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

Monday, April 6, 2020

Community of the Long Haul

This past Sunday at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church we held an online "Patchwork Palm Passion Sunday Service." Here's a link to the YouTube service. And here's a link to a transcript.

For some thoughts, as we go into another week of uncertainty, here is a meditation by Andrea Springer. Andrea is a regular speaker at the Bon Secours Retreat & Conference Center in Marriottsville, MD.

“Not too long ago a wise colleague introduced me to the phrase, community of the long haul. The words struck me then and over these last two weeks, I find myself returning to them again and again. It occurs to me that we are members of the community of the long haul.

We’ve always been really, part of a human heritage that endures hardships and lives to tell. Think of the settlers and explorers heading into unknown territory knowing that life will be different. For us, it is abundantly clear that the words community, long, and haul mean even more today than yesterday.

The words we use are important and go beyond our personal understanding and experience so I turned to the Oxford Dictionary for new insights into those three small words; community, long, and haul.

Community: a feeling of fellowship with others as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals. This seems particularly appropriate as we may not be physically close to one another but locally, and globally, we share commonalities based on a small but mighty bug.

Long: lasting or taking a great amount of time. The unknown duration of our physical separation adds to our feeling of isolation. Distance also comes into play as we are reminded of social distancing, and suddenly six feet seems a lot longer.

Haul: pull or drag with effort or force; a distance to be traversed. These days it takes some effort, and often sheer determination, to keep a routine and move through the day. This reality is a distance to be traversed.

Individually these words can emphasize our separateness but together, what an image! Community of the Long Haul reminds us of what we’ve been all along and are most especially today. We are people of togetherness, commonalities, and endurance. We may not be hugging and shaking hands, but we’re reaching one another through acts of kindness and love that don’t need a physical touch; phone calls, music, prayers, and videos, and journals.”.

In these difficult days... let us rededicate ourselves to being active participants in the Community of the Long Haul. For some music, 33 Miles sing “Hold On”

Prayer: “Lord, we surely need Your strength and guidance for the living of these days. We pray for those on the front line of this crisis. We pray that people will heed instructions that prevent the spread of coronavirus. We pray that when all this is over, we will remember the lessons these days have taught us. Amen.

Monday, March 30, 2020

God Revealed

 God Revealed

If I lift up my eyes to the hills, where shall I find help?
 Help comes only from the Lord, Maker of Heaven and earth.” 
Psalm 121

We continue here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian to be a virtual congregation. A video of last week's message can be found here, a written version here.

I'm sharing some thoughts today from the Rev. John V. “Jack” Carlson. Jack retired from active ministry in the PC(USA) in January 2016. Prior to his retirement, he served for 13 years as Pastor at Highland Presbyterian Church. After serving a term as Moderator of the Presbytery of Baltimore, in September of 2017 he was elected Stated Clerk of the Presbytery.

Last fall my wife and I traveled to Alaska. The cruise of the Inside Passage had been on my bucket list for many years; it did not disappoint. But the highlight of our trip was our visit to Mt. Denali—“the Great One.”

The highest mountain in North America is usually shrouded in clouds and fog. Natives and tourist guides are fond of telling visitors that only 30% of the thousands of visitors there each year get to see the mountain. And after a couple of days traveling to get there, and most of another day in Denali National Park itself, we were beginning to be resigned to being among the 70% who never glimpse it.

Then late in the afternoon on the day we were traveling through the park, the clouds suddenly and unexpectedly broke, just as we approached the mountain, and we were treated to some very special views. The next day, as we were traveling by motor coach away from the park, again unexpectedly, the sky became crystal clear, and we saw the mountain in its full glory. The above painting is one I painted from a photograph I took while we were pulled off to the side of the road.

This is the nature of God’s revelation. So much of life seems covered over, not clear. Indeed, our very understanding of God seems itself shrouded in mystery. And then, something becomes clearer: sometimes in big ways, as when we see a mountain where only moments ago there was nothing but fog, and then sometimes in small ways, as when we get a wee glimpse into the truth of the way things really are.

