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

Monday, April 23, 2018

Faith and Fear


 Time and again the biblical teaches, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Psalm 111:10; Proverbs 9:10). Yet fear as a pathway to wise living and proper relationship with God seems to us both unattractive and mysterious. How can fear of God be central to the life of faith, which is meant to draw us closer to God in love?

Here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian we are continuing a series of sermons that take a look at the First letter of John. Last week we were considering the topic “This is Love” (Sermon here). This week we'll be studying 1 John 4:7-21. Verse 18 tells us that for those who truly love God,“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.” Yet Paul, writes in Romans 4:16 about Abraham, who in his faithfulness is “the father of all believers,” and commends him for having a proper fear of God.

Professor Russell Reno, who was born in Baltimore and in later life became a professor of theology and ethics at Creighton University, writes about how Scripture identifies three types of fear, that play very different roles in faithful discipleship.

1. Worldly fear that can diminish human life.

We are aware that we can be destroyed by human sinfulness, powerful institutions, and natural processes beyond our control. Of course we should plan our lives with care (Proverbs 8:12) and have a healthy fear of the legitimate power of authorities (Romans 13:3). But Reno writes that worldly fear too often “debilitates, paralyzes, and undermines our faithfulness” and that “the kind of justice that emerges out of trembling anxiety, is outward and unstable.” This is the kind of fear that Jesus sought for us to be released from. Jesus invites us to; “Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?” (Matthew 6:26-27)

2. Spiritual fear of God’s judgment that directs us away from sin and toward righteousness.
We should grieve over our sins. Our sins not only destroy our relationship with God but also our relationships with each other. They directly contradict the two great commandments given to us by Jesus, that we love God and love our neighbors as much as we love ourselves. Paul reminds us that sin always exacts a price from us and writes in Romans 6:23 “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” God's judgment finds expression in our lives when we observe how sin wrecks, pollutes and makes a mess of all that we try to do.

3. A lasting, heavenly fear that honors God’s holiness and love.
It is fitting and right to experience a sense of awe in the presence of a Holy God. Scripture invites us to die to our sinful selves, and be awake to how God can transform our lives. Reno writes. “The eternal and unfathomable difference between God and creature explains the everlasting fear that is consistent with a love that draws us ever nearer.... Our confident faith in [Christ’s] saving death is entirely consistent with a fearful sense of the depths into which He went on our behalf, depths from which we turn away in shuddering, instinctive horror... As the old spiritual says of the cross, ‘It causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.”

Let us pray that God will help us have a trust in God's love that casts out any and all debilitating fear! For some music Zach Williams sings “Fear Is a Liar.”

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Reflected Love


I am old enough to remember some of the first color photographs that were a result of spaceships traveling to the moon. What an amazingly colorful and vibrant place the earth seems from outer space. It is quite a site to behold, with its mixture of whites and blues and browns.

In a meditation on “Loving because He first loved us” Rev. Charlie Handren, of Elk River, Minnesota, reminds his readers that the reason the earth can be seen in space is because the light of the sun pulses toward it and then, to some extent, reflects back into space.

He writes “This is called “albedo” or the rate of reflectivity. But did you know that a portion of the sun’s light that hits the earth actually travels back to the sun? If you were standing on the sun you would not be able to see it because the light of the sun would overwhelm it, but it would be there nonetheless.”

Just as the earth only shines because it receives light from the sun, and then sends back a portion of that light to the sun, so we love God because God first loved us. The love with which we love God, is but a dim reflection of the love with which God first loved us. The love of God is a self-generating, independent, and ever flowing love; our love is an other-generated, dependent, and reflected love.

We sometimes make the mistake of believing that the love of God is something we have to earn by making ourselves worthy of being a child of God. The problem with such a notion of “Becoming good enough” is that none of us can ever be that good. The holiness of God is as far from our attainment as the sun is from the earth!

Here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church we have been looking together at the First Letter of John. In his first couple of chapters John talks a lot about the ability of sin to ruin everything. It ruins our relationship with God. It ruins our relationship with each other. Yet sin has a remedy. That remedy is nothing less that the love we find through Jesus Christ. He died to forgive us our sins, and was raised to give us new life. His love is made manifest in our hearts through the action of the Holy Spirit. (Our sermon from last week “Sin's Remedy” can be found here.)

