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

Monday, June 27, 2016

Finishing the Job

 Last week here at Mont Hebron Presbyterian we continued our journey through "The Story" by taking a look at Daniel in exile in Baylon. The sermon can be found here. This week, in chapter 19, the exile is over and the Hebrew people return home.

I'm fairly sure that I am not the only person who has a list of unfinished projects.  A few years back I purchased a whole collection (at a very discounted price) of Karl Barth's “Church Dogmatic's” - a classic collection of his theological musings. My intention was to read all 14 volumes, blogging as I traveled through them. I started off pretty well, but other things have come along, and that journey is temporarily on hold.

At home we have albums full of pre-digital age photographs. A few years ago I began scanning them into the computer so as to have digital copies. After the first few albums I realized that this was going to be a more time consuming process than I first imagined. I have yet to get back to it!

Then there was the idea of creating some kind of index of the many books that I have acquired during my ministry. Some have been gifts. Some have been passed on to me by retiring pastors. Some (like the “Dogmatic's”) I have actually purchased myself. Whilst it would be useful to keep track of them, I have never quite got around to that project.

The fact that none of these are finished projects, is of no great earth shattering importance. I may well return to them at some point in the future. And I am guessing that I am not the only one who does not finish everything they start! But to be honest, some things aren’t worth finishing.   

We should never think that we can put God in our collection of unfinished projects.  God isn’t a “project.”  God is not going to sit on a shelf contentedly waiting for us to give the things of God's Kingdom our attention, once the kids are grown or the retirement is funded, or other tasks are completed.

The Israelites learned that lesson the hard way.  They returned from Babylonian captivity to rebuild the temple.  They started strong, but in time turned their attention to other endeavors.  What was important to God became unimportant to them.

Sixteen years passed without any work being done on the temple.  So God allowed drought and downturns and difficulties to come upon them.  And God gave them some simple advice. “Give careful thought to your ways” (Haggai 1:5, 7).

At the end of the day, each of us is responsible for our own schedule. There is really no such thing as partial obedience. If God is our priority …  then we will make sure we find the time for the things of God's Kingdom. Jesus said, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God . . .” (Matthew 6:33).

There are some things worth finishing.  Eventually the Hebrew people got back to the task of faithfulness. The temple was rebuilt. The walls of the city became strong.  They were in a better place!

Whenever we seek to live in a way that gives God's agenda priority we also can find ourselves in a place of blessing. There are some projects that can wait. But there are others that can't. “Faithfulness to God” comes under that latter category. Faithfulness is always an ongoing project!

For a musical reflection, an acoustic version of Karen Lafferty's well known Christian song; “Seek Ye First”, performed by Eden Espinosa.

Rev Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Stranger in A Strange Land

Last week, here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church as we followed “The Story”, we saw how the people of Judah were defeated and led into exile in Babylon. But God had certainly not finished with them. Whenever they acted in a faithful way, God was right there for them. This week we take a look at some of those who remained faithful in the midst of an alien culture.

The first group deported included Daniel and his friends Hananiah, Shadrach, and Azariah.  They were given the Babylonian names of Belteshazzar, Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego. While in exile these young men lived powerful, purposeful, prayer-filled lives.  They prayed to their God when they were told not to.  They were bold to do what was right regardless of the obstacles placed in their path.  And they made a difference. 

The singer/songwriter Leon Russell has a song called “Stranger in a Strange Land.” (Click here to watch and listen. ) In the song he muses, “Well, I don't exactly know, what's going on in the world today, don't know what there is to say, about the way the people are treating each other; not like brothers!” In the light of our current world... the political rhetoric, the violence and the mistrust that seems to characterize much of what we see and hear, maybe we can identify with such a sentiment.

Yet, as Christians, feeling like a 'Stranger in a strange land” should not surprise us.  According to 1 Peter 2:11-12 those who follow the Kingdom path are always exiles.  Peter writes: Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. Live such good lives among the Gentiles that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God.

Elsewhere scripture speaks about faithful people as being 'in' the world, but not 'of' the world. Such passages speak of a tension that is always going to exist in the lives of those who choose to follow a different path than those who are around them.

The challenge for the person of faith is to allow the teachings that guide them to take precedent over the prevailing winds of the culture in which they live. This was where Daniel and his friends excelled. Staying true to their convictions challenges them and leads them into some highly confrontational situations, but their trust in God is vindicated as they witness God acting on their behalf.

