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

Monday, December 18, 2017

Advent Love

Last week here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, we lit a candle for joy and witnessed our annual Christmas Pageant. Always a fun time!

On this coming Sunday, the Fourth Sunday of Advent, we will light a candle for “Love.” This year it is also Christmas Eve. It's going to be a busy day for services with Morning Worship at 10:00 am, a service of Lessons, Carols and Candlelight at 7:00 pm and a Midnight Communion commencing at 11:30 pm in our historic Hebron House. Anybody and everybody is welcome to join us if you are in the area.

There is a carol by Christina G. Rossetti that pictures the reason for season, in this way;

Love came down at Christmas,
Love all lovely, Love divine;
Love was born at Christmas,
Star and angels gave the sign.

I suspect that, be we religious, skeptic or unbeliever, we are all looking for love to be born into the different situations that we pass through in our lives. The coming of winter reminds us that life can be cold and dark, and that warmth and light are always welcome.

Acknowledging the darkness, we this year have a "Solstice Service of Remembrance" on Thursday December 21 at 7:00 pm. This will be a time to reflect, listen to some music, light a candle and seek God's strength to guide us through the blues of the season.  Again, anybody and everybody is welcome to join us.

There are so many aspects to the Christmas story that often go overlooked. It's not just about Jesus, but also involves the love of a young couple, an unexpected pregnancy, an unanticipated journey and discovering yourself homeless in an unwelcoming town.

As we follow the story through we see glory being revealed to working folk out on a hillside; a message that bypasses the local dignitaries, yet is later revealed to foreign stargazers. We will witness the anger of a despot King called Herod and the status of a young family becoming refugees as they flee to Egypt to escape persecution.

We also hear of angels and dreams, of prophecies fulfilled and proclamations being made about future peace and hopes as yet unrealized. It's an amazing story, and one that the biblical authors are keen to relate to the character of a God whose eternal nature is that of love.

However we celebrate.. or observe this season... hopefully we will take time out to consider whatever is good, pleasing and wholesome about our lives and the world that we share with our neighbors. It's been a hard year for many people. A lot of people need a helping hand.

Can our hands be those hands? Can the light we share help lift another persons dark clouds? Can we allow our reflections on love to prompt us to reach out to folk who feel unloved? Surely it is our actions that enable love to come down at Christmas... and any other time of the year.

Listen to the stories. Sing some songs. Celebrate the season in ways that mean something to you. And maybe, in that way, you can enter 2018 refreshed and ready to take on a New Year!

I am an unapologetic and unashamed fan of Christmas. Feel free to wish me a Happy Holiday, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Christmas... or even to bellow “Bah Humbug” in my general direction. It is hard to take offense when you are celebrating love.

One of the things I truly enjoy is the glorious music of the season. Here's a performance of the classic song “O Holy Night” by Andrea Bocelli & David Foster. Allow me to take this opportunity to wish you and yours every blessing for the season and the New Year!

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D

Monday, December 11, 2017

Advent Joy


Here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church we continue to travel through the Advent season. Last Sunday we lit a candle for peace and heard a message about John the Baptist, titled “Make A Straight Path.

On the upcoming third Sunday of Advent we light a candle for “Joy.” Advent 3 will also be the Sunday that the Sunday School children and the Mount Hebron Presbyterian youth present their annual Christmas pageant. This years program is titled “A Christmas Window” and invites us to consider some of the secular and religious traditions we associate with the season.

As a person who has been involved in more Christmas play rehearsals than he cares to mention, I can testify that one of the true miracles of Christmas is when the Nativity play actually turns out to be a great success!

Along with the Christmas play we will be receiving a Christmas Joy Offering. This is one of the annual opportunities for giving that is offered to us through the larger Presbyterian Church. The gifts we offer will be used to support Presbyterian-related racial ethnic schools and to provide critical financial assistance for Presbyterian Church workers who are passing through a time of need.

Despite all the good feelings that the season evokes, this time of year can be a difficult one to travel though if we have suffered loss during the year. Memories of loved ones, no longer with us, can really sap the joy out of our attempts at celebrating. Bereavement may not be the only sense of loss we feel. Life circumstances can change in both the public and private arena of our lives. Many are concerned with the current state of the life of our churches and with the combative atmosphere in the nation.

This year we have added to our opportunities for worship a Winter Solstice Service of Remembrance, that will take place in our sanctuary, 7:00 pm,on the evening of Thursday, December 21. This will be a time to light candles, listen to reflective music and readings and seek the comfort God offers, to lift us from any darkness we feel. Hopefully such a time will allow our often frayed and fragile hearts to recognize the joyful embrace of a God who promises to walk with us through the changing seasons of our lives.

Surely that is the message of every Christmas play. In Jesus Christ, God comes to where we are. He takes on all the vulnerability of being a human on this sometimes hostile and unfriendly planet. We see the One through whom the world was created being told that there was no room for Him to stay. We witness a revelation of glory that comes to a selection of working folk in the fields as well as to wise dignitaries from far off lands.

For some music, a beautiful version of the traditional carol “In the Bleak Midwinter” performed by Dan Fogelberg. As we light a candle of joy this coming Sunday let us pray that the light of God's love will penetrate the darkness of many hearts... including any difficult places that may exist in our own lives.

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D

Monday, December 4, 2017

Advent Peace

Last week here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church we lit a candle for hope and reflected on a message titled “Restore Us O God.” On the second Sunday of Advent we light a candle for “Peace.”

Our reading will be from Mark 1:1-8. The second gospel opens abruptly. No birth narrative. No childhood stories. After quoting Isaiah and briefly introducing “John the baptizer,” the reader is left expectantly hanging on to the hope that an even “more powerful” character is coming!

From these first verses we are well aware that Mark is telling us a story. We are at the “Beginning” of that account. His story will tell of “Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” It will be “Good news.” In Rome such terms were used exclusively of the emperor. The emperor was a “Son of God” and his decrees alone were described as “Good news.” So begins the dramatic tale!

