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

Monday, December 23, 2019

The After Christmas Exodus


It will be a busy week here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian as we celebrate our Christmas services. Last Sunday we were thinking about the pre-christmas anxiety of Joseph. Our sermon from the day can be found here. This week are thinking about the after-christmas exodus of the holy family.

I am a big fan of Christmas. What a wonderful thing to celebrate. Light comes to the midst of our darkness. A child of hope is born. Angels sing, stars appear in the sky and shepherds and wise folk are drawn to celebrate the dawn of a new era. But then.... it's all over. Way too soon. The darkness, the confusion and the striving return.

Christmas was never an end in itself but a new beginning of epic proportions. And as with any time of new beginnings, there are always those who greatly fear change and will go to desperate lengths to try and return things to the way they once were. Nobody in Scripture exemplifies this more than King Herod, whose actions following the birth of Jesus, are recorded for us in Matthew2:13-23.

You may recall the story. The Wise Men searching for Jesus arrive at Herod's palace and inform him they are looking for the new born King. Herod (who is terrified of anybody usurping his position of power) tells them. “Oh, that's great! When you find him, make sure you come and tell me where he is!” After visiting Jesus and presenting their gifts, the Magi realize that Herod is up to no good and so return home by another route.

Then we read “When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi.” (verse 16)

Thankfully, Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus, has been warned about this impending tragedy and the family take on the mantle of refugees and flee from the impending persecution to the land of Egypt, where they find a safe haven. Such is the after Christmas exodus.

Christ has come to our world. Hallelujah! But now He is born in our midst it is time to recognize that change will not come easily. Christmas is a day of celebration. Now the hard work of continuing to be light in a world, that often prefers the darkness, has to continue.

We head into a New Year, not knowing what it may hold... for ourselves, our families, our friends, our churches and our nations. We must continue to dream. We must act upon those things we feel God is calling us to do. 

We must take care of our families and each other. We should lift up our leaders, both in church and state, in our prayers. We can encourage each other with the thought, that though circumstances change, the love of our God remains steadfast and true.

For some music, Don Moen sings “God will make a way” 
 A Happy New Year to all!

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, December 16, 2019

Ordinary and Extraordinary

Ordinary and Extraordinary

This past Sunday here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church we celebrated the third Sunday of Advent with our children's Nativity play. We survived! And the kids did a great job. This week we are taking a look at Matthew 1:18-25 and the account of an angel visiting Joseph in a dream, convincing him to take Mary as his wife and to call their new born baby “Emmanuel” which means “God is with us.”

We are not told much about Joseph in the Scriptures. We presume that because Jesus became a carpenter he was involved in the same trade. We know that he loved Mary with a deep intensity, as he was not prepared to allow her to be shamed. We know he was a solid man of prayer and devotion.

We know that his namesake, in the Old Testament, was also a person who had his life interrupted by dreams. The hit musical “Joseph and His Technicolor Dreamcoat” has kept the story of that Old Testament Joseph in the contemporary imagination.

Dreams are such strange, intangible things. We all have them. But we don't all depend on them in the way that the dreaming Josephs' of the Old and New Testament are said to have done. As the result of a dream Joseph, earthly father of Jesus, takes Mary as his wife.

As a result of a dream he flees to Egypt just in time to escape the crazed King Herod's slaughter of innocent newborns. On the strength of a dream, he returns from Egypt to set up home in Nazareth. According to Matthew, all these dreams were related to biblical prophecies that took place long before he was born.

There is a saying in both the world of entertainment and sport. “The difference between ordinary and extraordinary is practice.” Joseph was a very ordinary man. Mary was a very ordinary woman. What made their lives extraordinary was the way they practiced their faith. Joseph could have divorced Mary or even acted as the law suggested and allowed her to be stoned to death because of alleged adultery. The Christmas story would have ended right there.

Instead Joseph turns out to be a person of vision. A person who could tell the difference between a dream that came from too much cheese after supper and one inspired by God's Holy Spirit. Have you ever heard people who described themselves as “Non-practicing Christians?” Joseph is nothing like that!

As God is God I am sure God can communicate with us in numerous wonderful ways. It is for us to practice our faith, so that if the unusual does come our way... we are ready and willing to follow. Being regular in worship, study, prayer and service is a great way to practice. The difference between ordinary and extraordinary really is practice.

Just in case you have already had enough of Christmas music to last way beyond the festive season, here is a song by Jason Donovan from the musical about the other Joseph... the one from the Old Testament with the colorful coat..."Any Dream Will Do .

Here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian we will, of course, be celebrating the Christmas Season.
Join Us!

December 22, Advent 4 "Between Ordinary and Extraordinary" (Matthew 1:18-25) 10:00 am
December 24, Christmas Eve 7:00 P.M. "Lessons, Carols and Candlelight" 7:00 pm
December 24 "Christmas Eve Midnight Communion" (11:30 pm in Hebron House)
December 29 "The Nightmare After Christmas" (Matthew 2:13-23) 10:00 am.

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, December 9, 2019

The Christmas Nativity Play


Last week here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church we reflected on a well known Christmas carol. Our sermon, “Stumps and Shoots” can be found here. This coming Sunday we shall celebrate the third Sunday of Advent with our children's Nativity play. Hopefully all will go well. Back in my homelands in the U.K, the annual Christmas play featured as part of many an elementary schools annual calendar.

