Monday, May 8, 2017

Peter's Perspective 3. Christ's Example

Reading: Psalm 23, Acts 2:42-47, John 10:1-10, 1 Peter 2:18-25
Preached at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, MD, May 7 2017

You didn’t get what you deserved. You were treated unfairly. You were trying to do the right thing, thought you were doing the right thing but were treated like it was the wrong thing. You refused to participate in some bad stuff that everybody else was involved in, and now those people don’t want anything to do with you anymore.

It happens all the time. You were doing well at your job – but when it came to promotion time you were passed over - because that somebody else, whose work was nowhere near up to your standard - just happened to be on better terms with the boss. There was that incident in the class when you were at school. It was nothing to do with you – but you got the blame for it.

You were driving along on a strange highway– cars zooming past you at break neck speed. In the midst of all this traffic you fail to notice the speed limit had gone down to 55. Yet you were the one who got stopped and given a ticket. And the fact that it was a genuine mistake impresses the officer not one little bit.

Our bible reading for today - 1 Peter, 2, 18-25, speaks about situations where an injustice has taken place. The passage was written, as verse 18 makes clear, to people, who through no fault of their own, were constantly at the mercy of other peoples judgments and disapproval. Whilst some translations describe them as ‘Servants’ most commentators agree with the translation of the New Revised Standard Bible that Peter was addressing ‘slaves’.

A slave has no rights. There is no tribunal or court to which they can appeal. They are completely at the mercy of their owners. Compared to the injustices experienced by a slave, ours seem rather insignificant

There were many slaves among those who made up the early church. Their embracing Christianity did not bring them freedom from their oppressors. But it did give them a new focus on their troubles and in Christ they had an example to follow. Jesus, of His own free will, took off the mantle of the King and became the servant.

That Jesus was opposed to slavery should be beyond question. He was of a people whose redemption story focused on their becoming free from the slavery of Egypt. Through His words and actions He condemned any form of oppression, be it religious, social, political or economic.

His actions in the temple throwing out the money-changers, His conversation with the woman of many husbands down by the Well in Samaria, His outspoken and sometimes extremely vocal opposition of the Teachers of the Law, the Pharisees and the Sadducees show that He was not prepared to let things that were wrong go unopposed.

Yet at other times His witness is not through opposition, but through silence, through the example of His acceptance of injustice, His refusal to speak at times when words no longer counted for anything and His belief that there were occasions when suffering could accomplish far greater things than anything else… climaxing in His crucifixion and death for our sins upon the Cross.

When we face situations of injustice, when we feel we can’t do right for doing wrong, when everything seems to be conspiring against us to bring us down, we should take note of the advice Peter offers and the example of Our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.

1. Bad things Happen

Not one of us is immune from life’s troubles. Life brings difficult things our way for no other reason than that’s the way life is. Peter reminds the slaves to whom he is writing of the plain fact that some of them had Masters that treated them fairly and others had those that were unjust. They had no choice over the matter.

At other times they messed up and got in trouble that was their own doing. Obviously that was nothing to rejoice over or be proud of. They shouldn’t expect to be treated any less harshly than any other slave who got in trouble. Even if they endured what ever punishment their owner dealt to them, taking it with a dose of patience wasn’t going to take away the fact that, if they hadn’t messed up, they wouldn’t get in trouble.

Verse 20 “For what credit is it, if when you do wrong and are beaten for it you take it patiently?” We live in a time when that is a very unpopular message. In today’s world when people mess up they don’t even endure the consequences patiently, they try and wriggle out of them. They make excuses, blame somebody else or go into denial. But even when people are prepared to take the consequences of their bad decisions, Peter is telling us that there is nothing particularly praiseworthy in that.

Instead he focuses on undeserved suffering . The verse continues “But when you do good and suffer, if you take it patiently, this is commendable before God” It is not the suffering that is commendable or good, but the way that the person handles it. Bad things happen. The choice we have in the bad times is whether we allow those times to define our lives.

2. Bad Times are not the whole Picture.

Peter is telling these servants and slaves... bad times will come along, sometimes because you mess up, sometimes because other people mess up... and some times because that’s the nature of life… but do not allow any evil thing or unfair treatment to determine the nature of reality for you.

Why? Because our example is Jesus Christ. Verse 21 and following “For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten... who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness -- by whose stripes you were healed.

It would be the easiest thing in the world for a harshly treated slave to store up resentment, to harbor for the rest of their lives thoughts of getting even or of how things would turn out if they were the master, and their master was the slave. In God’s Kingdom, for the disciple of Jesus, that wasn’t how it was meant to be. As He died for their forgiveness, so they were to forgive others, as He refused to repay insult with insult, so they were to follow His example.

What applied to slaves back in Peter’s time, applies to us in our day. Maybe our treatment hasn’t been like that metered out by an unjust master to a slave, but from time to time situations of injustice do arise. They can be small things or large things. When one feels they haven’t had their rights taken into account... it is easy to let that thought and that feeling be something that grows and spreads and saps life of vitality.

People can carry around hurts and resentments and feelings of blame and plots of revenge for the whole of their lives. They go to their graves never getting that pain out of their system... and what good has it done them? When we carry around with us attitudes of un-forgiveness or revenge… who are we really hurting?

Often those who have wronged us haven’t even realized it. By holding on to grudges and bad feelings we simply add to our own pain. We become double losers. In contrast it is the way of the Kingdom to break that destructive circle by reminding us that we are people who were once Christ’s enemies, but that didn’t stop Him dieing on the cross for our sins.

In some translations the section of the Lord’s Prayer - where we use the word “Debts” - is translated as ‘Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us’. The implication is that by carrying un-forgiveness towards others we exclude ourselves from God’s grace for our own lives.

But how do deal with the resentment that comes with unfairness?

3. Let it Go

Verse 23 tells us how Jesus dealt with it. “(He) committed Himself to Him who judges righteously”. In other words He gave the situation over into His Father’s hands. Peter encourages us to follow Christ’s example and to do the same with our hurts, our frustrations, our grievances and our resentments.

By His wounds you have been healed. For you were going astray like sheep, but now you have returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.” (24-2 5)

Peter uses there the rich images of the Psalms. Who is our shepherd? ‘The Lord is my Shepherd’ declares the 23rd Psalm. Where can we find the strength to forgive? According to Genesis 49... in the strength of “The Mighty One of Jacob, by the name of the Shepherd, the Rock of Israel”. Where do we find rest for our souls and healing for our hurts? “By His wounds you have been healed.

