This past Sunday here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian
Church, we took a look at Paul's letter to Philemon. An online
service can be found here, a transcript can be found here.
is one of the smallest books in the canon of Scripture. It is a
personal letter to a man, called Philemon, regrading a slave owned by
Philemon called Onesimus (which means 'useful'.)
Sometime before the letter was written, Paul has
converted Philemon and his whole household to Christianity. Paul then
left town and, when he writes the letter, has now been imprisoned for
his efforts to spread the gospel. Onesimus, hearing of Paul's
situation, goes 'absent without leave' from his Master, in order to
minister to Paul's needs and see that Paul is taken care of.
Paul is extremely appreciative of all that Onesimus is
doing for him. Yet he recognizes that there was a problem. Onesimus
was a runaway slave. He should have been meeting the needs of
Philemon, not the needs of Paul. In another of his letters, Paul had
written that slaves should obey their masters as a way of witnessing
If it were not for the gospel message, the whole thing
could have been dismissed and ignored. But because of His belief in
Jesus as 'Way, truth and life', Paul is not prepared to just let
things be. So he writes to Philemon.
basis of his argument is that because in Jesus Christ, Philemon and
Onesimus were now brothers in the faith, Philemon should welcome
Onesimus back into his household. Onesimus had acted upon the
guidance of the One God they all shared a belief in. Paul believed
that “There is neither Jew nor
Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for
you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28)
the work Onesimus had performed had been of great benefit to Paul. In
his letter Paul makes use of Onesimus's name. In verse 11 he writes
to Philemon that “Formerly
he was “useless”
to you, but now he has become “useful”
both to you and to me.” Paul knew that
losing the service of a slave had financial implications and offers
to pay Philemon for any loss of income.
It's a little letter with
a big punch. The institution of slavery was an unquestioned feature
of the Roman world. Either intentionally or unintentionally, here is
Paul saying that our equality in Christ challenged the whole fabric
of the way the world was structured.
Such is not a message this
the world is keen to hear or act upon. The racial tensions of recent
days, ignited by the murder of George Floyd, have revealed that we
can turn a blind eye to the question of inequality, until we are
forced to acknowledge there is a problem.
Let us pray, that the
letter of Philemon will continue, like Onesimus, to be “Useful,”
in guiding our thoughts and lives as we consider difficult and
challenging issues of life and faith.
Scottish Sunday sees Mount
Hebron Presbyterian Church taking time out to consider the historical
roots of Presbyterian faith in the ministry of John Knox, of
Scotland. In our P.C. (USA) Book of Confessions (which helps guide
the way we interpret our faith) one of the earliest documents is the
believed that there were three signs that marked any church as being
authentic. Faithful proclamation of the Word of God; faithful
administration of the sacraments and effective church discipline. It
is probably on the latter of these, church discipline, that he would
find fault with us today! Although our Book of Order has a whole
section devoted to the matter, it is probably the least referenced
section of the volume.
That is not necessarily a bad thing.
The most effective form of discipline is self-discipline, rather than
that imposed by an outside body. There have historically been many cases of abuse of authority on the part of those who felt it their task to
rule it over others with an iron hand.
We shy away from the
word ‘discipline,’ as it implies heavy-handedness and judgmental
attitudes. Yet it is from the root of ‘discipline’ that we have
the much more accessible word ‘disciple.’ We much prefer the
‘disciple’ word. That could be because we look at discipleship
through rose-colored spectacles rather than the demanding definition
that Jesus gave us.
Scripture teaches that discipleship
involves taking up a cross, having a love for God that places all
other loves in jeopardy, and seeking the welfare of our enemies. This
is, of course, not the way we function! We do our best to avoid
confrontation, are prone to make idols of just about anyone or
anything that makes us feel good and rejoice when our enemies get
what we feel they deserve!
John Knox was however also aware
that Christian life was not an effort of disciplined self-will but a
response to the grace of God. In a section in the Scots Confession on
the Holy Spirit we read “Our faith and its assurance do not proceed
from flesh and blood, that is to say from natural powers within us,
but are the inspiration of the Holy Ghost…”
“Lord, if our faith were to be judged by rules of discipline than
we could be in deep trouble. We are thankful that Jesus did not come
into our world to condemn but to redeem. As we sense Your grace, may
we be moved to serve others in the strength of Your love. Amen.”
Last Sunday some of us gathered around
tables laid with bread and wine for a 'virtual' communion service. It
is an unusual way of doing things, but these are unusual times! Our
video service can be found here. A transcript is available here.
