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

Monday, December 9, 2019

The Christmas Nativity Play

Last week here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church we reflected on a well known Christmas carol. Our sermon, “Stumps and Shoots” can be found here. This coming Sunday we shall celebrate the third Sunday of Advent with our children's Nativity play. Hopefully all will go well. Back in my homelands in the U.K, the annual Christmas play featured as part of many an elementary schools annual calendar.

It seemed like every teacher had a story to tell about the Christmas Nativity play. There was the time the Innkeeper, when asked if there was any room in the Inn, answered, "Plenty" and ushered the startled Holy Family inside; the occasion when Mary dropped Baby Jesus, immediately bursting into floods of tears as the head of the large pink doll rolled off the stage and bounced along the front of the hall; the time that the Archangel Gabriel informed Mary that he had tidings of great joy to bring but had completely forgotten what they were.

Then there was the performance when the little boy playing Joseph strode confidently onto the stage and asked the small figure in blue, cradling her baby, "And how's our Jesus been today, Mary?" "He's been a right little so-and-so!" came the blunt reply. 

Another time, the six-year-old playing the Innkeeper was most disgruntled with his part, having wanted to take the lead as Joseph. When the Holy Family arrived at the Inn and asked for a room the Innkeeper pulled Mary through the door and told a startled Joseph, "She can come in, but you can get lost!”

In one Nativity play Mary cradled a large doll with a mass of blond curls but as she rocked it in her arms it suddenly began to speak in a tinny American accent: "Hi, my name's Tammy and I need my diapers changing. Hi, my name's Tammy and I need my diapers changing." The little boy playing Joseph came to her assistance and, seizing the doll, twisted it's head around, which promptly shut it up.

There is a saying in the world of theater, “Never work with children or animals.” Yet somehow the Christmas story would not be the same without it being retold with a whole cast of little ones. So we will we do our best to tell the old, old story in our own imperfect way!

At the core of the Christmas story is the birth of a child. A child, who when He grew up, said to His would be followers "Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3)

As we rejoice at the achievements of our little ones, maybe we can also reflect that embracing life with innocence, wonder and “making it up as we go along” has always featured as a component of true discipleship!

For some music “Oh Holy Night” sung by little Claire Ryann Crosby at the annual Crosby's Christmas Concert.
The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, December 2, 2019

Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming.

Lo, how a rose e’er blooming, From tender stem have sprung,
Of Jesus lineage coming, As men of old have sung...,
Isaiah twas foretold it, The rose I have in mind...,

This familiar Advent hymn will feature as part of our service, here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, on December 8, when we take as our theme "Stumps and Shoots." The hymns popularity was boosted when it featured in the 1971 Academy Award winning movie "Love Story."

Of course, it's a lot older than the 1970's! The hymn’s origins can be traced back to the late 16th century, in a manuscript found in St. Alban’s Carthusian monastery in Trier. Its original German title was, “Es ist ein Ros entsprungen.”

The origin of the image of the rose has been open to speculation. One ancient legend has it that on Christmas Eve, a monk in Trier found a blooming rose while walking in the woods, and then placed the rose in a vase on an altar to the Virgin Mary. In Catholic theology Mary is compared to the symbol of the “Mystical rose” in Song of Solomon 2:1; “I am the rose of Sharon, and the lily of the valleys.” 

Protestant theologians have interpreted the rose as being a reference to Jesus. Isaiah 11:1 reads “And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots.” A third passage from Isaiah 35:1 suggests another biblical basis for such an image: “The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad for them; and the desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose.

The hope that things can bloom in even the most unlikely places is a common theme throughout Advent. Last Sunday we were thinking about “Feasting on Hope.” Our sermon can be found here. Who would have thought that in an out of the way corner of the world, known as Bethlehem (and in a stable of all places) the glory of God would be revealed through the birth of Jesus Christ?

