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

Monday, February 25, 2019

Faces Without Veils

In 1691 a semi-opera, titled “King Arthur,” written by Henry Purcell and John Dryden, was released and performed. One of the songs, “Fairest Isle” imagines, Venus, the goddess of love, choosing the Isle of Britain as a better place to dwell than her native Cyprus. The words declare;

Fairest Isle, all Isles Excelling,
Seat of Pleasures, and of Loves;
Venus here, will choose her Dwelling,
And forsake her Cyprian Groves.”

You may never have heard of the semi-opera “King Arthur” but, if you regularly attend a church that sings hymns composed by Charles Wesley, you will be familiar with the words of one his most famous compositions;
Love Divine, all Loves excelling,
Joy of Heaven to Earth come down,
Fix in us thy humble Dwelling,
All Thy faithful Mercies crown.

Wesley took the metre and the idea of the song “Fairest Isles” and pictured that, rather than Venus leaving her native land to inhabit the Isles of Britain, such was an act of love that was enacted through the life of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

The hymn pictures how Jesus chose to leave the heights of heaven and inhabit the human hearts of those needing salvation, in order that their lives may be completely transformed by His love. That theme is reinforced in the hymns final verse;

Changed from glory into glory,
Till in heaven we take our place,
Till we cast our crowns before Thee,
lost in wonder, love and praise.”

Last week here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian we were thinking about the sermon on the mount. Our sermon, “The Impossible Dream” can be found here. This week, like many other churches who follow the Lectionary, we will be celebrating “Transfiguration Sunday.”

Transfiguration Day focuses on events recorded in Luke 9:28-36, in which Jesus travels up a mountain with a select group of His disciples and is there “Transfigured” before them. In a blaze of glory, He is seen speaking with Moses and Elijah. This mountain top experience was a moment of transformation for the disciples. They literally saw Jesus in a new light!

Paul, in 2 Corinthians 3, writes of how, when Moses came down from meeting with God on the mountain, Moses was so transformed by the presence of God that he had to cover his face so that others could even look at him!

Paul speaks of how because of Christ's work, we have unprecedented access to the love of God. In verse 18 Paul writes “And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into His image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”

We are all “Works in progress.” Whenever we spend time in prayer or bible study, whenever we can attend a worship service, whenever we perform some act of kindness or public service, then we are opening our lives up to being transformed by the love of God.

Having mentioned Wesley's hymn, it would surely be remiss not to share a version for us to enjoy. This one, sung to the Welsh tune composed by Rowland Hugh Pritchard called“Hyfrydol,” is from a worship service at First-Plymouth Church in Lincoln, Nebraska.

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, February 18, 2019

The Impossible Dream

In Man of La Mancha, a musical about the eccentric Don Quixote, he sings of the Impossible Dream, and in words composed by Joe Darion tells us he desires ...
“To fight ... the unbeatable foe ...
To bear ... with unbearable sorrow ...
To run ... where the brave dare not go ...
To right ... the unrightable wrong ...
To love ... pure and chaste from afar ...
To try ... when your arms are too weary ...
To reach ... the unreachable star ... “

Sometimes living the Christian life in the way Jesus invites us to in the Sermon on the Mount seems like an impossible dream. We started reviewing that sermon last week with our message "Inside Out and Upside Down."  We'll be taking a look this coming Sunday at Luke 6:27-38. Do good to those who persecute us? Love our enemies? Turn the other cheek? C'mon Jesus, You can't be serious! His message has been described as the “Most quoted, least acted upon sermon, ever preached.”

It could be that He is telling us that we never set our sights high enough. It is a fact that the lower you set the barrier, then the easier it is to reach it. God sees our complacency and encourages to do more.

Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians writes, "For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." And James was quite stern about it: “Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead… As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.

One of the joys of belonging to a Christian community is that you can work together with others to achieve things that can not be done alone. I've known people drop out of church involvement, complaining that their needs were not being met. 

I wonder sometimes if they understand, that one of the things God is inviting us to do, is meet the needs of others. When we do that, and we see the difficult lives many people have, then we realize we are blessed beyond our wildest dreams... and somehow our needs seem less needful!

We can't always solve the big issues of the day. We can't stop all wars. We can't force people to be truthful. We can't feed every hungry person. We can't single handedly clean up the oceans.

But we can seek to live at peace with those we share our lives with. We can be careful about the words we use. We can volunteer to help and donate towards causes that are blessing others. We can recycle and be aware of environmental problems.

Great changes are usually achieved by the combined action of many much smaller actions. Embracing problems as opportunities. Seeing challenges as things to rise to. Showing kindness. Paying it forward. Being a mentor. Offering forgiveness. Seeking to understand rather than judge. These little changes are not beyond any of us. These things help impossible dreams come true.

