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

Monday, June 19, 2017

Patriarchal Percolation

This past Sunday at Mount Hebron Presbyterian church we celebrated our Scottish heritage. A sermon, reflecting on the life of great Scotsman Alexander Cruden's, can be found here.

Over the summer months, during our times of worship, I'll be taking a look at the lives of some of the Old Testament characters often called “The Patriarchs.” I'm thinking of characters like Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. I won't be focusing just on their lives, but also how their decisions affected the people around them, such as Sarah and Hagar, Leah and Rachel.

Those Old Testament stories could give a modern soap opera a run for their money. Family disputes. Betrayals. Unfaithfulness. Startling discoveries and recoveries. It's all the stuff great drama is made of!

This Sunday we'll be reading Genesis 21:8-21, and seeing how the decisions of Abraham had unexpected consequences for those who were closest to him. You maybe recall how Abraham, impatient at his wife Sarah's inability to bear a child, instead takes Hagar as a surrogate mother and Ishmael is born.

All is well... until Sarah does have a child... and then an unholy row erupts between Sarah and Hagar. Hagar and Ishmael end up being sent away to an uncertain future in the desert. Amazingly... God abandons neither Abraham and Sarah, or Hagar and Ismael, and both are promised a future, just as long as they keep trusting in God.

Of course … it's that “Trusting in God” that is the hard part. It is Abraham's NOT trusting in God, and thinking he could do better taking things into his own hands, that causes a lot of the trouble in the first place.

All of which reminds us that “Trusting in God” is never the easiest, or even the most obvious course of action that springs to our minds, whenever we think about where our lives may be heading. It is easy to dismiss the simple truth that God knows better than we do how our lives should be lived.

Through reading God's Word, through prayer, and through opening our hearts to God, in times of both private and corporate worship, we allow God's love and God's guidance to percolate into our hearts and lives.

As a coffee lover, I use that word “percolate” quite deliberately! The dictionary definition is that “to percolate” means to to “become active, lively, or spirited, to show activity, movement, or life; to grow or spread gradually; to germinate.” Such well describes the action of God's Holy Spirit upon our lives when we take the time to open them to God's influence.

It is that influence that offers the ability to trust in God. It is a gift to be received and a grace to be accepted. My hope is that, as we take a look at some of the great characters of the Old Testament, we discover truths we can apply to our own lives. Who knows? A little “Patriarchal Percolating” might turn out to be just the pick-up we all need for the living of these days.

For a musical reflection, grab a cup of coffee (or other beverage of your choice) and reflect on Lauren Daigle singing “Trust In You.”

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Scottish Sunday

Last week at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church we celebrated Trinity Sunday by taking a look at the closing verses of Matthews Gospel that speak about taking the gospel to all the world in the name of “Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” The sermon “Matthew's vision for the Church” can be found here.

This coming Sunday, at 10:00 am, we plan to meet outdoors in our beautiful amphitheater and celebrate our Presbyterian Scottish heritage. Some folks will be dusting off their kilts. We will be using liturgy and music from the Scottish Presbyterian tradition. We will have a piper to help us celebrate. During sermon time I'll be reflecting on a parable about a judge, a nagging woman and a Scottish genius known for his “Appalling Persistence.”

One thing I won't be doing is reading or preaching in the dialect known as “Braid Scots.” I have in my study a book, published in 1910, containing collection of sermons by Rev. D. Gibb Mitchell. It includes portions of scripture in a “Braid Scot” translation. See if you can recognize this particular passage. (This may well stretch your vocal abilities if you read it loud.)

Jesus said, forby, a particular man had twa sons. And the younger loon said to his faither, “Faither! Gie me the portion o' the property that fa's to me.” And he potioned oot the estate for them. And no land efter, the youing callant gaithered thegither a' he had, an gaed awa to a far lan'; an' there squandered his siller in wild ploys.”

If you need a translation, take a look at Luke 15:11-13 in your own preferred Bible version. Hopefully you will recognize the passage as the beginning of a parable Jesus told about a prodigal son who left home and squandered his father's fortune. In “Braid Scots” he is described as “The Ne-er-do-weel.”

The return of “Ne-er-do-weels” to the love of the Father's home is a story that we celebrate when we sing John Newtons hymn “Amazing Grace,” a favorite of pipers across the globe. The well known tune provides a fitting backdrop to a hymn that is all about the grace of God that welcomes us all to be a part of God's family.