God looks at our lives, which can be very ordinary and sometimes frustrated, and sees them as places where wonderful things can take place. Out of stumps, new shoots can grow! The birth of Jesus into the circle of this worlds life offers to us all new possibilities for peace, joy and love. As we travel towards Christmas Day, let us rejoice in the hope the season offers.

For some music Bonnie McMaken, Johannah Swank, and Marissa Cunningham sing a beautiful arrangement of this Advent carol “Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming.” (Thanks to my wife Yvonne for recommending this link.)

Prayer. “Lord, in Your good time, Jesus our Savior was born. Prophesied by seers of old, welcomed by shepherds and angels, His Spirit still finds a home in all who are open to welcome His love. Out of stumps, new shoots can grow. We pray that our lives may be places where Your love can 'blossom as the rose.' Amen.

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, November 25, 2019

Feasting on Hope

Feasting on Hope

Here's hoping you will have a blessed Thanksgiving and time to reflect on the many blessings God has showered upon our lives. Yet no sooner have all the dishes been cleared away and everybody traveled back to wherever they came from, than we are getting our sights set on Christmas! There is hardly time to take a breath.

Last Sunday we reflected on the theme “Christ the King.” Our sermon from the day can be found here. This coming Sunday is the first Sunday of Advent. Many churches will be focused on lectionary passages that are all about the coming Kingdom of God, such as Matthew 24:36-44, the suggested passage for the day.

The readings continue to speak about a theme that has been part of our reflections the last few weeks; namely that however things may appear, God still has the whole world in God's hands. God is in control. One aspect of this passage that always fascinates me, is the motif of “surprise” in Matthew's view of the future. Whilst telling us in no uncertain terms that the day of the Lord will come, we are cautioned not to speculate about when such an event may take place.

Rather our calling is to work at the kind of things that bring the Kingdom closer. If we want to see a hope filled world then we are invited to offer some hope. If we wish to see war at an end then we are called to support initiatives towards peace. If we want to see the poor lifted up, then we are called to do some serious sharing from out of the abundance God has blessed us with.

The surprise comes when our small and seemingly insignificant actions are shown to have made a difference to somebody and opened a little window of hope into their lives. What a blessing to observe our actions actually making a difference. “One day,” the prophets declare, “All will be well.” In the meantime? We are invited to do the little things that turn out to be the big things.

This coming Sunday will also be a communion Sunday. The table will be laid with bread and wine. As we remind ourselves how Jesus gave Himself, heart and soul, to the salvation of the world, we are encouraged to commit our selves to the continuing work of building His kingdom.

For some music multi Gospel Grammy winner Andrae Crouch sings “Soon And Very Soon” at a Tennessee Ernie Ford "Great American Gospel Sound" concert.

Prayer:”Lord, in this Advent season we seek that our lives may be a source of hope for others. We dare to believe that You have all things under control and one day its all going to turn out right. But until that time... help us to carry on trusting that our actions make a difference. Amen.”

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, November 18, 2019

This Strange King

Last Sunday here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian we were thinking about “Tenacity, Time and Torn Down Temples.” Our sermon from the day can be found here. This coming Sunday marks the end of the liturgical year, marked by a Sunday known as “Christ the King Sunday” or for those nations uncomfortable with the idea of a monarchy, “Reign of Christ Sunday.”

Next week Advent begins and the countdown to Christmas. The liturgical year finishes on a very somber note, the suggested gospel reading being Luke 23:33-43, a passage that is all about the crucifixion of Jesus and the reactions of two men who are crucified with Him. Reflecting on this passage Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton writes;

“Luke’s story of the crucifixion is very spare and simple;They crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on His left and one on His right.” That’s it. Very simple, very plain, and very clear to the people to whom Luke was writing. Luke was a Greek, his main audience was Greco-Roman in culture, not Jewish, and they knew exactly was Crucifixion was, they didn’t need to have it explained to them. It was very common throughout the empire; which was Luke’s point.