From John's mouth come the words of a great prophet who came before him. "In the wilderness prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain.” (Isaiah 40:3-4)

This highway that John and Isaiah speak of is a highway towards peace. The people have strayed from the path of obedience and blessing and landed themselves in a desert like situation. Their lives are not being refreshed. Every step seems to be a struggle. Molehills have become mountains and valleys have become canyons that threaten to swallow them up.

“No more!” declare Isaiah and John. God is at work. Doing something new. Doing something unexpected. It was time to get with the program. It was time to “turn around” (or “repent” as John would phrase it.) And just so everybody knew that something awesome was taking place, John requests that you let him dunk you in the river and immerse you beneath the waters, to mark the fact that this was a time of “Good news” beginnings.

Neither John, nor Isaiah, are to be the One to fulfill the promise. They are just preparing the way. As John says, “I baptize you with water, but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit." (Mark 1:8). During Advent, we prepare our hearts to follow the Christ. We hear Him described as “The Prince of Peace” prophesied from days of old.

We light a candle for peace and we pray, that in this world where “Peace” is still a dream to be fulfilled, our lives will manifest the peace that Jesus offers. Maybe during this season we will have the opportunity to sing that wonderful carol, “O Little Town of Bethlehem” and reflect on Christ's birth, as we sing “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in Thee tonight.” Here is a gentle version of the carol performed by Sarah McLachlan from her album “Wintersong.”

Fears. Terrifying canyons to cross. Impossible mountains to climb. They can arise in all of our lives. So we pray that “The peace of God that passes all understanding will keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” Last Sunday we lit a candle for hope. This Sunday we light a candle for peace.

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D

Monday, November 27, 2017

Advent Hope

Last week, here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, we marked the end of the Christian Liturgical year with a sermon focusing on “Christ the King.” This Sunday we begin the New Liturgical Year, traveling towards Christmas, and celebrating the four Sundays of Advent. On December 3 @10:00 am we will be looking at verses from Psalm80:1-6,17-18 and meeting around a table laid with bread and wine.

Not long after Hurricane Sandy hit the Eastern seaboard there was a story on the national news about a man in a Santa suit causing quite a stir on the streets of New York as he handed out $100 bills to people most impacted by that devastating Hurricane. When a news reporter asked him why he was doing it, he said “The ravages of the storm are not as strong as the hope in people’s spirit.” He knew that recovery from the hurricane was primarily about hope.

Advent, from the Latin word “adventus” meaning arrival, is the 4-week period prior to Christmas. It is a time to wonder about the great sacrifice that our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, made for us by coming to earth as an infant. Scripture teaches us that He lived a perfect life, died a sacrificial death, and rose from the grave. One of the core beliefs of Christian faith is that because of His awesome death-defying love, all people are invited and welcomed into the family of God through their faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.

An advent wreath can be a teaching tool and a reminder for Christians of the true meaning of Christmas. Traditionally, the Advent wreath symbolizes the passage of the four weeks of Advent. It is typically a circular candle holder that holds five candles. During the season of Advent one candle on the wreath is lit each Sunday until all of the candles, including the fifth candle, are lit on Christmas Day.

Each candle customarily represents an aspect of the spiritual preparation for the celebration of the birth of Jesus. Most Advent wreaths use three colors of candles – purple, pink, and white. However, some may use blue in place of the purple. The first candle, often known as the “Prophecy Candle” or “Candle of Hope,” is lit to remind us that we can have hope, because God is faithful and will keep the promises made to us. Our hope comes from God!

In the biblical book of Romans Paul writes; “Isaiah says, ‘The Root of Jesse will spring up, one who will arise to rule over the nations; the Gentiles will hope in Him.’ May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 15:12-13)

I like those words of the mysterious New York Santa in response to tragedy. “The ravages of the storm are not as strong as the hope in people’s spirit.” When the hope in our spirit is harnessed to our hope in God, hope truly can be a trans-formative experience. May “Hope” be a part of our advent journey as we travel towards our celebration of God's greatest gift.

For some music, a beautiful song of hope, composed by Michael Joncas; “On Eagles Wings.

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D

Monday, November 20, 2017

Christ The King

Here's hoping you are enjoying a blessed and fruitful Thanksgiving holiday. It is not only Thanksgiving, but this coming Sunday, for Christian traditions that follow the Revised Common Lectionary, it is “Christ the King” Sunday or (for United States observers) “Rule of Christ” Sunday. November 26 marks the end of the Liturgical year.

Last week at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church we finished up a series of sermons on Thessalonians with a message called “Blessed Assurance.” The reading for this coming Sunday is Matthew 25:31-46, a passage where a King is pictured as sorting out the righteous folk from the unrighteous ones, each group being characterized as being 'sheep' or 'goats.' The sheep are those who have both heard the voice of the Good Shepherd and acted upon it. The goats are those who have chosen to go their own way and failed to hear or respond to needs around them.

The message of the passage is plain. The validity of our claim to be Christ's followers is measured by our willingness to help those less fortunate than ourselves. This is the pattern we see in the life of Jesus, who teaches us that the commandments are summed up by “Loving God” and “Loving our Neighbor.”

Throughout the Gospel of Matthew, the teaching of Jesus announces and illustrates the kingdom of God. God's kingdom does not function like a typical kingdom. God's divine reign has invaded the world and is described as “Good News!” especially to those on the fringes of society. This new rule welcomes those who have no status and seeks to serve others, rather than exploit them.

Jesus says to those who emulate His actions, that whenever they give food to the hungry, welcome a stranger, clothe the naked, or visit the sick or imprisoned, they are acting in kindness towards Him. Jesus identified with the “least of these” because He had walked in their shoes.

He offers this parable as His ministry on earth is about to reach a close. He is about to face His betrayal, trial and crucifixion. This parable is His way of saying; “You know all that other stuff I told you? Well it is important. But the REALLY important thing is that you care for each other, and particularly care for those members of your community who are not able to help themselves.”