The disciple of Christ is not promised an easy road through all of life’s troubles. There will be injustices along the way. Some of them you might just have to live with. Like those slaves who Peter addressed, the gospel message does not bring instant solutions our way.

What God promises is that He will shepherd us through our problems. God is not going to give up on us. Even the way we handle the things that trouble us will be a witness to His love.

It is important therefore for us to strengthen our discipleship through prayer, and knowing God’s Word and cultivating worshipful hearts that are ready to meet God in the midst of our daily lives It is important to gather around a table laid with bread and wine, and remember Jesus as He invited us to do. We need the Holy Spirit’s strengthening and renewal. If we try in our own strength, we will fail. We need to encourage one another in our Christian walk.

We have an example to follow. That of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To use a term I’ve heard in the theater. “That’s a hard act to follow.” Yet that is our calling. To be followers and imitators of Jesus. To forgive as we have been forgiven. To love as we have been loved. To set our sights high... and remember... we’re not the Shepherd... we’re the sheep.

And sheep can be just about the dumbest creatures on the planet! Sheep don’t survive without the Shepherd. How do we make it through the bad times? Psalm 23 says it all. A Psalm that we will say together as our Confession of Faith.

The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;
He restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; For you are with me; your rod and your staff-- they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
And I shall dwell in the house of the LORD my whole life long.”

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Peter's Perspective 2. Precious Blood

Readings: Psalm 116:1-4, 12-19,Luke 24:13-35, Acts 2:14a,36-41, Peter 1:17-23
Preached at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, MD, April 30 2017

I spent some of my earliest years outside of the church. I’d been taken to church as a youngster, then, mainly because most of my family didn’t go to church, I’d wandered away from church life and only started getting back into it in my later teenage years. So there was some huge gaps in my understanding of what Christianity was about and there was a lot of teaching I’d missed out on.

Maybe some of you have had, or are having similar experiences. We don’t all come to faith at the same time in the same way – and that’s O.K. Never feel that you have to apologize for where you are in your Christian journey. Just make sure that you are on a journey with God, not walking away from God. There’s a difference... but that’s really not what this sermon is about – or is it? We shall see.

I was starting to get back into church – having only a vague understanding of some fairly important Christian doctrines and concepts - and I recall going to some kind of evangelistic rally and a singer being there who with great passion belted out a chorus that was something along the lines of: -

There is power, power, wonder working power,
In the blood, in the blood,
There is power, power, wonder working power,
In the precious blood of the Lamb”

Whilst some of those around me were greeting this with cries of “Amen, brother” and “Hallelujah” – I’m sitting there squirming in my seat and wondering what on earth I have got myself into. Was this one of those cults I’d read about… some kind of “Vampires for Jesus” rally? I’d seen some of those movies where the dead dudes came back to life after sucking the blood out of their victims.

And the blood of the lamb? As a family we often used to have roast leg of lamb for Sunday Lunch. But Mum used to make sure it was cooked to perfection. None of your red raw meat for our family. Indeed any hint that this meat used to be some kind of living entity, a little fluffy lamb frolicking about in the fields, any indication of blood… well that was just too gross to contemplate.

If you go along to MacDonald’s and get a Burger, if there’s anything red on your burger you hope and pray that it’s ketchup... you don’t get to the drive thru window and say “I’ll have a Big Mac with blood on the side – please”. When it comes to blood I’m kind of squeamish.

I remember in school we had a kid in our class who had a funny turn when ever he caught sight of blood – be it his own or somebody else’s – first sight of blood – and boom – Mike (that’s not his real name) was out of it. He’d go white as a sheet and collapse on the floor. “There’s power, power, wonder working power.. in the blood, in the blood” Good job Mike wasn’t there. It would have been Big Mike's Bad day!

In fact – now this a bit of a gross story – but in the context of what I’m talking about – it has a place. One time I was preaching at a church – during my college days – and I wasn’t feeling 100% that morning. I sat down just before getting up to preach, went to wipe my nose, and oh no... I was starting to have a major nose bleed.

So I’m sitting there.. handkerchief is becoming redder and redder… and I’m thinking “Uh-oh… what if Mike’s here? Or somebody with a similar problem to Mike. “Houston .. we have a problem here, congregational members down, Preachers hemorrhaging from the nasal passages”. Thankfully the nose bleed stopped as suddenly as it started… so any major crisis was averted.

In church, it seems we can sing about the blood, read about the blood, even meet around a table and drink wine that represents the blood of the new covenant – but if any real blood shows up – that’s bad. We pray about it, talk about it, preach about it – but the last thing we want is to actually see any of the red stuff that flows through our veins.

Blood is precious. In terms of our bodies it’s what keeps us alive. Just as rivers run through the land to keep it fertile, so through our veins the blood and plasma keep flowing and nurturing our bodies, carrying the good stuff and taking away the bad stuff. Often when we go to the doctor he will take a sample of our blood to diagnose our general health. When a vein or an artery gets severed or clogged up, or the heart doesn’t pump in the way it is meant to, it threatens our life.

When we look to the beliefs of the ancient Hebrews we see that they placed a great importance on the blood. They had a saying:- “The life is in the blood”. The books of the law of Moses contain a great many rules and regulations regarding not only how the people were to act when coming into contact with blood, but also it is in those books the we have the whole system of sacrifices and offerings that were seen as a way of putting things right between God and God’s people.

The priests of ancient Israel received a very different training than today’s theological students in our seminaries. If you are a hunter, I believe, if you bag a deer or creature, that is for edible consumption, you take it along to somebody to cut up and butcher in a correct way for you. Well, back in old Israel, you could have just dropped it off at the priest’s house.

A large portion of the priest’s day was spent in dealing with the sacrifices that people had brought along… which could be anything from a pigeon to an ox. Each part of the animal had to be dealt with in a particular way and had a particular significance. They couldn’t just throw it on the bonfire and that was that. The blood had a particular significance as it was smeared over the altar. Some parts were to be consumed, some were to be disposed.

These offerings were a hard to ignore, visible reminder to the people that sin was a nasty business. That not living in God’s way caused pain. Every time the people went to sacrifice they had a gory reminder that the way of sin led to death. For them, in their way of worship, they didn’t just talk or sing about the blood... the blood was real.

Not just any animal’s blood.. but the pick of the flock.. the one that could have won best in show… the one that was worth the most… the unblemished one... 'the crème de la crème' of the bunch. Anything less would not atone for their sins. Later in history, the people twisted that message… and sacrifices became simply an excuse for them to do as they please, and then the sacrifices no longer had value.

