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

Monday, February 11, 2019

Inside Out and Upside Down

Last week here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church we were considering the call the Jesus gave to the first disciples to be His followers in turning the world upside down. Our sermon “Fishy Business” can be found here. This weeks lesson, from Luke 6:17-26, goes into the details of how Jesus saw that radical transformation taking place.
Have you ever seen people get something they didn’t deserve—while someone else didn’t get what they did deserve? Ever seen the right person passed over for a job, just because they “played the game,” or were a particular gender, or lied? Ever see people succeed even more because they were already successful? Ever seen a poor or vulnerable person slip even further into difficulty—or get picked on by someone who should know better?
There are so many power structures which seem to reward all the wrong people. “It’s the way of the world,” you might say, and that may well be true. But it’s not the way of the Kingdom of God.
We know this because Jesus made the point, again and again. Not only did He confront those who maintained the power structures and attitudes of the day, but He also lived out what’s called the “Great reversal”—turning inside out and upside-down people’s values and understandings about who mattered and what success was and who God wanted to bless.

Here was a man who spent time with society’s “worst” outcasts: the lepers, the mentally ill, the crooks, the prostitutes, the adulterers. A man who talked endlessly about the poor, and about children and widows. Who didn’t invite Himself into the homes of the rich and famous, but the hated tax collectors.

No wonder people around Jesus were confused! Those who were willing to listen to Jesus and think about what He said and did, began to understand that the Kingdom of God isn’t like the world at all. They started to see that it’s the poor, downtrodden and vulnerable who are particularly of interest to God (until then, it was assumed that these people must be being punished by God).

It is those who see themselves as successful (by worldly reckoning) who struggle to accept this reversal, as did the rich young man in the Bible—who wanted to follow Jesus, but couldn’t give up his material wealth. Jesus Himself said, “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

In the Kingdom of God everything will be turned inside out and upside down. This is especially true when it comes to power, privilege and wealth... in God's Kingdom those who struggle in life now, those who are at the bottom or on the edges of human society, will suddenly find themselves at the top and in the center.

So if you’ve ever been vulnerable, or struggled, or seen others rewarded for doing wrong, remember that it’s not Jesus’ way. There is a special place in God's heart for you.
For some music, a modern version of a classic hymn, “Near to the Heart of God.”

Prayer: “Lord, when I feel that I don't meet up to the standards of this world, I know you love me and welcome me with open arms. Thank You for seeing and using my weakness, and making me strong in the ways that really count. Amen.”
(Parts of this article adapted from Church of England Website “Church in the Net”)

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, February 4, 2019

Fishy Business

Some people are expert fisherman. They have to be. It's their job. People are depending on them. For others it's a leisure pastime. Yet many pursue their particular brand of fishing, be it deep-sea adventures or fly-fishing on a gently rolling stream, with great passion and commitment.

Jesus calls us to be disciples with a high level of commitment. Last week here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian church we were considering “Misplaced Pride.” Our sermon from the day can be found here.

Our reading this week is from Luke 5:1-11. In this passage Jesus displays His fishing skills. Having demonstrated His knowledge of the craft, He then invites the fishermen in the boat to join Him in a mission that involves catching, not fish, but people, with the “Good News” of the Kingdom of God. 

In common with disciples of all times and all places following Jesus involves leaving something behind. In the first fisherman's case it was their work and home. For ourselves it can be our habits and ways of thinking that need changing. What kind of things might Jesus be calling us to leave behind at this point in our spiritual journey?

Discipleship also involves taking on something new. The first disciples had to become "Fishers of men." Allowing our lives to be embraced by God’s love adds a new dimension to our daily life. Are there any “New things” that God is calling us to embrace this year?

For the first disciples following Jesus meant they had to go somewhere else. They had to move beyond the comfort zone of their familiar surroundings. Where might God be inviting us to reach beyond our comfort zones?

