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

Monday, April 16, 2018

Reflected Love


I am old enough to remember some of the first color photographs that were a result of spaceships traveling to the moon. What an amazingly colorful and vibrant place the earth seems from outer space. It is quite a site to behold, with its mixture of whites and blues and browns.

In a meditation on “Loving because He first loved us” Rev. Charlie Handren, of Elk River, Minnesota, reminds his readers that the reason the earth can be seen in space is because the light of the sun pulses toward it and then, to some extent, reflects back into space.

He writes “This is called “albedo” or the rate of reflectivity. But did you know that a portion of the sun’s light that hits the earth actually travels back to the sun? If you were standing on the sun you would not be able to see it because the light of the sun would overwhelm it, but it would be there nonetheless.”

Just as the earth only shines because it receives light from the sun, and then sends back a portion of that light to the sun, so we love God because God first loved us. The love with which we love God, is but a dim reflection of the love with which God first loved us. The love of God is a self-generating, independent, and ever flowing love; our love is an other-generated, dependent, and reflected love.

We sometimes make the mistake of believing that the love of God is something we have to earn by making ourselves worthy of being a child of God. The problem with such a notion of “Becoming good enough” is that none of us can ever be that good. The holiness of God is as far from our attainment as the sun is from the earth!

Here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church we have been looking together at the First Letter of John. In his first couple of chapters John talks a lot about the ability of sin to ruin everything. It ruins our relationship with God. It ruins our relationship with each other. Yet sin has a remedy. That remedy is nothing less that the love we find through Jesus Christ. He died to forgive us our sins, and was raised to give us new life. His love is made manifest in our hearts through the action of the Holy Spirit. (Our sermon from last week “Sin's Remedy” can be found here.)

In John's remaining chapters he talks less about and sin and more about love. This week we take a look at 1John 3:16-24. How do we become more loving? His suggestion is that we do so through reflection. By focusing on the love that God has for us, so we understand that we are called to reflect that love, to each other. As we apply ourselves to doing so, then God's love shines in our hearts and helps us walk in the light!

God's light and love are so much greater than anything we can attain by ourselves. But by focusing on God, we become reflectors of Christ's love. By applying the light of scripture to our lives, not only do we gain personal enlightenment, but we become a hope and help to others. By opening our hearts to God's light through worshiping together, we have an opportunity to become communities of faith that can have a significant impact for good within the communities in which we live, move and have our being!

For some music, Hillsong sing Graham Kendrick's “Shine Jesus Shine.

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Humility and Pride


One of the many things that can block our experience of the love of God is pride. The kind of intellectual pride that thinks that, no matter what everybody else may say, we know better. Here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian we are following a series titled “Sin, Forgiveness and Love” (Messages from the First Letter of John.)

Last week we talked about “Walking in the Light” (sermon here). This week we look at 1 John 3:1-10. A group of folk who John warns his readers about, were known as “Gnostics.” “Gnosticism” is a multi layered belief system that offers to its adherents “Secret wisdom.” The Greek word literally meant “knowledge.”

Over the centuries of its existence the Christian faith has intrigued some of the greatest thinkers known to humanity. For some, such as C.S. Lewis, a significant part of their faith journey was wrestling to understand how their knowledge of the world, could relate to an understanding of God. In an essay titled “God in the Dock” he talks about how, having come to faith, there were certain areas where he encountered resistance to the Christian message in those he sought to share his beliefs with.

The title of his book came from the observation that, instead of God being considered as being the judge, the modern person judged God (Hence “God is in the dock'). He confesses that before being a person of faith, such was his own approach. It is an act of humility to accept that ones own intellect may not be able to unravel every secret of the universe. Pride tells us we can know it all without need for revelation. 

He also recognized something that Johns first letter reminds us of. Pride is related to sin. Lewis felt that some he sought to debate with did not hold to of any concept of sin. Not that sin was absent in their lives, but the thought, “I’m a sinner,” was simply not present. There was no guilt, so the Christian message of forgiveness just didn't mean anything.

One of the problems that John saw in the lives of the “Gnostics” was that their belief system led them to dismiss sin as being something that drove their actions. They rationalized their actions, and insisted that they were above the law, because they knew better. Some of them even interpreted the idea that Jesus had done away with sin, meant that sin didn't matter anymore, so they could do whatever they pleased.

He counteracts their argument in 1 John 3:4-5 “Everyone who commits sin is guilty of lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. You know that He (Jesus) was revealed to take away sins, and in Him there is no sin.

John is telling them, “You really don't want to underestimate that sin thing. It's like a bomb waiting to go off in your life. It will cause you to be blinded by pride and take away your desire for God's love to redeem you and save you. It will take from you the light and joy that could be yours in Christ.”

I am thankful to God for those who offer an intellectual understanding of faith. But I also recognize that knowledge, if not receive with humility, can lead to the kind of pride that places “God in the Dock,” rather than reveals to us our need of Christ's love to recreate and redeem us from our sin.