In John's remaining chapters he talks less about and sin and more about love. This week we take a look at 1John 3:16-24. How do we become more loving? His suggestion is that we do so through reflection. By focusing on the love that God has for us, so we understand that we are called to reflect that love, to each other. As we apply ourselves to doing so, then God's love shines in our hearts and helps us walk in the light!

God's light and love are so much greater than anything we can attain by ourselves. But by focusing on God, we become reflectors of Christ's love. By applying the light of scripture to our lives, not only do we gain personal enlightenment, but we become a hope and help to others. By opening our hearts to God's light through worshiping together, we have an opportunity to become communities of faith that can have a significant impact for good within the communities in which we live, move and have our being!

For some music, Hillsong sing Graham Kendrick's “Shine Jesus Shine.

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Humility and Pride


One of the many things that can block our experience of the love of God is pride. The kind of intellectual pride that thinks that, no matter what everybody else may say, we know better. Here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian we are following a series titled “Sin, Forgiveness and Love” (Messages from the First Letter of John.)

Last week we talked about “Walking in the Light” (sermon here). This week we look at 1 John 3:1-10. A group of folk who John warns his readers about, were known as “Gnostics.” “Gnosticism” is a multi layered belief system that offers to its adherents “Secret wisdom.” The Greek word literally meant “knowledge.”

Over the centuries of its existence the Christian faith has intrigued some of the greatest thinkers known to humanity. For some, such as C.S. Lewis, a significant part of their faith journey was wrestling to understand how their knowledge of the world, could relate to an understanding of God. In an essay titled “God in the Dock” he talks about how, having come to faith, there were certain areas where he encountered resistance to the Christian message in those he sought to share his beliefs with.

The title of his book came from the observation that, instead of God being considered as being the judge, the modern person judged God (Hence “God is in the dock'). He confesses that before being a person of faith, such was his own approach. It is an act of humility to accept that ones own intellect may not be able to unravel every secret of the universe. Pride tells us we can know it all without need for revelation. 

He also recognized something that Johns first letter reminds us of. Pride is related to sin. Lewis felt that some he sought to debate with did not hold to of any concept of sin. Not that sin was absent in their lives, but the thought, “I’m a sinner,” was simply not present. There was no guilt, so the Christian message of forgiveness just didn't mean anything.

One of the problems that John saw in the lives of the “Gnostics” was that their belief system led them to dismiss sin as being something that drove their actions. They rationalized their actions, and insisted that they were above the law, because they knew better. Some of them even interpreted the idea that Jesus had done away with sin, meant that sin didn't matter anymore, so they could do whatever they pleased.

He counteracts their argument in 1 John 3:4-5 “Everyone who commits sin is guilty of lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. You know that He (Jesus) was revealed to take away sins, and in Him there is no sin.

John is telling them, “You really don't want to underestimate that sin thing. It's like a bomb waiting to go off in your life. It will cause you to be blinded by pride and take away your desire for God's love to redeem you and save you. It will take from you the light and joy that could be yours in Christ.”

I am thankful to God for those who offer an intellectual understanding of faith. But I also recognize that knowledge, if not receive with humility, can lead to the kind of pride that places “God in the Dock,” rather than reveals to us our need of Christ's love to recreate and redeem us from our sin.

Thankfully, God's love is greater than sin. Acknowledging “God knows best” opens the way to experience God's love!

For some music, a song by Michael W. Smith, “Never been Unloved!

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, April 2, 2018

Walk in the Light

For our Post-Easter services here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church we are taking the theme “Sin, Forgiveness and Love (Messages from the First letter of John).” The first in our series will reflect upon 1 John 1:1 – 2:2 and be titled “Walk in the Light.”

John's first letter has many similarities with the Gospel of John. Themes of darkness and light appear throughout both books. Likewise both speak a lot about how love is the ultimate manifestation of God's presence among us, and how we, as compromised human beings, find the task of loving incredibly difficult.

The reason for our difficulty is identified as “sin.” We have an inbuilt tendency to prefer the darkness over the light. This affliction steals away from us the joy that could be ours in Christ. The solution that is offered is to “Confess our sins.” 1 John 1:9 “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

One way to think of confession is to see it as admitting to something. That we admit to ourselves, to each other and to God that we are messed up and need all the love and hope and healing and forgiveness that God offers to us at the Cross of Jesus Christ. When we take that step, God offers us the presence of the Holy Spirit as a comfort and a helper and a Guide.

