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

Monday, February 19, 2018

Seeking Direction

When I am driving somewhere I often go to Google maps to find directions. It is a simple process. You type in where you are starting from and where you are going. As if by magic a number of routing opportunities appear, complete with details of how long each one will take and related traffic information. There are other apps that will tell you, as you travel, what the traffic conditions are, and suggest alternative routes.

We have started our Lenten journey towards Easter. We started on Ash Wednesday and our destination is Easter, but how are we going to get there? Some of us may have adopted disciplines or be 'giving something up' for Lent. How will these impact our journey? Will our journey include particular stopping places for refreshment or refueling? Will there be unwelcome traffic along the way? Unexpected diversions? Road blocks? Accidents? Six weeks is a long journey!

Last Sunday, here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian, we were talking about how the mission of Jesus began, with Jesus proclaiming; "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news." (Sermon: “It Starts!” right here). This Sunday we reach a point on the road where Jesus begins to explain to the disciples “That the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. (Mark 8:31)

This information is too much for one of the disciples, Peter, to handle. This wasn't the route he thought that they should be taking. So Peter takes Jesus aside, as if to say “You must be kidding me! You shouldn't even suggest things like that!” Jesus is not impressed and has to strongly rebuke Peter with the words "Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things." (Mark 8:33) He then teaches the disciples... and anybody else that seeks to follow Him... that the journey was for those willing to take up their cross and walk with Him.

This was hard teaching and it was not easily taken on board by even the first disciples, who walked so closely alongside Him, and had left everything to be His followers. None of us are exactly overjoyed when it is revealed to us that the road ahead is fraught with danger and unanticipated suffering. Our natural inclination is to seek another route.

It is only when we reach Easter that the revelation comes, that though Christ died, God raised Him from death. That His suffering is for our sins. That because of what Jesus is doing the world is about to receive a revelation of God's love that was far greater in depth than anybody could ever have perceived. A revelation that turns upside down and inside out many of our preconceptions about life on earth. "For God so loved the world that God gave God's only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him may not perish but may have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

As we travel through Lent we are blessed to know how the story turns out. So when our travels and meditations take us to uncomfortable places, let us be prepared to sit with them for a while... in the light of what is coming at the end of the journey. Let us welcome the insights the season offers, and if necessary, amend our lives accordingly.

Because that's what we do on journeys! For some music “God Will Make A Way” by Don Moen.

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Let the Lenten Journey Begin!

Our Lenten journey begins here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church with a service for Ash Wednesday, in historic Hebron House at 7:00 PM, during which the imposition of Ashes will be offered.

This year Ash Wednesday coincides with the celebration of Saint Valentine and we will be taking a moment on Wednesday to think about the life of this ancient Saint. I am sure he would approve that on this day that is all about love, we take some time out to consider the amazing love of God that is shown to us in the Cross of Jesus Christ. “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends.” (John 15:13)

Sunday February 18th, we meet for worship and observe the First Sunday of Lent. We will be considering a passage from Mark 1:9-15. This is a passage that explains how Jesus was baptized by John and then went into the wilderness where He was tempted. Following successfully dealing with that ordeal, He marches into the countryside proclaiming His message... "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news!" (Mark 1:15)

Sarah Henrich, Professor Emeritus of New Testament at Luther Seminary,St. Paul, MN, suggests a contemporary way of interpreting the challenge in these words would be to say, “Re-focus and trust the Good News!” The whole point of “Giving up” or “Taking up” things for Lent is about changing our focus from things that are dragging us down, to embracing ways of doing things that can lift us up.

Last Sunday our readings had us on a mountain with Jesus for the moment of His Transfiguration. (Sermon “It happened on a Mountain” here.) It was a fleeting moment, and now He heads down into the valley with a new purpose in His steps. There's a message to be told. There are people to be healed. There are things to be accomplished. The time is now!

And if not now, then when? If we do not take this opportunity, this Lent, to focus and build some good news into our lives, when will we do so? As one who often falls victim to the peril of procrastination, I know only too well that the devil whispers in our ear, “Why do today, what you can put off until tomorrow?”

At our most recent Presbytery meeting Rev. Andrew Fosters Connors (Brown Memorial Presbyterian Church, Baltimore) brought us a message that included the thought that we are not supposed to “Die until we are dead.” That just because our church communities are not always thriving, that does not mean they are exempt from trying new things and considering new ways of being. Indeed, the time is NOW for just such actions because “We ain't dead yet!”

