When late show TV host Conan O’Brien arrived at work on Monday his staff met him with folders of on-air remarks he has made after mass shootings. The very existence of those folders shook him. “How could there be a file of mass shooting remarks for a late-night host?” he asked. “When did that become normal? When did this become a ritual? And what does it say about us that it has?”
O’Brien’s words resonated with me. I confess that I felt a deep sense of relief when I realized that this Sunday is the annual Blessing of the Animals at both services, an event that does not lend itself to preaching. I felt relief not because I want to shy away from preaching about a difficult subject, but because I have preached this sermon so many times. What more is there to say?
My first mass shooting sermon was in April 1999 after two students at Columbine High School in Colorado came to school with an arsenal of guns that they turned on their fellow students and teachers, killing 13 of them before committing suicide. Surely, I said, this horrific tragedy will be the impetus to change gun laws in this country.
How naive I was.
On Sunday, we will once again offer prayers after the mass murder of our brothers and sisters. We will pray for all who died or were injured in Las Vegas, for their grieving families and friends, for all who have responded to help in this tragedy. But “thoughts and prayers” are not enough. I appreciate the frustration that led some to leave the floor of the Senate during a “moment of silence’ for Las Vegas.
Pope Francis said, “We pray for the hungry, and then we feed them. That’s how prayer works.” A rabbi put it this way: “Pray. Grieve. Then work for change.” Prayer without action runs the risk of becoming hypocrisy. It is this kind of situation that the Old Testament prophet Amos was addressing when he said:
“I hate, I despise your festivals;
Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I will not accept them.
Away with the noise of your songs!
I will not listen to the music of your harps.
But let justice roll on like a river,
righteousness like a never-failing stream!”
So yes, we pray for the victims in Las Vegas. We continue to pray that our leaders’ eyes and hearts are opened and minds are changed. But we must also put action to our prayers. Call and write your US senators and members of Congress. Let your state and local officials know where you stand. Support groups working for change like Americans for Responsible Solutions, The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, or The Brady Campaign.
Let these words from the Apostle Paul be our encouragement: “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”