Regardless of our culture or background, we are all welcome to worship the God of all nations. Celebrating the heritage of one particular corner of creation, that has been very influential in the religion and culture of this land, is a positive way of reminding ourselves of the many blessings we have received.

As well as being our Scottish Sunday, it is also Father's Day, “Celebrate our Sunday School Teachers Day” and we intend honoring our graduates. All-in-all an action packed morning. And... of course... there will be food. A pot-luck picnic will follow morning worship. Everybody under the sun is welcome. And if you want to bring something edible... then don't hold back.

For some music... “Celtic Woman” perform Amazing Grace... complete with full orchestra and... of course... bagpipes.

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Trinity Sunday

 
Last Sunday in the church calendar was “Pentecost Sunday.” Here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian church we celebrated the beginning of the Christian Church and our thoughts centered around a “Happy Birthday” theme. This week is “Trinity Sunday.” 

The “Doctrine of the Trinity,” though it is never mentioned as such in scripture, has been a central teaching of the Church throughout the centuries. People have tied themselves in knots trying to explain how God can be three, yet One... (or One, yet three) ... and I have no desire to even attempt to unravel such a mystery.

The idea of “Trinity” reflects the experience of the earliest disciples. They knew God as Father. They came to confess Jesus as Lord and Savior. They felt the empowering of the Holy Spirit. While these were three different things, they knew it was all coming from God.

1 John 4:8 tells us that “God is love.” One of the aspects of Trinity I like to ponder, is that it pictures God as a “unity community,” defined by honor, respect, equality and love. Just about the hardest task we seem to have on earth, is that of getting along with each other, while acknowledging and accepting our differences.

The idea of God being a “gathering” birthed in love, where everything works out and everybody has a place to belong and a role to play, is one I find encouraging. It sounds like what the Church is meant to be!

Such a notion goes against the ideas of individuality and self importance that we sometimes find so attractive. Around the year 1624 the poet John Donne wrote; No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent.” Human beings do not thrive when isolated from others. We need community. 
 
If we are made in the image and likeness of God, and God is a community of self-donating love, then such implies that we can never be happy isolated from others. That we can never find contentment protecting ourselves from others, or holding ourselves back selfishly from others. That unless we give ourselves in love, we can never fully realize our humanity. That we really need each other.

Another image of the Trinity is that of an eternal dance. In order for a dance to take place there has to, at least, be music. Which suggests that, even if we are the only person in the room, we never dance alone! And where there is music and dancing we often find laughter. The Trinitarian images continue to flow... but don't allow them to become literal... because then all sense of mystery flies out of the room.

Mystery is important. Life can be both a bright and a dark mystery. In the tangled web of relationships we can find both our deepest challenges and discover our most elated glimpses of joy. In my mind, all this relates to the idea of a Trinitarian God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. 
 
But that's just me. Take the time for your own prayerful wondering and exploring. The mystery of the Trinity, rather than being a dry, useless, old doctrine, presents a wonderful opportunity for creative minds to explore new notions of community and love!


For some music, a song (I think written by Carl Perkins and recorded by Johnny Cash) called “Rise and Shine” performed by a family group who call themselves “The Trinity River Band.” 
 
Rev. Adrian. J. Pratt B.D.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Pentecost

Last week we finished up a series of sermons from Peter's first letter with some thoughts on “Casting Cares.” At Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, this coming Sunday, June 4 2017, we meet around a table laid with bread and wine for a birthday celebration better known as “Pentecost Sunday.”

Following the Ascension of Jesus, the disciples were promised that the Holy Spirit would come to them and empower them for their work. The Church was born as the Holy Spirit descended with rushing wind and tongues of fire that energized the disciples as they gathered together in an upper room for worship and prayer.

That experience spread out into the streets. People heard, in their own languages, the disciples praising God. Peter stood before them and in Acts 2:16-17 we hear him declaring; This is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: 'In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.'”

The Baptist Preacher, Charles Spurgeon, once wroteWithout 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 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 like ‘Living Water.’ As the scripture has said, 'Out of the believer's heart shall flow rivers of living water.'" Now Jesus said this about the Spirit, which believers in Him were to receive.”(John 7:38-39.)

As summer approaches we can expect to experience some days with high temperatures. No doubt our weather broadcasters will be offering warnings telling us to stay hydrated and seek the shade.

Another image of the Holy Spirit is that of being a refreshing wind. On a blistering hot day there is nothing like catching a refreshing breeze to grant us some relief from the heat!

