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

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Ascension Day... Being a Witness

Last week here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church we were considering how a chain consists of many links... and how each link is important. Our sermon from the day can be found here. This Sunday we'll be taking a look at Jesus prayer for unity in John's gospel (John 17:20-26.) But before we reach Sunday, there is Ascension Day.

Ascension Day in the 2019 Church Calendar is Thursday, May 30. The liturgical readings for the day draw attention to the Scriptures account (Luke 24:44-53) of Jesus being carried up to heaven, after giving last instructions to the disciples regarding their continuance of His work.

We read in verses 46 - 48 "Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in His name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.

This short passage offer us a blueprint of the churches mission throughout the ages.

It firstly talks of the essential gospel message. “The Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day.” In essence we are to proclaim Jesus as the anointed one of God, foretold by the saints and prophets of the Old Testament, who entered fully into all that makes us human, died upon Calvary, and was raised by God to demonstrate the eternal victory of God's love. The Cross and the Resurrection are lifted up as the two great pillars of Christian teaching.

Secondly, it talks of how we can respond to and receive the gospel message. “Repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in His name.” “Repentance” is all about turning from our own way of working things out and trying to do things God's way. It is not simply saying, “Oh, I'm very sorry for my past mistakes” but agreeing with God that God's way is a much better way to travel.

The message of Paul throughout his letters, is that through what Jesus has done for us, through the Cross and Resurrection, we are forgiven. Our past cannot hold us back because God is calling us to be embraced by new beginnings and the possibility of what yet can be.

We are thirdly employed as witnesses to all people of all places to the amazing thing that God has done, in and through the life of Jesus. The dimensions of our calling are stated in Jesus words that we are to witness to “All nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” We can read in the book of Acts how that mission captured the hearts of the earliest disciples, spreading the faith from Jerusalem into Samaria and eventually throughout the whole world.

Being a witness is a big responsibility. It is a responsibility that Jesus invites every believer in Him to take on board. We continue to live in a world that is desperate for Good News. The gospel message still has the power to turn peoples lives around and bring the presence of God to bear in situations where we thought there was no hope.

It is the responsibility of disciples to demonstrate the gospels truth. To live in a way that demonstrates Christ's unconditional love. To be people whose bread and butter is to worship and serve their Lord. That's a high calling. But then, that is partly what the Ascension was all about! May God help us to set our sights high and be faithful witnesses to His glory!

For some music, a much loved song I recall from numerous youth retreats... “Lord, I Lift Your Name on High”. This version is by the Christian band “Mercy Me.”

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, May 20, 2019

The Weakest Link

A chain is made up of multiple links. William James has written, “A chain is no stronger than its weakest link, and life after all is a chain.” Every part of our life is linked to everything else in our life. In some areas we may feel the link is strong and can hold us. In other areas, maybe we are not so well connected.

Last week our focus here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church was the command of Jesus that we love one another. Our sermon from the day can be found here. Our Lectionary reading for this coming Sunday is John 14:23-29. In this passage Jesus speaks about the one indispensable link in our relationship with God. Verse 26 tells us; “The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all I have said to you.

According to Easton's Bible Dictionary an “Advocate” (in Greek 'parakletos') is “One who pleads another's cause, who helps another by defending or comforting him. It is a name given by Christ three times to the Holy Spirit.”

Christian life is not easy. God asks and expects a lot of us. Yet God does not want us to struggle alone. God offers us the help and guidance of the Holy Spirit. In the Book of Romans, Paul tells us; “The Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. (Romans 8:26)

In times of suffering or times of confusion, we easily lose sight of God's provision. It is easy to become focused in on ourselves. In some seasons of our life we can just become so busy that we find it hard to carve out a space or a time for nurturing our relationship with God. Everything from being a parent with young children at home... to trying to hold down a job that seems to require more hours than there are in a week... can place a great stress on our God connection.

I like the way Paul talks about the Spirit interceding for us “with sighs too deep for words.” It is almost as if Paul is telling us, “Look, when you are through, when you can't see the way, when you are ready to throw in the towel... take courage. The Holy Spirit is working behind the scenes, rooting for you, encouraging you, advocating for you, granting you the strength that will enable you to get through this!”

When we can take the time to deepen our relationship with God, then we should take that time. That is why I recommend folk to be regular in attendance at worship services. Because there will come times in our lives when we can't meet with others for fellowship and sharing. We should make the most of the opportunities we have for strengthening the links.

And when life throws us a curve ball, (which it will) and we can hardly tell which way things are going to go, then we just have to trust that God is still in charge. That the Spirit is still being our Advocate and our Comforter, and that by the grace of God... everything will work out! Our connection with God is important. Let us do our best to see that it never becomes the weakest link in our lives.

