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

Monday, October 15, 2018

What Do You Want?

I spent some fruitful days this past week, taking some time out for study leave, with a group of worship leaders and contemporary writers, some older, some still in college days, in the wonderful Tennessee countryside. Some were just trying to improve their skills to do a better job at what they already do. Others were setting their sights high and wondering how to get publishing deals and have their material more widely known.

It was inspiring to talk with them about their hopes and dreams. I have no doubt some will do very well in their given fields. They certainly seemed to have the energy and drive to achieve what they want. It all raises questions, such as “What do we want out of life?” “How do we get there?” and, maybe most importantly; “Is what we want... really the best thing for us?”

Last week here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian our reading from Mark was all about camels and needles. (Sermon here). Our reading this coming Sunday will be from Mark 10:35-45. It’s a passage in which James and John make clear to Jesus what they would like to see happen in their lives. They are aiming high. They request to be seated at Jesus side when He comes to reign in power and glory. That's high! This passage speaks to us about a number of things.

1. It speaks to us about prayer. Our prayers can be self-focused rather than God focused. We tell God what we think God should give us. Sometimes we are even “James and John-like” in that we have a sense that we deserve to have our requests answered in the way we feel they should be. That is not really praying. Prayer is seeking what God desires for our lives and seeking the strength to achieve it. Of course we pray about our needs, but we need to first discern the difference between needs and wants.

2. This passage speaks about perseverance. Jesus asks the disciples if they are capable of drinking the cup that He will have to drink. His life is about to be submerged into deep suffering. They desire a crown, but fail to see that Christ’s glory came through a Cross. The Christian life does offer great things. But they do not often come easy. Spiritual life is the long haul option.

3. This passage is also about pride. There was a song some years ago that proclaimed; “Everybody wants to rule the world.” (Or at least their small corner of it.) Jesus us calls to the abandonment of our quest for personal gain and towards embracing a servant lifestyle that keeps the needs of others always in our minds eye. Now... that is not easy. It doesn’t grab the attention in the way winning a race or gaining a promotion may do. But such is our calling as disciples.

For some music a song by Cory Asbury titled “Reckless Love.” The song has the line in the chorus “Oh the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God” and reminds us that when our ambitions are harnessed to the love of God, God promises to be with us, wherever the journey may lead.

Prayer. “Lord Your Word invites us to consider what we want from You. By asking the question it challenges us to consider our motives. Teach us how to pray in a way that sets our life on the path You wish us to follow. Through Your Holy Spirit preserve and protect us on our journey. Save us from the kind of misplaced pride that takes away our desire to serve others. All these things we ask in our Saviors name, our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

The Reverend Adrian J Pratt B.D

Monday, September 24, 2018

Who's In Charge?

 
Last Sunday during worship here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church we were thinking about the question “Who's the Greatest?” Our sermon can be found here. This week we are asking “Who's in Charge?”

In Mark 9:38-50 the disciple John comes upon a group of religious people doing the work of God. He has never come across them or heard of them before. He overhears them praying, and they are using the words; “In Jesus name.” This makes him mad.

Who did they think they were? He was the disciple! What right did they have to be doing disciple stuff? How dare they use the name of Jesus to work miracles, when they hadn't been through the kind of training he had been through! Preposterous!

Some Musings.

1. Today we’d probably call John’s problem a control issue. Somebody was in his space, operating in his personal domain and he did not like it. Maybe we can identify areas or issues in our own experience where we feel threatened because we feel that the particular area is all about us. Jesus suggests to John that it is never all about us. That it’s all about God and God’s purposes being done.

2. This passage also gives us what critics suggest, are some of the harshest words ever spoken by Jesus. “If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire.” Plainly this is not a passage to be interpreted literally! A less dramatic way of interpreting these verses, about cutting off hands and gouging out eyes, would be to say; “If something is damaging your life, cut it out!” As I will suggest in our sermon this coming Sunday, Jesus is here saying, ‘John, if you want to control something, then work on controlling your self!”

3. The passage closes with a call for Christians to ‘Have salt in themselves, and be at peace with one another.’ Salt back then was used for seasoning and preservation. When a person has a sense of their own worth before God and a desire to live in the will of God they exert a positive influence on those around them. They are not afraid to seek peace. They look for the image of God in others. That's how the Kingdom grows and changes the world. It's the little grains, the little things we do, that make a huge difference. Who's in charge? Sometimes we just have to let go and “Let God.”

Prayer: “Lord we all have control issues. Help us to realize that it’s not all about us and allow You greater room to move in and through our lives. Where we are involved in practices that may be damaging to ourselves or others, help us to take Your advice and ‘cut it out. Teach us what it means to be ‘salt’ in our world and live at peace with one another. Amen.”

For some music Stuart Townend and Keith Getty offer a song called “Jesus is Lord.” (Which includes some tasty lead guitar... never a bad thing in my book!) This little blog will be taking a couple of weeks break as I'm taking some study time away from home. But I shall return! God Bless.

The Reverend Adrian J Pratt B.D.




Monday, September 17, 2018

Who is the Greatest?


Fans of the boxer Muhammad Ali would be familiar with his catch-phrase "I am the greatest." And maybe he was the greatest boxer whoever entered the ring. He was certainly one of the most charismatic and memorable.

In the world of popular music it seems there is an obsession with greatness. Some say Elvis Presley was the greatest singer to ever grace the stage, others say the Beatles were the greatest band to ever have a musical career, but others point to different megastars and other styles of music in defining their greatest hits.

If we were to get into a debate about who the greatest actor or actress was, what the greatest movie ever made might be, what the greatest car ever manufactured could be, we would come up with a multitude of conflicting opinions.

If we delved into politics, and asked “Who is the greatest president to have ever served the United States?” we can already hear rumbles of disagreement across the landscape! It all begs the question of what criteria we should even use to measure greatness. Is there a “Rule of Greatness”or “Scale of Success” upon which we can balance and quantify conflicting claims of supremacy?