Throughout the centuries an important
part of the communion service has been that it is an act that binds
us together. Under normal circumstances, we would only celebrate at
times when we could be with others. The only exception has been when
we administer home communion, but even that is done with a
representative of the church (usually the minister) physically
The insistence on having a member of
the clergy (or an authorized representative of the church) present, is
to remind us of the sacredness of the occasion. St Paul cautions us
to not treat the sacrament lightly or without due preparation. “For
he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment
to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body.” (1 Corinthians
The judgment comes in the fact that we
will totally miss the whole point of the sacrament. That it is a
time when our Lord Jesus Christ promises to be especially present to
our lives. We do ourselves and our families a great disservice if we
treat this sacred time in a way that is casual or without being
For that reason, I took the time to
offer a pre-video about 'preparing for the sacrament' to our
congregation. (Can be viewed here) In it, I suggest using a white
cloth to mark out an area to celebrate, to set aside a cup and plate
for the particular moment, and to light a candle to remind ourselves
that this is a holy time.
It is difficult to not to be together
at the table. It is not the same being together around computer
screens or I-pads. Yet that is the best we can do for the time being.
Even when we do come back together we will have to limit the amount
of touching and handling. Some congregations are experimenting with
'seal-able' elements, others suggesting to congregants that they need
to bring their own bread and juice from home.
As we transition to a situation where
we can gather 'with limitations' I am sure we will continue to
discover constructive ways of being a community. I just pray that the
sacredness and significance of the body and blood of Christ,
represented through bread and wine, does not become devalued or
treated without reverence. As Paul warns us, to not rightly discern
the Lord's body is something to be avoided, for it has the potential
of doing more harm than good.
For some music and further reflection Third-Day sing “Communion"
Last Sunday we celebrated Pentecost
Sunday, the Birthday of the church. An online service can be found here, a transcript of the message here. The Church came into being
through the action of the Holy Spirit who energized the disciples as
they waited together in worship and prayer.
Before Pentecost, they were afraid and
unsure of what to do. After Pentecost, they were bold and gave their
lives to the proclaiming of the Good News of the gospel, that Christ
had died, that Christ had Risen and new life was available to all who
put their faith in Him.
The Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon
once wrote “Without the Spirit of God we can do nothing. We are as
ships without wind or chariots without steeds. Like branches without
sap, we are withered. Like coals without fire, we are useless. As an
offering without the sacrificial flame, we are unaccepted.”
direction and our energy are both dependent upon the action of God’s
Spirit working in, through, and around our lives. Without the Holy
Spirit, Christian life degenerates into a hard slog to attain
unreachable ideals. Without the action of God’s Spirit inspiring us
and renewing us, we maintain a graceless existence.
gospel describes the Holy Spirit’s work as being “Living Water.”
During the summer months, the temperature can rise and the health
experts send out a message, “Stay hydrated!” If we feel our
Christian life has become dry and lifeless, maybe we need to seek a
Holy Ghost refreshing!
How do we do that? Through prayer.
Through meditating on God’s Word. Through worship, be it in person
or online. Through reminding ourselves that every day we live, we
live in the shadow of an Almighty God whose love is for us in Jesus
As we continue to work through the
crisis of trouble in our cities and the continuing shadow of the
pandemic, we are not alone. God walks with us through the valley of
Prayer: Lord, today we seek the
refreshing wind of Your Holy Spirit to blow upon our lives. Remind us
that our strength lies not in what we can achieve, but in what Your
grace can do in us and through us. Fill us with Your Spirit this day.
Here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian our online service last week
focussed on 'Church Unity.' A video can be found here, a transcript
Jesus describes His work among us, more than once, as a bringing
together, a gathering. He speaks in terms of a common table, a common
home with many rooms, fish that are brought together, a harvest that
is brought in, a party to be started.
He uses the same image when He describes the mission He left to His
disciples. They were the ones sent out to bring the guests together,
they were going to be fishers of women and men, the harvesters that
would bring the crops and fruits together.
are called to participate in that bringing together. Jesus sees unity
as an essential ingredient of discipleship. John 17:21
“As You, Father, are in me and I am in You, may they also be in
us, so that the world may believe that You have sent me.”
On the positive side, the
current pandemic has seen many coming together in unexpected ways.
Virtual communities. Online gatherings. Folk gathering food to
provide resources for overstressed food banks. People making an
extra effort to see that their neighbors are doing O.K. There have
been great expressions of support towards those on the front-line,
working in the medical services and other essential industries.
On the negative side there
are some who have shown little concern for their neighbor and have
complained about their individual rights. Religious, political,
racial, and economic conflicts have not gone away, but in some
instances been re-ignited by people's fear of the unknown. There has
been an unhealthy obsession of looking for somebody to blame.
Our need for togetherness is
more needed than ever before. The church is commissioned by Jesus to
be a visible demonstration of unity, in a world that often pulls
itself apart. Historically our faith communities have not been
shining lights of togetherness. We are separated by past conflicts
and present theological differences.
Yet still, Jesus prays for
our unity. Still He gathers us. It is often in a time of crisis that
we allow our barriers to come down and recognize that God actually is
at work in those who differ from us.
Prayer: “Lord, take
away all that separates us from each other. Make us appreciate our
differences. Help us to complement each other as we work towards
healing the devastation the current pandemic has inflicted upon so
An online service from this past Sunday here at Mount
Hebron Presbyterian Church, “Ideal Homes” can be found here. A
transcript of the service is available here.
