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

Monday, December 10, 2018

Wild West Christmas

Last week here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian we celebrated the second Sunday of Advent and took the theme “Outlasting the Energizer Bunny. (sermon here). This coming Sunday, December 16, will witness the annual miracle of the Christmas Nativity play.

It has been my experience, that no matter how prepared or unprepared a church may be for this annual event, there is always an element of surprise and wonder when it all actually comes together. Families and their children are so stretched between the many events and seasonal happenings, that even finding a time to rehearse is a major accomplishment.

On the day, those involved sometimes feel that herding cats may have been a more realistic enterprise than coordinating exactly who does what and wears what and takes the different parts, particularly as it always seems there are numerous last minute changes. A major player comes down with a seasonal bug, a family's travel plans change and now all their children want a part, the costumes for the angels have mysteriously disappeared and nobody knows where they may be. Organized chaos.

Our script this year has a Western theme and features characters such as “Wild Bill Hiccup” and “Claire the Calamity Kid.” And of course there will be much singing of carols and appearances by Joseph and Mary as we celebrate a very special birth. There may well be shepherds and wise folk... you just never know!

When you consider what Scripture tells us about the very first Christmas, the chaos that surrounds the annual Nativity play can remind us that the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, from a human standpoint, was certainly not a carefully orchestrated affair.

An unexpected census. The disruption of having to travel across the country to register in your home town. An imminent birth. No room at the Inn. Bedding down for the night and placing a new born baby in an animal's feeding trough. Shepherds traveling through the night talking about hearing angels songs and welcoming a Savior. Wise guys from afar bearing gifts. Crazy!

Yet from a heavenly perspective the timing was perfect. This was how the Savior was to be born. This was when the Savior was to be born. This was where the Savior was to be born. God planned it. The angels announced it. Every nuance of the story reflects God's concern for those that the world often fails to see. What appears to be just another birth in some random corner of creation turns out to be a revelation of God's glory.

My Christmas prayer for all the Nativity presentations that will take place in sanctuaries across the globe is that they may achieve the same purpose. That they may reveal afresh the love of God. As it says in the script of our particular play... “Y'all have a very merry Christmas, ya hear?”

For some seasonal music a children's choir sing “Away in a Manger.”

God Bless.

Rev. Adrian J Pratt B.D.

Monday, December 3, 2018

Outlasting the Energizer Bunny


The Christmas season. So much to do! Extra responsibilities to deal with. It is easy to become exhausted by it all. Last Sunday, on the first Sunday of Advent we were thinking about “Looking Down the Road.” (sermon here). On the second Sunday of Advent we'll be thinking about about Isaiah 40:1-11, and taking as a theme “Outlasting the Energizer Bunny.”

My adapted version of Isaiah 40 verse 8 reads; "The Grass Withers, the flower fades, the energizer bunny eventually runs out of gumption; but the Word of our God will stand for ever."

Our mortality cannot be avoided. The clock keeps ticking. Even the energizer bunny has a battery that eventually dies. How do we build stuff into our lives that has a lasting quality? Here's a few suggestions gleaned from Isaiah's words of wisdom.
Welcome life’s seasons. We are all just passing through this life. We need to make the most of every step of the journey. Embrace every stage of life for what it is! Each season carries its own special beauty. Every day brings its particular challenges. We recharge our batteries by acknowledging that “This is the day that the Lord has made."
Build on God’s Word. According to Isaiah the only thing that really lasts for ever is not the Energizer bunny, but the Word of God. There is all sort of stuff we can build our hopes on, but a lot of it ultimately leaves us flat. When we seek to apply the principles of God’s Word to our daily lives then it really makes a difference.

If we seek for our lives to be molded by the teaching of the One, who came to us as a baby in a stable in Bethlehem all those centuries ago, then we are allowing principles and forces and dynamics, with eternal reverberations, to shape who we are and what our life will be and where our lives will take us.
Accept the empowering of the Holy Spirit. We are not called to make this journey alone. Jesus promised His disciples that He would send His Holy Spirit to be their helper and their guide. We fall and fail time after time. By God’s love we are forgiven and renewed. By God’s Spirit our batteries are recharged and... we… saved by grace through faith… can outlast energizer bunnies!