We often measure greatness in terms of personal achievement. The great ones are the ones who have become noticed and the ones whose names we all remember. Even in our own lives we can fall prey to seeing our own greatest moments as those when we were the center of attention or the most noticed. Jesus seemed to suggest that greatness was none of the above!

Last week here at Mount Hebron we were thinking about Jesus as being the Messiah, the “Great one of God.” Our sermon can be found here. This week we are musing about greatness and looking at Mark 9:30-37. In this passage the disciples are arguing about “Who is the greatest?” Jesus overhears them.

He then redefines the notion of greatness by placing a child before them, and telling us "Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me." Such an action can direct our thoughts in new directions.

1. Think of the people you most admire. What are the qualities that inspire you about their lives? How do those qualities match up with the qualities of greatness that Jesus spoke of?

2. We are called to have a childlike (but not a childish) faith in God. Where in our life are we living like a child of God? Where may we need to make some changes?

3. "Then Jesus sat down, called the Twelve, and said to them, "
If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all." (Mark 9:35.) What might it mean to place our selves last of all? In what ways are we expressing our service to God both in our personal life and in the life of our community? 
 
For some music “How Great is our God” by Chris Tomlin.

The Reverend Adrian J Pratt B.D.

Monday, September 10, 2018

What Sort of Messiah?

Last week here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian we were looking at an account where Jesus ministered to a man who had been born blind. Our sermon from the day “Touched by God” can be found here. This week, we'll be considering how one of the consistent ways that the New Testament speaks of Jesus is to describe Him as the “Messiah.” This was a loaded term, filled with expectation.

In Mark 8:27-38 the expectations that the disciples have for Jesus, as the Messiah, appear very different to those that Jesus lays before them. They seem to be expecting somebody to take away all their woes and bring them to some significant position of worldly prestige. Instead Jesus proclaims; "The Messiah must go through great suffering. Even the elders and religious authorities will reject Him. He will be killed and in three days rise again."

In an age where there are a host of T.V preachers who proclaim a gospel of personal prosperity and blessing, the idea that the Kingdom may involve something more than making a donation and receiving a blessing, certainly needs re-iterating. We easily forget that most of the first disciples followed the example of Jesus and became martyrs for the cause they believed in.

That there are benefits... real benefits... from embracing the message of the Kingdom is true, but those blessings are not in terms that can be measured from the standpoint of the values of this world. I suspect that is always the case when love comes into the picture. People will do unexpected things for the cause of love, and the love of God seems no exception to that rule.

Time after time Jesus goes beyond our expectations, throws us a curved ball and everything becomes pear shaped! Things do not become easier when He lays down the requirements for true discipleship.

Take a moment to think on each of these invitations Jesus offers. Maybe we could prayerfully seek for God to show us how these verses apply to our own situation.

"If any want to be my followers let them take up their cross and follow me." "Lord, what does taking up a Cross look like for me in my life, right now? What are the things I need to do today that will enable me more faithfully to follow You?"

"For those who seek to save their life will lose it, yet those who lose their life for me and the Gospel will save it." "Lord… help me discern the things I need to let go of in order for Your love to truly be in charge!"

"For what do you gain if you gain the whole world and lose your life?" “Lord… teach me to place greater value on the things that outlast this life, rather than be consumed by the passing things of the moment.”

For some music the Maranatha Singers offer us "The Servant Song

The Reverend Adrian J Pratt B.D.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Ephphatah

 

Last week at Mount Hebron Presbyterian we were thinking about matters of the hearts. Our sermon from the day, “Heart of Righteousness” can be found here.
We are following series called “Mark My Words” and in worship this coming Sunday our reading will be from Mark 7:24-37. This passage features two stories about individuals ... touched by God. The first story concerns an interaction with a Gentile women’s daughter, that reveals her to have a deep faith. The second story is an account of Jesus healing a man born deaf and mute. Jesus uses the unfamiliar phrase “Ephphatah” (meaning "Be Opened") to speak to the mans condition.

The first account is an encouragement for us to be open to find faith in unexpected people and places. The woman is described as a Gentile. Jesus plays on this fact, even using for her a derogatory term that some Jews used for such folk, calling her a “dog.” She totally turns the phrase around and reminds Him that even the puppies under the table were able to enjoy the crumbs! Acknowledging her as a lady of great faith, Jesus responds, and healing comes into the situation.

The second passage concerns the healing of a deaf/mute man. Jesus takes him aside, and prays (with a sigh) "‘Ephphatah,’ which as we’ve seen means, "Be opened." Once again healing comes into the situation.

In an age when spiritual concerns are often marginalized and many church congregations have witnessed more prosperous days, we would do well to "Be opened." To stretch our faith and believe that this is a time when God is still working in unexpected ways through unexpected people in unexpected places.

I find it comforting that Jesus makes His prayer with a sigh. We all have days when we look around and sigh! How much easier things would be if there were a comprehensive, one size fits all blueprint to follow. Even a cursory reading of scripture reveals that the spiritual quest has never worked that way.

Should we wish to apply this passage to our own lives, there are a number of questions it raises for us.
  • Are there situations where we have very little expectation of God working?
  • Where are we in need of ‘being opened’?
  • What is there in our lives that would cause Jesus to “sigh?”
  • To what or to whom are we blind?
  • Where should we be speaking out instead of remaining mute?
For some music “Open the Eyes of My Heart” by Michael W. Smith. A Prayer: “Lord, in our lives together and in our individual journeys of faith, guide us to be opened to the possibilities of change and renewal that Your love can bring. Amen.”

The Reverend Adrian J Pratt B.D.

Monday, August 27, 2018

The Heart of the Matter

Life always places before us a whole panorama of choices. We sometimes make the right choices, for all the wrong reasons and can also make the wrong choices for what seemed to us to be the very best of reasons! In 1941 the author Graham Greene wrote a book titled “The Heart of the Matter.” It tells the story of Scobie, a flawed, yet religious man, haunted by his choices and who wrestles with how his own actions touch upon the happiness of others.