We read in Matthew 25:31-46 “I tell you solemnly,
in so far as you did this to the least of these brothers and sisters
of mine, you did it to Me.”
Reinhold Niebuhr was one of the most influential
theologians of the 20th Century. When he was 59, he had a
slight stroke which left him partially paralyzed on his left side. It
cut his energy back to a fraction of what it had been. His wife,
Ursula, adjusted her workload as a professor, in order to care for
Niebuhr wrote afterward that he had made a discovery.
“I learned to know the goodness of men and women who went out of
their way to help an invalid. Among the people who impressed me with
their helpfulness were my doctors, nurses, and therapists, my
colleagues, and friends.
I soon learned that some of these people, who entered my
life professionally, or who served with me non-professionally with
visits and walks, showed me an almost charismatic gift of love. And,
of course, my chief source of spiritual strength was my wife. She was
my nurse, secretary, editor, counselor, and friendly critic through
all those years of illness and occasional depression.”'
The current pandemic has reminded us that our lives are
surrounded by everyday heroes. We often forget the heroism of the
ordinary people around us.
We can also fail to see the value of our own actions. We
may not feel that the little things we do are making that much of a
difference. They make a big difference to those who are positively
enriched by them! Let us keep on doing the good that we can do and
let us continue to lift each other up in our prayers.
This past Sunday here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church we gave
thanks for our Parents and for 55 years of the educational ministry
of our Nursery School. An online service can be found here, a
In a time of disruption it easy to forget the many blessings that
still surround us. As the quote above from Melody Beattie reminds us,
“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life.” Here's a quick (in no
particular order) list of ten blessings gratefully received.
1. Good Health (and health care). Even if your health isn’t great,
it could be worse. The current crisis reminds us we are surrounded by
angels in our health care systems to keep us alive!
2. Money in the Bank. Having just a few coins makes you richer than
most people on Earth.
3. Good Friends. Often, it’s the quality of friendships, not the
quantity. We can be friends at a distance!
4. Your Parents. Even if they were, or are, dysfunctional, they gave you life.
5. Pets. Pets offer one of the best examples of unconditional love.
6. Learning from Mistakes. If we never made mistakes, we wouldn’t
learn much, so it is definitely one of those things to give thanks
7. Music. If you can hum a tune that puts a smile on your face, then
you have been blessed by the gift of music.
8. Breathing Fresh Air. Being able to step outside to breathe in
fresh air is a great reminder of how many little things we should be
9. A Bed to Sleep in. A bed is one of those things that’s easy to
take for granted, until you don’t have one.
10. Laughter. Without laughter, the world would be a terribly sad
place. They do say laughter is the best medicine of all.
It's been months now. How quickly
things changed! Maybe we feel impatient, living in close quarters
with family members, or frustrated with how others are responding to
this pandemic. We long for normalcy.
Because of the pandemic and the
precautions we are taking to prevent its spread, life has turned
upside down. Schools and businesses are closed. Shelves in grocery
stores are empty. Normal routines have been replaced with new ones.
Social distancing is a reality. There are many unknowns and
uncertainties. Church services are suspended.
This past Sunday here at Mount Hebron
we had an online 'virtual' communion service. If you wish to
celebrate with us a link can be found here.
I have found that more and
more, during this time of challenge, I have needed to focus on God's
Word. Here are some Scripture verses that I have found helpful during
this time of quarantine. I pray they may also be a blessing to you.
Read through them... and take the time to meditate upon them.
Psalm 27:1 “The Lord is my light
and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my
life; of whom shall I be afraid?”
Psalm 46:1-2 “God is our refuge
and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not
fear, though the earth should change…”
Philippians 4:4-7 “Rejoice in the
Lord always; again I will say, rejoice … The Lord is near. Do not
worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication
with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the
peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your
hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
1 Peter 5-7 “Cast all your
anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.” -1 Peter 5-7
Deuteronomy 31:8 “It is the Lord
who goes before you. He will be with you; He will not fail you or
Isaiah 43:1-4 “I have called you
by name, you are mine…you are precious in my sight, and honored,
and I love you.”
2 Corinthians 12:9 “My grace is
sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.”
Philippians 4:13 “I can do all
things through Him who strengthens me.”
Colossians 3:12-15 “As God’s
chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion,
kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another…
forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you… Above all,
clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in
perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to
which indeed you were called in the one body.”
Our online service from this past Sunday at Mount Hebron Presbyterian
Church can be found here.
A transcript of the sermon and prayer is available here
Rev. Cindy Maybeck writes today’s
post. Rev. Cindy is a great storyteller. She presents a weekend
retreat about prayer and discernment at Bon Secours, in Marriottsville, MD, my favorite local retreat Center.
“What will you do if there is a fire
in your house?” Miss Brady asked her class of third graders. We
learned that hiding under the bed was the wrong answer. She taught us
all about fire safety and assigned the homework of drawing a map of
our house with a family plan about how we would escape a fire.