All of this … somewhat lengthy introduction… is by way of bringing you to a couple of verses from our scripture reading:-. 1 Peter 1:18-19 “You were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ.

The first chapter of 1 Peter is very much a call to Christian people to seek holiness. To have a faith that was worth more than gold, a belief in God that really meant something deep and had an intensity to it that informed the decisions they made and the actions they did upon earth, especially how they faced the troubled times they were going through. A faith that was a solid foundation, a rock upon upon which they built their lives.

This was the faith that Jesus Christ had shed His blood that they may receive. This was the faith that He was raised from the grave to prove its validity and whose living presence in the Holy Spirit could empower those who committed their lives to seeking God’s way.

In a remarkable way Jesus combined, in His person, both early Israel’s concept of the sacrificial lamb and that of the later prophets emphasis on seeking love, justice and mercy. The bottom line of the text is this. Jesus Christ died for us. We do not have to sacrifice animals to glimpse the effects of sin. Look to the Cross and Jesus hanging there? See that shed blood? That’s the result of sin. He is doing that for us, taking the pain of sin on our behalf.

He’s embracing all that pain for us in order that we may be embraced by the love of God and seek to live in a way that honors the claim God makes upon our lives, a claim as already emphasized, that God makes through the precious blood of Jesus Christ.

If God has gone to such lengths to win us for His love, how else should we respond than seeking to live lives that are holy and acceptable in God’s sight? The death and resurrection of Jesus, the presence of the Holy Spirit in our hearts provide both the encouragement and power to do so.

Following the sermon this morning we'll sing a hymn that declares “On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand.” The hymn was composed by Edward Mote. When he was growing up, Edward ’s parents were very hostile towards religion, and suggested that what he needed in life was to have a solid career to build his fortunes upon. As a boy he was apprenticed to become a cabinet-maker.

The Cabinet-Maker who mentored him, turned out to be a devout Christian. Not only did Edward Mote became a skilled cabinetmaker, with a successful business, but also a dedicated disciple of Jesus Christ and attended Tottenham Court Road Chapel. There he heard sermons by a well known preacher of the day, a good friend of John and Charles Wesley, called John Hyatt. Now before John Hyatt had been a preacher, he had been … guess what? An apprentice cabinet maker.

Regardless of the claims of his business on his time, Mote always found time to worship God. He was especially interested in Christian music, and one day, on the way to work, had a verse that was forming in his mind. Before the day was finished, he had completed four verses of a hymn that began with the words, “My hope is built on nothing less, than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.
Not long after, Mote visited a friend whose wife was ill. It was a Sunday, and the friend mentioned that he and his wife liked to observe Sunday by singing a hymn, reading a scripture, and having prayer together. Mote had a copy of his hymn in his pocket, so they sang it.
The friend’s wife was so taken with the hymn that she requested a copy for herself. Encouraged by her interest, Mote had copies printed—and soon others were also singing it, it became published and since that day has been translated into many languages and made it's way into hymnals all over the world.
The final twist in the tale, is that at age 55, Edward decided that Cabinet-Making was no longer His calling and he became a Baptist minister in Sussex, England. He served his congregation for more than 20 years.

In his 77th year, he became seriously ill. In his final moments in this life he declared: “Yes, I am nearing port. The truths I have preached I am now living upon, and they will do to die upon. Ah! The precious blood, which takes away all our sins. It is this, which makes peace with God.” In his final words he talks of the “Precious Blood” of Jesus Christ.

There is “power, power, wonder working power” in the precious blood of Jesus. Power to see that we get on the road and stay on the road with God. Power to forgive and be forgiven. Power to bring peace. Power to live. Power to love.

My prayer today is that we may know ourselves set free by Christ’s death upon the cross, through His precious blood, in such a real way that we are empowered by the love of God to live for God’s glory and stand upon the solid rock of God's promises. AMEN.

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Peter's Perspective 1. Precious Gold

Readings: Psalm 16, Acts 2:14a, 22-32, John 20:19-31, 1 Peter 1:3-9
Preached at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, MD, April 23 2017

Gold. Precious Gold. ‘There’s Gold in dem there hills!” cried the prospector. The Gold Rush was on and thousand upon thousands hurried to far away places to earn their fortunes. Gold that had to be mined out of the ground or drained out of the creeks.

As a kid I remember watching Wild West movies where the whole plot was the acquisition of gold and the treachery of those who had obtained it, because they didn’t want to share it with their ‘pardners’ in crime. People robbed trains for it, killed for it. Lied for it. Cheated for it. Precious Gold.

In the wedding service we declare that; “Throughout the centuries the golden ring has been used to seal important covenants. A King would wear a ring with the seal of his country upon it. It's stamp signified royal authority. Friends have exchanged bands of gold to signify goodwill. In marriage the ring has particular significance. Its precious metal reminds us of the sacredness of marriage. It's never ending circle points us to the permanence that is the mark of a true love relationship.”

The groom takes the ring, places it on the bride’s finger and says something along the lines of “I give you this golden ring in God’s name, as a symbol of all we have promised - and all that we share.” Gold not only is a metal of value, it’s used as a symbol to declare the worth of things that all the gold in the world can never buy.

The first letter of Peter directs our thoughts to one thing that is more priceless than gold. Faith in God. Verse 7 speaks of “faith, being more precious than gold”. Faith, like all precious things, only comes at a price. Whilst our salvation is a gift of God, a gift that God offered two thousand years ago when Christ was crucified for our sins, our faith in God is something that we have to nurture.

Think about gold. If you are a gold prospector, you don’t just go along, dig up a little bit of earth, and expect to uncover a wedding ring, all beautifully prepared and shiny as glowing as the gleam in your lover’s eyes. No… gold is found in the depths of the earth, in the mud and among the stones. It has to be dug out, mined out, and extracted from the deep earth.

Then, if it is found, that’s just the beginning of the process. It has to be refined. It has to go through the fire. It has to be melted and shaped. It needs the application of a master craftsman’s skills if it is to ever become a thing of beauty or value. Faith, like Gold, doesn’t just happen. It’s something that takes the work of a master craftsman and the cooperation of our hearts and lives.

The faith that saves us is a gift. The account of the life and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is all about the God who reaches down to the depths of the earth to bring us to His love. We do not come to faith easily. God has to dig deep into the darkness, the mess and the mud of our lives to bring us into the light of the new day.

God in Christ comes to where we are, to the deep places of lives that are little more than existences, pulls us out of the gloom and bestows upon us promises of resurrection. Is this not we have just been celebrating at Easter? God in Christ redeeming a world that is hopelessly lost, buried beneath the darkness and misery of sin.