To succeed at any venture takes not only inspiration, but also determination. Catching fish, be it on a trawler out at sea or by a gently meandering stream, requires learning the craft, a whole lot of patience and a willingness to adapt to constantly changing circumstances. It is no different with the journey of discipleship.

Jesus calls us to follow Him. We have a lot to learn. Disciple means “Learner.” We need to be patient. Not only with others, but even more with ourselves. We need to be aware of the shifting currents in the world. What worked in yesterday’s world might not be what God is calling us to embrace for tomorrow’s world.

Some things remain the same. Prayer is needed. God's Word needs to be applied to our situation. And we need God's Holy Spirit to strengthen us for the task. So let's go fish!

Here's something a little more up tempo then I usually post... Newsboys sing “Fishers Of Men.

Prayer: “Lord help me to respond to Your love with determination and allow Your love to change me. And when I fail, pick me up again and remind me that Your love is stronger than my weakness. Amen.

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Misplaced Pride

In Luke 4:14-21 we read about Jesus preaching in His hometown. Here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian we began looking at Jesus's statement of purpose last week, in a message titled “What's It All About?” Following the sermon that He gives, the people are not impressed. Particularly when He had concluded it by saying “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” Who did He think He was? What was He talking about? After all wasn't He just Joseph’s son? They knew His brothers and sisters. They knew Mary, His mother.

Some commentators describe it as a situation of “Misplaced Pride.” There is a right sort of pride to have in ones self or ones community. Sadly that same pride can become influenced by familiarity and block any expectation for the possibility of change.

Misplaced pride is the sort of pride that sees only the positives and ignores the negatives. It is “rose-tinted glasses” pride. The kind of pride that looks back at the past, declaring “Wasn't it wonderful?” but refuses to entertain the thought that the best may yet be to come. We must caution ourselves against being so proud that we fail to recognize the potential in the familiar.

Jesus sought to work wonders. The home-town crowd just couldn’t accept that wonderful things were meant to happen in their ordinary day to day to experience of people and places. They couldn't accept that this person, whom they knew so well, could offer them anything new or do a single thing to change the way things were. They couldn't accept, that through the people around them, miracles could happen. And the result? Nothing happened!

Misplaced pride can be a tremendous barrier to spiritual growth. It refuses to acknowledge that there can be room for improvement or any need of change. Most disastrously of all it blocks out grace from having free reign in people's lives.

Ultimately it places limits on the love of God. Misplaced pride suggests that the love of God has limitations. That love cannot work through the people and the systems and the actions of people that we are familiar with. Misplaced pride is always subtle and not always easy to detect.

Do not join the people of Jesus in their unbelief. Do not allow misplaced pride to prevent your spiritual growth. Believe. Believe that the Kingdom of God is still happening. Believe that God's Holy Spirit can impact your daily life. Believe that God has supernatural plans for your ordinary life. Believe that God has plans for your local church or faith community. Don't limit what God can do because of your lack of expectation. Don't say “That can't happen here.”

For some music, the worship song “Purify My Heart.”
“Lord I believe. Help thou my unbelief! Help not to exclude my daily, familiar and routine life from the sphere of Your blessings. Amen.”

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

What's it all about?

Last week here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian we asked the question "Did you see that?” and contemplated how sometimes we miss out on what God is doing in our world. Our sermon from the day can be found here.

No matter where we are in our life journey, most of us, at some time pause to ask ourselves the question; “What are we here for?” Sometimes asking that question will lead us to develop our own personal “mission statement”... or at least decide on what our priorities are going to be for the upcoming year.

In the very first sermon of Jesus recorded in the Gospel of Luke, (Luke 4:14-21) Jesus gives us His personal mission manifesto.
"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, Because He anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are downtrodden, to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord."

Central to this proclamation is the idea that Christ’s coming was the dawning of the time of the “Lord's favor.” The poor would have some good news. The struggling ones would find release. The ones who couldn’t see would receive vision. The ones who felt like they were being walked all over would walk free.

