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

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Walking

As a dog owner, I'm accustomed to heading out for a walk. I've already discovered some great places to take our pooch, 'Harpo', and look forward to exploring other destinations once the weather improves. At the moment I'm just very thankful for our wonderful church grounds and the opportunity to walk around the neighborhood! (as the picture to the right illustrates).

Further afield we've discovered wonderful places for a dog stroll, not so far away, include Centennial Park, the Nature Conservancy, and the Patapsco State Park at Daniel. There's even a path from the church property that leads into the woods and eventually down to the Patapsco river, that I think at one time was used for a 5K run by the Mount Hebron High School. It's a little overgrown, but passable with care!

At 13+ years Harpo is not quite the youthful pup he once was, but nevertheless he still loves getting out and enjoys every smell and sound that a stroll offers. For myself, taking a walk is often a time to reflect and think things through, and more than one sermon idea has surfaced whilst taking a stroll. Among my personal list of spiritual practices I would definitely include 'Walking the dog!'

During Lent we've started to take a look at some of the covenants God made with different Old Testament characters. Last time we thought about Noah and the Rainbow (sermon here). This coming Sunday we'll be looking at Genesis 17:1-7 and reflecting on words God gave to Abraham, “I am God Almighty; walk before me and be blameless.

Abraham had as much difficulty with the latter part of that verse as most of us do, but the walking part he managed to apply to his life without too much hesitation. The notion of 'Walking with God' remains a powerful image for spiritual pilgrimage. Life is a journey.

On that journey we are all at different stages. I'm aware that neither myself, nor Harpo the dog, can tackle some of the more ambitious adventures we once may have embarked upon. Yet we've also discovered that when you slow down, you catch glimpses of things you previously passed by. There is always something new to discover, even if it only turns out to be your personal limits. 

A song I'll be referencing this coming Sunday is 'Walking Man' by James Taylor. Always been a favorite of mine. If you are not familiar with it, give it a listen. And whoever and wherever you are, stay warm, be thankful for the good times and walk with God!


Rev. Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Onward to Easter

As the season of Lent begins we travel towards Easter. Lent is a special time for many Christians. Whilst some folk will 'give up' things for Lent, I've always thought it a good idea to 'take up' something for the season. Maybe a renewed emphasis on prayer or bible study, or having a special collection for a needy cause.

It is certainly a time to evaluate our spiritual lives and discern what changes could be made. Some of us met on Ash Wednesday to mark the beginning of the season with a service that included marking our foreheads with the sign of the cross. Our reflection that evening, 'Taking Stock' can be found here.

In our services each Sunday I'm going to be focusing on the theme 'Covenants of Grace' and take a look at the way some of the great Old Testament characters of the Bible defined their relationship with God. Usually some form of 'agreement' is made between them that involves certain obligations and responsibilities.

The first character we'll be taking a look at is Noah. The story of a flood, that cleanses all creation and offers a new beginning, is a common theme in many ancient religious texts. It marks a time of transition. In the New Testament the waters of the flood are linked to the waters of baptism, a ceremony that marks the beginning of a new phase in a persons spiritual journey (be they a newborn or an adult).

Of course there are many lessons we can learn from the story of Noah. Somebody sent me an e-mail the other day that was titled “All I really need to know about life, I learned from Noah’s Ark.”
  1. Don’t miss the boat.
  2. Don’t forget we’re all in the same boat.
  3. Plan ahead—it wasn’t raining when Noah built the ark.
  4. Stay fit—when you’re 600 years old someone might ask you to do something really big.
  5. Don’t listen to critics, just get on with what has to be done.
  6. For safety’s sake, travel in pairs.
  7. Two heads are better than one.
  8. Build your future on high ground.
  9. Speed isn’t always an advantage; after all, the snails were on the same ark as the cheetahs.
  10. When you’re stressed, float awhile.
  11. Remember, amateurs (given directions by the master builder and teacher) built the ark; professionals built the Titanic.
  12. The woodpeckers inside were a larger threat than the storm outside.
  13. No matter what the storm, when God is with you, there’s a rainbow waiting.

I like that last one. No matter what the storm, there is a rainbow waiting! God does not abandon to us to our fate. God is with us. Life after the Ark was not all plain sailing for Noah and his family. They faced some difficult days. I like to think that in the midst of those times, they looked up, saw a rainbow and decided that with God's help they could make it through.

To brighten your day, how about Kermit the Frog singing "Rainbow Connection"?
As we travel through these cold winter days, stay warm, and remember spring is coming! God Bless.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Listen to Him


It's been a while since I last had my hearing checked. I'm probably overdue an appointment. Thing is, the last time I went to an audiologist it wasn't the best of outcomes. They told me, yes, my hearing had deteriorated over the years, but that it hadn't deteriorated enough to actually do anything about it. So I'm now stuck with not hearing everything that goes on, particularly in the setting of larger rooms, but with no simple way of rectifying it.