It seemed like every teacher had a story to tell about the Christmas Nativity play. There was the time the Innkeeper, when asked if there was any room in the Inn, answered, "Plenty" and ushered the startled Holy Family inside; the occasion when Mary dropped Baby Jesus, immediately bursting into floods of tears as the head of the large pink doll rolled off the stage and bounced along the front of the hall; the time that the Archangel Gabriel informed Mary that he had tidings of great joy to bring but had completely forgotten what they were.

Then there was the performance when the little boy playing Joseph strode confidently onto the stage and asked the small figure in blue, cradling her baby, "And how's our Jesus been today, Mary?" "He's been a right little so-and-so!" came the blunt reply. 

Another time, the six-year-old playing the Innkeeper was most disgruntled with his part, having wanted to take the lead as Joseph. When the Holy Family arrived at the Inn and asked for a room the Innkeeper pulled Mary through the door and told a startled Joseph, "She can come in, but you can get lost!”

In one Nativity play Mary cradled a large doll with a mass of blond curls but as she rocked it in her arms it suddenly began to speak in a tinny American accent: "Hi, my name's Tammy and I need my diapers changing. Hi, my name's Tammy and I need my diapers changing." The little boy playing Joseph came to her assistance and, seizing the doll, twisted it's head around, which promptly shut it up.

There is a saying in the world of theater, “Never work with children or animals.” Yet somehow the Christmas story would not be the same without it being retold with a whole cast of little ones. So we will we do our best to tell the old, old story in our own imperfect way!

At the core of the Christmas story is the birth of a child. A child, who when He grew up, said to His would be followers "Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3)

As we rejoice at the achievements of our little ones, maybe we can also reflect that embracing life with innocence, wonder and “making it up as we go along” has always featured as a component of true discipleship!

For some music “Oh Holy Night” sung by little Claire Ryann Crosby at the annual Crosby's Christmas Concert.
The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, December 2, 2019

Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming.

Lo, how a rose e’er blooming, From tender stem have sprung,
Of Jesus lineage coming, As men of old have sung...,
Isaiah twas foretold it, The rose I have in mind...,

This familiar Advent hymn will feature as part of our service, here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, on December 8, when we take as our theme "Stumps and Shoots." The hymns popularity was boosted when it featured in the 1971 Academy Award winning movie "Love Story."

Of course, it's a lot older than the 1970's! The hymn’s origins can be traced back to the late 16th century, in a manuscript found in St. Alban’s Carthusian monastery in Trier. Its original German title was, “Es ist ein Ros entsprungen.”

The origin of the image of the rose has been open to speculation. One ancient legend has it that on Christmas Eve, a monk in Trier found a blooming rose while walking in the woods, and then placed the rose in a vase on an altar to the Virgin Mary. In Catholic theology Mary is compared to the symbol of the “Mystical rose” in Song of Solomon 2:1; “I am the rose of Sharon, and the lily of the valleys.” 

Protestant theologians have interpreted the rose as being a reference to Jesus. Isaiah 11:1 reads “And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots.” A third passage from Isaiah 35:1 suggests another biblical basis for such an image: “The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad for them; and the desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose.

The hope that things can bloom in even the most unlikely places is a common theme throughout Advent. Last Sunday we were thinking about “Feasting on Hope.” Our sermon can be found here. Who would have thought that in an out of the way corner of the world, known as Bethlehem (and in a stable of all places) the glory of God would be revealed through the birth of Jesus Christ?

God looks at our lives, which can be very ordinary and sometimes frustrated, and sees them as places where wonderful things can take place. Out of stumps, new shoots can grow! The birth of Jesus into the circle of this worlds life offers to us all new possibilities for peace, joy and love. As we travel towards Christmas Day, let us rejoice in the hope the season offers.

For some music Bonnie McMaken, Johannah Swank, and Marissa Cunningham sing a beautiful arrangement of this Advent carol “Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming.” (Thanks to my wife Yvonne for recommending this link.)

Prayer. “Lord, in Your good time, Jesus our Savior was born. Prophesied by seers of old, welcomed by shepherds and angels, His Spirit still finds a home in all who are open to welcome His love. Out of stumps, new shoots can grow. We pray that our lives may be places where Your love can 'blossom as the rose.' Amen.

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, November 25, 2019

Feasting on Hope

Feasting on Hope

Here's hoping you will have a blessed Thanksgiving and time to reflect on the many blessings God has showered upon our lives. Yet no sooner have all the dishes been cleared away and everybody traveled back to wherever they came from, than we are getting our sights set on Christmas! There is hardly time to take a breath.

Last Sunday we reflected on the theme “Christ the King.” Our sermon from the day can be found here. This coming Sunday is the first Sunday of Advent. Many churches will be focused on lectionary passages that are all about the coming Kingdom of God, such as Matthew 24:36-44, the suggested passage for the day.

The readings continue to speak about a theme that has been part of our reflections the last few weeks; namely that however things may appear, God still has the whole world in God's hands. God is in control. One aspect of this passage that always fascinates me, is the motif of “surprise” in Matthew's view of the future. Whilst telling us in no uncertain terms that the day of the Lord will come, we are cautioned not to speculate about when such an event may take place.

Rather our calling is to work at the kind of things that bring the Kingdom closer. If we want to see a hope filled world then we are invited to offer some hope. If we wish to see war at an end then we are called to support initiatives towards peace. If we want to see the poor lifted up, then we are called to do some serious sharing from out of the abundance God has blessed us with.

The surprise comes when our small and seemingly insignificant actions are shown to have made a difference to somebody and opened a little window of hope into their lives. What a blessing to observe our actions actually making a difference. “One day,” the prophets declare, “All will be well.” In the meantime? We are invited to do the little things that turn out to be the big things.

