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

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

I believe in Mystery.

Last Sunday, during our open air service, we talked about believing in believing. The sermon from the day can be found here. This week, as we gather around the communion table, our topic will be 'I believe in Mystery.' For a text we'll be looking at Nehemiah 2:11-17.

One of the things I think is tremendous about the Christian faith is that often times we can not explain it. We live in a world where everybody has theories about everything. It seems there is no single field of knowledge that does not have 'experts'.

There is an arrogance to our human nature that believes that in time we will understand everything, master everything and shape the future by our intellectual powers. I just can not believe that. I see, historically, no evidence to support such a theory. Nirvana, Utopia, the New Age... call it what you like... they all seem as unreachable as ever.

The arguments of the humanists about basic human goodness are seldom backed up by acts of human kindness. The rationalists seem as much in the dark about aspects of life such as free-will, fate and love as those who claim to be living only on their feelings. There are vast expanses of knowledge, about life, death and everything that happens around those two things, that the philosophers and theologians seem unable to reach any conclusions about.

For myself... I believe in mystery. I am content to trust God that there are things I will never understand. Among such topics I include the frivolous, such as 'What is the purpose of mosquito's?' and the questions that haunt us all... such as 'What is the purpose of undeserved suffering?'

By saying 'I believe in mystery' some may accuse me of side-stepping the real issues. On the contrary I am declaring that human knowledge has limits. Alongside that idea is also my notion that any God that I could explain, really wouldn't be a God I could believe in!

This coming Sunday is 'World Communion Sunday'. The early church referred to the sacraments as 'Mysteries'. I like that! There is something profoundly inexplicable about how breaking bread and sipping wine in a community context can achieve anything positive in our world. Yet the communion table continues to be a place where peoples hearts are strangely moved.

I am not going to even try and explain that. It's a mystery. I believe in mystery. And I hope for you and yours that the mysteries of our unknowable God will draw you close in profoundly unreasonable ways!

Wherever life may lead you this coming week, I hope you will know God's blessing. Should your journey mysteriously lead you to Mount Hebron Church in Ellicott City @ 10:00 am Sunday morning, then I look forward to worshiping with you :-)

Enjoy this communion song from Matt Redman
"Oh how could it be , that my God would welcome me, into this mystery...."

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

I believe in Believing

This week at Mount Hebron we'll continue with a series titled 'I believe'. Last week I preached on 'I believe in Worship'. God willing we'll be meeting in the great outdoors enjoying Mount Hebron's amphitheater as we look at the topic "I Believe in Believing'. For a bible passage we'll consider Nehemiah 1:5-11.

This passage is part of a prayer in which Nehemiah outlines his trust in God. God was a God of love who kept covenant with God's people. Although God's people had turned away from the commandments given to them by Moses, God had not turned away from them. Their exile in Babylon was designed to be a temporary experience. God was bringing them back to their homelands.

It was time that they came to their senses. They were in a position now to understand that their rebellion against God had cost them dearly. It was time to wake up to the fact that God wasn't through with them yet. The best was yet to come!

It is important for growth in faith that we believe in a God who is never done with us. A God, who will not shield us from the consequences of our mistakes, yet acts to redeem us from the mess that our sin gets us into. Grace is not a makeover to cover up our failings. Grace calls us to turn around and move forward to a better place.

If we believe that whatever we do and however we live is of little consequence... because God is going to forgive us anyway... then we have misunderstood God's grace. There is a contemporary view that seeks to persuade us 'It doesn't matter what you believe as long as you don't hurt anybody.'

Sadly that often translates to 'I'm going to live my life however I like and not take the time to even consider if the way I live has any consequences for anyone but myself''. That was the kind of thinking that led the people of Israel to be exiled in Babylon.

They reached a point where they genuinely believed that it didn't matter if they gave their allegiance to other gods and philosophies. What harm could it do? After all, God loved them and promised to always be with them. 'Thou shalt have no other gods before me?' C'mon Moses, don't be so judgmental!' They discovered, through their exile experience, that beliefs always have consequences!

Don't be satisfied with having a mind that is always on auto-pilot. Take the time to ask the hard questions. Don't let the persuasive powers of the ad campaigners and the people wanting your votes and the folk trying to get rich at your expense be the ones who shape your values.

Jesus suggested that 'Seeking first the Kingdom of God' had a way of reorganizing our priorities. That believing God's Kingdom was near could have revolutionary consequences. That loving our neighbor as much as we love ourselves could change the world. Jesus believed, that what we believed, mattered!