He loses his son and is overcome with grief. He embarks on an affair with another woman after his wife Louise moves away. In the end he takes his own life. One suspects his suicide is because he feels that the world would be a happier place without him. At the end of the novel Scobie's priest, Father Rank, says of him, “It may seem an odd thing to say—when a man’s as wrong as he was—but I think, from what I saw of him, that he really loved God.” His spurned wife Louise replies: “He certainly loved no one else.”

It's the kind of novel that raises many questions about faith and life and human failings. Ultimately it leaves you to make your own conclusions. When I read it I couldn't help but think of the relationship Jesus had with the Pharisees of His day. Last week at Mount Hebron Presbyterian we were thinking about persevering in our faith journeys. (Our sermon “Winner or Quitter?) can be found here.

Our bible passages for this coming Sunday (Mark 7:1-8,14-15,21-23) talk about a confrontation Jesus has with the Pharisees that begins with a conversation about hand washing. The Pharisees suggest to Jesus and His disciples they were not doing things the right way.

It seems they were the sorts of folk who really wanted to do the right thing. But somehow, by focusing on rules and regulations, they lost sight of the most important law of all, the rule of love. They picked on the outward details of a persons life, like hand washing rituals, but ignored the pressing needs of folk around them who really needed help, including their own families. Their quest for righteousness had actually led them away from God, rather than to know God.

Their religion had subtly allowed self interest to overcome their concern for others. Maybe of them it could also be said that, though they appeared to love God, they “Certainly loved no one else.” Jesus, teaching the crowds who thronged around Him, tells them; “For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come.” It is these evil intentions, all of them in some way related to self gratification, rather than another persons good, that defile a persons life.

Righteousness, it seems isn't just about doing the right thing, it's about being in a right relationship with both God and neighbor. When asked to sum up the law of God Jesus clearly stated that the two foundational commands were to “Love God” and “To love our neighbor.”

We are all flawed individuals. We all seek acceptance and love but fall prey to compromise and messing things up! Jesus offers us a wonderful sense of balance in suggesting that loving God and each other should always be held together.

For some music... a song called “Purify my Heart,”written by Eugene Greco.

The Reverend Adrian J Pratt B.D.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Never Give Up!


Last week here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian we were thinking about “Real Meat.” (The sermon from the day can be found here). In our bible passage for this coming Sundays service, John 6:56-69, Jesus offers the people some difficult teaching.

Many, who came flocking when free bread was on offer, are now turning away from Him. Jesus continues to lay down the challenge, asking those closest to Him if they also were going to hit the road and quit! Peter gives the reply: "Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that You are the Holy One of God.

We may have to travel through days of decline before we see growth.

It seems crazy that somebody seeking followers would be acting in such a way as to drive people away from Him! Yet with hindsight we see how Jesus was sorting out the true followers from the fair weather ones. Stormy days were ahead and disciples whose faith was not genuine would be lost.

Spiritual growth has those times when we seem like we are taking more steps backward than we are forging forward. God has to weed out of our lives habits or tendencies that further down the road may cause us to lose our devotion. Times of dryness or struggle are not necessarily a sign of a lack of faith. There are times when faith only grows by being put to the test.

Knowing who and what we believe is so important

Peter’s confession reveals that he had truly grasped the significance of who Jesus was:- the Holy One of God who gave to his life an eternal dimension that he could never find anywhere else. The routines of bible study and prayer are a discipline to help us deepen our relationship with God. They remind us of who God is and what we are called to do. When we let such disciplines go by the wayside, our faith suffers and we start searching for other things to be our ‘daily bread’.

Our calling is to be faithful.

In a culture where everybody has more of everything than they could ever need, being a disciple (and calling others to discipleship) is never going to be easy. Yet we must persevere. Why? We have the words of eternal life. We have the message of Jesus Christ’s love for all people. We have something to offer that people can’t find anywhere else.

When Jesus started to make discipleship a challenge there were some who decided to call it a day. Yet scripture reveals story after story of folk who understood that 'You'll never be a winner, if you are going to be a quitter.” 

From Old Testament stories, like that of Noah, whose whole family thought he was crazy to act upon the idea that a great flood might be coming, to New Testament disciples like Paul, who spent so much of his life headed in the wrong direction that you'd think he could never be turned around... we see time after time, the importance of sticking at the business of discipleship!

For some musicNever Give Up” from the album 'Stir A Passion' recorded live at The Gathering 2017 conference.

Prayer “Lord, we would like our spiritual journeys to be plain sailing. Yet we are very much aware that it doesn’t work that way. You want to dig deep down into our motives and desires and we don’t always want to go there! You call us to depend on You for all things, yet we go seeking other sources of daily bread. Help us never to quit our spiritual journey. Bring us to that place of confession where we can say with Peter “Lord, To whom else can we go? You alone have the words of eternal life. Amen”

The Reverend Adrian J Pratt B.D.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Real Meat

 
As a child growing up in the United Kingdom, there was always a great choice in food that we could eat. Chicken, Lamb and Pork were regular features on the dinner plate. Beef, though a traditional dish (often served with something known as 'Yorkshire Pudding') was seen as something of a luxury we saved for special occasions. We very rarely had steak. A driving factor in that decision was simply the fact that, at that time in the U.K, beef was expensive!

I recall, after we moved to West Virginia over 20 years ago, being invited to a neighboring ministers house for a Barb-Q. We were astonished when he pulled out, what to us, were these huge steaks of beef and proceeded to cook them on the grill. Honestly, we had never seen steaks that size before in our lives. In addition, not long before we left the U.K., there had been a health scare that had made beef even less available.

A visitor from the homelands, after I had described the experience to him, said that it sounded like I was getting some “Real Meat.” 'Real Meat' in the sense that here was something to get your teeth into and chew down upon.

