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

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.