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

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.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Faith and Fear


 Time and again the biblical teaches, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Psalm 111:10; Proverbs 9:10). Yet fear as a pathway to wise living and proper relationship with God seems to us both unattractive and mysterious. How can fear of God be central to the life of faith, which is meant to draw us closer to God in love?

Here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian we are continuing a series of sermons that take a look at the First letter of John. Last week we were considering the topic “This is Love” (Sermon here). This week we'll be studying 1 John 4:7-21. Verse 18 tells us that for those who truly love God,“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.” Yet Paul, writes in Romans 4:16 about Abraham, who in his faithfulness is “the father of all believers,” and commends him for having a proper fear of God.

Professor Russell Reno, who was born in Baltimore and in later life became a professor of theology and ethics at Creighton University, writes about how Scripture identifies three types of fear, that play very different roles in faithful discipleship.

1. Worldly fear that can diminish human life.

We are aware that we can be destroyed by human sinfulness, powerful institutions, and natural processes beyond our control. Of course we should plan our lives with care (Proverbs 8:12) and have a healthy fear of the legitimate power of authorities (Romans 13:3). But Reno writes that worldly fear too often “debilitates, paralyzes, and undermines our faithfulness” and that “the kind of justice that emerges out of trembling anxiety, is outward and unstable.” This is the kind of fear that Jesus sought for us to be released from. Jesus invites us to; “Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?” (Matthew 6:26-27)

2. Spiritual fear of God’s judgment that directs us away from sin and toward righteousness.
We should grieve over our sins. Our sins not only destroy our relationship with God but also our relationships with each other. They directly contradict the two great commandments given to us by Jesus, that we love God and love our neighbors as much as we love ourselves. Paul reminds us that sin always exacts a price from us and writes in Romans 6:23 “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” God's judgment finds expression in our lives when we observe how sin wrecks, pollutes and makes a mess of all that we try to do.

3. A lasting, heavenly fear that honors God’s holiness and love.
It is fitting and right to experience a sense of awe in the presence of a Holy God. Scripture invites us to die to our sinful selves, and be awake to how God can transform our lives. Reno writes. “The eternal and unfathomable difference between God and creature explains the everlasting fear that is consistent with a love that draws us ever nearer.... Our confident faith in [Christ’s] saving death is entirely consistent with a fearful sense of the depths into which He went on our behalf, depths from which we turn away in shuddering, instinctive horror... As the old spiritual says of the cross, ‘It causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.”

Let us pray that God will help us have a trust in God's love that casts out any and all debilitating fear! For some music Zach Williams sings “Fear Is a Liar.”

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

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.