For some music, the Advent Carol “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus.” sung by Red Mountain Music.

Prayer: "
Lord in this season of Advent we can become over tired and down hearted. Our strength and patience can run out. Help us to take the time to build into our lives the eternal principles of Your Word and to turn to You for the renewing power of Your Holy Spirit to refresh and renew our lives for Your Service." Amen.
 
Rev Adrian J Pratt B.D

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Look Down The Road

Here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian we are on the road to Christmas and travelling through the season of Advent. On the first Sunday of Advent we'll be looking at Jeremiah 33:14-16.

Jeremiah is a forward looking prophet who was travelling through some difficult days. He realized that things would get worse before they would get better. When we are in such situations, where can we find hope? Here are a couple of Jeremiah’s suggestions.

Realize that God never gives up on us.

The people were well aware that their desperate circumstances were the result of their own failure. God had spoken but they hadn’t listened. God had directed them and they had headed in the opposite direction. God had called and they had searched for another voice to follow. What they had not realized was that God never gives up on God’s people.

It is the same for us. We mess up time after time. We know the right, yet do the wrong. We get ourselves into situations where we can point the finger of blame at nobody other than ourselves. At such times it is good to remember that though we may just about be ready to give up on ourselves, God never gives up on us. God is always ready to restore us and renew our lives.

Rely on God, not on our own efforts. 

Recall Jeremiah’s words of hope to his hopeless ones. 'Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safely. And this is the name by which it will be called: “The LORD is our righteousness.” '(Jeremiah 33:16)

Salvation would come to the people, not because of their own efforts, but because of what God would do. Though they couldn’t see it, the time they were travelling through was not their final destination. They are to look down the road and anticipate God’s deliverance.

Likewise, as we travel through difficult days God calls us to look down the road and see the possibilities that form if we allow His Spirit to lead us and guide us. No instant fix is offered, but through sticking with God real change can come. We can join with Jeremiah in declaring “The LORD is our righteousness.”

For some music the traditional Advent hymn “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” sing by Pentatonix.

Prayer: Lord when times are hard, or we have messed up once again, we find it hard to trust in You. Remind us that You never give up on us. Teach us to rely on You, not on ourselves for our salvation. Be our righteousness and so help us to look down the road of our lives with anticipation and hope. In Jesus name we pray. Amen. 

Monday, November 19, 2018

Thanksgiving

 
 Here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church the pastor is taking some time out to be with family and is very thankful for visiting ministers who fill the pulpit while he is gone. This Sunday we welcome a return visit from Commissioned Lay Pastor Ledonia Kimball!
 
Rather than our usual reflection here are some quotes... and some music to enjoy while you browse through them.

Music... Mormon Tabernacle Choir sing "Come Ye Thankful People come"

And here's some quotes...

“Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough.” (Oprah Winfrey)

“Pride slays thanksgiving, but a humble mind is the soil out of which thanks naturally grow. A proud man is seldom a grateful man, for he never thinks he gets as much as he deserves.” (Henry Ward Beecher)

“Our rural ancestors, with little blest, Patient of labour when the end was rest, Indulged the day that housed their annual grain, With feasts, and off’rings, and a thankful strain.” (Alexander Pope)

“He who thanks but with the lips, Thanks but in part; The full, the true Thanksgiving Comes from the heart.” (J.A. Shedd)

“Drink and be thankful to the host! What seems insignificant when you have it, is important when you need it.” (Franz Grillparzer)

“Let us remember that, as much has been given us, much will be expected from us, and that true homage comes from the heart as well as from the lips, and shows itself in deeds.” (Theodore Roosevelt)

“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today and creates a vision for tomorrow.” (Melody Beattie)

“Remember God’s bounty in the year. String the pearls of His favor. Hide the dark parts, except so far as they are breaking out in light! Give this one day to thanks, to joy, to gratitude!” (Henry Ward Beecher)

“Thanksgiving Day is a jewel, to set in the hearts of honest men; but be careful that you do not take the day, and leave out the gratitude.” (E.P. Powell)
“As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.” (John Fitzgerald Kennedy)

“Not what we say about our blessings, but how we use them, is the true measure of our thanksgiving.” (W.T. Purkiser)

“Thanksgiving is the holiday of peace, the celebration of work and the simple life… a true folk-festival that speaks the poetry of the turn of the seasons, the beauty of seedtime and harvest, the ripe product of the year — and the deep, deep connection of all these things with God.” (Ray Stannard Baker)

Happy Thanksgiving to all...