Peter in this passage rejoices – “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1Peter 1:3).

God in God’s mercy pulls us up from the mire of our lives and declares us born again to a living hope! What a blessing this is. We don’t have to live as though the only purpose life had was to die at the end of it.

There is something more, for Peter speaks of “an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:4-5).

One of the startling distinctions between the Christianity of the earliest church and the church of today is that the early church truly believed in the promises of God’s inheritance and the existence of a realm of existence that was beyond anything that we can experience in our earthly state. Because they believed in eternity they were prepared to put up with all sorts of humiliations and suffering on earth.

The preachers that attract the biggest crowds today are the ones who promise health and wealth, in the here and now, not in the hereafter. Heaven has been transformed from being the greater reality that informed and guided each step the Christian took on earth, to simply being the reward at the end of the road where the good folk go. Hopes of Heaven have been relegated and confined to the after-life to such an extent that they seem irrelevant to everyday life.

This wasn’t the case for the people Peter was writing his letter to. The church he was addressing was traveling through an era of intense persecution at the hands of those who felt the Christian faith was a pariah to be extinguished from the face of the earth. They needed to know they had a hope in heaven because they had little to rejoice about in their circumstances on earth.

It is deeply ironic, that we, who are here in the wealthiest nation on earth, are the ones whose commitment to their church is often the weakest. That it is places where the church today is undergoing intense persecution that revival is taking place. That it is where Christianity is least tolerated that hope is blossoming!

Here I stand Sunday by Sunday proclaiming the importance of what we are doing in worship and the difference Christ can make to life, and some times it’s all we can do to get our own members to come to church, let alone be sold out to the task of transforming the community in which we live.

Meanwhile in other lands, there are people who are that determined and that committed to Christ that they are prepared to risk imprisonment and torture and even the loss of life itself just for the privilege of meeting together with their fellow believers. In order to pray, in order to join in Bible Study, in order to worship, they will go to great lengths. For they are convinced and assured that this life on earth is not the greater reality.

One of the things Peter writes to tell them… and tell folk like us… is that whatever trials and troubles we pass through they can serve a great purpose. That hard times can build our faith in ways that the good times can never accomplish. C.S Lewis once said something along the lines that, “God whispers to us through our pleasures, but shouts at us, as though through a megaphone – in our troubles” Peter puts it a different way, and uses the illustration of gold.

Gold - he reminds us has to be passed through the refiner’s fire before it becomes a thing of beauty. Gold needs the application of the master craftsman’s skills. Part of our problem is that we are hooked on the idea of shaping our own lives and destinies. We don’t want God interfering with our plans. We are not keen to submit to the disciplines the Bible suggests that we should.

When there is no refining, whilst the nuggets have been removed from the depths, they remain as un-fashioned treasures and never become things of beauty. If faith is to grow then it requires the discipline of whole-hearted commitment. We should rejoice in the faith that has brought us out of the darkness into the light, but if we leave it at that, then we never become the precious gold that God desires us to be.

Faith doesn’t come easily. We are surrounded by so much that is tangible. We are constantly bombarded with images and sounds and experiences that make us feel good. It is the easiest thing in the world for us to lay back and believe that life is good, because we feel fine. There is a lot we can see. There is a whole lot we can do. There is a whole lot we can be – a whole lot of seeing and doing and being - that neither takes into account the will of God or the ways of God or the purpose of God. We have heads and lives and existences that are full of stuff.

Then along comes the gospel and invites us to believe in stuff that we can’t physically see and realities we can only guess at and live for things that are yet to come. This is how Peter describes the faith of those to whom he is writing – “though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls” (1 Peter 8-9).

That is the challenge that Peter’s letter places before us today. That we look beyond the stuff to the reality of God’s love. That we cultivate within us and among us the awareness that this – this life – is not all there is to life. That our commitment to God should not be stifled by the attractions and desires of the present time.

Peter encourages us to ‘Go for Gold’. To be thankful to God for the faith God has gifted us with, but not to leave it there… not to take it for granted... not allow ourselves to pass through life never having the rough edges removed or our hearts refined.

When the difficult times come along, he teaches us, they will deepen our faith in unexpected ways. When trouble comes he encourages us to keep our hopes up, to trust in the God who will carry us through and nurture within us a faith greater than gold.

“There’s gold in dem dere hills” was the prospector’s cry. And there’s gold... precious gold ... that God is seeking to refine in our hearts and lives… something worth more than the most precious gold in all the world… the joy and hope of a living faith in God. May our hearts desire this day be for a faith that is more precious than gold.

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, April 17, 2017


Reading: Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24, Jeremiah 31:1-6, Colossians 3:1-4, Matthew 28:1-10
Preached at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, MD, April 16 2017

Easter is the Christian churches amazing day. There is nothing normal about the Easter story. At the center is the astounding claim that Jesus, whom the disciples had witnessed dead and buried, had been raised from death. Risen, not like a zombie to haunt them, nor simply come alive to their imaginations, but had been clothed with a resurrected body that pulsated with eternal life.

Over a period of days that follow they experience His presence in numerous ways. He eats with them. He teaches them. They see on His body the marks of His suffering. He comes and goes as He pleases, and locked doors prove no impediment. He is witnessed to not only by those closest to Him, but also by whole groups of followers.

Because of His living presence with them the disciples are changed. They are bowled over by hope. Nothing in their world is ever the same again. After His ascension they are granted power from on high, the very presence of the resurrected Jesus through the Holy Spirit within them and around them. Eventually they are prepared to live and die for the truth they have perceived, that Christ is Risen.

Easter is our amazing day. In Matthew's account this amazing day begins with Mary Magdalene and another Mary going to visit the tomb of Jesus. They come not knowing what they are to do, yet they are drawn to the tomb out of their love and respect for the Jesus they had adored. They wish to honor Him, even though they know He is dead. They discover that His tomb is sealed and a guard has been set upon it.

It is the first day of the week. It was the first day of the rest of their lives. It was a new day. It was an amazing day. For their world is about to be shaken. Matthew describes it as an angel coming down from heaven, as an earthquake that rolls away the stone, as something that renders those in place to guard the tomb helpless and unable to keep it sealed.

It matters not that the other gospels describe things differently. These were events that were too earth shattering to put into words. Like witnesses to an explosion, all they can do is comment on the fragments that remained. Who was there, what was said, how it all happened sequentially are but small things compared to what had happened. They show a startling disinterest in the details, because the amazing revelation they witness to seems to make them not so important.

