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

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.