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

Sunday, November 30, 2014

DAY ONE – Luke 2:41-51 – Visit to Jerusalem

Now His parents went to Jerusalem every year at the feast of the Passover.  And when He was twelve years old, they went up according to custom;  and when the feast was ended, as they were returning, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents did not know it,  but supposing Him to be in the company they went a day's journey, and they sought Him among their kinsfolk and acquaintances;  and when they did not find Him, they returned to Jerusalem, seeking Him.  After three days they found Him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions;  and all who heard Him were amazed at His understanding and His answers.  And when they saw Him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, "Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been looking for you anxiously."  And He said to them, "How is it that you sought me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?"  And they did not understand the saying which He spoke to them.  And He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them; and His mother kept all these things in her heart.

We begin our Advent Devotional with a family trip to Jerusalem – an annual event for the family of Jesus. He is no longer the baby in the manger but has become a self-asserting and confident twelve year old. His parents have given Him increasing freedom as He has matured, but are not yet ready to let Him entirely go His own way in the world.

If you have had children in High School or going through College you can appreciate the note of anxiety expressed in Mary’s words “Son, why have you treated us so? Your father and I have been looking for you anxiously!” (verse 48).

This whole business –  growing up - letting go - allowing our young ones to find an identity that is truly their own – finds a parallel in our spiritual journeys.

Paul speaks of how our faith needs to grow towards maturity. That process requires letting go of old ways of doing things and the taking on of new practices. Discovering ‘who we are’ in Christ is a life long journey.

It is also a journey that has it’s fair share of anxious moments. There is an element of risk involved that the parent within us may caution us against. ‘Be careful’ whispers an inner voice, ‘You could  get lost along the way… and then what will happen?’

The voice of faith responds; “Lost? No. Not lost. In my Father’s house – about my Father’s business - asking questions – finding answers.”

PRAYER

Lord, as we make this Advent journey we ask that it will be one that deepens our faith in You. Remove from us any anxieties we may have about making steps of commitment to the things of Your Kingdom. Help us to ask questions and find answers, through Jesus Christ. AMEN.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

I believe in hope

Firstly, let me wish one and all a very blessed Thanksgiving. What a great time to get together with family and friends and reflect on the positives. We started doing that last week with our sermon 'I believe in the Kingdom', which can be found here.

This coming Sunday we transition into the season of Advent. Advent is a season of waiting and watching, something that we are not all so good at doing! In our consumer orientated society we become used to instant gratification of our needs. The TV adverts are flooded with bargains that invite us to 'Buy now, pay later'.  Sadly many become so consumed with consuming that their 'Credit' becomes a major problem. 

Advent is a time of waiting, but it is not waiting as though one were sitting in the dentists office, but waiting with expectant hope... more like that of a child waiting for Santa to appear! During Advent, many churches follow the practice of lighting candles on an Advent Wreath. Though there are different ways of doing it, a traditional pattern has been to firstly light a candle for hope.

Christians see great hope in the birth of Jesus Christ into the midst of a world filled with both darkness and light. They see in His life moments of great transformation that changed peoples worlds. As we read of His life we see forgiveness and healing, empowering and restoring, amazing teaching and powerful insights into the nature of God and the ways of the world.

The 'hope' is that His love may be 'born' in many peoples lives. The message of the Cross and Resurrection, such a central part of the Christian message, take the idea of hope in a new direction. Death is seen as a doorway to new beginnings.  The possibility of redemption, even in the most desperate of situations, is a central feature of the Easter story.

I'm getting way ahead of myself! It's Advent, not Easter. To guide us through the season, rather than weekly meditations, we are making an Advent devotional available online, titled 'Around the Manger', that features readings and reflections for every day from December 1st through to Christmas Day.  Watch this space!


To get us in an Advent mood, this beautiful video from the Piano Guys , courtesy of the Mormon channel. We'd love to see you at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, Ellicott City. Services are @ 10:00 Sunday mornings. This week our theme will be 'I believe in Hope'.

God's blessing be with you all during these winter days!

Rev. Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

I believe in the Kingdom

For the Christian Liturgical calendar the year has turned full circle. Next week is the beginning of a new cycle as we celebrate the First Sunday of Advent. But this coming Sunday is known as 'Christ the King' or 'Reign of Christ' Sunday.  H.G. Wells, author of such classics as 'The Time Machine' and 'War of the Worlds' once wrote that “The doctrine of the Kingdom of Heaven, which was the main teaching of Jesus, is certainly one of the most revolutionary doctrines that ever stirred and changed human thought”.

Even though my native lands in the United Kingdom still possess a monarchy, the idea of Kings and Queens who actually have any power over us is a relic of the past. Whilst the Queen of England still has certain discretionary powers the days when, at the drop of a hat, a monarch could declare 'Off with their heads' have hopefully gone for ever. These days we view such barbarity as an act of terrorism and cowardice

We do not live in a world at peace. Some nations are traveling through their dark ages. In many places justice is hard to find. Poverty, lack of resources, insurgency and war are deadly specters that haunt far to many places around the globe.  Wherever ultimate power is invested in an irresponsible elite, it usually transpires that tragedy is not far away.

What is striking about the Kingdom of heaven proclaimed by Jesus Christ is that it turns our ideas about power and authority upside down. There are no immigration restrictions because everybody is welcome. The greatest in this Kingdom are those who serve. The only authority is the rule of love. Citizens are even invited to practice forgiveness towards those who trespass against them and to love their enemies. No wonder H.G. Wells described such teaching as 'revolutionary'.

