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

Monday, October 15, 2018

What Do You Want?

I spent some fruitful days this past week, taking some time out for study leave, with a group of worship leaders and contemporary writers, some older, some still in college days, in the wonderful Tennessee countryside. Some were just trying to improve their skills to do a better job at what they already do. Others were setting their sights high and wondering how to get publishing deals and have their material more widely known.

It was inspiring to talk with them about their hopes and dreams. I have no doubt some will do very well in their given fields. They certainly seemed to have the energy and drive to achieve what they want. It all raises questions, such as “What do we want out of life?” “How do we get there?” and, maybe most importantly; “Is what we want... really the best thing for us?”

Last week here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian our reading from Mark was all about camels and needles. (Sermon here). Our reading this coming Sunday will be from Mark 10:35-45. It’s a passage in which James and John make clear to Jesus what they would like to see happen in their lives. They are aiming high. They request to be seated at Jesus side when He comes to reign in power and glory. That's high! This passage speaks to us about a number of things.

1. It speaks to us about prayer. Our prayers can be self-focused rather than God focused. We tell God what we think God should give us. Sometimes we are even “James and John-like” in that we have a sense that we deserve to have our requests answered in the way we feel they should be. That is not really praying. Prayer is seeking what God desires for our lives and seeking the strength to achieve it. Of course we pray about our needs, but we need to first discern the difference between needs and wants.

2. This passage speaks about perseverance. Jesus asks the disciples if they are capable of drinking the cup that He will have to drink. His life is about to be submerged into deep suffering. They desire a crown, but fail to see that Christ’s glory came through a Cross. The Christian life does offer great things. But they do not often come easy. Spiritual life is the long haul option.

3. This passage is also about pride. There was a song some years ago that proclaimed; “Everybody wants to rule the world.” (Or at least their small corner of it.) Jesus us calls to the abandonment of our quest for personal gain and towards embracing a servant lifestyle that keeps the needs of others always in our minds eye. Now... that is not easy. It doesn’t grab the attention in the way winning a race or gaining a promotion may do. But such is our calling as disciples.

For some music a song by Cory Asbury titled “Reckless Love.” The song has the line in the chorus “Oh the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God” and reminds us that when our ambitions are harnessed to the love of God, God promises to be with us, wherever the journey may lead.

Prayer. “Lord Your Word invites us to consider what we want from You. By asking the question it challenges us to consider our motives. Teach us how to pray in a way that sets our life on the path You wish us to follow. Through Your Holy Spirit preserve and protect us on our journey. Save us from the kind of misplaced pride that takes away our desire to serve others. All these things we ask in our Saviors name, our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

The Reverend Adrian J Pratt B.D

Monday, September 24, 2018

Who's In Charge?

 
Last Sunday during worship here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church we were thinking about the question “Who's the Greatest?” Our sermon can be found here. This week we are asking “Who's in Charge?”

In Mark 9:38-50 the disciple John comes upon a group of religious people doing the work of God. He has never come across them or heard of them before. He overhears them praying, and they are using the words; “In Jesus name.” This makes him mad.

Who did they think they were? He was the disciple! What right did they have to be doing disciple stuff? How dare they use the name of Jesus to work miracles, when they hadn't been through the kind of training he had been through! Preposterous!

Some Musings.

1. Today we’d probably call John’s problem a control issue. Somebody was in his space, operating in his personal domain and he did not like it. Maybe we can identify areas or issues in our own experience where we feel threatened because we feel that the particular area is all about us. Jesus suggests to John that it is never all about us. That it’s all about God and God’s purposes being done.

2. This passage also gives us what critics suggest, are some of the harshest words ever spoken by Jesus. “If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire.” Plainly this is not a passage to be interpreted literally! A less dramatic way of interpreting these verses, about cutting off hands and gouging out eyes, would be to say; “If something is damaging your life, cut it out!” As I will suggest in our sermon this coming Sunday, Jesus is here saying, ‘John, if you want to control something, then work on controlling your self!”

3. The passage closes with a call for Christians to ‘Have salt in themselves, and be at peace with one another.’ Salt back then was used for seasoning and preservation. When a person has a sense of their own worth before God and a desire to live in the will of God they exert a positive influence on those around them. They are not afraid to seek peace. They look for the image of God in others. That's how the Kingdom grows and changes the world. It's the little grains, the little things we do, that make a huge difference. Who's in charge? Sometimes we just have to let go and “Let God.”