What is that amazing revelation? It is found in the words proclaimed to the two Mary's. Verse 6. “He is not here; He has Risen, just as He said”. Let us explore this verse.

He is not here

I have heard people say that they would believe in God, but are frustrated by His absence. They prayed and nothing happened. They can't believe that a loving God would allow such terrible things to take place in the world. They don't know how to find Him.
The two Mary's who went to the tomb must have felt the same way. Why hadn't God protected the One they thought could save them? When He was so obviously innocent, how could God allow Jesus to be betrayed, tortured and crucified like a common criminal? Where were You God, when we needed you?

The first part of the angels answer is startling. 'He's not here'. Where is God? 'He's not here!' God was not in the tomb. God was not dead. God was not able to be contained or confined to any place, to any kind of understanding. God was not stuck in the past. God was not contained by the tragedy. God was not in the earthquake. God was not in the darkness. 'He's not here' declares the angel.

This is how our minds work. We want God to give us a reply. To say 'Here I am'. We want a God who stays still, who has a physical address and a geographical location. We want a God who is at our beck and call, who does what we ask. We want a 'Twitter' God, a God with a Facebook page and an email address.

We want a God who prevents bad things happening, not One who allows His beloved Son to be crucified and then claims that it was due to our sins that He suffered. We don't want a God who holds us responsible for anything. That kind of God, the God we make in our image and according to our needs and desires... 'He's not here'. The next part of the verse tells us why He's not here.

He has Risen

God is where the light is. God is where the life is. God is a happening. God is where the action is. In the Psalm set for today, Psalm 118 we read, “The Lord is my strength and my defense; He has become my salvation. I will not die, but live!” In the Old Testament lesson for today Jeremiah is a cheerleader telling the people; 'There will be a day when watchmen cry out : Come let us go up to Zion, to the Lord our God”.

In our reading from Matthew the two Mary's are told; “Go on. Get out of here! He is not in this place. He has gone ahead of you!” As they leave that place, they are amazed! They don't know whether to laugh or cry. Verse 8, “Afraid yet filled with joy, they ran to tell the disciples” . And whilst they are running from that place “Suddenly Jesus met them, “Greetings” He said. They came to Him, Clasped His feet and worshiped Him.”

How can we encounter the Risen presence of Jesus Christ? I believe it takes place as we go about doing the things He asks us to do and living the way He wants us to live. When we set our hearts to the task of being Kingdom people, the King has a habit of showing up.

We may not always recognize Him. He may come asking for help in the guise of a needy person. He may come to us as an encouraging smile from a total stranger. We may hear His voice in the midst of a TV program or through a random comment in an email or quote on a Facebook page.

We may hear Him in a sunrise or see Him in a random act of kindness. We may sense Him whispering in our conscience or nudging us to respond to a situation we are encountering. We may find that where others are starting to worry we are sensing His peace. We may find that when others are in despair we can't help but hope.
And hopefully at such moments we will open up in worship and with deep thankfulness. “Suddenly Jesus met them, “Greetings” He said. They came to Him, Clasped His feet and worshiped Him.”

But we are not quite finished with the angels words. “He is not here; He has Risen, just as He said”. The final part...

Just as He said

Jesus, on numerous occasions, instructed the disciples that He would be raised from death on the third day. They listened. They heard. But they had to experience Him before they believed Him. That's how it is with the Word of God. We listen to it. We may read it. Yet it is only as we experience it that we truly believe it.

It is only as we seek to allow the Holy Spirit to make the stories of scripture our story that we break through to fresh revelation of what God can do in and through our lives. It is only as we believe on the promises that God reveals God's love through the promises.

God promises to be there for us when all others fail. God promises to provide what we need to be Kingdom people. God promises that in life and death nothing can separate us from the love of Christ if we but trust Him to lead us and guide us.

But we have to act on God's word. We have to trust in God's word. It can't be just words, we need to respond by being prepared to do what God asks us to do, go where God asks us to go, be the people God wants us to be. We have to lay aside our personal agenda and ask God to rewrite the story of our lives. We have to stop singing 'I did it my way' and start trying to do it God's way, every day, in whatever way God desires.

Then we will know God's promises are true. Then we will know His Risen presence. Then we will move beyond a life that is endlessly striving to find acceptance, to one where we know we are accepted children of the most High God.

Then we are free to be who God wants us to be instead of having to living up to other peoples expectations of us. Then we will be able to discern where to invest our time, talents and treasures. Then we won't be afraid to invest the best of the rest of our lives in our relationships and families and our communities... things that at the end of all days are revealed to have been the things that really mattered.

Easter Sunday. Our amazing day! The day we proclaim to the world... “It ain't over till it's over”. The day we are invited to wonder at an empty tomb and to invite the Spirit of the resurrected Jesus to invade our lives and fill our hearts with the possibilities opened to us through God's Kingdom, the Kingdom of hope that even death can not destroy.

I pray that the amazing good news of resurrection may capture all of our lives... that this will be an amazing day for us all. Amen.

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

MAUNDY THURSDAY "Time To Remember”

Readings: Psalm 116,1-2,12-19, Exodus 12:1-14, John 13:1-17, 31-35, 1 Corinthians 11:23-26
Preached at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, Thursday, April 13 2017

The familiar words of 1 Corinthians 11:24 explain why we meet here tonight. “Do this in remembrance of me.” Of all the times we gather around a table laid with bread and wine, Maundy Thursday marks the very first time this celebration took place.

Memory is an important asset. It is our collective consciousness. It reminds of us of who we are and what are meant to be doing. A poet once claimed that God gave us memory so we could have roses in December. A nice sentiment, but a scientist would remind us that is why they invented greenhouses.

Memory gives us a sense of history, of our origins and roots and identity. By it we relive special events; birthdays, anniversaries, days of national significance. The communion celebration invites us to remember the events of the ministry of Jesus Christ, most of all His death upon the cross. Memory functions in a number of ways.

Memory relives past events.

Memory calls to mind their significance. Strong verbs are used in the account of that first Lord's Supper. Jesus TAKES bread, GIVES thanks, BREAKS bread. Although we physically were not present, we recall that we are part of the community that has continued to meet around tables laid with bread and wine to recall all that Jesus did.

With our imaginations we are to travel to the events Scripture portrays for us. Recall the event of Jesus suffering, that has become known as the Passion. Hear the cries of the crowd, Pilates protestations of innocence, see Judas's dark kiss of betrayal. Listen to the crack of a whip, the thud of a hammer, a cry of anguish from the Cross. Recall the towering crosses silhouetted against the angry Judean sky. Hear the sobs of His broken-hearted mother.