Prayer: Dear Lord, help me not try and save the whole world, but simply do the next loving thing You are asking of me. Amen.

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Inside Out and Upside Down

Last week here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church we were considering the call the Jesus gave to the first disciples to be His followers in turning the world upside down. Our sermon “Fishy Business” can be found here. This weeks lesson, from Luke 6:17-26, goes into the details of how Jesus saw that radical transformation taking place.
Have you ever seen people get something they didn’t deserve—while someone else didn’t get what they did deserve? Ever seen the right person passed over for a job, just because they “played the game,” or were a particular gender, or lied? Ever see people succeed even more because they were already successful? Ever seen a poor or vulnerable person slip even further into difficulty—or get picked on by someone who should know better?
There are so many power structures which seem to reward all the wrong people. “It’s the way of the world,” you might say, and that may well be true. But it’s not the way of the Kingdom of God.
We know this because Jesus made the point, again and again. Not only did He confront those who maintained the power structures and attitudes of the day, but He also lived out what’s called the “Great reversal”—turning inside out and upside-down people’s values and understandings about who mattered and what success was and who God wanted to bless.

Here was a man who spent time with society’s “worst” outcasts: the lepers, the mentally ill, the crooks, the prostitutes, the adulterers. A man who talked endlessly about the poor, and about children and widows. Who didn’t invite Himself into the homes of the rich and famous, but the hated tax collectors.

No wonder people around Jesus were confused! Those who were willing to listen to Jesus and think about what He said and did, began to understand that the Kingdom of God isn’t like the world at all. They started to see that it’s the poor, downtrodden and vulnerable who are particularly of interest to God (until then, it was assumed that these people must be being punished by God).

It is those who see themselves as successful (by worldly reckoning) who struggle to accept this reversal, as did the rich young man in the Bible—who wanted to follow Jesus, but couldn’t give up his material wealth. Jesus Himself said, “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

In the Kingdom of God everything will be turned inside out and upside down. This is especially true when it comes to power, privilege and wealth... in God's Kingdom those who struggle in life now, those who are at the bottom or on the edges of human society, will suddenly find themselves at the top and in the center.

So if you’ve ever been vulnerable, or struggled, or seen others rewarded for doing wrong, remember that it’s not Jesus’ way. There is a special place in God's heart for you.
For some music, a modern version of a classic hymn, “Near to the Heart of God.”

Prayer: “Lord, when I feel that I don't meet up to the standards of this world, I know you love me and welcome me with open arms. Thank You for seeing and using my weakness, and making me strong in the ways that really count. Amen.”
(Parts of this article adapted from Church of England Website “Church in the Net”)

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, February 4, 2019

Fishy Business

Some people are expert fisherman. They have to be. It's their job. People are depending on them. For others it's a leisure pastime. Yet many pursue their particular brand of fishing, be it deep-sea adventures or fly-fishing on a gently rolling stream, with great passion and commitment.

Jesus calls us to be disciples with a high level of commitment. Last week here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian church we were considering “Misplaced Pride.” Our sermon from the day can be found here.

Our reading this week is from Luke 5:1-11. In this passage Jesus displays His fishing skills. Having demonstrated His knowledge of the craft, He then invites the fishermen in the boat to join Him in a mission that involves catching, not fish, but people, with the “Good News” of the Kingdom of God. 

In common with disciples of all times and all places following Jesus involves leaving something behind. In the first fisherman's case it was their work and home. For ourselves it can be our habits and ways of thinking that need changing. What kind of things might Jesus be calling us to leave behind at this point in our spiritual journey?

Discipleship also involves taking on something new. The first disciples had to become "Fishers of men." Allowing our lives to be embraced by God’s love adds a new dimension to our daily life. Are there any “New things” that God is calling us to embrace this year?

For the first disciples following Jesus meant they had to go somewhere else. They had to move beyond the comfort zone of their familiar surroundings. Where might God be inviting us to reach beyond our comfort zones?

To succeed at any venture takes not only inspiration, but also determination. Catching fish, be it on a trawler out at sea or by a gently meandering stream, requires learning the craft, a whole lot of patience and a willingness to adapt to constantly changing circumstances. It is no different with the journey of discipleship.

Jesus calls us to follow Him. We have a lot to learn. Disciple means “Learner.” We need to be patient. Not only with others, but even more with ourselves. We need to be aware of the shifting currents in the world. What worked in yesterday’s world might not be what God is calling us to embrace for tomorrow’s world.

Some things remain the same. Prayer is needed. God's Word needs to be applied to our situation. And we need God's Holy Spirit to strengthen us for the task. So let's go fish!

Here's something a little more up tempo then I usually post... Newsboys sing “Fishers Of Men.

Prayer: “Lord help me to respond to Your love with determination and allow Your love to change me. And when I fail, pick me up again and remind me that Your love is stronger than my weakness. Amen.

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.