Here’s the problem. My bedroom was in
the attic on the third floor. I determined my little brother could
jump out of the window from his second-floor bedroom into bushes. He
had already proved to be a pretty good jumper off high things like
stone walls and garage roofs. I suspected he would be hurt but not
killed; boxwood bushes would break his fall.
As for me, the only exit from a bedroom
with flames leaping up the attic stairway was to fall three flights
down to a paved driveway. My eight-year old head would be smushed for
sure. I badgered my parents all evening. Should we construct some
kind of ladder? Should we move my bedroom to the safety of the first
floor? Should we put a giant trampoline in the driveway each night
before I went to bed? I just couldn’t let it go.
Finally, after being told 17 times to
go to bed; after being promised I would be safe, I would be rescued,
I would be saved, I cried to my Dad – “but HOW? What will happen
if there is a fire?” Dad brought me up to my bedroom, tucked me in
and sat on the edge of the bed as I wept.
He calmly explained that after Steve
and Mom jumped out of windows to safety, Dad would come upstairs to
the attic. (I pictured him wearing a Superman cape and running up
flaming stairs unscathed.) He would sit on my bed. (Just like he was
in that moment.) And together we wait for the firefighter to come to
the rescue. Together we would climb down the fire truck ladder.
Together we would get to pet Sparky, the fire dog.
I took a deep shaky breath. I wiped my
eyes. I leaned my head on his shoulder for a moment. That was the
truth I needed to hear. More important than the specifics of a plan
was the promise that I would not be alone while waiting to be saved.
Our news cycle spins with new
information, updated precautions, images of pandemic and the
destruction it will cause. But in the midst of your preparations,
social distancing, or self-quarantine, remember the spiritual comfort
of being held in safety and love.
Listen well, dear friends. You will not
be forsaken, forgotten or forlorn. Arms of love will hold you through
Our online service from this
past Sunday at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church can be found HERE. A
transcript of the sermon and prayer is available HERE.
In these difficult days, I
like to see what my fellow pastors are writing about. Here's a
reflection from Rev. Becca Crate, who is the pastor of Springfield
Presbyterian Church, in Sykesville, Maryland.
“As our traditional sacred
spaces of sanctuaries and chapels close the doors due to the
pandemic, we are called to find a new way to experience the holy. It
is in uncertain times like this where we remember again and again
that the church is much more than a structure, a building, a place of
bricks and mortar. The church is a faithful group of people
journeying together, lifting each other up, and learning how to
translate what they know of God into their everyday lives.
These three pictures are
places in which I have found holiness
The first image, the isle of
Iona, entrench me in reminders of the saints who built an abbey in
the 900s, with stone and masonry, leaving something for generations
of faithful who would flock to the island. When you turn from this
viewpoint, you are surrounded by bare beaches and land untouched,
which reminds me of the wonder of God’s creation.
The second image is an alley
in Boston, and even there in the unexpected, we find the sacred. In
the dumpsters, the urban landscape, the very grit of people working
and living together in tight quarters. It is also an alley in a busy
part of the city, so taking a moment to step into the silence and the
quiet in the midst of busyness is a reminder for us to sidestep into
the holy spaces.
The third image is my
backyard, in rural Maryland, as you look out to my neighbor’s barn,
the small stream that runs through the brae, and the sun that
beautifully shines on the trees. Overhead there is usually a hawk,
sometimes an eagle, and more often then not you find God’s
creatures of all kinds in this landscape. This is a reminder that
outside my door, if I stand still, the holy and sacred places are
We may miss the fondness of
stained glass windows, of organ pipes, and of pews, but may you know
that the holy isn’t entrapped in that place. You can find the holy
and sacred wherever you go, if you stop and look and wait and watch.
In the green hills, in the breath of the wind, and in the symphony of
the city streets, God is waiting. You ultimately have the opportunity
to decide what is sacred and what is holy. Go, find the holy and
Let Us Pray: Generous
God, I come before You now, seeking Your presence and the comfort of
Your Spirit. Lead me, guide me, and turn me towards the sacred and
holy, where I experience a joy, a peace, a solace like no other.
It was an unusual
Easter this year. Because of the pandemic, most churches stayed closed
and were as empty as the empty tomb was on the first Easter Sunday. I
had prepared my service and placed it on YouTube. (Here)
encouraging throughout the day to receive email comments from people
who had watched it online. Earlier in the week, I had led a bible
study on my computer from home and on Maundy Thursday held a 'Live”
communion service from the manse over Facebook. For sure it is a
strange new world!
I have nothing but
praise for those who are out there working on the frontline. Our
hospitals and medical services are strained to breaking point. Many
are finding it hard to get the resources they need to fight this
battle. Our retail workers are having to deal with their own fears,
as well as bewildered and anxious customers. Many people are not able
to work. Others are having to change the way they are working.
Others are facing
economic uncertainty and, as always, this crisis seems to be hitting
hardest those who have the least. Food banks are seeing more and more
folk needing their services in the face of dwindling supplies.
