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

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.

Monday, January 27, 2020

Where are you going?

Where are you going?

This past Sunday here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church we reflected on Matthew 4:12-23 and the theme of where our lives may be heading. Our sermon from the day can be found here.

One of the problems in seeking direction is that we are often just too caught up in the journey to stop and ask. Commitments on our time impede from all directions. Work, family, traveling in between appointments, meeting deadlines… our schedules are not our best friend!

It is sometimes only when we are forced to stop traveling on this crazy train we are riding that we find the time to ask where the train may be heading. Various unplanned interruptions come our way.

Times of illness, weather related cancellations, simply getting caught in the traffic, can all create a space where we suddenly become reflective and ask; “Just where is my life going?”

In a society that rejects the idea of “Sabbath” such momentary pauses can be our “Little Sabbaths.” They can become a special time to take stock and evaluate the journey. A space to ask where the direction of God and the things of God’s Kingdom fit into the bigger picture of our lives.

The interruptions can turn out to be far more significant than the scheduled things. If we make the most of such moments they can be revolutionary. At least that's how it seemed to work out in the lives of the earliest disciples!

For some music, an oldie... but a classic. A joyful rendition of “I will follow Him” from the movie “Sister Act.”

Lord Jesus Christ, we hear Your call to follow You. We confess we often do so without truly thinking it through. We get caught up in the everyday madness. Direct us and lead us. Show us where changes need to be made and grant us the strength of Your Holy Spirit to make them! Amen.

Monday, January 20, 2020

What are you looking for?

What are you looking for?

It’s hard to find what you are looking for if you are not exactly sure what it is. Such is the dilemma that occupied our thoughts during our sermon this past Sunday. Our sermon can be found here.

I feel that for many of us the spiritual quest is one that we really cannot define. We kind of know what we are searching for, but we can’t frame it with words. It is not certainty. It is not conviction. It is not answers (particularly when we are not even sure what the questions are).

Yet we are attracted to the message of Jesus Christ and to the way that being part of a spiritual community enables us to follow Him. Maybe it is just as well that in the passage we considered (John 1:29-42) Jesus frames His invitation in the words “
Come And See!”

There is something about the journey that is a revelation all of itself. Along the way we discover things that we had not even realized that we were looking for. Sometimes when we find them we wonder how we ever managed without them!

And if that sounds rather vague then I make no apology. Even Paul spoke of only “
Seeing through a glass darkly.” (1 Corinthians 13:12)

Jesus invites us “Come and See.” Come and see what? We can only find out by following. For some music, a great song that gives expression to the thought that following is a life long quest.The cast of Glee sing the U2 song “I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For” (Lyrics)

Thank You Lord for the encouragement to follow that not having to know all the answers can bring to us. You welcome the curious. You invite the seekers. Help us to stick with the journey and seek the company of others to travel it with. Amen!

Monday, January 13, 2020

What are you doing here?

As a New Year gets underway we rapidly become busy. After a brief pause for reflection and resolution making it seems things soon get back to the state we describe as ‘normal.’ Yet it is into the midst of our normality that God often chooses to step. This past Sunday we reflected on the experience of John the Baptist who was rather surprised when Jesus showed up at the banks of the Jordan. Sermon can found here.

It is as Jesus is baptized that a voice from heaven describes Him as a beloved son with whom God is "well pleased." The sacrament of baptism declares to us that God is pleased to claim us as sons and daughters. We may not always feel pleased with our spiritual progress, or even feel there is much for God to be pleased about in our lives but… nevertheless… God continues to desire our utmost good.

In the light of our faltering steps and uneasy commitment we have those days when we question our ability to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. There are times when we ask ourselves; “What are you doing here?”

Then, unexpectedly, God shows up. Shows up in the voice of a friend or someones random act of kindness towards us. Shows up by placing before us an opportunity to bless another. Shows up in the words of a song on the radio or by an insight in the midst of a comedy routine on TV. Shows up in places we weren’t looking.

And then we remember that we are not disciples because we are good at it! We are disciples because God is a God of Grace and refuses to despair of us. Through the influence of God’s Holy Spirit prompting us to have eyes that see and ears that hear, we can discover God in ways and places we had never expected!

For some music and reflection, a song composed by David J. Evans “Be still

Prayer: “Lord, help us to stay awake to Your presence within us and around us. Remind us that we are children of Your pleasure. Encourage us to keep listening and keep serving, especially when we have more questions than answers. Amen.

Monday, January 6, 2020

The New Year

Yikes! It’s 2020 already. The years just seem to zoom on by. In church yesterday we talked about Epiphany Stars and reflected on how the grace of God had enabled us to get through another year! We shared bread and wine and sought spiritual nourishment for the journey ahead. This coming Sunday is "Baptism of the Lord Sunday" and we will take a look at Matthew 3:13-17. Our sermon will be posing the question "What are You Doing Here?"

While we can make some inspired guesses at what a New Year may bring, the truth is that it remains a blank page. There’s most likely going to be some great things and some nasty stuff that gets written on the pages. That’s usually what happens.

But that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth setting ourselves some goals for the coming days. I’d say “Making resolutions” but somehow “Goals” feels like a less demanding concept.

See… I was never a very good soccer player. I could mis-kick a ball in more ways than I knew how to do it properly. If I ever got near to scoring the adrenaline would kick in and I’d end up hitting the ball with way too much enthusiasm or just completely missing altogether. I was never offended when folk didn’t choose me to be on their team. I wasn’t sure I wanted to be on my team!

But the thing is… goals are things you keep pursuing and working at. Resolutions, well you either keep them or break them. Goals, you can keep on trying!

So forget the resolutions and set yourself some goals. They don’t have to be anything super-impressive or mega-spiritual. Things like “A little less TV and a little more exercise”, “Occasionally eating out less and putting the money aside to help the local food pantry”, “Cut back on social media use so I can be more present for my family”, ‘Sign up for something at church that I haven’t done before… just to give it a try”, “A little less hurry and a whole lot less worry.”

It often seems that lasting changes in our life come through little steps. Enjoy this video of New Year advice from numerous sources.

Prayer: ‘Lord, help us to set ourselves some attainable goals for 2020. Guide us to the best use of our time, talents and treasures. Whatever the year brings our way, help us to allow Your love and hope to be a part of it. Amen.