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

Monday, October 31, 2016

Come to the Table

It is always a special time at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church when we share together in bread and wine. Holy Communion is a time dedicated to reflecting on and remembering the significance of Christ’s life, death and resurrection. It is a time to seek for the Holy Spirit to fill our lives. That means examining our hearts, turning away from sin, and turning towards Christ.

In his letters Paul often writes about the sacrament. Of all people, Paul (formerly Saul), knew what it was to have a life that was once far from God. He knew what it was to be changed by God's amazing grace, through an encounter with the living Lord Jesus Christ. A one time oppressor of the faith, he became a tireless ambassador for the love of Jesus.

As a church we continue to travel through “The Story.” Last week we reflected on the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. The sermon for the day, “New Beginnings” can be found here.

Chapter 29, titled “Paul's mission” offers us many of the teachings of Paul that form the bedrock of Christian theology. As this Sunday we gather to celebrate holy communion, it is worth reflecting on some of the things Paul tells us we should do, as we come to the table.

First, we should take a moment and look in the rear-view mirror. To remember that we, like Paul, are dead in our sins and totally dependent on Jesus Christ and His death on the cross for our salvation. Romans 5:8 tells us, “But God demonstrates God's own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

Secondly, we need to look within. “Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup.” (1 Corinthians 11:28.) God wants us to acknowledge our sins and seek forgiveness and renewal. When we look within, the question we ask should not be; “Do I deserve to partake in communion?” No one is without sin and worthy of communion. Rather we should ask, “What is the condition of my heart? Is Jesus the center of my life, faith and hope?”

Thirdly, we need to look ahead. 1 Corinthians 11:26 “For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death... until He comes.” The story of faith neither began, nor will end with us. There will come a time when Jesus is enthroned as Lord and all things find their rightful place. Only God can say when that time will be, but we live in the joyful hope that God's Kingdom is always drawing nearer.

Finally, we need to look up. Without a doubt the words of Psalm 121 were familiar to Paul: “I lift up my eyes to the hills, where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth. He will not let your foot slip, He who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, He who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. The Lord watches over you, the Lord is your shade at your right hand; the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night. The Lord will keep you from all harm, He will watch over your life; the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.

It was Paul's mission to declare that everything in our world can change when Jesus Christ impacts our life. One of the unique places that we can experience the presence of the life giving Holy Spirit is when we gather with others around a table laid with bread and wine. What a privilege it is that our Lord should invite us to feast with Him! May we never take such an opportunity for granted, but treat our communion celebration as both a delight and a duty.

Wherever this coming week may find you, I hope you will find occasions for nurturing the life of your soul, be it with bread and wine, or simply by taking some Sabbath time to reflect on what is really important for our lives.

And of course, if you are in the area, you would be most welcome to join us in worship. We offer an open table, for we do not believe there is anybody Jesus would not invite to His banquet, other than those who would exclude themselves.

For some music... the Sidewalk Prophets sing “Come to the Table.” - Come to the table, Come join the sinners, You have been redeemed, Take your place beside the Savior, Sit down and be set free.

Rev Adrian Pratt B.D.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Unlikely Candidates

Unlikely Candidates

If you saw her backstage you never would have imagined what fame was about to come her way. She walked out on the stage in a rather plain dress. Slightly messed up hair. Bushy eyebrows. Seemingly a bit old and odd for the competition. But the moment she began to sing on “Britain’s Got Talent” she took the world by storm.

By the final note she was receiving a standing ovation from the crowd and even a broad smile from the stoic Simon Cowell. The video of her performance immediately hit “YouTube” and within a week Susan Boyle's performance had been viewed 66 million times. If you never saw it, visit that moment here...

She eventually failed to win the competition, but that did not stop her. An album was released in November of 2009 and by the end of the year she had the top selling record world wide of any releases, selling a total of 8.3 million copies. Her 2014 album “Hope” spent 35 weeks at number 1 on the Billboard Top Inspirational Albums chart.

This week at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church we continue our journey through “The Story.” Last week we talked about “The Resurrection” (sermon here). This week it's all about unexpected new beginnings.

Which brings us to Saul. You probably would never have picked him to start a revolution. One first century writer describes him this way: Bald-headed, bowlegged, strongly built, a man small in size, with meeting eyebrows, and a rather large nose.Appearances aside, he had been spending his days pursuing the singular purpose of persecuting Christians. Pulling them from their houses. Throwing them in prison. Even having some killed.

Yet God chose him to take the gospel story to the Gentiles. Saul was on his way to Damascus to persecute followers of “The Way” (Acts 9). But after an epic “Up close and personal” confrontation with Jesus, (Who asks him, “Why are you persecuting me?”) Saul began to see the light. By the end of that encounter his name is changed from Saul to Paul and he is given a new purpose and a new lease on life.