As during this Thanksgiving time we give thanks to God for the many blessings we have received, let us be mindful of those less fortunate than ourselves and seek to respond to the needs of others in ways that reflect the love and grace God has offered to us in Jesus Christ.

We read in this parable the response of the King to those who practice compassion. The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me'” (Matthew 25:40.)

For some music; a song by Tim Hughes called “God of Justice (We must Go).

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D

Monday, November 6, 2017

Blessed Assurance

 
 “Blessed Assurance” is the title of a hymn first published in 1873 which was composed by the multi-talented Fanny J. Crosby. It is still regularly sung in services across the denominational spectrum and has made it's way into numerous hymnals. She was one of the most prolific hymn composers in history, writing more than 8,000 hymns and gospel songs, despite being blind from shortly after birth. Aside from religious songs, she composed over 1000 folk songs, political anthems and a few Cantatas.

She was also known for her teaching and her rescue mission work, being associated with the Bowery Mission in New York for over thirty years. She was the first woman to speak in the United States Senate when she read a poem addressing the need for support for those who suffered from blindness. This was one of over a thousand poems she composed, many of which focused on nationalist or political themes.

On the first Sunday in November here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church we took as our theme “Thou art Worthy.” On Sunday 12 we welcome lay preacher Ledonia W. Kimball to our pulpit. 

Sunday November 19 we'll be singing a Fanny J Crosby hymn, “Blessed Assurance,” as we conclude a series of sermons on Paul's first letter to the church in Thessalonica. Our focus that day will be 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11, a passage that speaks a lot about the future blessings of those who trust in God and of a time when all things will be well.

It appears that teaching about the “Second Coming of Christ” had caused some in the church to give up trying to make things work out in the present. Because they were a church going through hard times, some took the attitude that they would just sit it out, waiting for Jesus to return and sort everything out.

Paul, while not denying that the “Day of the Lord” would arrive, reminds them that such an event would come unexpectedly and take everybody by complete surprise. He teaches them to make their priority encouraging each other in the faith and getting on with the task of a mission, not to hunker down and wait for God to declare “Game Over.”

The hymn, “Blessed Assurance” is firmly rooted in the vision of a future kingdom in which the reign of Christ is perfectly experienced. Crosby writes, “I in my Savior am happy and blest, Watching and waiting, looking above, Filled with His goodness, lost in His love.” If you examine the life that lay behind those words you will be well aware that this was no deceleration of escapism or a shield from life's troubles and challenges.

The chorus declares “This is my story, this is my song, praising my Savior all the day long.” For Fanny Crosby that meant seeing every day as an opportunity for service and sharing the blessings of God's Kingdom with others. She lived to the grand old age of 94. Her family erected a very small tombstone at her request which carried the simple words: “Aunt Fanny: She hath done what she could.

It truly is amazing what God can do through the lives of those who seek only to do God's will. May the lives of such faithful people inspire us to make God's love our own story and song!

As this recording from “Jeremy Riddle” demonstrates, the songs of Fanny Crosby such as “Blessed Assurance” are still being reinterpreted and sung today as songs of inspiration and blessing.

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Thou Art Worthy


In recent decades there has been a change in many churches musical diet, from singing traditional hymns to using contemporary songs. But before that trend started, a genre of music known as “Choruses ” became popular among churches that described themselves as Pentecostal or Charismatic. “Choruses” were scripture based songs, set to worshipful melodies, that would be repeated two, three, or more times.

I recall attending a small Pentecostal church in the late 1970's and enthusiastically singing choruses such as “Great is the Lord,” “I will enter His gates with thanksgiving in my heart” and “This is the Day.” Some moved along at a speedy tempo, didn't require you to pick up a hymnbook (so you could clap along) and stayed in your mind long after their singing had finished. Others were slower and more adoration focused, such as “Turn Your eyes Upon Jesus” and the song we'll be considering today; “Thou Art Worthy.”

Here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church we are continuing a series of sermons on “Thessalonian Songs,” linking church music to passages from Paul's letter. Last week we were using a campfire song, “Pass It On.”

This week we'll be using a worship chorus and looking at 1 Thessalonians 2:9-13, in which Paul exhorts his readers to Live lives worthy of God, who calls you into His kingdom and glory.”(v12). Paul links Christian conduct to living a worshipful life. The church in Thessalonica faced unbelievable problems, but rather than despair, he challenges them to make God their focus and overflow with thanksgiving as they responded to the initiative of love God had taken towards them in Jesus Christ.

Such is the theme of the short chorus, “Thou Art Worthy,” composed by a lady called Pauline Michael in which she puts to music words from Revelation 4:11;Thou art worthy, O Lord, To receive glory, glory and honor, for Thou hast created, hast all things created, Thou art worthy, O Lord.”

Pauline Michael was a lady well ahead of her time and wrote this chorus of worshipful expression at a time when such pieces were not readily accepted by those who held the keys of liturgy and worship publishing. She was born on October 13, 1898 in Portland, Indiana. When her mother was unable to make it to a funeral service to play the organ, she sent Pauline. That was her first experience, at age 12, of playing in public. She claimed her abilities were a gift of the Holy Spirit.

In 1940 she began to set scriptures to music. "Thou Art Worthy" came about when Pauline was traveling with her son on an Evangelistic tour. He asked the congregation to send up their favorite scripture and told them that his mother would write music to the song before the service was over. She did not know that he was going to do this!

By the end of the service the song had formed in her heart. Though many times at meetings she would sing the song, and it proved to be a great blessing, it would be another 25 years before it was ever published. It has now appeared in many volumes of hymns and songs and been translated into 16 languages. Pauline Michael passed away at the age of 94, on December 18, 1991.

Truly our God is worthy of all praise. This little gem of a chorus (and others like it) can inspire us to lay our lives before God and open our hearts to the influence of God's love! Here's a version from an album called “America's Favorite Praise And Worship” by the Brentwood Music Company. May it lift our hearts to focus away from ourselves and into God's presence.

