Robert Marshall, age 56; Karen Marshall, 56; Keith Braden, 62; Tara McNulty, 33; Annabelle Pomeroy, 14.
Peggy Warden, 56; Dennis Johnson, 77; Sara Johnson, 68; Lula White, 71; Joann Ward, 30; Brooke Ward, 5.
Robert Corrigan, 51; Shani Corrigan, 51; Therese Rodriguez, 66; Ricardo Rodriguez, 64; Haley Krueger, 16; Emily Garcia, 17.
Emily Hill, 11; Gregory Hill, 13; Megan Hill, 9; Danny Holcombe, 36; Noah Holcombe, 1; Karla Holcombe, 58; John Holcombe, 60; Crystal Holcombe, 36; Carlin Brite Holcombe, unborn child of Crystal Holcombe.
One week ago today, at almost exactly this time, the 26 people whose names I just read were doing what we are doing now. They were gathered together in church to pray, to sing, to hear scripture, to worship God.
Now these 26 people, nine of them children, are dead; and 20 of their fellow worshippers are seriously wounded, some still hospitalized in critical condition.
The members of First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, are the latest victims of a mass shooting in this country.
Soon after worship began at 11 a.m. last Sunday, Devin Kelley pulled up to the church, got out with an automatic rifle, and began shooting as he made his way into the sacred space, where he continued his murderous rampage for seven long minutes. He later took his own life, after being chased and shot by church neighbors.
It didn’t take long after the shootings for cowardly politicians to caution that now is not the time to talk about gun control, and to instead offer their “thoughts and prayers.”
The response of our bishop, Robert Wright, to this empty ritual was right on target.
“Let us not pray,” Bishop Wright wrote.
“As someone who convenes and commends prayer for a living, what America needs now is less prayer and more action from her elected officials.
“When the doers of evil are foreign born, suggestions for policy and action flow forward,” he said.“When the doers of evil are Americans with automatic and semi-automatic weapons we are invited to moments of silence and prayer.
“Silence is what we use to hear God speak, not a place to hide from our responsibility,” he said. “Prayer is not a refuge for cowards. Prayer is where we steel ourselves to partner with God for good.
“So please do not invite me to pray in response to the horror of Sutherland Springs, Texas, unless it is to pray courage over elected officials who intend to work for the ban of automatic and semi-automatic weapons.”
Bishop Wright’s statement echoes what I wrote to you after last month’s mass shooting in Las Vegas. “Prayer without action runs the risk of becoming hypocrisy.”
This is exactly the kind of situation the Old Testament prophet Amos was talking about in the reading that providentially is assigned for today. Amos is relaying the words of God to the people of Israel, a people whose piety in worship was forgotten the moment worship was over.
“I hate, I despise your festivals; and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies,” God says. “Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them.
“Take away from me the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps.
“But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”
This week The New York Times ran a list of federal lawmakersthe members who have received the most money from the National Rifle Association.
The top Senate recipient has received $6.9 million dollars over the course of his career. He put out a statement this week saying he was “praying for those affected in this unspeakable tragedy.”
The top 10 senators combined have received $37 million in campaign contributions and ads paid for by the NRA.
That has bought a lot of thoughts and prayers.
I can imagine God’s reaction to these politicians who piously offer thoughts and prayers in the wake of massive murder while simultaneously holding out their hands for their latest payoffs from the NRA.
If the prophet Amos were alive today this would be his divine message to us:
“I hate, I despise your thoughts and prayers. Take away from me the noise of your false platitudes. I will not listen to the sound of your hypocrisy while innocent people are slaughtered.
“But let justice roll down like waters.”
It is time for us as a nation to repent.
It is time for us to confess that we are a nation addicted to violence.
It is time to confess the reality that we are a nation whose idolatry of guns is more important than the lives of our citizens.
It is time for us to confess that our leaders act more out of fear of the gun lobby than out of care for their people.
And then we must do something about it.
We pray for those who have died, who are wounded, and who grieve, of course.
But we must also pray for the courage to act, to join forces with others who are working for change; to call our elected officials and demand sensible gun laws, even when we know they are on the NRA’s payroll.
And if they refuse to change, then we must work to replace them with public servants who first loyalty is to the people and their safety.
I know all too well that this work can seem futile; that the forces of evil at times seem so great and so entrenched in power that nothing can shake them.
That is why in recent months I have come back again and again to two quotes that sustain me. You’ve heard them from me before. You will no doubt hear them from me again.
The first from the Talmud:
“Do not be daunted
by the enormity of the world’s grief.
“Do justly, now.
“Love mercy, now.
“Walk humbly, now.
“You are not obligated to complete the work,
but neither are you free to abandon it.”
And from the apostle Paul:
“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”
May our thought and prayers give us the courage to not become weary in doing good, to continue God’s work until justice rolls down like mighty waters, cleansing our nation from the evil and sickness that has us in its grip.