The rest is history. Paul, a Jew, took the gospel message to the Gentiles. Paul, the “chief of sinners” spoke as a gracious firsthand recipient of God’s mercy. Paul, the well-schooled expert on the Law of Moses, became the most outspoken voice for the principle of grace.

Most of us would not know about Jesus Christ had Paul not traveled the world telling others about Him. And most of us would not know about the gospel if some modern-day “Paul” not walked across the cul-de-sac or the cubicle or the classroom to tell us about the Good News.

Susan’s life changed. So did her appearance. Just like Paul. That first century description of Paul ends by saying he was “... full of grace, for sometimes he looked like a man and sometimes he had the face of an angel.

An “Angel.” The word means “Messenger.” God wants to use us to take the gospel message to our world. Our community. Our street. Our workplace. Our school. We might not think God would choose us either. But we might just need to think again, no matter our appearance!

Rev. Adrian Pratt

Monday, October 17, 2016

An Eternity of Sundays

In the spring of 2010 archaeologists unearthed a 3,500-year-old door to the afterlife from the tomb of a high-ranking Egyptian official near Karnak temple in Luxor. This door was meant to take the official from death to the afterworld.

A man called Jack found a different door to the afterlife. He taught English literature at Oxford University and spent many evenings walking the gardens of Magdalene College. And it was one evening while walking with his friend John, that Jack discovered his way.

His door found a way into his writings as a “wardrobe” through which his characters could enter Narnia, a kind of medieval version of Paradise. The Chronicles of Narnia still remain a best selling book for children. Jack, or C.S. Lewis as we know him today, went on to become one of the great apologists for the Christian faith in the 20th century. His book “Mere Christianity” continues to be an inspirational text for those seeking a strong Christian foundation for their life.

Last week here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church we were talking about the betrayal and crucifixion of Jesus. The sermon for the day “The Hour of Darkness” can be found here. This weeks readings in “The Story” focus on His resurrection. C.S. Lewis wrote of death in this way; “If we really think that home is elsewhere and that this life is a ‘wandering to find home,’ why should we not look forward to the arrival?

Thinking about our own mortality is not usually a comforting notion. Yet the Christian faith has as it's central feature a narrative of death and resurrection. Because Jesus lives, we believe we also shall live in the nearer presence of God, when once our mortal coil is broken. Eternity, for a person of faith, is not something to be feared, but a final destination where we find a welcome, and all the strains and struggles of our present existence are no more.

It is Jesus who gives us that hope. He moves us from a Friday and Saturday of death and disillusionment to a Sunday of victory. Our way into that victory is through a door. Jesus Christ. Jesus said of Himself, “I am the door; whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture” (John 10:9). All of the resurrection stories promise us similar things.

In another garden, another Magdalene, Mary, was looking for Jesus’ dead body to anoint, but it was missing from the tomb (John 20). Two angels speak to her, but she is so cast down she fails to recognize them. She keeps talking about her “Lord” and how He had been taken away. It is only when Jesus comes to her and calls her by name that she recognizes the reality of the resurrection.

We all have our Fridays and Saturdays. Days that are dark and days that are lost. In those days when we can’t find the door, we can still do what Mary did. Keep calling Jesus “Lord.” Keep crying out and keep on looking for Him.

The realization that He is with us and always there for us may not dawn in an instant. But when it comes, it is as though He is calling our name. Though His love and His forgiveness, we can find the door to an eternity of Sundays.

It was when I spent some time living in West Virginia that I first came across this Bluegrass Classic that captures the hope of eternity; “I'll fly away,” performed here by Alan Jackson. Great song to both sing and play. If that don't get your feet a tappin' then I don't know what will. Yee-Hah. Enjoy :-)

Rev. Adrian J. Pratt
(Based on a mediation by Randee Frazee)

Monday, October 10, 2016

Good Friday on a Fall Sunday

Here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church we continue our journey through “The Story.” Last weeks reflection, on "Jesus, Son of God" can be found here. This week we have reached one of the most significant moments in both the “Upper Story” of God's purposes, and the “Lower Story” of humanities striving for God's acceptance. The account of the death of Jesus Christ upon the Cross of Calvary. It is sometimes only on the day we call “Good Friday” that we make the Cross our sole focus. Yet the message of the Cross is essential to all of Christian life.

In 1937 a German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, wrote a book called “The Cost of Discipleship”. A committed Christian, who opposed the rise of Nazism in Germany, he was executed on April 9, 1945, in Flossenb├╝rg concentration camp, Germany.

