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

Monday, April 15, 2019

Easter Makes a Difference


Last week during worship we followed the Passion story from Palm Sunday through to Jesus death. Our sermon can be found here.

Meanwhile, somewhere in the country, a social service agency sent out a letter to a recipient of their services: "We have received notice that you are deceased. Your food stamps will be stopped effective immediately. You may re-apply if there is any change in your circumstances."

Consider the story of Easter for a moment. The Easter message implies that there has been a change in our circumstances. Christ rose from the grave. God demonstrated that death is not the ultimate enemy or the final calamity. We are not called to “Live for today, for tomorrow we die,” but live in the confident faith that every action we make on earth is related to eternity.

The resurrection of Jesus Christ makes new life a possibility for every person. He died to offer to us the forgiveness of God. No longer should fear of what is past and now forgiven hold us back. He was raised that we may know that God has our future in God's hands. And that future looks bright!

For sure there will be low points in our spiritual pilgrimages, but Easter is not meant to be one of them. Easter is a time for rejoicing. Rejoicing in the eternal life God offers to all who believe. Rejoicing in the Holy Spirit whom God sends to empower us for Christian living.

Rejoicing in the provision of God’s Word which records for us how God has acted in the lives of people much like ourselves. Rejoicing in the testimony of changed lives and renewed relationships where Christ’s presence has been welcomed.

During this Easter season let us pray that the Easter message is making a difference to our life. Here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian we are celebrating the season with the following events.

Maundy Thursday, April 18 6:00 pm Fellowship Meal
7:00 pm Communion Service

Easter Saturday, April 20 1:00 pm Hosting the Mount Hebron Community Easter Egg Hunt.
(With an Easter Bunny photo opportunity)

Easter Sunday, April 21 6:00 am Sunrise Service at the Amphitheater.
10:00 am Worship in the Sanctuary.
(Easter Egg Hunt in the playground for the little ones following worship)

If you are able and in the area... do come and join us! 
For some music, a traditional Easter Hymn... “To God Be The Glory.

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, April 8, 2019

From the Palms to The Cross

 
From the Palms to The Cross

Last week here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church we were thinking about the perspective that Paul's experience of meeting Jesus on the Damascus Road gave to his life. Our sermon can be found here. This coming Sunday we begin our journey through Holy Week with our Palm Sunday/Passion Sunday service.

It is a sad reflection on human nature how quickly the cries of ‘Hosanna’ turned to cries of ‘Crucify.’ How easily public opinion can sway between welcome and condemnation. Today’s hero is tomorrow’s villain. Friar David Hirt, a spiritual director and supervisor, at St. Lawrence Seminary, in Wisconsin, offers the following reflection.

The taste of hosannas is still on my lips,
the smell of the palms as they patter against
the cloudless blue sky of Jerusalem’s day,
when David’s own scion comes riding a colt
and prophesy seems to arrive as we hoped.

While children, the children, all sing Him their psalms
and stones lying silent could echo their songs,
“Hosanna! Hosanna to David’s own son!”

When everything’s changed. The Messiah we have,
He isn’t the one that we want; not the king
who’ll ravage our foes and will raise up the House of God:
this grey temple we built with our hands.

A tremor now passes throughout the crowd,
come to celebrate Passover; start the great feast,
of Memory, held in the fullness of time,
and lived in again, in eternity Lord,
and “Crucify! Crucify,” echoes on still.

It bounces off stones and it shivers my soul.”

Such a reflection can recall to us the importance of seeking the guidance of God in both the good times and the bad times. If we go along with the voices of the crowd, we may end up cheering somebody on the way to their death. If we add our voice to shouts of condemnation we may be found accusing the innocent.

Seeking the still small voice of God amidst all the other voices that crowd in on us is never easy to do. Times in the Christian year, such as Holy Week, offer an opportunity to do some intentional “listening.” As we recall the fickle nature of the voices of the crowd we are invited to seek God’s guidance as to what is really going on!

For some music and further reflection the song “Were You There?” (featuring Andrea Thomas.)

Prayer:
Lord, our lives are influenced by many voices. Some cry out in fear. Some cry out in despair. Some seek to deceive us. Some come to tempt us. Amidst all the other voices, help us make time to hear Your voice. Speak to us through scripture. Speak in the silence. Speak to us we open our hearts in worship. Help us make the most of this Holy Week to discern Your will for our lives. Amen.

