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

Monday, March 27, 2017

The Dry Bones

Last week at Mount Hebron Presbyterian we talked about a guy called Bob. Our sermon can be found here. The readings for this upcoming Sunday reflect the theme of resurrection. We'll be looking at two of them in our worship service; Ezekiel37:1-10 (the prophets vision of a valley of dry bones) and Jesus raising Lazarus from the tomb; John 11:1-45.

Both readings anticipate the coming of Easter Sunday, and provide a welcome reflection on 'life' before we reach Holy Week and reflect on 'Hosannas turning to shouts of Crucify', betrayals around a supper table, denials, torture, crucifixion and death.

At the start of the Ezekiel reading, the prophet writes 'He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” I said, “Sovereign Lord, You alone know.' This question about the possibility of life returning to what seemed to be over and done with has a striking relevance for those of us who are involved in the life of traditional denominations. We know our glory days are in the past. We witness churches closing, congregations struggling to maintain their life and society becoming increasingly secular.

It is tempting in the light of decline to play the blame game. Bad communication. Shallow values. Clergy infidelity. Irrelevance. We can seek for scapegoats if we so desire. Blame the denomination. Blame the pastor. Blame the elders. Blame the people. Yet the larger question is one about spirituality. There are many, many folk who are actively pursuing their own spiritual journeys without reference to the particular path taken by traditional denominations.

The challenge for so many churches is to find places where they can connect with peoples needs and offer a helping hand to all seeking a way through the crazy challenges life throws at us. Yet, as we are in decline, it is so hard not to become focused on our own needs and think simply about keeping the doors open and paying the bills!.

Ezekiel's perspective is a timely vision. It offers hope to people within and without the church. It talks about questions faced by all. 'Will my life thrive? Will everything be OK? Where does our future lie? Can something good come out of the dry bones of our existence?' Ezekiel's initial observation? “Sovereign Lord, You alone know." In his own way he declares “God knows!”

Some say“God knows” as a cry of despair. For Ezekiel “God knows” is a proclamation of hope. There is a hymn by William Floyd containing the lines, "My times are in Thy hand; whatever they may be; pleasing or painful, dark or bright, as best may seem to Thee."

This attitude of quiet resignation, far from being defeatist, actually seems to be at the core of authentic faith. We don't know what the future holds, but we can trust that there will be one... and God will be a part of it, no matter what.

Of course we hope that the dry bones will take flesh and live. In the church calendar we have not yet reached Easter. As stated earlier, there are terrible things to face before the Easter dawn arrives. The theme seems to be that, although there are days when life stinks, we are called to persist with the thought that, when life is in God's hands, things can always get better! Because that's just how it turned out for Ezekiel and Lazarus!

For some music, a song I may have posted before but enjoy revisiting. This version is firmly in the Southern gospel tradition and features one of the groups who in their day defined that particular genre; the Cathedrals Quartet sing "Dry Bones".

Rev. Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Do You See What I See?

Do you See what I See?

As we travel through Lent here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian, we are considering passages from the Gospel of John. Last weeks sermon, “My Reality Check just Bounced” can be found here.  John delights in opposites. Light and Darkness. Good and Evil. Love and Hate. Truth and Lies. Yet scattered throughout the narrative are many stories where all is not as it may seem. As an example consider our lectionary passage for this coming Sunday, John 9:1-41 “The Healing of a Man who was born blind.”

At the start of the account the disciples come to Jesus with a question about sickness. From somewhere they have received the idea that if a person is suffering, they must have done something wrong. They ask Jesus, about the man who was born blind. “Who sinned? Him or his parents?” It's the Sabbath day. Jesus picks up some mud, rubs it in the mans eyes and tells him to go wash himself in a pool called Siloam. Everybody is astonished when his sight returns. “This mans sight,” explained Jesus “Had nothing to do with anybody sinning!”

The Pharisees learn about what has happened. They are not pleased. Why? Because Jesus had broken the Sabbath. Who sinned? In their eyes, Jesus sinned. He just wouldn't play by their rules. They do everything they can to prove that the whole thing is fake news. They question the man. They question his parents. They tie themselves in knots trying to come up with alternative explanations as to what really happened. They do anything but acknowledge that Jesus had healed the man.

The man who has been healed explains clearly and simply what had happened to him. He ends up being accused of being a sinner and thrown out of the temple. The Pharisees could see it all. Jesus was a sinner. The man was a sinner. His parents were sinners. In fact everybody, but themselves, were sinners. So it couldn't have happened. As for the facts? Well they would be adjusted accordingly.

A while later Jesus meets the man on the road. He explains who He is and the man declares himself a believer. He tells the man, “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind." (John 9:39 ). Some of the Pharisees overhear the conversation. Again, they just don't get it. They are sure that when Jesus is speaking about people who can't see, that does not apply to religious leaders. The sting in the tale is Jesus telling them; "If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains.” (John 9:41)

As stated earlier, John delights in opposites. The chapter begins with disciples suggesting the man was afflicted by sin and this was the cause of his blindness. Jesus muddies the waters. Not only does He claim that sin was nothing to do with the man's situation, He then goes and does something the religious authorities suggested was a sin... healing on the Sabbath.

By the end of the story you realize that the ones truly blinded by sin... were the Pharisees. Everything has turned around. We should turn the story around on ourselves. So often we are the ones making the presumptions and believing that we really know what's going on. It's complicated. Jesus begins by telling us that sin didn't cause physical blindness. Yet by the end of the story we see that it could cause spiritual blindness.

