“When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. The LORD’s Prayer “Pray then in this way: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one. For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.Daily Office, May 17, 2022
This past week we had two mass shootings in this country. Or, rather, there were reports of 18 mass shootings from Tuesday of last week (May 10th)1, but only two of them made the national news. The one that garnered the most attention was the shooting in Buffalo, New York, in which thirteen people were shot, and ten people died, committed by a man motivated by hatred and bigotry.
After every such shooting, politicians and social media users alike post about how their “thoughts and prayers” are with those who have died, and with their loved ones who survived them. I wonder what those “Thoughts and Prayers” really are? Are the thoughts, “I’m glad that wasn’t me there?” and are the prayers, “Please lord, don’t let it happen again?” Or, maybe, are the thoughts as crass as, “I need to post something so that I don’t lose any votes?” and the prayers as self-serving as, “Please, lord, don’t let them ask me about my voting record?”
“Thoughts and prayers.” If ever there was a heaping up of empty phrases, these three words after every major mass shooting in this country would win the prize for most overused phrase with the most under-whelming effect. “Thoughts and prayers” mean nothing when they do not move people to affect real and lasting change. “Thoughts and prayers” do not mean a thing, when the words are bandied about as a salve to an epidemic of death and violence in this country – an epidemic that no one in power seems to want to address.
Those on the side of 2nd Amendment Gun Rights can agree with those on the the side of Gun Control legislation that we have an epidemic of violence in this country. The facts support this statement. Eighteen reported mass shooting incidents in this country since May 10th of this year – just seven short days. That’s more than two mass shootings a day. Naturally, while those on both sides might agree that we have an epidemic of violence in this country, that is where the agreement stops. Both sides have their understanding about what causes these problems, and both sides have arguments for what needs to happen next.
Today’s Gospel reading shares with us the way that Jesus wants us to pray, and it warns against heaping up empty phrases so that we are heard by many. And then it teaches us that we are to pray “Your kingdom come, Your will be done.” It is not telling us to pray for our rights, it is not telling us to pray for our own desires, but it is telling us to pray for the manifestation of God’s kingdom on this earth. And in doing so, hopefully, we find ourselves questioning what God’s will might be. By focusing on God’s will, we begin to find ourselves changing into people who push less for our own agendas, and instead search for what God might want in this world.
It should be fairly obvious from reading the accounts of Jesus in the Gospels that violence meted out upon others is not God’s will for this world. Hatred and bigotry are not God’s will in this world. Anger and fear are not God’s will in this world. It should be clear that as Christians we are supposed to be the arbiters of peace in this world, those who reflect the love of Christ in this world. It should be clear that God’s will should become our will, rather than seeking to bend God’s words to justify our own.
Ten people in Buffalo, New York are dead. Their lives, their purposes, their dreams, all cut short. Their families grieve. Three more are wounded, their lives forever shattered by a trauma that will be relived over and over again, which is its own kind of death.
If all we do is offer our “thoughts and prayers” then we have done nothing but heaped up empty phrases.
Something must be done to end the violence and to perpetuate God’s peace in this world. And we, as part of the family of God are to be a part of it. We cannot sit idly by and do nothing as violence and bigotry grow in this country. To do nothing is to remain silent, and “silence is complicity.2“
Mike is a jack of all trades, master of none. He’s a data analyst, programmer, and loves to cook. If he doesn’t have his face buried in a book or is staring blankly at a computer screen, you can find him on a motorcycle, enjoying the ride.
Mike holds a Masters of Divinity from Fuller Theological Seminary, and is a postulant for Holy Orders in the Episcopal Diocese of Arizona. He will attend Sewanee School of Theology for a year of Anglican Studies in the Fall of 2022.