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

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Trinity Sunday

Last Sunday was Pentecost Sunday. Our sermon from the day can be found here. This week in the Christian calendar is 'Trinity Sunday'

The 'doctrine of the Trinity' has received some bad press over the years. People point out that it is not in the bible, impossible to understand and that it defies logic. Is there one God or three? Or three in one? How do all the different bits relate to each other? Is there a chain of command? Are they all the same but different?

Hindus suggest that there are hundreds of gods in perfect unity. The Koran suggests that Christians believe in a Trinity consisting of a Father, a mother called Mary and a son called Jesus. Catholics suggest that marriage is a reflection of the Trinity. Atheists smirk and say it offers another great reason not to believe. Episcopal preacher Barbara Brown Taylor once said that explaining the Trinity is like 'describing ballet to an oyster.'

However, Frederick Buechner, in his book 'This is from Wishful Thinking' points out: “The much-maligned doctrine of the Trinity is an assertion that, appearances to the contrary notwithstanding, there is only one God. Father, Son and Holy Spirit mean that the mystery beyond us, the mystery among us and the mystery within us are all the same mystery ...”

“If the idea of God as both Three and One seems far-fetched and obfuscating, look in the mirror someday. There is;
  1. the interior life known only to yourself and those you choose to communicate it to (the Father).
  2. the visible face, which in some measure reflects that inner life (the Son).
  3. the invisible power you have which enables you to communicate that interior life in such a way that others do not merely know about it, but know it in the sense of its becoming part of who they are (the Holy Spirit). Yet what you are looking at in the mirror is clearly and indivisibly the one and only you.”
You may (or may not) find such explanations helpful. Regardless, the Trinity doctrine remains one of Christianities foundational understandings of the nature of God. 

At the end of Matthew's gospel Jesus instructs His disciplesTherefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20). 

The relationship of Father, Son and Spirit is elaborated upon in passages such as John 14:8-20, Jesus teaching His disciples “You will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.” (John 14:20).

Personally I've always felt that the mysteries of our faith are something to celebrate, rather than feel we can't truly worship God till we can explain everything, dot every 'i' and cross every 't'. I am far more comfortable with a deity that my understanding cannot fully contain than one limited to human comprehension.

That's how it seemed to be for the earliest disciples. Their understanding of who Jesus was and how God could could work in their lives did not happen overnight. But it never prevented them from following Him or worshiping Him. They are the one's we look towards, as we attempt our own journeys of faith. 

It's Trinity Sunday. Come celebrate the mystery with us at 10:00 a.m. this coming Sunday! To set the mood here's a worshipful version of the classic Trinitarian hymn 'Holy, Holy, Holy' by Hillsong United.

Rev. Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Eagles Wings


This coming Sunday is Pentecost Sunday. It was as they met together in an upper room that the first disciples received the empowerment they needed to preach the gospel. Before Pentecost, they did not openly practice their faith, but met behind closed doors. After Pentecost they were out in the streets proclaiming a message about salvation available through Jesus Christ, who was crucified, but God raised Him from the dead.

Those who witnessed the disciples testimony asked Peter what they should do. “Peter replied, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off--for all whom the Lord our God will call." (Act 2:37-39 NIV)

We read that about 3000 people accepted Peter's invitation and, through baptism, committed themselves to sharing with the disciples in their mission to share the message with all the world. “They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” (Act 2:41-42 NIV)

As the community evolved we see them taking on various aspects of the ministry of Jesus. There is talk of believers sharing things in common, of reaching others with God's healing touch and of caring for the least fortunate in their communities, particularly the widows and orphans.

Though their numbers increase, not everybody is favorably disposed to their actions. Those who held the keys of power and maintained the status quo were threatened. One of them, Saul, becomes a persecutor of the church, only to be completely turned around and become known as Paul, one of Christianities greatest spokespersons and author of many key Christian documents that have guided the church for over 2000 years.

Pentecost reminds us that it all began with the action of the Holy Spirit. It all began with a small group of folk, seeking to be obedient to God and waiting upon God in prayer and reflection... not knowing for sure what the outcome might be.

We live in days of great transition, both in our wider society and within our churches. Our mission remains the same. To proclaim salvation through Jesus Christ. To seek to understand our faith as we meet together to worship God and break bread together. To be a healing presence within our communities, taking particular care of those whom current structures exclude or who are victims of injustice.

To discern the mission God is calling us to requires that upper room model of prayer and waiting upon God. No doubt about it, discipleship has always been a tough assignment. Yet the prophet Isaiah assures us, “They that who wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.” (Isa 40:31 KJV).

There is, of course, a well known sing that touches upon this theme. Here's a version of it. Let us prayerfully seek for God's Spirit to be both our inspiration and our strength.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Like a Tree

Here in Maryland we have reached that time of the year when the blossom on the trees is being replaced by leaves. There is greenery in abundance.

