From the Rector #44

Weekly thoughts from the Rector of Palmer Memorial Episcopal Church in Houston, Texas, where these words remind us that Jesus’ peace goes with us into the world.

Peace I Leave with You

Today is Serve Sunday! At the end of our liturgies this morning, we will be commissioned and sent out into the surrounding community as teams, not only to serve our neighbors but also to listen to them. There will even be opportunities between the 9:00 and 11:00 a.m. Choral Eucharists to serve right here on Palmer’s campus, including kid-friendly ones that families can do together. It’s an invitation to be the church in the world around us. After all, this place is not a destination in a life of faith but a starting point as we are sent out in the name of Christ.

This morning we also welcome as our guest preacher the Rev. Canon Nicholas Porter, who is the Executive Director of Jerusalem Peacebuilders. Palmer’s own Stuart Kensinger is a co-founder of Jerusalem Peacebuilders, which is “an interfaith non-profit organization with the mission of creating a better future for humanity across religions, cultures, and nationalities.” They bring together Jewish, Christian, and Muslim youth and adults from the Holy Land and from the United States, “providing them with the opportunities and skills they need to become future leaders for peace in the global community.” One manifestation of that mission is a summer program at Camp Allen, which is the camp and conference center for the Episcopal Diocese of Texas. As I mentioned in my remarks to the congregation on the day of our annual parish meeting, there will soon be an official office for Jerusalem Peacebuilders at Palmer to help coordinate their work in Houston. As we partner with them, I invite your prayers for this ministry of reconciliation that we share together as followers of the Prince of Peace.

— The Rev. Neil Alan Willard, Rector

From the Rector #43

Weekly thoughts from the Rector of Palmer Memorial Episcopal Church in Houston, Texas, where these words remind us that Jesus’ peace goes with us into the world.

Peace I Leave with You

Mockingbird is a blog that intertwines theological musings with popular culture. One of its essays highlighted a 2011 science fiction series called Terra Nova. The basic premise was that humanity, having turned the earth into a wasteland, had been given a second chance. Colonists were able to travel back in time to resettle a prehistoric earth, where, yes, there were dinosaurs. It turns out, of course, that the colonists are the same imperfect and broken human beings that they we have always been. Nevertheless . . .

Don’t we all wish we had second chances? Don’t we all fantasize at some point about having a flying Delorean to go back in time and stop ourselves from doing stupid or harmful things? How convenient would it be if, theologically speaking, we had a space-time rupture that took us back to the garden to stop the snake before it got to Adam and Eve? The drama that plays out in Terra Nova is this overwhelming sense of pressure to survive and make the best of this second chance. If they [mess] it up this time, there is no third chance.

The gospel is more than a second chance, it is infinite second chances. Instead of getting the slate cleaned once, it is a perpetually cleaned slate. The disciple Peter once asked Jesus: “How many times do I give my brother a second chance? As many as seven?” Jesus responded, “not seven times, but seventy-times-seven times,” a figure of speech meaning always give a second chance. In Terra Nova, humanity has one more chance to get it right. In Christ, humanity will never get it right – and yet we are still promised “a new heavens and a ‘Terra Nova,’’’ a New Earth. The gospel is better than a second chance.

— The Rev. Neil Alan Willard, Rector

On the Road with the Rector #8

Added LaneLiving in the City of Houston provides us with incredible opportunities to participate in cultural and intellectual events. Throughout the year, I’ll invite you and your friends and neighbors to join me in some of these activities that might either strengthen or challenge us as Christians.

The next “On the Road with the Rector” event is a panel discussion at Rice University entitled “Houston Congregations Engaged: Efforts to End Local Poverty,” which is sponsored by the Religion and Public Life Program with support from the Kinder Institute for Urban Research. The panelists include Rabbi Steve Gross, Houston Congregation for Reform Judaism; Pamela Prickett, Rice University; Ruth Lopez Turley, Rice University; and Rozella Haydee White, Mission Year Houston.

It will take place this week — Thursday, February 16 — from 7:00 to 8:30 p.m. in Sewall Hall, Room 309, on the Rice campus, which is located at 6100 Main Street. As always, if possible, please let them know that you will be attending. You can RSVP by sending an email to Hayley Hemstreet, Program Manager for the Religion and Public Life Program, at hayley.j.hemstreet@rice.edu.

From the Rector #42

Weekly thoughts from the Rector of Palmer Memorial Episcopal Church in Houston, Texas, where these words remind us that Jesus’ peace goes with us into the world.

Peace I Leave with You

There aren’t many public theologians these days in the mold of the mid-twentieth-century’s Reinhold Niebuhr. Someone who comes very close is David Brooks, who is, in fact, today’s guest preacher at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. The first video below begins with his sermon from this morning. The second is his conversation with the Very Rev. Randy Hollerith, Dean of the National Cathedral, beginning with a question about the role of people of faith in our national life.

