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

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Thanksgiving


Since being in Maryland one of the places I have really enjoyed visiting and spending time at for reflection and renewal is Bon Secours Retreat and Conference Center, just down the road from Mount Hebron in Marriotsville. As well as being a venue often used by our Presbytery for retreats, they are open to folks wishing to have individual retreats, and also offer a whole spectrum of courses to enjoy.

I spent time there this year preparing some of the material for “The Story” series that we have followed throughout the year. It's hard to believe that series has come to an end... and I am thankful for the opportunity of sharing in study and worship with the congregation as we traveled through the 66 books of the bible together. Our final sermon of the series "The End of Time" can be found here.

As the name of the season suggests, at this time of the year, we are encouraged to count our blessings and be thankful for every good gift that God has placed in our life. Here is a prayer, composed by Thomas P. Roberts, from the Bon Secours community. May God's blessing be with you and yours during these days of Thanksgiving.

O God of all Creation: You have cared for the earth, and have filled it with Your riches. Abundance flows in Your steppes, through the pastures and wilderness. You provide for our land, softening it with showers, bathing it in light, and blessing it with growth.

The hills sing with joy; the meadows are covered with flocks; the fields deck themselves with wheat; and together they glorify Your name!

On this occasion of our Thanksgiving, we as a nation take rest from our labors, to consider Your many blessings. We thank You for our freedoms, and for the opportunity to contribute our skills, our attributes and our values toward the good of society.

We thank You for the mixture of our cultures, blending us into one people under God. Help us to be a light unto other nations, and to further the cause of freedom and justice all over the world.

We remember those who are less fortunate than we. We lift up in prayer the victims of poverty and racism, and all those who suffer from forms of political and economic oppression. Let the word that goes forth from our mouths speak of Your peace, and let us proclaim our hope in Christ as Savior of all humankind.

We pray that You will bless all those who gather to celebrate. May Your presence be known in our hearts. Grant us Your guidance, O God, and empower us for Your work. For we claim nothing for ourselves, but return all honor and glory unto You, and offer our thanks and praise. Amen.

For some music... Josh Groban sings "Thankful."

Rev Adrian Pratt B.D.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Uncertain Times

It's been quite a week for the United States. The election of a new president has left some rejoicing but others asking “How did that happen?” Some are feeling fearful about the kind of future that might ensue, should the most negative aspects of his campaign become a reality. We live in uncertain times.

As a church community here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian we conclude our travels through “The Story.” Last week we talked about Paul's final journeys (sermon here), this week our focus is upon the Book of Revelation, the final book of the Bible. Revelation was a volume that came about during a time of great uncertainty, both for the church community and for it's author, John, who was in exile on the island of Patmos.

The church had expected some opposition to it's message, but the ferocity and extent of the persecutions that were endured during it's earliest centuries was unprecedented. Their message of love and grace and tolerance was met with  misunderstanding, intolerance and hatred. Lies were circulated, whole communities scapegoated and a campaign was waged to obliterate the message and influence of those who claimed to be disciples of Jesus Christ.

The tenacity of their faith was remarkable. Many lost their lives. A commentator in the mid 2nd century complained to the emperor; "Do you not see that the Christians thrown to the wild beasts - that they may recant the Lord - do not allow themselves to be beaten? Do you not see that the more they are punished, the more the others increase in numbers?" That sentiment influenced early Church leader Tertullian, in 197AD, to make the statement that "The blood of martyrs is the seed of Christians."

The Book of Revelation was composed against this backdrop of violence and persecution. It is full of coded images and visions of events that are apocalyptic in scope. The overall message is one of hope. Tremendous hope. That at the end of all things – all will be well. The dark horsemen of war and famine and persecution shall be overcome. The faith of those who died for their beliefs will be vindicated and they will be crowned with glory.