Last Sunday, here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, we were thinking about Jesus being “The Bread Man” (sermon here). This coming Sunday we'll be looking at a passage from John 6:51-55, in which Jesus uses the phrase “For my flesh is meat indeed.” (King James Version). These are strange words if you take them out of context! Most bible commentators see this phrase as being related both to communion and to the message that Jesus gave to His disciples.

There is something about the gospel message that needs to be chewed upon and digested, before it starts making a difference in our lives. Part of the process happens as we meet with others in worship to break bread and share a communal cup. The other part takes place as we individually seek to apply to our hearts and minds the gospel message.

The writer of the Book of Hebrews complained that he couldn’t give those he wrote for “Real Meat.” “You need milk, not solid food; for everyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is unskilled in the word of righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, for those whose faculties have been trained by practice to distinguish good from evil.” (Hebrews 5:13-14).

Understanding the message Jesus has given us takes time. It's not something that comes to us in a single serving. It's deep. It's meaty. It's a life long journey. The challenge is to discover the “Real Meat” of the gospel, in such a way as we no longer see the need to feast upon the shallow things and empty messages that often surround our daily lives.

Only Jesus claims to be able to fully satisfy the deepest needs of our hearts and lives. So for some music; “In Christ Alone” by Adrienne Liesching and Geoff Moore. “Real Meat!”

The Reverend Adrian J Pratt B.D.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Bread of Life

 

As I write this our Vacation Bible School program “Shipwrecked” is in full swing. The mornings have been filled with songs, games, activities and a host of lively children and attentive leaders. My thanks go to each and everyone of them.

Last Sunday, during worship ,we were thinking about “Every Day Miracles.” Feels like we are witnessing many during our week of VBS. (Our sermon can be found here). This coming Sunday, August 12, we will be looking at John 6:35,41-51, a passage where Jesus speaks of Himself as being “The Bread of Life.”

As the activity of the week has rolled by, we have been aware of our need for food to fuel our activity. The energy level soon drops if we sense a need to eat! Thank goodness snacks are a part of the morning VBS routine, so our needs have been well catered for.

Bread is such a staple of our diets. It has been that way for many, many years. Bread makes up a significant part of the daily diet of people around the world. Every culture seems to have their own unique take on bread: baguettes, pitas, naan, challah, matzo, tortillas, biscuits, focaccia…even mass-produced, pre-sliced, American white bread lining the grocery store shelves in branded cellophane.

Bread symbolizes our need of sustenance, and features regularly in Scripture. The Israelites in Egypt, were instructed to bake their bread without yeast at the Passover when God saved them from slavery. God provides them manna—bread from heaven—as they wander through the wilderness Bread demonstrates God’s love and care for people: God knows what we need, and God provides for us.

Jesus uses bread in His teachings, parables, and miracles. When tempted by the Devil to turn stones into food, Jesus responded by quoting scripture: “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.

We are familiar with the phrase in His model prayer... “Give us this day our daily bread.” We were thinking a few Sundays ago about how Jesus broke bread and provided enough for 5,000 hungry folk to be satisfied.

In this weeks passage Jesus refers to Himself as bread; “I am the Bread of Life.” Jesus—God in human flesh—knows our physical and spiritual hungering. Jesus knows that we need bread for sustenance: He is our Daily Bread, the Bread from Heaven.

When we are hungry, bread satisfies. God provided bread for God's people throughout their history, supplying for them in their need and when they could not provide for themselves. At the last supper, Jesus speaks to His disciples “This is my body…take and eat.” We are encouraged to feast our lives on the love God provides.

It's been a busy week here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian. God has provided everything we needed and there has been a sense of satisfaction in what we have achieved. That's how it is when we trust God to lead us and guide us! May we continue to grow in the knowledge of our wonderful God, who sustains us and feeds us for the adventures of God's kingdom. That way, spiritual life never becomes stale!

For some music Steve Angrisano sings “Bread of Life”

The Reverend Adrian J Pratt B.D.

Monday, July 30, 2018

Shipwrecked!

 

Beginning Monday August 6 Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church hosts their annual Vacation Bible School. The theme this year is “Shipwrecked” and the curriculum looks at the many ways that Jesus rescues us from the troubles of our lives. VBS is always an exciting week, that brings us together as a church and reaches many in our community.

The theme song for this year declares 'Through every storm of life, I know You're by my side, so I'm holding on to Your promises. You are the God who holds my future, all my dreams, so I am holding on. You never let go of me!” These are encouraging words for both participants and leaders. We never know exactly what life is going to bring our way, but we can know that God can be trusted to guide us and lead us.

Last week during our worship service we were thinking about thankfulness. Our sermon “5000 Thankful Folk” can be found here. On August 5, before VBS week starts, we will be gathering around a table laid with bread and wine and thinking about a passage from John 6:27-35. In this passage Jesus reminds the crowds of the miracle their ancestors had witnessed in the wilderness, when God provided for their hunger and manna came down from heaven.

The crowds are anxious for some new miracle to be performed before their eyes, but Jesus is telling them that miracles were all around them, if only they could open their eyes and see them. The greatest miracle of them all, that of Jesus Himself, was right in their midst, but they seemed unable to comprehend that He truly was the answer to their searching.

Last week some of our youth attended the Trinity Youth Conference at Camp Living Waters in Pennsylvania. From speaking with them, I know that every day they were there, they experienced God's blessings through the staff and through interaction with their peers. It's always an amazing week where the presence of God seems to break through in unexpected ways.

My prayer for all our gatherings of worship, and for our VBS program, is that we will be very aware of God's presence in our midst. That this discovery will enable us to be more awake to the every day possibilities that God opens up to us.

For sure we have those times when we feel 'all at sea', or even feel totally shipwrecked. There are times when we feel we can't be of much help, but that we need to be helped ourselves. At precisely such times we are reminded that the mission of God, through the love of Jesus and the presence of good people around us, is to rescue us and help us through.