We can apply this text to our own lives. Where do we feel impoverished? What are we seeking to be released from? In what areas do we feel life is trampling all over us? Where in our life are we seeking direction?

To believe that Jesus Christ is a Savior means allowing Him to be our Savior. To prayerfully seek His perspective on the struggles of our lives. To seek to apply the scriptures’ teaching to our daily dilemmas.

The promise remains the same. The Holy Spirit is still the Counselor, Comforter and Guide. Christ’s living love has not lost any of its power to renew and refresh our lives.

We only get one shot at life. As we travel through 2019 let us continue to prayerfully seek God's guidance for our lives and allow the teaching of Jesus to define our personal aspirations and hopes. Of course, we will sometimes fail to live up to even our own aspirations. Thankfully the love of Jesus is always there to forgive us and take us to a better place.

For some music, a worship song composed by Eddie Espinosa “Change My Heart Oh God.
Prayer: “Lord help me today to apply Your love to the situations I am struggling through. Remind me when I give up on myself that You never give up on me. May this day be a day of the Lords favor! Amen.”

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Did You See That?

Last week here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church we joined many other congregations who had to stay at home because of the snow event. Such an event reminds me of a post I saw on Facebook that said; “Sometimes when we make plans, God laughs out loud.” A snow related sermon was posted on our web page (here).

This week, weather permitting, we hope to take a look at John 2:1-11, a passage which records for us the miracle of Jesus turning water into wine. As you read through the account you become aware that a lot of the people present at the wedding feast missed out on the fact that any miracle had taken place. All they knew was that for some reason the host had saved the best till last. We can so easily miss out on what God is doing around our lives. Miracles can happen and we miss them.

Sometimes we sing a hymn or hear a piece of music and we may think ‘Well that’s nice."  But so often there is a story behind a song that can take our appreciation to a new level. Consider a hymn such as Frances Ridley Havergal’s "Take my life and let it be, consecrated Lord to Thee." Follow this link to a version by Brian Doerksen.

Frances Havergal was the daughter of a rector in Worcester, England… who was in his day one of the finest church musicians around. She, like her father, was exceptionally gifted but prone to periods of doubt and depression. Though constantly in a religious atmosphere she struggled for many years to accept herself as a child of God. It took a real act of surrender for her to allow Christ to take His rightful place in her life. Having struggled personally to break through into a living faith she was anxious to share her journey with others.

The hymn "Take my Life" came out of an experience that she had staying with a family where religion was on the back boiler. Aware of her hosts low spiritual expectations, when she arrived she prayed "Lord, give me all in this house." Over a period of five days she led every member of the household into a deeper faith, with the exception of two daughters.

Retiring to her bed on the last night she was awoken by the governess who told her the daughters were in great distress. She counseled them and led them to faith in Christ. When she returned to her room she was too excited to sleep. She records in her diary "I passed most of the night in praise and renewal of my own consecration, and these little couplets formed themselves and chimed in my heart one after another …"

She speaks elsewhere in her diaries of how writing, for her, was praying. Rather like she had, as a child, asked her Father when composing a poem, "What do you think I should say next?" so her hymns came out of her relationship with God who gave her, in her own words; ‘Not merely thoughts and power, but also every word, even the very rhymes. Very often I have a most distinct and happy consciousness of direct answers."

It’s easy to sing a hymn with the mindset of those who saw no miracle at the wedding feast when Jesus turned water into wine. It is only human to think… well that’s a nice tune or pleasant little rhyme… without realizing that behind the words are often some wonderful stories of the grace and love of God. 

As we go through our lives it is easy to take so much for granted and miss out on daily miracles taking place all around us. It is the work of God to take the common place and make it into a special place of blessing and wonder. Keep the eyes of your heart open because you don’t want to miss a thing!

