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

Monday, April 24, 2017

Power in the Blood

 
I have no problem admitting that I am squeamish. The dictionary definition of squeamish is “Easily made to feel, faint, or uncomfortable, especially by unpleasant images, such as the sight of blood.”

I am grateful that when Scripture talks about the crucifixion of Jesus it does so with muted sadness, rather than through the technicolor nightmare of Mel Gibson's “The Passion.”

That's not to say I am unaware or unappreciative of the horror Christ went through upon the Cross. But I really don't need to see in graphic detail what happens to victims of horrendous acts of violence to understand their intensity.

When I began to attend church, talk about the “blood of Jesus” made me feel extremely uncomfortable. As I learned about the Old Testament and of sacrifices and offerings it did not offer me any “warm fuzzy feelings” towards God. Rather it caused me to question what kind of divine being could God be, if he was so angry that his wrath could only be quenched by the blood of innocent victims. Such sounded more like the script of a low budget horror movie than an uplifting spiritual truth.

I never managed to make the connection between “blood” and “sin.” I considered “Sin” to be a rather frivolous notion. As though our wrongdoing was something we should treat lightly, because we're all “Only human.” We all make mistakes. We all mess up. As long as we can get along then that's O.K. Right? Not so much. Scripture tells us “The payoff of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23 NET).

The “power in the blood” of the sacrificial system was that people could not ignore the fact that sin was a terrible thing. That our wrongdoing and selfishness always carried a toll. Sin was and is a killer. A destroyer.

When you took an offering to the priest it was a horrible, visible reminder... a bloody mess that no longer had the breath of life in it... and you could not ignore the message that the consequence of sin was that not only that our own life suffered the consequence, but we ruined things for everybody.

Those offerings were not to placate an angry God. They were to demonstrate to us how seriously messed up we are when we act on the interests of our lowest nature. Sin is not something to be joked about at parties, but a terrible malfunction of the human condition that is distressing, demeaning and destroying.

An old hymn declares “There is wonder working power in the blood of the lamb.” Such a strange, yet totally biblical image, can help us understand that our actions always have consequences. Sin is never a thing to take lightly. 1 John 1:7 declares “The blood of Jesus Christ cleanses you from every sin.

As we look to the Cross we see what sin... sin like ours... can accomplish. It's tempting to turn away and plead innocence. Instead on the Cross, Jesus shows us what love can accomplish, and pleads for us; “Forgive them Father, they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34). Oh yes... there is power in the blood!

This week at Mount Hebron Presbyterian we continue a series on Peter's first letter. Last week we were thinking about faith as being “Precious Gold”(sermon here). This week we focus on 1 Peter 1:17-23 and the theme “"Precious Blood." It would be remiss of me not to provide a link to the previously mentioned gospel song. So here for the squeamish and not so squeamish... the Tommy Coomes band offer a spirited rendition of the gospel classic: “There Is Power In The Blood.”

Rev Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Low Sunday and Gold

 

The Sunday after Easter is traditionally known as “Low Sunday.” Some have commented that this is maybe due to it attracting very low attendance! That may be so, but the tradition actually seems to have come from the fact that Easter Sunday is “High Sunday”... the Sunday of all Sundays and the biggest celebration of the Christian Year. An Easter sermon titled “Our Amazing Day” can be found here.

After all the pageantry and celebration of Easter, the proclaiming of resurrection, the uplifting music, the signs of spring, it is inevitable that as life returns to “normal' that there would be a sense of anticlimax. Hence “Low Sunday.” In the liturgical calendar the Sundays after Easter are declared as “Easter 2”, “Easter 3” and so on... all the way through to Pentecost Sunday. So... in theory at least, every Sunday is a “Little Easter.”

One of the first disciples to come to a belief in the resurrection was Peter. Peter plays an important role in the whole drama of Easter. He sits with Jesus at the last supper. He is with Jesus when He is arrested. His denies ever having known Jesus and hears the cock crow three times. Following the resurrection, Peter is challenged, three times, by Jesus, “Do you love me?” On the day of Pentecost Peter is the first to stand up and begin preaching a gospel about the forgiveness and love of Jesus. Peter becomes the leader of the Christian community in Jerusalem.

There are two books in the New Testament that bear Peter's name. In our Sundays following Easter and journeying towards Pentecost, here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church we'll be taking a look at some of the passages contained in his first letter.

First Peter addresses a Christian community that faced considerable trials. He calls them to embrace a close relationship with God and live in a way that demonstrated God's faithfulness. He sees Christian people as people chosen by God to live in obedience to Jesus Christ and so reveal God's love for all the world. This they are not to do in isolation, but within a community defined by their openness to the empowering and leading of God's Holy Spirit.

In verse 7 of chapter One Peter speaks about faith, being more precious than gold.” Such a faith will enrich their good times and enable them to travel through the hard times. He never suggests that life as a Christian is meant to be easy. In his own journey of discipleship Peter had experienced both high times and low times. Though Jesus described him as having a rock like faith upon which His church would be built, Peter knew what it was to travel a rocky road!

