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

Monday, March 20, 2017

Do You See What I See?

Do you See what I See?

As we travel through Lent here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian, we are considering passages from the Gospel of John. Last weeks sermon, “My Reality Check just Bounced” can be found here.  John delights in opposites. Light and Darkness. Good and Evil. Love and Hate. Truth and Lies. Yet scattered throughout the narrative are many stories where all is not as it may seem. As an example consider our lectionary passage for this coming Sunday, John 9:1-41 “The Healing of a Man who was born blind.”

At the start of the account the disciples come to Jesus with a question about sickness. From somewhere they have received the idea that if a person is suffering, they must have done something wrong. They ask Jesus, about the man who was born blind. “Who sinned? Him or his parents?” It's the Sabbath day. Jesus picks up some mud, rubs it in the mans eyes and tells him to go wash himself in a pool called Siloam. Everybody is astonished when his sight returns. “This mans sight,” explained Jesus “Had nothing to do with anybody sinning!”

The Pharisees learn about what has happened. They are not pleased. Why? Because Jesus had broken the Sabbath. Who sinned? In their eyes, Jesus sinned. He just wouldn't play by their rules. They do everything they can to prove that the whole thing is fake news. They question the man. They question his parents. They tie themselves in knots trying to come up with alternative explanations as to what really happened. They do anything but acknowledge that Jesus had healed the man.

The man who has been healed explains clearly and simply what had happened to him. He ends up being accused of being a sinner and thrown out of the temple. The Pharisees could see it all. Jesus was a sinner. The man was a sinner. His parents were sinners. In fact everybody, but themselves, were sinners. So it couldn't have happened. As for the facts? Well they would be adjusted accordingly.

A while later Jesus meets the man on the road. He explains who He is and the man declares himself a believer. He tells the man, “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind." (John 9:39 ). Some of the Pharisees overhear the conversation. Again, they just don't get it. They are sure that when Jesus is speaking about people who can't see, that does not apply to religious leaders. The sting in the tale is Jesus telling them; "If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains.” (John 9:41)

As stated earlier, John delights in opposites. The chapter begins with disciples suggesting the man was afflicted by sin and this was the cause of his blindness. Jesus muddies the waters. Not only does He claim that sin was nothing to do with the man's situation, He then goes and does something the religious authorities suggested was a sin... healing on the Sabbath.

By the end of the story you realize that the ones truly blinded by sin... were the Pharisees. Everything has turned around. We should turn the story around on ourselves. So often we are the ones making the presumptions and believing that we really know what's going on. It's complicated. Jesus begins by telling us that sin didn't cause physical blindness. Yet by the end of the story we see that it could cause spiritual blindness.

Let us pray that God will open the eyes of our hearts and help us to see our lives in the light of His love and peace. Such will always offer us a fresh perspective! And there just happens to be a song on that very theme... “Open the eyes of my heart, Lord” (Hillsong)

Rev Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Well Woman

Here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Presbyterian, as we travel through Lent we are looking at passages mostly from the Gospel of John. Last week we heard of Jesus telling Nicodemus that he needed to be “Born Again.” Our sermon can be found here.

This week, John 4:5-26, which gives us an account of an encounter between Jesus and a woman at a well in Samaria. The woman is revealed as having a life very different to that of Jesus. Jesus was of the Jewish faith, she was a Samaritan. The two religions disagreed over details of their religion. Such as if God should be worshiped in the temple in Jerusalem, or on a mountain that was sacred to the Samaritan people.

Jesus is at the well by choice. He has sent His disciples into town to get food. The text tells us, it was noon, He was tired, and He was taking a rest. The woman is there by necessity. She needed water. In fact when Jesus talks to her about water that never ran out, she is anxious to find out more. She was having a difficult time meeting her needs.

Jesus is male, single and free to do whatever He decides. She is in a life that is determined by her ability to connect with males. She has had five husbands and the person she was relying on for support wasn't even her husband.

Jesus had around Him folk who admired Him, wished to hear what He had to offer and, though His actions often confounded them, treated Him with respect. The woman was at the well in the noonday heat because that was a time when other people were not around. She did not have a life that others seemed to respect.

The woman is extremely surprised when Jesus engages her in conversation. "You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?" (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)” Her surprise increases as He reveals to her that her circumstances (which she presumably hid from others) were known to Him.