This coming Sunday will also be a communion Sunday. The table will be laid with bread and wine. As we remind ourselves how Jesus gave Himself, heart and soul, to the salvation of the world, we are encouraged to commit our selves to the continuing work of building His kingdom.

For some music multi Gospel Grammy winner Andrae Crouch sings “Soon And Very Soon” at a Tennessee Ernie Ford "Great American Gospel Sound" concert.

Prayer:”Lord, in this Advent season we seek that our lives may be a source of hope for others. We dare to believe that You have all things under control and one day its all going to turn out right. But until that time... help us to carry on trusting that our actions make a difference. Amen.”

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, November 18, 2019

This Strange King


Last Sunday here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian we were thinking about “Tenacity, Time and Torn Down Temples.” Our sermon from the day can be found here. This coming Sunday marks the end of the liturgical year, marked by a Sunday known as “Christ the King Sunday” or for those nations uncomfortable with the idea of a monarchy, “Reign of Christ Sunday.”

Next week Advent begins and the countdown to Christmas. The liturgical year finishes on a very somber note, the suggested gospel reading being Luke 23:33-43, a passage that is all about the crucifixion of Jesus and the reactions of two men who are crucified with Him. Reflecting on this passage Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton writes;

“Luke’s story of the crucifixion is very spare and simple;They crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on His left and one on His right.” That’s it. Very simple, very plain, and very clear to the people to whom Luke was writing. Luke was a Greek, his main audience was Greco-Roman in culture, not Jewish, and they knew exactly was Crucifixion was, they didn’t need to have it explained to them. It was very common throughout the empire; which was Luke’s point.

Jesus, the supposed Son of God, Lord of Lord and King of Kings, executed like a common criminal with a couple of petty criminals. Not very Kingly, is it? And then, more indignity, more shame; the soldiers kneel at His feet while He’s still alive. Not to worship, but to gamble for His clothes. And people laughed at Him, “He saved others, let Him save Himself if He is the Messiah of God, His chosen One.” There it is, the crux of the matter for the people then, and if we’re honest for us now.

We don’t want a suffering and dying God. We want a strong and powerful one. We want a Savior who can not only forgive our sins, but who will make us richer and prettier and more popular and help insure that all our plans work out for the best.”

If you watch any of the prosperity preachers on the TV religious channels you will realize that there is a huge market for a palatable God who grants whatever we ask, (just as long as we make a donation.) But that is not the God of Luke. Or Matthew, John, Mark, Paul, Peter or any other biblical writer.

The glory of God's Kingship is shown through the ability of Jesus to absorb all the pain, hatred and suffering that was heaped upon Him. Not only does He absorb it. He transforms it. This passage also contains an unmerited offer of grace. A criminal dying alongside Him, recognizes the true dignity and worth of Jesus. He simply declares “This man has done nothing wrong.” Jesus answers the criminal, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.

What kind of Kingly judgment is this? What a scandal of grace! Just by recognizing who Jesus is, a person finds eternity within their grasp? But maybe that is the point that Luke is trying to make! This strangest of Kings can accomplish the most unbelievable works of forgiveness and acceptance towards any one of us. All He asks is that we recognize Him for who He is.

For some music and further reflection Matt Papa sings “His Mercy Is More.”

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, November 11, 2019

Nothing is for Certain

One thing in life is for certain.
That nothing in life is for certain. 
We truly do not know what each day may bring our way. 
Last Sunday we were thinking about resurrection. 
Our sermon from the day “The Living Difference” can be found here.

Our reading this coming Sunday is from Luke 21:5-19. Jesus and His disciples are in Jerusalem. The disciples are pretty certain that Jesus is somebody special in God's eyes and are quite sure that God will take care of Him (and them.) As they visit the temple they marvel at the seeming permanence of the institution. It was an impressive building.

Jesus astounds them by predicting that the temple, in the not so distant future, would be flattened. In fact, Jerusalem itself would be ransacked and pass through a time of great destruction. He tells them that they, as His followers, would face persecution and be called upon to give an account of themselves.

They naturally ask Him about how and when and why. He refuses to answer with any specifics, other than telling them to keep trusting God whatever may happen and assures them that God would remain in control, even when outwardly it looked like everything was falling apart.

With the benefit of hindsight we know that Jesus was speaking the truth. The temple, as did all of Jerusalem, fall before the might of Rome. And many of those who professed to have faith in Him, following His death and resurrection, were indeed persecuted and called upon to account for their beliefs.

Temples are built and temples crumble. Empires rise and empires fall. History is an unlikely chain of events and has a tendency to repeat itself. Today's certainties may not be so clear tomorrow. When all is going well in our lives, faith comes easy. It is easy to trust when we don't have much to be trusting about. It is when the unexpected happens, when uncertainty creeps in and when we cannot predict the outcome of an event, that we have a struggle on our hands.

Yet Jesus still, in His predictions of woe and trouble, adds at the end of His descriptions, “But not a hair of your head will perish.” For those who continue to trust in Him, despite the outward appearance of things, there remains a promise of protection.

Maybe that is a verse we need to keep somewhere close by for those times when everything seems to be falling apart. “Not a hair of your head will perish.” Dare we trust that God is STILL in control? That's not easy. The thing is, I have yet to find a verse in the whole of Scripture that suggests it should be.

For some music and further reflection “Mercy Me”sing “Even If.

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

The Living Difference


Last week here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church we were contemplating the actions of a wee man called Zacchaeus. Our sermon from the day can be found here.