At the end of the day, the journey was worth it. The love he had discovered in Jesus Christ truly was worth more than gold. Let us pray that in our own faith journeys that we reach a place where we make a similar discovery.

For some music “More Precious Than Silver” performed by Leann Albrecht; written by Lynn Deshazo

Rev. Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Resurrection Matters

 
Last week here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, through a series of hymns, readings and meditations, we followed the journey of Jesus from His entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday to the Cross of Calvary. Some of our thoughts can be found here

This week we have a Maundy Thursday communion at 7:00 pm in the Sanctuary, then on Easter Sunday, a sunrise celebration at our wonderful amphitheater at 6:30 a.m. At 10:00 a.m. we have planned a worship service filled with great music and positive vibes. If you are in the area you would be very welcome to join us for any of these occasions.

Easter Sunday is of such tremendous significance to the Christian Church. St Paul writes to the Corinthians; If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have died in Christ have perished. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.” (1 Corinthians 15:17-19)

Do you hear what he is saying to Christian people? If Christ has not been raised, then the grace of God is null and void. Your forgiveness depends on Christ's victory over sin and death. If Christ has not been raised then you should forget any heavenly thoughts. If Christ has not been raised then you are living a delusion. You might as well just grit your teeth and struggle through another day, because tomorrow you die. If Christ has not been raised you are, of all people, most to be pitied.

The Easter hope hangs on 1 Corinthians 15:20 “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead.” I was struck by a quote by church historian Jaroslav Pelikan (1923-2006). Among the last words he spoke were these: “If Christ is risen, nothing else matters. And if Christ is not risen – nothing else matters.”

The resurrection is a complete game changer. The resurrection bathes every day we live in the light of God's love. The PC(USA) brief statement of faith begins with the words; “In life and death we belong to God, through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit”. The resurrection seals our identity as children of God.

Ever heard the comment that church people can be “So heavenly minded as to be of no earthly use?” Consider this. Some of the Christian folk who have wrought the greatest changes in society were those who believed, wholeheartedly, in resurrection.

Martin Luther and John Calvin re-formed a church that had lost her way. William Wilberforce and John Newton started a movement that dismantled the slave trade. Martin Luther King Jr. tried to teach us to be color blind. Mother Teresa, through her work in the slums of Calcutta, reminded us that all people, regardless of race, color or creed, deserve to live and die with dignity.

What do these folk, along with Christian reformers, saints, martyrs and ordinary every day believers, all have in a common? A belief that Christ is Risen :- “HE IS RISEN INDEED!” Such is the faith that the church will declare to all creation this Easter Sunday.

May you discover that God's grace, hope, love and blessing are with you during these days of Easter.

For some music, a classic Easter Hymn... “Thine Be the Glory!

Rev. Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Fickle Folk - Like Us


Fickle Folk – Like Us!

Last weekend here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church our Lenten journey led us to reflect on the raising of Lazarus. A sermon titled “Life Stinks” can be found here. This weekend is Palm Sunday/Passion Sunday. During our service we will be following the account in Matthews gospel of how the shouts of “Hosanna” that welcomed Jesus turned to shouts of “Crucify” which led to His death.

It is one of the mysteries of human nature how, in a short space of time, we can shift from being totally in favor of something, to being totally opposed to something. Today's celebrity is tomorrow's pariah. Be it music, politics, sports, religion... or a thousand other things, it seems one moment we are piping hot and next we are stone cold!

According to the Mirriam-Webster dictionary “fickle” means to be “marked by lack of steadfastness, constancy, or stability : given to erratic changeableness.” The account of what happened from Palm Sunday to Good Friday reminds us that we are indeed fickle folk, peculiar people and as changeable as the wind!

Jesus appears to blessed with a high degree of un-fickleness! From the moment He decides to enter Jerusalem He seems completely in control. He is not impressed by the welcome of the crowds. He challenges the hypocrisy of the traders in the temple. He sees through the pretensions of the religious folk. He chooses, in the midst of political interrogation, when to speak and when to be silent. Though it appears to be chaos all around Him, He is not phased!

Could it be that, if we were more focused on our relationship with God, we would find a way to be less fickle? Could it be that if we allowed ourselves more time to reflect on God's care, we would no longer be as changeable as the wind?

We are fickle folk. But we don't have to allow our fickleness to define our character. The opposite of being fickle is being steadfast. A dictionary definition of steadfast is to be; “Firm in faith.” Such comes to us only through practicing regular disciplines of prayer, worship and service. We find these words in Psalm 51:1Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.

Easter week offers a wonderful opportunity to focus on the great drama of crucifixion and resurrection. Every time we make this journey we discover new aspects to the story and new insights about ourselves. May your personal Easter journey be one that builds your faith and brings blessings for days to come.

For a musical interlude, one of the great passion hymns "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross"... a totally over the top production by a Nordic choir during an 'Hour of Power" broadcast.

Rev Adrian J. Pratt B.D.