Thankfully, God's love is greater than sin. Acknowledging “God knows best” opens the way to experience God's love!

For some music, a song by Michael W. Smith, “Never been Unloved!

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, April 2, 2018

Walk in the Light

For our Post-Easter services here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church we are taking the theme “Sin, Forgiveness and Love (Messages from the First letter of John).” The first in our series will reflect upon 1 John 1:1 – 2:2 and be titled “Walk in the Light.”

John's first letter has many similarities with the Gospel of John. Themes of darkness and light appear throughout both books. Likewise both speak a lot about how love is the ultimate manifestation of God's presence among us, and how we, as compromised human beings, find the task of loving incredibly difficult.

The reason for our difficulty is identified as “sin.” We have an inbuilt tendency to prefer the darkness over the light. This affliction steals away from us the joy that could be ours in Christ. The solution that is offered is to “Confess our sins.” 1 John 1:9 “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

One way to think of confession is to see it as admitting to something. That we admit to ourselves, to each other and to God that we are messed up and need all the love and hope and healing and forgiveness that God offers to us at the Cross of Jesus Christ. When we take that step, God offers us the presence of the Holy Spirit as a comfort and a helper and a Guide.

In both the gospel of John and letters of John, the Greek word used to describe the Holy Spirit is “Paraclete.” In general Greek the word “Paraclete” meant “A legal advocate, or counsel for defense, an intercessor, or a helper.” In the New Testament the word is usually translated as “Comforter”, “Helper” or “Advocate.”

So the solution to sin, is firstly to admit that we are sinners, secondly, to realize that the only hope for us is to trust in God to get us out of the mess we have made of things, and thirdly, to understand that such is exactly the role the Holy Spirit can play in our life.

The gospel and letters of John relate all of this to the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. In particular His death and resurrection, the core of the Easter message. He died for our sins. He was raised to bring us new life. (Last weeks Easter Message “Bang, Woosh, Kappow” can be found here)

John invites us to walk in that light. To walk in the light of the revelation of Christ. To walk in the light offered to us through the Holy Spirit. To walk in the light of God's love, wherever we are and whatever we are doing. And God promises, that when such is our hearts desire, God will help us with every step we take. Thanks be to God!

For some music, a song that ties many of those themes together ... “Lord I Need You”by Matt Maher
 
The Reverend Adrian J Pratt B.D.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Easter Flowers

 
 The message of Easter is one of resurrection, renewal and rebirth. We celebrate this great festival as winter turns to Spring. Those who first sought to integrate Christian faith into already existing festivals found fertile ground and symbolism in this season of new beginnings.

We know the Easter story. Jesus travels to Jerusalem where He is at first welcomed, then rejected and then betrayed. Following a week of lies, torture and injustice, He is sentenced to crucifixion. He dies in agony on Golgotha's hill, abandoned by even His disciples, some of whom flee for their lives.

Jesus had taught His disciples “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. (John 12:24) On Easter morning the unimaginable happens. The tomb is empty. The realization of resurrection impacts those who had been closest to Him. The message begins to be declared. “Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed!”

We meet on Maundy Thursday evening, around a table laid with bread and wine, to recall the connection between Jesus and Passover. He speaks of His body being broken and His blood poured out to establish a new covenant of love. He washes His disciples feet to indicate that love and service were two sides of the same coin.

Early Easter Sunday morning, we gather to greet the rising sun and remember the promises of God. Later that day we meet to sing Easter hymns and celebrate. The hope of resurrection is all around us in this special time of the year. Even the Easter flowers can speak to us, as this poem seeks to share....

“What Wants to be Born In You, Beloved?”
(A poem by Hollie Holden)
I have become grateful for the moments when I remember to stop,
In order to listen to what the earth has to tell me.
This morning it was a flower who took me by surprise and shared her secrets with me.

She told me of her journey. How it began in darkness,
In the quiet, cool embrace of the quiet, generous earth.
She told me how the light called to her, and how, slowly but solidly,
She began to unfold towards the simple inevitability of her calling.

She told me of the exquisite cracking-open of all she knew herself to be;
The opening that felt like death until she realized it was her birth.

And then, with her open petals, she asked me
In the way only a full-bloomed flower can ask,
“What wants to be born in you, beloved?
What does the light want to call into being
From the quiet, generous earth that waits patiently,
In the cave of your heart?”

For some music, a reflection on the song “You Raise Me Up”.
May we be aware of Easter blessings all around as we celebrate holy week!

EASTER SERVICES AT MOUNT HEBRON PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH

Maundy Thursday Communion Service @ 7:00 pm
(Preceded by Meal in Fellowship Hall at 6:00 pm)

Easter Sunrise Service at the Amphitheater 6:30 am

Easter Celebration in the Sanctuary 10:00 am.

The Reverend Adrian J Pratt B.D.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Barabbas

Here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church we are continuing our journey through Lent along the Easter Road. Last Sunday we were considering how Jesus was “Riding into the Storm.” This coming Sunday, the Sunday before Easter, is often known as Palm Sunday or Passion Sunday.