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Pass It On

It only takes a spark , To get a fire going
And soon all those around, Can warm up in its glowing
That's how it is with God's love, Once you've experienced it
You spread His love to everyone, You want to pass it on”
(Verse 1 “Pass It On” by Kurt Kaiser)

Last week at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church we began a sermon series with the title “Thessalonian Songs,” relating a Christian song or hymn to a passage from the First letter to the Thessalonians. Our first sermon looked at a hymn by Baltimore's own R. Kelso Carter, “Standing on the Promises.” 

This week we move on to consider 1 Thessalonians 2:1-8 and I'll be referencing a more recent song, written by Kurt Kaiser, called “Pass It On.” The song first became known as part of a musical called “Tell It Like It Is” that Kurt co-wrote in 1969 with Ralph Carmichael. The late 1960s and 1970s saw the genesis of many Christian youth musicals, a genre that would be replicated on Broadway. In 1971, “Godspell” by Stephen Schwartz, and the rock opera by Andrew Lloyd Webber, “Jesus Christ Superstar” became part of popular culture.

Many first discovered “Pass It On” when they attended a Christian Camp or Conference in their youth. It still functions as a popular guitar based folk song to sing around a roaring camp fire. This fits with Kurt's original intentions. 

He writes; "On a Sunday night I was sitting in our den by the fireplace where there were remnants of a fire, and it occurred to me that it only takes a spark to get a fire going . . . and the rest came very quickly. My wife suggested that I should say something about shouting it from mountain tops, and that ended up in the third verse. It only took about 20 minutes to write the lyrics. Afterwards my wife and I went for a walk, letting the song ruminate in our minds.

This song reflects the power of a simple idea set to a singable tune. Such songs take on a life that the composer never considered. Kurt says, "I am always amazed how the Lord can take a little song and use it to reach so many people. It has been sung at countless weddings and funerals, at ordination services, by the Sea of Galilee, in Rhodesia, on the aircraft carrier Enterprise... and lots of camps."

The church in Thessalonica was born in the midst of conflict. Things hadn't been easy for Paul when he first preached the gospel to them. When he left them, there were people who spread rumors that could have invalidated his ministry. There was a danger that the fire he had lit in their hearts was about to be quenched! Paul seeks to remind them of both the way he had acted while with them and points them to the core of the gospel message – the love of Jesus Christ. It was that love which he had proclaimed, and it was that same love that would sustain them in the future.

The spark to rekindle the fire in their hearts was his suggestion that if they focused on passing the love of God to others, through their words and actions, then everything else would fall into place. When we focus in on ourselves we easily become distracted. When we seek to enrich our communities through our gifts and talents, it offers our lives a new purpose and gives them a deeper meaning. I suspect Paul would agree with the third verse of Kurt's song:

I wish for you my friend, This happiness that I've found,
You can depend on Him, It matters not where you're bound,
I'll shout it from the mountain top, I want the world to know,
The Lord of love has come to me, I want to pass it on.”

For some music, a sing a long video from Brad Guldemond, "Pass It On."

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Standing on the Promises

 

Beginning October 22 here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church we are beginning a sermon series with the title “Thessalonian Songs” that will relate a Christian song or hymn to a passage from the First letter to the Thessalonians. Last weeks sermon finishing up our series on "Wilderness Wandering" can be found here.

Our first sermon, relates 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10 to the hymn “Standing on the Promises” written in 1886 by R. Kelso Carter. What you may not know about R. Kelso Carter is that he was born and bred in Baltimore.

As a boy he was a star athlete and a top student. At the age of fifteen during a prayer meeting at the Pennsylvania Military Academy he made a Christian commitment. He became an athletics coach and instructor at the academy. His history, both personal and theological, passed through some deep and disturbing waters as he searched for balance in his belief.

In 1879 he nearly died from a chronic heart disease that had plagued him for over seven years. His Christian life up to that point had been, like it is for many of us, rather sporadic. In his own words “He lived the up and down experience so familiar to the average church member.” I'll let him tell the story of his deepening commitment.

My heart, resisting the remedies of physicians and refusing to grow better, suddenly broke down so seriously as to bring me to the verge of the grave. I had heard of the 'prayer of faith' for healing, but I felt persuaded it would border on blasphemy to ask God for a strength which I didn't propose to use wholly for Him! Kneeling in my mother's room in Baltimore, I made a consecration that covered everything. All doubtful things were swept aside. I meant every word, and I have never had doubts about it since. A quietness came over me and I found the Bible wonderfully open and marvelously satisfying, as it had never been before.

Though his health was never perfect, he lived for another 49 years and became both a Methodist preacher and a physician. Out of his experience of healing he wrote the hymn “Standing on the Promises of God.” In words that we can well apply to the days we are currently living through he writes: “Standing on the promises that cannot fail, When the howling storms of doubt and fear assail,
By the living Word of God I shall prevail, Standing on the promises of God.

Paul praises the Thessalonian Church for their ability to stand on God's promises when he writes (1Thessalonians 1:3) “We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.

The challenge for all of us is to embrace a faith that goes beyond simply offering cries for help to God when we think we can't manage on our own... to having the sort of faith that finds its very life and focus in the promises of Scripture and the sustaining power of God's Holy Spirit. Such is the journey Jesus challenges us to make, not as lone rangers, but as communities of faith, seeking to bring the Kingdom of God alive in our communities.

For some music, country singer Alan Jackson gives a live performance of this classic R. Kelso Carter hymn “Standing On The Promises of God.” If you are in the area, join us this Sunday and sing a long!

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, October 9, 2017

A Faithful Soul

Maria Dyer was born in 1837 on the mission field in China where her parents were missionaries. Both her parents died when Maria was a little girl, and she was sent back to England to be raised by an uncle. The loss of her parents, however, did not deter her young heart from the importance of sharing the gospel. At age sixteen she, along with her sister, returned to China to work in a girl’s school as a missionary herself. Five years later, she married Hudson Taylor, a man well-known for his life of mission, ministry, faith, and sacrifice.

