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

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

John's Dad - From Hebron


I guess most of us who go to church are familiar with the character of John the Baptist. He's the wild guy who lived out in the wilderness eating locusts and honey, started preaching shortly before Jesus came along, then baptized Jesus in the waters of the Jordan. But what do you know about John's dad?

John's dad was from Hebron. Not Mount Hebron in Howard County, Maryland. Hebron in the hill country near Jerusalem. His name was Zechariah and he was married to a lady called Elizabeth. He was part of a rota of priests who went into the temple to offer an annual offering.

Zechariah was elderly and had no children. Elizabeth was not able to conceive a child. At least not until God intervened. According to the gospel of Luke, Zechariah's temple duties this particular year are a game-changer.

As he went about doing his priestly duty, Zechariah is startled by the presence of another person in the sanctuary. It turns out to be an angel who identifies himself as Gabriel. If that wasn't unbelievable enough, Gabriel informs Zechariah that his wife is about to have a baby. For Zechariah this is a 'Say, What?' moment. Your mind can play tricks in your old age. Seeing angels at his time of life, maybe that was understandable. But Elizabeth having a child... now hold on a minute!

The angel Gabriel is quite specific. He is to name the child John. The child is going to have the unique mission of proclaiming the birth of one who will be a Savior for all the world. Zechariah protests. You can't just walk out of situations like that and expect anybody to believe you.

The sign of the reality of the events is that his power of speech is temporarily taken away. Zechariah is not allowed to say another word until some nine months later his baby boy is born. Only then is he able to relate the tale of what happened.

That's not where the story ends. His wife Elizabeth is relative to a young mom called Mary, who not only experiences an unexpected pregnancy, but has a close encounter of the third kind with the angel who calls himself Gabriel. When Elizabeth and Mary eventually get together, the babies they are carrying in their wombs leap for joy.

There's a whole lot more to the Christmas story than we can ever squeeze into a Nativity play. Maybe that is why the church came up with the idea of having a whole season called Advent, to get us ready for celebrating the birth of Jesus.

So many twists and turns. Rather like our lives. It can be hard to explain how we end up where we are, doing the things we do. Family. Tragedy. Unexpected journeys and encounters. Partings and Homecomings. The ordinary and the extraordinary all mix together.

During this Advent season take some time to consider your own families amazing story. The season from Thanksgiving to Christmas can be a wonderful time for telling tales and rejoicing in family heritage. I mean, who knew? John's dad was from Hebron!

And for a musical Thanksgiving smile... it's all about that Baste

Rev Adrian J Pratt B.D.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Famous Last Words


An exercise I've observed at youth retreats is to invite the participants to think about what they would wish their tombstone to read. Such an exercise sounds a little dark and morbid, but it is meant as a way of encouraging them, whilst still young, to think about what kind of legacy they want their lives to leave after they have gone. If you have an idea what you would like your life to become, then it is never too early to start thinking about how you can make it happen.

As a preacher, who has as part of his job description, the giving of eulogies at funeral services, one is sometimes put in in the position of not having known the deceased person as well as everybody else in the room. A colleague once shared a story of how he was called in at the very last minute to conduct a service for a family when the scheduled minister didn't turn up.

When it came to time for the eulogy, he asked the congregation if any of them had words to say about the deceased. He was greeted with a stony silence. 'Surely' he asked again, 'There must be something you can share about the departed as we gather at this solemn time?' After a few moments of further uncomfortable silence an elderly gentleman, in very gruff voice, said, 'Well... he wasn't as bad as his brother!' With that my colleague decided it was best to move straight on into a time of prayer.

This coming Sunday in the liturgical calendar is known as 'Christ the King Sunday'. We'll be taking a look at some of the last words attributed to David, Israels greatest king. (2 Samuel 23:1-7) These are not the only 'last words' attributed to David. There are a couple of passages where his final utterances are mentioned.