Jesus rides into Jerusalem, on a donkey, and is greeted by cries of “Hosanna!” But in only a short time those cries of welcome are turned to cries of condemnation and “Crucify.” Mark 15:7-15 gives us an account of how significant that turn around of events would be for the life of one condemned prisoner. A man called Barabbas.

It appears that Pilate followed a custom during the Passover week to release a prisoner from jail. The prisoner could be anybody that the crowd asked for. Having had his wife warn him of the innocence of Jesus, Pilate feels that the crowd will be shouting for him to release Jesus from jail. It doesn't turn out that way.

It seems that, at first, there was sympathy towards Jesus. But then, among the crowd, spread agitators speaking on behalf of the powers that had caused Jesus to be arrested. Instead of shouts for “Jesus of Nazareth,” the crowd shout for “Jesus Barabbas” to be set free. Though he is not happy at the turn of events, Pilate feels that if he doesn't respond to their request, he will have a riot on his hands. Barabbas is freed, but Jesus is sentenced to death by crucifixion.

Matthew's Gospel refers to Barabbas only as a "notorious prisoner." Mark and Luke suggest Barabbas had been involved in a riot against the Roman power and had committed murder. He may well have been seen as something of a “freedom fighter” to downtrodden Jews suffering under the might of Imperial rule.

We don't know what happened to Barabbas after his release. We can say though, that if Jesus had not  “... humbled Himself and become obedient to the point of death-- even death on a cross” (as Paul writes in Phillipians 2:8), then Barabbas would never have been set free.

Barabbas is a character whose life reminds us of the New Testaments claim, that because of Christ's death, we can live free and forgiven. For one of the thieves, who died on a Cross next to Jesus, it only took a moment of recognition, of who Jesus truly was, to receive an assurance; “Today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43)

Our Christian freedom is an act of God's amazing grace. We don't enter life with a “Get out of Jail Free” card. As we enter into Holy Week, it is worth reminding ourselves, that all the things Jesus will face, are taking place, so that we may know God's love can make us... as free... as Barabbas! 

For some music, a song called "Barabbas" by Jimbo Whaley and Greenbrier .

The Reverend Adrian J Pratt B.D.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Riding into The Storm

Riding into the Storm

Maybe you have seen programs on the T.V. about “Storm Chasers.” Crazy people, who instead of trying to get away from the storm, ride straight into it and try to get as up close to the action as they can. Sometimes they are trying to gather data, or maybe do a news report, but at other times they just want to take some good pictures!

There are times when you can't avoid the storms that life brings our way. Some of us quite recently were affected by the “Nor' Easter” storm that rolled through the area. We had trees down and a lot of folk had power outages. Storms come in many forms. Tragedies. Illness. Crime. Accidents. No matter how much insurance you have, you still can't stop the storms coming!

Last week as we traveled towards Easter we took a look at a classic verse of scripture and mused how we were “Surrounded by Love.” This Sunday we reach a point when Jesus speaks about the terrifying ordeal of suffering that would lead to His death by crucifixion. He seems very much aware that the storm that He is about to face would cost Him everything. It is not a route that, humanly speaking, He wishes to follow. We read of Him explaining to His disciples in John 12:27 “My soul is troubled. And what should I say-- 'Father, save me from this hour'? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour.

In Matthew's gospel (26:39) we read of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, praying and pleading in great anguish of soul; "My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what You want."

The amazing thing is that He followed that prayer “Not what I want but what You want” to its terrifying conclusion. Paul writes in Philippians 2:7-8 “Being found in human form, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death-- even death on a cross.”

I attended recently a seminar at which some first responder's were speaking. They mentioned how it was their job to run into danger, not away from it. If there was a fire, they went in to put it out. If there were shots being fired they moved towards the person firing, in order to apprehend them. That's what they had to do in order to save people.

Jesus was on a mission to save the world. That was His whole purpose. To reveal to us that the love of God could not be thwarted by danger or disaster or even by death. God wants us to know that whatever we travel through, be it suffering or disease or tragedy, Jesus walks that road with us. He knows how it feels. He experienced the agony of pain and abandonment to such a depth that He cried out on the cross “My God, My God, why have You forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46)

There is no God-forsaken place that we can not be redeemed from by the love of Jesus Christ. After three days God raised Jesus from death. That is the Easter story. But before we get to the empty tomb, there had to be the Cross. Jesus rode into the storm so that we may know that God walks with us through every storm of life that we can ever face.

For some music, Casting Crowns sing “Praise You in this Storm.

The Reverend Adrian J Pratt B.D.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Surrounded By Love

Last week here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian we were thinking about “Clearing The Way” as we travel the Lenten road towards Easter. This week we are taking a look at probably the best known verse in the Bible.