Rev Adrian Pratt.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Don't Be Alarmed


There is a song by the band “The Eagles” that speaks about how "In a New York minute, everything can change.” If you have ever visited the 911 Memorial site in Manhattan you will know that it is a poignant reminder of the truth of such a statement.

Last week here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian we talked about a Widow's mite. (Sermon here). This week our bible reading is from Mark 13:1-8. Jesus speaks to His disciples of how even the great temple that they were admiring would one day soon be nothing but rubble, a prophecy that came true when the Romans ransacked Jerusalem in AD70.

Holding onto faith in the midst of a world that often seems to spiral out of control is a challenge for believers of any generation. But Jesus suggests a way through.

Don’t be led astray. In every age there are those who seek to provide us with the answers that will save us all. Atheists suggest religion is the problem, politicians blame each other, economists blame the market, and everybody has an opinion! The challenge for anybody seeking to be a disciple of Jesus Christ is to allow His truth to be the lens through which we view all other beliefs.

Don’t be alarmed. There has yet to be an age that has not been characterized by wars, rumors of wars and other such disastrous events. Such has always been the way of the world, and will continue to be so. Reformed theology relates the chaos to the inherent sinfulness of our human condition.

Notice how when a crisis comes along there is always somebody to say; "Here’s yet another sign that the end is near!" Jesus strongly suggests that we need to take care interpreting signs of the times lest we reach the wrong conclusions. The amusing series of books by Douglas Adams; “The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy,” offer a great perspective. Every volume is marked with the words "Don’t Panic!" Panic is not helpful. Trusting that God is in control is a better option.

Do be alert. Whilst encouraged to find our peace in God, we are also cautioned to be awake to the changes that are around us. If we are going to put our faith in something, better put it in something that is tried, tested and true.

The Christian gospel has proved remarkably resilient. A personal faith in Jesus Christ provides resources that cannot be found elsewhere. God’s Spirit can bring to the center of our existence a hope that transforms our worldview and helps guide us through the maze.

For sure others will come suggesting they have a better way.
For sure there will be wars and rumors of wars.
For sure nothing stays the same. Even temples turn back to dust.
In the midst of a changing world Jesus invites us to hold fast to His love!

For some music Vertical Worship sing “Yes I Will

Prayer: ‘Lord let us not be led astray, let us not be alarmed. Keep us in Your love and guide us through the changing circumstances we encounter each day. Amen.

The Reverend Adrian J Pratt B.D.

Monday, November 5, 2018

The Widows Mite


It’s one of those stories that whenever you hear it you can’t help but be challenged. The one where the rich person drops some money in the collection box, then along comes a poor widow who puts only two pennies in. Jesus asks the people who gave the most? The answer is found in Mark 12:38-44, the biblical passage and we'll be looking at together in our worship service this coming Sunday. (Last weeks sermon “The Most Important Thing” can be found here)

Here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian we are in the middle of our Stewardship season. The lectionary passage for the day reminds us that however we give, it's not about portions. So what it is about? Well… … mostly... THANKSGIVING! (Which conveniently is also the next celebration that will gather families together across the nation). And most of us have a lot to be thankful for.

Even if we didn’t have a lot to be thankful for;
  • as may have been the case with the widow…
  • or certainly was the case with the prophet Habakkuk who declared the crops had failed and the cattle had died… (see Habakkuk 3:17-19)
  • and even those hardy pilgrims who after sailing on the Mayflower faced trouble, trouble and more trouble… still we are invited to join with the prophets prayer...
"Yet, I will exult in the Lord, I will be thankful, I will rejoice in the God of my salvation.
The Lord God is my strength."

