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

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Souperbowl of Caring

There is a football game taking place this weekend. I guess you know that already! What you may not be as aware of is that over the last 25 years a major charitable event, known as the 'Souperbowl of Caring' has also evolved.

Back in 1990, a Presbyterian youth leader, Brad Smith finished his youth meeting with a prayer that asked God to make them mindful of those who didn't even have a bowl of soup to eat, whilst the rest of the nation gathered to watch the game on TV. Since 1990, this fund raising drive, has spread from church to church, and community to community, and has raised more than $100 million for people in need. Youth groups raise the money locally, decide what local charity it will be used for, and then report their totals to the national campaign.

Last Sunday in our service we were thinking about the call of Jesus to be His disciples. Our sermon 'Fishy Followers' can be found here. One of the things we touched on was the way Jesus used the skills the disciples had already acquired in the service of God's Kingdom. God takes us as we are and uses what we have for God's purposes... just as long as we agree to follow!

This week, as we gather around the communion table, we'll be taking a sports theme with a sermon tiled 'Play Makers' that reflects on a passage in Mark 1:21-28, in which Jesus becomes involved in a confrontation with the synagogue authorities following an encounter with a disturbed congregant. Not the usual kind of thing that happens during morning worship!

Confronting evil or injustice is never an easy thing to do. It rattles people. Whenever people speak about helping the poor, there is always somebody who suggests that it's their fault they are that way. If they took more care of themselves they would be fine. Whenever the specter of unemployment is raised there is always somebody who suggests that people should just move. Whenever health care reforms are mentioned there are always those quick to complain that they don't see why they should have to pay for another persons misfortunes.

Such perspectives fail to take into account of the reality of poverty. I have yet to meet anybody who chose to become so impoverished that they now struggle to feed their children. When an area loses it's financial base you can't just up and move town because you are too heavily invested in where you are.  If folk don't get adequate health care it ends up costing everybody more money. Prevention usually turns out to be the cheaper option!

But it's not about economics... it is about caring. When people are in a bad way... be it through their own actions  or because they are victims of circumstances beyond their control... the call of Jesus remains the same. Show them some love. Help them.  That's what the 'Souperbowl of Caring' is all about. Extending God's love to those most in need! I hope you can be there this Sunday to support our youth in their fund raising effort.

We'll also be singing a crazy country song titled 'Drop Kick Me Jesus through the goalposts of life'. Apparently it is one of Bill Clinton's favorites. In some previous churches I served it became something of an annual tradition to sing it on Souperbowl Sunday. We even had folk who would come just for that reason. No problem! If it helps feed a hungry family, then bring it on!

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Follow Him

This past Sunday we had to cancel services due to the icy roads in the area. A few folks did manage to make it so we we had a brief prayer time lifting up not only our personal concerns but all those seeking to clear the roads and help out those who had been in accidents. The 'Figgy Thinking' sermon(linked here) became a posted rather than a preached sermon.

This week we'll be moving on to think about the call of Jesus in Mark's gospel to His first disciples, Simon and Andrew, James and John. (Mark 1:14-20). It truly is a dramatic story. Jesus walks by, calls them to follow Him, and they do. As simple (and shocking) as that.

Eduard Schweizer (1913-2006) was Professor of New Testament at the University of Zurich in Switzerland. One of his most famous books was his gospel commentary :"The Good News According to Mark". He reflects on the call to the first disciples, and what it could mean for our own lives.

“My dear friends, we come to something that I am unable to do. I cannot tell each of you what all of this will mean for you individually in actual practice. It may be that God awaits us on a completely new way of life which opens up before us. It may be that God awaits us in the midst of our long standing need. It may be that on this very day we will say 'No' to everything we have built our lives upon and will set out on an entirely new road. It may be that today, at long last, we will say 'Yes' to what has been beyond us for years and see it in an altogether different light because we can say 'Yes', not 'No' to it.”

Responding to the call of Jesus to be a disciple means different things for each of us. It usually involves embracing something new that we hadn't considered before. As Eduard suggests, we are all individuals. We each face unique opportunities and challenges.

The encouragement in this passage is that whatever it is that God calls us to embrace, we have the promise that God will be there, walking with us and leading us each step of the way. Even when the snow falls, the roads get slippery and we have to cancel things we thought we were going to be part of, God still guides us!

Stay warm, keep calm and follow Him :-)

Rev. Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Forever Blowing Bubbles

This past Sunday we mused on the Creation story and how on the second day a 'bubble' (or dome, Hebrew word 'rakia') was created in the midst of the waters that enabled the creative process to continue. You can find the full sermon text here.

Mention was made in passing of the song,' I'm forever blowing bubbles'. A great version sung by Doris Day can be found here. In the song the bubbles prove to be things that burst! Things with a limited lifespan.

All of our mission efforts have that risk attached to them. They may well blossom and flourish for a season, but they don't last for ever. Part of the discernment process is figuring out what is working and needs to be carried on, and what needs letting go. We can apply that thinking to our personal lives as well!

I've also noticed that no two bubbles are exactly the same. Every time you blow a bubble it reinvents itself. This is something that traditional organizations like faith communities are not great at doing. Reinventing ourselves. We tend to cling to the past and complain about the way the world is changing, rather than embrace the changes. And then we wonder why we burst!

This coming Sunday (and next Sunday) we'll be thinking about the call of Jesus to His first disciples. One of them comes to a guy called Nathanael who is sitting under a fig tree. You can find that story in John 1:43-51. 

I am hoping that as this NewYear dawns it will be one in which, (in a 'Rakia'-like way) our particular faith community can create spaces - bubbles - where creativity can flourish, spaces where we can feel free to grow and explore new possibilities.

Such is a goal we can also pursue in our own lives. Take up a new project. Try watching some movies or listening to some music we wouldn't normally gravitate towards. Go to some new places. Meet with folk we wouldn't normally meet with. Bubble blowing can be most creative!

And... if you want to know more about the song, its connection to West Ham United Soccer team, and other interesting snippets of information, that may well be useful if ever you are on a Game-Show answering questions in the sports or media related area... then watch this short you-tube video.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

New Year Dares

Happy New Year to one and all.

Since I've been at Mount Hebron our Bible study group have been looking at a study in Philippians we titled 'Transformed by Joy" (The notes can be found here). The keynote of the letter is the word 'joy'. Paul finds joy in his relationship with the church and in his friends, but most of all finds deep joy through His relationship with God. A key verse is Chapter 4: Verse 13 I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.’ 

At the start of a New Year many folk make resolutions. We concluded our study, not with resolutions, but a few 'dares'. Consider these 'New Year Dares' that evolved from our study. 
  • Dare we allow the Spirit of Christ to invade our lives with the joy perspective? 
  •  Dare we claim that even when outwardly things may seem chaotic, that because we are placing ourselves in God’s care, chaos can be infused with creativity?
  •  Dare we trust God beyond our worries and concerns? 
  •  Dare we throw ourselves into deeper service of our church and community, simply because we believe that we are loved and that the servant King, our Lord Jesus Christ can actually bring the Kingdom near through our little tasks and everyday random acts of faithfulness?
Being part of a faith community is always a challenge. Paul offers the perspective that challenges are things to rise to and joyfully embrace.  May 2015 be a year filled with joyful tasks that remind us of God's presence. May it be one in which we 'Dare Mighty Things' to the glory of God.