Though Jews and Samaritans differed in some things, they shared a belief that God would one day send a Messiah to bring salvation. The fact that He knew all about her, leads her to believe that, when Jesus said He was the Messiah, He was telling the truth.

If you read what happens later in the chapter you see that the woman tells anybody who would listen what has taken place. Jesus ends up staying in town for a couple of days, teaching the Samaritans about the way God could work in their lives. Presumably He shared the insights with them that He shared with the woman.

That God was not confined to either temples or mountains. God was Spirit. The way to worship God was through living lives that embraced truth. God knew all about their circumstances and they could trust in God to guide them. God's Spirit was like living water that could satisfy their deepest needs.

As people we are all very different. We have different restrictions and different opportunities. Some of us have names everybody knows. Some of us have names only God knows. Salvation is about wholeness. About wellness. About being known. About trusting that the God who knows all about us really can guide us. The woman by the well encountered Jesus and became a well woman.

God's love can also make us whole. For some music, Casting Crowns sing “The Well.”

Rev Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, March 6, 2017

The Work of the Holy Spirit

Here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, on many Sundays throughout the year we draw upon passages from the Revised Common Lectionary to guide our thoughts. Last weeks sermon, on Temptation, can be found here. Throughout Lent, while the first Sunday gave us a reading from Matthew, the remaining Sundays direct us to passages from the Gospel of John.

John is the most philosophical of the gospels. He likes to use images of light, and water and birth to speak of the Christian discipleship. He is also the writer who gives us a statement that has been described as “The gospel in one verse,” namely John 3:16; For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

That verse is given to us following a conversation that Jesus has with a teacher from among the Pharisee's called Nicodemus. He has heard about Jesus. He comes to visit Jesus one dark night to try and cast some light on the questions that were going though his mind. He seems to recognize that there was something unique about Jesus.

Jesus... sort of... answers him. He tells Nicodemus that nobody could see the kingdom of God without being born from above (or “born again”.) The terminology that Jesus uses initially confuses Nicodemus. He responds by asking how it was possible that a person could be reborn. He states that he was now advanced in years and you couldn't just get back in the womb and start over again!

Jesus explains that He was talking about spiritual rebirth. He contrasts the waters of physical birth with the action of God's Holy Spirit. The work of God's Spirit was much harder to explain than a physical birth. Ever tried to catch the wind? The work of the Holy Spirit, like the wind, was something you could not physically see, but you could know it was real, because you could feel the effect.

This verse challenges us to believe that the work of God is never finished in our lives. Nicodemus is skeptical. His days of youthful innocence had passed.. He'd seen a lot of things. He was wise in the ways of the world. Wise enough to come seeking Jesus in the night, when those who would question his actions weren't around. Surely the possibility of starting over was completely out of the question.

But, according to Jesus, the work of the Spirit was like the wind. The wind never stops blowing. You don't know how, when or where. We've all experienced how, even on a calm day, the wind can just arrive. Unexpectedly. As if out of nowhere. Suddenly the tress are swaying. The wind chimes are chiming. The breeze feels good on our face. Other times it drives us indoors to shelter. Unpredictable and not under our control.

Jesus invites us to be open to possibility. Be ready for the Spirit to act. No matter what stage of life we are at. No matter where we are on our discipleship journey. There's always more to learn. More to see. More to experience of the love of God.

It is when we forget that every day is a new day … when the wind could blow... that we start to perish. We lose our focus. Eternity becomes an empty dream rather than a defining reality. Which brings us to that 3:16 verse again. “God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” May today be a day when you feel the breeze of God's love!

For some music... a favorite Holy Spirit hymn of mine from our blue hymnbook, “Spirit, Spirit of gentleness.” (James K. Manley.) This version is from St. Andrew´s Evangelical Lutheran Church. I'm used to singing it at a faster pace, but it is good to pull back and digest the words. Relax. Let the wind blow! That way it becomes more of a prayer and meditation, rather than just a favorite hymn. Great words.

Rev Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Temptation

 

Lent begins on March 1st this year. Here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church we will mark the beginning of our journey with a Service of Ashes in Hebron House at 7:00 pm. Then on Sunday, we begin a journey through some of the gospel readings from the Lectionary that will lead us towards celebrating Easter.

The first of these is Matthew 4:1-11, a passage which speaks about the temptations of Jesus. Oscar Wilde one wrote “The only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it... I can resist everything but temptation.” Jesus encouraged us to pray, “Lead us not into temptation.”