Everybody has been affected in some way or another. It is a similar
story all around the world.
On Easter Sunday
morning I came over to the church for a brief time of private prayer
and intercession. I pictured what the place would have looked like
had we been able to meet. I imagined the swell of the organ, the joy
of our music, the voices of the children enjoying an Easter Egg hunt,
the conversations of our fellowship time. I both prayed to God to
help us travel through this time and thanked God that these days will
not last forever.
On the way back to the
manse I walked passed the amphitheater and saw that an 'anonymous
someone' had placed a white cloth on the Cross to symbolize Christ's
resurrection. The sight of that cross, and the thought that somebody
had taken the time to drape it in white, gave me great hope. I sat on
one of the benches and just gazed at the scene for a while.
Although we are in
difficult times, it is those special moments, prompted by the
thoughtful actions of others, that can give us cause for hope. Hard
times can often bring out the best in people. That is a message that
lies at the heart of the Easter story. The betrayal and crucifixion
of Jesus cast a shadow of darkness over the lives of His disciples
that they never thought could be removed.
But on Easter morning,
should we gather in our thousands or be confined to our homes, the
message still rings out. “Christ is Risen. He is Risen indeed!”
The light has shined in the darkness, and the darkness cannot, and
will not, overcome the light that is Jesus Christ.
Prayer: Lord our
God, we continue to lift up the nations in prayers as we together
fight against this coronavirus. Bless those working towards an
antidote. Bless those seeking to maintain social order. Bless those
in our medical services faced with such an overwhelming task. Bless
our retail workers, suppliers and emergency services. Bless those who
have suffered loss. May we know that Your light still shines and that
the darkness will never have the last word. Amen.
This past Sunday at
Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church we held an online "Patchwork
Palm Passion Sunday Service." Here's a link to the YouTube service. And here's a link to a transcript.
thoughts, as we go into another week of uncertainty, here is a
meditation by Andrea Springer. Andrea is a regular speaker at
the Bon Secours Retreat & Conference Center in Marriottsville,
“Not too long ago a wise colleague
introduced me to the phrase, community of the long haul. The
words struck me then and over these last two weeks, I find myself
returning to them again and again. It occurs to me that we are
members of the community of the long haul.
We’ve always been really, part of a
human heritage that endures hardships and lives to tell. Think of the
settlers and explorers heading into unknown territory knowing that
life will be different. For us, it is abundantly clear that the words
community, long, and haul mean even more today than yesterday.
The words we use are important and go
beyond our personal understanding and experience so I turned to the
Oxford Dictionary for new insights into those three small words;
community, long, and haul.
Community: a feeling of
fellowship with others as a result of sharing common attitudes,
interests, and goals. This seems particularly appropriate as we may
not be physically close to one another but locally, and globally, we
share commonalities based on a small but mighty bug.
Long: lasting or taking a great
amount of time. The unknown duration of our physical separation adds
to our feeling of isolation. Distance also comes into play as we are
reminded of social distancing, and suddenly six feet seems a lot
Haul: pull or drag with effort
or force; a distance to be traversed. These days it takes some
effort, and often sheer determination, to keep a routine and move
through the day. This reality is a distance to be traversed.
Individually these words can emphasize
our separateness but together, what an image! Community of the
Long Haul reminds us of what we’ve been all along and are most
especially today. We are people of togetherness, commonalities, and
endurance. We may not be hugging and shaking hands, but we’re
reaching one another through acts of kindness and love that don’t
need a physical touch; phone calls, music, prayers, and videos, and
In these difficult days... let us
rededicate ourselves to being active participants in the Community
of the Long Haul. For some
music, 33 Miles sing “Hold On”
Prayer: “Lord, we surely need Your
strength and guidance for the living of these days. We pray for those
on the front line of this crisis. We pray that people will heed
instructions that prevent the spread of coronavirus. We pray that
when all this is over, we will remember the lessons these days have
taught us. Amen.
“If I lift up my
eyes to the hills, where shall I find help?
Help comes only from the
Lord, Maker of Heaven and earth.”
We continue here at
Mount Hebron Presbyterian to be a virtual congregation. A video of
last week's message can be found here, a written version here.
I'm sharing some
thoughts today from the Rev. John V. “Jack” Carlson. Jack
retired from active ministry in the PC(USA) in January 2016. Prior
to his retirement, he served for 13 years as Pastor at Highland
Presbyterian Church. After serving a term as Moderator of the
Presbytery of Baltimore, in September of 2017 he was elected Stated
Clerk of the Presbytery.
“Last fall my wife
and I traveled to Alaska. The cruise of the Inside Passage had been
on my bucket list for many years; it did not disappoint. But the
highlight of our trip was our visit to Mt. Denali—“the Great
The highest mountain in
North America is usually shrouded in clouds and fog. Natives and
tourist guides are fond of telling visitors that only 30% of the
thousands of visitors there each year get to see the mountain. And
after a couple of days traveling to get there, and most of another
day in Denali National Park itself, we were beginning to be resigned
to being among the 70% who never glimpse it.
