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

Monday, July 29, 2019

Jesus and Individuals

Jesus and Individuals

Over the summer here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, there are a lot of folk coming and going, myself included. Youth conferences, camps and vacations all take us out of our usual routine. While most of the year I preach on the lectionary passages (a selection of readings that follow a three year pattern) this summer I'm stepping away and preaching a series about the way Jesus acted with individuals, both “solitary individuals” and “individual groups of folk.”

It is interesting to see how “Up close and personal” His ministry truly was. He had a way of challenging those who were outside of the Kingdoms guidelines, while at the same time welcoming those who thought the Kingdom was beyond their reach.

This past Sunday we were looking at a passage where Jesus went to the house of Simon, a Pharisee. (Sermon here). While there, a woman, whose name we never learn, but seems to be in great need, anoints His feet with her tears and drys them with her hair. Jesus chastises Simon for not truly welcoming Him to his home. On the other hand, He offers to the woman, forgiveness and dignity. (Luke 7:36-50)

Next week we'll be thinking about encounters Jesus has with a group of religious folk known as the “Scribes” and with His own family, who seem to want Him to give up on His crazy mission and come home. (Mark 32:20-30).

The Scribes receive a stern warning. That if they take such a careless attitude towards the things of God, that they though the actions of Jesus to be rooted in evil, they were in deep trouble. They only had to look around them. To see that person restored to a right mind. To talk with that person who had now received healing. These good works were the work of God's Holy Spirit. To call it anything else put their souls in peril.

The family of Jesus are invited to see that He was who He was. He could not be limited by the constraints of family, because His mission was so much more than the redemption of any one person, tribe or nation. Foolish as that may seem right then, eventually, they would understand.

Such passages are truly a challenge to us as individuals... and as church communities. We are often influenced more by the unspoken understandings of our communities and 'tribes' than we realize. We can be blind to the implications of our actions and sometimes need the words of Jesus to challenge us in an “Up close and personal” manner.

May God continue to guide us and renew us! Wherever the summer months lead us, may we take time to discover new insights and take on fresh challenges.

For some music “Changing Me” by Anna Golden

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, July 8, 2019

To Mars and Beyond

Last weeks musings and music focused on Paul's letter to the Galatians and themes of faith and freedom. Our sermon from the day can be found here. This weeks blog takes us out of this world.

We are going “To Mars and Beyond.” Here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian it is time for our annual Vacation Bible School program. We have a fired up group of volunteers ready to lead our youngest ones through a week of stories, songs, fun and games.

This years theme takes a look at a number of key bible figures who demonstrated a trust in God that went beyond the ordinary. Many of us are familiar with these stories from our own childhood or attendance at Sunday School.

Daniel trusts God for protection as he is thrown into the lions den. Queen Esther takes a brave stand to save her people from destruction. A Good Samaritan goes out of his way to help a man he recognized as being his neighbor. Jesus heals ten lepers, but only one actually takes the time to say thanks. Two men on a road to Emmaus have a close encounter of the resurrection kind.

One of the huge challenges facing the Christian church is that of educating children in biblical knowledge. They are not going to get that in public school. Church and State are kept at a distance. Many families no longer participate in regular church attendance. Unless parents share these bible stories within their home environment, many children will remain unaware of these great accounts of faith. Vacation Bible School offers us a wonderful opportunity to reach out and share.

I can't speak for anybody else, but the older I get, the more I treasure some of these stories. Over time they have burrowed their way into my spirit and been a source of both comfort and challenge. There have been occasions in my life when I have felt like Daniel facing the lions. Insurmountable obstacles came along that only God could get me through. Esther's story of choosing to do the right thing, rather than the easiest thing, is a constant reminder that we are to live with integrity.

