little letter with a big punch. The institution of slavery was an unquestioned feature of the Roman world. Either intentionally or unintentionally, here is Paul saying that our equality in Christ challenged the whole fabric of the way the world was structured.

Such is not a message this the world is keen to hear or act upon. The racial tensions of recent days, ignited by the murder of George Floyd, have revealed that we can turn a blind eye to the question of inequality, until we are forced to acknowledge there is a problem.

Let us pray, that the letter of Philemon will continue, like Onesimus, to be “Useful,” in guiding our thoughts and lives as we consider difficult and challenging issues of life and faith.

For some music, a classic from Sam Cooke "A Change Is Gonna Come

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, June 15, 2020

Scottish Sunday


Scottish Sunday sees Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church taking time out to consider the historical roots of Presbyterian faith in the ministry of John Knox, of Scotland. In our P.C. (USA) Book of Confessions (which helps guide the way we interpret our faith) one of the earliest documents is the Scots Confession.

A video of our Scottish Sunday service can be found here, a transcript of the message can be found here.

John Knox believed that there were three signs that marked any church as being authentic. Faithful proclamation of the Word of God; faithful administration of the sacraments and effective church discipline. It is probably on the latter of these, church discipline, that he would find fault with us today! Although our Book of Order has a whole section devoted to the matter, it is probably the least referenced section of the volume.

That is not necessarily a bad thing. The most effective form of discipline is self-discipline, rather than that imposed by an outside body. There have historically been many cases of abuse of authority on the part of those who felt it their task to rule it over others with an iron hand.

We shy away from the word ‘discipline,’ as it implies heavy-handedness and judgmental attitudes. Yet it is from the root of ‘discipline’ that we have the much more accessible word ‘disciple.’ We much prefer the ‘disciple’ word. That could be because we look at discipleship through rose-colored spectacles rather than the demanding definition that Jesus gave us.

Scripture teaches that discipleship involves taking up a cross, having a love for God that places all other loves in jeopardy, and seeking the welfare of our enemies. This is, of course, not the way we function! We do our best to avoid confrontation, are prone to make idols of just about anyone or anything that makes us feel good and rejoice when our enemies get what we feel they deserve!

John Knox was however also aware that Christian life was not an effort of disciplined self-will but a response to the grace of God. In a section in the Scots Confession on the Holy Spirit we read “Our faith and its assurance do not proceed from flesh and blood, that is to say from natural powers within us, but are the inspiration of the Holy Ghost…”

For some music “Celtic Worship” perform “In Christ Alone.
Prayer: “Lord, if our faith were to be judged by rules of discipline than we could be in deep trouble. We are thankful that Jesus did not come into our world to condemn but to redeem. As we sense Your grace, may we be moved to serve others in the strength of Your love. Amen.

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Virtual Communion


Last Sunday some of us gathered around tables laid with bread and wine for a 'virtual' communion service. It is an unusual way of doing things, but these are unusual times! Our video service can be found here.  A transcript is available here.

Throughout the centuries an important part of the communion service has been that it is an act that binds us together. Under normal circumstances, we would only celebrate at times when we could be with others. The only exception has been when we administer home communion, but even that is done with a representative of the church (usually the minister) physically present.

The insistence on having a member of the clergy (or an authorized representative of the church) present, is to remind us of the sacredness of the occasion. St Paul cautions us to not treat the sacrament lightly or without due preparation. “For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body.” (1 Corinthians 11:29 NKJV)

The judgment comes in the fact that we will totally miss the whole point of the sacrament. That it is a time when our Lord Jesus Christ promises to be especially present to our lives. We do ourselves and our families a great disservice if we treat this sacred time in a way that is casual or without being properly prepared.

For that reason, I took the time to offer a pre-video about 'preparing for the sacrament' to our congregation. (Can be viewed here) In it, I suggest using a white cloth to mark out an area to celebrate, to set aside a cup and plate for the particular moment, and to light a candle to remind ourselves that this is a holy time.