When the author of John's gospel explains why he had bothered writing an account of the life of Jesus he explained; 'These are written down so you will believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and in the act of believing, have real and eternal life in the way He personally revealed it.' (John 20:31 - The Message). I believe in believing.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

I believe in Worship

It's a disturbing observation that I have become so reliant on technology. The manse is now online and internet/phone/TV all in place. But for the past two weeks I appear to have suffered Facebook withdrawal symptoms, email-itis and had to apologize to numerous folks (including shopping clerks) 'Afraid I don't have a home phone number yet'. Being 'disconnected' is a disturbing experience to modern day technological addicts.

In our service this week I'm going to be dealing with the topic 'I believe in Worship' and for a reading looking at a passage from Nehemiah 8:5-10. (Last weeks sermon 'I believe in the Church' can be found here).

Worship is a way to connect with God... like no other. If we are not availing our selves of the opportunity to be in the company of others worshiping God, then that could explain why we feel our relationship with God is not what it could be.

The scary thing is how easily we become habitual non-worshipers.  The people of Israel in Babylon quickly forgot about their God. When they returned from exile and Ezra began to read from the Book of the Law, it was a pivotal moment. The realization came to them that one of the reasons they felt distant from God was that they hadn't been paying attention to God's requirements.  As they worship they receive a wonderful reassurance. They are told "Do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength." (Verse 5).

I recall a lecture by retired Welsh Baptist college principal Dr. Dafydd Davies  in which he said "If people were aware what should and what could happen during a service of divine worship, they would never miss a service again!"  When people come together with open hearts, eager to hear God's Word and realizing that God loves them far more than they could ever dream, it is amazing what awesome things the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ can cause to happen through the action of the Holy Spirit.

I have requested the choir to sing a song Mark Altrogge which declares in the chorus "Holy, Holy, Holy, God, How majestic is Your reign, I am changed, In the presence of a holy God." (Here's a link to the song). Significant changes have taken place in my life during times of worship. I have been given the strength to go on. I have found answers to questions I didn't even realize I was asking. I've known healing and renewal. I have come to decisions that set my life on a different course.

As is always the case, when these things have happened I could have been somewhere else. I could have comforted myself with the thought that I had more important places to be. I could have followed the example of many of my peers and gone shopping, read the newspaper or washed the car. If I had, my life would not be what it is today.  I may well have been one of those who continued to ask, "Why does God seem distant?" without realizing that I needed to apply myself to being in His presence for that question to receive an answer.

I hope you find room in your schedule for doing something that Scripture tells us is incredibly important and which can truly change your life. Whoever you are, wherever you are, may you respond to God's love in worship and praise and discover the joy of His presence in real and tangible ways.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

I believe in the Church

I greatly enjoyed my first Sunday as the new guy at Mount Hebron Presbyterian. Worship was special as we gathered around a table laid with bread and wine. The weather was perfect for the picnic.  I had a lot of fun with the youth at their campfire in the evening. Thank you to everybody for making it so very special!

I have set up a sermon site, so if you want to access last weeks sermon on 'New Beginnings' you can find it HERE. Written copies will also be available in the church foyer.

So.... on to my second Sunday. I am going to continue looking at the Books of Ezra and Nehemiah that speak of a time of new beginnings for the people of Israel.At the same time I'm starting a short series titled 'I Believe...' I felt it would be helpful for the process of 'getting to know your new pastor' to outline some of the things I consider important in Christian ministry. Sunday14th September we'll be taking on the theme 'I believe in the Church' and looking at Ezra 3:1-6.

Some have suggested that the idea of the church was one of the most outlandish that Jesus ever had. The whole idea of gathering a group of unrelated people, who have very little in common, and then telling them that, through their love for each other, the world will be transformed, does not sound like a recipe for global domination.

The mystery is that over the centuries the church has not only survived, but in many places continues to thrive. The global focus of the church shifts and changes with every generation, yet despite her fractured state and her many failures, the church continues to proclaim a message of good news to a bad news world.

Involvement with the church has changed my life. That's why I'm here. I hope by being here I can encourage others to catch a vision of the possibilities that are open to them if they commit themselves to being part of a faith community. It can not only change our personal world, but through our lives impact our communities, our nation and the whole of creation in positive ways.

Hope to see you Sunday. Or if you are reading this from afar, I hope that wherever life leads you this week, you will somewhere along the way have an opportunity to connect with the outlandish idea of Jesus, collectively known as 'Church'.