Years ago you would see a guy at a football game wearing a rainbow-colored wig holding up a John 3:16 sign. Back in the 1970’s, there was a man in St. Petersburg, Florida, John Michael Cook, who legally changed his name to “John 3:16 Cook.” He operated a mission downtown and ministered to the homeless, alcoholics, and drug addicts.

John 3:16 has been called “The gospel in miniature.”
One preacher called it “The greatest sentence ever written.”
So what does Jesus say in John 3:16?
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son,
that whoever believes in Him should not perish
but have everlasting life.

An unknown writer called John 3:16 “The heart of the gospel” and wrote this tribute.

God” … The greatest lover
So loved” … The greatest degree
The world” … The greatest number
That He gave” … The greatest act
His only begotten Son” … The greatest gift
That whosoever” … The greatest invitation
Believes” … The greatest simplicity
In Him” … The greatest person
Should not perish” … The greatest deliverance
But” … The greatest difference
Have” … The greatest certainty
Everlasting Life” … The greatest possession

John 3:16 is the heart of the gospel because it is all about love. The love of God in sending God's Son. The love of Jesus in dying on the cross. The divine love that reaches out to all people. As we travel towards Easter we gain the additional benefit of hindsight. We know how the story ends. God raised Jesus from death. Love conquers hate, evil and even death. Such love is beyond our full comprehension!

When we fret and worry about the state of the world it is good to have the reminder that as Christian people we walk through our lives surrounded by “John 3:16” love. One of the best ways we can bring that to mind is by worshiping God. As we hear readings, participate in liturgy, sing hymns and offer up prayers, we can be lifted from introspection and into the light of God's presence.

Take time this Lenten season to join others in worship and celebrate the love of God that can be found in and through Jesus Christ. For some music, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir sings; “God So Loved the World.

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Clearing the Way

One of the first winters after my family and I had moved from the United Kingdom to live in West Virginia, the area we were living was hit by a series of heavy snow storms that took out the power, brought down the trees and even stopped the water supply for a few days.  The storm was so severe that they sent in the National Guard to help with the clean up.

We had a fairly long driveway that a huge tree had fallen across, so, even if we could manage to traverse the snow, we couldn't get to the road. I still recall the joy at seeing a couple of National Guard folk appear in the driveway brandishing chain saws and how they made quick work of getting a path clear so we could at least get out when we needed to!

When there are things blocking the way it is hard to move forward. What applies to our physical lives also applies to our spiritual lives. Last week here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church we were thinking about “Which Way should we Go?” (Sermon here.) This coming Sunday we'll be taking a look at a passage (John 2:13-22) that is often described as “Jesus Cleansing the Temple.” When Jesus arrives in Jerusalem, and visits the temple, He is horrified by the spectacle that greets Him.

What was meant to be a place of prayer had become a den of thieves. Money changers, who enabled the people to make offerings that put them right with God, were swindling their customers in order to line their own pockets. The temple authorities turned a blind eye to what was going on because, not only  were they being paid off, but money was flowing into the temple treasury... and that was good for business. The whole institution had become corrupted.

As we learn of corporate interests driving the agendas of politicians elected to serve, we naturally question their motives. Human nature has not changed. If making a profit becomes the bottom line, righteousness is an inconvenience. The recent debate about gun control, following the tragic murders of 17 at a Florida school, has resurfaced accusations that there are those in political leadership who care more about the interests of their wealthy donors than the needs of those they are called to serve.

When it came to the Temple, Jesus was having none of it. He overturns the tables of the money changers, drives out the traders and releases the sacrificial animals. The authorities did nothing to stop Him, because they knew He was doing the right thing. If they challenged Him they would be exposed for the hypocrites they had become.

Laying aside religious and political shenanigans, what of our own lives? What are the preconceptions and assumptions that are preventing us from spiritually moving forward? What are the forces and needs and desires that are driving us? Where are the blockages? Are there areas of worry we can remove by placing our trust in God? Are there relationships where we need healing? Are there areas of compromise where we are turning a blind eye because we make the excuse “We're only human.”

Lent is all about “Clearing the Way” towards a more informed, deeper and enriching spiritual relationship with God. It requires taking time out for reflection, worship and prayer. “Clearing the Way” means we can move forward. The alternative is staying where we are. And often that is not such a great place to be!

Some music from Hillsong “From the Inside Out.” The lines “Lord, let justice and praise become my embrace, To love You from the inside out” seemed to particular resonate with this meditation about inner cleansing.

Hope your Lenten journey is leading you to good places in your life!

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Seeking Direction

When I am driving somewhere I often go to Google maps to find directions. It is a simple process. You type in where you are starting from and where you are going. As if by magic a number of routing opportunities appear, complete with details of how long each one will take and related traffic information. There are other apps that will tell you, as you travel, what the traffic conditions are, and suggest alternative routes.

