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

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.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Low Sunday and Gold

 

The Sunday after Easter is traditionally known as “Low Sunday.” Some have commented that this is maybe due to it attracting very low attendance! That may be so, but the tradition actually seems to have come from the fact that Easter Sunday is “High Sunday”... the Sunday of all Sundays and the biggest celebration of the Christian Year. An Easter sermon titled “Our Amazing Day” can be found here.

After all the pageantry and celebration of Easter, the proclaiming of resurrection, the uplifting music, the signs of spring, it is inevitable that as life returns to “normal' that there would be a sense of anticlimax. Hence “Low Sunday.” In the liturgical calendar the Sundays after Easter are declared as “Easter 2”, “Easter 3” and so on... all the way through to Pentecost Sunday. So... in theory at least, every Sunday is a “Little Easter.”

One of the first disciples to come to a belief in the resurrection was Peter. Peter plays an important role in the whole drama of Easter. He sits with Jesus at the last supper. He is with Jesus when He is arrested. His denies ever having known Jesus and hears the cock crow three times. Following the resurrection, Peter is challenged, three times, by Jesus, “Do you love me?” On the day of Pentecost Peter is the first to stand up and begin preaching a gospel about the forgiveness and love of Jesus. Peter becomes the leader of the Christian community in Jerusalem.

There are two books in the New Testament that bear Peter's name. In our Sundays following Easter and journeying towards Pentecost, here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church we'll be taking a look at some of the passages contained in his first letter.

First Peter addresses a Christian community that faced considerable trials. He calls them to embrace a close relationship with God and live in a way that demonstrated God's faithfulness. He sees Christian people as people chosen by God to live in obedience to Jesus Christ and so reveal God's love for all the world. This they are not to do in isolation, but within a community defined by their openness to the empowering and leading of God's Holy Spirit.

In verse 7 of chapter One Peter speaks about faith, being more precious than gold.” Such a faith will enrich their good times and enable them to travel through the hard times. He never suggests that life as a Christian is meant to be easy. In his own journey of discipleship Peter had experienced both high times and low times. Though Jesus described him as having a rock like faith upon which His church would be built, Peter knew what it was to travel a rocky road!

At the end of the day, the journey was worth it. The love he had discovered in Jesus Christ truly was worth more than gold. Let us pray that in our own faith journeys that we reach a place where we make a similar discovery.

For some music “More Precious Than Silver” performed by Leann Albrecht; written by Lynn Deshazo

Rev. Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Resurrection Matters

 
Last week here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, through a series of hymns, readings and meditations, we followed the journey of Jesus from His entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday to the Cross of Calvary. Some of our thoughts can be found here

This week we have a Maundy Thursday communion at 7:00 pm in the Sanctuary, then on Easter Sunday, a sunrise celebration at our wonderful amphitheater at 6:30 a.m. At 10:00 a.m. we have planned a worship service filled with great music and positive vibes. If you are in the area you would be very welcome to join us for any of these occasions.

Easter Sunday is of such tremendous significance to the Christian Church. St Paul writes to the Corinthians; If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have died in Christ have perished. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.” (1 Corinthians 15:17-19)

Do you hear what he is saying to Christian people? If Christ has not been raised, then the grace of God is null and void. Your forgiveness depends on Christ's victory over sin and death. If Christ has not been raised then you should forget any heavenly thoughts. If Christ has not been raised then you are living a delusion. You might as well just grit your teeth and struggle through another day, because tomorrow you die. If Christ has not been raised you are, of all people, most to be pitied.

The Easter hope hangs on 1 Corinthians 15:20 “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead.” I was struck by a quote by church historian Jaroslav Pelikan (1923-2006). Among the last words he spoke were these: “If Christ is risen, nothing else matters. And if Christ is not risen – nothing else matters.”

The resurrection is a complete game changer. The resurrection bathes every day we live in the light of God's love. The PC(USA) brief statement of faith begins with the words; “In life and death we belong to God, through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit”. The resurrection seals our identity as children of God.

Ever heard the comment that church people can be “So heavenly minded as to be of no earthly use?” Consider this. Some of the Christian folk who have wrought the greatest changes in society were those who believed, wholeheartedly, in resurrection.

Martin Luther and John Calvin re-formed a church that had lost her way. William Wilberforce and John Newton started a movement that dismantled the slave trade. Martin Luther King Jr. tried to teach us to be color blind. Mother Teresa, through her work in the slums of Calcutta, reminded us that all people, regardless of race, color or creed, deserve to live and die with dignity.

What do these folk, along with Christian reformers, saints, martyrs and ordinary every day believers, all have in a common? A belief that Christ is Risen :- “HE IS RISEN INDEED!” Such is the faith that the church will declare to all creation this Easter Sunday.

May you discover that God's grace, hope, love and blessing are with you during these days of Easter.

For some music, a classic Easter Hymn... “Thine Be the Glory!

Rev. Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Fickle Folk - Like Us


Fickle Folk – Like Us!