In both the gospel of John and letters of John, the Greek word used to describe the Holy Spirit is “Paraclete.” In general Greek the word “Paraclete” meant “A legal advocate, or counsel for defense, an intercessor, or a helper.” In the New Testament the word is usually translated as “Comforter”, “Helper” or “Advocate.”

So the solution to sin, is firstly to admit that we are sinners, secondly, to realize that the only hope for us is to trust in God to get us out of the mess we have made of things, and thirdly, to understand that such is exactly the role the Holy Spirit can play in our life.

The gospel and letters of John relate all of this to the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. In particular His death and resurrection, the core of the Easter message. He died for our sins. He was raised to bring us new life. (Last weeks Easter Message “Bang, Woosh, Kappow” can be found here)

John invites us to walk in that light. To walk in the light of the revelation of Christ. To walk in the light offered to us through the Holy Spirit. To walk in the light of God's love, wherever we are and whatever we are doing. And God promises, that when such is our hearts desire, God will help us with every step we take. Thanks be to God!

For some music, a song that ties many of those themes together ... “Lord I Need You”by Matt Maher
 
The Reverend Adrian J Pratt B.D.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Easter Flowers

 
 The message of Easter is one of resurrection, renewal and rebirth. We celebrate this great festival as winter turns to Spring. Those who first sought to integrate Christian faith into already existing festivals found fertile ground and symbolism in this season of new beginnings.

We know the Easter story. Jesus travels to Jerusalem where He is at first welcomed, then rejected and then betrayed. Following a week of lies, torture and injustice, He is sentenced to crucifixion. He dies in agony on Golgotha's hill, abandoned by even His disciples, some of whom flee for their lives.

Jesus had taught His disciples “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. (John 12:24) On Easter morning the unimaginable happens. The tomb is empty. The realization of resurrection impacts those who had been closest to Him. The message begins to be declared. “Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed!”

We meet on Maundy Thursday evening, around a table laid with bread and wine, to recall the connection between Jesus and Passover. He speaks of His body being broken and His blood poured out to establish a new covenant of love. He washes His disciples feet to indicate that love and service were two sides of the same coin.

Early Easter Sunday morning, we gather to greet the rising sun and remember the promises of God. Later that day we meet to sing Easter hymns and celebrate. The hope of resurrection is all around us in this special time of the year. Even the Easter flowers can speak to us, as this poem seeks to share....

“What Wants to be Born In You, Beloved?”
(A poem by Hollie Holden)
I have become grateful for the moments when I remember to stop,
In order to listen to what the earth has to tell me.
This morning it was a flower who took me by surprise and shared her secrets with me.

She told me of her journey. How it began in darkness,
In the quiet, cool embrace of the quiet, generous earth.
She told me how the light called to her, and how, slowly but solidly,
She began to unfold towards the simple inevitability of her calling.

She told me of the exquisite cracking-open of all she knew herself to be;
The opening that felt like death until she realized it was her birth.

And then, with her open petals, she asked me
In the way only a full-bloomed flower can ask,
“What wants to be born in you, beloved?
What does the light want to call into being
From the quiet, generous earth that waits patiently,
In the cave of your heart?”

For some music, a reflection on the song “You Raise Me Up”.
May we be aware of Easter blessings all around as we celebrate holy week!

EASTER SERVICES AT MOUNT HEBRON PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH

Maundy Thursday Communion Service @ 7:00 pm
(Preceded by Meal in Fellowship Hall at 6:00 pm)

Easter Sunrise Service at the Amphitheater 6:30 am

Easter Celebration in the Sanctuary 10:00 am.

The Reverend Adrian J Pratt B.D.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Barabbas

Here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church we are continuing our journey through Lent along the Easter Road. Last Sunday we were considering how Jesus was “Riding into the Storm.” This coming Sunday, the Sunday before Easter, is often known as Palm Sunday or Passion Sunday.

Jesus rides into Jerusalem, on a donkey, and is greeted by cries of “Hosanna!” But in only a short time those cries of welcome are turned to cries of condemnation and “Crucify.” Mark 15:7-15 gives us an account of how significant that turn around of events would be for the life of one condemned prisoner. A man called Barabbas.