They thrive on a diet that has not been offered to idols, they refuse to bow down to the golden statue of Nebechadnezzar, they will not give up on prayer, they go through the fires of a furnace and Daniel is delivered from a pit of lions. Dramatic instances of God's deliverance!

Through his visions and words, Daniel becomes a person of great influence within the strange land in which he finds himself. Had his life not been one of faithfulness, this could not have happened.

We will all have those days when we feel that what we believe does not fit in well with the culture that surrounds us. What would Daniel suggest? Be faithful anyway!

Rev Adrian J. Pratt

Full Lyrics to “Stranger in a Strange Land” by Leon Russell and Don Preston..
The song appeared on his 1971 album "Leon Russell and the Shelter People."

How many days has it been
Since I was born
How many days until I die
Do I know any ways
That I can make you laugh
Or do I only know how to make you cry

When the baby looks around him
It's such a sight to see
He shares a simple secret
With the wise man

He's a stranger in a strange land
Just a stranger in a strange land
Tell me why
He's a stranger in a strange land
Just a stranger in a strange land

How many miles will it take
To see the sun
And how many years until it's done
Kiss my confusion away in the night
Lay by side when the morning comes

And the baby looks around him
And shares his bed of hay
With the burrow in the palace of the king

He's a stranger in a strange land
Tell me why
He's a stranger in a strange land
Just a stranger in a strange land

Well, I don't exactly know
What's going on in the world today
Don't know what there is to say
About the way the people are treating
Each other, not like brothers

Leaders take us far away from ecology
With mythology and astrology
Has got some words to say
About the way we live today
Why can't we learn to love each other
It's time to turn a new face
To the whole world wide human race

Stop the money chase
Lay back, relax
Get back on the human track
Stop racing toward oblivion
Oh, such a sad, sad state we're in
And that's a thing

Do you recognize the bells of truth
When you hear them ring
Won't you stop and listen
To the children sing
Won't you come on and sing it children

He's a stranger in a strange land
Just a stranger in a strange land

Monday, June 13, 2016

God’s Assignment in the midst of tragedy.

This past week witnessed one of the worst shootings the U.S.A. has ever witnessed, as an unhinged gunman opened fire on a group of people enjoying a night out in Orlando. It is hard to know how to react when such tragedies touch upon our lives.

Here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, in our journey through “The Story”, we reach chapter 17, a dark place in the history of the Hebrew people. We reach a time when all their hopes are destroyed and they are sent into exile in Babylon. Yet in the midst of that tragedy, God did not remain silent, but raised up people, such as Jeremiah, to voice hope.

Jeremiah was told to stand in the rubble of Jerusalem and weep.  As the people of Judah were leaving Jerusalem in single file as captives, Jeremiah stood weeping and reminding them that God would bring them back with these words:  Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord's great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:21-23). Jeremiah was also told the people would not listen to him.

There will be  many tears shed in coming days in response to the recent events. Some will, no doubt, use the occasion to make some point or other about the state of today's world or related to their particular political or religious convictions. But how many will speak of hope?

It is here that the people of God have a particular assignment. In the New Testament book of Ephesians the apostle Paul writes to the church, “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God created in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:10).

The central symbol of Christian faith is a Cross. The Cross is a symbol of great tragedy.  A place people came to weep. A place where a crime against an innocent victim took place. A place of unspeakable violence and suffering and tragedy.

Yet our faith does not end at the Cross. For we also travel to an empty tomb to declare the message of resurrection. That, even when tragedy strikes us down, God is able to take that situation and transform it. None of that takes away the pain or the grief or the tears. None of that is to suggest that acts of violence and terror are ever justifiable. Hope simply invites us never to give in or give up.

Such was a message that was hard to believe for the captives of Judah as they were led away into Babylon. Such is hard to hold on to when we witness senseless acts of violence such as those in Orlando.

But we always have a choice. Give in to despair... or regroup and recover. We acknowledge that some times things get worse before they get better. Yet we refuse to stay where we are. We move forward. Because that's what people of faith are called to do.

 Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord's great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning.”

It is hard to find a video or piece of music in the face of senseless tragedy. This emotional rendition of the Beatles song “Let It Be” from the movie “Across the Universe” always speaks powerfully to me.

Rev. Adrian J Pratt B.D.