Then late in the
afternoon on the day we were traveling through the park, the clouds
suddenly and unexpectedly broke, just as we approached the mountain,
and we were treated to some very special views. The next day, as we
were traveling by motor coach away from the park, again unexpectedly,
the sky became crystal clear, and we saw the mountain in its full
glory. The above painting is one I painted from a photograph I took
while we were pulled off to the side of the road.
This is the nature of
God’s revelation. So much of life seems covered over, not clear.
Indeed, our very understanding of God seems itself shrouded in
mystery. And then, something becomes clearer: sometimes in big ways,
as when we see a mountain where only moments ago there was nothing
but fog, and then sometimes in small ways, as when we get a wee
glimpse into the truth of the way things really are.
We cannot control these
experiences; we can only stay alert, stay open, and hope that God
will open our eyes at the right moment for us to see the truth and
the beauty of God’s love, which is truly there all of the time.”
Lord God, in these
days we may find ourselves uncertain about the future, search for
some sign of You amidst the troubles we face. Open our eyes and ears
and hearts to Your certain presence, Your never-failing Word, and Your
Eternal Love. Amen.
Here at Mount Hebron
Presbyterian Church we continue to minister through our online
presence. Our sermon from last Sunday can be found on YouTube here
and in written form here.
One of the places I like
to go to refresh my spirit is Bon Secours Retreat Center, in Marriottsville, Maryland. Pictured above is the path and bridge around
the small water feature.
I am lucky that it is only
a short drive from my home. It truly is a place of refreshment and
hope. Our Presbytery has hosted a number of Clergy retreats there. I
have also visited for personal retreats.
Right now, as with many
such centers, they are having to discourage people from visiting.
However, they continue to reach out through their online resources.
Rev. Stephen Wade has
served as a spiritual director of one of their summer week-long
directed retreats for many years. On the Bon Secours blog, he offers
the following prayer, by Pope Francis, to the Bon Secours community
with hope and thanksgiving. I thought it was well worth sharing.
before falling asleep
when we will return to the street.
When we hug
when all the
shopping together will seem like a party.
about when the coffees will return to the bar,
talk, the photos close to each other.
about when it will be all a memory
will seem an unexpected and beautiful gift.
We will love
everything that has so far seemed futile to us.
will be precious.
Swims at the
sea, the sun until late, sunsets, toasts, laughter.
We will go
back to laughing together.
I hope you are able to
find moments for positive reflection and refreshment during these
uncertain times. For some music, MercyMe sing “Even If.”
This is a new way
of doing things for all of us. We do not know what the coming weeks
will bring, but we do know we can not carry on meeting together as we
have in the past. We will do our best to keep everybody updated on
developments here at church.
One thing that can
bind us all together is our prayers. With that in mind, I share this
'adapted' prayer from “Christianity Today” writer Daniel Darling.
we acknowledge our dependence upon You. This virus has reminded us of
our frailty. We have subdued much of the earth with our innovation
and creative acts, but we are reminded in this moment how frail and
powerless we really are. So we repent of our self-sufficiency and
Lord, we lament the
fallen nature of our world, which mars the beauty of your created
order. COVID-19 comes to steal and destroy, to work its way through
human bodies and spread its sickness across communities and nations
and the world. We, like Your Son, weep and rage at sickness and
death. And yet we know that it was Jesus whose death and resurrection
defeated this final foe. We long for the day You resurrect our bodies
and restore this world.
As we endure this
new normal in our lives, we pray earnestly for the medical doctors,
nurses, and health care professionals who are putting their lives on
the line for their neighbors. May You give them strength and physical
immunity during this time, so they can help push back against this
We pray for the
scientists, disease experts, and epidemiologists who are working on
vaccines and testing mechanisms. Lord, we thank You for gifting them
with knowledge and wisdom we don’t have. We pray for their
endurance, for breakthroughs, and for resources.
We pray for those
working in our supermarkets, dealing with unprecedented demand,
anxious customers and their own health concerns. Teach us not to
hoard, but to share, to look beyond our personal needs and consider
the needs of the most vulnerable among us.
Lord, You are the
Great Physician, so we pray for healing for the victims of COVID-19.
Lord, You are the Creator, with power over the creation, so we pray
that the chaos created by COVID-19 may come to an end. Spirit of God,
You are the Comforter, so please comfort all troubled souls.
Move in the hearts
of our public officials. As you have instructed us in Your Word, we
pray for our leaders, the president, Congress, governors, mayors, and
local officials. We pray You will guide them with wisdom and strength
We pray for the
people in our nation and the nations of the world to be humbled and
turn to You in repentance and faith. We know You are the Prince of
peace, Lord of lords, the King of kings. We praise You for Your
goodness and Your mercy. And we ask this all in the name of Jesus,
our Lord. Amen.”