Giving is a spiritual practice and an expression of a life that knows itself touched by the Grace of God. It is not a duty but a delight. It is not a requirement but a heart response to the love of God. It’s not about ‘making a donation’ but has everything to do with ‘overflowing with thankfulness.’

November 11 2018 also marks the one hundreth anniversary of the first World War which came to an end "at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month." In many countries they will observe a minutes silence at 11:00 a.m. to remember the end of the war and to honor those who died. We also will observe a time of silence to honor veterans of all conflicts during our prayer time in morning worship.

A part of many remembrance services in the U.K. are words from the poem “For the Fallen” written by Robert Laurence Binyon (1869-1943), and published in “The Times” newspaper on 21 September 1914. “They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old: Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun and in the morning, We will remember them.” 
 
The poem was written in mid September 1914, a few weeks after the outbreak of the First World War. During these weeks the British Expeditionary Force suffered great casualties following its first encounter with the Imperial German Army. 
 

Jesus once said, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends.” (John 15:13) As we recall the sacrifices others have made for our freedoms, the tenacity of pilgrims and the example of the widow Jesus spoke of in the temple, surely we have cause to overflow with thanksgiving!

Prayer: Lord, in my heart of hearts I know I have so much to be thankful for. Help me to express my thanksgiving in ways that bring joy to others and which help to grow Your Kingdom. Teach me to be a faithful steward of all that You have blessed my life with. Amen.

The Reverend Adrian J Pratt B.D.

Monday, October 15, 2018

What Do You Want?

I spent some fruitful days this past week, taking some time out for study leave, with a group of worship leaders and contemporary writers, some older, some still in college days, in the wonderful Tennessee countryside. Some were just trying to improve their skills to do a better job at what they already do. Others were setting their sights high and wondering how to get publishing deals and have their material more widely known.

It was inspiring to talk with them about their hopes and dreams. I have no doubt some will do very well in their given fields. They certainly seemed to have the energy and drive to achieve what they want. It all raises questions, such as “What do we want out of life?” “How do we get there?” and, maybe most importantly; “Is what we want... really the best thing for us?”

Last week here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian our reading from Mark was all about camels and needles. (Sermon here). Our reading this coming Sunday will be from Mark 10:35-45. It’s a passage in which James and John make clear to Jesus what they would like to see happen in their lives. They are aiming high. They request to be seated at Jesus side when He comes to reign in power and glory. That's high! This passage speaks to us about a number of things.

1. It speaks to us about prayer. Our prayers can be self-focused rather than God focused. We tell God what we think God should give us. Sometimes we are even “James and John-like” in that we have a sense that we deserve to have our requests answered in the way we feel they should be. That is not really praying. Prayer is seeking what God desires for our lives and seeking the strength to achieve it. Of course we pray about our needs, but we need to first discern the difference between needs and wants.

2. This passage speaks about perseverance. Jesus asks the disciples if they are capable of drinking the cup that He will have to drink. His life is about to be submerged into deep suffering. They desire a crown, but fail to see that Christ’s glory came through a Cross. The Christian life does offer great things. But they do not often come easy. Spiritual life is the long haul option.

3. This passage is also about pride. There was a song some years ago that proclaimed; “Everybody wants to rule the world.” (Or at least their small corner of it.) Jesus us calls to the abandonment of our quest for personal gain and towards embracing a servant lifestyle that keeps the needs of others always in our minds eye. Now... that is not easy. It doesn’t grab the attention in the way winning a race or gaining a promotion may do. But such is our calling as disciples.

For some music a song by Cory Asbury titled “Reckless Love.” The song has the line in the chorus “Oh the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God” and reminds us that when our ambitions are harnessed to the love of God, God promises to be with us, wherever the journey may lead.

Prayer. “Lord Your Word invites us to consider what we want from You. By asking the question it challenges us to consider our motives. Teach us how to pray in a way that sets our life on the path You wish us to follow. Through Your Holy Spirit preserve and protect us on our journey. Save us from the kind of misplaced pride that takes away our desire to serve others. All these things we ask in our Saviors name, our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

The Reverend Adrian J Pratt B.D