Last weekend here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church our Lenten journey led us to reflect on the raising of Lazarus. A sermon titled “Life Stinks” can be found here. This weekend is Palm Sunday/Passion Sunday. During our service we will be following the account in Matthews gospel of how the shouts of “Hosanna” that welcomed Jesus turned to shouts of “Crucify” which led to His death.

It is one of the mysteries of human nature how, in a short space of time, we can shift from being totally in favor of something, to being totally opposed to something. Today's celebrity is tomorrow's pariah. Be it music, politics, sports, religion... or a thousand other things, it seems one moment we are piping hot and next we are stone cold!

According to the Mirriam-Webster dictionary “fickle” means to be “marked by lack of steadfastness, constancy, or stability : given to erratic changeableness.” The account of what happened from Palm Sunday to Good Friday reminds us that we are indeed fickle folk, peculiar people and as changeable as the wind!

Jesus appears to blessed with a high degree of un-fickleness! From the moment He decides to enter Jerusalem He seems completely in control. He is not impressed by the welcome of the crowds. He challenges the hypocrisy of the traders in the temple. He sees through the pretensions of the religious folk. He chooses, in the midst of political interrogation, when to speak and when to be silent. Though it appears to be chaos all around Him, He is not phased!

Could it be that, if we were more focused on our relationship with God, we would find a way to be less fickle? Could it be that if we allowed ourselves more time to reflect on God's care, we would no longer be as changeable as the wind?

We are fickle folk. But we don't have to allow our fickleness to define our character. The opposite of being fickle is being steadfast. A dictionary definition of steadfast is to be; “Firm in faith.” Such comes to us only through practicing regular disciplines of prayer, worship and service. We find these words in Psalm 51:1Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.

Easter week offers a wonderful opportunity to focus on the great drama of crucifixion and resurrection. Every time we make this journey we discover new aspects to the story and new insights about ourselves. May your personal Easter journey be one that builds your faith and brings blessings for days to come.

For a musical interlude, one of the great passion hymns "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross"... a totally over the top production by a Nordic choir during an 'Hour of Power" broadcast.

Rev Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, March 27, 2017

The Dry Bones


Last week at Mount Hebron Presbyterian we talked about a guy called Bob. Our sermon can be found here. The readings for this upcoming Sunday reflect the theme of resurrection. We'll be looking at two of them in our worship service; Ezekiel37:1-10 (the prophets vision of a valley of dry bones) and Jesus raising Lazarus from the tomb; John 11:1-45.

Both readings anticipate the coming of Easter Sunday, and provide a welcome reflection on 'life' before we reach Holy Week and reflect on 'Hosannas turning to shouts of Crucify', betrayals around a supper table, denials, torture, crucifixion and death.

At the start of the Ezekiel reading, the prophet writes 'He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” I said, “Sovereign Lord, You alone know.' This question about the possibility of life returning to what seemed to be over and done with has a striking relevance for those of us who are involved in the life of traditional denominations. We know our glory days are in the past. We witness churches closing, congregations struggling to maintain their life and society becoming increasingly secular.

It is tempting in the light of decline to play the blame game. Bad communication. Shallow values. Clergy infidelity. Irrelevance. We can seek for scapegoats if we so desire. Blame the denomination. Blame the pastor. Blame the elders. Blame the people. Yet the larger question is one about spirituality. There are many, many folk who are actively pursuing their own spiritual journeys without reference to the particular path taken by traditional denominations.

The challenge for so many churches is to find places where they can connect with peoples needs and offer a helping hand to all seeking a way through the crazy challenges life throws at us. Yet, as we are in decline, it is so hard not to become focused on our own needs and think simply about keeping the doors open and paying the bills!.

Ezekiel's perspective is a timely vision. It offers hope to people within and without the church. It talks about questions faced by all. 'Will my life thrive? Will everything be OK? Where does our future lie? Can something good come out of the dry bones of our existence?' Ezekiel's initial observation? “Sovereign Lord, You alone know." In his own way he declares “God knows!”

Some say“God knows” as a cry of despair. For Ezekiel “God knows” is a proclamation of hope. There is a hymn by William Floyd containing the lines, "My times are in Thy hand; whatever they may be; pleasing or painful, dark or bright, as best may seem to Thee."

This attitude of quiet resignation, far from being defeatist, actually seems to be at the core of authentic faith. We don't know what the future holds, but we can trust that there will be one... and God will be a part of it, no matter what.

Of course we hope that the dry bones will take flesh and live. In the church calendar we have not yet reached Easter. As stated earlier, there are terrible things to face before the Easter dawn arrives. The theme seems to be that, although there are days when life stinks, we are called to persist with the thought that, when life is in God's hands, things can always get better! Because that's just how it turned out for Ezekiel and Lazarus!

For some music, a song I may have posted before but enjoy revisiting. This version is firmly in the Southern gospel tradition and features one of the groups who in their day defined that particular genre; the Cathedrals Quartet sing "Dry Bones".

Rev. Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Do You See What I See?

Do you See what I See?

