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

Monday, March 25, 2019

The New Radical Cross


Last week here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church we were offered “Traveling Instructions” to guide our journey through Lent. Our sermon from the day can be found here. This week we are considering the central Christian message of the Cross and taking a look at 2 Corinthians5:16-21.

A favorite hymn for many folk is “The Old Rugged Cross.” It is a wonderful hymn, but can lead us to forget that, though always rugged, there is nothing old, ancient or “outdated” about the message that the Cross represents. The love offered to us at Calvary is always new and always radical. It is at the Cross that all barriers are broken down.

The Presbyterian Church (USA) “Confession of 1967” speaks about how Christ's reconciling death on the cross is pictured in different ways. “It is called the sacrifice of a lamb, a shepherd's life given for his sheep, atonement by a priest; again it is ransom of a slave, payment of a debt, vicarious satisfaction of a legal penalty, and victory over powers of evil. These are expressions of a truth which remains beyond the reach of all theory, in the depths of God's love for man. They reveal the gravity, cost, and sure achievement of God's reconciling work.

In a world where people conflicting opinions appear to be sufficient cause to tear each other apart; this message of reconciliation is one that we do well to pay attention to. Jesus tells us that when we apply ourselves to the making of peace we shall be blessed and known as “Children of God” (Matthew 5:9.)

In 2 Corinthians 18 and 19 Paul talks about how the call to reconciliation addresses our lives through the Cross. ”All this is from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.”

Theologian Henri Nouwen writes “What is our task in this world as children of God and brothers and sisters of Jesus? Our task is reconciliation. Wherever we go we see divisions among people – in families, communities, cities, countries, and continents. All these divisions are tragic reflections of our separation from God. The truth that all people belong together as members of one family under God is seldom visible. Our sacred task is to reveal that truth in the reality of everyday life.

Why is that our task? Because God sent Christ to reconcile us with God and to give us the task of reconciling people with one another. As people reconcile with God through Christ we have been given the ministry of reconciliation. So whatever we do the main question is, Does it lead to reconciliation among people?”

The ministry of reconciliation is rooted in what God has done for us, in Christ, at the Cross. Because Jesus died for us, to forever remove our separation from God, we are to work at removing all the barriers that separate people from experiencing the love of God.

Such a task is always new, because it brings the renewing life of God's Holy Spirit to bear in situations that are old and tired. Such a task is always radical, because our world so often chooses the way of confrontation over the way of reconciliation.

Another favorite hymn speaks of “The Wondrous Cross.” The second verse reminds us of our call to put self aside, and be reconcilers.

“Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,
Save in the death of Christ my God!
All the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to His blood.”

For some music here is Fernando Ortega singing that majestic hymn “When I Survey The Wondrous Cross.” Take some time to find a quiet place and meditate upon these timeless words of Isaac Watts,. They were first published in 1707, but like the Cross itself, their message remains fresh and radical and these words have spoken to many hearts across the centuries. Allow them to speak to you today.

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Traveling Instructions

Last week here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church we were considering the implications of being “Citizens of Heaven,” a phrase Paul uses in his letter to the Philippians. Our sermon from the day can be found here.

This week, as we reach the third Sunday in Lent, we will be thinking about God's direction and looking at 1 Corinthians 10:1-13. When you are trying to get somewhere it is always helpful to have some traveling instructions. There are many different options open to us today.

We can ask somebody the way. I know some folk have a problem to stopping to ask directions and I partly share that hesitation. I heard about an American tourist on vacation in Ireland who stopped to ask a local how to get to a certain place. They were advised, “Well sir, if you want to be going there... you don't want to be starting from here.” That's not exactly helpful.

We can use a physical map. Remember those? I used to have the side pocket of my car filled with a variety of state maps and have even more on my bookshelf at home. Often when I entered a state on the interstate I would stop at the Tourist Information and see if they had a recent map. Usually they gave them away for free. You can build up quite a collection after a while!

In the U.K. the “Automobile Association” used to offer a service for their members that would provide you with a route map to wherever it was you were headed on holiday. Often it would include recommended stops along the way and adverts for hotels you could never afford to stay at!

These days we can “Google” directions. There are numerous sites that offer us multiple routes to reach our destination. In many vehicles are built in Satellite Navigation Systems that speak to us as we are driving along, giving us turn by turn directions. My wife has complained that I listen more intently to that ladies voice in my car than I sometimes do to her. Ouch!

Various“apps” (as well as the good old car radio) offer us up to the minute details, alternative routes, weather reports and numerous other items of information to digest and consider as we make our way to our destination. There is no shortage of ways to find advice for the journey. The same applies to our spiritual lives.

We have each other to guide us. Paul, in 1 Corinthians 11:1 tells us “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” So we are invited to take notice of Christ like behavior in people around us and imitate it. We have our personal spiritual road map in the 66 books of the Bible. Scripture covers the vast terrain of human experience and God's revelation, culminating in the coming of Christ, who described Himself as “The Way.”

We have times of worship when we can seek together the guidance of God upon our lives. Just as the internet is a world wide community, so the church provides an international interface of faithful folk. When we are unable to be in worship, many faith communities offer ways to connect online... such as our Mount Hebron Presbyterian website “www.mthebronpc.org”.