Last Sunday we celebrated Mothers Day with a youth led service honoring our Mothers and Fathers. The youth did a great job and some pics and video can be found on our FacebookPage.

The Psalm suggested for this coming Sunday is Psalm 1: 'Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked … but whose delight is in the law of the LORD... That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither.” Contrast is then made with the person of evil, whose leaves die and blow away, when the wind comes.

For me the Psalm raises the question of where our roots are planted. To use a modern phrase 'What are we into?' Our roots determine the kind of life we live, the things we aspire to and how we cope when trouble comes our way.

Trees planted by a river have access to a supply of water that can sustain them as long as the river keeps flowing. In John 7:38 Jesus says; Let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, 'Out of the believer's heart shall flow rivers of living water.'" Rooting ourselves in the love of God not only nourishes our own lives but enables us to share that love with others. The more we receive, the more we overflow.

The Psalm speaks of those 'whose delight is in the law of the LORD'. The dictionary definition of 'Delight' is 'A strong feeling of happiness, great pleasure or satisfaction, something that makes you very happy, something that gives you great pleasure or satisfaction'. Meditating on Scripture is highly recommended. It helps us become more deeply rooted in our faith.

There are other spiritual disciplines, such as worshiping with others and serving those less fortunate than ourselves, that can also deepen our roots. There are as many different ways as we are different people that we can find to nourish our lives in positive ways.

The alternative is to get into things that cannot sustain us or hold us. There is much in life that can sap our energy and leave us feeling helpless. There is much that is destructive. Psalm1 encourages us to avoid such things and concludes by telling us 'The LORD guards the way of the godly, but the way of the wicked ends in destruction.'

I would rather be like a tree that was growing than one that was perishing. The best way to do that, according to the Psalmist, is to root our lives in the love of God. Let us ask God to help us flourish and grow!

Last week I posted one of my own compositions. I looked around for musical versions of Psalm 1 but found none. So please indulge me once again posting a link to an Adrian composition, which, not surprisingly, is titled 'Like a Tree'.

Rev Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Honor Your Parents

'Honor Your parents'

It has been a difficult couple of weeks for Baltimore. We have watched with disbelief as riots, looting and destruction took place in the city. The death of Freddie Gray whilst in police custody became a tipping point for long held grievances. It is distressing to hear of questionable law enforcement practices and witness such public disorder. People are not used to curfews and the presence of the National Guard on their streets.

For myself there was also an element of 'deja-vu'. In Toxteth, an area of Liverpool not so far from where I grew up, there were large scale riots in 1981. The unrest was driven by distrust between the black community and accusations of police brutality. The rioting lasted nine days during which 468 police officers were injured, 500 people were arrested, and at least 70 buildings were damaged so severely by fire that they had to be demolished. 100 cars were destroyed, and there was extensive looting of shops.

The good news that came out of that situation was that a serious effort was made to revitalize the whole city. Today, parts of the area that were virtual wasteland, are dynamic areas of growth. Some of the problems remain, but the unrest was an incentive to implement lasting changes. One can only pray the same happens for Baltimore... a city many comment as having similarities to Liverpool.

One of the lasting images that came out of the media coverage of the rioting in Baltimore was that of a mother disciplining her teenage son and dragging him home away from the trouble. Many commented that they wished there were more parents on the streets taking control of their children.

This coming Sunday is Mothering Sunday. The Sunday School youth and children will be playing a large part in the service as we seek to honor mothers and fathers. In an age when many families are broken and the circumstances of people lives can make parenting a difficult task, it is good to set time aside to think of those who have guided our lives and to lift up in prayer those raising families today.

At the beginning of Ephesians 6 we read Children, obey your parents in the Lord for this is right. "Honor your father and mother," which is the first commandment accompanied by a promise, namely, "that it may go well with you and that you will live a long time on the earth."

Family dynamics are linked to the notion of having a long and happy life. Such is the sort of life God desires for every family to experience. Families in the inner city. Families in rural areas. Families in countries far away. Families that we are a part of.

Let us pray for a just and peaceful environment to be restored in our land, so that family life may prosper and the honor due to parents may be given. One indicator of a healthy society is an environment where strong, committed family relationships can flourish. 

A healthy society is one where authority is rightly exercised, where all people, regardless of ethnic identity or social status feel safe and where people of different perspectives are welcomed at each others tables.

I wouldn't normally post one of my own compositions as music for the day, but a few years back I wrote a piece called "No peace without justice" - a sentiment that has been given voice to numerous times over the past week. I believe the reverse also applies. That there can be no justice without peace.  The place to start building peaceful relationships is within our home environments and through living respectfully with others in our communities.

As the song also says... 'Every step that we take away from hate, is one more step in the direction of peace; Every step that we take away from hate, is one more step towards being free'.