Prayer: “Lord we all have control issues. Help us to realize that it’s not all about us and allow You greater room to move in and through our lives. Where we are involved in practices that may be damaging to ourselves or others, help us to take Your advice and ‘cut it out. Teach us what it means to be ‘salt’ in our world and live at peace with one another. Amen.”

For some music Stuart Townend and Keith Getty offer a song called “Jesus is Lord.” (Which includes some tasty lead guitar... never a bad thing in my book!) This little blog will be taking a couple of weeks break as I'm taking some study time away from home. But I shall return! God Bless.

The Reverend Adrian J Pratt B.D.




Monday, September 17, 2018

Who is the Greatest?


Fans of the boxer Muhammad Ali would be familiar with his catch-phrase "I am the greatest." And maybe he was the greatest boxer whoever entered the ring. He was certainly one of the most charismatic and memorable.

In the world of popular music it seems there is an obsession with greatness. Some say Elvis Presley was the greatest singer to ever grace the stage, others say the Beatles were the greatest band to ever have a musical career, but others point to different megastars and other styles of music in defining their greatest hits.

If we were to get into a debate about who the greatest actor or actress was, what the greatest movie ever made might be, what the greatest car ever manufactured could be, we would come up with a multitude of conflicting opinions.

If we delved into politics, and asked “Who is the greatest president to have ever served the United States?” we can already hear rumbles of disagreement across the landscape! It all begs the question of what criteria we should even use to measure greatness. Is there a “Rule of Greatness”or “Scale of Success” upon which we can balance and quantify conflicting claims of supremacy?

We often measure greatness in terms of personal achievement. The great ones are the ones who have become noticed and the ones whose names we all remember. Even in our own lives we can fall prey to seeing our own greatest moments as those when we were the center of attention or the most noticed. Jesus seemed to suggest that greatness was none of the above!

Last week here at Mount Hebron we were thinking about Jesus as being the Messiah, the “Great one of God.” Our sermon can be found here. This week we are musing about greatness and looking at Mark 9:30-37. In this passage the disciples are arguing about “Who is the greatest?” Jesus overhears them.

He then redefines the notion of greatness by placing a child before them, and telling us "Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me." Such an action can direct our thoughts in new directions.

1. Think of the people you most admire. What are the qualities that inspire you about their lives? How do those qualities match up with the qualities of greatness that Jesus spoke of?

2. We are called to have a childlike (but not a childish) faith in God. Where in our life are we living like a child of God? Where may we need to make some changes?

3. "Then Jesus sat down, called the Twelve, and said to them, "
If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all." (Mark 9:35.) What might it mean to place our selves last of all? In what ways are we expressing our service to God both in our personal life and in the life of our community? 
 
For some music “How Great is our God” by Chris Tomlin.

The Reverend Adrian J Pratt B.D.

Monday, September 10, 2018

What Sort of Messiah?

Last week here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian we were looking at an account where Jesus ministered to a man who had been born blind. Our sermon from the day “Touched by God” can be found here. This week, we'll be considering how one of the consistent ways that the New Testament speaks of Jesus is to describe Him as the “Messiah.” This was a loaded term, filled with expectation.

In Mark 8:27-38 the expectations that the disciples have for Jesus, as the Messiah, appear very different to those that Jesus lays before them. They seem to be expecting somebody to take away all their woes and bring them to some significant position of worldly prestige. Instead Jesus proclaims; "The Messiah must go through great suffering. Even the elders and religious authorities will reject Him. He will be killed and in three days rise again."

In an age where there are a host of T.V preachers who proclaim a gospel of personal prosperity and blessing, the idea that the Kingdom may involve something more than making a donation and receiving a blessing, certainly needs re-iterating. We easily forget that most of the first disciples followed the example of Jesus and became martyrs for the cause they believed in.

That there are benefits... real benefits... from embracing the message of the Kingdom is true, but those blessings are not in terms that can be measured from the standpoint of the values of this world. I suspect that is always the case when love comes into the picture. People will do unexpected things for the cause of love, and the love of God seems no exception to that rule.