If you ever notice in the sharing of joys and concerns that I'm not quite getting some of those prayer requests exactly right or I'm answering a question in the Fellowship Hall that wasn't really the one you were asking, then be patient. Maybe eventually I will become a case the audiologists consider worth treating. But in the meantime what I have to do is listen more intently!

This coming Sunday is 'Transfiguration Sunday' and we take a look at a reading from Mark 9:2-9 where Jesus travels up a mountain with His disciples. Moses and Elijah put in a glowing appearance whilst a voice thunders from the heavens 'This is my beloved Son, Listen to Him'. (Last Sundays Sermon can be found here)

Peter misinterprets the whole situation and starts talking about putting some tents up so that they can capture the experience for all time. But it seems as quickly as it happens, it's all over and they head back down the mountain with Jesus. I'm sure those words from the sky, 'Listen to Him' were ringing in their ears!

There can be a huge difference between hearing and listening. To hear is to comprehend at some level. To listen is to take the information in much more profoundly. And yet, the two are inextricably connected. One could make the case that one has to be able and willing to hear before one is truly able to listen.

Before they went up the mountain Jesus told them that the path before Him would be marked by great suffering and rejection and death. Peter would have nothing of it. It didn't line up with his understanding of how the world works or how God works in the world.

We tend to screen out those things we don't want to hear. My wife Yvonne complains that I have become masterful at 'selective' hearing. 'Would you like a second helping of lemon meringue pie?' is usually acknowledged. 'Take out the trash' … not so much.

When it comes to being a disciple, I suspect we all have selective hearing. Some parts of the gospel message we hear loud and clear. The forgiveness part. The 'being a child of God' part. But we struggle when we hear things like 'Love your enemies' or  'Give everything you have to the poor'.  Surely those words are for somebody else? (Or so we assume!)

Let us pray that we can become less selective when it comes to hearing what God wants us to know. Those mountaintop words remain a daily challenge as we walk through the daily valleys of our everyday life. “This is my beloved Son, Listen to Him”.


For a musical interlude 'Mercy Me' sing 'Word of God - Speak'

Rev. Adrian Pratt

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Peregrini


The Superbowl is over.  A play that didn't quite work out, right at the end of the game, allowed the 'Patriots' to become the victors over the 'Seahawks'. During our service this past Sunday (sermon 'Playmakers' can be found here) we held a 'Souperbowl' collection and invited folk to contribute to the team they hoped would win. The final tally; New England Patriots $56.00 - Seattle Seahawks $483.00. The collection didn't really go with the results, however, the total collected for Baltimore's Presbytery hunger related program 'Cents-a-bility' was $539.00. That's a victory worth celebrating!

This week we'll move onto think about a passage from Mark 1:29-39 in which Jesus begins His public ministry, taking some of the first disciples along for the ride. It's early days. They had decided to follow Him, but they hadn't yet figured out what that truly involved. As they witness Jesus healing people and the way He expresses His devotion to God, they are starting on a journey of learning that will last them a lifetime.

My church history professor, the late Prof. E.G. Bowen, used to talk with great fondness about the 'Peregrini'. 'Peregrini' was not a brand of spaghetti sauce, but the name given to the Celtic saints who brought Christianity to Gaul and much of Western Britain. Famous 'Peregrini'  included Celtic saints such as St Patrick of Ireland, St Columba (who founded a monastery on the Scottish Isle of Iona that remains a place of pilgrimage today) and St Aidan (who founded at monastery at Lindisfarne and earned himself the title 'The True Apostle of England').

In their lives these Celtic divines balanced contemplation with service. In our reading from Mark we see how, after dealing with the needs of the crowds, Jesus retreats to a private place for prayer. Only then, after He is sought out by the disciples, does He return to His work among the people.

This rhythm of prayer and service was one that the 'Peregrini' sought to imitate. A prayer attributed to St Aidan illustrates two of the passions of the 'Peregrini', a deep love for God and a compassionate involvement in the needs of those about them.

Leave me alone with God as much as may be.
As the tide draws the waters close in upon the shore,
Make me an island, set apart, alone with You, God, holy to You.
 

Then with the turning of the tide,
Prepare me to carry Your presence to the busy world beyond,
The world that rushes in on me till the waters come again and fold me back to you.


We would do well in our lives to consider this rhythm of contemplation and service. Through prayer and communion we are strengthened to serve. As we serve our spiritual resources can quickly become depleted and unless we take time to replenish our spirit we risk facing disillusionment or even burn out.

Such is a pattern evident in the life of Jesus, in the 'Peregrini'  and in the lives of numerous disciples past and present. It is always a good thing to ask God to help us get the balance right! For a musical interlude a Celtic version of the wonderful hymn "Be Thou my Vision" can be found here