In a world that continues to be torn apart by intolerance and prejudice, the story of the Good Samaritan reminds me that every person in need is a neighbor worthy of help and love. That leper who came back to say “Thank You” reminds me to daily count my blessings. Those men on the Emmaus Road who encounter Jesus, but don't at first recognize Him, awaken me to keep my eyes open to the unexpected presence of God in my daily life, particularly when I am feeling despondent or hopeless.

I often think that those of us leading these events get more out of the proceedings, than those we seek to lead. As we look together at these familiar stories, often new insights come along and we see things we had never seen before. Jesus hinted that out of the mouths of little ones can sometimes come great truths. Or as somebody else has expressed “Kids say the darndest things!” He also said that unless we became as little children we can never enter the Kingdom of God.

So we are looking forward to a busy, yet inspiring week. Following V.B.S. I'll be part of the leadership team for the Trinity Youth Conference, an event not for little ones, but for High School and College age youth. A whole different experience, but much needed and a wonderful blessing. I'll let you know how that went when I return! Wherever the next few weeks may be leading you, may you know God's love and experience God's presence.

For some music, a song that features as part of this years V.B.S. Curriculum and has been sung at many a worship time during the Trinity Youth conference...“God of Wonders.” The version posted is performed by “Third Day.”

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, July 1, 2019

Faith and Freedom

Here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian we are concluding our short series of sermons on the biblical book of Galatians. Last week we were considering the topic of “Faith and Fear.” Our sermon from the day can be found here. Following the nations celebration of Independence Day, this coming Sunday we take a look at the theme of “Faith and Freedom” that Paul talks about in Galatians 5:1 &13-25.

Paul had spoken to the Galatian church about the unlimited, unmerited grace of God towards people. Jesus Christ freely gave His life as an act of sacrifice, to demolish any barriers that could prevent people from being in a heart relationship with God.

Paul is concerned that some people in the church had taken things much too far. They interpreted the freedom they had found in Christ as meaning they were free to live however they pleased. What did it matter what a person did? God would forgive them. Rather like that “Get of jail free” card in a game of Monopoly, self-indulgence was no longer an issue. Some even went as far as suggesting that the more you sinned, the more you could experience God's forgiving love. A win-win situation for “do whatever please you” living!

In verse 13 Paul cautions them, “You were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love, be servants of each other.” He points out that if they focused only on personal passion, peoples hearts would deceive them and they would end up destroying each other.

Such was not the way that the Holy Spirit guided people. “By contrast,” Paul tells them, “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” The Holy Spirit was the Spirit of Jesus who directed people in ways that imitated the works and words of the Savior, not the ways of a conflicted and self consuming society. Yes, Jesus set people fee, but free to serve, not to destroy!

As a nation celebrates freedom, it is worth pausing to reflect that freedom can be both a disabling and an enabling thing. If we express our freedoms in ways that deny others their own freedoms, then we are not walking the way of Jesus. Freedom of speech does not mean we should feel free to speak in a way that harms or belittles others. Freedom of expression does not mean that we should be accepting of expressions of hatred or prejudice. Tolerance does not mean that anything goes.

When musicians play “Free-Jazz” music, they recognize that there are boundaries that have to be observed. If somebody walks into a jam session with a Tuba and begins playing “Old McDonald had a farm” over and over and over and over again, then every other players freedom is destroyed. Tubas are great instruments. “Old McDonald” is a children's classic. But freedom only works where respect, understanding and boundaries are in place.

Such is the nature of freedom that the Holy Spirit seeks to bring to our church communities. Freedom to serve God, to serve each other and be vessels for the healing grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. This short video titled “Free to Serve” offers a short meditation on Galatians 5:13.

If you are in the Mount Hebron area, we meet at 10:00 a.m. around a table laid with bread and wine to celebrate the freedom Christ died to give to us. Feel free to join us :-)

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, June 24, 2019

Faith not Fear

Here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church we have reached the second in a series of sermons taking a look at the biblical book of Galatians. Last weeks sermon “Faith and Life” can be found here. In this weeks passage (Galatians3:23-29) Paul talks about not living from a place of fear but from a place of faith.

