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

Monday, June 18, 2018

Facing The Storm

Gil Fronsdal, a spiritual director and teacher, invites her readers to contemplate the following story.

“Imagine two people setting out to cross a large lake, each in a small rowboat. The first sets out on a clear day with the lake surface still and flat like a mirror; a gentle breeze and a steady current push the boat from behind. Each time the oars are dipped into the water, the boat shoots across the lake. Rowing is easy and delightful. Quickly the person reaches the far side of the lake. The rower may congratulate herself for being quite skilled.

The second person heads out across the same lake during a great storm. Powerful winds, currents, and waves move in the direction opposite the boat. With each pull of the oars, the boat barely moves forward, only to lose most of the distance gained when the oars are raised out of the water for the next pull. After much effort the second rower makes it to the far side of the lake. This rower may feel discouraged at his lack of skill.

Probably most people would prefer to be the first rower. However, it is the second rower, who though discouraged, has become stronger from the exertion and is thereby better prepared for future challenges.”

Often in life we don't get to choose to row into the storm... the storm finds us anyway. That's a message sadly reinforced by recent events in downtown Ellicott City which, for a second time, experienced such devastating flooding. Traveling through the storm, can make some stronger, but for others it is not only discouraging, but defeating.

Seeking to maintain a positive outlook during a time of crisis is never easy and sometimes impossible. It is at such times we realize that we function best when we are connected to others. That none of us can go it alone. That there are days when we have to to admit defeat, let go and let God!

In the face of adversity “letting go” is not the same as “giving up.” I had a friend who always tried to face any crisis, major or minor, with the question; “So?” “So what do we do next?” “So, now this has happened and that has ended, we are faced with two choices. So which one do we make?”

Returning to our illustration of the rowers. The one who rowed across the lake and exited the boat feeling rather pleased with themselves, had done nothing wrong. They did what they needed to do. And when we have days like that, we can be thankful.

The one who crossed the lake in the storm and exited the boat feeling discouraged, is in a good place to ask themselves the “So?” question. “So what did I just learn? That going out in storms isn't always a good idea? That when I'm under stress I tap into resources I never knew I had? That I can make it through to the other side, even when I'm not sure I can do it?” You feel that the second one has gained more than the first. Next time a crisis comes along, they are in a better shape to face it.

Life will bring storms. Some of them will leave us feeling defeated and discouraged. But we may also discover that it is the tough times that strengthen us in ways we are not even aware of. We are not alone. We have others around us to lift us when we fall. We have a God who takes what is broken and creates beautiful things from the wreckage.

Last week here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church we were thinking about how little things can become big things. Our sermon “Seeds of Faith” can be found here. This coming Sunday we are looking at a passage from Mark 4:35-41, when the disciples of Jesus find themselves caught up in the middle of a storm.

For some music (a song which may well feature as part of our Sunday worship) “Prince George Winyah Episcopal Church Junior Choir” sing “With Jesus in the Boat wecan smile through the Storm.

The Reverend Adrian J Pratt B.D.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Seeds of Faith

Seeds. Such small, tiny things. Yet within every seed is all the potential for growth that is needed. Of course there has to be the right environment for growth to take place. And there are things, such as disease and unexpected uprooting, that can prevent growth taking place. But within the seed, the potency is all there.

Jesus used the image of a seed to talk about faith. He seemed to suggest that within each of us was all the potential for spiritual growth that we require. He indicated that faith could do amazing, unexpected things... like removing mountains and casting out demons. Faith is viewed as something powerful and world changing.

Such a picture can make us feel that our personal faith is lacking in potency. Maybe the environment in which we live today is not the best for nurturing faith. There is a distrust in things we cannot measure, quantify or truly explain. “Faith” is sometimes viewed as simply wishful thinking or misguided dreaming.

To counteract the view that “faith is beyond us,” Jesus speaks about the quantity of faith that we need. He tells us only a “mustard seed” worth. A mustard seed is an exceptionally small seed. He talks about how mustard trees grew out of all proportion to the tiny seed that they came from.

Little things. Little things that lead to big things. Is that the way it works? It often seems that way. That “seed” of an idea, that is mentioned in casual conservation, takes root and becomes the launching point for something we had never imagined. That little gesture of helpfulness or friendliness from a stranger, becomes the most uplifting moment of our day.

Those few moments we took out of our day to pray, or to practice meditation or mindfulness, became the framework for a day when we overcame obstacles we hadn't even known were going to arise. That slight change in our daily schedule meant we met somebody who had an impact upon us that would never have otherwise happened. Little, seemingly insignificant, “things” with big results.

