From the Rector #52

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 first and foremost the Lord’s Day in this glorious season of Easter. It is also Mother’s Day in the United States. For those in search of words to honor and address both of those realities, I offer the following prayer that I’ve adapted and greatly expanded from the Church of England:

Loving God,

This morning we thank you for mothers and children, for those who’ve been like mothers for us through the years, and for joyful moments, past and present, of life together at home.

Be with those who are grieving because they have no mother whom they can turn to because of death, disease, or estrangement. Be close to those who are struggling because they have no children to embrace because of infertility, tragedies, or broken relationships. Be near to us in every act of love that is shared within this church, fulfilling our promise to support baptized children in their life in Christ.

Help us as a community to nurture all the saints, young and old, with eyes to see and ears to hear their needs and hopes and dreams. And remind us of how you have been like a mother to your people in every generation, including ours: “. . . it was it was I who taught Ephraim to walk, I took them up in my arms; but they did not know that I healed them. I led them with cords of human kindness, with bands of love. I was to them like those who lift infants to their cheeks. I bent down to them and fed them.”

Stoop down to us, O Lord, today and always. We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

— The Rev. Neil Alan Willard, Rector

From the Rector #51

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 on the Fourth Sunday of Easter, a portion of the tenth chapter of the Gospel of John is read in our liturgies.  Those words refer to Jesus as the good shepherd and to us as the sheep whom he protects. And the twenty-third psalm is always heard on this day, which is often referred to as Good Shepherd Sunday.

For me, these familiar themes bring to mind the words of a favorite German chorale in the Moravian Church, which is a paraphrase of the twenty-third psalm:

Jesus makes my heart rejoice,
I’m his sheep, and know his voice;
he’s a Shepherd, kind and gracious,
And his pastures are delicious;
constant love to me he shows,
yea, my very name he knows.

Trusting his mild staff always,
I go in and out in peace;
he will feed me with treasure
of his grace in richest measure;
when athirst to him I cry,
Living water he’ll supply.

Should not I for gladness leap,
led by Jesus as his sheep?
For when these blessed days are over
to the arms of my dear Savior
I shall be conveyed to rest.
Amen, yea, my lot is blessed.

— The Rev. Neil Alan Willard, Rector

From the Rector #50

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’s guest speaker at the Rector’s Forum at 10:15 a.m. in St. Bede’s Chapel is Mr. Justin Normand from Irving, Texas. Last fall this Presbyterian who wears a cowboy hat and boots and has a fancy white beard stood on a public sidewalk outside the nearest mosque to his home with a sign. He had become increasingly bothered by hate crimes that seemed to be targeting people because of their religious beliefs. So he stood there on the sidewalk with his sign that read:

Author Charles Finch happened to pass by and took a photo of Mr. Normand holding that sign. He posted it on Reddit and Twitter:

The image quickly went viral and spread across social media platforms as most people reacted warmly and emotionally to this small act of love. Mr. Normand later wrote a post on Facebook in which he identified himself as the man who held the “You Belong” sign. He expressed a desire to live in peace with his neighbors, especially his Muslim neighbors. What stood out to me, however, was his clear explanation that he didn’t do this small act of love because he agrees with everything about their religion or to express his outrage at those who were the source of the hatred and prejudice. About those filled with hate, he wrote:

It’s not about them. Not this time, and not here. This was about binding up the wounded. About showing compassion and empathy for the hurting and fearful among us. Or, in some Christian traditions, this was about washing my brother’s feet. This was about my religion, not theirs. . . . My own religious tradition ascribes these words to my deity: I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me drink; I was a stranger and you took me in; I was naked and you clothed me; I was sick and you visited me; I was in prison and you came to me.

— The Rev. Neil Alan Willard, Rector

From the Rector #49

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 Sunday, April 9, is Palm Sunday, when we will carry our palm fronds and sing our hosannas, following Jesus Christ and proclaiming him as King of kings. It will also be our first celebration of Palm Sunday as the feast day for Palmer Memorial Episcopal Church. Palmer is not only a family name, which is how this church came into existence, but also has referred historically to someone who had returned from the Holy Land with a palm frond or leaf as an outward sign of having undertaken a pilgrimage. It’s a wonderful metaphor for our life as Christians, and that’s why the image that represents Palmer Memorial Episcopal Church is a cross with a palm frond and why we will reflect on our identity as the people of God on Palm Sunday.

Many of you have seen the photographs down the hallway near the church offices that are snapshots in time of our congregation gathered on Easter Day through the years. We are reviving that tradition this year, assembling for a group photograph not on Easter Day but on Palm Sunday — Palmers together on the feast day that reminds us of who and whose we are. Our congregational photograph will be taken on Palm Sunday, April 9, at 10:15 a.m. on the side lawn between Autry House and Cambridge Street. For those coming to the 9:00 a.m. Choral Eucharist, we will simply process out of the church together during our final hymn and walk there. For those coming to a different liturgy that morning, plan to meet us there at 10:15 a.m. We want as many people as possible to be present for this family portrait, including friends, neighbors, and first-time guests — all God’s children. Hosanna!

