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

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Like A Crown!

Friday September 18th 2015 will always be a date in my personal history as that is the day my wife and I became Grandparents. To our daughter Helen and husband Glenn was born a beautiful daughter named Rose. We are thankful to the many people surrounding our lives who have congratulated us and grateful to God that all went well and the new family are home safe and sound.

According to Proverbs 17:6 “Grandchildren are like a crown to older people. And children are proud of their parents. (NIRV). I'm not so sure I went to make too much out of the 'older people' part of that verse, but I'll happily wear the crown. If I'd read this verse, before we went to Burger King on the way to visit the hospital where she was born, I might just have asked if I could have had one of their cardboard crowns as an expression of my new biblical appointment. However with every biblical appointment there also comes responsibility!

A rabbinical story tells of a character called Honi who is journeying along the road when he sees a man planting a carob tree. He asks him,' How long does it take for this tree to bear fruit? The man replied: 'Seventy years'. He then further asked him: 'Are you certain that you will live another seventy years?' The man replied: 'I found grown carob trees in the world; as my forefathers planted these for me so I too plant these for my children.'

The idea in the story is that wherever we are in life, be it in our youth or our old age, be it as parents or grandparents, we are in the business of creating a legacy. Although the seeds we plant in the lives of others might take time to bear fruit, our responsibility is to be faithful planters. It is a wonderful thing as a parent to witness your children becoming parents. There is a prayer on your lips that however you are involved in the life of this newly created extended family, that your influence can be a positive one that helps new life mature and grow.

Nobody can predict the kind of challenges and situations each successive generation may face. When one considers the world into which we were personally born, to the world as it is today, there are moments when you just stand back and say 'Never saw that coming!' Yet there remain some constant themes that do not change.

Love. Hope. Faith. Encouragement. Tolerance. Kindness. Generosity. Joy. Such are timeless foundational gifts and virtues. These are things we can all pursue and plant in each others lives. Though the world around us will constantly change and sometimes confound us, if we continue to focus on the core values that bring contentment and peace then we are creating a heritage that can be passed on from age to age and from generation to generation. Maybe for all of us our legacy is our crowning achievement! 

For some music... what came to mind was Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young and their evocative song "Teach Your Children Well"and this video which addresses the song's theme: 'What are the social ramifications of our actions on our children?' Timeless subject!

Rev. Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Why did the chicken cross the road?

I was talking to my brother Steve over in the U.K. He likes to pass on snippets of wisdom that folk have shared with him. This weeks was; 'I dream of a world where chickens can cross the road without having their motives questioned.'

Such surely speaks to the judgmental and critical society that we have become. Words are so often used to cast doubt, rather than to encourage. It doesn't matter how genuine your intentions may be, or how positive your actions, it seems like there is always somebody out there who will question your motives.

The theme of our sermon last week was 'Taming the Tongue'. This week we continue in a similar vein as we look at James 3:13 –4:8. One of the big problems James sees in the church community to which he writes is that they have forgotten how to talk gently and respectfully with each other. This was creating all sorts of problems.

Everybody seemed to have an opinion that was the most important one that needed to be listened to. So they were all fighting to be heard, rather than seeking to listen to what God may be saying to them through each others lives. In James 4:1 he writes 'Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you?

His solution? Look up. Upgrade your perspective. Get your mind out of conflict mode. 'The wisdom that comes from heaven is pure. That's the most important thing about it. And that's not all. It also loves peace. It thinks about others. It obeys. It is full of mercy and good fruit. It is fair. It doesn't pretend to be what it is not. (James 3:17)

The gospel reading from Mark (9:37) this week is the one where Jesus speaks about greatness. He demonstrates what He means by firstly suggesting that it has to do with how willing we are to be of service to others. Then He takes a small child in His arms and says "Anyone who welcomes one of these little children in My name welcomes Me.

There are few things more vulnerable than a small child. Their very survival depends on those around them. They have no option but to trust. If we wish to be people through whom the love of God impacts our world in positive ways then we need to operate from within that kind of vulnerability. We can only do that by totally trusting in that 'wisdom from above' and in God's ability to provide all we need to be the sorts of people God wants us to be.

Why did the chicken cross the road? Never mind! Just welcome them to your side of the street. And if they need help with anything...try and be there for them. 

For some music? Dizzy Gillespie and Sonny Stitt invite you over to the 'Sunny Side of the Street'. One thing I love about this is that you have to listen for a while before you ever get to the lyrics. So enjoy a couple of jazz masters, hold your tongue and tap your feet. There's more here than can be said by words! 

Sunday at Mount Hebron Presbyterian we continue our journey through James. I'll be inviting folk to upgrade their operating system. Find out more 10:00 a.m. Sunday morning, or check back here for the sermon after then.

