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

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Reluctant Disciples

Reluctant Disciples

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, January 8, 2018

The Call

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Epiphany Stars 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.