What they have in common is that they are overwhelmingly positive. They mention nothing about some of the moral failures David experienced. To put it mildly, David had his less than exemplary moments. But, as this passage fails to mention them, then like a preacher giving a eulogy, we'll stick with the good points.

At his best David was a fearless leader with a deep trust in God's ability to meet the needs of God's people. When he was confronted by his wrongdoing he was prepared to take the consequences and truly repented for his sinful actions. He recognized that his mistakes didn't just touch his own life, but brought into question the goodness of the God he served.

Seeking to be a faithful friend to others and being prepared to admit to the mistakes that we all make... if when we are gone we were remembered for just those two things, then I think it could be said that we have lived well. Should it be also judged that we have been faithful to our God and that we have given some people some joy along the way, then I'd be content with that as well.

As for 'Being better than my brother'? Well, if you'd met my brother, you would know he is an awesome guy. At the end of the day, we shouldn't be worried about what other people think of us, but simply endeavor to be the people we believe God is inviting us to become. 

For further thought here is an excellent song by Nicole Nordeman titled 'Legacy'.

Rev Adrian J Pratt B.D.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Faith


Here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian we've been traveling through the Book of Hebrews and we have heard a lot about faith. Last Weeks Sermon 'How Much More?' can be found here.

 Faith sounds so simple. 'Just have faith' people say 'And everything will be fine'. But what is faith? According to the biblical Book of Hebrews 11: verse 1 “Faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.

Faith isn't hope. We hope for a lot of things in life. We hope our team wins. We hope our health doesn't fail. We hope the sun is going to shine if we plan a picnic. But our team loses. We do get sick. Sometimes it rains on our parade.

We have heard people say, 'Seeing is believing'. Faith here is spoken of as believing in what we do not see. Rather than just hoping or actually seeing, faith has to do with confidence and assurance. It does have a little bit of hope in there, and it seems that as we glimpse what faith can do, then we become confident and assured that God can get us through whatever it is we are facing.

Faith is about trust. The dictionary definition of 'Confidence' is 'The feeling or belief that one can rely on someone or something; firm trust.' 'Assurance' is defined in the dictionary as 'A positive declaration intended to give confidence; a promise.' Throughout the Scriptures are many assurances that, if we trust in God, then all things will be well. Not always 'easy' … but 'well'.

Faith is a gift. St. Paul, writing to the Ephesian church, tells them 'For it is by grace you have been saved - through faith - and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God' (Ephesians 2:8). Faith is not so much something to generate from within ourselves but something to be received from God.

As we go through our lives they take many unexpected twists and turns. We just never know what is coming our way. Life does not always play nice! But we can trust that, over and above the changing circumstances of our lives, there remains the unchanging love of God. That the ever evolving scenes of our lives are lived out within the larger framework of God's desire to bless us, lead us and guide us.

What seems to us to be a setback can often turn out to be a blessing. What appears to be an obstacle turns out to be God's way of sending us in a different direction. What we thought was an unnecessary burden turns out to be a challenge God placed before us to strengthen us for helping somebody else. What we interpreted as an unwelcome interruption becomes a golden opportunity.

Faith is about viewing our lives as being lived out within the larger framework of what God can do. It is having confidence in God's eternal purposes. It is trusting, on a daily basis, that in the midst of the craziness, God is still at work, creating order out of chaos and weaving something beautiful from the tattered threads of our lives.

For some music, a band called Kutless sing 'What Faith Can Do'. If you prefer a live acoustic mix without the lyrics... hey... they can do that. After preaching this Sunday - November 8...on the theme  'Faith' and looking at Hebrews chapter 11 ...I'm taking some time out for personal study.... and maybe even some guitar strumming. We all need to find spaces and places where grace can revive our faith. 

Sunday November 15 our Children and Youth minister, Evan Stewart, will be preaching for the first time in the pulpit of this church he serves. All are welcome to come along and hear him. Wherever the coming days may lead you, may God blessings be found!

Rev Adrian J. Pratt B.D.