Hudson and Maria’s work was often criticized—mostly by other Christians. At one point Maria wrote, “As to the harsh judgings of the world, or the more painful misunderstandings of Christian brethren, I generally feel that the best plan is to go on with our work and leave God to vindicate our cause.” Of their nine children, only four survived to adulthood. Maria herself died of cholera when she was just forty-three. But she believed the cause was worthy of the sacrifice. On her grave marker these words were inscribed: “For her to live was Christ, and to die was gain.

Here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church we've been following a series of sermons that walk with the Hebrew people through the desert, as they move towards their promised land. This week we are taking a look at one of their ultimate low points. Moses has gone up the mountain to receive the 10 commandments. (We talked about the commandments in last weeks sermon “Survival Strategies”.)

In their impatience for his return, the people turn to idolatry and create a golden calf. God is not pleased.When I say “not pleased” it appears God is ready to forget the whole mission and find another group of folk to carry out God's purposes. (You can read the story in Exodus 32:1-14.) Luckily for the Hebrews, they have one champion who is not ready to throw in the towel. His name is Moses. It is Moses who intercedes with God, pleads for the peoples salvation, and becomes their advocate.

The people haven't treated Moses with much respect throughout their whole desert journey. It is due to their impatience with him, that they have quickly turned to idols. They have constantly questioned his leadership and complained about his decisions.

Yet Moses is faithful. He knows that the mercy of God was always greater than God's anger. He knows that God's promises were never made in vain. Because of the faithfulness of Moses, the journey continues and moves forward with new hope and purpose.

In the face of criticism or opposition it is easy to become disheartened and fall into unfaithful actions. That was not the way of Maria Dyer or Hudson Taylor. That was not the way of Moses, or of any great spiritual leaders that have blazed a trail of light and become shining examples of faithfulness for us to follow.

We do well to think upon those who demonstrate sacrificial love. It was God’s love for us that sent Jesus into the world to die for our sins, and it is that kind of self giving love that our world needs so greatly today. Let us continue to let our little light shine. It only takes one candle to remove a whole lot of darkness!

For some music... an unexpectedly uplifting performance of the gospel classic “This Little Light of Mine” on “Britain's Got Talent.”

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Survival Strategies

I was out of town last week. But two weeks ago, during our service at Mount Hebron Presbyterian, on our journey though the desert with the Hebrew people, we discovered how God provided for the people manna from heaven and quail meat. (sermon "Bread of Heaven" here). This coming week our sermon series, titled “Wilderness Living,” takes us to a pivotal moment in their pilgrimage. The day God gave to them the ten commandments. (Exodus 20:1-20)

The “Big Ten” have formed a bedrock for morality over centuries and a standard against which moral codes in many different cultures have been evaluated. In today's secular age, there are some who take exception to the specifically religious elements, but even the most irreligious of moralists often come up with similar ideas when it comes to getting along with each other in community.

Killing, telling lies, cheating, stealing and having excessive desire for things that do not belong to us (be that property or people) are things that most everybody agrees are not healthy paths to pursue. Likewise, “Faithfulness” is lifted up as an ideal bedrock for relationships, be that with our families or our life partners.

The distinctly religious aspects of the commandments appear in commands one through four. The first speak of responsibility before God. They basically say that we should make our pursuit of the love of God life's highest priority and should never use our religious beliefs in ways that deny God's love. That seems to be the implication in the summary Jesus offered in the gospels, when He answered a question put to Him about which was the most important commandment. 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment.” (Matthew 22:37-38)

The fourth commandment has to do with Sabbath observance. Over the centuries this has often been interpreted in a legalistic and repressive way. Jesus did not seem to view things quite the same when He told His critics "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27) A more healthy way to view the “Sabbath” commandment is to suggest that we all need “down time” to renew our lives! Any farmer will tell you that the land itself has to be treated with respect or it can no longer produce good things. Taking time out to renew our relationships, with each other, with our world and with our God, is not an optional extra, but a vital component for a healthy life.

The Hebrews were heading towards their promised land. How were they expected to live when they arrived there? On their journey through the desert they showed, time and time again, they certainly needed some guidance. The “Big Ten” offered to them exactly the direction they needed.

As we visit the 10 commandments afresh in our own time, they can continue to be “Survival strategies” for people seeking a healthy and a balanced life. “Keep taking the tablets!”

For some music Kari Jobe sings “The more I seek You.

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Give us this day...

We continue a sermon series at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church that follows the Hebrew people in their journey towards the promised land. We were thinking last week about how God led the people through the Red Sea and into the desert. Our sermon “Turn of the Tide” can be found here.

This week we discover that being in the desert presented its own unique set of problems. Not least of them was finding enough to eat and drink. Such was the scarcity of natural resources that some of the people began to complain against Moses that they would have been better off if they had never left Egypt.

In the model prayer that Jesus teaches His disciples, the Lord's Prayer, we find Him using the phrase “Give us this day our daily bread.” Some commentators point out that the intention behind the phrase “daily bread” is that we ask God to sufficiently supply our needs on a daily basis... not ask God to give us so much material blessing that we don't have to really on God to provide for us anymore!

This idea of “sufficiency” is not often stressed within our culture. We want to take care of ourselves and the idea of “dependence” is not one that we easily embrace. Yet when it comes to spiritual growth, the last thing we need to seek is the kind of independence which creates a gulf between our self and God. For spiritual growth we need to totally rely on God, upon the teaching of Jesus Christ, and the direction of the Holy Spirit. We also need to travel in the company of others to learn with them, and from them, how to be a community of faith.

As they traveled through the wilderness together, the faith of the Hebrew people was deeply challenged. Could God really supply what they needed every day of their life to get them through? Even in the desert? We read the story in Exodus 16:2-15 and discover how God provided... on a daily basis... meat and bread in the form of quails and manna.