Every persons journey is a combination of smaller steps. There is a beauty in small things that we should never dismiss or ignore. Every step is important. Every seed has potential. Every little thing that we do is part of the process towards what comes next.

It has been said that “God is in the details.” I would want to add that no detail should be considered too small for God's involvement. That there is an intimacy to faith that should be recognized and embraced. In a loving relationship, you notice the little things. The little things are often the big things.

Scripture teaches us that “God is love.” It is within loves embrace that we are called to grow. It is the knowledge that our lives are infused with unknown potential, that encourages us to take risks and face new challenges and attempt to move forward.

Do the little things. That seems to be the way faith works. That is how things grow. Small steps. Little Seeds. Growth is always a work of grace. And the result is always in God's hands.

Last week here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian we celebrated our Scottish heritage with an outdoor service that took the topic, “Drovers, Cowboys and Pilgrims.” This week we return to a series called “Mark My Words” and will be looking at Mark 4:26-34, a passage all about seeds. Come and join us if you are in the neighborhood!
For some inspirational music Cece Winans & Andre Crouch sing “Through it all.
The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Tenacity and Tartan

This coming Sunday at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, we celebrate our Presbyterian (and National) Scottish heritage. Our plan is to meet outdoors in our amphitheater. There will be a bagpiper to help lead our service, as well as a Scottish theme to the whole occasion. Should the weather prove unfavorable, we may have to head indoors. (As we did last Sunday when we thought about the theme "Celebrating the Sabbath")

In recent days the weather has not been kind to Ellicott City. The historic downtown area has, once again, suffered terrible devastation from flooding. It is unclear how the town will recover from such an impact, coming as it has, just two years after a similar event. At the time of writing many residents and business owners are disheartened and not sure how to face the future.

Historically, one of Scotland's most revered leaders was Robert the Bruce, King of Scotland, from 1306 to 1329. He is credited for freeing Scotland from the English rule of Edward I, and ultimately confirming Scottish independence, with the Treaty of Northampton.

Legend has it that after a humiliating defeat by the English, and finding himself described by the English as a traitor and outlaw, Robert the Bruce had to flee for his life. He ended up hiding in a cave and seriously considered abandoning his attempts to liberate his nation.

Lonely, despondent, and fearful, he hid in the damp and the darkness. Looking up he saw a spider attempting to spin a web across the corner of the cave. Every time, the spider had nearly managed to spin a web across the gap, a drop of water would fall and break the strand.

Robert watched as, time and time again, the spider sought to complete it's task. And time and time again, the water frustrated the spiders web building efforts. But finally, as the Bruce looked on, the spider managed to stick a strand of silk to the cave wall and began to weave a web.

It is said that Robert the Bruce was so inspired by the spiders perseverance that he immediately left the cave and began recruiting an army, who went on to defeat the English at the Battle of Bannockburn. The moral of the story became “If at first you don't succeed - try, try again.”

When everything seems to conspire against us, the temptation is to give up and just stop trying. It is unclear how downtown Ellicott City can recover from another setback so soon after the previous one. It is truly heartbreaking. Maybe some structural changes and flood protection will have to be put in place before any rebuilding can be attempted. The road to recovery is uncertain, long and difficult.

The story of Robert the Bruce and the spider reminds us that there are those times when we just have to go forward in the hope that our efforts will result in shattered dreams being reborn. It took a small spiders determined web weaving, to revive his courage. 

Let us pray that those seeking to rebuild shattered livelihoods will find similar moments of inspiration and encouragement as they seek to discern what is next for them and their town. We will receiving a special offering the next two weeks in an effort to raise some funds to help with rebuilding.

Come and join us in our Scottish celebrations! But in case that proves impossible, here's some pipers playing “Amazing Grace”.

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Lord of the Sabbath

It's one of the 10 Commandments that Christians often skip over. Or at least try and interpret in a way that fits with their particular lifestyle."Remember the Sabbath Day and keep it holy." (Deuteronomy 5:12). Life restricting Sabbath observances of past generations, and legalistic rules that forbade everything from shopping to playing games on Sundays, have pushed society in the totally opposite direction.

We are a busy people. For many people, Sunday is now just another day. And far from being restful, a multitude of activities are stuffed into it. Shopping. Sports. Eating Out. Visiting the Family. Or for many... working in occupations that service all of the above. There was a time when on a list of “To-Do” things, attending church would be at the top of the list. Now it's often considered an optional extra, and somewhere near the bottom of folks priorities.