We have started our Lenten journey towards Easter. We started on Ash Wednesday and our destination is Easter, but how are we going to get there? Some of us may have adopted disciplines or be 'giving something up' for Lent. How will these impact our journey? Will our journey include particular stopping places for refreshment or refueling? Will there be unwelcome traffic along the way? Unexpected diversions? Road blocks? Accidents? Six weeks is a long journey!

Last Sunday, here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian, we were talking about how the mission of Jesus began, with Jesus proclaiming; "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news." (Sermon: “It Starts!” right here). This Sunday we reach a point on the road where Jesus begins to explain to the disciples “That the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. (Mark 8:31)

This information is too much for one of the disciples, Peter, to handle. This wasn't the route he thought that they should be taking. So Peter takes Jesus aside, as if to say “You must be kidding me! You shouldn't even suggest things like that!” Jesus is not impressed and has to strongly rebuke Peter with the words "Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things." (Mark 8:33) He then teaches the disciples... and anybody else that seeks to follow Him... that the journey was for those willing to take up their cross and walk with Him.

This was hard teaching and it was not easily taken on board by even the first disciples, who walked so closely alongside Him, and had left everything to be His followers. None of us are exactly overjoyed when it is revealed to us that the road ahead is fraught with danger and unanticipated suffering. Our natural inclination is to seek another route.

It is only when we reach Easter that the revelation comes, that though Christ died, God raised Him from death. That His suffering is for our sins. That because of what Jesus is doing the world is about to receive a revelation of God's love that was far greater in depth than anybody could ever have perceived. A revelation that turns upside down and inside out many of our preconceptions about life on earth. "For God so loved the world that God gave God's only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him may not perish but may have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

As we travel through Lent we are blessed to know how the story turns out. So when our travels and meditations take us to uncomfortable places, let us be prepared to sit with them for a while... in the light of what is coming at the end of the journey. Let us welcome the insights the season offers, and if necessary, amend our lives accordingly.

Because that's what we do on journeys! For some music “God Will Make A Way” by Don Moen.

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Let the Lenten Journey Begin!


Our Lenten journey begins here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church with a service for Ash Wednesday, in historic Hebron House at 7:00 PM, during which the imposition of Ashes will be offered.

This year Ash Wednesday coincides with the celebration of Saint Valentine and we will be taking a moment on Wednesday to think about the life of this ancient Saint. I am sure he would approve that on this day that is all about love, we take some time out to consider the amazing love of God that is shown to us in the Cross of Jesus Christ. “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends.” (John 15:13)

Sunday February 18th, we meet for worship and observe the First Sunday of Lent. We will be considering a passage from Mark 1:9-15. This is a passage that explains how Jesus was baptized by John and then went into the wilderness where He was tempted. Following successfully dealing with that ordeal, He marches into the countryside proclaiming His message... "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news!" (Mark 1:15)

Sarah Henrich, Professor Emeritus of New Testament at Luther Seminary,St. Paul, MN, suggests a contemporary way of interpreting the challenge in these words would be to say, “Re-focus and trust the Good News!” The whole point of “Giving up” or “Taking up” things for Lent is about changing our focus from things that are dragging us down, to embracing ways of doing things that can lift us up.

Last Sunday our readings had us on a mountain with Jesus for the moment of His Transfiguration. (Sermon “It happened on a Mountain” here.) It was a fleeting moment, and now He heads down into the valley with a new purpose in His steps. There's a message to be told. There are people to be healed. There are things to be accomplished. The time is now!

And if not now, then when? If we do not take this opportunity, this Lent, to focus and build some good news into our lives, when will we do so? As one who often falls victim to the peril of procrastination, I know only too well that the devil whispers in our ear, “Why do today, what you can put off until tomorrow?”

At our most recent Presbytery meeting Rev. Andrew Fosters Connors (Brown Memorial Presbyterian Church, Baltimore) brought us a message that included the thought that we are not supposed to “Die until we are dead.” That just because our church communities are not always thriving, that does not mean they are exempt from trying new things and considering new ways of being. Indeed, the time is NOW for just such actions because “We ain't dead yet!”

The same can be said for our personal spiritual journeys. There is no time like the present for acting upon the challenges that God's Holy Spirit is whispering to our hearts. “It Starts.” If not now, then when? Let the Lenten journey begin!

When I was thinking of some music, a disco classic from 1976 sprang to mind. No lyrics neccesary as they repeat … and repeat... just in case we didn't get the message. Jimmy James & The Vagabonds - “Now is the time.”

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, February 5, 2018

It Happened on a Mountain.


As I read the gospel accounts of the life of Jesus I have the distinct impression that Jesus envisioned the church as being a “Lifeboat for Sinners” rather than a “Sailboat for Saints.” It is easy to slip into the habits of the latter. We breeze along, with our crew taking care of us, and occasionally look over the rails and make comments about the state of the world as we sail by. It's a lot more comfortable being on a sailboat than a lifeboat!