For some music, a song and prayer of personal devotion; “I Need You More” by Kim Walker Smith.

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, May 13, 2019

By This they will Know.

Last week here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian we celebrated Mother's Day and focused on how the love our of parents has nurtured our lives. Our sermon (and a song) from the day can be found here.

The words that Jesus speaks to us are always challenging. He teaches us a higher way, and calls us to raise our standards beyond our limitations. Yet interestingly, He gives us very few commandments. When He does, He gives the most challenging of all. “Love one another; just as I have loved you, you must also love one another” (John 13:34)

Reflecting on this “New Commandment” Father Donal Neary reflects: “How do we know if we are true followers of Jesus? Is it a long time at prayer, obeying a lot of rules, fasting and alms giving? Sometimes, but the real test is in the few lines of today’s gospel, about loving one another. Love is the mark of a disciple; love that reaches out in compassion, care, listening and service.

Love that influences how I treat the people I meet every day, how I think of other groups like travelers, refugees, asylum-seekers, and any other group of people whose differences causes prejudice. Love is the atmosphere we live in as followers of the Lord.

From that flows the way the Christian community lives and worships. Prayer is a means to love, but not an end in itself. Christian ethics and morality is to be founded in love, and service is to offer help to others in the example of Jesus himself.

One way of growing in love is to be grateful for love in our lives. A prayer each night can be to think back over the day and thank God for love we received in the day, in small and big ways. We can thank God also for love we have been able to offer ourselves to others.”

Pope Francis made the following observation; "The first criterion: to love with deeds, not words. Words are taken away by the wind! The second criterion of concreteness is: in love it is more important to give than to receive. The one who loves, gives to God and to others."

Protestant hymn writer Charles Wesley, gave to the Church one of the great hymns of love in his composition “Love Divine.” The words express the Christian desire that God's love may be birthed in each of our hearts, in order that we may be people who fulfill the new commandment. They make a fitting prayer for all who seek to be disciples that follow the example laid down for them by their Savior, Jesus Christ.

“Love divine, all loves excelling, Joy of heaven to earth come down,
Fix in us thy humble dwelling, All thy faithful mercies crown;
Jesu, thou art all compassion, Pure unbounded love thou art,
Visit us with thy salvation, Enter every trembling heart.”

Here is a version recorded at the “Big Sing” held in Newcastle upon Tyne, UK. The tune is “Blaenwern” composed by Welsh hymnwriter W.P.Rowlands .

If you are in the Ellicott City, MD area, join us for worship this coming Sunday at 10:00 am, when we will be taking a look at John 13:31-35 and thinking together about the “New commandment” given us by Jesus.

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, May 6, 2019

Honoring our Parents

In the biblical book of Ephesians we are reminded of one of the 10 commandments. Paul writes “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.” (Ephesians 6:1-24).

This coming Sunday in the USA is Mother's Day, when the influence of our parents on our lives will be lifted up. “Family Life” online magazine contributor, Sabrina Beasley McDonald, shares the following story, not about Mothers Day, but Father's Day...

Every Father’s Day I attend church with my parents. During these services, the pastor always asks if anyone would like to stand and pay tribute to his or her father. One by one, people share their memories, and each year without fail, a frail little woman, looking weary from a hard life, stands.
Everyone patiently watches as she rises slowly and confesses in a tired trembling voice, “My daddy was a drinking man. He wasn’t there much, but when he wasn’t drinking, he was a good man … I loved my daddy.” The tears well up in her eyes as she makes her way back down to the pew. She never says much; there isn’t much to say. But she faithfully and sincerely obeys the fifth commandment … even if her father didn’t deserve it.

We don't get to choose who our parents are. Neither can we dictate the way they act towards us. We do not always understand, particularly in our younger years, that they are made of the same flesh and blood as we are. According to Romans 3:23 “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God .” But... we do choose how we will honor our parents.

Last week here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian, our theme was “Gone Fishing.” (sermon here.) This week some of our youth are honoring their parents by conducting morning worship for Mother's Day. The Lectionary theme for the day is that of Jesus being the Good Shepherd. The job of a parent has a lot to do with 'shepherding'... and, for sure, we are all wayward sheep who need the guidance and care of those around us. I'm sure our youth will offer us much food for thought!

As I grow older I realize more and more how much my parents lives were orientated towards the raising of their children. I see how so many of their traits and the good things about their lives have become the positive things in my own life. I am fortunate to have had wonderful parents. I was not a wonderful child, and though they are both now departed, I often feel the light they shine continues to guide me today.

