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

Monday, July 31, 2017

Away Days

 
It's summer time. A lot of us are traveling. During worship this past Sunday we had a number of folk away while a number others were visitors to our area who joined us for worship. Our sermon from the day, about “Jacob's Wives” can be found here.

Researchers at Harvard Medical School and the University of California, San Francisco recently researched “The Vacation Effect.” Using a large sample group of everyday folk, measurements were taken before and immediately after a one-week vacation, as well as one month and ten months afterwards. Results showed that after a week away from their daily grind, everyone reported lower stress, better mood, and greater awareness and vitality.

The “vacation effect” was strong, immediate, and even lasted for up to one month. Participants also showed changes in gene activity related to decreased stress response and better immune function. Their verdict was that days spent away from our usual routine help us both mentally and physically to function better and enrich our lives in unexpected ways.

As a pastor I'm also aware that time out of our normal routine is an important part of our spiritual health. Many times in the gospel accounts we observe Jesus taking time out to be alone and find moments of refreshment in the midst of doing ministry. The earliest church was strong on the idea of pilgrimage... of taking time out to travel and explore sites that were of significance to faith.

It is a good thing to take time to connect with our wider families, to seek refreshment, and in the midst of doing that, often reconnect with ourselves. As Christian people we do so in the context of our life in Christ. One of the few stories we have of the early life of Jesus is that of His family making their annual trip to Jerusalem.

It seems to have been very much a family occasion, which functioned as a vacation as much as it did a pilgrimage. It appears Jesus was able to escape to the temple without anybody missing Him for a while, such was the casual and relaxed nature of the journey. The story reminds me of trips I have taken with extended family and close friends where the kids go off and do their own things, the younger adults find their own space and the older folk spend a lot of time just catching up and sharing stories!

All of which is a precursor to saying that I am personally going to be taking a few days away to reconnect with immediate family this month... so there won't be a pastors blog for a couple of weeks. I hope that in your situation there will be moments when you can find refreshment, either by welcoming visitors or traveling to be with others.

Some suggest that if we are not in a position to physically get away we create our own our own “mini-vacations.” That we, for a few days, totally change our routine. Turn off the TV and other electronic devices. Eat food we don't normally have on our menu. Don't set the alarm clock (or set it to a different time). Lose our self in a book, or in painting a picture or by doing some project that we would otherwise never attempt. Such changes in our routine can have a similar effect to actually getting away!

Wherever the next weeks find you, and whatever you may be doing, I'd encourage you to allow your faith to be a part of it. We may well need a break from our work, our routine, (or even our local church) but we don't need a vacation from the love of God!

For some music, an oldie from British singer Cliff Richard “Summer Holiday.

Rev. Adrian J. Pratt.

Monday, July 17, 2017

T.Y.C.

This week at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church we are holding our Vacation Bible School program. We are having a lot of crazy fun! A preparatory sermon as we headed into the week, all about a lady called Abigail, can be found here.

Next week I'm leaving town. A number of our youth and myself are traveling to Schellsburg, PA, to participate in the Trinity Youth Conference. The mission of “T.Y.C.” as it is usually known, is to provide a Christian conference experience for senior high youth and college-age young adults.

The conference seeks to provide leadership training, as well as to help the participants grow in faith and in service to Jesus Christ by focusing on spiritual and leadership development, discipleship, and evangelism. The mission of T.Y.C. is accomplished through daily worship, small group activities, and numerous workshops with a range of topics that are centered on a different theme each year. This years theme is “Do Not Be Afraid!”

A typical day at T.Y.C. begins with morning watch, a devotional time for thought and prayer before breakfast. After breakfast some warm up songs are usually shared before folk head off to participate in two morning workshops. I have a particular responsibility in leading one of the workshops. An important role will also be played by one of our own youth, who is a member of the planning team for the conference.

Much of the afternoon is spent in small groups known as 'Heads Together' (or just H.T.) where people get a chance to know each other and discuss how the week is going. The groups are led by youth from the planning team. Whilst the groups follow a pre-prepared syllabus there is also a lot of flexibility so each H.T. takes on a life of it's own! Afternoon free time offers a chance to participate in games, hang out or take a nap.