Wherever the coming days find us I pray we will try and remain open to the possibility of every day miracles. For some music, our VBS theme song written by Jay Stocker and titled, “Never Let Go Of Me.”

The Reverend Adrian J Pratt B.D.

Monday, July 2, 2018

Not Accepted in the Homelands

Last week in worship here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian we were thinking about “Jesus the Healer.” This week we'll be taking a look at Mark 6:1-13, a passage in which Jesus preaches to His home crowd... and does not receive a good reception. The text tells us that He could do no “works of power” among them and that “He was amazed at their unbelief.

There is a saying that “Familiarity breeds contempt.” The oldest known use of the phrase comes in 'The Tale of Melibee' one of 'The Canterbury Tales' written by Geoffrey Chaucer around 1386. Over the years the phrase has had a number of applications.

The most common one is when we don't recognize what an amazing person somebody is, because we happen to see them every day. Such a sentiment can even apply to things we own. Our close acquaintance blinds us to the value of what we have. As Jesus explains in our passage from Mark, “A prophet is not without honor, except in his own country.

When applied to things we own, such as tools, or engaging in dangerous activities, we discount the danger, because we are used to it. We fail to remain safe by forgetting to be respectful of the harm that can come from our familiar tools or our familiar activities.

An example I read about was the farmer who raises corn and shreds it before blowing it up into the top of the silo. The shredder frequently gets jammed. Routinely un-jamming it every day makes the farmer careless, until they, or one of their worker,s gets a hand caught and shredded. Apparently in rural communities this is not a rare occurrence. Over-familiarity can be dangerous.

If a boss is over-familiar with his workers, (or vice versa) they may lose the necessary degree of respect that makes the working environment work! In Nazareth that day, Jesus could not do the work He was called to do among the people. They dismiss His authority by saying, “Is this not the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James....(and all the rest of the family)?

Maybe the most dismissive place of all to place limits on what God can do, is the arena of our own lives. We simply can't believe that God do anything wonderful in the heartlands of our daily activities. We limit the work of God's Spirit because we dismiss the possibility of any real change happening in such a familiar place as our every day experience.

Because of familiarity, Jesus was not accepted in His homelands. He couldn't work wonders because they assumed that nothing good ever happened in their neighborhood. Let us try not to make the same mistake in our own lives. Let us be open to the possibilities that exist, even in the midst of the familiar. Let us not dismiss our lives, our families, our church, or our community as being a place where Jesus can work the miracle of Kingdom building. 

For some music Hawk Nelson sing “He Still Does (Miracles)

Note: Blog is taking a months vacation. Musings will resume in August

The Reverend Adrian J Pratt B.D.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Healing

 
Last week here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, we were thinking about stormy days and had a sermon titled “With Jesus in the Boat...” (Sermon here). This week we move onto consider one of the most significant aspects of the work of Jesus … His healing ministry.

It is a ministry that the church has sought to continue, through prayer, through establishing and supporting medical services and being a community where mutual support can be experienced. Many hospitals recognize the importance of a spiritual dimension to the healing process and employ chaplains of various religious traditions to assist in their work.

I was reminded of the advances that science has made during the time my daughter was recently pregnant. When the baby tried to come early, they were able to slow things down. When baby did decide he could wait no longer, my daughter experienced a traumatic delivery, losing a couple of pints of blood in the process.

The medical team and doctors successfully managed the whole procedure and daughter and baby are both fine. I couldn't help but reflect, that had this been thirty or forty years ago, the outcome could have been much less favorable, and the possibility of losing both a daughter and grandson would have been real. I feel very blessed to be living in age where miracles take place daily in our hospitals. Who knows what advances we may yet see in the future!

I am blessed to live in a nation that has such wonderful medical facilities. Recognizing and supporting those who seek to bring such blessings to those less fortunate than ourselves is an ongoing mission of the church. Many Mission organizations exist, such as the PC(USA) Medical Benevolence Foundation, who have supported healing ministries and programs in over 100 hospitals and clinics throughout the world since 1964.

Likewise, in this nation, working for reform and change in the healthcare system, so all receive adequate access to the best care possible, whatever their ability to pay or their demographic location, remains a concern of the whole Christian community.

I am also a great believer in prayer. I truly don't know how it works. In the reading that we will be looking at on Sunday, (Mark 5:21-43) a woman, who is described as having “suffered from hemorrhages for twelve years, receives healing when Jesus declares “Your faith has made you whole!

Scripture encourages us to lay all our needs before God and trust that God will meet us in the midst of those needs. Such does not grant to us immunity from disease, nor is a guarantee of everlasting youth. St Paul talks about how the physical body ages and the tent in which we dwell eventually passes away. He also encourages us to see our bodies as temples of God's Spirit and care for them like they were sacred places.

Over my years in ministry I have witnessed some truly miraculous changes in peoples health, that the doctors were not able to fully explain. I've also known that for some, their true healing was to depart this life in the hope of an eternity where tears and pain and suffering are no more.

So... be thankful for this age in which we live. Take care of your physical self, your emotional self and your spiritual self. Pray for another. Trust that God knows our needs and the needs of those we pray for. Trust that faith can make us whole. Trust God, that at the end of all things, God's love has the last word.

For some music, Michael W. Smith sings “Healing Rain.

The Reverend Adrian J Pratt B.D.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Facing The Storm

 
Gil Fronsdal, a spiritual director and teacher, invites her readers to contemplate the following story.

“Imagine two people setting out to cross a large lake, each in a small rowboat. The first sets out on a clear day with the lake surface still and flat like a mirror; a gentle breeze and a steady current push the boat from behind. Each time the oars are dipped into the water, the boat shoots across the lake. Rowing is easy and delightful. Quickly the person reaches the far side of the lake. The rower may congratulate herself for being quite skilled.

The second person heads out across the same lake during a great storm. Powerful winds, currents, and waves move in the direction opposite the boat. With each pull of the oars, the boat barely moves forward, only to lose most of the distance gained when the oars are raised out of the water for the next pull. After much effort the second rower makes it to the far side of the lake. This rower may feel discouraged at his lack of skill.