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, April 1, 2019

Paul's New Perspective


As we travel the Lenten road towards Easter, last week here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, we heard a sermon about “The New Radical Cross” (which can be found here). This week we will be considering Philippians 3:4-14.

A persons perspective determines how they see everything in their lives. When life brings us new challenges, often our perspective changes. The things we once thought were important, become less important. The things that once never mattered, become the most important things.

That's how it was for Paul, the apostle. For most of his life he pursued the things that those around him said were the important things. He came from a good family. He received an excellent education. He was a citizen of the most powerful nation in the world.

He had a religious heritage that he honored, and became highly schooled in. He was a fierce opponent of those (particularly those who followed the 'New Way' of Jesus) who threatened his understanding of the way things were meant to be. When one of the first Christian martyrs, a man called Stephen, was put to death by stoning, he held the coats of those throwing the stones. (Acts 7:58)

Everything changed when he was on the road to Damascus and had a life changing encounter with Jesus Christ, that left him blinded, dazed and confused. He couldn't see. He lost his appeitite. He needed the help of a man called Ananias, a committed Christian, to heal his sight and explain to him who Jesus was and what the gospel was all about.

For Paul this was the turn around moment in his life. This was the experience that gave him a brand new perspective. All those experiences of life and qualifications he had obtained did not matter as much as the knowledge he had gained in the gospel. To the Philippian Church he writes, The very credentials these people are waving around as something special, I'm tearing up and throwing out with the trash – along with everything else I used to take credit for. And why? Because of Christ.” ( Philippians 3:7 – The Message Bible.)

Experiences that change the way we see things and determine what we count as important do not always come in gentle wrapping. A life threatening accident. An incurable disease. The suicide of a close friend. The death of a loved one. People who travel through these experiences often re-evaluate what they are living their lives for. We all have moments that cause us all to pause and rethink. Moving to a new area. The birth of a child. A new job or role. A new relationship. Even these gentle nudges can be perspective changers.

That's one reason I value belonging to a faith community. It places me in the company of people who are also trying to find their way. I have an opportunity to walk with people who, like myself, are challenged daily to update their life perspective.

As I hear the scripture proclaimed and interpreted I am offered a fresh perspective to consider. And one of those characters who deeply challenges me to think about why I am even on this planet, is the apostle Paul. He tells us in Philippians 1:21: “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” If we want to be disciples of Jesus Christ, we do well to reflect upon Paul's new perspective.

For some music the “Sidewalk Prophets” sing “To live is Christ.”

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, March 25, 2019

The New Radical Cross


Last week here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church we were offered “Traveling Instructions” to guide our journey through Lent. Our sermon from the day can be found here. This week we are considering the central Christian message of the Cross and taking a look at 2 Corinthians5:16-21.

A favorite hymn for many folk is “The Old Rugged Cross.” It is a wonderful hymn, but can lead us to forget that, though always rugged, there is nothing old, ancient or “outdated” about the message that the Cross represents. The love offered to us at Calvary is always new and always radical. It is at the Cross that all barriers are broken down.

The Presbyterian Church (USA) “Confession of 1967” speaks about how Christ's reconciling death on the cross is pictured in different ways. “It is called the sacrifice of a lamb, a shepherd's life given for his sheep, atonement by a priest; again it is ransom of a slave, payment of a debt, vicarious satisfaction of a legal penalty, and victory over powers of evil. These are expressions of a truth which remains beyond the reach of all theory, in the depths of God's love for man. They reveal the gravity, cost, and sure achievement of God's reconciling work.

In a world where people conflicting opinions appear to be sufficient cause to tear each other apart; this message of reconciliation is one that we do well to pay attention to. Jesus tells us that when we apply ourselves to the making of peace we shall be blessed and known as “Children of God” (Matthew 5:9.)

In 2 Corinthians 18 and 19 Paul talks about how the call to reconciliation addresses our lives through the Cross. ”All this is from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.”

Theologian Henri Nouwen writes “What is our task in this world as children of God and brothers and sisters of Jesus? Our task is reconciliation. Wherever we go we see divisions among people – in families, communities, cities, countries, and continents. All these divisions are tragic reflections of our separation from God. The truth that all people belong together as members of one family under God is seldom visible. Our sacred task is to reveal that truth in the reality of everyday life.