There's a passage in the gospel of Mark, where Jesus is criticized for allowing His disciples to eat, as they pass through a field. Their dreadful sin is that they expend energy in work by plucking corn. Didn't they know that work was forbidden on the Sabbath? It's followed by another passage, in which Jesus heals a person during the Sabbath worship service. This proves equally unacceptable to the legalists! (Mark 2:23-3:6)

In the middle of it all Jesus explains "The Sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27). In the context of the two passages, this appears to mean that Sabbath observance was never meant to be a limiting or legalistic practice, but was rather an invitation to participate in something that would bring joy, rest and healing … something which would center people in the love of God.

If we are people of faith, we sell both ourselves and our faith communities short, when we refuse to take up God's invitation to be Sabbath centered followers. We sell ourselves short, because in this workaholic world, we need to take time to breathe the Spirit. We are stressed beyond belief. Because of that, our relationships can be at breaking point. We rush from one thing to the next without ever questioning the value in it all. We are driven people who sometimes really need to get out of the driving seat and let Jesus take the wheel.

We do a disservice to our faith communities when we leave a lot of the things we could (and maybe feel we should) be doing, in the hands of other, already overburdened, folk. Volunteer burnout is a reality in so many faith communities. In some instances, one way it could be avoided, was if everybody took a little of the weight, instead of placing it all on the shoulders of a few.

We cannot return to a day when Sunday was what it used to be. And for many of us, there is no wish to go down that particular road. Yet our spirits and our souls are desperate for nourishment, rest and healing. Often that tension is manifested in our bodies! Jesus explained “The Sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the Sabbath.”

Considering “Sabbath” as an invitation to embrace a lifestyle, that has time for renewal and regeneration, time for putting aside routines that are literally killing us, and time to reconnect with what really matters... might encourage us to see afresh that verse in Deuteronomy.

Last week was Trinity Sunday. Our message from that day can be found here. This coming week at Mount Hebron Presbyterian we are embarking on a series of sermons titled “Mark My Words” which are based upon the first few chapters of the second Gospel. Come celebrate Sabbath with us if you are in the area. In not, then find a way to observe a Sabbath in any way that best nurtures your spirit!

For some music the choir of “Christ for the Nations” sing “Renew MyLife, Lord Jesus.”

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Trinity and Community

Here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, each Sunday we meet for worship, we sing a short song of praise, following a statement about our acceptance by God that we call the “Words of Assurance.” We know the tune so well that we usually don't even open the hymnbook when we sing it. The song is a statement about who we believe God is and how we believe God relates to our lives.

I'm sure if you belong to an established Christian tradition, the words and tune will be familiar to you, “Glory Be To the Father, and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost, as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end, Amen, Amen.”

In the church calendar this upcoming Sunday is “Trinity Sunday.” It's a Sunday when we remind ourselves, of the mysterious nature of the God we gather to worship. It could be that this little song of praise has become so familiar to us, that we forget what a radical idea we are affirming.

The earliest church struggled to understand the belief that God is both One and three. Many great Councils of the Church were held to clarify what it meant and they wrestled to find language with which to describe the Trinitarian relationship between Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It was not until the Council of Constantinople in 381 AD that the doctrine of the Trinity officially became the churches accepted teaching.

St Augustine described the Trinity in terms of the lover, the beloved and the love which exists between them. St Patrick used the shamrock to explain the idea of “Three persons in one God” to the people of Ireland. Many of the prayers of the Church express a belief in a Triune God.

Some Christian traditions recall the Trinity through the “Sign of the Cross,” by which they dedicate themselves to God, “In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit." Many prayers in the Celtic tradition contain the refrain “In the name of the One and the name of the Three.”

Augustine's idea of the Trinity as a communion of love is a rich and powerful image. It suggests that in order for love to be experienced, there has to be community. That it is as we become caught up in the community that is the love of God, that our lives become enriched and our love for each other (and for God) becomes deeper.

In an age when even spirituality is sometimes framed in terms of, “It's all about me and what I can get out of it,” it is refreshing to consider that we only truly find fulfillment through relationships and within community. Our little praise song even suggests that such is how it's always been, and is always going to be. “As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, World without end.

Theology can be complicated. We can tie ourselves in knots trying to explain the awesomeness of God. Maybe that's not the way understanding comes. Maybe we should simply consider Trinity Sunday as an invitation to be a participant in a mysterious loving community that will never end. 

Maybe it is only as we set about being a part of that community, that it starts to make sense!
Thankfully we don't have to wait till we can understand all things, in order to follow the simple command to “Love God and love each other.” A wonderful place to make that happen is within a local faith community. 

If you don't regularly attend a place of worship already, you'd always be welcome to join us here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, as we explore together what being a community is all about.
For some music, a Trinitarian classic, “HOLY, HOLY, HOLY” performed by Don Moen, from his 2012 album "Hymnbook"

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, May 7, 2018

Mothers Day, Confirmations and Growing Families!