In our service this coming Sunday we will be thinking thinking about the Sadducees and in particular, their doubts about the resurrection. The biblical passage for our focus will be Luke 20:27-38.

How can belief in the resurrection make a difference to our daily lives?

Belief in the Resurrection offers a fresh perspective on justice.

Many times we hear the complaint that “Life is not Fair.” There was nothing ‘fair’ or ‘just’ about the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Yet God was able to turn the ultimate catastrophe into the ultimate victory through the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. Belief in the resurrection grants to us the hope that God can take the most unjust and desperate situations and use them for some good and eternal purpose.

Belief in the Resurrection places life into a larger framework.

If we believe our actions have an eternal significance then we are less likely to make hasty decisions or invest ourselves in activities that benefit only ourselves. We will take seriously the invitation of Jesus to find Him in the most needy of those around us. As our lives are transformed by the action of the Holy Spirit we seek to help others experience His living love.

Belief in the Resurrection offers a hopeful perspective on death.

If death is the end, then death is the ultimate catastrophe. However if death is a doorway into something greater, then death is nothing to fear. As St Paul wrote to the Philippian church, “For me to live is Christ, to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21).

Prayer: Lord, we ask that belief in the power of Your love to overcome death may transform our lives. Help us through Your Holy Spirit to be resurrection people with ‘Hallelujah’ as our song!” Amen.

For some music Rend Collective sing “Resurrection Day.

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, October 28, 2019

Get out of that Tree

Zacchaeus was the little guy who climbed up the sycamore tree to see Jesus pass by. But Jesus didn’t pass by. He stopped in His tracks, looked up into the tree, called his name and told him to “Come down” as He was coming to his house that day. Zacchaeus will be our focus this coming Sunday at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, as we look together at his story in Luke 19:1-10.

Zacchaeus is a fascinating character. His name means "pure," yet the Bible tells us he was anything but pure. He was a chief tax collector in Jericho, the city where, historically, the walls had fallen down under the onslaught of Joshua and the Israelite forces.

Tax collectors were known for their habit of taking a share of the proceeds to enrich their own lives. This was far from legal, but tolerated by the Roman enforcers, as it was hard to find anybody willing to take the job. Zacchaeus was additionally disliked by the Jews because he had intimate contact with Gentiles. Decent folk did not act that way. Neither did they sell their souls to Romans.

Jesus is passing through the city of Jericho, on His way to Jerusalem. As Jesus approaches, Zacchaeus hides in a tree. We are told he was a little man, so maybe he had climbed up the tree to get a good view. Or maybe he was scared of the people, so he is hiding in order to be well out of their reach!

Jesus does not pass by. He stops and tells Zacchaeus to hurry down out of the tree he is hiding in, because Jesus was going to spend the day at his house. The religious authorities were not impressed. Jesus was spending more and more time with people who were "undesirable." Jesus explained His reasons for associating with them; “The Son of Man had come to seek and to save those who were lost.” (Luke 19:10.) Jesus cared about Zacchaeus, just as He cared about everyone, no matter their profession or status.

Zacchaeus was truly a changed man after he met Jesus. He repented of all the wrong things he had done. He understood what Jesus said about "turning around" and began following in the Kingdom's ways. He promised Jesus that, according to the laws of Moses, he would pay back the people from whom he had taken too much in taxes.

Jesus told Zacchaeus that it was his faith that now caused him to be counted among God's people. It is a biblical principle that all who come to Jesus in faith and believe in Him are saved by their faith. Jesus welcomes all who turn to Him and put their trust in Him. If Zacchaeus was an acceptable candidate for discipleship, then so are we!

For some music and reflection “Out of Hiding” by Steffany Gretzinger and Amanda Cook.

Prayer: Lord, it is good to know that whoever we are and whatever we have done, You still come seeking after us. You always offer us the chance to make amends and start over again. May we welcome Your love into our daily routines this week. Amen.

(October 13 Sermon “The Attitude of Gratitude” can be found here)

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, October 7, 2019

Attitude of Gratitude



Last week at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church we took the theme, “Sir, I want to See Again!” Our sermon from the day can be found here. This week at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church we'll be taking a look at Luke 17:11-19 and focusing on the theme of “Gratitude.” I came across these thoughts in a copy of "Guideposts" magazine. I am not sure who the author was, but thank you, whoever you were!

"If you want to feel better physically, if you want a better outlook on life, remember this verse. “Give thanks unto the Lord,for He is good; His love endures forever” (Psalm 107:1).

Every morning when you get up, instead of fretting and complaining, instead of turning to the media to see how bad everything is, just go and look out of the window. Take a deep breath and say, “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His love endures forever.” It makes you feel better just to think of doing that, doesn't it? How much better it will make you feel if you follow that practice every day!

The art of thanksgiving is one of the most important skills a human being can develop. Sadly, I believe most of us are somewhat lacking in this area. But very closely related to thanksgiving is the art of appreciation. And if we develop the ability to appreciate, we also develop our capacity to be thankful.

Begin with acknowledging the small wonders of life, those little things like hot coffee or the smell of a rose, fresh sheets or bread warm from the oven. It is God’s will that we “Give thanks in everything” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). All of us have simple, beautiful things that Almighty God has given us, which we can appreciate. Open your eyes and see that God “Does wonderful things without number” (Job 5:9).