We cannot control these experiences; we can only stay alert, stay open, and hope that God will open our eyes at the right moment for us to see the truth and the beauty of God’s love, which is truly there all of the time.”

For some music "My Life is in Your Hands" sung by the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir.

Let Us Pray...
Lord God, in these days we may find ourselves uncertain about the future, search for some sign of You amidst the troubles we face. Open our eyes and ears and hearts to Your certain presence, Your never-failing Word, and Your Eternal Love. Amen.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Strength and Courage

Here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church we continue to minister through our online presence. Our sermon from last Sunday can be found on YouTube here and in written form here.

One of the places I like to go to refresh my spirit is Bon Secours Retreat Center, in Marriottsville, Maryland. Pictured above is the path and bridge around the small water feature.

I am lucky that it is only a short drive from my home. It truly is a place of refreshment and hope. Our Presbytery has hosted a number of Clergy retreats there. I have also visited for personal retreats.

Right now, as with many such centers, they are having to discourage people from visiting. However, they continue to reach out through their online resources.

Rev. Stephen Wade has served as a spiritual director of one of their summer week-long directed retreats for many years. On the Bon Secours blog, he offers the following prayer, by Pope Francis, to the Bon Secours community with hope and thanksgiving. I thought it was well worth sharing.

Tonight before falling asleep
think about when we will return to the street.
When we hug again,
when all the shopping together will seem like a party.
Let’s think about when the coffees will return to the bar,
the small talk, the photos close to each other.
We think about when it will be all a memory
but normality will seem an unexpected and beautiful gift.
We will love everything that has so far seemed futile to us.
Every second will be precious.
Swims at the sea, the sun until late, sunsets, toasts, laughter.
We will go back to laughing together.
Strength and courage.”

I hope you are able to find moments for positive reflection and refreshment during these uncertain times. For some music, MercyMe sing “Even If.”

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Sailing Into Uncharted Seas

This past Sunday here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian we had to cancel our service in the sanctuary and try something online instead. An online sermon can be found here, and written version here.

This is a new way of doing things for all of us. We do not know what the coming weeks will bring, but we do know we can not carry on meeting together as we have in the past. We will do our best to keep everybody updated on developments here at church.

One thing that can bind us all together is our prayers. With that in mind, I share this 'adapted' prayer from “Christianity Today” writer Daniel Darling.

“Heavenly Father, we acknowledge our dependence upon You. This virus has reminded us of our frailty. We have subdued much of the earth with our innovation and creative acts, but we are reminded in this moment how frail and powerless we really are. So we repent of our self-sufficiency and hubris.

Lord, we lament the fallen nature of our world, which mars the beauty of your created order. COVID-19 comes to steal and destroy, to work its way through human bodies and spread its sickness across communities and nations and the world. We, like Your Son, weep and rage at sickness and death. And yet we know that it was Jesus whose death and resurrection defeated this final foe. We long for the day You resurrect our bodies and restore this world.

As we endure this new normal in our lives, we pray earnestly for the medical doctors, nurses, and health care professionals who are putting their lives on the line for their neighbors. May You give them strength and physical immunity during this time, so they can help push back against this virus.

We pray for the scientists, disease experts, and epidemiologists who are working on vaccines and testing mechanisms. Lord, we thank You for gifting them with knowledge and wisdom we don’t have. We pray for their endurance, for breakthroughs, and for resources.

We pray for those working in our supermarkets, dealing with unprecedented demand, anxious customers and their own health concerns. Teach us not to hoard, but to share, to look beyond our personal needs and consider the needs of the most vulnerable among us.

Lord, You are the Great Physician, so we pray for healing for the victims of COVID-19. Lord, You are the Creator, with power over the creation, so we pray that the chaos created by COVID-19 may come to an end. Spirit of God, You are the Comforter, so please comfort all troubled souls.