Time after time Jesus goes beyond our expectations, throws us a curved ball and everything becomes pear shaped! Things do not become easier when He lays down the requirements for true discipleship.

Take a moment to think on each of these invitations Jesus offers. Maybe we could prayerfully seek for God to show us how these verses apply to our own situation.

"If any want to be my followers let them take up their cross and follow me." "Lord, what does taking up a Cross look like for me in my life, right now? What are the things I need to do today that will enable me more faithfully to follow You?"

"For those who seek to save their life will lose it, yet those who lose their life for me and the Gospel will save it." "Lord… help me discern the things I need to let go of in order for Your love to truly be in charge!"

"For what do you gain if you gain the whole world and lose your life?" “Lord… teach me to place greater value on the things that outlast this life, rather than be consumed by the passing things of the moment.”

For some music the Maranatha Singers offer us "The Servant Song

The Reverend Adrian J Pratt B.D.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Ephphatah

 

Last week at Mount Hebron Presbyterian we were thinking about matters of the hearts. Our sermon from the day, “Heart of Righteousness” can be found here.
We are following series called “Mark My Words” and in worship this coming Sunday our reading will be from Mark 7:24-37. This passage features two stories about individuals ... touched by God. The first story concerns an interaction with a Gentile women’s daughter, that reveals her to have a deep faith. The second story is an account of Jesus healing a man born deaf and mute. Jesus uses the unfamiliar phrase “Ephphatah” (meaning "Be Opened") to speak to the mans condition.

The first account is an encouragement for us to be open to find faith in unexpected people and places. The woman is described as a Gentile. Jesus plays on this fact, even using for her a derogatory term that some Jews used for such folk, calling her a “dog.” She totally turns the phrase around and reminds Him that even the puppies under the table were able to enjoy the crumbs! Acknowledging her as a lady of great faith, Jesus responds, and healing comes into the situation.

The second passage concerns the healing of a deaf/mute man. Jesus takes him aside, and prays (with a sigh) "‘Ephphatah,’ which as we’ve seen means, "Be opened." Once again healing comes into the situation.

In an age when spiritual concerns are often marginalized and many church congregations have witnessed more prosperous days, we would do well to "Be opened." To stretch our faith and believe that this is a time when God is still working in unexpected ways through unexpected people in unexpected places.

I find it comforting that Jesus makes His prayer with a sigh. We all have days when we look around and sigh! How much easier things would be if there were a comprehensive, one size fits all blueprint to follow. Even a cursory reading of scripture reveals that the spiritual quest has never worked that way.

Should we wish to apply this passage to our own lives, there are a number of questions it raises for us.
  • Are there situations where we have very little expectation of God working?
  • Where are we in need of ‘being opened’?
  • What is there in our lives that would cause Jesus to “sigh?”
  • To what or to whom are we blind?
  • Where should we be speaking out instead of remaining mute?
For some music “Open the Eyes of My Heart” by Michael W. Smith. A Prayer: “Lord, in our lives together and in our individual journeys of faith, guide us to be opened to the possibilities of change and renewal that Your love can bring. Amen.”

The Reverend Adrian J Pratt B.D.

Monday, August 27, 2018

The Heart of the Matter

Life always places before us a whole panorama of choices. We sometimes make the right choices, for all the wrong reasons and can also make the wrong choices for what seemed to us to be the very best of reasons! In 1941 the author Graham Greene wrote a book titled “The Heart of the Matter.” It tells the story of Scobie, a flawed, yet religious man, haunted by his choices and who wrestles with how his own actions touch upon the happiness of others.

He loses his son and is overcome with grief. He embarks on an affair with another woman after his wife Louise moves away. In the end he takes his own life. One suspects his suicide is because he feels that the world would be a happier place without him. At the end of the novel Scobie's priest, Father Rank, says of him, “It may seem an odd thing to say—when a man’s as wrong as he was—but I think, from what I saw of him, that he really loved God.” His spurned wife Louise replies: “He certainly loved no one else.”

It's the kind of novel that raises many questions about faith and life and human failings. Ultimately it leaves you to make your own conclusions. When I read it I couldn't help but think of the relationship Jesus had with the Pharisees of His day. Last week at Mount Hebron Presbyterian we were thinking about persevering in our faith journeys. (Our sermon “Winner or Quitter?) can be found here.