Each evening an all-camp activity takes place. An all-over-camp game, a song night, and Talent show feature as part of the week. Central to the evenings is a time of worship, the preacher this year being K.J. Bee, a former workshop leader and all round awesome lady from a Native American background. Much singing, under the leadership of Erin Adams, contemporary worship leader at Chambersburg Presbyterian Church in Pennsylvania, will also be an important part of worship.

Wednesday afternoon we'll all head out to Shawnee Lake where swimming and volley ball are among the attractions to enjoy. A picnic is followed by an outdoor worship service among some beautiful scenery. (see the picture at the top of this post!)

After attending for a number of years one of the participants wrote the following. “T.Y.C. is a place where God can be felt, and where for the first time in my life I had the justified feeling that He is "real." This feeling has carried on with me for seven years, getting me through some tough times that I never could have made it through alone. I give full credit to T.Y.C. for who I am today and where I am today, because it opened up my heart, strengthened my relationship with God, and showed me how to allow myself to feel ALL of His love.

It is truly a privilege to be involved in a conference that is profoundly impacting the lives of young people today. I'm certainly hoping that this years conference will be as equally inspiring and encouraging as it has on previous occasions!

For some music... a recording from T.Y.C worship from a few years back. “Hallelujah!”

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Vacation Bible School - Hero Central


Last week we took a look at the providential story of Isaac finding a wife. Our sermon can be found here. But now... it's that time of year again! Churches throughout the area are hosting their annual Vacation Bible School programs and Mount Hebron is no exception. This years program is titled “Hero Central.”

Alongside Jesus, we'll be taking a look at well known biblical characters such as David, Peter and Paul. One lesser known heroic figure who makes an appearance will be “Abigail.” As most of us are not as familiar with the story of Abigail as some of the others, our pre-VBS service will be taking a look at her life.

Abigail is the wife of a wealthy land owner called Nabal. When working away from home, some of Nabal's workers are protected by a “soon-to-be king” guy called David. However, when David's men end up in Nabal's backyard, he is not so keen to offer them any hospitality, an action that makes young David extremely angry and he is about to attack Nabal's lands and wreak havoc upon the people.

And so that might have been... were it not for the wisdom and intervention of Abigail, who flouts custom, goes against the wishes of her mean minded husband Nabal, and intervenes in a way that saves her people. Things also turn out pretty well for her in the end. You can read the story for yourself in 1 Samuel 2:2-42.

As I consider Abigail's story I think about how my own life has been surrounded by many “Heroes” of faith. I recall friends, who, when as a teenager I was rebelling against just about anything I could think of rebelling against, never gave up on trying to persuade me to try church instead. I remember those who were a shining example of common sense and faith, and proved to be influential mentors for my personal journey.

I recall those teachers and pastors, who when I felt a call to ministry, not only encouraged me, but also cautioned me, to consider what I was taking on. Their personal stories and many prayers led me to a place where I could be sure that this was something I was being called to pursue.

I think of those who throughout my ministry have offered gifts of hospitality, generosity, and prayer that have kept me moving forward. I have a special place in my heart for those who recognized times I was truly struggling and have been there to listen and offer support. (Not least my wonderful wife!)

I'm sure as you look back on your own life you can find many “Heroes” who have helped you become who you are today. They may not be biblical characters. They are more likely to be families and friends. But heroes they are, nevertheless. So thank God for them!

And as faith communities around the globe engage in vacation education events, be they mission trips, V.B.S. or summer camp, so many of us have the opportunity to be a role model and mentor to others. We may not be heroes... but we can be faithful. May God help us to be channels of God's love to those we seek to serve. As our V.B.S. theme declares..“Hero Central – Discover your Strength in God!”

For some music, a song we'll be learning both in our upcoming pre-VBS service and during the week... Everlasting God, by Chris Tomlin.

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, July 3, 2017

A Wife for Isaac

Last week here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian we continued our series of “Patriarchal Ponderings” and considered the account of Abraham being prepared to sacrifice his son Isaac. Our sermon from the day can be found here.

We move into less threatening territory this week … with an account of a search for a wife for Isaac. It's a long passage, that takes up the whole of Genesis chapter 24.

While there are many different aspects to the account, one thing that always strikes me, is that so much is dependent on the faith of a servant of Abraham who is never named. Throughout the whole chapter he is simply called “the servant.