When we travel through difficult days it can be tempting to complain, or even look for somebody to blame. None of us are immune from having a “fair weather only” faith. The sad reality is that disasters and tragedy are no respecter of persons or places but a troublesome part of the fabric of all of our lives.

When we face such times, so often, all we have left is a prayer to carry us through. When everything else is stripped away only then is our true reliance and dependence on God revealed. All of which is a way of saying... be thankful for the daily bread we have already received and let us pray that God will continue to supply what we need to face tomorrow... whatever tomorrow may bring!

For some music “Guide Me Oh Thy Great Redeemer” sung in English and Welsh to the tune 'Cwm Rhondda' by the choirs and congregation of Tabernacle Welsh Baptist Church, Cardiff. The hymn and tune are often called “Bread of Heaven” due to a line in the hymn. Often used as the informal anthem of Wales, and sung with great fervor at Welsh rugby matches, this was from the B.B.C. program “Songs of Praise” broadcast on 16th September 2012.

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Turn of The Tide

Last week at Mount Hebron Presbyterian we continued our sermon series on “Wilderness Living.” Our sermon took a look at the celebration of Passover. (Fast Food to Go). This week we look at the topic “Turn of The Tide” basing our thoughts upon Exodus 14:19-31.

I grew up in the United Kingdom near a place called Hilbre Island. Hilbre Island (pictured above) is a wonderful tiny island situated in the middle of the River Dee between the Wirral Peninsular and Wales. Though only a tiny strip of land, it is home to many rare visiting seabirds and a colony of seals.

I have a friend that still lives in the area who often posts pictures on her Facebook page of the wildlife there. It is only accessible, from the Wirral side, by walking across the sands from West Kirby... at low tide. It was not unusual to find stories like the following in our local newspaper;

A terrified couple stranded in the Dee Estuary by a fast rising tide were rescued thanks to the quick thinking of an off-duty lifeguard. The two adults, who were trying to get to Hilbre Island, became stranded as water from an exceptionally high tide surged past their waists. They had been attempting to walk across to the nature hotspot but “misjudged” the incoming spring tide, HM Coastguard said.
An off-duty lifeguard from Wirral beach patrol spotted the pair in trouble and raised the alarm. A spokeswoman for the Coastguard today said that the lifeguard’s actions 'saved their lives'.

I remember from my own days living in that area just how quickly the tide used to come in and how easy it was to find yourself in a tricky situation! It can be a deadly mistake not to pay attention to shifting tides.

At a later date my wife worked in the administrative department of the “Department of Coastal and Estuarine Studies” of the University of Wales. One of the many jobs of the department was producing the annual “Tide Tables” - a booklet that gave the precise times of the incoming and outgoing tides all around the coastline. This was information of vital importance to island explorers, navigators and anybody who made their livelihood from the sea.

These are days when we see great shifting tides of opinion and understanding. Things we once thought of as certainties are now questioned. The role of religion is no longer such a guiding force in many peoples lives. Behavior we once considered strange is now acceptable. For sure, change isn't necessarily a bad thing. Some things need to change!

The Scriptures of the Old and New Testament offer us a form of “Tide-Table” to help us through. Disciplines of corporate worship and personal prayer can help us interpret God's word to our current situation. The tide turns. Always has. Always will.

We are not called to navigate uncharted waters alone. Through community and fellowship, through the “Love of God, the Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the Fellowship of the Holy Spirit”... many believe we can find the direction we seek. May God help us all find the resources we need for the living of these days!

For some music a song by “The Fray”called “Changing Tides.” Though the song is about a romantic relationship it could equally be applied to our journey of discipleship.

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Don't Forget to Chew!


Don’t forget to chew your food. It’s the first part of the digestion process. A digestive enzyme called amylase, which is found in saliva, starts to break down some of the carbohydrates (starches and sugars) in the food even before it leaves the mouth. As you chew, the saliva begins to mix with the food. Saliva not only helps make the food softer and easier to swallow, but it also helps break down the chemicals in the food. It’s a form of chemical digestion.

That may be an unusual way to start this weeks blog. But here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church we are traveling through a sermon series called “Wilderness Living,” and taking a look at the journey the Hebrew people made out of Egypt. Last week we saw the important role Moses had to play in the process. God certainly gave him a lot to chew on! (Our sermon “Holy Ground” can be found here.)

This week we'll be thinking about the Passover meal. While the Passover meal was designed to be eaten “on the go,” it was certainly NOT fast food. There were significant steps that led to it's preparation and the whole experience was designed to be a memorial for all time. Something to chew on, rather than quickly swallowed down. (See Exodus 12:1-14)

This week is also our Sunday School Rally Day, when we kick off a brand new church educational year for our Sunday School. Weather permitting, this Sunday we hope to have an open air service at our beautiful amphitheater and follow it up with a picnic.

The task of Christian Education reminds us that the Holy Scriptures are not soundbites. That we need to take time to chew on God's Word if it is truly going to be a source of energy for our spiritual lives. 

Such is not a message that is particularly popular in our “I want it all and I want it now” culture. But it seems to me, that the best and most memorable things in life, are those that take time to percolate (and as a lover of coffee I know my percolation!)

So don't forget to chew. In digestive terms, you need to chew in order to properly benefit from your food. In spiritual terms you also need to pace yourself. Growth takes time. Learning takes commitment. We can't expect to know all there is to know about God in a few short sound bites. Discipleship is a lifetime journey.

We need not only a healthy diet of prayer, study and worship but also to take our time to digest all that God is seeking to show us. So don't forget to chew!

For some music to chew on... “10,000 Reasons (Bless the Lord)” by Matt Redman.

Rev. Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Wilderness Living


During September and into October, here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, we are pursuing a series of sermons on the theme “Wilderness Living.” This has nothing to do with Lewis and Clarke exploring the Wild West, but rather the journey that Moses led the Hebrew people on as they began an exodus from Egypt and made their way towards their promised land.

The times in which we are living can sometimes seem to be like a wilderness! We can be unsure whose voice to trust and which is the best advice to take. This was a struggle that those earliest Hebrews also faced. There were many voices that competed for their attention. Yet, always, the One they really needed to hear, was the voice of God that offered direction and promised to lead them to a better place.