This is nothing new in the life of a disciple, but a tendency that is revealed in the conversations between Peter and Jesus on the day Jesus was transfigured upon a mountaintop. You may recall the story (Mark 9:2-9). Jesus takes three of His disciples on a hike up a mountain. When they reach the summit they are astonished by the presence of God that reveals Jesus having a conversation with two key figures of the Old Testament, Moses (who represented the law), and Elijah (who represented the prophets.) A voice is heard from the heavens; "This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to Him!"

The initial reaction of Peter at the sight of this glorious vision is that he thinks they should stay upon the mountain. It was a comfortable place to be. Hanging out with Moses, Elijah and Jesus... it couldn't get better than that. He even suggests they put some tents (or booths) up so that other folk can make the trek up the mountain and visit with them. Then they could enjoy the view as well :-)

Yet as quickly as the moment came, it passed by. It was a fleeting glimpse of glory, not intended to become a permanent fixture. It was a moment in time that was preparing Jesus for the next phase of His ministry. They would descend from the mountain and Jesus would head to Jerusalem, to opposition and eventually crucifixion. This was His declared mission and it could never happen as long as He stayed upon the mountaintop.

It is an account that reminds us of the great commission we find in Mark 16:15; "Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation.” Going out to where people are hurting is not an easy thing to do. Last Sunday saw the Superbowl and we had a message titled “We get knocked down (But we get up again)". God lifts us up so that we can carry on with the Kingdom business of serving others.

One of our members spoke last week of their experiences on a mission trip to Houston. It takes personal commitment and the support of a community to make such things happen. The next couple of weeks we will be receiving a special offering towards disaster relief.

This coming Sunday we also hope to have representatives from the Scouting movement with us. The Scouting movement was founded by Baden Powell who saw a need to do something about nurturing the lives of young people. Rather than stand by and complain about the things they could get up to, he took action to found a movement that harnessed their energy in a way that could build character and serve others. The Scout motto of “Be prepared” is far more applicable to a lifeboat than a sailboat!

I recall a preacher once beginning a service with the words, “Are you sitting comfortably?” He went on to say, “Well, maybe that's our problem!” If we desire to become faithful followers of Christ, we need to be aware that, like Peter, our desire for complacency can sometimes get the better of us.

For some music, a challenging message from Bobby Michael's 1988 album "Time"... "Anything That Costs Me Nothing."

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, January 29, 2018

We Get Knocked Down!


Last week at Mount Hebron Presbyterian we were thinking about the "Call of God" and had  a message titled “Listen to Him!” But this coming Sunday sees the Superbowl.

One thing is for sure. Players are going to get knocked down. And, unless injured, they are expected to get up again and carry on with the game... no matter how hard they are tackled.

Life can be tough. We are going to be knocked down by circumstances that come our way. All sorts of problems are out there that we have to tackle. And when we fall, we are expected to get up again and carry on with the game of life. Either that or we need time to recuperate from the onslaught! But once we can get up again, it's back to business as usual.

A favorite scripture of many people, particularly during those times when life is laying them low, is found in Isaiah 40:31 “Those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint. I realize that one of the teams participating this year are known as the “Eagles” but please do not consider this biblical text as favoring either team! That would indeed be taking things out of context.

The context of the words Isaiah offers was that the people Israel were in captivity and longing to return to their homelands. They realize that their situation had come about because of their own unwillingness to heed God's call to act like people who belonged to the Lord Almighty. They were afraid, defeated and desperate for some hope. They were knocked down and had no idea of how to get their lives back together again.

Along comes Isiah with this message of hope. By the grace of God they were forgiven. The doorway was being opened for a new beginning. A time was coming when they would be restored. In order to enter into their blessing they are counseled to wait upon the Lord.

Such a message resonates with the Good News we are called to proclaim through our Christian faith. We claim that we are set free by the life and love of Jesus Christ. We believe that through God's Holy Spirit we can find power for the living of these days... even when they knock the stuffing out of us! One of the ways we live into that calling is by helping others get back on their feet.

One of the things here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church we have been participating in, is a “Souperbowl” collection on Game Day. We will have folk stationed with collecting pots as people leave the sanctuary. They are invited to make a donation into the pot of the team they favor. This money will then be distributed to a charity (chosen by the youth) seeking to feed hungry folk in our community. It's all part of a national initiative that last year raised millions of dollars to help folk who had been knocked down, get back on their feet again.

Whoever you are supporting in the Big Game, and however you spend the day, be sure to spare a thought for those less fortunate than ourselves. And when you see one of those players get knocked to the floor, recall how the love of God is able to reach out to us when we fall.

There is song by a band called Chumbawamba all about getting knocked down. As the lyrics of the verse don't really go along with the sentiments of the meditation, I'll let you choose to look for that one yourself! Instead, here's “Psalm 91 (On Eagles Wings)” by Shane and Shane.

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Which Voice Will We Follow?


When my son was younger he played on a soccer team. I recall sitting on the bleachers, and being often amazed at the experts that occupied the seats alongside me. They had no qualms about informing the referee that he or she needed glasses or shouting at the coach to do a better job of making their particular offspring shine as a star on the field.