We discover a lot about the character of “the servant.” Early on in the chapter he is described as being a “senior servant in Abraham's household, the one in charge of all that he had.” (Genesis 24:2) In sending him off on his task to find a wife for Isaac, Abraham is committing his future into the hands of a man who was already taking good care of his everyday affairs.

The task begins with a solemn moment when Abraham takes the servant entirely into his confidence and has him swear an oath that he will do the right thing. The servant has many questions. “What if I find someone and they won't come back with me? What will I do with Isaac if no wife can be found?”
Abraham appears to suggest that such questions were irrelevant. He ensures the servant that God is with them and that they needed to trust God to fulfill God's purposes.

It can be quite a scary thing to have people place their trust in you. I do not envy this servants position nor would I like to have to take on his task. Where did he start? Where should he go? How would he know he had found the right person to be a wonderful wife for his masters son?

It quickly becomes clear that this servant is a man of prayer. Throughout the story, the servant is constantly seeking God as his guide. Indeed, you have the impression that without God's guidance, he hasn't got a hope of completing the task.

As the incidents unfold we see that God is guiding him in specific ways. Always there is room for things to go wrong, but … as the servant keeps on trusting... the unexpected keeps occurring. I recall one person telling me that, when they prayed about their life journey, coincidences kept happening. Such seems to mirror the experience of this servant.

And the outcome is that a wife is found for Isaac. A wife who fills him with delight and is delighted to be his partner. But what about the servant?

We never do find out his name or know what his future holds. His life is a testament to the many faithful people who surround our lives. Unnamed folk, who by their prayers and diligence to duty and commitment to doing the right thing ensure that life keeps moving in positive directions.

For some music, a gentle song called “Lead Me Lord” (by Aiza Seguerra). I imagine that prayerful words, such as these, were in the mind of the unnamed servant of Abraham.

Let us take some time today to thank God for all the unnamed people who have blessed our lives!

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Mount Moriah - Thy Will Be Done

  Last week here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian we began a series of “Patriarchal Ponderings”... sermons reflecting on some of the Old Testament passages surrounding the life of Abraham. Here is our message from Sunday featuring, among other folk, Hagar and Ishmael.

I admit to enjoying these Old Testament stories of family conflict and rivalry. They seem to ring so true to contemporary life and are mirrored in every age. From the rivalry of Emperors of Rome, to the struggle of European monarchies, from Popes to Reformers, maybe even in the conflicts of Republicans and Democrats, there are those underlying structures of family and power.

Then in our own lives are our personal struggles. None of us are exempt from them. Even St. Paul writes;
“I don't do the good things I want to do. I keep on doing the evil things I don't want to do.” (Romans 7:19.) The singer/songwriter Garth Brooks comments, “The greatest conflicts are not between two people, but between one person and himself.”

This week we have the account of events at Mount Moriah, the place where Abraham felt called to sacrifice his son Isaac as an act of obedience to God. It is a dreadful act to contemplate. The whole idea of child sacrifice is simply horrific – though sadly not unknown in ancient religion. In order to gain insight, we have to take a deep breath, move on, and remember this was a different culture and a different time.

To me the story raises the question “Why would anybody sacrifice their most heartfelt dreams and hopes as an offering to God?” We all have things that we want for our lives. We all have ambitions and dreams. But it is an an uncomfortable truth that our personal dreams and ambitions can take precedence over what God's will might be for our lives.

Next week the nation will be celebrating Independence Day. We like to think we are self made people who shape our own destiny. This story invites us to place God's will for our lives, over and above our own desires, even if it means laying our personal aspirations and desires aside on an altar of dedication to God.

It was through Isaac that all Abraham's hopes and dreams were destined to come to pass. God seems to say, “Abraham... let that idea go! Stop thinking that now you have everything in place you can live independent of my love and direction.” The story is often spoken of as a “Test of Faith.” If so, it is a test that Abraham passes with flying colors. Isaac is not sacrificed. An angel intervenes and Isaac becomes more cherished than ever.

So a question I challenge myself when reading this passage is, “Are there dreams or aspirations in my own life that are more important to me than seeking God's will?” It may be that we have to sacrifice such hopes and dreams before God, before God can truly use them. At last that seems to be what happened with Abraham!

For some music a reflection upon the words “Thy Will be Done” by Hillary Scott. My prayer for today is simple; “Lord, help me find my way in Your way! Amen.

Rev Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

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.