Jesus, the supposed Son of God, Lord of Lord and King of Kings, executed like a common criminal with a couple of petty criminals. Not very Kingly, is it? And then, more indignity, more shame; the soldiers kneel at His feet while He’s still alive. Not to worship, but to gamble for His clothes. And people laughed at Him, “He saved others, let Him save Himself if He is the Messiah of God, His chosen One.” There it is, the crux of the matter for the people then, and if we’re honest for us now.

We don’t want a suffering and dying God. We want a strong and powerful one. We want a Savior who can not only forgive our sins, but who will make us richer and prettier and more popular and help insure that all our plans work out for the best.”

If you watch any of the prosperity preachers on the TV religious channels you will realize that there is a huge market for a palatable God who grants whatever we ask, (just as long as we make a donation.) But that is not the God of Luke. Or Matthew, John, Mark, Paul, Peter or any other biblical writer.

The glory of God's Kingship is shown through the ability of Jesus to absorb all the pain, hatred and suffering that was heaped upon Him. Not only does He absorb it. He transforms it. This passage also contains an unmerited offer of grace. A criminal dying alongside Him, recognizes the true dignity and worth of Jesus. He simply declares “This man has done nothing wrong.” Jesus answers the criminal, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.

What kind of Kingly judgment is this? What a scandal of grace! Just by recognizing who Jesus is, a person finds eternity within their grasp? But maybe that is the point that Luke is trying to make! This strangest of Kings can accomplish the most unbelievable works of forgiveness and acceptance towards any one of us. All He asks is that we recognize Him for who He is.

For some music and further reflection Matt Papa sings “His Mercy Is More.”

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, November 11, 2019

Nothing is for Certain

One thing in life is for certain.
That nothing in life is for certain. 
We truly do not know what each day may bring our way. 
Last Sunday we were thinking about resurrection. 
Our sermon from the day “The Living Difference” can be found here.

Our reading this coming Sunday is from Luke 21:5-19. Jesus and His disciples are in Jerusalem. The disciples are pretty certain that Jesus is somebody special in God's eyes and are quite sure that God will take care of Him (and them.) As they visit the temple they marvel at the seeming permanence of the institution. It was an impressive building.

Jesus astounds them by predicting that the temple, in the not so distant future, would be flattened. In fact, Jerusalem itself would be ransacked and pass through a time of great destruction. He tells them that they, as His followers, would face persecution and be called upon to give an account of themselves.

They naturally ask Him about how and when and why. He refuses to answer with any specifics, other than telling them to keep trusting God whatever may happen and assures them that God would remain in control, even when outwardly it looked like everything was falling apart.

With the benefit of hindsight we know that Jesus was speaking the truth. The temple, as did all of Jerusalem, fall before the might of Rome. And many of those who professed to have faith in Him, following His death and resurrection, were indeed persecuted and called upon to account for their beliefs.

Temples are built and temples crumble. Empires rise and empires fall. History is an unlikely chain of events and has a tendency to repeat itself. Today's certainties may not be so clear tomorrow. When all is going well in our lives, faith comes easy. It is easy to trust when we don't have much to be trusting about. It is when the unexpected happens, when uncertainty creeps in and when we cannot predict the outcome of an event, that we have a struggle on our hands.

Yet Jesus still, in His predictions of woe and trouble, adds at the end of His descriptions, “But not a hair of your head will perish.” For those who continue to trust in Him, despite the outward appearance of things, there remains a promise of protection.

Maybe that is a verse we need to keep somewhere close by for those times when everything seems to be falling apart. “Not a hair of your head will perish.” Dare we trust that God is STILL in control? That's not easy. The thing is, I have yet to find a verse in the whole of Scripture that suggests it should be.

For some music and further reflection “Mercy Me”sing “Even If.

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

The Living Difference

Last week here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church we were contemplating the actions of a wee man called Zacchaeus. Our sermon from the day can be found here.