Our bible passages for this coming Sunday (Mark 7:1-8,14-15,21-23) talk about a confrontation Jesus has with the Pharisees that begins with a conversation about hand washing. The Pharisees suggest to Jesus and His disciples they were not doing things the right way.

It seems they were the sorts of folk who really wanted to do the right thing. But somehow, by focusing on rules and regulations, they lost sight of the most important law of all, the rule of love. They picked on the outward details of a persons life, like hand washing rituals, but ignored the pressing needs of folk around them who really needed help, including their own families. Their quest for righteousness had actually led them away from God, rather than to know God.

Their religion had subtly allowed self interest to overcome their concern for others. Maybe of them it could also be said that, though they appeared to love God, they “Certainly loved no one else.” Jesus, teaching the crowds who thronged around Him, tells them; “For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come.” It is these evil intentions, all of them in some way related to self gratification, rather than another persons good, that defile a persons life.

Righteousness, it seems isn't just about doing the right thing, it's about being in a right relationship with both God and neighbor. When asked to sum up the law of God Jesus clearly stated that the two foundational commands were to “Love God” and “To love our neighbor.”

We are all flawed individuals. We all seek acceptance and love but fall prey to compromise and messing things up! Jesus offers us a wonderful sense of balance in suggesting that loving God and each other should always be held together.

For some music... a song called “Purify my Heart,”written by Eugene Greco.

The Reverend Adrian J Pratt B.D.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Never Give Up!


Last week here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian we were thinking about “Real Meat.” (The sermon from the day can be found here). In our bible passage for this coming Sundays service, John 6:56-69, Jesus offers the people some difficult teaching.

Many, who came flocking when free bread was on offer, are now turning away from Him. Jesus continues to lay down the challenge, asking those closest to Him if they also were going to hit the road and quit! Peter gives the reply: "Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that You are the Holy One of God.

We may have to travel through days of decline before we see growth.

It seems crazy that somebody seeking followers would be acting in such a way as to drive people away from Him! Yet with hindsight we see how Jesus was sorting out the true followers from the fair weather ones. Stormy days were ahead and disciples whose faith was not genuine would be lost.

Spiritual growth has those times when we seem like we are taking more steps backward than we are forging forward. God has to weed out of our lives habits or tendencies that further down the road may cause us to lose our devotion. Times of dryness or struggle are not necessarily a sign of a lack of faith. There are times when faith only grows by being put to the test.

Knowing who and what we believe is so important

Peter’s confession reveals that he had truly grasped the significance of who Jesus was:- the Holy One of God who gave to his life an eternal dimension that he could never find anywhere else. The routines of bible study and prayer are a discipline to help us deepen our relationship with God. They remind us of who God is and what we are called to do. When we let such disciplines go by the wayside, our faith suffers and we start searching for other things to be our ‘daily bread’.

Our calling is to be faithful.

In a culture where everybody has more of everything than they could ever need, being a disciple (and calling others to discipleship) is never going to be easy. Yet we must persevere. Why? We have the words of eternal life. We have the message of Jesus Christ’s love for all people. We have something to offer that people can’t find anywhere else.

When Jesus started to make discipleship a challenge there were some who decided to call it a day. Yet scripture reveals story after story of folk who understood that 'You'll never be a winner, if you are going to be a quitter.” 

From Old Testament stories, like that of Noah, whose whole family thought he was crazy to act upon the idea that a great flood might be coming, to New Testament disciples like Paul, who spent so much of his life headed in the wrong direction that you'd think he could never be turned around... we see time after time, the importance of sticking at the business of discipleship!

For some musicNever Give Up” from the album 'Stir A Passion' recorded live at The Gathering 2017 conference.

Prayer “Lord, we would like our spiritual journeys to be plain sailing. Yet we are very much aware that it doesn’t work that way. You want to dig deep down into our motives and desires and we don’t always want to go there! You call us to depend on You for all things, yet we go seeking other sources of daily bread. Help us never to quit our spiritual journey. Bring us to that place of confession where we can say with Peter “Lord, To whom else can we go? You alone have the words of eternal life. Amen”

The Reverend Adrian J Pratt B.D.