Probably most people would prefer to be the first rower. However, it is the second rower, who though discouraged, has become stronger from the exertion and is thereby better prepared for future challenges.”

Often in life we don't get to choose to row into the storm... the storm finds us anyway. That's a message sadly reinforced by recent events in downtown Ellicott City which, for a second time, experienced such devastating flooding. Traveling through the storm, can make some stronger, but for others it is not only discouraging, but defeating.

Seeking to maintain a positive outlook during a time of crisis is never easy and sometimes impossible. It is at such times we realize that we function best when we are connected to others. That none of us can go it alone. That there are days when we have to to admit defeat, let go and let God!

In the face of adversity “letting go” is not the same as “giving up.” I had a friend who always tried to face any crisis, major or minor, with the question; “So?” “So what do we do next?” “So, now this has happened and that has ended, we are faced with two choices. So which one do we make?”

Returning to our illustration of the rowers. The one who rowed across the lake and exited the boat feeling rather pleased with themselves, had done nothing wrong. They did what they needed to do. And when we have days like that, we can be thankful.

The one who crossed the lake in the storm and exited the boat feeling discouraged, is in a good place to ask themselves the “So?” question. “So what did I just learn? That going out in storms isn't always a good idea? That when I'm under stress I tap into resources I never knew I had? That I can make it through to the other side, even when I'm not sure I can do it?” You feel that the second one has gained more than the first. Next time a crisis comes along, they are in a better shape to face it.

Life will bring storms. Some of them will leave us feeling defeated and discouraged. But we may also discover that it is the tough times that strengthen us in ways we are not even aware of. We are not alone. We have others around us to lift us when we fall. We have a God who takes what is broken and creates beautiful things from the wreckage.

Last week here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church we were thinking about how little things can become big things. Our sermon “Seeds of Faith” can be found here. This coming Sunday we are looking at a passage from Mark 4:35-41, when the disciples of Jesus find themselves caught up in the middle of a storm.

For some music (a song which may well feature as part of our Sunday worship) “Prince George Winyah Episcopal Church Junior Choir” sing “With Jesus in the Boat wecan smile through the Storm.

The Reverend Adrian J Pratt B.D.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Seeds of Faith

 
Seeds. Such small, tiny things. Yet within every seed is all the potential for growth that is needed. Of course there has to be the right environment for growth to take place. And there are things, such as disease and unexpected uprooting, that can prevent growth taking place. But within the seed, the potency is all there.

Jesus used the image of a seed to talk about faith. He seemed to suggest that within each of us was all the potential for spiritual growth that we require. He indicated that faith could do amazing, unexpected things... like removing mountains and casting out demons. Faith is viewed as something powerful and world changing.

Such a picture can make us feel that our personal faith is lacking in potency. Maybe the environment in which we live today is not the best for nurturing faith. There is a distrust in things we cannot measure, quantify or truly explain. “Faith” is sometimes viewed as simply wishful thinking or misguided dreaming.

To counteract the view that “faith is beyond us,” Jesus speaks about the quantity of faith that we need. He tells us only a “mustard seed” worth. A mustard seed is an exceptionally small seed. He talks about how mustard trees grew out of all proportion to the tiny seed that they came from.

Little things. Little things that lead to big things. Is that the way it works? It often seems that way. That “seed” of an idea, that is mentioned in casual conservation, takes root and becomes the launching point for something we had never imagined. That little gesture of helpfulness or friendliness from a stranger, becomes the most uplifting moment of our day.

Those few moments we took out of our day to pray, or to practice meditation or mindfulness, became the framework for a day when we overcame obstacles we hadn't even known were going to arise. That slight change in our daily schedule meant we met somebody who had an impact upon us that would never have otherwise happened. Little, seemingly insignificant, “things” with big results.

Every persons journey is a combination of smaller steps. There is a beauty in small things that we should never dismiss or ignore. Every step is important. Every seed has potential. Every little thing that we do is part of the process towards what comes next.

It has been said that “God is in the details.” I would want to add that no detail should be considered too small for God's involvement. That there is an intimacy to faith that should be recognized and embraced. In a loving relationship, you notice the little things. The little things are often the big things.

Scripture teaches us that “God is love.” It is within loves embrace that we are called to grow. It is the knowledge that our lives are infused with unknown potential, that encourages us to take risks and face new challenges and attempt to move forward.

Do the little things. That seems to be the way faith works. That is how things grow. Small steps. Little Seeds. Growth is always a work of grace. And the result is always in God's hands.

Last week here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian we celebrated our Scottish heritage with an outdoor service that took the topic, “Drovers, Cowboys and Pilgrims.” This week we return to a series called “Mark My Words” and will be looking at Mark 4:26-34, a passage all about seeds. Come and join us if you are in the neighborhood!
For some inspirational music Cece Winans & Andre Crouch sing “Through it all.
The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Tenacity and Tartan


This coming Sunday at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, we celebrate our Presbyterian (and National) Scottish heritage. Our plan is to meet outdoors in our amphitheater. There will be a bagpiper to help lead our service, as well as a Scottish theme to the whole occasion. Should the weather prove unfavorable, we may have to head indoors. (As we did last Sunday when we thought about the theme "Celebrating the Sabbath")

In recent days the weather has not been kind to Ellicott City. The historic downtown area has, once again, suffered terrible devastation from flooding. It is unclear how the town will recover from such an impact, coming as it has, just two years after a similar event. At the time of writing many residents and business owners are disheartened and not sure how to face the future.

Historically, one of Scotland's most revered leaders was Robert the Bruce, King of Scotland, from 1306 to 1329. He is credited for freeing Scotland from the English rule of Edward I, and ultimately confirming Scottish independence, with the Treaty of Northampton.