If we feel our Christian life has become dry and lifeless, maybe we need a Holy Ghost refreshing! How do we do that? Through prayer. Through meditating on God’s Word. Through worship. Through reminding ourselves that, every day we live, we live in the shadow of an Almighty God whose love is available to us through the love and grace of Jesus Christ, our Shepherd and our Savior.

For a musical interlude a version of the song “Spirit of the Living God.” Although we'll be singing this song as we approach the communion table I doubt it will be as spirited or dramatic as this particular version, performed by the wonderful gospel singer Vickie Winans, from her CD "Live In Detriot II."

May God grant us all a fresh anointing of His love!

Rev Adrian J. Pratt B.D.


Monday, May 8, 2017

Family Thoughts

This week at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church we are taking a break from our series “Peter's Perspectives.” (Our most recent sermon on that topic “Christ's Example” can be found here.) This coming Sunday is Mothering Sunday, or in some traditions “Christian Family Sunday.” I'm not sure Hallmark have begun producing cards with the latter inscription upon them, but I guess it will only be a matter of time before they catch on.

Without a doubt one of the biggest changes in society has been that of family structure. The statistical home of two parents and 2.5 children in no longer the norm. As the nuclear family has changed, so also has the extended family structure. Grandparents may or may not be in the picture. Aunts and Uncles can be next door neighbors or folk in a far away places.

It is a good that we have a Sunday to honor those who nurture our lives. I'm not sure that we need a different Sunday to honor every single relationship that can possibly exist. But to have a time set aside to focus on the many blessings that we have received at the hands of those who over the years have cared for us and guided our steps is a positive thing.

Honoring all those who nurture us is also a way of recognizing that not everybody finds “Mother's Day” a time for blessings. Some are unable to bear children. Some have lost children under tragic circumstances. Some have had terrible family relationships or not even known who their parents were.

Yet we have all had those people who helped form the people we have become. Be that foster parents or surrogate parents or same gender parents or grandparents or single parents... or even two parents with 2.5 children, we are thankful for those that encouraged us to grow, showered us with love and never gave upon us.

When we read about the life of the earliest church in the Book of Acts we discover that they took a special interest in caring for the needs of widows and orphans. Many in the earliest church appear to have been those who were not part of what we might describe as “traditional families.” Surely this teaches us that there is a welcome for all people in the family of God!

Indeed, when many are in places where they are struggling to find exactly where home might be, the church has a role in inviting people to find their home in the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. When He died upon the Cross He broke down the barriers that separated us. In His teaching He encouraged us to see each other as the brother's and sisters of One Universal parent.

Jesus used images of God that included God as a Mother Hen who wished to gather chicks together under her wings (Matthew 23:27) and encouraged us to pray to “Our Father, Who art in heaven...” (Matthew 6:9). Traditional Christian doctrine has spoken of the Church as “Our Mother in the faith.”

This weekend, take the time to honor your mother. And if that's not possible, then honor any who have played a motherly role in your life. We would not be the people we are today without those who came before us and guided our way. And if you are in the vicinity feeling thankful... join us at 10:00 a.m. for our Mothers Day/Christian Family celebration.

For some music... a song (with lyrics) from the movie Ice Age 4... “We are Family.

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, May 1, 2017

WDJD “What DID Jesus Do?”

Father Charles Erlandson shares a story about teaching freshman English at All Saints Episcopal school in Tyler, Texas. He had noticed a few of the students were wearing armbands with “WWJD” (What would Jesus do?) written upon them.

He had his students compare and contrast Christianity and the Greek religion. He asked the class if they thought anyone in Athens 400 B.C. went around wearing armbands and bracelets that said “WWZD - What would Zeus do?”

His point was that no one in his right mind would want to pattern their life after the Greek God Zeus, a hot-headed, skirt-chasing, fickle god who made more mischief than good fortune!

Here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church we have been following a series reflecting on the insights of Peter's first letter. Last week we were thinking about “Precious Blood.”  In our upcoming worship service we'll be taking a look at 1 Peter 2:18-25.

In this passage Peter invites us to follow in the footsteps of Jesus Christ, who left an example for us. He prompts us to ask not so much WWJD – “What would Jesus do?” but to consider WDJD – “What DID Jesus do?” and WSID – “What should I do?”