There’s another reason to be thankful for our blessings: Gratitude activates the flow of even more blessings in our life. And by the same token, ingratitude, fear, or doubt has the opposite effect. If you hold a thought—positive or negative—you create a soil that is hospitable to the germination of the fact for which the thought is the symbol. And the seed you plant, whether good or bad, “produces a crop yielding a hundred…times what was sown” (Matthew 13:23). So don't entertain negative thoughts. Fight them, with God's help. Keep them out of your mind.

One important way to do that is not to articulate, not to express such thoughts in words. Cut off the articulation and you reduce half their strength. It will then be easier to cut them off mentally. You have to practice this. And in this practicing, visualization is helpful. Each day, pray with the Psalmist, “May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer” (Psalm 19:14).

Remember the old hymn with this refrain: “Count your blessings, name them one by one; Count your blessings, see what God hath done!” How long has it been since you have counted up your blessings? When you invite a person to recount his troubles, you are likely to find he can do so all too readily. But if you can get somebody to enumerate his blessings to you, and you look at his face as he does it, you see somebody who really has light in his heart.”

Walk by faith in God's Kingdom latitude. Live every day with an attitude of gratitude. For some music, a beautiful song, “Gratitude” by Nichole Nordeman.

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Lost Without Knowing It


I was traveling down the road, so busy talking to the person sitting in the passenger seat that I failed to notice that there was an intersection. The road I wanted went one way, the way I went was the other way. It was only when we came upon a shopping mall and a set of traffic lights that I realized my error. I had become so preoccupied with our conversation that I had become “lost without knowing it.”

Last Sunday we were considering the challenge of being a disciple. Our sermon “The Call and the Cross” can be found here. This coming Sunday we will be reflecting upon the dangers involved in being lost! Our text will be Luke 15:1-10, which features the parables of the lost sheep and lost coin

What are some strategies we can turn to when we feel lost?

Look at a map.
The Scriptures can be a great guide to help us through our problems. As we read of how different bible characters dealt with the issues of their day, we can often find guidance for our selves. Some of the greatest sayings of Scripture can give a framework in which to find the way. “Treat others in the way you would like them to treat you,” “Pray for your enemies,” “Be Patient”… these little nuggets can help us navigate many moral dilemmas.

Ask Directions.
You know what they say…. real men never ask for directions! Yet Christian doctrine has always insisted that Jesus was a “Real Man.” And He found it very necessary to carve out a place in His life for prayer. So have His disciples across the centuries. When we are feeling lost, we seek God for direction.

Help others.
Becoming involved in a cause outside of ourselves can often bring answers to questions we didn’t even realize we were asking. It helps us to see things from another persons perspective. It makes a difference if we walk a while in their shoes. Such experiences can provide the sort of purpose and meaning that may be missing from our day to day routines!

Prayer: Lord, when we are feeling lost help us to find our way through Your Holy Spirit being our guide. Guide us as we listen. Guide us as we serve. Guide us as we pray. Guide us through the Scriptures. This we ask in Jesus name. Amen.


The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Sunday, September 1, 2019

The Call and the Cross


Last week we met around a table laid with bread and wine. These symbols point us to one of the central images of our faith, the Cross of Jesus Christ. Our message from the day can be found here. This week we return to the Lectionary passages suggested for each Sunday and will be taking a look at Luke 14:25-33.

We begin our Fall season of church life. A lot things that had taken a break, now get back into gear. It can be a challenge to find folk willing to step up and commit to the many tasks that keep a church vital and moving forward.

Yet, our central image should surely remind us, that discipleship was never meant to be a walk in the park. We are called to embrace a way that is challenging, hard, difficult and demands all that we can give to it. In a world were we like to take things easy… why on earth would anybody willingly take on the kind of commitment that Jesus asks of us? Luke 14:27 “Whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.

Here are three suggestions some fellow disciples offer to us.

All is not well with our world. Whilst we enjoy the benefits of freedom, health and bountiful resources, we are the fortunate ones. The same cannot be said for many with whom we share our planet. It seems not simply a religious principle, but a humanitarian one, that we who have much should not rest easy, while many have so little. It is a scriptural principle that to those to whom much is given, much is expected.

History teaches that progress rarely happens without struggle. The great freedoms we enjoy are not accidental. Laying behind our privileges are the historical acts of those who selflessly pursued higher goals… often to the point of surrendering their own lives. The Christian road has created many martyrs. The survival of the faith is a miracle that replicates the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Himself. Our faith has resonated many other struggles in wider society. Struggles against slavery, for equal rights for women, for just labor practices… the list goes on and on.

We seek a higher goal. If we dare take the name ‘Christian’ then we intimate that we are taking on the mantle of Christ-like living. We state our belief that His way of doing things is the ‘WAY,’ that His life represents what ‘LIFE’ should be, that His truth is the ‘TRUTH’ regarding what really counts for something.

Prayer:
Lord, we hear Your call to take up a Cross and follow. We may not want to hear it… but You keep calling. Help us to recognize that You call us to bring positive change to this world we share with so many others less fortunate than ourselves. Amen.

For some music, a couple called Jake and Kaylee, sing a version of “In the Cross of Christ I Glory” on a windy hillside.

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, August 26, 2019

Vision


Our summer sermon series here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church continues. I've been preaching a series about “Jesus and Individuals,” taking a series of scriptural snapshots and observing how Jesus interacted with both individuals and groups of people. Last weeks encounter was about a woman caught in the act of adultery. Things did not turn out well for her accusers! (Sermon here.)

This coming week we hear about a man who has his sight restored by Jesus, only to be accused of deception by the Scribes and Pharisees (John 9:1-41.) In many ways the story is all about vision.