Legend has it that after a humiliating defeat by the English, and finding himself described by the English as a traitor and outlaw, Robert the Bruce had to flee for his life. He ended up hiding in a cave and seriously considered abandoning his attempts to liberate his nation.

Lonely, despondent, and fearful, he hid in the damp and the darkness. Looking up he saw a spider attempting to spin a web across the corner of the cave. Every time, the spider had nearly managed to spin a web across the gap, a drop of water would fall and break the strand.

Robert watched as, time and time again, the spider sought to complete it's task. And time and time again, the water frustrated the spiders web building efforts. But finally, as the Bruce looked on, the spider managed to stick a strand of silk to the cave wall and began to weave a web.

It is said that Robert the Bruce was so inspired by the spiders perseverance that he immediately left the cave and began recruiting an army, who went on to defeat the English at the Battle of Bannockburn. The moral of the story became “If at first you don't succeed - try, try again.”

When everything seems to conspire against us, the temptation is to give up and just stop trying. It is unclear how downtown Ellicott City can recover from another setback so soon after the previous one. It is truly heartbreaking. Maybe some structural changes and flood protection will have to be put in place before any rebuilding can be attempted. The road to recovery is uncertain, long and difficult.

The story of Robert the Bruce and the spider reminds us that there are those times when we just have to go forward in the hope that our efforts will result in shattered dreams being reborn. It took a small spiders determined web weaving, to revive his courage. 

Let us pray that those seeking to rebuild shattered livelihoods will find similar moments of inspiration and encouragement as they seek to discern what is next for them and their town. We will receiving a special offering the next two weeks in an effort to raise some funds to help with rebuilding.

Come and join us in our Scottish celebrations! But in case that proves impossible, here's some pipers playing “Amazing Grace”.

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.


Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Lord of the Sabbath


It's one of the 10 Commandments that Christians often skip over. Or at least try and interpret in a way that fits with their particular lifestyle."Remember the Sabbath Day and keep it holy." (Deuteronomy 5:12). Life restricting Sabbath observances of past generations, and legalistic rules that forbade everything from shopping to playing games on Sundays, have pushed society in the totally opposite direction.

We are a busy people. For many people, Sunday is now just another day. And far from being restful, a multitude of activities are stuffed into it. Shopping. Sports. Eating Out. Visiting the Family. Or for many... working in occupations that service all of the above. There was a time when on a list of “To-Do” things, attending church would be at the top of the list. Now it's often considered an optional extra, and somewhere near the bottom of folks priorities.

There's a passage in the gospel of Mark, where Jesus is criticized for allowing His disciples to eat, as they pass through a field. Their dreadful sin is that they expend energy in work by plucking corn. Didn't they know that work was forbidden on the Sabbath? It's followed by another passage, in which Jesus heals a person during the Sabbath worship service. This proves equally unacceptable to the legalists! (Mark 2:23-3:6)

In the middle of it all Jesus explains "The Sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27). In the context of the two passages, this appears to mean that Sabbath observance was never meant to be a limiting or legalistic practice, but was rather an invitation to participate in something that would bring joy, rest and healing … something which would center people in the love of God.

If we are people of faith, we sell both ourselves and our faith communities short, when we refuse to take up God's invitation to be Sabbath centered followers. We sell ourselves short, because in this workaholic world, we need to take time to breathe the Spirit. We are stressed beyond belief. Because of that, our relationships can be at breaking point. We rush from one thing to the next without ever questioning the value in it all. We are driven people who sometimes really need to get out of the driving seat and let Jesus take the wheel.

We do a disservice to our faith communities when we leave a lot of the things we could (and maybe feel we should) be doing, in the hands of other, already overburdened, folk. Volunteer burnout is a reality in so many faith communities. In some instances, one way it could be avoided, was if everybody took a little of the weight, instead of placing it all on the shoulders of a few.

We cannot return to a day when Sunday was what it used to be. And for many of us, there is no wish to go down that particular road. Yet our spirits and our souls are desperate for nourishment, rest and healing. Often that tension is manifested in our bodies! Jesus explained “The Sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the Sabbath.”

Considering “Sabbath” as an invitation to embrace a lifestyle, that has time for renewal and regeneration, time for putting aside routines that are literally killing us, and time to reconnect with what really matters... might encourage us to see afresh that verse in Deuteronomy.

Last week was Trinity Sunday. Our message from that day can be found here. This coming week at Mount Hebron Presbyterian we are embarking on a series of sermons titled “Mark My Words” which are based upon the first few chapters of the second Gospel. Come celebrate Sabbath with us if you are in the area. In not, then find a way to observe a Sabbath in any way that best nurtures your spirit!

For some music the choir of “Christ for the Nations” sing “Renew MyLife, Lord Jesus.”

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Trinity and Community


Here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, each Sunday we meet for worship, we sing a short song of praise, following a statement about our acceptance by God that we call the “Words of Assurance.” We know the tune so well that we usually don't even open the hymnbook when we sing it. The song is a statement about who we believe God is and how we believe God relates to our lives.

I'm sure if you belong to an established Christian tradition, the words and tune will be familiar to you, “Glory Be To the Father, and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost, as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end, Amen, Amen.”

In the church calendar this upcoming Sunday is “Trinity Sunday.” It's a Sunday when we remind ourselves, of the mysterious nature of the God we gather to worship. It could be that this little song of praise has become so familiar to us, that we forget what a radical idea we are affirming.

The earliest church struggled to understand the belief that God is both One and three. Many great Councils of the Church were held to clarify what it meant and they wrestled to find language with which to describe the Trinitarian relationship between Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It was not until the Council of Constantinople in 381 AD that the doctrine of the Trinity officially became the churches accepted teaching.

St Augustine described the Trinity in terms of the lover, the beloved and the love which exists between them. St Patrick used the shamrock to explain the idea of “Three persons in one God” to the people of Ireland. Many of the prayers of the Church express a belief in a Triune God.

