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

Monday, June 26, 2017

Mount Moriah - Thy Will Be Done

  Last week here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian we began a series of “Patriarchal Ponderings”... sermons reflecting on some of the Old Testament passages surrounding the life of Abraham. Here is our message from Sunday featuring, among other folk, Hagar and Ishmael.

I admit to enjoying these Old Testament stories of family conflict and rivalry. They seem to ring so true to contemporary life and are mirrored in every age. From the rivalry of Emperors of Rome, to the struggle of European monarchies, from Popes to Reformers, maybe even in the conflicts of Republicans and Democrats, there are those underlying structures of family and power.

Then in our own lives are our personal struggles. None of us are exempt from them. Even St. Paul writes;
“I don't do the good things I want to do. I keep on doing the evil things I don't want to do.” (Romans 7:19.) The singer/songwriter Garth Brooks comments, “The greatest conflicts are not between two people, but between one person and himself.”

This week we have the account of events at Mount Moriah, the place where Abraham felt called to sacrifice his son Isaac as an act of obedience to God. It is a dreadful act to contemplate. The whole idea of child sacrifice is simply horrific – though sadly not unknown in ancient religion. In order to gain insight, we have to take a deep breath, move on, and remember this was a different culture and a different time.

To me the story raises the question “Why would anybody sacrifice their most heartfelt dreams and hopes as an offering to God?” We all have things that we want for our lives. We all have ambitions and dreams. But it is an an uncomfortable truth that our personal dreams and ambitions can take precedence over what God's will might be for our lives.

Next week the nation will be celebrating Independence Day. We like to think we are self made people who shape our own destiny. This story invites us to place God's will for our lives, over and above our own desires, even if it means laying our personal aspirations and desires aside on an altar of dedication to God.

It was through Isaac that all Abraham's hopes and dreams were destined to come to pass. God seems to say, “Abraham... let that idea go! Stop thinking that now you have everything in place you can live independent of my love and direction.” The story is often spoken of as a “Test of Faith.” If so, it is a test that Abraham passes with flying colors. Isaac is not sacrificed. An angel intervenes and Isaac becomes more cherished than ever.

So a question I challenge myself when reading this passage is, “Are there dreams or aspirations in my own life that are more important to me than seeking God's will?” It may be that we have to sacrifice such hopes and dreams before God, before God can truly use them. At last that seems to be what happened with Abraham!

For some music a reflection upon the words “Thy Will be Done” by Hillary Scott. My prayer for today is simple; “Lord, help me find my way in Your way! Amen.

Rev Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Patriarchal Percolation

This past Sunday at Mount Hebron Presbyterian church we celebrated our Scottish heritage. A sermon, reflecting on the life of great Scotsman Alexander Cruden's, can be found here.

Over the summer months, during our times of worship, I'll be taking a look at the lives of some of the Old Testament characters often called “The Patriarchs.” I'm thinking of characters like Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. I won't be focusing just on their lives, but also how their decisions affected the people around them, such as Sarah and Hagar, Leah and Rachel.

Those Old Testament stories could give a modern soap opera a run for their money. Family disputes. Betrayals. Unfaithfulness. Startling discoveries and recoveries. It's all the stuff great drama is made of!

This Sunday we'll be reading Genesis 21:8-21, and seeing how the decisions of Abraham had unexpected consequences for those who were closest to him. You maybe recall how Abraham, impatient at his wife Sarah's inability to bear a child, instead takes Hagar as a surrogate mother and Ishmael is born.

All is well... until Sarah does have a child... and then an unholy row erupts between Sarah and Hagar. Hagar and Ishmael end up being sent away to an uncertain future in the desert. Amazingly... God abandons neither Abraham and Sarah, or Hagar and Ismael, and both are promised a future, just as long as they keep trusting in God.

Of course … it's that “Trusting in God” that is the hard part. It is Abraham's NOT trusting in God, and thinking he could do better taking things into his own hands, that causes a lot of the trouble in the first place.

All of which reminds us that “Trusting in God” is never the easiest, or even the most obvious course of action that springs to our minds, whenever we think about where our lives may be heading. It is easy to dismiss the simple truth that God knows better than we do how our lives should be lived.

Through reading God's Word, through prayer, and through opening our hearts to God, in times of both private and corporate worship, we allow God's love and God's guidance to percolate into our hearts and lives.

As a coffee lover, I use that word “percolate” quite deliberately! The dictionary definition is that “to percolate” means to to “become active, lively, or spirited, to show activity, movement, or life; to grow or spread gradually; to germinate.” Such well describes the action of God's Holy Spirit upon our lives when we take the time to open them to God's influence.

It is that influence that offers the ability to trust in God. It is a gift to be received and a grace to be accepted. My hope is that, as we take a look at some of the great characters of the Old Testament, we discover truths we can apply to our own lives. Who knows? A little “Patriarchal Percolating” might turn out to be just the pick-up we all need for the living of these days.

For a musical reflection, grab a cup of coffee (or other beverage of your choice) and reflect on Lauren Daigle singing “Trust In You.”