Why is that our task? Because God sent Christ to reconcile us with God and to give us the task of reconciling people with one another. As people reconcile with God through Christ we have been given the ministry of reconciliation. So whatever we do the main question is, Does it lead to reconciliation among people?”

The ministry of reconciliation is rooted in what God has done for us, in Christ, at the Cross. Because Jesus died for us, to forever remove our separation from God, we are to work at removing all the barriers that separate people from experiencing the love of God.

Such a task is always new, because it brings the renewing life of God's Holy Spirit to bear in situations that are old and tired. Such a task is always radical, because our world so often chooses the way of confrontation over the way of reconciliation.

Another favorite hymn speaks of “The Wondrous Cross.” The second verse reminds us of our call to put self aside, and be reconcilers.

“Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,
Save in the death of Christ my God!
All the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to His blood.”

For some music here is Fernando Ortega singing that majestic hymn “When I Survey The Wondrous Cross.” Take some time to find a quiet place and meditate upon these timeless words of Isaac Watts,. They were first published in 1707, but like the Cross itself, their message remains fresh and radical and these words have spoken to many hearts across the centuries. Allow them to speak to you today.

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Traveling Instructions

Last week here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church we were considering the implications of being “Citizens of Heaven,” a phrase Paul uses in his letter to the Philippians. Our sermon from the day can be found here.

This week, as we reach the third Sunday in Lent, we will be thinking about God's direction and looking at 1 Corinthians 10:1-13. When you are trying to get somewhere it is always helpful to have some traveling instructions. There are many different options open to us today.

We can ask somebody the way. I know some folk have a problem to stopping to ask directions and I partly share that hesitation. I heard about an American tourist on vacation in Ireland who stopped to ask a local how to get to a certain place. They were advised, “Well sir, if you want to be going there... you don't want to be starting from here.” That's not exactly helpful.

We can use a physical map. Remember those? I used to have the side pocket of my car filled with a variety of state maps and have even more on my bookshelf at home. Often when I entered a state on the interstate I would stop at the Tourist Information and see if they had a recent map. Usually they gave them away for free. You can build up quite a collection after a while!

In the U.K. the “Automobile Association” used to offer a service for their members that would provide you with a route map to wherever it was you were headed on holiday. Often it would include recommended stops along the way and adverts for hotels you could never afford to stay at!

These days we can “Google” directions. There are numerous sites that offer us multiple routes to reach our destination. In many vehicles are built in Satellite Navigation Systems that speak to us as we are driving along, giving us turn by turn directions. My wife has complained that I listen more intently to that ladies voice in my car than I sometimes do to her. Ouch!

Various“apps” (as well as the good old car radio) offer us up to the minute details, alternative routes, weather reports and numerous other items of information to digest and consider as we make our way to our destination. There is no shortage of ways to find advice for the journey. The same applies to our spiritual lives.

We have each other to guide us. Paul, in 1 Corinthians 11:1 tells us “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” So we are invited to take notice of Christ like behavior in people around us and imitate it. We have our personal spiritual road map in the 66 books of the Bible. Scripture covers the vast terrain of human experience and God's revelation, culminating in the coming of Christ, who described Himself as “The Way.”

We have times of worship when we can seek together the guidance of God upon our lives. Just as the internet is a world wide community, so the church provides an international interface of faithful folk. When we are unable to be in worship, many faith communities offer ways to connect online... such as our Mount Hebron Presbyterian website “www.mthebronpc.org”.

Through prayer, through worship, through following good examples and seeking God's guidance over our lives... there are many ways to find traveling instructions for our spiritual lives. For some music Don Moen sings “God Will Make A Way.

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Citizens of Heaven


Here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church we began our Lenten sermon series by looking at a passage from the book of Romans and had a message titled “Don't Miss It!” (which can be found here.) Our Scripture passage for this coming Sunday comes from Philippians 3:17 - 4:1.

In this passage the apostle Paul speaks about citizenship of heaven. He is concerned that in the world around him, many were acting as though the only thing that mattered in their lives was their self. He is scathing in his assessment. “Their god is their belly, their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things.” Christian people were called to live to a different standard, one related to the teaching Jesus had given them. They were to demonstrate that they were citizens of heaven.