Jesus has an incredible vision. He tells His disciples in John 9:5; “As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” This vision is enacted through acts that are incredibly personal. In this account a man who had been born blind receives his sight. That seems to be the way the Kingdom grows. The vision for a new heaven and new earth is mind blogging. But the way it comes into being, one person, one act of kindness and one healing at a time, does not seem to be beyond any persons reach.

The Scribes and Pharisees have a vision of life that blinds them to possibility and causes them to embrace lies as truth. Even when confronted with compelling evidence that their view has no reality to it, they continue in the darkness of self deception. Their commitment to ideology is far more important to them than their commitment to truth. One can certainly find those who parallel such blind allegiance to “their” viewpoint as being the “only one that is valid” in our current world.

The man who receives healing offers the most interesting perspective. As he is accused of being a liar and of bearing false testimony, he simply says, “One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” (verse 25.) He then invites his accusers to accept his testimony and whimsically suggests that they could do with some of the vision Jesus had given to him. As you can imagine, this does not receive a positive response from them. He is dismissed from their presence, as though he were the guilty party.

The passage concludes with Jesus telling the man (and those around Him who were listening) “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.”(verse 39.) The Pharisees get the point. Jesus is accusing them of being the blind leading the blind. Which, given the events of this passage, they were.

There are many factors that touch upon our vision. Personal allegiance and prejudices. Nurture and culture. Faith and willingness to embrace new insight. The Christian message suggests that we all have blind spots and possess a vision of life that needs modifying. It is as we bring ourselves under the influence of God's light that we have an opportunity to change. May God's love continue to lighten our darkness!

For some music “Open the Eyes of My Heart” by Michael W. Smith. Such is a prayer that we would do well to make our own.

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, August 19, 2019

Focus on the Future


Over the summer here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, I've been preaching a series about "Jesus and Individuals," taking a series of snapshots and observing how Jesus reacted with both individuals and groups of people. We saw a sinful woman at the home of Simon, we saw how He dealt with a group of Scribes who came from Jerusalem to contend with Him. We saw an encounter He had with a disturbed man in a graveyard and the reaction of the townsfolk when He healed the man. (Sermon Here)

This coming week we hear about a woman caught in the act of adultery. (John 8:1-11) There are many things the story does not tell us. Who was the other party involved? Who was it who felt it necessary to bring only her before the authorities? Was this an act of coercion or truly a moral failing? Was the whole thing a set up, designed to use a person who had no right to defend herself, to cast darkness on the claims of Jesus? What was the woman's name, her background, her social status? So many unanswered questions.

One thing is clear. Her accusers were without compassion. They had absolute zero care or respect for this lady and their only interest was in winning an argument. Sadly such is often the case in today's world. People will disparage others (sometimes whole groups of people) in an effort to boost their own position of privilege.

On the other hand Jesus acts with both rebuke and compassion. His rebuke is found in the words “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” It is then that He stoops and begins quietly writing some words in the sand. I wonder what He wrote? Was it the names of some of those around Him? Did He doodle pictures representing some of their sins? Maybe He was writing something to the woman, words of hope or comfort. We don't know.

But we know how He dealt with the woman. He tells her, after everybody had walked away, that as nobody else condemned her, then neither did He. Her sins were forgiven. He adds the phrase “Go and sin no more.” Maybe these words are the most important in the whole passage.

You see it is easy to make our passed failings, or even our present predicament the focus of our lives. Yet the gospel message encourages us to be future focused. To not dwell on what has been or even is happening to us right now, but to look to a future where God's grace is given a rightful place. To ponder what could be, if love were allowed to reign.

To me that is the power of the Holy Spirit. God's ability to take what life throws at us and create a new opportunity out of it. The ability of God's renewing love to make something good out of our glaring failures. The whole resurrection experience; taking what is broken and making something beautiful from the ashes.

Let us all seek for the Spirit's renewal to be at the heart of our own experience of God's love. For some music Mark Shulz sings “Broken but Beautiful

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, July 29, 2019

Jesus and Individuals

Jesus and Individuals

Over the summer here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, there are a lot of folk coming and going, myself included. Youth conferences, camps and vacations all take us out of our usual routine. While most of the year I preach on the lectionary passages (a selection of readings that follow a three year pattern) this summer I'm stepping away and preaching a series about the way Jesus acted with individuals, both “solitary individuals” and “individual groups of folk.”

It is interesting to see how “Up close and personal” His ministry truly was. He had a way of challenging those who were outside of the Kingdoms guidelines, while at the same time welcoming those who thought the Kingdom was beyond their reach.

This past Sunday we were looking at a passage where Jesus went to the house of Simon, a Pharisee. (Sermon here). While there, a woman, whose name we never learn, but seems to be in great need, anoints His feet with her tears and drys them with her hair. Jesus chastises Simon for not truly welcoming Him to his home. On the other hand, He offers to the woman, forgiveness and dignity. (Luke 7:36-50)

Next week we'll be thinking about encounters Jesus has with a group of religious folk known as the “Scribes” and with His own family, who seem to want Him to give up on His crazy mission and come home. (Mark 32:20-30).

The Scribes receive a stern warning. That if they take such a careless attitude towards the things of God, that they though the actions of Jesus to be rooted in evil, they were in deep trouble. They only had to look around them. To see that person restored to a right mind. To talk with that person who had now received healing. These good works were the work of God's Holy Spirit. To call it anything else put their souls in peril.

The family of Jesus are invited to see that He was who He was. He could not be limited by the constraints of family, because His mission was so much more than the redemption of any one person, tribe or nation. Foolish as that may seem right then, eventually, they would understand.