Last Sunday we were considering the unusual circumstances of the birth of Moses. (Sermon can be found here.) Around him at the time of his birth, were a group of seemingly insignificant ladies. Two midwives called 'Shiprah' and Puah', a bold elder sister called Miriam and a mother called Jochabed, who didn't give up on hope (even as she watched her baby floating downstream in a basket!) Because of their faithful actions, the destiny of Moses was not be a victim of infanticide, but rather to be raised as a prince in Egypt.

This coming week we'll be looking at the experience Moses had of a burning bush (that didn't really burn.) The story is in Exodus 3:1-15. As Moses stood on holy ground he was confronted with a powerful message that convinced him that his life on this earth had a higher purpose and meaning than he could ever have imagined.

Knowing that God calls each of us by name and has a purpose for each of our lives can help us move through wilderness times we face in our personal journeys. Wilderness times come in many forms. Sickness. Bereavement. Loss. Tragedy. Suffering. Our life circumstances can change in an instant and things we thought would last for ever have a habit of not being eternal after all.

God promises to walk with us through the wilderness times. It can be hard to discern God's voice among all the others, yet we do have the testimony of Scripture to guide us. We have the example of Jesus Christ to inspire us and the power of God's Holy Spirit to empower us. Through prayer and worship of God... we can make it through.

Such are some of the lessons we hope to discover as we travel through our series on “Wilderness Living.” Let's face it... we need all the help we can get for the living of these days!

For some music... a Holy Ground medley!

Rev. Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Away Days

 
It's summer time. A lot of us are traveling. During worship this past Sunday we had a number of folk away while a number others were visitors to our area who joined us for worship. Our sermon from the day, about “Jacob's Wives” can be found here.

Researchers at Harvard Medical School and the University of California, San Francisco recently researched “The Vacation Effect.” Using a large sample group of everyday folk, measurements were taken before and immediately after a one-week vacation, as well as one month and ten months afterwards. Results showed that after a week away from their daily grind, everyone reported lower stress, better mood, and greater awareness and vitality.

The “vacation effect” was strong, immediate, and even lasted for up to one month. Participants also showed changes in gene activity related to decreased stress response and better immune function. Their verdict was that days spent away from our usual routine help us both mentally and physically to function better and enrich our lives in unexpected ways.

As a pastor I'm also aware that time out of our normal routine is an important part of our spiritual health. Many times in the gospel accounts we observe Jesus taking time out to be alone and find moments of refreshment in the midst of doing ministry. The earliest church was strong on the idea of pilgrimage... of taking time out to travel and explore sites that were of significance to faith.

It is a good thing to take time to connect with our wider families, to seek refreshment, and in the midst of doing that, often reconnect with ourselves. As Christian people we do so in the context of our life in Christ. One of the few stories we have of the early life of Jesus is that of His family making their annual trip to Jerusalem.

It seems to have been very much a family occasion, which functioned as a vacation as much as it did a pilgrimage. It appears Jesus was able to escape to the temple without anybody missing Him for a while, such was the casual and relaxed nature of the journey. The story reminds me of trips I have taken with extended family and close friends where the kids go off and do their own things, the younger adults find their own space and the older folk spend a lot of time just catching up and sharing stories!

All of which is a precursor to saying that I am personally going to be taking a few days away to reconnect with immediate family this month... so there won't be a pastors blog for a couple of weeks. I hope that in your situation there will be moments when you can find refreshment, either by welcoming visitors or traveling to be with others.

Some suggest that if we are not in a position to physically get away we create our own our own “mini-vacations.” That we, for a few days, totally change our routine. Turn off the TV and other electronic devices. Eat food we don't normally have on our menu. Don't set the alarm clock (or set it to a different time). Lose our self in a book, or in painting a picture or by doing some project that we would otherwise never attempt. Such changes in our routine can have a similar effect to actually getting away!

Wherever the next weeks find you, and whatever you may be doing, I'd encourage you to allow your faith to be a part of it. We may well need a break from our work, our routine, (or even our local church) but we don't need a vacation from the love of God!

For some music, an oldie from British singer Cliff Richard “Summer Holiday.

Rev. Adrian J. Pratt.

Monday, July 17, 2017

T.Y.C.

This week at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church we are holding our Vacation Bible School program. We are having a lot of crazy fun! A preparatory sermon as we headed into the week, all about a lady called Abigail, can be found here.

Next week I'm leaving town. A number of our youth and myself are traveling to Schellsburg, PA, to participate in the Trinity Youth Conference. The mission of “T.Y.C.” as it is usually known, is to provide a Christian conference experience for senior high youth and college-age young adults.

The conference seeks to provide leadership training, as well as to help the participants grow in faith and in service to Jesus Christ by focusing on spiritual and leadership development, discipleship, and evangelism. The mission of T.Y.C. is accomplished through daily worship, small group activities, and numerous workshops with a range of topics that are centered on a different theme each year. This years theme is “Do Not Be Afraid!”

A typical day at T.Y.C. begins with morning watch, a devotional time for thought and prayer before breakfast. After breakfast some warm up songs are usually shared before folk head off to participate in two morning workshops. I have a particular responsibility in leading one of the workshops. An important role will also be played by one of our own youth, who is a member of the planning team for the conference.

Much of the afternoon is spent in small groups known as 'Heads Together' (or just H.T.) where people get a chance to know each other and discuss how the week is going. The groups are led by youth from the planning team. Whilst the groups follow a pre-prepared syllabus there is also a lot of flexibility so each H.T. takes on a life of it's own! Afternoon free time offers a chance to participate in games, hang out or take a nap.

Each evening an all-camp activity takes place. An all-over-camp game, a song night, and Talent show feature as part of the week. Central to the evenings is a time of worship, the preacher this year being K.J. Bee, a former workshop leader and all round awesome lady from a Native American background. Much singing, under the leadership of Erin Adams, contemporary worship leader at Chambersburg Presbyterian Church in Pennsylvania, will also be an important part of worship.