Let us pray that God will open the eyes of our hearts and help us to see our lives in the light of His love and peace. Such will always offer us a fresh perspective! And there just happens to be a song on that very theme... “Open the eyes of my heart, Lord” (Hillsong)

Rev Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Well Woman

Here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Presbyterian, as we travel through Lent we are looking at passages mostly from the Gospel of John. Last week we heard of Jesus telling Nicodemus that he needed to be “Born Again.” Our sermon can be found here.

This week, John 4:5-26, which gives us an account of an encounter between Jesus and a woman at a well in Samaria. The woman is revealed as having a life very different to that of Jesus. Jesus was of the Jewish faith, she was a Samaritan. The two religions disagreed over details of their religion. Such as if God should be worshiped in the temple in Jerusalem, or on a mountain that was sacred to the Samaritan people.

Jesus is at the well by choice. He has sent His disciples into town to get food. The text tells us, it was noon, He was tired, and He was taking a rest. The woman is there by necessity. She needed water. In fact when Jesus talks to her about water that never ran out, she is anxious to find out more. She was having a difficult time meeting her needs.

Jesus is male, single and free to do whatever He decides. She is in a life that is determined by her ability to connect with males. She has had five husbands and the person she was relying on for support wasn't even her husband.

Jesus had around Him folk who admired Him, wished to hear what He had to offer and, though His actions often confounded them, treated Him with respect. The woman was at the well in the noonday heat because that was a time when other people were not around. She did not have a life that others seemed to respect.

The woman is extremely surprised when Jesus engages her in conversation. "You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?" (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)” Her surprise increases as He reveals to her that her circumstances (which she presumably hid from others) were known to Him.

Though Jews and Samaritans differed in some things, they shared a belief that God would one day send a Messiah to bring salvation. The fact that He knew all about her, leads her to believe that, when Jesus said He was the Messiah, He was telling the truth.

If you read what happens later in the chapter you see that the woman tells anybody who would listen what has taken place. Jesus ends up staying in town for a couple of days, teaching the Samaritans about the way God could work in their lives. Presumably He shared the insights with them that He shared with the woman.

That God was not confined to either temples or mountains. God was Spirit. The way to worship God was through living lives that embraced truth. God knew all about their circumstances and they could trust in God to guide them. God's Spirit was like living water that could satisfy their deepest needs.

As people we are all very different. We have different restrictions and different opportunities. Some of us have names everybody knows. Some of us have names only God knows. Salvation is about wholeness. About wellness. About being known. About trusting that the God who knows all about us really can guide us. The woman by the well encountered Jesus and became a well woman.

God's love can also make us whole. For some music, Casting Crowns sing “The Well.”

Rev Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, March 6, 2017

The Work of the Holy Spirit

Here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, on many Sundays throughout the year we draw upon passages from the Revised Common Lectionary to guide our thoughts. Last weeks sermon, on Temptation, can be found here. Throughout Lent, while the first Sunday gave us a reading from Matthew, the remaining Sundays direct us to passages from the Gospel of John.

John is the most philosophical of the gospels. He likes to use images of light, and water and birth to speak of the Christian discipleship. He is also the writer who gives us a statement that has been described as “The gospel in one verse,” namely John 3:16; For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

That verse is given to us following a conversation that Jesus has with a teacher from among the Pharisee's called Nicodemus. He has heard about Jesus. He comes to visit Jesus one dark night to try and cast some light on the questions that were going though his mind. He seems to recognize that there was something unique about Jesus.

Jesus... sort of... answers him. He tells Nicodemus that nobody could see the kingdom of God without being born from above (or “born again”.) The terminology that Jesus uses initially confuses Nicodemus. He responds by asking how it was possible that a person could be reborn. He states that he was now advanced in years and you couldn't just get back in the womb and start over again!

Jesus explains that He was talking about spiritual rebirth. He contrasts the waters of physical birth with the action of God's Holy Spirit. The work of God's Spirit was much harder to explain than a physical birth. Ever tried to catch the wind? The work of the Holy Spirit, like the wind, was something you could not physically see, but you could know it was real, because you could feel the effect.

This verse challenges us to believe that the work of God is never finished in our lives. Nicodemus is skeptical. His days of youthful innocence had passed.. He'd seen a lot of things. He was wise in the ways of the world. Wise enough to come seeking Jesus in the night, when those who would question his actions weren't around. Surely the possibility of starting over was completely out of the question.

But, according to Jesus, the work of the Spirit was like the wind. The wind never stops blowing. You don't know how, when or where. We've all experienced how, even on a calm day, the wind can just arrive. Unexpectedly. As if out of nowhere. Suddenly the tress are swaying. The wind chimes are chiming. The breeze feels good on our face. Other times it drives us indoors to shelter. Unpredictable and not under our control.

Jesus invites us to be open to possibility. Be ready for the Spirit to act. No matter what stage of life we are at. No matter where we are on our discipleship journey. There's always more to learn. More to see. More to experience of the love of God.

It is when we forget that every day is a new day … when the wind could blow... that we start to perish. We lose our focus. Eternity becomes an empty dream rather than a defining reality. Which brings us to that 3:16 verse again. “God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” May today be a day when you feel the breeze of God's love!

For some music... a favorite Holy Spirit hymn of mine from our blue hymnbook, “Spirit, Spirit of gentleness.” (James K. Manley.) This version is from St. Andrew´s Evangelical Lutheran Church. I'm used to singing it at a faster pace, but it is good to pull back and digest the words. Relax. Let the wind blow! That way it becomes more of a prayer and meditation, rather than just a favorite hymn. Great words.

Rev Adrian J. Pratt B.D.