This past Sunday here at
Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church we reflected on whether seeking to
live a good life actually made any difference to ourselves or the
world around us. The way of the world seems to be that prosperity has
no link to morality! The sermon can be found here.
many who adopt an “ends justify the means” philosophy. Whether it
be governmental justification of indiscretions and lies or something
far more mundane, such as parking illegally because we “are just in
such a rush today,” there are circumstances where people feel
taking a course of action that would otherwise be unacceptable is
By way of contrast, scripture invites those who follow
Jesus Christ to be above reproach. In the Kingdom manifesto we know
as the sermon on the mount we are counseled; “Let
your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works
and give glory to your Father in heaven.”
When speaking of those who aspire to leadership
in a congregation Paul places the highest standards before his young
friend Timothy. “The overseer then must be
above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, self-controlled,
respectable, hospitable, an able teacher, not a drunkard, not
violent, but gentle, not contentious, free from the love of money. He
must manage his own household well and keep his children in control
without losing his dignity.” (1 Timothy
“Do-gooders” are often regarded as hypocritical
meddlers who do more harm than good. Neither Jesus or Paul suggest
the way of God’s Kingdom is one of self-righteously enforcing our
morality upon others. It is rather about doing the right thing
whatever it may cost and however personally uncomfortable it may be.
Whether it means involving ourselves with a cause for justice
and peace or simply obeying traffic laws the bottom line is that we
are instructed in scripture to be shining examples of God’s love!
Lord God, You call us to be people of Kingdom standards. We know
ourselves well enough to see such is only possible through the
intervention of Your Holy Spirit and through the grace of our LordJesus Christ. Help us this week to let our
light shine so that others obtain glimpses of Your love. Amen.
This past Sunday at Mount Hebron
Presbyterian Church, as we gathered around a table laid with bread
and wine, one of the things we thought about was the invitation of
Jesus, “Come to me, all you that are weary and carrying heavy
burdens and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28). These
words are an open invitation towards anybody who is struggling to get
through the day or facing obstacles that seem insurmountable. (The full sermon can be found here.)
You may not be familiar with Joseph
Scriven, but I am sure you will know one of his compositions. Joseph
Scriven was originally from Ireland. He received a degree in theology
from Trinity College, Dublin in 1842. In 1843, the night before he
was going to be married, his fiancée accidentally drowned.
In 1845, at the age of 25, he left his
native country and migrated to Canada, settling in Woodstock,
Ontario. There he again became engaged. Tragedy struck once more. His
fiancée died of pneumonia He received news from Ireland of his
mother being terribly ill. He wrote a poem to comfort his mother
called "Pray Without Ceasing."
It was later set to music and renamed
by Charles Crozat Converse, to "What a Friend We Have in Jesus."
In the midst of his grief and desire for consolation, he shared his
deepest thoughts. He did not have any intentions that his poem would
be published, let alone become a favorite hymn for millions of
Christians around the world. Knowing the story behind these words
gives to them an added depth.
What a friend we have in
Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear! What a privilege to carry
everything to God in prayer!
Are we weak and heavy
laden, cumbered with a load of care? Precious Savior, still our
refuge; take it to the Lord in prayer.
When we go to Jesus in prayer and hand
over to Him all that burdens us, He is ready and willing to
graciously and generously wrap His arms around us, support us, and
carry us if necessary. There is no problem in our lives that He
cannot help us with. All authority and power have been given to Him.
It is as though He says: “Here let me
take that. Let me take that burden of sin and shame and guilt and
fear. Let me take it to the cross with me. I’m going there for all
those who are weary and burdened. There are no limits to my love for
you and I am happy to put all your sin and trouble on my shoulders.”
“Just trust me! Have confidence in my
love for you, and you will come to realize that at no time will you
walk through any of life's traumas alone. When the time comes I will
even walk through “the valley of the shadow of death” with you. I
will always be with you.”
Prayer: “Lord, our God we
thank You for the open invitation of Jesus that we come to Him and
find rest. What a friend He truly is! Today, grant us the courage to
share our burdens, that we may find release and that the empowering
of Your Holy Spirit's presence is with us. Amen. ”
past Sunday was 'Transfiguration Sunday." Our sermon from the
day can be found here. One of the few places you may discover the
word 'Transfiguration' outside of the religious sphere is in the
Harry Potter series of books.
Hogwarts Academy 'Transfiguration' is a branch of magic that focuses
on the alteration of the form or appearance of an object, via the
alteration of the object's molecular structure. Humans can be
transfigured into werewolves, objects in the seen world can become
invisible. And, as this video clip demonstrates, animals can be
turned into objects... though not always with 100% success when it
comes to Ron Weasley.