Citizenship of any nation carries with it various rights and corresponding responsibilities. According to the official website of the “Department of Homeland Security” American citizenship grants such rights as freedom of expression, freedom to worship as you wish, trial by jury and “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” With these rights come corresponding responsibilities. These include to;
  • Support and defend the Constitution.
  • Stay informed of the issues affecting your community.
  • Participate in the democratic process.
  • Respect and obey federal, state, and local laws.
  • Respect the rights, beliefs, and opinions of others.
  • Participate in your local community.
  • Pay income and other taxes honestly, and on time, to federal, state, and local authorities.
  • Serve on a jury when called upon.
  • Defend the country if the need should arise.
When a person becomes a member of a church they are given certain privileges. They have a right to worship. They are allowed to vote in meetings of their church. They are invited to be an active part of the decision making process in the congregations life. What should the corresponding responsibilities be? Maybe to;
  • Support and defend the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament
  • Stay informed of the issues affecting both your Church and the wider world.
  • Participate in the democratic process of your congregation and denomination.
  • Respect and obey the ethos of the Kingdom … as outlined in the Sermon on the Mount.
  • Respect the rights, beliefs, and opinions of others.
  • Participate in your local community.
  • Be faithful in matters of prayer, personal spiritual growth, tithes and offerings.
  • Serve on a committee or board of your church when called upon.
  • Defend the integrity of your congregation by living as a faithful member, regular in attendance service and support.
Be a good citizen... both in your nation and in your faith community. I'm sure Paul would approve that message!

I had a challenging time finding a song to go with these thoughts. There are many, many songs about God's faithfulness towards us, but not so many about our faithfulness to God. One exception is the song “Find us Faithful” by Steve Green, which resonates with a number of verses in the Book of Philippians.

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, March 4, 2019

Don't Miss it!


Last week here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church we celebrated 'Transfiguration Sunday.” Our sermon from the day, “Faces Without Veils” can be found here.

Now we travel down the road towards towards Easter. Even though it is Lent, I want to share some thoughts from an Advent devotional, by Paul Tripp titled, “Come Let Us Adore Him.” He begins his meditations with a warning about familiarity.

I’ve thought a lot about the danger of familiarity in our lives as the children of God. It is good to be familiar with the story of the gospel of Jesus Christ. It means that God has met you by grace. It means that He has opened the eyes of your heart to what, without Him, you would not see or understand.

He has drawn you close to His side. He has pulled back the curtain and shown you the deep mysteries of His redeeming plan. He has blessed you with the presence of His Spirit, who continues to illumine His truth for you. You are familiar with the story of the gospel of Jesus Christ because the love of God has been lavished on you.

But familiarity often does bad things to us. Often when we become familiar with things, we begin to take them for granted. When we are familiar with things, we tend to quit examining them. Often when we are familiar with things, we quit noticing them. When we are familiar with things, we tend not to celebrate them as we once did. Familiarity tends to rob us of our wonder.

One of our readings for the first Sunday in Lent is Romans10:8-13. In this passage Paul speaks about the danger of being so close to something, that you actually miss it. In verse 8 he writes “The Word is near you, on your lips and in your hearts.

As the years roll by … and particularly if we attend the same church every week... our expectations can sink. We have heard sermons like that one before. We have studied this passage in the past. The preachers voice is the same as it ever was. We sing the same old hymns. For goodness sake people even sit in the same seats year after year.!

While we resist change with every fiber of our being, the “Same old, same old” has a habit of dulling our senses. We don't pay attention as we once did. We are not as diligent in arriving on time, in attending each week, in encouraging others to join us, as we once were.

As Paul Tripp writes in his devotion, “When we are familiar with things, we quit noticing them. When we are familiar with things, we tend not to celebrate them as we once did. Familiarity tends to rob us of our wonder.

Wake up. It's 2019. We are about to walk the Lenten Road to Easter. The gospel has lost not one iota of it's beauty or meaning. Christ Died. Christ has Risen. Christ will come again. God's love is as strong towards you as you read this, as it was the moment you first believed. Do not allow familiarity to steal your joy, rob your enthusiasm or quench your spirit. For some music, Matt Redman sings “10,000 Reasons (Bless the Lord)

On Wednesday March 6th we begin our journey towards Easter with an Ash Wednesday Service in our Historic Hebron House. Anybody and everybody is welcome to join us. “The Word is near you, on your lips and in your hearts.” Don't miss it!

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.