The same can be said for our personal spiritual journeys. There is no time like the present for acting upon the challenges that God's Holy Spirit is whispering to our hearts. “It Starts.” If not now, then when? Let the Lenten journey begin!

When I was thinking of some music, a disco classic from 1976 sprang to mind. No lyrics neccesary as they repeat … and repeat... just in case we didn't get the message. Jimmy James & The Vagabonds - “Now is the time.”

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, February 5, 2018

It Happened on a Mountain.

As I read the gospel accounts of the life of Jesus I have the distinct impression that Jesus envisioned the church as being a “Lifeboat for Sinners” rather than a “Sailboat for Saints.” It is easy to slip into the habits of the latter. We breeze along, with our crew taking care of us, and occasionally look over the rails and make comments about the state of the world as we sail by. It's a lot more comfortable being on a sailboat than a lifeboat!

This is nothing new in the life of a disciple, but a tendency that is revealed in the conversations between Peter and Jesus on the day Jesus was transfigured upon a mountaintop. You may recall the story (Mark 9:2-9). Jesus takes three of His disciples on a hike up a mountain. When they reach the summit they are astonished by the presence of God that reveals Jesus having a conversation with two key figures of the Old Testament, Moses (who represented the law), and Elijah (who represented the prophets.) A voice is heard from the heavens; "This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to Him!"

The initial reaction of Peter at the sight of this glorious vision is that he thinks they should stay upon the mountain. It was a comfortable place to be. Hanging out with Moses, Elijah and Jesus... it couldn't get better than that. He even suggests they put some tents (or booths) up so that other folk can make the trek up the mountain and visit with them. Then they could enjoy the view as well :-)

Yet as quickly as the moment came, it passed by. It was a fleeting glimpse of glory, not intended to become a permanent fixture. It was a moment in time that was preparing Jesus for the next phase of His ministry. They would descend from the mountain and Jesus would head to Jerusalem, to opposition and eventually crucifixion. This was His declared mission and it could never happen as long as He stayed upon the mountaintop.

It is an account that reminds us of the great commission we find in Mark 16:15; "Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation.” Going out to where people are hurting is not an easy thing to do. Last Sunday saw the Superbowl and we had a message titled “We get knocked down (But we get up again)". God lifts us up so that we can carry on with the Kingdom business of serving others.

One of our members spoke last week of their experiences on a mission trip to Houston. It takes personal commitment and the support of a community to make such things happen. The next couple of weeks we will be receiving a special offering towards disaster relief.

This coming Sunday we also hope to have representatives from the Scouting movement with us. The Scouting movement was founded by Baden Powell who saw a need to do something about nurturing the lives of young people. Rather than stand by and complain about the things they could get up to, he took action to found a movement that harnessed their energy in a way that could build character and serve others. The Scout motto of “Be prepared” is far more applicable to a lifeboat than a sailboat!

I recall a preacher once beginning a service with the words, “Are you sitting comfortably?” He went on to say, “Well, maybe that's our problem!” If we desire to become faithful followers of Christ, we need to be aware that, like Peter, our desire for complacency can sometimes get the better of us.

For some music, a challenging message from Bobby Michael's 1988 album "Time"... "Anything That Costs Me Nothing."

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, January 29, 2018

We Get Knocked Down!

Last week at Mount Hebron Presbyterian we were thinking about the "Call of God" and had  a message titled “Listen to Him!” But this coming Sunday sees the Superbowl.

One thing is for sure. Players are going to get knocked down. And, unless injured, they are expected to get up again and carry on with the game... no matter how hard they are tackled.

Life can be tough. We are going to be knocked down by circumstances that come our way. All sorts of problems are out there that we have to tackle. And when we fall, we are expected to get up again and carry on with the game of life. Either that or we need time to recuperate from the onslaught! But once we can get up again, it's back to business as usual.

A favorite scripture of many people, particularly during those times when life is laying them low, is found in Isaiah 40:31 “Those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint. I realize that one of the teams participating this year are known as the “Eagles” but please do not consider this biblical text as favoring either team! That would indeed be taking things out of context.

The context of the words Isaiah offers was that the people Israel were in captivity and longing to return to their homelands. They realize that their situation had come about because of their own unwillingness to heed God's call to act like people who belonged to the Lord Almighty. They were afraid, defeated and desperate for some hope. They were knocked down and had no idea of how to get their lives back together again.

