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

Monday, August 27, 2018

The Heart of the Matter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Reverend Adrian J Pratt B.D.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Never Give Up!

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

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

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

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

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

Knowing who and what we believe is so important

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

Our calling is to be faithful.

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

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

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

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

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

The Reverend Adrian J Pratt B.D.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Real Meat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Reverend Adrian J Pratt B.D.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Bread of Life


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For some music Steve Angrisano sings “Bread of Life”

The Reverend Adrian J Pratt B.D.