Wednesday afternoon we'll all head out to Shawnee Lake where swimming and volley ball are among the attractions to enjoy. A picnic is followed by an outdoor worship service among some beautiful scenery. (see the picture at the top of this post!)

After attending for a number of years one of the participants wrote the following. “T.Y.C. is a place where God can be felt, and where for the first time in my life I had the justified feeling that He is "real." This feeling has carried on with me for seven years, getting me through some tough times that I never could have made it through alone. I give full credit to T.Y.C. for who I am today and where I am today, because it opened up my heart, strengthened my relationship with God, and showed me how to allow myself to feel ALL of His love.

It is truly a privilege to be involved in a conference that is profoundly impacting the lives of young people today. I'm certainly hoping that this years conference will be as equally inspiring and encouraging as it has on previous occasions!

For some music... a recording from T.Y.C worship from a few years back. “Hallelujah!”

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Vacation Bible School - Hero Central


Last week we took a look at the providential story of Isaac finding a wife. Our sermon can be found here. But now... it's that time of year again! Churches throughout the area are hosting their annual Vacation Bible School programs and Mount Hebron is no exception. This years program is titled “Hero Central.”

Alongside Jesus, we'll be taking a look at well known biblical characters such as David, Peter and Paul. One lesser known heroic figure who makes an appearance will be “Abigail.” As most of us are not as familiar with the story of Abigail as some of the others, our pre-VBS service will be taking a look at her life.

Abigail is the wife of a wealthy land owner called Nabal. When working away from home, some of Nabal's workers are protected by a “soon-to-be king” guy called David. However, when David's men end up in Nabal's backyard, he is not so keen to offer them any hospitality, an action that makes young David extremely angry and he is about to attack Nabal's lands and wreak havoc upon the people.

And so that might have been... were it not for the wisdom and intervention of Abigail, who flouts custom, goes against the wishes of her mean minded husband Nabal, and intervenes in a way that saves her people. Things also turn out pretty well for her in the end. You can read the story for yourself in 1 Samuel 2:2-42.

As I consider Abigail's story I think about how my own life has been surrounded by many “Heroes” of faith. I recall friends, who, when as a teenager I was rebelling against just about anything I could think of rebelling against, never gave up on trying to persuade me to try church instead. I remember those who were a shining example of common sense and faith, and proved to be influential mentors for my personal journey.

I recall those teachers and pastors, who when I felt a call to ministry, not only encouraged me, but also cautioned me, to consider what I was taking on. Their personal stories and many prayers led me to a place where I could be sure that this was something I was being called to pursue.

I think of those who throughout my ministry have offered gifts of hospitality, generosity, and prayer that have kept me moving forward. I have a special place in my heart for those who recognized times I was truly struggling and have been there to listen and offer support. (Not least my wonderful wife!)

I'm sure as you look back on your own life you can find many “Heroes” who have helped you become who you are today. They may not be biblical characters. They are more likely to be families and friends. But heroes they are, nevertheless. So thank God for them!

And as faith communities around the globe engage in vacation education events, be they mission trips, V.B.S. or summer camp, so many of us have the opportunity to be a role model and mentor to others. We may not be heroes... but we can be faithful. May God help us to be channels of God's love to those we seek to serve. As our V.B.S. theme declares..“Hero Central – Discover your Strength in God!”

For some music, a song we'll be learning both in our upcoming pre-VBS service and during the week... Everlasting God, by Chris Tomlin.

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, July 3, 2017

A Wife for Isaac

Last week here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian we continued our series of “Patriarchal Ponderings” and considered the account of Abraham being prepared to sacrifice his son Isaac. Our sermon from the day can be found here.

We move into less threatening territory this week … with an account of a search for a wife for Isaac. It's a long passage, that takes up the whole of Genesis chapter 24.

While there are many different aspects to the account, one thing that always strikes me, is that so much is dependent on the faith of a servant of Abraham who is never named. Throughout the whole chapter he is simply called “the servant.

We discover a lot about the character of “the servant.” Early on in the chapter he is described as being a “senior servant in Abraham's household, the one in charge of all that he had.” (Genesis 24:2) In sending him off on his task to find a wife for Isaac, Abraham is committing his future into the hands of a man who was already taking good care of his everyday affairs.

The task begins with a solemn moment when Abraham takes the servant entirely into his confidence and has him swear an oath that he will do the right thing. The servant has many questions. “What if I find someone and they won't come back with me? What will I do with Isaac if no wife can be found?”
Abraham appears to suggest that such questions were irrelevant. He ensures the servant that God is with them and that they needed to trust God to fulfill God's purposes.

It can be quite a scary thing to have people place their trust in you. I do not envy this servants position nor would I like to have to take on his task. Where did he start? Where should he go? How would he know he had found the right person to be a wonderful wife for his masters son?

It quickly becomes clear that this servant is a man of prayer. Throughout the story, the servant is constantly seeking God as his guide. Indeed, you have the impression that without God's guidance, he hasn't got a hope of completing the task.

As the incidents unfold we see that God is guiding him in specific ways. Always there is room for things to go wrong, but … as the servant keeps on trusting... the unexpected keeps occurring. I recall one person telling me that, when they prayed about their life journey, coincidences kept happening. Such seems to mirror the experience of this servant.

And the outcome is that a wife is found for Isaac. A wife who fills him with delight and is delighted to be his partner. But what about the servant?

We never do find out his name or know what his future holds. His life is a testament to the many faithful people who surround our lives. Unnamed folk, who by their prayers and diligence to duty and commitment to doing the right thing ensure that life keeps moving in positive directions.

For some music, a gentle song called “Lead Me Lord” (by Aiza Seguerra). I imagine that prayerful words, such as these, were in the mind of the unnamed servant of Abraham.

Let us take some time today to thank God for all the unnamed people who have blessed our lives!

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.