In “The Cost of Discipleship” Bonhoeffer speaks about a phenomena he describes as “cheap grace.” This he defines as “The preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline. Communion without confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ.

We easily lose sight of the fact that Jesus did not only die upon the Cross, but taught that if we would be His disciples we are to take up our Cross and follow. In Matthew 10:28 Jesus states plainly; Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me.

I think this is what Bonhoeffer is speaking of when he described “Cheap Grace” as being “Grace without Jesus Christ.” We like the benefits that grace brings, but not the obligation it places upon us to live in that grace and express it to others. We prefer cheap grace, grace that requires no commitment, and fits in conveniently with our personal desires and aspirations.

We can apply that to many areas of church life. Our desire to worship on a regular basis. Our commitment to financially support our churches mission. Our willingness to spend time and effort in prayer and study of God's word. Our preparedness to take on responsibilities that nurture growth in others or simply meet the routine needs of a churches weekly obligations.

If it had been somebody other than Bonhoeffer writing those words, maybe we could cast them aside as “just words.” But when they are backed up by his Christlike commitment to die for what he believed in, it is harder to dismiss them. He truly understood what Jesus had done for him on the Cross. Because of the love that He saw at the Cross, he had no room for 'cheap grace,' and was prepared to live in a way that made room for the Cross in his personal spiritual journey. Chris Tomlin has a song which in the second verses that declares; (listen to the whole song here)

There’s a place
Where sin and shame
Are powerless
Where my heart
Has peace with God
And forgiveness
Where all the love
I’ve ever found
Comes like a flood
Comes flowing down,
At the Cross,
At the Cross,
I surrender my life,,,

It is worth considering what place “The Cross” has in our personal Christian walk. Hopefully we are grateful for all that Jesus has done for us. But how does the amazing grace of God find a response, in our actions, and within the life of a local congregation? The message of Good Friday is one that needs to be lived out, not only on a Fall Sunday, but every day in our walk with God.

Rev Adrian Pratt B.D.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

The Greatest Question

Here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church we continue our journey through “The Story.” Last week we were thinking about the humanity of Jesus. (Sermon from the day “No Ordinary Man” can be found here.) This week we move on to consider the divinity of Jesus. Chapter 25 of "The Story" is titled “Jesus, The Son of God.”

A British newspaper, “The Daily Telegraph” once ran a series that highlighted the “101 greatest questions of all time.” It included questions like “What is O.K. short for?” The answer? “O.K. comes from “Oll Korrect,” a deliberately misspelled writing of “All Correct” that was popularized in Boston newspapers in the 1840s, when it was fashionable to go around spelling things incorrectly for humorous effect.

The number one “Greatest Question” turned out to be “Where is the safest place to stand outside in a thunderstorm?” The answer? “A car or other enclosed metal structure is the safest place to be in a thunderstorm.”

The gospels tell us of a time when Jesus and His disciples were in Caesarea Philippi. Caesarea Philippi was located in a region known as “Paneon,” the home of the Greek god Pan. Once it had been a center of Baal worship. A temple was located there dedicated to Caesar. Temples to other Syrian gods dotted the landscape.

There was no shortage of deities to choose from. Jesus asks His disciples a question; "Who do people say I am?” The disciples offer up a variety of answers. “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.”

But Jesus was more concerned with their answer, so He made it very personal. “What about you? Who do you say I am?” The gospels give the impression that this question was initially greeted with silence. It is Peter who eventually conquers his fears and voiced what some of the others had also been thinking. Matthew 16:16; Simon Peter answered, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God."

That answer changed everything. Previously they had observed that Jesus was no ordinary man. Now they are seeing His life as being the fulfillment of Messianic prophecy and suggesting that Jesus had an intimate relationship with God as His Father.

Jesus praises Peter for allowing God to so work on his life that he was open to such a revelation. "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. From then on 'Simon' becomes 'Peter,' “The Rock,” upon whose faith the church is founded. Make no mistake. This was a life changing moment.

The greatest question of all time is not “Where is the safest place in a thunderstorm?” That is good information to have, but only if there happens to be a thunderstorm and you are near a vehicle! And it is fascinating to know the linguistic roots of being “O.K.”

The greatest question of all time is that probing question of Jesus; “What about you? Who do you say I am?” How we answer that question will determine what sort of foundation we build our life upon. Are we able to trust God, as did Simon-Peter to reveal to our hearts the truth about Jesus Christ? Are we able to voice our belief out-loud, without fear of what others may think? Are we prepared to build our life upon the rock like foundation of God's love rather than the shifting sand of everyday experience?

Rev Adrian J Pratt