A Prayer for Newtown

Scripture: Matthew 2:1-18

Father,

Those voices of Ramah have come now, once again, to our own land. That voice of Rachel weeping, inconsolable, cries out once again. Taken once again are children, gone, and they are no more.

We seek to understand. But we know in our heart of hearts that there is no understanding. We seek answers, knowing that nothing ever given as an answer could begin to satisfy our deepest longings to know.

All that is left are sobs of weeping and loud lamentation. No words can tell, no picture can capture, no interview can fathom, no forensic diagram can map the shadows of the heart fallen over us this weekend.

Evil has come into our homes as the pictures of its march through that school glow on our tv screens, computer monitors, and newspapers.  We are at a loss, once again, confronted by the depravity of our race and our ability to turn against one another.

We know that your Spirit murmurs with groans that words cannot express when our prayers come to their end. There has been much of the Spirit’s murmurings this week.

This morning, Lord, we pray for parents, siblings, and other family members who now have a gaping hole in their heart where a child once was. We pray for spouses and co-workers and neighbors who have lost teachers, friends, and advocates. We pray that your perfect peace and infinite comfort would descend on the grieving. We pray that the evil of violence would not spread as a contagion among them. May this violence not beget violence.

We give thanks for the stories of heroics and thoughtful patience on the part of teachers who sought to protect and calm their charges in the midst of absolute terror. And for all the teachers who will tomorrow wake up to face a classroom whose walls will look terribly different, for administrators who will tensely jump at every strange noise from hallways, for every office worker pressing an intercom button who will pause to think what noises that intercom might carry, we give you thanks for their endurance. We give you thanks for their commitment. We give you thanks for their care. And we pray for their safety as they care for our next generation.

For officers, EMTs, firefighters, and other first responders who now carry images in their heads that no one should be forced to remember, we say thank you. We ask for your hand of grace as they do their jobs and sort through details. We pray for understanding from their families and communities as they also deal with tragedy.

For survivors who heard the sounds of the shots and the screams over the intercom, who had to cover their eyes to flee the building, we pray for abundant love to be showered on them from any and all available sources. May they be surrounded and know protection, when trust and safety have been so violated. We pray for sleep for those who are sleepless. We pray for a fading of memories that do not need to define their lives. We pray for a confidence in living boldly, without guilt or questions of why they lived when others did not.

And this morning, we pray for ourselves. Help us to always remember to hug tighter, to kiss more often, to laugh more deeply, to give and receive passionately. And may we not forget to proclaim clearly the message of hope that declares that though we will all grieve as long as this world endures, we do not have to grieve as those without hope.

Out of Newtown, may hope shine. And may you, Father, as in all things, bring yourself glory out of tragedy. May a good that we cannot see and may never know work out of so many deaths too soon, as you promised all things would work for good for those who believe.

We thank you that in the end, evil loses. That in the end, death itself is cast into the lake of fire.

How we long for that day, O God. May it come. And may it come soon, that every tear may be wiped away.

In the name of Jesus, who fully understands suffering, loss, and death, we pray these things. Amen.

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Ephesians: We Are Blessed

Text: Ephesians 1:1-14

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Seven Words of Worship: Response

Text: 2 Chronicles 20:1-23

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On Empathy

Today I picked up Sen. Barack Obama’s book The Audacity of Hope. I found this section in the chapter called “Values” that I thought was simply profound:

It was in my relationship with my grandfather that I think I first internalized the full meaning of empathy. Because my mother’s work took her overseas, I often lived with my grandparents during my high school years, and without a father present in the house, my grandfather bore the brunt of much of my adolescent rebellion. He himiself was not always easy to get along with; he was at once warmhearted and quick to anger, and in part bercause his career had not been particularly successful, his feelings could also be easily bruised. By the time I was sixteen we were arguing all the time, usually ab out me failing to abide by what I considered to be an endless series of petty and arbitrary rules – filling up the gas tank whenever I borrowed his car, say, or making sure that I rinsed out the milk carton before I put it in the garbage.

With a certain talent for rhetoric, as well as an absolute certainty about the merits of my own views, I found that I could generally win these arguments, in the narrow sense of leaving my grandfather flustered, angry, and sounding unreasonable. But at some point, perhaps in my senior year, such victories started to feel less satisfying. I started thinking about the struggles and disappointments he had seen in his life. I started to appreciate his need to feel respected in his own home. I realized that abiding by his rules would cost me little, but to him it would mean a lot. I recognized that sometimes he really did have a point, and that in insisting on getting my own way all the time, without regard to his feelings or needs, I was in some way diminishing myself.

There’s nothing extraordinary about such an awakening, of course; in one form or another it is what we all must go through if we are to grow up. And yet I find myself returning again and again to my mother’s simple principle – “How would that make you feel?” – as a guidepost for my politics.

I believe a stronger sense of empathy would tilt the balance of our current politics in favor of those people who are struggling in this society. After all, if they are like us, then their struggles are our own. If we fail to helpl, we diminish ourselves.

If you look at the book yourself, you can find this excerpt on pages 66-68.

Barack Obama, The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream (New York: Crown Publishers, 2006). ISBN: 978-0-307-23769-9.