17 more dead. “Our thoughts and prayers are with you.” Sackcloth, ashes, bowing your head… Actually, on the night 17 people were killed in Florida, I thought to myself that maybe my husband and I should fast. We didn’t. We did sit and watch the news as details of the mass shooting at a high school in Florida were slowly revealed. We closed our eyes in prayer, feeling helpless, angry, sad.

17 dead, the shooter in custody, parents, siblings, grandparents, friends, neighbors, grieving. A chorus rings out “Our thoughts and prayers are with you.” Two words come to mind when I hear or read that phrase coming from people in power who could do so much more than think and pray. Then, yesterday, the pastor of our church asked me if I would lead the Time for the Child in us all at church this Sunday. “What’s the scripture?” I asked. Curious? Read on!

Isaiah 58:1-5 English Standard Version (ESV)

True and False Fasting

“Cry aloud; do not hold back;

lift up your voice like a trumpet;

declare to my people their transgression,

to the house of Jacob their sins.

Yet they seek me daily

and delight to know my ways,

as if they were a nation that did righteousness

and did not forsake the judgment of their God;

they ask of me righteous judgments;

they delight to draw near to God.

‘Why have we fasted, and you see it not?

Why have we humbled ourselves, and you take no knowledge of it?’

Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure,

and oppress all your workers.

Behold, you fast only to quarrel and to fight

and to hit with a wicked fist.

Fasting like yours this day

will not make your voice to be heard on high.

Is such the fast that I choose,

a day for a person to humble himself?

Is it to bow down his head like a reed,

and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him?

Will you call this a fast,

and a day acceptable to the Lord?

“Cry aloud; do not hold back; lift up your voice like a trumpet; declare to my people their transgression, to the house of Jacob their sins.

OK. Here goes. You love money from the NRA more than you love the children of this country. You’re too afraid to stand up for what you know in your hearts is right because you don’t want to lose your precious seat of power. The blood of innocents flows in our churches, our schools, our places of work, our homes and on the streets of this country because you are NOT doing the job you swore an oath to do.

And, WE are not doing our job as citizens of this nation, allowing you to keep your jobs, because we either like most of what you do FOR us in our cities, states, congressional districts and are willing to give you a pass on not taking on the issue of gun control, or we feel powerless to replace you because we don’t think we have enough votes or figure that the next woman or man will be no better than you. Or… we don’t even bother to engage because the whole system is broken anyway.

I’m angry right now. I just read a little bit about the 17 people who died on Valentines Day, which was also Ash Wednesday, a day when priests and ministers rub ashes on people’s foreheads. As I drove home that evening I heard two children from that Florida school who had survived the shooting telling about what they experienced. Their mother, when asked how she and the family were coping, said they had all gathered at her mother’s house, and Grandma, doing what Italians do, had cooked a giant pasta feast, no meat of course, it being Ash Wednesday.

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, and the rest of us wear sackcloth and rub ashes on ourselves and DO NOTHING to prevent this scale of tragedy from happening again?

You can scroll up now and read the rest of that Isaiah passage and then tune into CSPAN and watch our Congress take a moment of silence and pray for the victims in Florida. Pretty amazing what an ancient Jewish prophet had to say that still rings so loudly today. Next, you can read what else Isaiah had to say just a few paragraphs later and I’ll add my own final thoughts, my own trumpet so to speak. Why did Isaiah think the fast people were offering up to God wasn’t what God wanted? Here’s his answer.

For your hands are defiled with blood

and your fingers with iniquity;

your lips have spoken lies;

your tongue mutters wickedness.

No one enters suit justly;

no one goes to law honestly;

they rely on empty pleas, they speak lies,

they conceive mischief and give birth to iniquity.

Yep. That’s how I feel about the people who run our country right now. But, I have to remember that I, I, I and YOU, YOU, and YOU run this country. The blood of the victims and the pain and suffering of those who survived are on our hands. Instead of standing up for what’s right we spend way too much of our time sifting through the lies, lies, and more lies pundits spend countless hours pontificating about while America, our “empire,” burns.

What can we do? Demand each of our own members of Congress to introduce and support and pass legislation to ban assault weapons. Demand policies and legislation and changes of heart that will result in a massive reduction in the overall number of all types of guns in our country, respecting our Constitution but recognizing that twisting its words and completely ignoring some of those words (a well regulated militia) and forgetting that we have the power to AMEND its words are wrong. We the people hold the final power and we must wield it.

I could go on, but I have to make breakfast and head to work.

What will I tell the children this Sunday? Something I’ll also tell you. I’ll quickly condense some of what I said above, but I’ll also say that taking on the gun lobby and a government beholden to it is a BIG job, one that will take a lot of time and one for which many of us are not well suited. What each of us can do, though, is look around and find someone who needs a little help and help them. Ask someone who looks lonely to have lunch with us, walk home from school together, sit next to us on the bus. We can stand up for someone being bullied, speak out about injustice right there on the playground, in the office, and even right here in our communities of faith. And yes, we can think about and pray for people who are suffering. God does want to hear our prayers and the connections we make, the empathy we build, and the inspiration that can be sparked by those thoughts and prayers can also get us up off our asses to do something.

Then, believe it or not, I will ask the children to bow their heads and pray with me. Hopefully, God will be listening.

Amen.


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