I also noticed that the players who did best, had a healthy respect for the officials who could remove them from the game and took absolutely no notice of the advice from the bleachers, choosing instead to focus on the advice that their coach was offering to them. They also seemed to have a sense that the game wasn't just about them, but that they were part of a team.

Here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church we have been following a series of messages focusing on the “Call” of God that invites us to become disciples of Jesus Christ. Last week we were considering that to respond to that call takes a great deal of of commitment, that we may feel hesitant to embrace … and we were thinking about the experience of the prophet Jonah, who when he sensed a call from God, immediately headed in the opposite direction. (Sermon here: The Reluctant Preacher)

This week we will be thinking about the fact that the “Call” of God isn't the only voice out there that is seeking to direct our life. There are so many, many, many voices seeking our attention. It can be hard to discern which ones are in tune with the direction and dimensions of God's Kingdom.

Our New Testament passage will be from Mark 1:21-28, a passage in which Jesus is teaching in the synagogue and during the service deals with a majorly disruptive heckler whom the scripture describes as having an 'unclean spirit.'

The story begins with some of the members of the synagogue being impressed by the way Jesus teaches. He has an authority about Him that other teachers lacked. Then comes the confrontation with this heckler who cries out “I know who You are, You are the Holy One of God!” The guy with the problems seems to sense the authority of Jesus even more so then those who were impressed by His teaching!

Further down the line, some of the Pharisees and Teachers of the Law find out about the claims being made about Jesus, and they are not the least bit impressed. After all, they were the important ones in God's scheme of things. They didn't realize that there was a guy in town who was rewriting the rules of the game and would turn out to be both the best coach and the best referee that there ever could be.

There are always going to be folk around us telling us that their way is the best way. And in among them all is the voice of God. How do we tune in to God's voice?

I'd suggest that the traditional disciplines of prayer, reading scripture and worshiping in the company of others provide a way that helps us in our discernment. That is not a new idea or particularly radical suggestion. Sometimes the tried and true ways are the ones that bring the most long lasting results.

If we want to make Jesus our life coach then we have to ignore the voices from the bleachers and simply play our part as members of God's team. “Listen to Him!”

For some music a track from Twila Paris's 1998 album "Where I Stand"... a song about listening to God's voice. The comments on the YouTube page read; “We should always be attuned to the voice of God, perhaps subconsciously. But particularly after we pray. Many people make the mistake of praying but then missing the answer because they weren't paying attention. Others get impatient and give up on God and do things their own way. So, we need to have "patience to wait, when there is nothing clear", and when there is "nothing to see, still we believe".”

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Reluctant Disciples

Reluctant Disciples

We've just started a series at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church focusing on the “Call” to discipleship. Last week our focus was Samuel and we had a message titled “The Call and the Tingling.” This coming Sunday we'll be taking a look at the prophet Jonah.

From Sunday School days we probably recall Jonah as the one who was swallowed by the whale because he didn't want to go and preach to the people of Nineveh. And who can blame him? They didn't have the best reputation when it came to relationships with the people of Israel.

Sharing the gospel message has never been an easy task. The gospel really does challenge us to dig deep into our hearts and consider what really matters in life. People really don't want to learn that the things they are building their whole lives on might not be such great things after all.

We are very comfortable with our assumptions and misapprehensions. And like Jonah, we really don't want to have to be the ones who point out to people where their lives may be going wrong. Well... maybe only behind closed doors, but certainly not face to face with those we fear or disagree with.

The story of Jonah is a challenge to our complacency and ability to put others down without taking any actions that might help them move to a better place in their lives. Like Jonah, we may prefer that God simply dealt with them so we didn't have to be concerned about them any more.

If you recall the story, when Jonah does reluctantly go and tell them about God being about to judge them, the Ninevites turn their lives around. Is Jonah pleased? No. Not in the least. On the contrary he sits beneath a tree on the outside of town and sulks because God didn't go through with judging them after all!

The thing about grace is that it is very unfair and indiscriminate. How dare God forgive people when we believe they deserve judgment? Here we are, doing our best to live decent and responsible lives, and they get to receive the love of God just as much as we do. Lord have mercy!

Maybe that's our problem. Our God is a merciful God. Our God calls all people, of all nations, of all faiths, of all kinds, to be known as God's children. He welcomes every lost sheep and returning prodigal with open arms of welcome and acceptance.

And the challenge for us is that, part of our calling as disciples, is to let others know they are welcome. Even if we find the concept of grace difficult, personally inconvenient and downright scandalous, our commission is to go into all the world and create opportunities for discipleship.

Hopefully it won't take for us to be swallowed by a big fish before we embrace our calling! For some music... Chris Tomlin sings “I Will Follow.

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, January 8, 2018

The Call


This coming Sunday at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church I'm beginning a series of sermons featuring stories from the Old Testament, which speak in different ways, about hearing and responding to the call of God. I always find it interesting to see not only how such a call comes to individuals and communities, but how that call is received!