It appears that Pilate followed a custom during the Passover week to release a prisoner from jail. The prisoner could be anybody that the crowd asked for. Having had his wife warn him of the innocence of Jesus, Pilate feels that the crowd will be shouting for him to release Jesus from jail. It doesn't turn out that way.

It seems that, at first, there was sympathy towards Jesus. But then, among the crowd, spread agitators speaking on behalf of the powers that had caused Jesus to be arrested. Instead of shouts for “Jesus of Nazareth,” the crowd shout for “Jesus Barabbas” to be set free. Though he is not happy at the turn of events, Pilate feels that if he doesn't respond to their request, he will have a riot on his hands. Barabbas is freed, but Jesus is sentenced to death by crucifixion.

Matthew's Gospel refers to Barabbas only as a "notorious prisoner." Mark and Luke suggest Barabbas had been involved in a riot against the Roman power and had committed murder. He may well have been seen as something of a “freedom fighter” to downtrodden Jews suffering under the might of Imperial rule.

We don't know what happened to Barabbas after his release. We can say though, that if Jesus had not  “... humbled Himself and become obedient to the point of death-- even death on a cross” (as Paul writes in Phillipians 2:8), then Barabbas would never have been set free.

Barabbas is a character whose life reminds us of the New Testaments claim, that because of Christ's death, we can live free and forgiven. For one of the thieves, who died on a Cross next to Jesus, it only took a moment of recognition, of who Jesus truly was, to receive an assurance; “Today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43)

Our Christian freedom is an act of God's amazing grace. We don't enter life with a “Get out of Jail Free” card. As we enter into Holy Week, it is worth reminding ourselves, that all the things Jesus will face, are taking place, so that we may know God's love can make us... as free... as Barabbas! 

For some music, a song called "Barabbas" by Jimbo Whaley and Greenbrier .

The Reverend Adrian J Pratt B.D.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Riding into The Storm

Riding into the Storm

Maybe you have seen programs on the T.V. about “Storm Chasers.” Crazy people, who instead of trying to get away from the storm, ride straight into it and try to get as up close to the action as they can. Sometimes they are trying to gather data, or maybe do a news report, but at other times they just want to take some good pictures!

There are times when you can't avoid the storms that life brings our way. Some of us quite recently were affected by the “Nor' Easter” storm that rolled through the area. We had trees down and a lot of folk had power outages. Storms come in many forms. Tragedies. Illness. Crime. Accidents. No matter how much insurance you have, you still can't stop the storms coming!

Last week as we traveled towards Easter we took a look at a classic verse of scripture and mused how we were “Surrounded by Love.” This Sunday we reach a point when Jesus speaks about the terrifying ordeal of suffering that would lead to His death by crucifixion. He seems very much aware that the storm that He is about to face would cost Him everything. It is not a route that, humanly speaking, He wishes to follow. We read of Him explaining to His disciples in John 12:27 “My soul is troubled. And what should I say-- 'Father, save me from this hour'? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour.

In Matthew's gospel (26:39) we read of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, praying and pleading in great anguish of soul; "My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what You want."

The amazing thing is that He followed that prayer “Not what I want but what You want” to its terrifying conclusion. Paul writes in Philippians 2:7-8 “Being found in human form, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death-- even death on a cross.”

I attended recently a seminar at which some first responder's were speaking. They mentioned how it was their job to run into danger, not away from it. If there was a fire, they went in to put it out. If there were shots being fired they moved towards the person firing, in order to apprehend them. That's what they had to do in order to save people.

Jesus was on a mission to save the world. That was His whole purpose. To reveal to us that the love of God could not be thwarted by danger or disaster or even by death. God wants us to know that whatever we travel through, be it suffering or disease or tragedy, Jesus walks that road with us. He knows how it feels. He experienced the agony of pain and abandonment to such a depth that He cried out on the cross “My God, My God, why have You forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46)

There is no God-forsaken place that we can not be redeemed from by the love of Jesus Christ. After three days God raised Jesus from death. That is the Easter story. But before we get to the empty tomb, there had to be the Cross. Jesus rode into the storm so that we may know that God walks with us through every storm of life that we can ever face.

For some music, Casting Crowns sing “Praise You in this Storm.

The Reverend Adrian J Pratt B.D.