Such passages are truly a challenge to us as individuals... and as church communities. We are often influenced more by the unspoken understandings of our communities and 'tribes' than we realize. We can be blind to the implications of our actions and sometimes need the words of Jesus to challenge us in an “Up close and personal” manner.

May God continue to guide us and renew us! Wherever the summer months lead us, may we take time to discover new insights and take on fresh challenges.

For some music “Changing Me” by Anna Golden

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, July 8, 2019

To Mars and Beyond


Last weeks musings and music focused on Paul's letter to the Galatians and themes of faith and freedom. Our sermon from the day can be found here. This weeks blog takes us out of this world.

We are going “To Mars and Beyond.” Here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian it is time for our annual Vacation Bible School program. We have a fired up group of volunteers ready to lead our youngest ones through a week of stories, songs, fun and games.

This years theme takes a look at a number of key bible figures who demonstrated a trust in God that went beyond the ordinary. Many of us are familiar with these stories from our own childhood or attendance at Sunday School.

Daniel trusts God for protection as he is thrown into the lions den. Queen Esther takes a brave stand to save her people from destruction. A Good Samaritan goes out of his way to help a man he recognized as being his neighbor. Jesus heals ten lepers, but only one actually takes the time to say thanks. Two men on a road to Emmaus have a close encounter of the resurrection kind.

One of the huge challenges facing the Christian church is that of educating children in biblical knowledge. They are not going to get that in public school. Church and State are kept at a distance. Many families no longer participate in regular church attendance. Unless parents share these bible stories within their home environment, many children will remain unaware of these great accounts of faith. Vacation Bible School offers us a wonderful opportunity to reach out and share.

I can't speak for anybody else, but the older I get, the more I treasure some of these stories. Over time they have burrowed their way into my spirit and been a source of both comfort and challenge. There have been occasions in my life when I have felt like Daniel facing the lions. Insurmountable obstacles came along that only God could get me through. Esther's story of choosing to do the right thing, rather than the easiest thing, is a constant reminder that we are to live with integrity.

In a world that continues to be torn apart by intolerance and prejudice, the story of the Good Samaritan reminds me that every person in need is a neighbor worthy of help and love. That leper who came back to say “Thank You” reminds me to daily count my blessings. Those men on the Emmaus Road who encounter Jesus, but don't at first recognize Him, awaken me to keep my eyes open to the unexpected presence of God in my daily life, particularly when I am feeling despondent or hopeless.

I often think that those of us leading these events get more out of the proceedings, than those we seek to lead. As we look together at these familiar stories, often new insights come along and we see things we had never seen before. Jesus hinted that out of the mouths of little ones can sometimes come great truths. Or as somebody else has expressed “Kids say the darndest things!” He also said that unless we became as little children we can never enter the Kingdom of God.

So we are looking forward to a busy, yet inspiring week. Following V.B.S. I'll be part of the leadership team for the Trinity Youth Conference, an event not for little ones, but for High School and College age youth. A whole different experience, but much needed and a wonderful blessing. I'll let you know how that went when I return! Wherever the next few weeks may be leading you, may you know God's love and experience God's presence.

For some music, a song that features as part of this years V.B.S. Curriculum and has been sung at many a worship time during the Trinity Youth conference...“God of Wonders.” The version posted is performed by “Third Day.”

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, July 1, 2019

Faith and Freedom

Here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian we are concluding our short series of sermons on the biblical book of Galatians. Last week we were considering the topic of “Faith and Fear.” Our sermon from the day can be found here. Following the nations celebration of Independence Day, this coming Sunday we take a look at the theme of “Faith and Freedom” that Paul talks about in Galatians 5:1 &13-25.

Paul had spoken to the Galatian church about the unlimited, unmerited grace of God towards people. Jesus Christ freely gave His life as an act of sacrifice, to demolish any barriers that could prevent people from being in a heart relationship with God.

Paul is concerned that some people in the church had taken things much too far. They interpreted the freedom they had found in Christ as meaning they were free to live however they pleased. What did it matter what a person did? God would forgive them. Rather like that “Get of jail free” card in a game of Monopoly, self-indulgence was no longer an issue. Some even went as far as suggesting that the more you sinned, the more you could experience God's forgiving love. A win-win situation for “do whatever please you” living!

In verse 13 Paul cautions them, “You were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love, be servants of each other.” He points out that if they focused only on personal passion, peoples hearts would deceive them and they would end up destroying each other.

Such was not the way that the Holy Spirit guided people. “By contrast,” Paul tells them, “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” The Holy Spirit was the Spirit of Jesus who directed people in ways that imitated the works and words of the Savior, not the ways of a conflicted and self consuming society. Yes, Jesus set people fee, but free to serve, not to destroy!

As a nation celebrates freedom, it is worth pausing to reflect that freedom can be both a disabling and an enabling thing. If we express our freedoms in ways that deny others their own freedoms, then we are not walking the way of Jesus. Freedom of speech does not mean we should feel free to speak in a way that harms or belittles others. Freedom of expression does not mean that we should be accepting of expressions of hatred or prejudice. Tolerance does not mean that anything goes.

When musicians play “Free-Jazz” music, they recognize that there are boundaries that have to be observed. If somebody walks into a jam session with a Tuba and begins playing “Old McDonald had a farm” over and over and over and over again, then every other players freedom is destroyed. Tubas are great instruments. “Old McDonald” is a children's classic. But freedom only works where respect, understanding and boundaries are in place.