Through prayer, through worship, through following good examples and seeking God's guidance over our lives... there are many ways to find traveling instructions for our spiritual lives. For some music Don Moen sings “God Will Make A Way.

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Citizens of Heaven


Here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church we began our Lenten sermon series by looking at a passage from the book of Romans and had a message titled “Don't Miss It!” (which can be found here.) Our Scripture passage for this coming Sunday comes from Philippians 3:17 - 4:1.

In this passage the apostle Paul speaks about citizenship of heaven. He is concerned that in the world around him, many were acting as though the only thing that mattered in their lives was their self. He is scathing in his assessment. “Their god is their belly, their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things.” Christian people were called to live to a different standard, one related to the teaching Jesus had given them. They were to demonstrate that they were citizens of heaven.

Citizenship of any nation carries with it various rights and corresponding responsibilities. According to the official website of the “Department of Homeland Security” American citizenship grants such rights as freedom of expression, freedom to worship as you wish, trial by jury and “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” With these rights come corresponding responsibilities. These include to;
  • Support and defend the Constitution.
  • Stay informed of the issues affecting your community.
  • Participate in the democratic process.
  • Respect and obey federal, state, and local laws.
  • Respect the rights, beliefs, and opinions of others.
  • Participate in your local community.
  • Pay income and other taxes honestly, and on time, to federal, state, and local authorities.
  • Serve on a jury when called upon.
  • Defend the country if the need should arise.
When a person becomes a member of a church they are given certain privileges. They have a right to worship. They are allowed to vote in meetings of their church. They are invited to be an active part of the decision making process in the congregations life. What should the corresponding responsibilities be? Maybe to;
  • Support and defend the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament
  • Stay informed of the issues affecting both your Church and the wider world.
  • Participate in the democratic process of your congregation and denomination.
  • Respect and obey the ethos of the Kingdom … as outlined in the Sermon on the Mount.
  • Respect the rights, beliefs, and opinions of others.
  • Participate in your local community.
  • Be faithful in matters of prayer, personal spiritual growth, tithes and offerings.
  • Serve on a committee or board of your church when called upon.
  • Defend the integrity of your congregation by living as a faithful member, regular in attendance service and support.
Be a good citizen... both in your nation and in your faith community. I'm sure Paul would approve that message!

I had a challenging time finding a song to go with these thoughts. There are many, many songs about God's faithfulness towards us, but not so many about our faithfulness to God. One exception is the song “Find us Faithful” by Steve Green, which resonates with a number of verses in the Book of Philippians.

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, March 4, 2019

Don't Miss it!


Last week here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church we celebrated 'Transfiguration Sunday.” Our sermon from the day, “Faces Without Veils” can be found here.

Now we travel down the road towards towards Easter. Even though it is Lent, I want to share some thoughts from an Advent devotional, by Paul Tripp titled, “Come Let Us Adore Him.” He begins his meditations with a warning about familiarity.

I’ve thought a lot about the danger of familiarity in our lives as the children of God. It is good to be familiar with the story of the gospel of Jesus Christ. It means that God has met you by grace. It means that He has opened the eyes of your heart to what, without Him, you would not see or understand.

He has drawn you close to His side. He has pulled back the curtain and shown you the deep mysteries of His redeeming plan. He has blessed you with the presence of His Spirit, who continues to illumine His truth for you. You are familiar with the story of the gospel of Jesus Christ because the love of God has been lavished on you.

But familiarity often does bad things to us. Often when we become familiar with things, we begin to take them for granted. When we are familiar with things, we tend to quit examining them. Often when we are familiar with things, we quit noticing them. When we are familiar with things, we tend not to celebrate them as we once did. Familiarity tends to rob us of our wonder.

One of our readings for the first Sunday in Lent is Romans10:8-13. In this passage Paul speaks about the danger of being so close to something, that you actually miss it. In verse 8 he writes “The Word is near you, on your lips and in your hearts.

As the years roll by … and particularly if we attend the same church every week... our expectations can sink. We have heard sermons like that one before. We have studied this passage in the past. The preachers voice is the same as it ever was. We sing the same old hymns. For goodness sake people even sit in the same seats year after year.!

While we resist change with every fiber of our being, the “Same old, same old” has a habit of dulling our senses. We don't pay attention as we once did. We are not as diligent in arriving on time, in attending each week, in encouraging others to join us, as we once were.

As Paul Tripp writes in his devotion, “When we are familiar with things, we quit noticing them. When we are familiar with things, we tend not to celebrate them as we once did. Familiarity tends to rob us of our wonder.

Wake up. It's 2019. We are about to walk the Lenten Road to Easter. The gospel has lost not one iota of it's beauty or meaning. Christ Died. Christ has Risen. Christ will come again. God's love is as strong towards you as you read this, as it was the moment you first believed. Do not allow familiarity to steal your joy, rob your enthusiasm or quench your spirit. For some music, Matt Redman sings “10,000 Reasons (Bless the Lord)

On Wednesday March 6th we begin our journey towards Easter with an Ash Wednesday Service in our Historic Hebron House. Anybody and everybody is welcome to join us. “The Word is near you, on your lips and in your hearts.” Don't miss it!

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.