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

Monday, March 28, 2016

You Don’t Have to Wait to Be Accepted

You Don’t Have to Wait to Be Accepted

If you have had children who go to college then you know all about the college application process. You think about what path to follow. You visit many a campus. You make applications. You fill in endless forms about grants and possible scholarships.

For anyone who hasn’t “been there, done that,” the filing of the application and financial aid forms is nothing compared to the waiting. It’s like the first time you look at your potential life partner and say, “I love you.” You’ve made the first move. And then you wait. You wait to see if they respond in turn.

In the application process you may receive some rejections. You may visit a place and change your mind. It may turn out to be more expensive than you dreamed. But, hopefully, you reach a point where a match is found and you receive the happy news. “Accepted!

We all have the desire to be accepted. The desire to be accepted, made it into Maslow’s well-known hierarchy of needs. He theorized that acceptance is basic to our nature and to our psychological health.

Here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian, after taking a break to celebrate Easter (our Easter sermon can be found here), we resume our journey through the Lucardo/Frazee chronological version of the Bible known as “TheStory.”

We have reached the book of Ruth. Ruth was a Moabite living in Bethlehem. She ended up there with her mother-in-law Naomi after their husbands died. She found herself picking up the leftovers after the harvest in a field owned by a man called Boaz.

Boaz discovered she was an outsider—a Moabite—the same people who would oppress his nation for eighteen years. You wouldn't expect Boaz and Ruth to fall in love. The first time Boaz meets Ruth, he seems to like her, and offers his blessing; “May you be richly rewarded by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge.”

Some time later, partly due to mother-in-laws matchmaking skills, Ruth encounters Boaz asleep on the threshing floor. She lies down at his feet. When he awakens, Ruth asks him; “Spread the corner of your garment over me, since you are a family guardian.”

The word for “garment” is the same Hebrew word for “wings” in the blessing Boaz had earlier pronounced over Ruth. Boaz is a perfect gentleman. Though culturally they were miles apart, there on the threshing floor, he decides Ruth is the one for him. Love creates a bridge of acceptance.

Boaz and Ruth have a son named Obed, the father of Jesse, the father of David. According to the genealogy in Matthew's gospel, Boaz and Ruth are part of the ancestral tree of Jesus. As members of the family and household of God, their love story is part of our heritage of faith.

In Ephesians 2:19 Paul tells us that, because of what Jesus has done for us, we “... are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God's people and also members of His household.” We don't have to wait to be accepted. The love of Jesus has already claimed us as His own. Like Ruth we are invited to find refuge under God's protective wings.

For some music “Who am I?” by Casting Crowns.

Rev. Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Easter Week

This week is Easter week and here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian we are taking a break from following “THE STORY” program in order to focus on the events of Holy Week.  (Last weeks installment can be found here). For Christianity Easter is the most significant celebration of all.

This past Sunday we travelled from the welcome Jesus received on Palm Sunday to considering the events of the crucifixion that would take place on Good Friday. We noted how quickly cries of “Hosanna” turned to shouts of “Crucify”.

On Maundy Thursday we shall meet around the table for food and fellowship, followed by a service recalling the events of the evening when Jesus took bread and wine and said “Do this in remembrance of me.”

On Easter Sunday we are planning a 6:45 am sunrise service at our amphitheater that will be led by our Children and Youth minister Evan Stewart, along with the youth, who are having a Passion week themed sleepover the night before in Hebron House.

At 10:00 am we gather for a traditional Easter Sunday service, followed by an Easter Egg hunt for the children.

The Cross and the empty tomb are the central images of Christian faith. At the Cross, we witness God entering into the deepest places of human abandonment and pain. We hear the proclamation of God's overcoming grace in the words of Jesus, “Forgive them Father, for they do not know what they are doing.” We witness the death of all that seemed to offer hope, healing and renewal for a needy world.

The days between the crucifixion and the resurrection are days of deep darkness and questioning.  We witness the confusion and grief of those who have seen their dreams torn to pieces. We see fear, we read of attempts to come to terms with loss through mourning and burial rituals.

On Easter Sunday everything is changed. The tomb is empty. The Risen Christ is encountered by different people, in different places, at different times. The unbelievable has happened. Death has been conquered. Hope has won the day. Nothing can ever be the same again.

In the weeks that follow Easter the disciples experience their faith being renewed and they receive their commission to let the whole world know what has taken place. Their final empowerment will not come till Pentecost, but in the days ahead of them they are prepared for a mission that will change the world.

Without the Cross and the message of Resurrection, Christianity really has nothing to offer. But if we allow them to stand together as the central elements of our faith, our lives are transformed.

For some music, a traditional Easter hymn, “Thine Be The Glory”. Easter Blessings to all!                                                                          

   Rev. Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Judges and Leaders

If somebody has a judgmental attitude it is not usually seen as being a positive thing. I don't believe anybody likes being judged. Even when we do stray over some cultural or legal boundary we still don't like hearing about it.