Gospel account of Transfiguration can be found in Matthew 17:1-9 and its veracity is testified to in one of the later New Testament
writings, 2 Peter 1:16-21. The author of 2 Peter insists that the mountain-top appearance of Moses and Elijah with Jesus was no magic
trick, but a milestone moment in the disciple's pilgrimage to come to
terms with the significance of the person of Jesus Christ.
many of us, such strange events on mountaintops seem to have about as
much reality to them as a scene in a Harry Potter movie. We may even
fear that rather than making the gospel account more believable, they
make it seem even further removed from the reality of our daily
lives. And should we even attempt to replicate such an event we
probably fear our efforts would be about as successful as those of
maybe it is helpful to ask why the gospel authors (and the author of
2 Peter) felt that this was such an important story to tell.
Traditionally three aspects have been pointed out.
that the story reveals to us a Jesus who is a bridge between the
world of the temporal and the eternal. Heaven connects with earth and
earth with heaven. For a brief moment in time, the mist of separation
is cleared and the story moves outside of time. No wonder that one of
the disciples, Peter, wanted to capture the moment and stay on the
of us are fortunate enough to have had those experiences when we felt
a strong connection to something much larger than ourselves. It can
be on a mountain top. It can be through a conversation. It can come
when we're watching a movie, listening to a piece of music or reading
a book. For a moment the mist clears and we feel we are seeing
something in a totally different way. Call it an epiphany... or a
transfiguration... or even just describe it as magical... such are
moments to accept the goosebumps and be thankful.
there is a voice that is heard inviting us to "Listen"...
in particular to listen to Jesus. Amongst all the words in the world
(and even all the words in the biblical books) we can neglect to give
the words of Jesus the particular significance they appear to demand.
His teaching is the heart of the gospel. Instead of becoming bogged
down in the intricacies of theological interpretation, maybe we could
just focus on a few of His BIGGIES... like "Love God",
"Love Neighbor" and "Love your enemy". It would
be magical if we could simply embrace those three!
the appearance of Moses and Elijah stresses that God is God of the
living, not of the dead. I love the notion that every time we
worship, despite the often empty pews, we are in the presence of a
great cloud of unseen witnesses. Saints and angels of every
generation! Let us pray that for each of us there may be those
moments when eternity breaks in and we get a glimpse that there's
more to this life than the mundane.
“Lord, life can be
very ordinary. Break through and transform our every day lives with Your extraordinary love. Remind us that we are Your much-loved
children and having nothing to fear. Remind us You are with us.
In the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:21-37) Jesus
isolates the source of wrong actions. It all begins inside, at the
center of our being, symbolized by the heart. We use the word “heart”
not just to describe the beating muscle that pushes blood around our
bodies, but also to speak of our deepest motives and emotions. A
sermon reflecting on this topic can be found here.
The prophet Jeremiah
complained that “The heart is deceitful
above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?”
(Jeremiah 17:9-10) The writer of Psalm 139 makes the prayer “Search
me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.”
Physical heart health is
important. Equally vital is having emotional and spiritually healthy
hearts. Unless we have our inner life in tune with God, then our
outer life manifests discord, rather than revealing peace, purpose, and love.
In a study conducted and
funded by National Institutes of Health,
individuals who prayed daily were shown to be 40 percent less likely
to have high blood pressure than those without a regular prayer
practice. Research at Dartmouth Medical School found that patients with strong
religious beliefs, who underwent elective heart surgery, were three
times more likely to recover than those who were less religious.
When we take “time out”
to be still and commune with God, it helps us align our heart
purposes with those of God's Kingdom. During His ministry, we see how
Jesus sought for moments of solitude to pray and seek God's guidance.
If such was a necessary practice for Him, then prayer should also be
a priority in His disciple's lives.
The Scriptures take time
to digest. We are invited to meditate on God's words and allow them
to seep into our hearts. It is only then that they truly begin to
direct our lives. Let us seek to be owners of healthy spiritual
This weekend the Super Bowl was held.
It turned out to be a victory for the Chiefs.Only a small number of people ever get
to play in a Super Bowl game. The demands placed on the players are
incredible. Win or lose, they have to give their all to their
Jesus calls us to be disciples with a high level of
commitment. This past Sunday at Mount Hebron Presbyterian our sermon
reflected on Matthew 5:1-12 and the theme “What Drives You?” Our
sermon can be found here.
In common with disciples of all
times and all places, following Jesus involves a deep level of
commitment. Not just commitment to anything, but for the Christian,
commitment to the values Jesus embraced. In Matthews gospel these are
illuminated by His “Sermon on the Mount.” His words present to us
a very different view of life than conventional wisdom would suggest.
Behind much of the teaching in this
radical sermon is the thought that actions begin in the heart. That
true blessedness (sometimes called “Happiness” or even “Joy”)
lies in navigating even life's darkest moments in the confidence that
God walks with us. The darkness of life can be a blessing when it
moves us to discover the loving comfort and embrace of the God of all
light and love.
anybody else than Jesus speaking these words we would be tempted to
dismiss them. When we consider the life He lived, the suffering He
faced and the love He shared, His words have a note of authority
attached to them.
As we are told in Philippians 2:7-8 “He
emptied Himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the
likeness of men. And being found in human form, He humbled Himself by
becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. “
To succeed at any venture takes not
only inspiration but also embracing values in our innermost selves
that enable us to face whatever life throws at us with grit and
determination. Be it NFL success or spiritual maturity … the call
is to press forward with all that we are.