Along comes Isiah with this message of hope. By the grace of God they were forgiven. The doorway was being opened for a new beginning. A time was coming when they would be restored. In order to enter into their blessing they are counseled to wait upon the Lord.

Such a message resonates with the Good News we are called to proclaim through our Christian faith. We claim that we are set free by the life and love of Jesus Christ. We believe that through God's Holy Spirit we can find power for the living of these days... even when they knock the stuffing out of us! One of the ways we live into that calling is by helping others get back on their feet.

One of the things here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church we have been participating in, is a “Souperbowl” collection on Game Day. We will have folk stationed with collecting pots as people leave the sanctuary. They are invited to make a donation into the pot of the team they favor. This money will then be distributed to a charity (chosen by the youth) seeking to feed hungry folk in our community. It's all part of a national initiative that last year raised millions of dollars to help folk who had been knocked down, get back on their feet again.

Whoever you are supporting in the Big Game, and however you spend the day, be sure to spare a thought for those less fortunate than ourselves. And when you see one of those players get knocked to the floor, recall how the love of God is able to reach out to us when we fall.

There is song by a band called Chumbawamba all about getting knocked down. As the lyrics of the verse don't really go along with the sentiments of the meditation, I'll let you choose to look for that one yourself! Instead, here's “Psalm 91 (On Eagles Wings)” by Shane and Shane.

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Which Voice Will We Follow?

When my son was younger he played on a soccer team. I recall sitting on the bleachers, and being often amazed at the experts that occupied the seats alongside me. They had no qualms about informing the referee that he or she needed glasses or shouting at the coach to do a better job of making their particular offspring shine as a star on the field.

I also noticed that the players who did best, had a healthy respect for the officials who could remove them from the game and took absolutely no notice of the advice from the bleachers, choosing instead to focus on the advice that their coach was offering to them. They also seemed to have a sense that the game wasn't just about them, but that they were part of a team.

Here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church we have been following a series of messages focusing on the “Call” of God that invites us to become disciples of Jesus Christ. Last week we were considering that to respond to that call takes a great deal of of commitment, that we may feel hesitant to embrace … and we were thinking about the experience of the prophet Jonah, who when he sensed a call from God, immediately headed in the opposite direction. (Sermon here: The Reluctant Preacher)

This week we will be thinking about the fact that the “Call” of God isn't the only voice out there that is seeking to direct our life. There are so many, many, many voices seeking our attention. It can be hard to discern which ones are in tune with the direction and dimensions of God's Kingdom.

Our New Testament passage will be from Mark 1:21-28, a passage in which Jesus is teaching in the synagogue and during the service deals with a majorly disruptive heckler whom the scripture describes as having an 'unclean spirit.'

The story begins with some of the members of the synagogue being impressed by the way Jesus teaches. He has an authority about Him that other teachers lacked. Then comes the confrontation with this heckler who cries out “I know who You are, You are the Holy One of God!” The guy with the problems seems to sense the authority of Jesus even more so then those who were impressed by His teaching!

Further down the line, some of the Pharisees and Teachers of the Law find out about the claims being made about Jesus, and they are not the least bit impressed. After all, they were the important ones in God's scheme of things. They didn't realize that there was a guy in town who was rewriting the rules of the game and would turn out to be both the best coach and the best referee that there ever could be.

There are always going to be folk around us telling us that their way is the best way. And in among them all is the voice of God. How do we tune in to God's voice?

I'd suggest that the traditional disciplines of prayer, reading scripture and worshiping in the company of others provide a way that helps us in our discernment. That is not a new idea or particularly radical suggestion. Sometimes the tried and true ways are the ones that bring the most long lasting results.

If we want to make Jesus our life coach then we have to ignore the voices from the bleachers and simply play our part as members of God's team. “Listen to Him!”

For some music a track from Twila Paris's 1998 album "Where I Stand"... a song about listening to God's voice. The comments on the YouTube page read; “We should always be attuned to the voice of God, perhaps subconsciously. But particularly after we pray. Many people make the mistake of praying but then missing the answer because they weren't paying attention. Others get impatient and give up on God and do things their own way. So, we need to have "patience to wait, when there is nothing clear", and when there is "nothing to see, still we believe".”

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Reluctant Disciples

Reluctant Disciples

We've just started a series at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church focusing on the “Call” to discipleship. Last week our focus was Samuel and we had a message titled “The Call and the Tingling.” This coming Sunday we'll be taking a look at the prophet Jonah.