Yet instinctively, we know that judgments are necessary. We know that when there are conflicting opinions there needs to be somebody who makes the call as to what is right. We know that actions have consequences, and that when there are bad actions, then somebody has to determine what the consequences might be.

In Scripture God is often pictured as being the righteous judge of all the world. I believe we should take great comfort in the fact that, at the end of all things, the God who sees and knows all things, is the same One who determines what their outcome should be. At least we know that it will be a fair judgment.

At Mount Hebron Presbyterian we continue our journey through Lucardo/Frazee's chronological retelling of the Bible called “THE STORY”. Last week we saw the Hebrews entering into the promised land .A sermon, “The Battle Begins” can be found here.

This week we reach the Old Testament Book of Judges. Judges is written at a time before Israel had a monarchy. Scripture describes this period as an age when “Everybody did what was right in their own eyes.” That usually meant that their actions led them away from God, rather than towards seeking what God might want them to do.

It is in this period that God raises up for the people a number of leaders, called Judges, who function as leaders within the community and the nation. They are a very mixed bag of women and men. We meet a wise woman warrior called Deborah, who advises a military commander called Barak, on how the battle with their neighbors should be conducted.

We meet an unlikely candidate for office called Gideon, who is the most reluctant of all to take on the mantle of Judge. He needs a lot of convincing that God can work through a life as humble as his own. The military campaigns he wins are conducted in ways that demonstrate that God can give the victory.

Finally we meet a giant of a man called Samson, who, to put it mildly, is a wild-card of a character. He struggles to keep his desires under control. He has a disastrous relationship with a lady called Delilah and ends his days by giving his life for the salvation of the nation.

These characters may not be our natural choices for High Court Judges. We see a common theme being repeated that God chooses unexpected people to reveal God's ways to the world.

If ever we are tempted to judge another person (or even ourselves) as being a person God could never use in God's service, think again! God can use us all, in the most unexpected places and unlikely ways to share God's love with others.

A common feature of each judge is that they recognize that their victory will only come through the power of God. This weeks music choice... Maranatha Singers “The Battle Belongs to the Lord.”

Rev. Adrian. J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Face Your Battles with Strength and Courage

Face Your Battles with Strength and Courage

Last week at Mount Hebron Presbyterian we were looking at the passage of the Israelites through the desert after the Exodus. They had a habit of complaining! The sermon about 'Wandering' can be found here. This week we are moving on to look at chapter 7 of  'THE STORY' and the account of the entry into the promised land.

When someone keeps telling you to “be strong and courageous,” you might suspect you are up against something big. And the Israelites were. About to enter the land that had been promised them 600 years before, they had a giant-sized task awaiting them. Literally. Forty years earlier ten spies had come back and told the Israelites that the inhabitants of the land were so big they felt like they were the size of a grasshopper in comparison.

Fear took them captive without a battle and sent them off as a group to wander around in a wilderness where they took their chances against wild animals rather than face their giants. They wandered so long that those who had grasshopper-sized faith died out. Forty years later their children were ready to take the land. They were physically no taller than their parents had been. The enemies in the land were no smaller than before. But the Israelites’ had grown in faith.

There were two spies who had reported the land was theirs for the taking. One of them, Joshua, is now the Israelites’ leader. He was courageous. God wanted to keep him that way. So God tells him three times in the first nine verses of the first chapter of Joshua: “Be strong and courageous.” He also reminds him “The Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

We all have giants to face. Some uphill battles can appear insurmountable. Some tasks demand more than we think we can give. Another thing on our “To do” list – no way! An illness that came out of nowhere. An accident that we never saw coming. The loss of work or a drastic change in income. The passing of a good friend or family member. We may feel like running away and hiding.

Instead, scripture invites us to be courageous. The New Testament equivalent of the name “Joshua” is the name “Jesus.” One of His amazing promises is to be with us... always (Matthew 28:20).

As we move in the church calendar towards Easter we recall how during Easter week Jesus faced the most soul crushing of human experiences. Betrayal. Torture. Injustice. Intolerance. Prejudice. Violence. The list goes on and on until His death upon the Cross where He cries “My God, Why have You forsaken me?”

The Easter mystery is that God in Christ was redeeming the world to Himself. On Easter morning the Risen Christ appears to His followers and they begin to declare to all the world that we can face our giants through faith in Jesus Christ.

Whatever we may come up against in the coming days, let us pray that God will grant to us the courage and determination to find a way through. We are never promised a trouble free ride. But we are promised that God will travel with us, whatever may come.

For some music, the pure and powerful voice of gospel Queen Mahalia Jackson, singing “Joshua Fit the battle of Jericho” as she appeared in 1957 singing on the Nat King Cole show. If you happen to be able to make it to Mount Hebron Presbyterian this coming Sunday morning you may well find their choir offering their own interpretation of this classic song.

The Reverend Adrian J Pratt B.D.