Such is the nature of freedom that the Holy Spirit seeks to bring to our church communities. Freedom to serve God, to serve each other and be vessels for the healing grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. This short video titled “Free to Serve” offers a short meditation on Galatians 5:13.

If you are in the Mount Hebron area, we meet at 10:00 a.m. around a table laid with bread and wine to celebrate the freedom Christ died to give to us. Feel free to join us :-)

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, June 24, 2019

Faith not Fear


Here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church we have reached the second in a series of sermons taking a look at the biblical book of Galatians. Last weeks sermon “Faith and Life” can be found here. In this weeks passage (Galatians3:23-29) Paul talks about not living from a place of fear but from a place of faith.

Fear grabs our attention. It gets us ready to fight or flee. Whether we mask our fear with bravado or slink away to seek refuge, it can have a powerful effect on our thinking, our decisions and our actions. A healthy fear can keep us from harm. But fear can also keep us from doing what we need to do. Sometimes it provokes us into wrong or dangerous responses.

Increasing troubles in the world and our neighborhoods can make us feel like we are living in a fear zone. People play on our fears for their own benefit. There are things that should cause us concern. Terrorism, mass shootings, violent crime, disease, natural disasters, all of these are in the news and often in our entertainment and our nightmares.

Some dangers, like fear of sharks, flying and mass shootings, we tend to overplay. Other much more common killers, such as auto accidents and germs, we tend to downplay. Many of the things we fear never happen to us, and even when they do, all our anxieties and worries generally have done nothing to protect us.

Fear can reach into our spiritual life. In Galatia teachers had come into the church who were using fear to gain control over others. Paul had come to them preaching a gospel that was all about grace. He had taught them that every person was welcome in the Kingdom of God, that old barriers of prejudice that separated people had been torn down, because of the life, ministry and death of Jesus Christ.

To Galatia had come teachers who were questioning Paul's teaching and the congregations standing with God. They were insisting that they needed to submit to various practices and rules that were present in Judaism. This included everything from circumcision to dietary laws. Paul contradicts this false teaching by reminding them that, while the law had worked as a “disciplinarian” to show them their faults, faith in Jesus Christ should now be the determining factor in their lives.

He writes in Galatians 3:25-26 “But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to the discipline of the law, for in Christ Jesus we are all children of God through faith.” Their faith factor was far more important than the fear factor.

As we face the things that cause us anxiety in our lives, we do well to remind ourselves that we live every day in the presence of God and are constantly subjects of God's grace. God desires what is best for us and has opened the doorway, through Jesus Christ, for us to know God's love and the guidance and comfort of God's Holy Spirit.

It is as we put our faith in what God has done... is doing... and will do... that the faith factor kicks in and the fear factor starts to diminish. We are not promised a trouble free existence, but we are promised that whatever we face, God will walk with us every step of the way, as we place our trust in God's amazing grace.

For some music, a song about having faith not fear... Greg Sykes sings “ All I Need to Know.”

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, June 17, 2019

The Gospel of Grace


Last week at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church we celebrated our nation and our churches Scottish heritage. Our sermon from the day can be found here. This coming Sunday we'll be beginning a series of sermons that take a look at the biblical book of Galatians, sometimes described as a letter that outlines “The Gospel of Grace.” Our first passage we'll consider is Galatians 2:15-21. It talks a lot about grace.

The life of Protestant Reformer, Martin Luther, was defined by his endeavor to discover the grace of God. For many years he struggled to figure out how his life could ever be acceptable to God. He read the Bible. He offered his life in service and joined a monastery. He went on pilgrimage. He fasted and he prayed.

For a long time he felt the law of God asked too much of him. His 'good' was never good enough. No matter what he tried, he found no rest for his soul. A transforming moment came as he reflected on a verse, that first appears in the Old Testament book of Habakkuk; “The just shall live by his faith.” (2:4)

Luther suggests that this seed, sown by the prophet Habakkuk, came to full flower in the ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The apostle Paul, (another disciple whose life was dramatically changed by grace) writes in the book of Romans 3:24 “All are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

Luther explains;“Night and day I pondered until I saw the connection between the justice of God and the statement that “the just shall live by his faith.” Then I grasped that the justice of God is that righteousness by which through grace and sheer mercy God justifies us through faith. Thereupon I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through open doors into paradise.

We don't need to prove to God how good we are. What a waste of effort! Because none of us is that good! Rather, God desires that we experience how good life can be when we allow Christ to live in us.

God invites us to trust that in Him our lives find their true purpose. That as we apprehend what has been done for us through the Cross and Resurrection, we will know that we are loved. We are encouraged to imagine the possibilities that a life open to and molded by God's Holy Spirit can offer us.

It's not easy to stop thinking we are in charge and let Jesus take the wheel of our lives. To live into the statement; “Not my will be done Oh Lord, but thine” is a challenge faced by every person who seeks to follow Jesus Christ. Martin Luther discovered that even becoming a monk could not give him the relationship with God he desired. Only grace could do that.

Later in life he writes “This grace of God is a very great, strong, mighty and active thing. It does not lie asleep in the soul. Grace hears, leads, drives, draws, changes, works all in man, and lends itself to be distinctly felt and experienced. It is hidden but its works are evident.

The hymn writer John Newton simply described grace as “Amazing.” I pray that each of us will find ways to let go of the wheel, and allow grace to guide our lives through the “Love of God, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:14)

Having mentioned allowing God to be in charge I could not resist making our music choice this week... “Jesus Take the Wheel” by Carrie Underwood.

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.