Tonight, Maundy Thursday, we also recall how the significance of this feast was demonstrated through Jesus washing His disciples feet. We hear Peter protesting 'You'll never wash my feet'. We witness Jesus gently telling them that this had to be done. We listen carefully as He explains “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another's feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.”

As the power of memory calls to mind these stories and events of Jesus life, we no longer sit at the table alone, but we recognize that Jesus is here with us. We understand that we can be like Peter, who thought he could manage without Jesus's help. We realize that, it's not all about us, and we really do need God's help if we are to serve others in the way that Jesus did.

Memory teaches us who Jesus is.

Memory reminds us that He was both the Son of Mary and the Son of God. Memory recalls why He came; to show us His Father's limitless love. He came to 'To seek and save the lost”. Like the penitent thief we are urged to pray “Jesus, Remember me, when You come into Your Kingdom”.

As we recall all that He was, so our confidence that He can do all that He has promised us increases. The elements of bread and wine remind us that His ministry was more than words. It was one thing saying 'My body will be broken, my blood will be poured out'. Knowing that He went through with it, is another thing altogether. Remembering that His word was truth, that His commitments were always followed through, that He never held back, despite the cost, recalls for us that there no circumstances in life or death that are beyond His reach.

Memory teaches us about His faithfulness, about His ability to change everything, about His call that we become His disciples and take up our cross, not just in word, but through our actions, through our service of others, through our worship and witness. Memory relives past events. Memory teaches us who Jesus is.

Memory teaches us where Jesus is.

Scripture tells us that after His resurrection Jesus ascended to the Father and is at the Father's right hand, interceding on our behalf. That He promises to send His Holy Spirit, to indwell our lives and direct our path. We recall how that promise was fulfilled for the disciples on the Day of Pentecost. We recall how that promise has been fulfilled in our own lives. We recall how we have faced difficulties and trials, but by the grace of God we are still here to tell the tale.

We recall also that Jesus invited us to remember Him by breaking bread and sharing wine. That when we do so He promises to be present. We recall Him telling His disciples 'I will be with You always, even unto the end of all ages”. We recall the testimony of those who across the ages have come to tables like this and found the presence of their Lord to be a vivid reality that has inspired them to attempt great things for the cause of His Kingdom.

Maundy Thursday is a time to remember.

A time recall all that Jesus said and did. That He lived a life of obedient love and sacrifice for the sake of those who were yet to even know Him. That the bread we break is a sign of His body broken for us on the Cross and that the wine is a symbol of the new covenant made possible through His blood. A time that we recall how He has set us an example, that He washed His disciples feet, and told us that we should do for others what He has done for us.

Maundy Thursday is a time to recall His faithfulness. The mission of His Kingdom was to seek and save that which was lost. He preached. He healed. He showed how love could overcome the deepest prejudices and calm the most turbulent spirit. He broke bread and poured out wine as symbols of what He would do at Calvary, namely give His life as a sacrifice that we may be forgiven. That He came as the Lamb of God to take away the sins of the world.

Maundy Thursday is a reminder that He is with us still. Though He died, God raised Him from death. He intercedes on our behalf. He sends His Spirit to indwell every believing heart. He meets with us around this table and invites us to partake of His love.

So, on this night that recalls the night when, before His betrayal Jesus met at table with His disciples, you are invited to share in bread and wine and remember Him, to the glory of God. Amen.

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Lent 6 From the Palms to the Cross

Readings: Psalm 95, Romans 5:1-11, Exodus 17:1-7, John 4:5-26
Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, April 9th 2017


We have started our service today by celebrating the the entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem. The sad thing is that it didn't take long for those shouts of welcome to change into shouts of accusation. The first thing that Jesus did when He got into town was go to the temple. He was horrified by what He saw there.

There were money-changers and tax collectors cheating the people. The whole thing seemed to have been corrupted by those who used religion for their own ends. Jesus got mad. This wasn't how it was meant to be. The temple was supposed to be a light for all nations, a place where all the world could discover the awesome love of God, a place of prayer. "You have turned it into a den of thieves". He storms in and turns over the tables and lets loose the sacrificial animals - and those in charge know that He is right and no-one lifts a finger to stop Him.

Now He really has peoples attention. Over the next days through parables and confrontations with the religious leaders He teaches of the danger of false religion, and of how the leaders of the day had got it terribly wrong. He prophesied how a time was coming when He would be shown for who He really was and they would be left looking foolish.

He accuses them of hypocrisy, a Greek word that comes from the world of the theater and described the way actors would wear masks as they played their parts - pretending to be something that they were not.

Matthew 23:1-10
Then Jesus spoke to the multitudes and to His disciples, saying, "The scribes and the Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses; therefore all that they tell you, do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds; for they say things, and do not do them."And they tie up heavy loads, and lay them on men's shoulders; but they themselves are unwilling to move them with so much as a finger."But they do all their deeds to be noticed by men; for they broaden their phylacteries, and lengthen the tassels of their garments."And they love the place of honor at banquets, and the chief seats in the synagogues,and respectful greetings in the market places, and being called by men, Rabbi."But do not be called Rabbi; for One is your Teacher, and you are all brothers."And do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven."And do not be called leaders; for One is your Leader, that is, Christ.

Jesus makes it ever clearer to the disciples that He is the Christ, He is the One God had sent to be the Savior. He teaches them about how in serving others they would be doing His will, how at the end of time God would judge the peoples, how many would not want to listen, but still they must work for the Kingdom. Meanwhile, serious trouble was brewing.

Reader :- Matthew 26:1-5
And it came about that when Jesus had finished all these words, He said to His disciples, "You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man is to be delivered up for crucifixion."Then the chief priests and the elders of the people were gathered together in the court of the high priest, named Caiaphas;and they plotted together to seize Jesus by stealth, and kill Him. But they were saying, "Not during the festival, lest a riot occur among the people."

At the home of Simon a woman comes and anoints Jesus with oil. Jesus describes her act as preparing his body for burial. He shares a Passover meal with His disciples and tells them that the bread that was broken represented His body which would be broken and that the wine was his blood which was to be poured out for the forgiveness of sins, a sign of the new covenant.

For one of the disciples, this is too much. Maybe he was scared of Jesus getting hurt and wanted to stop Him. Maybe Jesus wasn't turning out to be the sort of Messiah he had hoped for. We don't know what it was that motivated Judas, but we know what happened.

Reader: Matthew 26:14-16
Then one of the twelve, named Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests, and said, "What are you willing to give me to deliver Him up to you?" And they weighed out to him thirty pieces of silver. And from then on he began looking for a good opportunity to betray Him.