Prayer: "Lord forgive me for my low expectations. Help me to be awake to the daily miracles all around my life. Amen"

The Rev. Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, January 7, 2019

Be Prayerful

The Holiday Season seemed to come and go all too quickly. The festive decorations are back in their boxes, the new calendars are upon the walls and we get back to business as usual. In the Lectionary calendar, that many denominations follow, the focus becomes the gospel of Luke. The second Sunday of the year is known as “Baptism of the Lord Sunday” and our reading here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian this coming Sunday will be from Luke3:15-22. (Our sermon from the last Sunday in the year can be found here.)

There’s a little detail in Luke's account of the baptism of Jesus that is easily missed. He tells us that the Holy Spirit did not alight upon Jesus at the moment He was baptized, but that the heavens opened as He was praying. Luke 3:21 reads; "Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven opened."

In religious life there are things we need to do together and things we can only experience for ourselves… on a one-to-one with God basis.

Baptism is one of the together things. So are Communion and corporate worship. There are many mission adventures that we cannot embark upon alone. From the start “Church” has been all about community.

But there is also a very personal side. On a personal level we need to develop a living faith in Jesus Christ that is energized through prayer. Time and time again Jesus withdraws to lonely places to recharge His spiritual batteries one on one with God. If such a practice was necessary for Him, how much more so for us!

A wonderful New Year resolution to make is "BE PRAYERFUL." It is as we pray, that the Holy Spirit transforms our life journeys. It was when Jesus prayed that the Spirit came and empowered Him for the journey ahead.

If we want to be a real treasure to our church, to our family, to those we love, to our community, and we value our own personal growth and our own well-being, then let 2019 be a prayerful year.

This is a win-win resolution to make. We are not being asked to give anything up. We are being invited to deepen our relationship with God. We are being invited to a deeper fellowship with God and a deeper experience of God’s love.

For some music Tauren Wells sings "When We Pray."

Prayer: "Lord, help me to make 2019 a year of prayerful journeying. Amen."

The Reverend Adrian J.Pratt B.D.

Monday, December 24, 2018

Anybody Home?

Last week our Pre-christmas service took the theme “Wow!” (sermon here). After the craziness of Christmas comes that quiet week when we await the arrival of a New Year. Life slowly turns back to some form of normality and we start to think about the future. For anybody involved in the ministry life of a church Christmas (like Easter) can be a little exhausting! People’s expectations can be difficult to predict at any time of the year, but during the churches special seasons, it seems everybody has their own traditions and ways they would like things to be done.

This year here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian we are using the week in between Christmas and New Year to look at an often glossed over part of the ministry of Jesus, namely His boyhood. Scripture gives us only one account, in Luke2:41-52, of any things that Jesus did as a child.

In many ways He seemed to have been a lad who fulfilled all His parent’s expectations of Him. So when the family took a trip to Jerusalem they were not expecting Him to go walkabout. In fact they trusted Him so much that it was only when they were well on their way home that they even realized He was missing. They are worried. They set out looking for Him and find Him in the temple, asking questions of the religious teachers and astounding them with His knowledge of the ways of God.

When His parents take Him to task for His actions, He appears a little confused. He seems to have thought that they would know exactly where He was. “His mother said to Him, "Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety. "He said to them, "Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?"

His parents really did not comprehend what He was saying to them. They were simply relieved that they had found Him. Jerusalem, then as now, wasn't the safest place for a 12 year boy to be left unattended. Yet Jesus appears to feel safe and completely at home. He describes the temple as “My Father's house.” We witness in His young life a deep connection with God and a dynamic sense of purpose.

For many of us, we can go through our whole lives never really feeling at home. At home with ourselves. At home with God. At home with each other. Yet when we come together as a community to worship God, our perspective can be drastically changed. We see each other through different eyes. We know ourselves to be beloved children of a heavenly parent. We catch a glimpse of possibilities that had previously been hidden from us.

One of the traditional things to do this time of year is think about New Year’s resolutions. On the basis of this passage a great one to make would be, “2019 is the year I will seek to find my true home in God's love!”

May 2019 be a homecoming year. To God be the glory!

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.