Occasionally, Stephen Carter of Yale Law School steps into the role of a public theologian as he did in a thought-provoking 2012 interview with Yale Divinity School’s Reflections magazine that was entitled “Civil Thoughts on Uncivil Times.” His words then about “a morality of means” are still relevant today:

[T]he reason we’re in a decline is that we no longer are capable of being serious about public argument. Election campaigns have become opportunities for entertainment, each side declaring a jeremiad against the other, but mainly pointing to silly gaffes, and lying happily about what the opponent is up to.

Supporters of this or that candidate, when pressed about why the campaigns are so vicious, will routinely answer that their side is just matching the other, doing what’s necessary to win. As a Christian, I find this response terrifying. Christianity seeks to build a morality of means that is every bit as important as the morality of ends, and often more so. . . .

And our decline matters. I am naive enough, in the innocence of late middle age, to believe that America should still be a beacon to the world, a nation worth imitating. Plenty of countries around the globe have learned to imitate our self-seeking, our obsessions with wealth and celebrity, and our growing incivility. Before selecting our public behaviors, we should perhaps think a bit harder about what it is that we want to export.

— The Rev. Neil Alan Willard, Rector

From the Rector #41

Weekly thoughts from the Rector of Palmer Memorial Episcopal Church in Houston, Texas, where these words remind us that Jesus’ peace goes with us into the world.

Peace I Leave with You

For many Americans, today is known as Super Bowl Sunday. And that major event will be taking place this evening in Houston, just down the street from Palmer. If you happen to be our guest this morning because you’re in town to watch a football game, we are honored by your presence and hope you enjoy your time in our city. Palmer’s mission is to know and share the love of Jesus Christ, and our prayer is that you will receive that gift in our worship together as the people of God. While it makes no theological sense to pray for God’s intervention on behalf of the New England Patriots or the Atlanta Falcons, there’s nothing wrong with giving thanks for other aspects of sports and those who, on and off the field, make them possible:

Eternal God, giver of joy and source of all strength, we pray for those who have prepared for today’s Super Bowl game in the City of Houston — athletes and coaches, referees and officials, stadium and city workers, law enforcement and medical professionals, and so many others whose efforts will remain unseen and unknown. We also pray for churches and organizations that are welcoming many different kinds of people from many different parts of our nation. In a world where forces seem to pull us apart from one another, we give you thanks for a desire to come together and to celebrate the human spirit in motion in athletics. We have been wonderfully made by you and in your image. In victory and in defeat, help us to reflect the grace and love that we have known in the face of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

— The Rev. Neil Alan Willard, Rector

From the Rector #40

Weekly thoughts from the Rector of Palmer Memorial Episcopal Church in Houston, Texas, where these words remind us that Jesus’ peace goes with us into the world.

Peace I Leave with You

Today is a special day in our life together at Palmer Memorial Episcopal Church. It’s when we come together for a combined worship service, elect new leaders at our annual meeting, and stay for a wonderful lunch in the parish hall. So join me in praying for our community of faith:

Loving God, in holy baptism you have gathered us together across all human divisions and reconciled us to yourself in one body through the cross. Strengthen us now by your presence, that our thoughts and actions may be rooted and grounded in your love for us; through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

O God, full of compassion, we commit and commend ourselves to you, in whom we live and move and have our being. Be the goal of our pilgrimage, and our rest by the way. Give us refuge under the shadow of your wings. Let our hearts, so often a sea of restless waves, find peace in you, O God; through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.

Almighty God, you have built your church upon the foundation of apostles and prophets, with Jesus Christ himself as the cornerstone. Grant that the people of this congregation may be joined together as a holy temple, a place where you dwell. Send your Holy Spirit upon us that, guided by your word and strengthened by your sacraments, we may gather together at our annual meeting for the good of your church and the glory of your name; through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

— The Rev. Neil Alan Willard, Rector

From the Rector #39

Weekly thoughts from the Rector of Palmer Memorial Episcopal Church in Houston, Texas, where these words remind us that Jesus’ peace goes with us into the world.

Peace I Leave with You

This past week I had an appointment across the street from the church in the Texas Medical Center. As I walked past Methodist Hospital in the rain, I was very much aware of the fact that former President George H.W. Bush was there in an intensive-care unit because of problems related to pneumonia. So I prayed not only for him but also for his wife Barbara, who had been admitted to the same hospital because of fatigue.

The next day was the presidential inauguration, when I prayed again for the current leaders of our nation. I used these words, repeated from one generation to another by people of faith who have come before us, that are printed in the American version of the Book of Common Prayer:

Almighty God, who hast given us this good land for our heritage: We humbly beseech thee that we may always prove ourselves a people mindful of thy favor and glad to do thy will. Bless our land with honorable industry, sound learning, and pure manners. Save us from violence, discord, and confusion; from pride and arrogance, and from every evil way. Defend our liberties, and fashion into one united people the multitudes brought hither out of many kindreds and tongues. Endue with the spirit of wisdom those to whom in thy Name we entrust the authority of government, that there may be justice and peace at home, and that, through obedience to thy law, we may show forth thy praise among the nations of the earth. In the time of prosperity, fill our hearts with thankfulness, and in the day of trouble, suffer not our trust in thee to fail; all which we ask through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

— The Rev. Neil Alan Willard, Rector

From the Rector #38

Weekly thoughts from the Rector of Palmer Memorial Episcopal Church in Houston, Texas, where these words remind us that Jesus’ peace goes with us into the world.