After the Passover meal, during which Jesus predicts that all of His disciples would fall away (even those who thought they would never do such a thing) Jesus heads for the Garden of Gethsemane.

In this garden comes the turning point. We celebrate at Easter time the victory of Christ. But where was that victory won? I believe it was in the Garden. Had Jesus not at that critical moment said, "Not my will, but thine be done", there would have been no cross and no Easter Resurrection, no forgiveness for us, nor new life in the Spirit.

Where will we find the victory over the things that trouble us and drag us down? Where will we find the strength to go on when we feel all is dark? I suggest it is in our prayers, in our turning our will over to God's will.

Matthew 26:36-45
Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and *said to His disciples, "Sit here while I go over there and pray." And He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be grieved and distressed. Then He said to them, "My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death; remain here and keep watch with Me." And He went a little beyond them, and fell on His face and prayed, saying, "My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as Thou wilt."And He came to the disciples and *found them sleeping, and *said to Peter, "So, you men could not keep watch with Me for one hour?"Keep watching and praying, that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak."

He went away again a second time and prayed, saying, "My Father, if this cannot pass away unless I drink it, Thy will be done."And again He came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy.

And He left them again, and went away and prayed a third time, saying the same thing once more.
Then He came to the disciples, and said to them, "Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? Behold, the hour is at hand and the Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners.

William Bradbury's hymn takes us to the Garden with Jesus. (Can be sung to the tune of the Doxology)

"Tis Midnight and on Olives Brow, The star is dimmed that lately shone,
Tis midnight in the garden now, The suffering Savior prays alone.

Tis midnight and from all removed, The Savior wrestles lone with fears,
E'en that disciple whom he loved, heeds not His masters grief and tears.

Tis midnight and for others guilt, The man of sorrows weeps in blood,
Yet He that hath in anguish knelt, Is not forsaken by His God.

Tis midnight and from heavenly planes, is borne the song that angels know,
Unheard by mortals are the strains, that sweetly soothe the Saviors voice."


In the garden Judas betrays Jesus with a kiss and He is led away to be tried. For what crimes? Love. Speaking out against what was wrong. Setting free the oppressed. Giving dignity to those others had no time for. Daring to be who He was. Healing. Caring. Of course they are not the accusations. Blasphemy. Lies are uttered. False testimony created by false witnesses. Before Ciaphas and before Pilate the lies continue. Jesus confounds them with His silence, the only words He speaks cut his accusers even deeper as they reveal their hateful hearts.

Peter in fear betrays Jesus by denying that he had ever known Him. Judas tries vainly to turn back what he has done. The courts turn Jesus over to the soldiers. The law enforcement officers beat Him and spit on Him and mock Him. They press a crown of thorns into His head, for the rumor is going around that He claims to be King of the Jews.

In an attempt to wash his hands of the whole thing and prevent a riot Pilate suggests a prisoner should be freed, as was customary at Feast time. "Who do you want, Jesus the Christ or Barabbas?" The crowds shout for Barabbas. "And what of Jesus?" Now hear the voices that shouted hosanna change their tune. "Crucify Him, Crucify Him, Crucify Him".

Battered, bruised, beaten Jesus is forced to drag His Cross through the jeering crowds. The Carpenter who had made things of beauty now facing being nailed to this ugly construction of clumsily thrown together beams. He stumbles, His strength gone and a man called Simon is pressed into carrying the cross.

Matthew 27: 33-37
And when they had come to a place called Golgotha, which means Place of a Skull, they gave Him wine to drink mingled with gall; and after tasting it, He was unwilling to drink. And when they had crucified Him, they divided up His garments among themselves, casting lots; and sitting down, they began to keep watch over Him there. And they put up above His head the charge against Him which read, " THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS. "

Two thieves are also being crucified. One mocks Him. The other finds life in the midst of death. Some respectable folk hurl insults. Others, women who had stayed with Him, have no words, only tears.

Matthew 27: 45-54.
Now from the sixth hour darkness fell upon all the land until the ninth hour. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, "ELI, ELI, LAMA SABACHTHANI?" that is, "MY GOD, MY GOD, WHY HAST THOU FORSAKEN ME?" And some of those who were standing there, when they heard it, began saying, "This man is calling for Elijah." And immediately one of them ran, and taking a sponge, he filled it with sour wine, and put it on a reed, and gave Him a drink. But the rest of them said, "Let us see whether Elijah will come to save Him."

And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit. And behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom, and the earth shook; and the rocks were split, and the tombs were opened; and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; and coming out of the tombs after His resurrection they entered the holy city and appeared to many.

Now the centurion, and those who were with him keeping guard over Jesus, when they saw the earthquake and the things that were happening, became very frightened and said, "Truly this was the Son of God!"

A centurion comes to a statement of faith. Yet the story was far from over. Others like you and I would believe. Not simply because of the cross but because of what came after. On Easter Sunday we will not mourn, we will celebrate! On Easter Sunday we will declare that where we have left off today, is not the end, but only the beginning.

Through the week from Palm Sunday to Easter Day, from the palms to the Garden, from the Garden to the Cross, from the Cross to the Resurrection, God was working in an unprecedented way to bring salvation to the world. A later disciple, Paul, speaks of the incomparable Jesus Christ in this way;

Colossians 1:19-22
For it was the Father's good pleasure for all the fulness to dwell in Him,and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven. And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds,yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach!

Praise be to God! Amen!

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Lent 5 Life Stinks

Readings: Psalm 95, Romans 5:1-11, Ezekiel 37:1-10, John 11:1-45
Preached at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, MD, April 2 2016

Sometimes life stinks. Sometimes, no matter how hard you try it just doesn’t work out. It’s not fair. It’s not right. And if life stinks then death stinks even more. Your born, you get by, then you die. For some that’s about it. That is what they base their days upon.

As we go through life we become disenchanted, disentangled, displaced. Things come along that we hadn’t anticipated, hadn’t thought would happen to us. They leave us hurt and confused.

Maybe you are familiar with the movie ‘The Wizard of Oz’. My favorite line comes just after the scarecrow is attacked by the evil flying monkeys. The brainless scarecrow is ripped to shreds and bits of him scattered around a clearing in the forest. “Well” he says, “That’s me all over”. We can feel like that. Things come along that knock the stuffing out of us and we are at the mercy of others to try and help us get it all back together again.

