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

Friday, August 14, 2020

The Last Post

 

 Thank you for viewing this blog.

My time serving at Mount Hebron came to an end in August 2020.

So no more blogs I'm afraid.

This be the last post!

God Bless

 

Rev. Adrian Pratt




Sunday, June 21, 2020

A Little Letter with a Big Punch


Note: This Blog will be taking a Summer Break for the next few weeks. 
Sermons will continue to be posted on our sermon blog site which can be found here.

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.

Philemon 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 to Christ.

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.

The 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)

Furthermore, 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.

For some music, a classic from Sam Cooke "A Change Is Gonna Come

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, June 15, 2020

Scottish Sunday


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 Scots Confession.

A video of our Scottish Sunday service can be found here, a transcript of the message can be found here.

John Knox 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…”

For some music “Celtic Worship” perform “In Christ Alone.
Prayer: “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.

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Virtual Communion


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 present.

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 11:29 NKJV)

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 properly prepared.

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"

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, June 1, 2020

The Holy Spirit


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.”

Our 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.

John’s 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 Christ.

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 the shadow.

For some music “Holy Spirit, Living Breath of God” by Keith and Kristyn Getty

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. Amen.

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Gathering Together


Here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian our online service last week focussed on 'Church Unity.' A video can be found here, a transcript here.

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.

We 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.

For some music Bryn Haworth, “We're All One.

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 many lives.

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, May 18, 2020

The Heroism Around Us

The Heroism Around Us

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 him.

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.

For some music “It Is Well with My Soul” by BYU Vocal Point.

Prayer: “God, Our Savior, fill our minds with Your wisdom, so that even the 'little' things we do during these unusual days, may be enriched by Your love. Amen.

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, May 11, 2020

Gratitude


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 transcript here.

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 for.

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 thankful for.

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.

And, truly, I could just keep on going and going and going. So make your own list. Make it 20, 30, 40 or more... An attitude of gratitude is never a bad thing to embrace! For some music “10,000 Reasons (Bless the Lord, O my soul ) by Matt Redman .

The Rev Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, May 4, 2020

Focus from the Scriptures


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 forsake you.

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.

1 John 4:19 “We love because He first loved us.

For further meditation, a musical setting of Psalm 91 by Esther Mui "My God, In Him I Will Trust."

However these days are finding you, I hope you will find comfort from God's Word.

Rev Adrian J. Pratt

Monday, April 27, 2020

Fire Safety (Rev. Cindy Maybeck)

 

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 this crisis.

For some music: Fanny J. Crosby's hymn “Blessed Assurance.

Prayer: Thank You, Lord, our God, for promising to walk with us, no matter what may come our way. Continue to guide us through our current situation, we pray. Amen.

Monday, April 20, 2020

Everyday Holiness (by Rev. Becca Crate)

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 right there. 

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 rejoice.”

For some music “When I Look Into Your Holiness.

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. Amen.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Empty Church Easter

 

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

It was 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.

For some Easter music, a rousing version of "Christ The Lord is Risen Today"

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.

Monday, April 6, 2020

Community of the Long Haul


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.

For some 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, MD.

“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 longer.

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 journals.”.

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.

Monday, March 30, 2020

God Revealed

 God Revealed

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.” 
Psalm 121

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 One.”

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.”

For some music "My Life is in Your Hands" sung by the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir.

Let Us Pray...
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.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Strength and Courage




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.

Tonight before falling asleep
think about when we will return to the street.
When we hug again,
when all the shopping together will seem like a party.
Let’s think about when the coffees will return to the bar,
the small talk, the photos close to each other.
We think about when it will be all a memory
but normality will seem an unexpected and beautiful gift.
We will love everything that has so far seemed futile to us.
Every second will be precious.
Swims at the sea, the sun until late, sunsets, toasts, laughter.
We will go back to laughing together.
Strength and courage.”

I hope you are able to find moments for positive reflection and refreshment during these uncertain times. For some music, MercyMe sing “Even If.”

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Sailing Into Uncharted Seas


This past Sunday here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian we had to cancel our service in the sanctuary and try something online instead. An online sermon can be found here, and written version here.

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.

“Heavenly Father, 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 hubris.

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 virus.

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 and discernment.

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.”

For some music, “He's Always Been Faithful”, by Sara Groves.

Monday, March 9, 2020

Does it pay to be Good?


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.

There are 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 O.K.

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.” (Matthew 5:16)

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 3:2-4)

“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!

For some music Unspoken sing; “Keep Fighting the Good Fight.

Prayer: 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 Lord Jesus Christ. Help us this week to let our light shine so that others obtain glimpses of Your love. Amen.

Monday, March 2, 2020

An Open Invitation

 

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.”

For some music, Paul Baloche sings “What a friend we have in Jesus.

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. ”

Monday, February 24, 2020

Transfiguration – The Glory Story.


This 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. 
 
At 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.

The 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.

For 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 Mr. Weasley!

So 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.

Firstly, 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 mountain.

Many 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.

Secondly, 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!

Thirdly, 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.


Prayer: “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. Amen.

Monday, February 17, 2020

Owner of a Healthy Heart


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.” (verse 23)

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 hearts!

For some music, a classic oldie from Keith Green; “Create in me a Clean Heart.

Prayer: “Lord our God, we ask that Your Holy Spirit would help us to have physical, emotional and spiritual healthy hearts. Renew us with the love of Jesus. Amen.”

Monday, February 3, 2020

What Drives You?


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 game.

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.

Where it 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.

In our service, as well as raising money for our Presbyteries Cents-Abilty program, we also sang what has become our “Souperbowl” song, Bobby Bare's “Drop Kick me Jesus through the goalposts of Life.” Enjoy!

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.