Peace I Leave with You

Next month the Super Bowl will take place at NRG Stadium in the City of Houston. Many people watch that event because they love NFL football. Others like the food or the company that comes to their home to enjoy a shared experience. But nearly everyone likes to see the commercials, even though it’s hard to comprehend that a 30-second ad this year during the Super Bowl will cost a minimum of $5 million.

General Mills – whose headquarters I frequently drove past during my years in Minnesota – bought one of those Super Bowl spots for a Cheerios ad in 2013, when cost for doing so was less than $4 million. It included an interracial family and generated so many negative comments and racial slurs that General Mills eventually disabled the comments on YouTube. Several months after that eruption of racist commentary happened, an article published in the New York Times included these remarks by a parishioner in my former congregation:

The ad will “absolutely not” be withdrawn, Meredith Tutterow, associate marketing director for Cheerios and Multigrain Cheerios at General Mills in Golden Valley, Minn., said Friday.

“There are many kinds of families,” Ms. Tutterow said, “and Cheerios just wants to celebrate them all.”

Those actors returned to the small screen to portray the same family during the next Super Bowl in 2014. Those memories of standing firm in the midst of a storm brought to mind these words from the Book of Common Prayer:

O God, you made us in your own image and redeemed us through Jesus your Son: Look with compassion on the whole human family; take away the arrogance and hatred which infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us; unite us in bonds of love; and work through our struggle and confusion to accomplish your purposes on earth; that, in your good time, all nations and races may serve you in harmony around your heavenly throne…

Amen to that. Perhaps others will see a glimpse of that harmony in us on this MLK holiday weekend.

— The Rev. Neil Alan Willard, Rector

From the Rector #37

Weekly thoughts from the Rector of Palmer Memorial Episcopal Church in Houston, Texas, where these words remind us that Jesus’ peace goes with us into the world.

Peace I Leave with You

This past Friday, January 6, was the Feast of the Epiphany. It’s the day when we read in Matthew’s Gospel about the visit of the Magi, strangers from the East, to worship the young child Jesus. Arriving with “gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh,” they provide an exciting and exotic ending for the whole story of Christmas. Here’s what preaching scholar David Lose says about all of that:

[T]he presence of these three magi and their quest for God’s messiah announce that the world is changing, that God is approaching, and that nothing can remain the same in the presence of God’s messiah. The arrival of these wondering astrologers signals that the reach of God’s embrace is broadening considerably, that there is no longer “insider” and “outsider,” but that all are included in God’s plan for salvation. . . .

Whatever its various and sundry causes, fear is a powerful thing. In response to their fear, Herod, along with the chief priests and scribes, conspire to find the messiah and kill him. They will not succeed this time, but much later in the story there will again be an unholy alliance between the political and religious leaders of the day who will not only conspire against Jesus but this time capture and crucify him.

And what about us? What does fear do to us? Do we install more security systems in our homes and cars? Do we build more gates or buy more guns? Do we save even more for retirement, pulling back from charitable contributions to make sure we have enough? Do we close our hearts – and minds – to those who are different? What?

The world of fear that surrounds us today is the very world into which Jesus was born. Your presence in our community of faith, reflecting the love of Jesus, is a powerful reminder that we do not have to stand in the midst of our fears alone.

— The Rev. Neil Alan Willard, Rector

From the Rector #36

Weekly thoughts from the Rector of Palmer Memorial Episcopal Church in Houston, Texas, where these words remind us that Jesus’ peace goes with us into the world.

Peace I Leave with You

Each year the Archbishop of Canterbury publishes an Ecumenical Christmas Letter to Christians throughout the world. The Most Rev. Justin Welby currently holds that office, and here is a quote from his letter to us in this Christmas season:

In many parts of our troubled, uncertain world, Christian minority communities along with other minorities are being [targeted and attacked]. In some places, this is motivated by a desire to eradicate the indigenous Christian presence completely. These are acts not only of terror but of genocide; criminal acts for which the international community must bring those guilty to account. Yet although so vulnerable and often forgotten and marginalised, our brothers and sisters are being courageous in the Lord. Indeed, ‘God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong’ (1 Corinthians 1.27).

In other places conflict and corruption have become so normal that the world forgets the suffering of the poor.

I ask your prayers for those of us who live in safety that we may not be bystanders afar off, beating our breasts as we retire to the security of our homes, but that we may draw nearer to the cross of Jesus, stand there alongside our suffering brothers and sisters and be ready to take our part in practical action for change. I pray that Christ will strengthen all his people in our inner being with power through the Holy Spirit to be faithful, to have courage and to live in hope.

In this New Year, my prayer is that we’ll be filled with such hope so that the light of Christ will shine into the darkness within us and around us.

— The Rev. Neil Alan Willard, Rector