As I sat down to write this, people living in Lewiston, Maine, and the surrounding communities (a two-hour drive from Bedford) were sheltering in place.
As I sat down to write this, the man who killed 18 people and wounded 13 others with an assault rifle in Lewiston was still at large.
As I sat down to write this, an e-mail about the shooting in Maine – the 565th mass shooting in the United States in 2023 – arrived in my Inbox from the Maine Council of Churches and the opening line was “How long, O Lord? How long?” These are the opening words of Psalm 13 – a Psalm of lament:
How long, O Lord? Will you forget me for ever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I bear pain in my soul,
and have sorrow in my heart all day long?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me? (Psalm 13:1-2)
The Psalmist is asking why God seems so far away sometimes and why life can be so hard because God seems so far away. As the text implies, sometimes our enemies seem to prevail over us, and life can be so painful.
When the Psalm was written, the author clearly had an enemy, but In our case, who is the enemy? The shooter who committed this horrific act? The system that leaves the door open for people with troubled spirits to have access to weapons that kill other people so efficiently? The phrase in our Constitution that codifies the right to bear arms was written long before such weapons (or “arms”) were conceived? In 1791, it could take 30 seconds to load a musket and shoot one round and then then 30 more seconds to shoot and reload it. By comparison, an AR-15 style rifle can shoot 40 rounds in a minute.
What if the enemy is a culture that commits the sin of idolatry when it comes to guns and violence? What if the enemy is a system in which someone suffering from mental and emotional distress cannot find immediate help in times of crisis, sometimes waiting weeks or months to sit down with a trained mental health professional? What if the enemy is we, ourselves, who feel powerless to do anything in a nation where we actually do have the power to vote our conscience? What if the enemy is we, ourselves, who simply shrug and say, “There’s nothing we can do. Tragedies like this are inevitable”? What if we are the enemies who simply offer our thoughts, prayers and little else. In the message from the Maine Council of Churches, Jane Field, one of my PCUSA colleagues, writes:
Yet even as we pray, we know that “thoughts and prayers are not enough.” They are inadequate if not accompanied by efforts to prevent future violence. As Bible scholar Marcus Borg put it, “Compassion without justice can mean caring for victims while quietly acquiescing to a system that creates even more victims.” Russell P. Johnson, Assistant Director of Undergraduate Religious Studies program at the University of Chicago Divinity School rightly states: “The language of “thoughts and prayers” is appropriate in the wake of unpreventable tragic events like [avalanches, hurricanes, tornadoes]. After a mass shooting, however, in a country where 77% of mass shooting perpetrators acquired their guns legally and yet no substantive gun control legislation is being passed, to characterize the shooting as an unpreventable tragedy is deeply deceptive. Objections to “thoughts and prayers” are not against condolences or against religion, but against treating an event like this as isolated and inevitable. We need to counter-narrate these shootings not as senseless tragedies but as part and parcel of American gun culture.”
This coming Sunday is Reformation Sunday – the day that we mark and celebrate the “Church Reformed, Always Reforming.” And, as people who are reformed and are always being reformed by the Holy Spirit, it would be my prayer that the Spirit would work through each of us to – in our own small and loving way – not acquiesce to despair or deception.
God is not through with us, or this world. And neither should we be through with it. . . Even Psalm 13, which begins with a cry of lament over an enemy that has done the Psalmist wrong, ends with God – not the enemy – having the last word.
But I trusted in your steadfast love;
my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
I will sing to the Lord,
because he has dealt bountifully with me. (Psalm 13:5-6)
May we trust, but may we also act.
Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayers. Lord, by your Spirit, may we seek to be the answer to our own prayers.
Grace and Peace,
Pray with us:
God, our hearts are broken with pain at the senseless deaths caused by gun violence. Families mourn, children live in fear, and some in our nation respond by arming themselves with more guns with greater capacity to end life. Our disconnection and alienation has caused some to turn to guns for protection and safety. We ask that you touch our hearts with your love, heal our brokenness, and turn us away from violence toward peace. Help us to transform our own hearts and to seek peaceful ways of resolving our differences. Let our hands reach out and connect with those who feel alone, those who live in fear, and those suffering from mental illness. Let our voices be raised asking our legislators to enact gun laws to protect all in our society, especially those most vulnerable. Let our pens write messages demanding change while also scripting words of hope and transformation. We ask this in the name of the God who desires that we live together in peace. Amen
Prepare for Worship
This Week: “A Teachable Heart – Generous Unity: A Reflection of God’s Heart – 2”
- Read Psalm 46
- Read 1 Corinthians 12:12-26
- Read 1 Kings 12