We sometimes to think of temptation as being about the kind of daily indulgences and failings that touch upon our lives. Things like chocolate or fine wine, gossip or little white lies. Temptations can be viewed as either trivialities that really don't matter or as guilty pleasures that we secretly desire.

For Jesus the temptations were far more sinister and had little to do with fleeting desires, but were related to the way we live out our whole lives. They challenged values that, though often accepted by the world at large, provide a shaky foundation for building a spiritual life.

It has been suggested that the first temptation, to turn stones into bread, had little to do with either stones or bread, but was about the desire to find a quick fix. There is a contemporary ring to that suggestion. I have observed that people wish to find biblical answers, but hesitate to be involved with in depth bible study, they wish for God to answer their prayers; but do not really want to develop a prayer life. People enjoy soundbites but have no desire to hear whole sermons. The bad news is that there are no quick fix solutions. A little bit of bread does not satisfy the soul. “Man cannot live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.

Then there's that temptation for Jesus to throw Himself off the temple and be seen to be rescued by angels. “Do not put the Lord Your God to the test” says Jesus. In an age when the cult of celebrities dominates the headlines, to join their ranks may seem like an answer to all our insecurities and failings. How great it would be to have people hanging on our every word simply on the basis of having pulled off a great performance. Sadly, the pressure of a life in the spotlight is often glaringly obvious. Excess. Unfaithfulness. Abuse. You know the stories! Isolated spectacular achievements do not make for a life of spiritual growth.

Finally, there's that Devilish temptation to simply go along with the way everybody else does things... the way of the world. To live as though one's faith was not really related to the every day dilemmas and decisions we all face. Forget about your beliefs and just do as you please. Because that's what everybody else does. “Worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only” counteracts Jesus.

Of course there are many other ways of interpreting these temptations. As you travel the Lenten road there are many opportunities for prayer, reflection and worship. Make the most of them. Why? Because we all have a lot to learn!

For some music... Larry Boy and the Bad Apple: Temptation Song (with lyrics). Yes. I know. Not everybody is a Veggie Tales fan. But it fits the theme! Enjoy.

Rev Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Mountain Top Experience


Last Sunday here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church we concluded our series on the “Conundrums of Corinth” with a sermon about “The Temple of You.”

This coming Sunday in the Christian calendar is “Transfiguration Sunday”. We recall the day Jesus went up a mountain with His disciples. While they were in prayer a most unusual occurrence takes place. (You can read it in Matthew 17:1-9.) The mountaintop becomes bathed in heavenly light and Jesus is observed speaking with two of the Old Testaments great characters, Moses (who represented the 'Law') and Elijah (who represented the 'prophets'). Earlier in His ministry Jesus had told His disciples; "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” Just for a moment, the disciples are given an astonishing glimpse into the truth of His words.

It is but for a fleeting moment. No sooner had they witnessed this strange happening than it all became dark again and a voice is heard proclaiming "This is my Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased. Listen to Him!" So terrifying is the experience that the disciples hit the deck! We read “They fell face down to the ground, terrified.” So there they lie. Until Jesus, (as though offering a bit of comic relief), taps them on the shoulder, and says, "Get up," … "Don't be afraid."

This moment was important for Jesus. God speaks words that were last heard at His baptism. Jesus is about to head down the mountain and stride towards Jerusalem where He would face the darkest days of His ministry that culminate in a Cross where He gives Himself for the salvation of the world.

For the disciples, this was also a much needed boost of their confidence in Jesus. Particularly for Peter. Just prior to this happening, Peter had made his confession of Christ as being the 'Son of God', and had been informed that it was upon the rock-like faith of his confession that the church would be built.

But Peter still had a lot to learn. When Jesus began explaining how they would go up to Jerusalem and He would be betrayed and murdered...yet would be raised again from the dead, Peter had contradicted Jesus and said that such a thing would never be allowed to happen. Jesus has spoken to Peter harshly...“Get thee behind me Satan!” So Peter was full of questions. “Who am I? The good guy or the bad guy? What does Jesus really want from me?” Hearing that voice declaring; “This is my Son, Listen to Him!” was a mountain top experience he would never forget.