Rev Adrian J. Pratt

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Sticks and Stones

Sticks and Stones, may break my bones,
But names can never hurt me”

So went a nursery rhyme from my youth. It was well intended. It carried the idea that the negative things people say about you are not as bad as being physically assaulted. There's certainly some truth in that idea. Better to be called a fool that be punched on the nose for being a fool.

What the rhyme fails to convey is the true power that words actually have. What it doesn't portray is how lives can be ruined, reputations destroyed and violence done to others through gossip, misinformation and lies. Whenever a nation goes to war one of it's chief weapons is propaganda – the task of making those who were once friends now appear to be devils who deserve no mercy.

In recent days we have heard tragic stories of young people who have taken their own lives after being bullied, not in the school playground, but through social media. Unkind words can literally sap the life out of people.

Last week, as we looked at the book of James, we talked about how a genuine faith could be evaluated by the actions it produced. James was not a fan of those who said they were faithful people but whose lives were a safe haven for prejudice and intolerance. (sermon here)

In this weeks lesson (James 3:1-10) he talks about 'Taming the Tongue'. He has a lot to say about the way we use our words. He writes about how a forest can be set on fire by the smallest of sparks. Then he tells us;The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one's life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell!”

As people of faith we are cautioned to be very, very careful about how we use our words. Words are incredibly powerful. John's gospel starts with the phrase “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” The Book of Genesis, the very first words in Scripture, picture God speaking the universe into being. 'God said 'Let there be light' and there was light.'

Words can create order out of chaos. Yet they can also do the opposite. Create chaos where everything seemed settled! Maybe you are familiar with the “Thumperian principle”?

In the Disney movie 'Bambi' a young rabbit called 'Thumper' comments that the young deer Bambi is "kinda wobbly". Thumper is reproved by his motherwho makes him repeat what his father had impressed upon him that morning, "If you can't say something nice, don't say nothing at all." Not bad advice at all. I think James might approve!

For some music this week Jason Mraz sings a version of Bob Dylan's song 'Man gave name to all the animals' The connection between this song and next weeks sermon? 

Well... you can either check back to this blog next week... or you could even join us for an outdoor service on the beautiful grounds of Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church in Ellicott City as we kick-off our new Sunday School year. Worship begins 10:00 a.m. Sunday Sep 13th. A picnic will follow :-)

Rev Adrian J. Pratt

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Mercy Triumphs Over Judgment

Last week in our morning service we began a series of messages on the Book of James. (First sermon "Hear-Do" is here). We saw how James was not impressed with the kind of faith that was more words than actions. He does have some strong things to say about 'words' in a later chapter, but in his second chapter he talks about what kinds of 'works' he expects a living faith to produce.

In verse 13 James uses the phrase 'Mercy triumphs over judgment'. We can apply that verse in different ways.

We apply this verse to the message of the Cross. Central to the Christian message is the claim that at the Cross, what seemed like the ultimate defeat was actually the ultimate victory. Jesus, according to John, was the lamb of God who took away the sins of the world (John 1:29). Through His grace we can find love and forgiveness. Through faith in His resurrection power we can find new strength for living. According to Paul, we “were full of darkness” but now we have “light from the Lord” (Ephesians 5:8).

We can apply it to ourselves. Sometimes we are our own worst enemies. We become full of thoughts about 'not being good enough' or 'not up to the task'. Sometimes we feel that our contribution to changing anything is so minimal that we give up trying. We get held back by our mistakes. We feel a sense of shame about past failures and compromises. This verse 'Mercy triumphs over judgment' encourages us to recall that through Jesus Christ we are forgiven and God looks at us as God's children, free and in the process of reconstruction and capable of doing beautiful things.

We apply this verse to others. James is pretty clear that a genuine faith is a welcoming faith. That a faith that makes others feel like outsiders is the exact opposite of the way Jesus made people feel. In fact, the people whom Jesus made feel most uncomfortable, were those who used religion to make themselves look better than everybody else. Jesus was known as a friend to the outcast, to the sinner, to those whom others rejected. Following His example we are to be known by our love and compassion for all, without prejudice.

Such a a focus on mercy can seem a little scary. It means welcoming those whom we don’t like, or don’t agree with. It means loving and blessing our enemies, friends, family, outsiders, insiders and all in between. To live like that is to be both hearers and doers of the Word! We certainly can't do it alone. We need all the help the Holy Spirit provides. We need each others encouragement and practical help.

These insights of James weren't new. Centuries before James wrote his words, the prophet Micah had spoken of God's requirements for faithful people. 'To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.'(Micah 6:8)

'Mercy triumphs over judgment.' A gem of a verse from the book of James! I came across this song about forgiveness and mercy by singer/songwriter Amanda Cook, called, appropriately, 'Mercy triumphs over judgment'. Enjoy!

And if you in the area and want some more about James, then come by Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, 10:00 am this Sunday :-)

Rev Adrian J. Pratt