Move in the hearts of our public officials. As you have instructed us in Your Word, we pray for our leaders, the president, Congress, governors, mayors, and local officials. We pray You will guide them with wisdom and strength and discernment.

We pray for the people in our nation and the nations of the world to be humbled and turn to You in repentance and faith. We know You are the Prince of peace, Lord of lords, the King of kings. We praise You for Your goodness and Your mercy. And we ask this all in the name of Jesus, our Lord. Amen.”

For some music, “He's Always Been Faithful”, by Sara Groves.

Monday, March 9, 2020

Does it pay to be Good?

This past Sunday here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church we reflected on whether seeking to live a good life actually made any difference to ourselves or the world around us. The way of the world seems to be that prosperity has no link to morality! The sermon can be found here.

There are many who adopt an “ends justify the means” philosophy. Whether it be governmental justification of indiscretions and lies or something far more mundane, such as parking illegally because we “are just in such a rush today,” there are circumstances where people feel taking a course of action that would otherwise be unacceptable is O.K.

By way of contrast, scripture invites those who follow Jesus Christ to be above reproach. In the Kingdom manifesto we know as the sermon on the mount we are counseled; “
Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16)

When speaking of those who aspire to leadership in a congregation Paul places the highest standards before his young friend Timothy. “
The overseer then must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, an able teacher, not a drunkard, not violent, but gentle, not contentious, free from the love of money. He must manage his own household well and keep his children in control without losing his dignity.” (1 Timothy 3:2-4)

“Do-gooders” are often regarded as hypocritical meddlers who do more harm than good. Neither Jesus or Paul suggest the way of God’s Kingdom is one of self-righteously enforcing our morality upon others. It is rather about doing the right thing whatever it may cost and however personally uncomfortable it may be.

Whether it means involving ourselves with a cause for justice and peace or simply obeying traffic laws the bottom line is that we are instructed in scripture to be shining examples of God’s love!

For some music Unspoken sing; “Keep Fighting the Good Fight.

Prayer: Lord God, You call us to be people of Kingdom standards. We know ourselves well enough to see such is only possible through the intervention of Your Holy Spirit and through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Help us this week to let our light shine so that others obtain glimpses of Your love. Amen.

Monday, March 2, 2020

An Open Invitation


This past Sunday at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, as we gathered around a table laid with bread and wine, one of the things we thought about was the invitation of Jesus, “Come to me, all you that are weary and carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28). These words are an open invitation towards anybody who is struggling to get through the day or facing obstacles that seem insurmountable. (The full sermon can be found here.)

You may not be familiar with Joseph Scriven, but I am sure you will know one of his compositions. Joseph Scriven was originally from Ireland. He received a degree in theology from Trinity College, Dublin in 1842. In 1843, the night before he was going to be married, his fiancée accidentally drowned.

In 1845, at the age of 25, he left his native country and migrated to Canada, settling in Woodstock, Ontario. There he again became engaged. Tragedy struck once more. His fiancée died of pneumonia He received news from Ireland of his mother being terribly ill. He wrote a poem to comfort his mother called "Pray Without Ceasing."

It was later set to music and renamed by Charles Crozat Converse, to "What a Friend We Have in Jesus." In the midst of his grief and desire for consolation, he shared his deepest thoughts. He did not have any intentions that his poem would be published, let alone become a favorite hymn for millions of Christians around the world. Knowing the story behind these words gives to them an added depth.

What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer!

Are we weak and heavy laden, cumbered with a load of care?
Precious Savior, still our refuge; take it to the Lord in prayer.

When we go to Jesus in prayer and hand over to Him all that burdens us, He is ready and willing to graciously and generously wrap His arms around us, support us, and carry us if necessary. There is no problem in our lives that He cannot help us with. All authority and power have been given to Him.