Here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, we just finished up a series on the First Letter of John. The final message in that series, “God Birthed Faith” can be found here. Our next couple of Sundays embrace new themes.

On May 13 we'll observing Mothers Day, honoring not just mothers, but all those called to the task of parenting (or indeed having parents... which includes us all!) Our service is being conducted by our Christian Education Team, excellently assisted by some of the younger members of the church. We'll be thinking about what a “Treasure” a family can be and sharing treasured memories of those who have nurtured our lives.

None of us could be the people we are, without the help of those who cared for us (often sacrificed for us) and passed onto us legacies of love, life and faith that have formed our characters. Some of us also carry the pain of relationships that weren't so good and the scars of those times when life really didn't work out. Those also are part of the legacy that formed our characters. 

Some of us need healing. Other might need encouraging. Part of the treasure of belonging to a faith community is that we also discover the treasure of belonging to a God who sees us all as precious children and encourages us to take care of each other.

On Sunday May 20 we are celebrating a confirmation service for four of our young people. In our Presbyterian tradition, when children are baptized their parents make promises on their behalf, and parents, sponsors (godparents), family members and the community of faith, state that they will do what they can to bring them up in the ways of the Christian faith.

Confirmation is a time for the youth to say that they claim the journey of faith as their own and take on the responsibility of being full members of their church community. It's not a point of arrival, but another milestone in their discipleship journey. It has been a privilege for myself to share with them in classes and activities that have led them to this point.

This little blog will be taking a break for a couple of weeks as I have my own family celebrations to attend. My own daughter gave birth recently to a healthy baby boy... and this granddad is taking a few days out to get to know him and renew his acquaintance with his two year old sister. So in my own way... I will be celebrating a very special and personal Mother's Day.

The theme of this is all about family. The families into which we are born. The families of faith that we are invited to participate in. The wider family of humanity that scripture declares is nurtured and loved by the God who brought all things into being.

As the summer months approach and the days grow longer, take some time to be thankful for the many ways the treasures of family and relationships have blessed our lives. While acknowledging that things in families never run smoothly, we are who we are, and we, every day, have the opportunity to shape what we will yet become. While it is impossible to determine what life may bring our way, we decide how we will deal with it, embrace it and celebrate it!

As I go to spend a little time with my wider family and celebrate family I couldn't think of a better song on a Mothers Day theme than Lauren Alaina singing “Like My Mother Does...”

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, April 30, 2018

Stay Connected

I sat down one evening to watch TV. I picked up the remote control and pressed the button. Nothing happened. I'd been meaning to change the batteries for a while and just presumed that they had finally given up. So I went into that untidy drawer where I keep random things, such as spare batteries, and started searching through it. “Now what was it... a double A, a triple A, let's see.” Finding the right battery I returned to the couch.

Again I picked up the remote control and pressed the button. Again, nothing happened. “Hmm” that's strange I thought. So I went over to the TV and tried to find the “ON” switch to see if I could do it the old fashioned way. This proved more difficult than I thought. Modern electrical appliances do not have clearly marked “On/Off” switches. So I had to go back to the untidy random drawer to find a flashlight.

Eventually I located both the flashlight and the “On/Off” switch on the back of the TV. I turned it on. Still nothing happened. It was only then that I remembered that the day before we had experienced a lightning storm. In a previous home in which we had lived, the TV had been fried when lightning hit the electrical wires. Not wanting this to happen again I had disconnected the TV from the source. No wonder it didn't work. It wasn't connected!

Staying connected is important. It's important in our relationships with each other. It's important in our spiritual relationship with God. Here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church we have been following a series of messages based on the First Letter of John. His letter weaves together themes of sin, forgiveness and love.

Last week we were thinking about “Fearless Love.” This week we take a look at 1 John 5:1-6. In his final chapter he speaks about how, if our lives are to manifest the love of God, we need to be connected to God!

For John, faith is something that is birthed within us when we seek God. He sees God's commands, not as restrictions that hold us back, but as things that we will want to pursue because we know that God's love for us is deep and all embracing. He writes; “His commandments are not burdensome, for whatever is born of God conquers the world. And this is the victory that conquers the world. Our faith.” (1 John 5:3-4)

For faith to grow we need to be sure we are connected. We can connect with God in many different ways. Though serving others. Jesus said, 'Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:40).

We connect with God when we gather for worship. “Let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another” (Hebrews 10:25).

We connect with God as we pray. “Pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.” (Ephesians 6:18)

So a simple message this week.... stay connected! How do we do that? God will make a way. Such is the insight of this weeks music selection. “God Will Make a Way.

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.