Fear grabs our attention. It gets us ready to fight or flee. Whether we mask our fear with bravado or slink away to seek refuge, it can have a powerful effect on our thinking, our decisions and our actions. A healthy fear can keep us from harm. But fear can also keep us from doing what we need to do. Sometimes it provokes us into wrong or dangerous responses.

Increasing troubles in the world and our neighborhoods can make us feel like we are living in a fear zone. People play on our fears for their own benefit. There are things that should cause us concern. Terrorism, mass shootings, violent crime, disease, natural disasters, all of these are in the news and often in our entertainment and our nightmares.

Some dangers, like fear of sharks, flying and mass shootings, we tend to overplay. Other much more common killers, such as auto accidents and germs, we tend to downplay. Many of the things we fear never happen to us, and even when they do, all our anxieties and worries generally have done nothing to protect us.

Fear can reach into our spiritual life. In Galatia teachers had come into the church who were using fear to gain control over others. Paul had come to them preaching a gospel that was all about grace. He had taught them that every person was welcome in the Kingdom of God, that old barriers of prejudice that separated people had been torn down, because of the life, ministry and death of Jesus Christ.

To Galatia had come teachers who were questioning Paul's teaching and the congregations standing with God. They were insisting that they needed to submit to various practices and rules that were present in Judaism. This included everything from circumcision to dietary laws. Paul contradicts this false teaching by reminding them that, while the law had worked as a “disciplinarian” to show them their faults, faith in Jesus Christ should now be the determining factor in their lives.

He writes in Galatians 3:25-26 “But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to the discipline of the law, for in Christ Jesus we are all children of God through faith.” Their faith factor was far more important than the fear factor.

As we face the things that cause us anxiety in our lives, we do well to remind ourselves that we live every day in the presence of God and are constantly subjects of God's grace. God desires what is best for us and has opened the doorway, through Jesus Christ, for us to know God's love and the guidance and comfort of God's Holy Spirit.

It is as we put our faith in what God has done... is doing... and will do... that the faith factor kicks in and the fear factor starts to diminish. We are not promised a trouble free existence, but we are promised that whatever we face, God will walk with us every step of the way, as we place our trust in God's amazing grace.

For some music, a song about having faith not fear... Greg Sykes sings “ All I Need to Know.”

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, June 17, 2019

The Gospel of Grace

Last week at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church we celebrated our nation and our churches Scottish heritage. Our sermon from the day can be found here. This coming Sunday we'll be beginning a series of sermons that take a look at the biblical book of Galatians, sometimes described as a letter that outlines “The Gospel of Grace.” Our first passage we'll consider is Galatians 2:15-21. It talks a lot about grace.

The life of Protestant Reformer, Martin Luther, was defined by his endeavor to discover the grace of God. For many years he struggled to figure out how his life could ever be acceptable to God. He read the Bible. He offered his life in service and joined a monastery. He went on pilgrimage. He fasted and he prayed.

For a long time he felt the law of God asked too much of him. His 'good' was never good enough. No matter what he tried, he found no rest for his soul. A transforming moment came as he reflected on a verse, that first appears in the Old Testament book of Habakkuk; “The just shall live by his faith.” (2:4)

Luther suggests that this seed, sown by the prophet Habakkuk, came to full flower in the ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The apostle Paul, (another disciple whose life was dramatically changed by grace) writes in the book of Romans 3:24 “All are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

Luther explains;“Night and day I pondered until I saw the connection between the justice of God and the statement that “the just shall live by his faith.” Then I grasped that the justice of God is that righteousness by which through grace and sheer mercy God justifies us through faith. Thereupon I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through open doors into paradise.

We don't need to prove to God how good we are. What a waste of effort! Because none of us is that good! Rather, God desires that we experience how good life can be when we allow Christ to live in us.