Jonah, heard the “Word of the Lord” and immediately headed in the opposite direction. Isaiah addresses not an individual, but the whole people of Israel with a message that tells them to “Get up and get back in the game again!” The future of the whole nation becomes dependent on their response to his words.

Samuel, who will be the topic this week, needs the help of an older, wiser person, to help him discern what is going on. Though the voice speaking to Samuel is clear, Samuel is not at first at all sure where the voice is coming from. It is only after three consecutive mid-night visits to the priest Eli that Samuel eventually says Speak, for Your servant is listening.” (You can find that story in 1 Samuel 3:1-20.)

When the Lord does speak to Samuel, the message he is to offer to Eli is not an easy one to share as it concerns judgment on Eli and his household for their unfaithfulness. No wonder Jonah and Isaiah were not exactly enthralled at the prospect of being carriers of God's message! The overall picture from these characters is that not only is the call of God difficult to hear, but responding to it and putting into practice what God calls you to do is never an easy task.

As you follow the stories through you become aware, that though the challenge is hard, those who respond to the call discover that God is the one who equips them and enables them to fulfill the call. It is significant that Samuel describes himself as a “servant” who is listening for God's call. A servant acts upon the authority of their master, rather than from any position of personal power or influence.

To be servants in God's Kingdom is the task of every would be disciple of Jesus Christ. We don't need to hear a voice in the night or encounter a talking bush to discover that. Simply reading one of the gospel accounts calls to consider that when Jesus says “Follow Me,” He is offering an open invitation for all of us to respond to His call.

Doing so means acknowledging that there needs to be some rearranging in our hearts. There is a need to think through our priorities. To consider what in life truly has value and worth. To be a servant of the King means embracing the values of the Kingdom... which, when it comes to the Kingdom of God, is always going to be a challenge.

Yet never one we face alone. To all those who will commit their life to Him, Jesus also promises the help, guidance, and life-giving love of His Holy Spirit. For some music, a song by the late Larry Norman that responds to God's call declaring “I am a servant.” I particular like the line in this song that says “To live is a privilege, to love is such an art.

May 2018 be a year in which we respond to the call of God's love in artful ways that both challenge us and enrich us!

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Epiphany Stars 2018



This coming Sunday at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church we mark Epiphany, and the beginning of 2018, with our Epiphany Stars Service. Epiphany Stars are, (as in the illustration above), stars with words on them, such as “Wholeness” or “Faithfulness” or “Hospitality.” Congregational members are invited to prayerfully pick a star as they are distributed to them.

Before choosing their stars, those who had chosen stars last year are invited to share stories of how that word had been important to them during the past 12 months. It sounds a little crazy that any one word could define a year, particularly one chosen in advance, but many of the stories people share speak of how that word had been a part of their year, time and time again.

Kristin Stoble, who is pastor of Heritage Presbyterian Church in Youngstown, Ohio (another congregation that celebrates an annual Epiphany Star service) shares the following story of how her initial skepticism was turned to positive reflection.

My first word was “"Restraint"”. I wanted to throw it back. What was that supposed to mean? "Restraint" made me think about being held back or being bound. These words were supposed to be a gift, but this did not feel like one to me. And yet, over time the word continued to work on my heart and mind. I started practicing "Restraint" at church coffee hours and forgoing doughnuts. I used "Restraint" to stop myself from getting second helpings at potlucks. "Restraint" gave me permission to look at how unhealthy I had become and do something about it. When I began to see "Restraint" as a gift instead of a curse, it freed me to change my eating habits without apology, to leave work earlier to exercise and to focus not just on my spiritual health but my physical health.

In my year of "Restraint" I lost 90 pounds and, for the first time I could remember, achieved a healthy weight. I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions because – let’s be honest - they always seem to fail. Instead, these star words have become my practice for the New Year. Instead of making a resolution that I’ll feel guilty about a week later, I take a star word as a gift and keep my eyes open. The stars have allowed me to see God in unexpected ways and places. They’ve been challenging, life-giving and transformative.

One woman in my congregation received "Joy"last year. Her middle name is "Joy". She admits, though, that she had lost her "Joy", forgotten how to live with "Joy" The star word reminded her throughout the year about the gift of "Joy"in all circumstances of life; a "Joy"that comes from the simple affirmation that we belong to God. Another member received “Courage.” She was in the midst of cancer treatments when this word was given to her. She took that paper star with her to every doctor appointment. She kept the word by her side as she entered hospice care and as she passed from this life to the next.”

Similar stories will be told this coming Sunday at Mount Hebron, and in other churches that follow this practice. There is no magic to the process. It's just about seeking to following God's direction. After all, isn't that what the story of the Wise Men is all about? They followed a star and it led them to a place of new understanding and blessing.

For some music... the worship song “Open the eyes of my Heart,” performed here by Michael W Smith. May 2018 be a year that leads you to many blessings in your life and the life of your family and community.

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.