It is as though He says: “Here let me take that. Let me take that burden of sin and shame and guilt and fear. Let me take it to the cross with me. I’m going there for all those who are weary and burdened. There are no limits to my love for you and I am happy to put all your sin and trouble on my shoulders.”

“Just trust me! Have confidence in my love for you, and you will come to realize that at no time will you walk through any of life's traumas alone. When the time comes I will even walk through “the valley of the shadow of death” with you. I will always be with you.”

For some music, Paul Baloche sings “What a friend we have in Jesus.

Prayer: Lord, our God we thank You for the open invitation of Jesus that we come to Him and find rest. What a friend He truly is! Today, grant us the courage to share our burdens, that we may find release and that the empowering of Your Holy Spirit's presence is with us. Amen. ”

Monday, February 24, 2020

Transfiguration – The Glory Story.

This past Sunday was 'Transfiguration Sunday." Our sermon from the day can be found here. One of the few places you may discover the word 'Transfiguration' outside of the religious sphere is in the Harry Potter series of books. 
At Hogwarts Academy 'Transfiguration' is a branch of magic that focuses on the alteration of the form or appearance of an object, via the alteration of the object's molecular structure. Humans can be transfigured into werewolves, objects in the seen world can become invisible. And, as this video clip demonstrates, animals can be turned into objects... though not always with 100% success when it comes to Ron Weasley.

The Gospel account of Transfiguration can be found in Matthew 17:1-9 and its veracity is testified to in one of the later New Testament writings, 2 Peter 1:16-21. The author of 2 Peter insists that the mountain-top appearance of Moses and Elijah with Jesus was no magic trick, but a milestone moment in the disciple's pilgrimage to come to terms with the significance of the person of Jesus Christ.

For many of us, such strange events on mountaintops seem to have about as much reality to them as a scene in a Harry Potter movie. We may even fear that rather than making the gospel account more believable, they make it seem even further removed from the reality of our daily lives. And should we even attempt to replicate such an event we probably fear our efforts would be about as successful as those of Mr. Weasley!

So maybe it is helpful to ask why the gospel authors (and the author of 2 Peter) felt that this was such an important story to tell. Traditionally three aspects have been pointed out.

Firstly, that the story reveals to us a Jesus who is a bridge between the world of the temporal and the eternal. Heaven connects with earth and earth with heaven. For a brief moment in time, the mist of separation is cleared and the story moves outside of time. No wonder that one of the disciples, Peter, wanted to capture the moment and stay on the mountain.

Many of us are fortunate enough to have had those experiences when we felt a strong connection to something much larger than ourselves. It can be on a mountain top. It can be through a conversation. It can come when we're watching a movie, listening to a piece of music or reading a book. For a moment the mist clears and we feel we are seeing something in a totally different way. Call it an epiphany... or a transfiguration... or even just describe it as magical... such are moments to accept the goosebumps and be thankful.

Secondly, there is a voice that is heard inviting us to "Listen"... in particular to listen to Jesus. Amongst all the words in the world (and even all the words in the biblical books) we can neglect to give the words of Jesus the particular significance they appear to demand. His teaching is the heart of the gospel. Instead of becoming bogged down in the intricacies of theological interpretation, maybe we could just focus on a few of His BIGGIES... like "Love God", "Love Neighbor" and "Love your enemy". It would be magical if we could simply embrace those three!

Thirdly, the appearance of Moses and Elijah stresses that God is God of the living, not of the dead. I love the notion that every time we worship, despite the often empty pews, we are in the presence of a great cloud of unseen witnesses. Saints and angels of every generation! Let us pray that for each of us there may be those moments when eternity breaks in and we get a glimpse that there's more to this life than the mundane.

Prayer: “Lord, life can be very ordinary. Break through and transform our every day lives with Your extraordinary love. Remind us that we are Your much-loved children and having nothing to fear. Remind us You are with us. Amen.