God invites us to trust that in Him our lives find their true purpose. That as we apprehend what has been done for us through the Cross and Resurrection, we will know that we are loved. We are encouraged to imagine the possibilities that a life open to and molded by God's Holy Spirit can offer us.

It's not easy to stop thinking we are in charge and let Jesus take the wheel of our lives. To live into the statement; “Not my will be done Oh Lord, but thine” is a challenge faced by every person who seeks to follow Jesus Christ. Martin Luther discovered that even becoming a monk could not give him the relationship with God he desired. Only grace could do that.

Later in life he writes “This grace of God is a very great, strong, mighty and active thing. It does not lie asleep in the soul. Grace hears, leads, drives, draws, changes, works all in man, and lends itself to be distinctly felt and experienced. It is hidden but its works are evident.

The hymn writer John Newton simply described grace as “Amazing.” I pray that each of us will find ways to let go of the wheel, and allow grace to guide our lives through the “Love of God, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:14)

Having mentioned allowing God to be in charge I could not resist making our music choice this week... “Jesus Take the Wheel” by Carrie Underwood.

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Our Scottish Heritage

Our Scottish Heritage

Last Sunday we were thinking about the day the fire came, the Day of Pentecost. Our sermon from the day can be found here. This week, here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, we hold our annual service that celebrates our Scottish heritage. Weather permitting we meet in the outside beauty of our amphitheater and mark the occasion with a bagpiper and liturgy from the Scottish Presbyterian tradition.

Scottish people have always had a reputation for their strong spirit of independence. When the Romans attempted to conquer the world they only managed to get as far as the border of Scotland. A recent Scottish comedian joked that when they were under threat they built a wall, named it after the emperor and then got Rome to pay for it! “Hadrian's Wall” survives to this day.

I recall leading a youth retreat in North Wales. Each year the Presbyterian Church of Scotland would send a small group to be a part of the fellowship week. This particular year three girls and one boy were there, representing their country.

When it came to the end of week Talent show, Rory (who had been relatively quiet throughout the week) appeared in his kilt, jumped onto a table and sang the Scottish national anthem at the top of his lungs, accompanied by fist pumps and with tears rolling down his cheeks. He was more than a little proud of his heritage and independence. Movies like “BraveHeart” keep in the public mind that the Scots are a people to be reckoned with.

Following the “Highland Clearances” that began in the 1750's (when many in Scotland were disenfranchised from their historic lands) many Scots emigrated to the New World to seek a home where they could continue to flourish. The history of the United States bristles with their influence. To mention just a few famous folk...

Of the 45 men who have served as President, an astonishing 33 have been of either Scottish or Ulster-Scots descent. This includes George Washington, Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton. President Donald Trump's mother, Mary Anne MacLeod, was an immigrant from Glasgow.

Andrew Carnegie the industrialist, was born in Dunfermline, became a business magnate, and philanthropist, who led the expansion of the American steel industry in the late 19th century and is often identified as one of the richest people in history.

Elvis Presley's roots can be traced back to a village in Aberdeenshire. The musical icon is descended from Andrew Presley, who emigrated to North Carolina in 1745.

In the religious development of the United States the influence of the Scottish Presbyterian Church has been profound. Born in the midst of the religious and political turmoil of the mid-1500's, Knox's influence led to the Presbyterian Church being acknowledged as the National Church of Scotland, a position it still holds today.

When Scottish settlers made their home in the United States they carried with them their religious traditions. The earliest Presbyterian ministers in the U.S.A. were of Scottish or Scots/Irish descent. Needless to say, their spirit of independence and Protestant work ethic had a huge influence on the developing nation.

Such is why, each year, at Mount Hebron Presbyterian, we celebrate our national and denominational heritage with the sound of the pipes! If you are in the area, regardless of your ancestry, you are invited to join us in our celebrations.

For some music... to set the mood... the sound of bagpipes playing “Amazing Grace.

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, June 3, 2019