Having raised two children (and now having two grandchildren) I am also aware of how unprepared we are for parenthood. We make mistakes. We may do things differently if we could do it all over again. Thankfully grace is powerful and God is good. And I'm so incredibly proud of the people my children have become.

Surely that's one of the best ways we can honor our parents. Try to become people they would be proud of! As Paul said, “Honor your father and mother... that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.”

I don't normally post links to my own songs... but this recent composition captures some of my thoughts about my own parents and fits with the theme. The words are printed below. Click the title to give it a listen.

Mother dear mother, I know you prayed for me
Throughout those wild years... “Lord, what will that boy be?”
Wish you were here now,
I could thank you for your words,
Not a single one was wasted
Someone must have heard

Father, dear father, religion was never your thing,
Yet you taught me right and wrong, I never wanted for a thing
All those conversations
We'd set the world to rights
I still long for reassurance
That I've turned out alright

Now on a Sunday,
I try and play my part
I stand up there in a pulpit,
And lay bare my heart
Words don't come easy,
Phrases can't always be found
I just keeping praying the Spirit,
Will spread the love around

Don't be a preacher,” that's sound advice,
To which I never listened and so it became my life.
Sometimes I wonder
Where on earth I'd be
If it wasn't for the light
You're shining down on me

So keep shining your light on me
I need those words of advice
And sweet prayers to comfort me.

Now on a Sunday,
I try and play my part
I stand up there in a pulpit,
And lay bare my heart
Words don't come easy,
Phrases can't always be found
I just keeping praying the Spirit,
Will spread the love around

Father dear Father, Mother I still miss you,
But as the years are passing by, I just keep doing what I do.
Standing in a pulpit
Wondering what to say
The greatest gift you gave me
Was love to give away
Love to give away
Love to give away

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Gone Fishing

The closing chapter of the Gospel of John gives us a picture of what happened after Easter, but before the church was founded. At Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, this coming Sunday, we'll be taking a look at John 21:1-19.

It's an unusual moment in Christian history. The disciples know that Jesus has Risen, but they don't know what to do about it! Peter, who was one of the more forthright among them, suggests “Well, we can't stand around here all day musing about the future. I don't know about you guys... but I'm going fishing!”

There is a peculiar irony to the story. Before Jesus had called them to follow Him, many of them had been fisherman. Now it's almost a case of... “Well, that was that. Amazing. But let us get back to normal.” Easter can have that effect on church folk. We have an intense week of services and celebrations. We make a big splash of Easter Sunday with sunrise services and triumphant choirs and rousing hymns. (Our Sermon from Easter Sunday can be found here.) But then it's all over. Back to the humdrum of everyday life.

This story challenges us to consider the resurrection, not as the end of the life of Jesus, but the beginning of a new life for ourselves. Jesus keeps showing up. And when He shows up He deals with issues that need resolving.

For Peter one of the crashing disappointments of his life came when he denied even knowing Jesus during the time Jesus was arrested and put on trial. Jesus had told Peter that he would three times deny Him. When the cock had crowed on that dark day, Peter had recognized his failure and wept bitterly at his cowardice.

Though he had moved on from that experience, it must have still been haunting him. Maybe that's why he was the first to suggest to the disciples that they all just go back to living the way they had done before they knew anything about Jesus.

But God was having none of it. In this story Jesus turns up on the shore, shouts out to the fishing party that they needed to cast their nets in a different direction and suddenly they are pulling in more fish then they had ever done … since that momentous day Jesus first called them to follow Him. Peter realizes that it is Jesus and can't wait to get to shore and greet Him.

When he does, Jesus deals with Peter's doubts. He asks Peter three times, “Do you love Me?” And three times, Peter is reaffirmed in his calling to be, not a fisher of fish, but a fisher for people, catching them up in the love of God.

The Easter message should not be just for a weekend. It shouldn't leave us feeling our only option is to get back to normal. Let us seek, every day, for our faith to be renewed and keep in mind the call of every disciple is to reach others with the love of Jesus. And we can do that in as many different ways as we are different people!

For some music a hymn that reflects on how Jesus beckons to all of us to follow Him. Some answer His call, and come in from their busy boats to meet Jesus on the lake shore. “Lord You Have Come to the Lakeshore.” (Sung by Collin and Mark Nelson)

Prayer: “Lord, Easter Day has come and gone. Yet still You stand at the shore of our lives and call us to deeper commitment. Send to us Your Holy Spirit that we may live in the light of Your resurrection and follow where ever You may lead.”

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.