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From the Pews | Unanswered Thoughts and Prayers

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I was nervous.

It was Saturday morning, and the sermon I had written and prepared felt unfinished and just wasn’t sitting right.

I don’t like entering into the weekend with that kind of feeling, but after years of preaching every Sunday, I knew this meant I was missing something.

I poured over commentaries as our youngest took her morning nap and still something just didn’t feel right.

I turned on the news, remembering the words of Karl Barth. “Take your Bible and take your newspaper, and read both. But interpret newspapers from your Bible.”

The headlines confronted me with another mass shooting.

This time in El Paso, Texas. On tax-free weekend. In a shopping center full of families, many of whom were Mexican.

Not only a shooting, but a manifesto released before the shooting revealing the purposeful and intentional desire to harm our neighbors. A shooting. A manifesto. A mindset.

And just hours later, the news would report another mass shooting in Dayton, Ohio.

So many thoughts raced through my mind. Of those who experienced what happened and survived. Of families who heard the news that a loved one had been killed. Of parents and grandparents who heard that their children had been killed.

Those thoughts quickly turned to prayers, joining those uttered after children and teachers were murdered in their school trying to learn and grow, after people were killed while listening to a concert in Las Vegas, after a shooting where high schoolers begged us all to do better for their future and for the sake of the lockdown generation, after a shooting in a nightclub that allowed people to be freely themselves, and the most difficult as a pastor to comprehend, after a shooting on Wednesday where a stranger was welcomed into Bible study and fellowship in Charleston, South Carolina.

Many have countered the politicians who claim their thoughts and prayers are with the families by saying that thoughts and prayers aren’t enough.

And it’s easy to see why. Thoughts and prayers that are devoid of action are only symbolic in nature. Those are unanswered thoughts and prayers because they are a placeholder until the news of the most recent tragedy blows over.

These unanswered thoughts and prayers are the ones that allow the culture of gun violence, divisiveness and hatred to continue to invade our country.

James 2:14-18 puts it this way:

“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,’ and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So, faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. But someone will say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith.”

Our actions are showing us that our thoughts and prayers are not changing our priorities.

Our works are showing that our faith is in our own desires and not in bringing about the kingdom of God by loving and caring for our neighbors.

Perhaps it is time for us to beg for forgiveness for the part we have played in protecting our own rights over and beyond accepting the invitation to bring about the kingdom of God here on earth.

Merianna Harrelson

Merianna Harrelson is pastor of Garden of Grace United Church of Christ in Columbia, South Carolina, editor-in-chief of Harrelson Press Publishing, and an EthicsDaily.com / Baptist Center for Ethics board member.