This Sunday we say a reluctant farewell to our energetic youth minister, Evan Stewart. We lift up Evan, Heather and Gabe in our prayers as they transition to new opportunities. Some of the youth he has ministered to will be taking part in our service. Having spoken to many of them, I know Evan created many opportunities, through trips, mission opportunities and weekly Sunday evening sessions, for them to hear for themselves the voice of God and discern what God is asking of them. We thank Evan for his work.

Young or old, we all need mountain-top moments. We all need to take time to see the larger picture. We all need those times when we can allow God to speak God's vision to our hearts. That's why gathering for worship and spending time in bible study and prayer is so important. The one voice we often shut out, is often the one we most need to hear! Every service of worship, every time of prayer, can be a mountain top experience when we sense that God is with us.

Here's a great worship song “Mountaintop” by The City Harmonic. Transfiguration Sunday blessings to you, wherever you may be!

Rev. Adrian Pratt B.D.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Body Temples

This coming Sunday at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church we'll be concluding our series of messages about the “Conundrums of Corinth” and be taking a look at 1 Corinthians 3:10-11 & 16-23. Last week we we were thinking about “Solid Food.”

This weeks theme will be 'The Temple of You'... and we'll be reflecting on what it might mean to be a walking, living, breathing temple of God. I was intrigued by this video... which is about the 3rd temple mentioned in Scripture... the one Ezekial saw in a vision (but which was never actually built ) and how it was to be built in the shape of a person. (You'll have to watch this video to know what I'm talking about!)


Body temples. Then there's the whole idea of the community of the faithful people of God being together a 'temple' or 'Body' ... and the biblical image of the church as being the 'Body of Christ'. 

And then there is Jesus talking about His body as being a temple that if destroyed would be rebuilt in three days time. Mind boggling stuff when you start allowing all those different temple related images to percolate in your mind!

Paul writes in the passage we are considering : "Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst?" (verse 16). So... our theme... body temples. 

Here's some questions to consider as we approach Sunday.
  •  How well are we taking care of our personal temple?
  • What's the mission statement of our personal temple?
  • What does Paul mean when he writes  'that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst'?
I searched for a song on this theme... and found this on the YouTube... "Temple Restoration" by a lady called Janet Morrison. Certainly fits well with the theme and is based on 1 Corinthians 3 verse 16.

Hope to see some of you Sunday... and maybe connect with others in different ways :-)

Monday, February 6, 2017

Solid Food

 
Here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian church we are continuing on Sunday mornings to look at passages that deal with the conundrums faced by the early Church in Corinth... and considering how their legacy still reflects in the life of today's churches. Last week our topic was “The Deep

In our reading this Sunday, from 1 Corinthians 3:1-9 Paul chastises the church for having many folk who, when it came to the gospel message, preferred spiritual milk to solid food. "Brothers and sisters, I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit but as people who are still worldly—mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready."

Paul's fear is that, unless they developed a taste for the meatier things of Christian life they would remain in a permanently malnourished state. Among the things he identifies as being immature behavior are partisanship, jealousy and quarreling. He is horrified by the fact they are still comparing this teacher with that teacher and never for a moment actually getting a grip of the lessons they were trying to teach them.

Of course, in order to digest solid food, one has to have reached a certain level of maturity. You have to have the desire to grow up. Peter Pan was a fictional character, yet there are some who in their spiritual life seem to have acquired a strange form of  “Peter Pan syndrome.”

I have actually heard people say that they didn't like it when preachers spoke about developing a deeper relationship with God. That wasn't what they were used to, and it made them nervous. They would rather just turn up at church, mumble a few hymns, put some money in the plate and go home for dinner, thankful that another service had been endured. Solid Food? “Not for me!”

We always have more to learn. We are never invited to a form of belief that is static, underdeveloped and going nowhere. We are designed for spiritual growth. Unlike physical growth, which reaches a plateau and then turns into a decline, spiritual growth is eternal in its scope. There are greater levels of maturity to strive towards.

So... questions to ponder as we approach Sunday.
  • Are you growing in your faith?
  • Are there particular areas in your Christian experience that need more attention?
  • What are the fears or circumstances that prevent you moving forward? (And what can you do about them?)
If we worry about not being to handle the challenge of growing in our faith, we should recall that growth is God's work. We are called to cooperate with the work of God's Holy Spirit in moving us onward and upward.

Which is a great cue for a song... "In His Time."

Have a great growing grateful beautiful week. And God Bless!