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Scottish Sunday

Last week at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church we celebrated Trinity Sunday by taking a look at the closing verses of Matthews Gospel that speak about taking the gospel to all the world in the name of “Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” The sermon “Matthew's vision for the Church” can be found here.

This coming Sunday, at 10:00 am, we plan to meet outdoors in our beautiful amphitheater and celebrate our Presbyterian Scottish heritage. Some folks will be dusting off their kilts. We will be using liturgy and music from the Scottish Presbyterian tradition. We will have a piper to help us celebrate. During sermon time I'll be reflecting on a parable about a judge, a nagging woman and a Scottish genius known for his “Appalling Persistence.”

One thing I won't be doing is reading or preaching in the dialect known as “Braid Scots.” I have in my study a book, published in 1910, containing collection of sermons by Rev. D. Gibb Mitchell. It includes portions of scripture in a “Braid Scot” translation. See if you can recognize this particular passage. (This may well stretch your vocal abilities if you read it loud.)

Jesus said, forby, a particular man had twa sons. And the younger loon said to his faither, “Faither! Gie me the portion o' the property that fa's to me.” And he potioned oot the estate for them. And no land efter, the youing callant gaithered thegither a' he had, an gaed awa to a far lan'; an' there squandered his siller in wild ploys.”

If you need a translation, take a look at Luke 15:11-13 in your own preferred Bible version. Hopefully you will recognize the passage as the beginning of a parable Jesus told about a prodigal son who left home and squandered his father's fortune. In “Braid Scots” he is described as “The Ne-er-do-weel.”

The return of “Ne-er-do-weels” to the love of the Father's home is a story that we celebrate when we sing John Newtons hymn “Amazing Grace,” a favorite of pipers across the globe. The well known tune provides a fitting backdrop to a hymn that is all about the grace of God that welcomes us all to be a part of God's family.

Regardless of our culture or background, we are all welcome to worship the God of all nations. Celebrating the heritage of one particular corner of creation, that has been very influential in the religion and culture of this land, is a positive way of reminding ourselves of the many blessings we have received.

As well as being our Scottish Sunday, it is also Father's Day, “Celebrate our Sunday School Teachers Day” and we intend honoring our graduates. All-in-all an action packed morning. And... of course... there will be food. A pot-luck picnic will follow morning worship. Everybody under the sun is welcome. And if you want to bring something edible... then don't hold back.

For some music... “Celtic Woman” perform Amazing Grace... complete with full orchestra and... of course... bagpipes.

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Trinity Sunday

Last Sunday in the church calendar was “Pentecost Sunday.” Here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian church we celebrated the beginning of the Christian Church and our thoughts centered around a “Happy Birthday” theme. This week is “Trinity Sunday.” 

The “Doctrine of the Trinity,” though it is never mentioned as such in scripture, has been a central teaching of the Church throughout the centuries. People have tied themselves in knots trying to explain how God can be three, yet One... (or One, yet three) ... and I have no desire to even attempt to unravel such a mystery.

The idea of “Trinity” reflects the experience of the earliest disciples. They knew God as Father. They came to confess Jesus as Lord and Savior. They felt the empowering of the Holy Spirit. While these were three different things, they knew it was all coming from God.

1 John 4:8 tells us that “God is love.” One of the aspects of Trinity I like to ponder, is that it pictures God as a “unity community,” defined by honor, respect, equality and love. Just about the hardest task we seem to have on earth, is that of getting along with each other, while acknowledging and accepting our differences.

The idea of God being a “gathering” birthed in love, where everything works out and everybody has a place to belong and a role to play, is one I find encouraging. It sounds like what the Church is meant to be!

Such a notion goes against the ideas of individuality and self importance that we sometimes find so attractive. Around the year 1624 the poet John Donne wrote; No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent.” Human beings do not thrive when isolated from others. We need community. 
If we are made in the image and likeness of God, and God is a community of self-donating love, then such implies that we can never be happy isolated from others. That we can never find contentment protecting ourselves from others, or holding ourselves back selfishly from others. That unless we give ourselves in love, we can never fully realize our humanity. That we really need each other.

Another image of the Trinity is that of an eternal dance. In order for a dance to take place there has to, at least, be music. Which suggests that, even if we are the only person in the room, we never dance alone! And where there is music and dancing we often find laughter. The Trinitarian images continue to flow... but don't allow them to become literal... because then all sense of mystery flies out of the room.

Mystery is important. Life can be both a bright and a dark mystery. In the tangled web of relationships we can find both our deepest challenges and discover our most elated glimpses of joy. In my mind, all this relates to the idea of a Trinitarian God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. 
But that's just me. Take the time for your own prayerful wondering and exploring. The mystery of the Trinity, rather than being a dry, useless, old doctrine, presents a wonderful opportunity for creative minds to explore new notions of community and love!

For some music, a song (I think written by Carl Perkins and recorded by Johnny Cash) called “Rise and Shine” performed by a family group who call themselves “The Trinity River Band.” 
Rev. Adrian. J. Pratt B.D.