“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….”
Sunday was an awful day for our friends in Sutherland Springs, Texas. Twenty-six lives were taken by gun violence. Not only did the wrongdoer of this tragedy inflict pain, grief, sadness, and anger on the families, community, and nation, this person also compromised the safety of a church. When we aren’t safe in our places of worship—the space we set aside as “sanctuary”—where are we safe?
Emerging out of this incident, which is yet another mass-casualty shooting in a matter of months, is a cultural debate about “thoughts and prayers” being our response toward all those affected by gun violence. As a pastor, I’d like to offer up my thoughts about this in an honest, biblical way.
First, we must pray. We must hold those who have lost their lives before the light God, asking God to welcome them in glory. We must pray for those who now enter into a dark season of sorrow, praying God will comfort them in their grief. Our prayers may become a strong tower of hope. And yes (even though we may not like this), we must pray for Devin Kelley, the child of God who used guns to take the lives of twenty-six saints. My prayer for Devin and his family is that God’s love may break through hardened hearts and darken minds and that God will have mercy on him.
Hear us, O God of compassion,
surround those who have been shaken by tragedy
with a sense of your present love,
and hold them in faith.
Perhaps an answer to this complicated question is found at the beginning of the Lord’s Prayer. On Sunday we began a three-week series addressing the question, “What exactly are we praying when we pray the ‘Our Father’?” In light of Sunday’s tragedy, there is a new question we can add to our consideration: What does the Lord’s Prayer have to do with the Christian response to gun violence?
There are many prayers to be prayed, but to pray as Jesus taught is a peculiar kind of activity based on the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. When we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we boldly declare that God has not abandoned the world to its own devices but is present among a people on the move—a people moving from our old ways of doing things… we, ordinary people, who have been given the extraordinary authority to be part of the divine, peaceful transition from the evil realm to God’s reign now.
Did you catch that? The Lord’s Prayer is an invitation to join in on the world’s transformation by being Jesus’s followers. To follow Jesus means not only believing a particular doctrine but also incarnating the love that has saved us. When we pray this prayer, we bend our lives, and our wants towards God’s life and what God wants.
We live as we pray. Prayer then leads to action. When we pray for God’s kingdom to come and God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven and as we allow this prayer to seep into the crevices of our hearts, we become that for which we yearn. We are able to live hopefully in a fallen-yet-being-made-new world because of the One who has taught us to pray “this way.” Pray for God’s kingdom to come, yes; but also live and organize our lives in such a way they usher in God’s peace.
As we pray, “Your will be done,” we beg God not for what we want but to have our lives caught up in that which is larger than our lives; we are asking to be caught up in what God is doing. And if God is who we say God is, then God is making this world, inviting us to join God, and working so that violence of any kind is ended. In the Lord’s Prayer, we pray that the peace in heaven is experienced here on earth.
If this seems strange, too idealistic, or too impractical, then I say, “good”… because it is. Remember, Jesus instructed the Lord’s Prayer to be prayed aloud, as a public gesture. Thus, in praying the Lord’s Prayer and in the living this prayer, God’s people will appear strange. Some of us might even be called fools and dreamers.
When we say, our thoughts and prayers are with these people, what are we really saying?
If we allow the Lord’s Prayer to shape our faith, we know how our thoughts and prayers will lead to actions and participation in bringing about justice and peace with God’s help.
Prayer isn’t passive.
Prayer is when we bend our hearts, hands, and resources to God’s reign on earth as it is in heaven.
What do you say, church? Let us 'hallow' God's name and our lives by being Christ to the world, to those grieving, and to one another. Amen.