Central to the vision of Revelation is the victory of Jesus Christ over death, over evil, over suffering, and over all that destroys and makes life seem like hell on earth. None of it comes without struggle. Yet the victory is secure and the promise for those who stay faithful is one of eternal blessing.He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death' or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away." (Revelation 21:4)

Revelation is a book that has brought great comfort to individuals and churches during periods of opposition. It has a message for uncertain times. It reminds us that the “Upper Story” of God's promises is an ongoing story that neither began, nor will end with us.

May seem like a strange choice for a song... but I'm going with “Singing in the Rain.” This clip is from a recently surfaced 1080p High-Definition digital transfer of the 1952 song. The dancing is still simply stunning, while the song never fails to instill a little bit of optimism in my heart.

The rain is going to fall. Always has. Always will. As we have traveled through “The Story” we have seen that God's greatest desire is for faithfulness. How empires rise and fall, but according to Revelation, the Kingdom of God outlives them all. God invites us to center our lives in the eternal purposes of God's love.

That will mean different things for different people, but I would rather be on the side of hope... no matter what the climate... be it political, religious or geographic. Uncertain times call, not for hand wringing and complaining, but for refocus and renewed commitment. To quote William W. Purkey, “You've gotta dance like there's nobody watching, love like you'll never be hurt, sing like there's nobody listening ... and live... like it's heaven on earth.” 

Every Sunday we pray "Thy Kingdom come, on earth as it heaven." 

Rev. Adrian J Pratt B.D.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

St Paul for President?

I don't think Paul would have ever been interested in being president. At least not of any geographical nation. When one considers the rancor and bluster that have been part of the most recent election in this fair land, though Paul is sometimes accused of being hard headed and intolerant, his character shines as a brilliant light in comparison to the shenanigans of the fame seekers and power brokers who have been making the headlines.

Gaining earthly power does not appear to be Paul's intention. Though he was a person of great influence, charisma and learning, he harnessed those qualities to the goal of proclaiming a message that was all about grace, reconciliation and love. These were things, following his life changing encounter with Jesus Christ on the road to Damascus, that revolutionized his life.

It had not always been so. He was a Roman citizen. His home town of Tarsus was associated with a renowned university considered to have been better than the seats of learning of Athens and Alexandria. He was influenced by Stoic philosophy. Shortly before Paul's time, the Stoic philosopher, Athenodorus, was one of the most eminent residents of Tarsus.

He is associated with the teacher Rabbi Gamaliel who had a school in Jerusalem for five hundred pupils. It was unusual, in that he taught not only subjects related to the Jews, but also Greek philosophy, so that the pupils could keep in contact with their provincial governors.

Paul writes to the church in Philippi about all the reasons he had to place confidence in his earthly qualifications. “If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.” (Phillipians 3:4-6)

Yet he follows up these bragging rights with the statement: I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ.

Earthly qualifications and position and power as garbage? That's a strong statement to make in a world that still looks upon position, outward appearance and qualifications as signs of merit and honor. That still goes against the grain of popular opinion. Eventually Paul's uncompromising position, as an ambassador for the gospel, would cost him his life. Christian tradition has Paul being beheaded around the mid 60s A.D. during the presidency of Nero.

Yet few figures, be they presidents or emperor, royalty or philosophers, have has as much influence on thought and culture than Paul (with the exception of the One he described as His Lord and Master.) I predict that whatever legacy the current and future residents of the White House may leave, it will never surpass that of Paul of Tarsus, a dedicated servant of Jesus Christ.

And what might Paul suggest be our attitude to the newest incumbent in Washington? (I'm writing this before the results are known.) Romans 13:1 “There are no authorities except the ones God has chosen. Those who now rule have been chosen by God.” That's Paul. As controversial as ever. And he would, no doubt add, “So... pray for them!”

Here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian we near the end of our journey through “The Story.” We focus this week on Chapter 30 “Paul's Final Day's.” Last weeks sermon about “Paul's Mission” can be found here.

For some music … something traditional.... which shall also be our closing hymn this coming Sunday. The congregation at First-Plymouth Church Lincoln Nebraska sing “Fight the Good Fight.

Rev. Adrian J Pratt B.D.