In our service this coming Sunday we will be thinking thinking about the Sadducees and in particular, their doubts about the resurrection. The biblical passage for our focus will be Luke 20:27-38.

How can belief in the resurrection make a difference to our daily lives?

Belief in the Resurrection offers a fresh perspective on justice.

Many times we hear the complaint that “Life is not Fair.” There was nothing ‘fair’ or ‘just’ about the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Yet God was able to turn the ultimate catastrophe into the ultimate victory through the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. Belief in the resurrection grants to us the hope that God can take the most unjust and desperate situations and use them for some good and eternal purpose.

Belief in the Resurrection places life into a larger framework.

If we believe our actions have an eternal significance then we are less likely to make hasty decisions or invest ourselves in activities that benefit only ourselves. We will take seriously the invitation of Jesus to find Him in the most needy of those around us. As our lives are transformed by the action of the Holy Spirit we seek to help others experience His living love.

Belief in the Resurrection offers a hopeful perspective on death.

If death is the end, then death is the ultimate catastrophe. However if death is a doorway into something greater, then death is nothing to fear. As St Paul wrote to the Philippian church, “For me to live is Christ, to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21).

Prayer: Lord, we ask that belief in the power of Your love to overcome death may transform our lives. Help us through Your Holy Spirit to be resurrection people with ‘Hallelujah’ as our song!” Amen.

For some music Rend Collective sing “Resurrection Day.

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, October 28, 2019

Get out of that Tree

Zacchaeus was the little guy who climbed up the sycamore tree to see Jesus pass by. But Jesus didn’t pass by. He stopped in His tracks, looked up into the tree, called his name and told him to “Come down” as He was coming to his house that day. Zacchaeus will be our focus this coming Sunday at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, as we look together at his story in Luke 19:1-10.

Zacchaeus is a fascinating character. His name means "pure," yet the Bible tells us he was anything but pure. He was a chief tax collector in Jericho, the city where, historically, the walls had fallen down under the onslaught of Joshua and the Israelite forces.

Tax collectors were known for their habit of taking a share of the proceeds to enrich their own lives. This was far from legal, but tolerated by the Roman enforcers, as it was hard to find anybody willing to take the job. Zacchaeus was additionally disliked by the Jews because he had intimate contact with Gentiles. Decent folk did not act that way. Neither did they sell their souls to Romans.

Jesus is passing through the city of Jericho, on His way to Jerusalem. As Jesus approaches, Zacchaeus hides in a tree. We are told he was a little man, so maybe he had climbed up the tree to get a good view. Or maybe he was scared of the people, so he is hiding in order to be well out of their reach!

Jesus does not pass by. He stops and tells Zacchaeus to hurry down out of the tree he is hiding in, because Jesus was going to spend the day at his house. The religious authorities were not impressed. Jesus was spending more and more time with people who were "undesirable." Jesus explained His reasons for associating with them; “The Son of Man had come to seek and to save those who were lost.” (Luke 19:10.) Jesus cared about Zacchaeus, just as He cared about everyone, no matter their profession or status.

Zacchaeus was truly a changed man after he met Jesus. He repented of all the wrong things he had done. He understood what Jesus said about "turning around" and began following in the Kingdom's ways. He promised Jesus that, according to the laws of Moses, he would pay back the people from whom he had taken too much in taxes.

Jesus told Zacchaeus that it was his faith that now caused him to be counted among God's people. It is a biblical principle that all who come to Jesus in faith and believe in Him are saved by their faith. Jesus welcomes all who turn to Him and put their trust in Him. If Zacchaeus was an acceptable candidate for discipleship, then so are we!

For some music and reflection “Out of Hiding” by Steffany Gretzinger and Amanda Cook.

Prayer: Lord, it is good to know that whoever we are and whatever we have done, You still come seeking after us. You always offer us the chance to make amends and start over again. May we welcome Your love into our daily routines this week. Amen.

(October 13 Sermon “The Attitude of Gratitude” can be found here)

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.