It is difficult to not to be together at the table. It is not the same being together around computer screens or I-pads. Yet that is the best we can do for the time being. Even when we do come back together we will have to limit the amount of touching and handling. Some congregations are experimenting with 'seal-able' elements, others suggesting to congregants that they need to bring their own bread and juice from home.

As we transition to a situation where we can gather 'with limitations' I am sure we will continue to discover constructive ways of being a community. I just pray that the sacredness and significance of the body and blood of Christ, represented through bread and wine, does not become devalued or treated without reverence. As Paul warns us, to not rightly discern the Lord's body is something to be avoided, for it has the potential of doing more harm than good.


For some music and further reflection Third-Day sing “Communion"

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, June 1, 2020

The Holy Spirit


Last Sunday we celebrated Pentecost Sunday, the Birthday of the church. An online service can be found here, a transcript of the message here. The Church came into being through the action of the Holy Spirit who energized the disciples as they waited together in worship and prayer.

Before Pentecost, they were afraid and unsure of what to do. After Pentecost, they were bold and gave their lives to the proclaiming of the Good News of the gospel, that Christ had died, that Christ had Risen and new life was available to all who put their faith in Him.

The Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon once wrote “Without the Spirit of God we can do nothing. We are as ships without wind or chariots without steeds. Like branches without sap, we are withered. Like coals without fire, we are useless. As an offering without the sacrificial flame, we are unaccepted.”

Our direction and our energy are both dependent upon the action of God’s Spirit working in, through, and around our lives. Without the Holy Spirit, Christian life degenerates into a hard slog to attain unreachable ideals. Without the action of God’s Spirit inspiring us and renewing us, we maintain a graceless existence.

John’s gospel describes the Holy Spirit’s work as being “Living Water.” During the summer months, the temperature can rise and the health experts send out a message, “Stay hydrated!” If we feel our Christian life has become dry and lifeless, maybe we need to seek a Holy Ghost refreshing!

How do we do that? Through prayer. Through meditating on God’s Word. Through worship, be it in person or online. Through reminding ourselves that every day we live, we live in the shadow of an Almighty God whose love is for us in Jesus Christ.

As we continue to work through the crisis of trouble in our cities and the continuing shadow of the pandemic, we are not alone. God walks with us through the valley of the shadow.

For some music “Holy Spirit, Living Breath of God” by Keith and Kristyn Getty

Prayer: Lord, today we seek the refreshing wind of Your Holy Spirit to blow upon our lives. Remind us that our strength lies not in what we can achieve, but in what Your grace can do in us and through us. Fill us with Your Spirit this day. Amen.

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Gathering Together


Here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian our online service last week focussed on 'Church Unity.' A video can be found here, a transcript here.

Jesus describes His work among us, more than once, as a bringing together, a gathering. He speaks in terms of a common table, a common home with many rooms, fish that are brought together, a harvest that is brought in, a party to be started.

He uses the same image when He describes the mission He left to His disciples. They were the ones sent out to bring the guests together, they were going to be fishers of women and men, the harvesters that would bring the crops and fruits together.

We are called to participate in that bringing together. Jesus sees unity as an essential ingredient of discipleship. John 17:21 “As You, Father, are in me and I am in You, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that You have sent me.

On the positive side, the current pandemic has seen many coming together in unexpected ways. Virtual communities. Online gatherings. Folk gathering food to provide resources for overstressed food banks. People making an extra effort to see that their neighbors are doing O.K. There have been great expressions of support towards those on the front-line, working in the medical services and other essential industries.

On the negative side there are some who have shown little concern for their neighbor and have complained about their individual rights. Religious, political, racial, and economic conflicts have not gone away, but in some instances been re-ignited by people's fear of the unknown. There has been an unhealthy obsession of looking for somebody to blame.