One of the things that Peter talks about is the patience of Jesus. How when He suffered He did not retaliate. Among the original audience that Peter addressed were many slaves, some of whom were not treated well and suffered unjustly. Peter urges them not to store up resentment or nurse a desire to get even. To do so would hurt them far more than their overseers. Instead they are urged to cast their cares onto Jesus who Peter describes as the “Shepherd” and “Overseer” of our lives.

While none of us endure the tyranny of slavery, we all have times in our lives when we feel we have been treated unjustly. Relationships can turn toxic. The world has too many folk who take advantage of others. Life isn't always fair. Disasters befall both the guilty and the innocent.

How do we deal with such events in our own lives? If we take Peter's advice we turn to God in prayer and seek to leave all our hurts in God's hand. He offers to us some powerful scriptures. "He (Jesus) Himself bore our sins" in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; "by His wounds you have been healed."

Peter wants us to know that whatever trials we pass through, Jesus, the Good Shepherd, knows how we feel and will walk with us. That God is indeed the God of Psalm 23 who walks with us by the clear cool waters and holds us close when we travel through the valley of the shadow of death.

We can't make the hard times go away. There will be occasions when life or others treat us wrong. But we can make a choice how we travel though those times. Because that's what Jesus did. He prayed that trials might not come His way, but when they did He stayed close to His Father.

So it's not so much about “What would Jesus Do?”... more about trying to replicate “What DID Jesus do?” and build such principles.... with the help of God's Holy Spirit... into out own lifestyles. Nobody ever suggested that was an easy task. Thankfully we do have a Shepherd to guide us!

For reflection and music... a version of Psalm 23 with backgrounds reflecting the beauty of creation. Take a moment and allow God's Creation and Word to speak to your soul.

Rev Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Power in the Blood

 
I have no problem admitting that I am squeamish. The dictionary definition of squeamish is “Easily made to feel, faint, or uncomfortable, especially by unpleasant images, such as the sight of blood.”

I am grateful that when Scripture talks about the crucifixion of Jesus it does so with muted sadness, rather than through the technicolor nightmare of Mel Gibson's “The Passion.”

That's not to say I am unaware or unappreciative of the horror Christ went through upon the Cross. But I really don't need to see in graphic detail what happens to victims of horrendous acts of violence to understand their intensity.

When I began to attend church, talk about the “blood of Jesus” made me feel extremely uncomfortable. As I learned about the Old Testament and of sacrifices and offerings it did not offer me any “warm fuzzy feelings” towards God. Rather it caused me to question what kind of divine being could God be, if he was so angry that his wrath could only be quenched by the blood of innocent victims. Such sounded more like the script of a low budget horror movie than an uplifting spiritual truth.

I never managed to make the connection between “blood” and “sin.” I considered “Sin” to be a rather frivolous notion. As though our wrongdoing was something we should treat lightly, because we're all “Only human.” We all make mistakes. We all mess up. As long as we can get along then that's O.K. Right? Not so much. Scripture tells us “The payoff of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23 NET).

The “power in the blood” of the sacrificial system was that people could not ignore the fact that sin was a terrible thing. That our wrongdoing and selfishness always carried a toll. Sin was and is a killer. A destroyer.

When you took an offering to the priest it was a horrible, visible reminder... a bloody mess that no longer had the breath of life in it... and you could not ignore the message that the consequence of sin was that not only that our own life suffered the consequence, but we ruined things for everybody.

Those offerings were not to placate an angry God. They were to demonstrate to us how seriously messed up we are when we act on the interests of our lowest nature. Sin is not something to be joked about at parties, but a terrible malfunction of the human condition that is distressing, demeaning and destroying.

An old hymn declares “There is wonder working power in the blood of the lamb.” Such a strange, yet totally biblical image, can help us understand that our actions always have consequences. Sin is never a thing to take lightly. 1 John 1:7 declares “The blood of Jesus Christ cleanses you from every sin.

As we look to the Cross we see what sin... sin like ours... can accomplish. It's tempting to turn away and plead innocence. Instead on the Cross, Jesus shows us what love can accomplish, and pleads for us; “Forgive them Father, they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34). Oh yes... there is power in the blood!

This week at Mount Hebron Presbyterian we continue a series on Peter's first letter. Last week we were thinking about faith as being “Precious Gold”(sermon here). This week we focus on 1 Peter 1:17-23 and the theme “"Precious Blood." It would be remiss of me not to provide a link to the previously mentioned gospel song. So here for the squeamish and not so squeamish... the Tommy Coomes band offer a spirited rendition of the gospel classic: “There Is Power In The Blood.”

Rev Adrian J. Pratt B.D.