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

Monday, February 26, 2018

Clearing the Way

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Seeking Direction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Let the Lenten Journey Begin!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, February 5, 2018

It Happened on a Mountain.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.