Our need for togetherness is more needed than ever before. The church is commissioned by Jesus to be a visible demonstration of unity, in a world that often pulls itself apart. Historically our faith communities have not been shining lights of togetherness. We are separated by past conflicts and present theological differences.

Yet still, Jesus prays for our unity. Still He gathers us. It is often in a time of crisis that we allow our barriers to come down and recognize that God actually is at work in those who differ from us.

For some music Bryn Haworth, “We're All One.

Prayer: “Lord, take away all that separates us from each other. Make us appreciate our differences. Help us to complement each other as we work towards healing the devastation the current pandemic has inflicted upon so many lives.

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, May 18, 2020

The Heroism Around Us

The Heroism Around Us

An online service from this past Sunday here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, “Ideal Homes” can be found here. A transcript of the service is available here.

We read in Matthew 25:31-46 “I tell you solemnly, in so far as you did this to the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did it to Me.”

Reinhold Niebuhr was one of the most influential theologians of the 20th Century. When he was 59, he had a slight stroke which left him partially paralyzed on his left side. It cut his energy back to a fraction of what it had been. His wife, Ursula, adjusted her workload as a professor, in order to care for him.

Niebuhr wrote afterward that he had made a discovery. “I learned to know the goodness of men and women who went out of their way to help an invalid. Among the people who impressed me with their helpfulness were my doctors, nurses, and therapists, my colleagues, and friends.

I soon learned that some of these people, who entered my life professionally, or who served with me non-professionally with visits and walks, showed me an almost charismatic gift of love. And, of course, my chief source of spiritual strength was my wife. She was my nurse, secretary, editor, counselor, and friendly critic through all those years of illness and occasional depression.”'

The current pandemic has reminded us that our lives are surrounded by everyday heroes. We often forget the heroism of the ordinary people around us.

We can also fail to see the value of our own actions. We may not feel that the little things we do are making that much of a difference. They make a big difference to those who are positively enriched by them! Let us keep on doing the good that we can do and let us continue to lift each other up in our prayers.

For some music “It Is Well with My Soul” by BYU Vocal Point.

Prayer: “God, Our Savior, fill our minds with Your wisdom, so that even the 'little' things we do during these unusual days, may be enriched by Your love. Amen.

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, May 11, 2020

Gratitude


This past Sunday here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church we gave thanks for our Parents and for 55 years of the educational ministry of our Nursery School. An online service can be found here, a transcript here.

In a time of disruption it easy to forget the many blessings that still surround us. As the quote above from Melody Beattie reminds us, “Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life.” Here's a quick (in no particular order) list of ten blessings gratefully received.

1. Good Health (and health care). Even if your health isn’t great, it could be worse. The current crisis reminds us we are surrounded by angels in our health care systems to keep us alive!

2. Money in the Bank. Having just a few coins makes you richer than most people on Earth.

3. Good Friends. Often, it’s the quality of friendships, not the quantity. We can be friends at a distance!

4. Your Parents. Even if they were, or are, dysfunctional, they gave you life.

5. Pets. Pets offer one of the best examples of unconditional love.

6. Learning from Mistakes. If we never made mistakes, we wouldn’t learn much, so it is definitely one of those things to give thanks for.

7. Music. If you can hum a tune that puts a smile on your face, then you have been blessed by the gift of music.

8. Breathing Fresh Air. Being able to step outside to breathe in fresh air is a great reminder of how many little things we should be thankful for.

9. A Bed to Sleep in. A bed is one of those things that’s easy to take for granted, until you don’t have one.

10. Laughter. Without laughter, the world would be a terribly sad place. They do say laughter is the best medicine of all.

And, truly, I could just keep on going and going and going. So make your own list. Make it 20, 30, 40 or more... An attitude of gratitude is never a bad thing to embrace! For some music “10,000 Reasons (Bless the Lord, O my soul ) by Matt Redman .

The Rev Adrian J. Pratt B.D.