We had two bible stories this morning about displacement and scattering. Ezekial compares the Israelite people in exile as being a valley full of scattered lifeless bones. Mary and Martha try and deal with the death of Lazarus and are confused as to why Jesus wasn’t there when they really needed him.. “He could have done something; where was He when we needed Him?”

In both stories something amazing happens. It happens in response to one thing. The Word of the Lord. The Word of the Lord is spoken and everything changes. Where there once was hopelessness and despair there comes joy and vision. To where there was scattering and displacement there comes focus and energy.

It’s a story as old as Creation. Recall the very first words of Genesis. There is chaos. Then the Word of the Lord. Creation starts to happen. Darkness is turned to light. Nothingness is turned into life. God looks and God says it is good.

Follow the story of the Israelite nation throughout the Old Testament. Called into being by the Word of the Lord. New Creation, but then losing their way, no longing hearing, recognizing or acting upon the Word of the Lord. Only when they have ears to hear and eyes to see do they become once more a pilgrim people of hope.

Into this crazy scattered world comes Jesus Christ. Born into the midst of all it’s confusion. He is the New Word that God speaks. The New Covenant, the New Testament Word. Those who hear recognize His authority. Those who are touched and healed and delivered by His life know their life will never be the same again.

Then there is that dark moment when people such as you and I crucify the Lord of love. We twist His words, turn to the darkness instead of the light. We don’t hear the word of the Lord. We shout it down. We like the sound of our own voice better than His.

We can be fools. God has the last Word. The Word of Resurrection. The Word that calls death a loser. The word that reverses evil’s power. The Word that makes a laughing stock of those who think they are powerful or important over and above others. The Word that changes barren places into flower gardens of hope and deserts into rich gardens. The Word that changes the Cross from an emblem of shame to a symbol of victory.

God calls us as individuals to be remade by Holy Spirit love. We all have problems. We all have gifts. We are all alike sinners. We are all alike made in God’s image and capable of great things. We need to hear the word of the Lord that tells us to personally get our act together with God, to know ourselves God's people, saved by Grace through faith, aware of who we are and whose we are. It’s the first great commandment, that you and I , for ourselves, love the Lord our God heart-fully, mindfully and soulfully.

The second great commandment is that we love our neighbor as much as we love ourselves. It’s not just about us finding ourselves and being spiritually fulfilled, it’s about being built into a community that looks beyond the four walls of it’s own church to the people outside. It's about being built, by the power of God’s Spirit, into an army of ordinary people for the cause of Jesus Christ. It's about fighting, not with weapons of material warfare, but empowered through prayer and spiritual gifting and knowledge of God’s will and God’s Word.

We are put together as individuals and brought together as a people of God. We are not called to be a pile of old stinking bones, but a fresh and living witness to the love and grace of God in our midst. Hear the promise of God to those who hear this word. “I will put my Spirit within you, and you will come to life... you will know that I, the Lord, have spoken”.

When we hear the word of the Lord of life, life no longer stinks. Life takes on a different fragrance. Paul, in Ephesians, tells us, “Walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma.

Staying on an aromatic theme, consider these words from our second reading, at the raising of Lazarus. We heard how Jesus arrived some time after Lazarus had died and how Mary and Martha weren’t exactly sympathetic to the fact that He hadn’t been there when Lazarus died, because now it was to late.

When Jesus asks to unseal the tomb, is Martha expecting a miracle? Is she thinking, “O.K. Jesus is here now, things are going to be fine?” No way. (Verse 39). “Jesus said, “Remove the stone”. Martha said, “Lord by this time there will be a stench, for he has been dead four days

They were about to witness a miracle. Don’t ask me to explain miracles. They are so out of the ordinary they defy our understanding. They are not meant to be commonplace easily understood events. They are called miracles because they are miracles.

The Word of the Lord is spoken. Jesus offers a prayer of thanks then shouts into the tomb, “Lazarus’ Come out”. Out he comes. “Get him out of those grave clothes” suggests Jesus, “He’s still got some living to do.”

I wish every time we had a bereavement I could walk along and tell the deceased to wake up and get on with living this life. But that’s not the way things are. The resurrection of Lazarus was a special event that took place prefiguring Christ’s own death and resurrection. Eventually Lazarus had to go back to tomb - just wasn’t his time right then. God had a higher purpose in mind.

Whilst there are a whole lot of layers of meaning to this passage, for me today this passage is reminding me that every day we get to wake up in the morning is a gift from God. There’s an Andrea Crouch gospel song (called “This is another Day”) that has a line it in it where he says, “He didn’t have to wake me up this morning, but the Lord so did”.

Every day that we are given we have a choice as to what we are going to make of that day. We can get up and say “Life Stinks”. We can walk around, as it were in our grave clothes, feeling that there is really no point and no reason and why bother. Or we can “Hear the Word of the Lord.” We can thank God that there is still life in our bones, whether they be older bones or newer bones. We can walk with Christ. We can welcome His Word into the different situations we encounter during the day.

We can see our lives in the larger picture. Not in the picture that is framed by being born, getting by and living only to die, but the framework that Jesus gives us of life lived from before the womb to beyond the tomb. We can hold before us that Jesus tells us that our lives matter to God, that they have meaning and purpose and are not just an aimless mistake, that there is a God who wants to love us and loves to be loved by us.

We can hold before us the resurrection picture, that we are living to live! We don’t have to be displaced people in exile from God’s love. Jesus has made the way for us to know God’s love in an intimate and personal way. We don’t have to walk around with the shadow of death stalking us like some grim Reaper. Jesus died that we may have life, abundant life, resurrection life. He says to us, as He said to Lazarus, “Come out of that tomb.”

Hear the Word of the Lord. Come out of the tombs of hopelessness, the tombs of pointlessness, the tombs of anxiety and worry, the tombs of addictions and life crushing habits. Get out of there. It stinks. Walk free and forgiven.

Whilst Lent is meant to be a time for reflection, the Sundays in Lent are set aside for proclaiming Resurrection. Passages like we have heard today, dry bones coming to life, Lazarus coming out of the tomb, lead us towards Easter when we celebrate that Christ is Risen. He is Risen indeed!

First comes Palm Sunday. And then the events of Holy Week, the crucifixion and the cross. For sure death casts it shadow heavily upon this season. There are moments of deep darkness. But at the end of the Easter road is a brilliant resurrection light whose brightness transforms everything that lies before it and that comes after it.

Ezekiel's vision of dry bones and Lazarus’s tomb are just the appetizer. The main course lies just ahead. Around this table laid with bread and wine is an opportunity to nourish our self for the journey. Thanks be to God! Amen!

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.