From Sunday School days we probably recall Jonah as the one who was swallowed by the whale because he didn't want to go and preach to the people of Nineveh. And who can blame him? They didn't have the best reputation when it came to relationships with the people of Israel.

Sharing the gospel message has never been an easy task. The gospel really does challenge us to dig deep into our hearts and consider what really matters in life. People really don't want to learn that the things they are building their whole lives on might not be such great things after all.

We are very comfortable with our assumptions and misapprehensions. And like Jonah, we really don't want to have to be the ones who point out to people where their lives may be going wrong. Well... maybe only behind closed doors, but certainly not face to face with those we fear or disagree with.

The story of Jonah is a challenge to our complacency and ability to put others down without taking any actions that might help them move to a better place in their lives. Like Jonah, we may prefer that God simply dealt with them so we didn't have to be concerned about them any more.

If you recall the story, when Jonah does reluctantly go and tell them about God being about to judge them, the Ninevites turn their lives around. Is Jonah pleased? No. Not in the least. On the contrary he sits beneath a tree on the outside of town and sulks because God didn't go through with judging them after all!

The thing about grace is that it is very unfair and indiscriminate. How dare God forgive people when we believe they deserve judgment? Here we are, doing our best to live decent and responsible lives, and they get to receive the love of God just as much as we do. Lord have mercy!

Maybe that's our problem. Our God is a merciful God. Our God calls all people, of all nations, of all faiths, of all kinds, to be known as God's children. He welcomes every lost sheep and returning prodigal with open arms of welcome and acceptance.

And the challenge for us is that, part of our calling as disciples, is to let others know they are welcome. Even if we find the concept of grace difficult, personally inconvenient and downright scandalous, our commission is to go into all the world and create opportunities for discipleship.

Hopefully it won't take for us to be swallowed by a big fish before we embrace our calling! For some music... Chris Tomlin sings “I Will Follow.

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, January 8, 2018

The Call

This coming Sunday at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church I'm beginning a series of sermons featuring stories from the Old Testament, which speak in different ways, about hearing and responding to the call of God. I always find it interesting to see not only how such a call comes to individuals and communities, but how that call is received!

Jonah, heard the “Word of the Lord” and immediately headed in the opposite direction. Isaiah addresses not an individual, but the whole people of Israel with a message that tells them to “Get up and get back in the game again!” The future of the whole nation becomes dependent on their response to his words.

Samuel, who will be the topic this week, needs the help of an older, wiser person, to help him discern what is going on. Though the voice speaking to Samuel is clear, Samuel is not at first at all sure where the voice is coming from. It is only after three consecutive mid-night visits to the priest Eli that Samuel eventually says Speak, for Your servant is listening.” (You can find that story in 1 Samuel 3:1-20.)

When the Lord does speak to Samuel, the message he is to offer to Eli is not an easy one to share as it concerns judgment on Eli and his household for their unfaithfulness. No wonder Jonah and Isaiah were not exactly enthralled at the prospect of being carriers of God's message! The overall picture from these characters is that not only is the call of God difficult to hear, but responding to it and putting into practice what God calls you to do is never an easy task.

As you follow the stories through you become aware, that though the challenge is hard, those who respond to the call discover that God is the one who equips them and enables them to fulfill the call. It is significant that Samuel describes himself as a “servant” who is listening for God's call. A servant acts upon the authority of their master, rather than from any position of personal power or influence.

To be servants in God's Kingdom is the task of every would be disciple of Jesus Christ. We don't need to hear a voice in the night or encounter a talking bush to discover that. Simply reading one of the gospel accounts calls to consider that when Jesus says “Follow Me,” He is offering an open invitation for all of us to respond to His call.

Doing so means acknowledging that there needs to be some rearranging in our hearts. There is a need to think through our priorities. To consider what in life truly has value and worth. To be a servant of the King means embracing the values of the Kingdom... which, when it comes to the Kingdom of God, is always going to be a challenge.

Yet never one we face alone. To all those who will commit their life to Him, Jesus also promises the help, guidance, and life-giving love of His Holy Spirit. For some music, a song by the late Larry Norman that responds to God's call declaring “I am a servant.” I particular like the line in this song that says “To live is a privilege, to love is such an art.

May 2018 be a year in which we respond to the call of God's love in artful ways that both challenge us and enrich us!

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.