We are on the eve of Thanksgiving. We truly should be thankful for the freedoms we enjoy and the prosperity that graces so many of our lives here in this abundant land of opportunity and possibility. No, it is not perfect. It is not the Kingdom of heaven. But we are truly blessed.  As we consider our many blessings hopefully we can also think about how to be a blessing to others. Practicing 'Heavenly Kingdom' principles like caring for our neighbors and offering forgiveness, rather than retribution, might be one way forward.

Last week here at Mount Hebron we had a wonderful service dedicating our grand piano to God's glory. The sermon from the day 'I believe in Music' can be found here. This week we meet at 10:00 am when I shall be speaking on the subject 'I believe in the Kingdom'. 

And if you are in the mood for some Contemporary Christo-centric Kingdom Music, try this: - "Let Your Kingdom Come" from the suitably named 'Sovereign Grace Music'. Wherever this Thanksgiving season finds you, may God's blessing also be found!

Rev. Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

I believe in Music

Victor Hugo once wrote that Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent.” I've always been a person who has enjoyed a wide variety of music, and particularly appreciated it's role in the worship life of a spiritual community. 

This coming Sunday at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church in Ellicott City, we are dedicating to the service of God's glory our Grand Piano (pictured here), an instrument that has been obtained through the generous gifts of congregational members and friends of the church. We'll begin the music a little earlier than usual, around 9:40-ish, though our worship will formally commence at our usual time of 10:00 am.

Music as an aspect of worship has a long history. Some commentators even suggest that Creation itself was birthed in song! (Those of you who know the nuances of Hebrew words in Genesis could probably say more about that.)

Music was a part of the worship life of Jesus and His disciples.  Matthew records for us (as part of a passage that has given the church the communion celebration) "When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives". (Mat 26:30 NIV). I find it significant that as Jesus prepared to face His darkest hours, He began with a spiritual song.

Whilst there are some Christian traditions that are hesitant to use musical instruments in worship, the majority recognize their use.  Music provides, not only accompaniment to the singing, but some times those moments of divine revelation that can't be put into words. 

The piano is an amazing instrument. Who knew that hitting tightly stretched metal strings with a series of buffered hammers, would result in so many moments of incredible beauty? Whilst some claim the pipe organ to be the king of all instruments, my vote goes to the piano.

 In terms of versatility the piano covers a lot of ground. From the pub sing-along to the concert hall, from the Victorian parlor to the modern day recording studio, from classics to classic rock, the piano always plays a prominent role. We will rejoice this coming Sunday that we have a beautiful new instrument to enrich our worship. 

During that worship service we will also talk about some of things worship inspires us to achieve. As Christmas approaches we are aware of the many opportunities to be of service to others. We are aware that worship is not just about us and how good we sound! Unless our praising translates into serving, we will have seriously missed the point.

Wherever this coming weekend finds you... I hope you can find some music that inspires you to make this world a better place. Here's a link to one of the piano pieces that we hope will be part of our service this week... Debussy - Archangel, which our music director Alistair Edmonstone describes as 'Very beautiful, reflective and also quite rhapsodic!'

I believe in music :-)

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

I believe in love


Last weeks sermon “I believe in Stewardship” can be found here. This week we have a guest preacher, Rev Darrell Arnold. I'm told he had a great message on his last visit, so if you can be there don't miss it! I'm traveling to West Virginia to officiate at a wedding. Which leads me into this weeks blog 'I believe in love'

Is there anything more mysterious than romantic love? How it is that two people meet, feel what they don't feel for any other and then decide to spend the rest of their lives together? Then you throw all the tensions of starting a family, balancing a budget and the kind of mobility our society enjoys... and it all seems a highly unlikely venture!

Sometimes things don't work out, which is sad. But a lot of times they do, and for those who get to experience that, it seems an experience like no other. I am one of those fortunate ones who has been married for over 30 years, and it's been a great journey that I truly believe will keep rolling along as my spouse and I adapt to the different seasons of each others lives.

Whilst having a Christian marriage appears to be no guarantee of everlasting bliss, Christian teaching has a lot of truly positive things to offer anybody seeking a life long marriage experience. The word 'COMMITMENT' looms large in that picture. As a pastor I counsel folks that simply falling in love is never going to cut it. It's just as easy to 'fall-out' of love (and 'fallout' can be toxic!)

Likewise a great experience in the bedroom, is well, great, but over the years we physically change and have different needs and expectations. So that's not a great basis for building a lasting relationship. Being great friends, well yes... absolutely necessary. The kind of friends that can tell each other everything without fear of judgment and eventually come to know what the other is thinking before they even have to say it. Priceless.

Christian teaching offers another definition of love that is defined by the Greek word 'agapĂ©' that has it's root in the notion of self-giving. It's the kind of love spoken of in a famous Christian passage, John 3:16 which begins 'God so loved the world that He gave His only Son...” This idea of totally giving oneself for the sake of another is a pattern that Christian Scriptures suggest can help build a life long relationship.

That's a whole lot more than just attraction or having a great physical relationship. It seems to cut even deeper than what we expect of most friendships and redefines the word 'commitment'. Those who try and make the example of God's self-giving, a pattern for their own marriages, have a habit of working hard to overcome whatever difficulties arise. It's a love not based on feelings, but on a commitment to deal with all the strange stuff that relationships bring and not let such win the day.

And many folk claim it works. I'm one of them. So I have no problem declaring 'I believe in love' :- Agapé love that is! Check out this beautiful song by Mark Shulz. It's a tear jerker... be warned "He was walking her home"