— The Rev. Neil Alan Willard, Rector

From the Rector #48

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

As I’ve written previously in this season of Lent, Anglican Christianity reads the Ten Commandments as they are described in the Book of Exodus (as opposed to the way they are listed in the Book of Deuteronomy). In his biblical commentary Exodus 20-40, William Johnstone, an emeritus professor of Hebrew & Semitic Languages at the University of Aberdeen and ordained minister in the Church of Scotland, provides this helpful introduction to thinking about these words in their context in Exodus:

The “Ten Commandments” (better: the “Ten Words or “Decalogue”) are probably the best-known part of the book of Exodus, if not of the whole Bible. Their affirmation of the values of family and community life — the care of the elderly, the sanctity of marriage, and the right of the neighbor to security of person and property and to justice at law — gives them universal appeal. For the faith community, the affirmation of the first four “Words,” that the prior action of God and the continuing acknowledgment of that action laid the foundation of individual and corporate human life, gives the Decalogue supreme authority. The New Testament too endorses the Ten Words in the summary, “Love God, and love your neighbor as yourself.”

For reading and understanding the book of Exodus as a whole, these Words also provide a good starting point. They stand in Exodus 20 in virtually central place in the book and divide it into two roughly equal parts. Their “Prologue” looks back at the story of the first nineteen chapters, God’s great act of deliverance of Israel from crushing slavery in Egypt (see Exodus 1-19). The remaining chapters state the response that God expects from Israel as the redeemed community (the topic of Exodus 20-40).

— The Rev. Neil Alan Willard, Rector

From the Rector #47

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

A few weeks ago I offered a quick survey of the Ten Commandments, also known as the Decalogue or Ten Words, for the Tuesday Morning Men’s Bible Study as a prelude to the Sermon on the Mount and for the Rector’s Forum as a prelude to our use of these Ten Words in several liturgies during this penitential season of Lent.

One of the things that most interested people was the variety of ways that those Ten Words can be outlined. Since the 1552 Book of Common Prayer, Anglican Christians have read them in the same way that Orthodox Christians and Reformed Christians have done so: The first commandment refers to having no other gods, the second commandment refers to a prohibition against making idols or graven images, and the last commandment speaks against covetousness. This way of reading them follows the pattern in the Book of Exodus. Following the lead of Saint Augustine, however, Roman Catholics and Lutherans look to the pattern that is implied in the Book of Deuteronomy. There the words about no other gods and not making idols are combined into the first commandment. The last one about covetousness is then split into not coveting a neighbor’s spouse and not coveting the possessions of a neighbor. Confusing matters further, Jewish tradition counts as the “first word” the introductory statement, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” Like Roman Catholics and Lutherans, Jews then combine no other gods and not making idols into a single command. Finally, like Orthodox, Anglican, and Reformed Christians, they end with a single command against covetousness. Who knew it could be so complicated to count to ten?

— The Rev. Neil Alan Willard, Rector

From the Rector #46

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 the next several weeks, both the 9:00 and 11:00 a.m. Choral Eucharists will include at the beginning of those liturgies the recitation of the Ten Commandments from the Book of Exodus. They are also known as the Decalogue (i.e., Ten Words) and are often divided into two “tables of the law,” the first oriented toward God and the second oriented toward other people. One can hear in that an echo of the words of Jesus when he summarized “the law and and the prophets” by commanding us to love both God and our neighbor. In his Commentary on the American Prayer Book, the late Professor Marion J. Hatchett recalls the history of the liturgical use of the Decalogue in the Church of England and post-Revolutionary Episcopal Church:

In the 1552 Book [of Common Prayer] the decalogue replaced the ninefold Kyrie of the 1549 Prayer Book. The revisers may have wished to include in every Sunday rite the three things which were to be known by every child before confirmation — the Lord’s Prayer, the [Apostles’] Creed, and the Ten Commandments. From Elizabethan times it was required that the three texts be displayed prominently before the people in every church, a custom which [fell] into disuse only in [the mid-twentieth century]. . . . The 1892 revision [of the American Prayer Book] allowed omission of the decalogue, “provided it be said once on each Sunday,” and the 1928 revision altered the requirement to “at least one Sunday in each month.”

— The Rev. Neil Alan Willard, Rector

From the Rector #45

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 the First Sunday in Lent, which is a time to prepare ourselves through inward repentance and outward acts of love to celebrate the joy of Easter Day. In order to mark this shift into a new season, there are some changes to the normal patterns in our liturgies. This morning, for example, the 9:00 and 11:00 a.m. Choral Eucharists will begin with the singing of the Great Litany in Procession. On the following Sundays in Lent, these services will begin with the Decalogue (i.e., the Ten Commandments that Moses brought down from Mount Sinai), followed by the Confession of Sin. All of this helps to shape how we reflect on our spiritual lives.

Another change is something that actually follows more closely the rubrics (i.e., the instructions) in the Book of Common Prayer. Although there are lots of options that are allowed for ending a eucharistic service, the rubrics never really envision the dismissal separated from the blessing. Palmer, like many other Episcopal parishes, has most often offered the blessing from the altar and then sung the final hymn before the Deacon sends us out into the world with words from the back of the church. This Lent, however, we will use the pattern in the Book of Common Prayer with the blessing and the dismissal given at the altar before the last hymn. In this way, the procession at the end of our worship will be leading all of us out into the world in response to the words of the Deacon. We go on our way rejoicing, singing even as we take up our cross and follow Jesus. So once that hymn is finished and the organist begins the postlude, we are free to leave the pews and continue our journey of faith as we cross the threshold of the church onto Main Street.

— The Rev. Neil Alan Willard, Rector

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