As we travel through Lent here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian, we are considering passages from the Gospel of John. Last weeks sermon, “My Reality Check just Bounced” can be found here.  John delights in opposites. Light and Darkness. Good and Evil. Love and Hate. Truth and Lies. Yet scattered throughout the narrative are many stories where all is not as it may seem. As an example consider our lectionary passage for this coming Sunday, John 9:1-41 “The Healing of a Man who was born blind.”

At the start of the account the disciples come to Jesus with a question about sickness. From somewhere they have received the idea that if a person is suffering, they must have done something wrong. They ask Jesus, about the man who was born blind. “Who sinned? Him or his parents?” It's the Sabbath day. Jesus picks up some mud, rubs it in the mans eyes and tells him to go wash himself in a pool called Siloam. Everybody is astonished when his sight returns. “This mans sight,” explained Jesus “Had nothing to do with anybody sinning!”

The Pharisees learn about what has happened. They are not pleased. Why? Because Jesus had broken the Sabbath. Who sinned? In their eyes, Jesus sinned. He just wouldn't play by their rules. They do everything they can to prove that the whole thing is fake news. They question the man. They question his parents. They tie themselves in knots trying to come up with alternative explanations as to what really happened. They do anything but acknowledge that Jesus had healed the man.

The man who has been healed explains clearly and simply what had happened to him. He ends up being accused of being a sinner and thrown out of the temple. The Pharisees could see it all. Jesus was a sinner. The man was a sinner. His parents were sinners. In fact everybody, but themselves, were sinners. So it couldn't have happened. As for the facts? Well they would be adjusted accordingly.

A while later Jesus meets the man on the road. He explains who He is and the man declares himself a believer. He tells the man, “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind." (John 9:39 ). Some of the Pharisees overhear the conversation. Again, they just don't get it. They are sure that when Jesus is speaking about people who can't see, that does not apply to religious leaders. The sting in the tale is Jesus telling them; "If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains.” (John 9:41)

As stated earlier, John delights in opposites. The chapter begins with disciples suggesting the man was afflicted by sin and this was the cause of his blindness. Jesus muddies the waters. Not only does He claim that sin was nothing to do with the man's situation, He then goes and does something the religious authorities suggested was a sin... healing on the Sabbath.

By the end of the story you realize that the ones truly blinded by sin... were the Pharisees. Everything has turned around. We should turn the story around on ourselves. So often we are the ones making the presumptions and believing that we really know what's going on. It's complicated. Jesus begins by telling us that sin didn't cause physical blindness. Yet by the end of the story we see that it could cause spiritual blindness.

Let us pray that God will open the eyes of our hearts and help us to see our lives in the light of His love and peace. Such will always offer us a fresh perspective! And there just happens to be a song on that very theme... “Open the eyes of my heart, Lord” (Hillsong)

Rev Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Well Woman

Here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Presbyterian, as we travel through Lent we are looking at passages mostly from the Gospel of John. Last week we heard of Jesus telling Nicodemus that he needed to be “Born Again.” Our sermon can be found here.

This week, John 4:5-26, which gives us an account of an encounter between Jesus and a woman at a well in Samaria. The woman is revealed as having a life very different to that of Jesus. Jesus was of the Jewish faith, she was a Samaritan. The two religions disagreed over details of their religion. Such as if God should be worshiped in the temple in Jerusalem, or on a mountain that was sacred to the Samaritan people.

Jesus is at the well by choice. He has sent His disciples into town to get food. The text tells us, it was noon, He was tired, and He was taking a rest. The woman is there by necessity. She needed water. In fact when Jesus talks to her about water that never ran out, she is anxious to find out more. She was having a difficult time meeting her needs.

Jesus is male, single and free to do whatever He decides. She is in a life that is determined by her ability to connect with males. She has had five husbands and the person she was relying on for support wasn't even her husband.

Jesus had around Him folk who admired Him, wished to hear what He had to offer and, though His actions often confounded them, treated Him with respect. The woman was at the well in the noonday heat because that was a time when other people were not around. She did not have a life that others seemed to respect.

The woman is extremely surprised when Jesus engages her in conversation. "You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?" (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)” Her surprise increases as He reveals to her that her circumstances (which she presumably hid from others) were known to Him.

Though Jews and Samaritans differed in some things, they shared a belief that God would one day send a Messiah to bring salvation. The fact that He knew all about her, leads her to believe that, when Jesus said He was the Messiah, He was telling the truth.

If you read what happens later in the chapter you see that the woman tells anybody who would listen what has taken place. Jesus ends up staying in town for a couple of days, teaching the Samaritans about the way God could work in their lives. Presumably He shared the insights with them that He shared with the woman.

That God was not confined to either temples or mountains. God was Spirit. The way to worship God was through living lives that embraced truth. God knew all about their circumstances and they could trust in God to guide them. God's Spirit was like living water that could satisfy their deepest needs.

As people we are all very different. We have different restrictions and different opportunities. Some of us have names everybody knows. Some of us have names only God knows. Salvation is about wholeness. About wellness. About being known. About trusting that the God who knows all about us really can guide us. The woman by the well encountered Jesus and became a well woman.

God's love can also make us whole. For some music, Casting Crowns sing “The Well.”

Rev Adrian J. Pratt B.D.