Some Christian traditions recall the Trinity through the “Sign of the Cross,” by which they dedicate themselves to God, “In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit." Many prayers in the Celtic tradition contain the refrain “In the name of the One and the name of the Three.”

Augustine's idea of the Trinity as a communion of love is a rich and powerful image. It suggests that in order for love to be experienced, there has to be community. That it is as we become caught up in the community that is the love of God, that our lives become enriched and our love for each other (and for God) becomes deeper.

In an age when even spirituality is sometimes framed in terms of, “It's all about me and what I can get out of it,” it is refreshing to consider that we only truly find fulfillment through relationships and within community. Our little praise song even suggests that such is how it's always been, and is always going to be. “As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, World without end.

Theology can be complicated. We can tie ourselves in knots trying to explain the awesomeness of God. Maybe that's not the way understanding comes. Maybe we should simply consider Trinity Sunday as an invitation to be a participant in a mysterious loving community that will never end. 

Maybe it is only as we set about being a part of that community, that it starts to make sense!
Thankfully we don't have to wait till we can understand all things, in order to follow the simple command to “Love God and love each other.” A wonderful place to make that happen is within a local faith community. 

If you don't regularly attend a place of worship already, you'd always be welcome to join us here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, as we explore together what being a community is all about.
For some music, a Trinitarian classic, “HOLY, HOLY, HOLY” performed by Don Moen, from his 2012 album "Hymnbook"

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, May 7, 2018

Mothers Day, Confirmations and Growing Families!

Here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, we just finished up a series on the First Letter of John. The final message in that series, “God Birthed Faith” can be found here. Our next couple of Sundays embrace new themes.

On May 13 we'll observing Mothers Day, honoring not just mothers, but all those called to the task of parenting (or indeed having parents... which includes us all!) Our service is being conducted by our Christian Education Team, excellently assisted by some of the younger members of the church. We'll be thinking about what a “Treasure” a family can be and sharing treasured memories of those who have nurtured our lives.

None of us could be the people we are, without the help of those who cared for us (often sacrificed for us) and passed onto us legacies of love, life and faith that have formed our characters. Some of us also carry the pain of relationships that weren't so good and the scars of those times when life really didn't work out. Those also are part of the legacy that formed our characters. 

Some of us need healing. Other might need encouraging. Part of the treasure of belonging to a faith community is that we also discover the treasure of belonging to a God who sees us all as precious children and encourages us to take care of each other.

On Sunday May 20 we are celebrating a confirmation service for four of our young people. In our Presbyterian tradition, when children are baptized their parents make promises on their behalf, and parents, sponsors (godparents), family members and the community of faith, state that they will do what they can to bring them up in the ways of the Christian faith.

Confirmation is a time for the youth to say that they claim the journey of faith as their own and take on the responsibility of being full members of their church community. It's not a point of arrival, but another milestone in their discipleship journey. It has been a privilege for myself to share with them in classes and activities that have led them to this point.

This little blog will be taking a break for a couple of weeks as I have my own family celebrations to attend. My own daughter gave birth recently to a healthy baby boy... and this granddad is taking a few days out to get to know him and renew his acquaintance with his two year old sister. So in my own way... I will be celebrating a very special and personal Mother's Day.

The theme of this is all about family. The families into which we are born. The families of faith that we are invited to participate in. The wider family of humanity that scripture declares is nurtured and loved by the God who brought all things into being.

As the summer months approach and the days grow longer, take some time to be thankful for the many ways the treasures of family and relationships have blessed our lives. While acknowledging that things in families never run smoothly, we are who we are, and we, every day, have the opportunity to shape what we will yet become. While it is impossible to determine what life may bring our way, we decide how we will deal with it, embrace it and celebrate it!

As I go to spend a little time with my wider family and celebrate family I couldn't think of a better song on a Mothers Day theme than Lauren Alaina singing “Like My Mother Does...”

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, April 30, 2018

Stay Connected


I sat down one evening to watch TV. I picked up the remote control and pressed the button. Nothing happened. I'd been meaning to change the batteries for a while and just presumed that they had finally given up. So I went into that untidy drawer where I keep random things, such as spare batteries, and started searching through it. “Now what was it... a double A, a triple A, let's see.” Finding the right battery I returned to the couch.

Again I picked up the remote control and pressed the button. Again, nothing happened. “Hmm” that's strange I thought. So I went over to the TV and tried to find the “ON” switch to see if I could do it the old fashioned way. This proved more difficult than I thought. Modern electrical appliances do not have clearly marked “On/Off” switches. So I had to go back to the untidy random drawer to find a flashlight.

Eventually I located both the flashlight and the “On/Off” switch on the back of the TV. I turned it on. Still nothing happened. It was only then that I remembered that the day before we had experienced a lightning storm. In a previous home in which we had lived, the TV had been fried when lightning hit the electrical wires. Not wanting this to happen again I had disconnected the TV from the source. No wonder it didn't work. It wasn't connected!

Staying connected is important. It's important in our relationships with each other. It's important in our spiritual relationship with God. Here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church we have been following a series of messages based on the First Letter of John. His letter weaves together themes of sin, forgiveness and love.

Last week we were thinking about “Fearless Love.” This week we take a look at 1 John 5:1-6. In his final chapter he speaks about how, if our lives are to manifest the love of God, we need to be connected to God!

For John, faith is something that is birthed within us when we seek God. He sees God's commands, not as restrictions that hold us back, but as things that we will want to pursue because we know that God's love for us is deep and all embracing. He writes; “His commandments are not burdensome, for whatever is born of God conquers the world. And this is the victory that conquers the world. Our faith.” (1 John 5:3-4)

For faith to grow we need to be sure we are connected. We can connect with God in many different ways. Though serving others. Jesus said, '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).

We connect with God when we gather for worship. “Let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another” (Hebrews 10:25).

We connect with God as we pray. “Pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.” (Ephesians 6:18)

So a simple message this week.... stay connected! How do we do that? God will make a way. Such is the insight of this weeks music selection. “God Will Make a Way.

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.