Prayer for Charleston Memorial Service

How long, O Lord, must we call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, “Violence!” But you do not save?

Habakkuk wrote these words in a violent age when his people were being overrun by Chaldeans, an ancient tribe bent on destruction and power. Today, we cry out to you O Lord, longing for a listening ear in the wake of yet another violent act by a person looking to start a war. Please listen and do not take offense.

How long, O Lord, must we call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, “Violence!” But you do not save?

It’s not like we have not cried out to you in the past. 6 million Jewish people died because of the desire of a nation to eradicate their race off the face of the earth. Bent on destruction the Nazis raged a holocaust that resulted in a great Shoah. Jews, homosexuals, the mentally challenged, elderly non-Aryans, and people who were weak and vulnerable were killed brutally and without any mercy. Bodies piled up. What promise was lost in this travesty? You alone know.

In September 1963 we cried out to you, when four little girls went to church to pray and worship. Instead of hearing the words of love and compassion, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson, Denise McNair, and Addie Mae Collins were killed by a bomb that went off in their Birmingham sanctuary. What promise was lost? You alone know.

Then in April of 1968, a man who came showing us the way of love and non-violence was walking out of The Lorraine Motel, room 306. His last words were, “Tonight, play ‘Take my hand, precious Lord,’ play it real nice” and he was shot by another person bent on destruction and violence. What promise was lost in the death of Martin Luther King Jr.? You alone know.

How long, O Lord, must we call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, “Violence!” But you do not save?

And still we cried out to you. We cried out to you when a young gay man named Matthew Shepherd was robbed, pistol whipped, and tortured by people bent on destruction. As he died, tied like a scarecrow to a fence, his face was covered in blood, the only clean parts being the streaks where his tears cut through the gore. Another life cut short, the victim of hate and violence. What promise was lost? You alone know.

We cried out to you when James Byrd was dragged to death behind a pickup truck as three white supremacists laughed and joked as he died. Hitting culverts, and dragging Byrd’s lifeless body across miles of road, they mocked everything that a loving God stands for. What promise was lost? You alone know.

How long, O Lord, must we call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, “Violence!” But you do not save?

Still we cried out to you. We cried out to you when a white supremacist entered a Sikh Temple. As they prepared a sacred meal for later in the day, he opened fire. He killed six people that day because of his deep hatred and loathing of those he considered foreign. What promise was lost? You alone know.

Today we cry out to you again after the loss of nine lives during a Bible study. All they did was meet together to study your scripture within the safe confines of a sanctuary. A young man, filled with hate, sat while they discussed the meaning of your word. When he disagreed with them, he began hurling hateful words at his victims as he emptied his gun, shooting nine people. What promise was lost? You alone know.

And so we gather together today to pray the prayer Habakkuk prayed and we have prayed countless times since, “How long, O Lord, must we call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, “Violence!” But you do not save?”

Today it is nearly impossible to hear the whispers of the answer that you have offered to us throughout the history of human violence and bloodshed. You have shown us what is good but instead we have offered you the blood of our first born. We have given you songs of praise and countless prayers. We have sacrificed thousands of rams, offered thousands of gallons of oil, preached countless sermons, and written tried and true doctrinal statements. And we did not find an answer from you.

But today, just as you did then, you whisper to us the same answer. In your still small voice, you say to us, “Act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly.” You have said to us, “Let justice roll down like a river, righteousness like an ever flowing stream.” You tell us that the fruits of your presence are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, and goodness. You call us to resemble the attributes we see in you.

And so in the face of violence, we dare pray that you help us to live a different kind of life. Instead of violence and bloodshed, help us to be kinder with each other than we were before. Helps us to be more merciful and tender with each other than we were before. Help us to be more forgiving and patient than we were before.

And then we pray that you help us to love justice and act to restore civil rights and equal opportunity for all your children. Help us to create a world where no one needs to be the victim of hate and violence. Give us more courage to confront systems that oppress people and move us to love others as freely and unconditionally as you love us.

Help us to be the answer to Habakkuk’s prayer. Help us to put down a stake in the ground and live lives of justice and peace where all God’s children are honored and all lives are seen as precious. Move us beyond simple words, to concrete action that creates institutions that serve all human beings regardless of race, creed, or sexual orientation. Give us the courage to be the answer to the prayer that is on the lips of all who suffer and wait for an answer from you.

And as we work for justice and peace in the world, we will rejoice in you. For you, “O Lord, are our strength; you make our feet like that of the deer. You renew our resolve, you enable us to ascend to the heights.” You alone are the source of our joy and the reason we have the strength to love and to say, “Amen.”