During this Lenten season, I have used the “last words” of Jesus as my sermon series. These seven words spoken from the cross were familiar to me – I had heard them many times before. But this is the first time I have preached on them, which means it is the first time I have devoted time, study and prayer to understanding them.
As is often the case with scripture, I have heard these words in a new and deeper way. Behind each word is the character of the one who spoke them. These words serve as a summing up of Jesus’ life and ministry. Someone once told me that people die in the same way they live. This was true for Jesus. His last words speak volumes about who he was, and what he was after!
This Sunday begins our celebration of the last week in Jesus’ life – from his entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday until his death on Good Friday. On Good Friday, the world said its final word to God, and it was a word of defiance and rejection. The cross was our loud “no” to Jesus. When Jesus shouted his last cry and died – there was only silence. Deathly silence.
Simon and Garfunkel’s iconic song “Sounds of Silence,” expresses our human condition all too well.
And in the naked light I saw
Ten thousand people, maybe more
People talking without speaking
People hearing without listening
People writing songs that voices never share
And no one dared – disturb the sound of silence.
Good Friday. The silence of each of us talking only to ourselves. The silence of a world left alone without God. The silence of lost hopes and faded dreams. The silence that we are alone in this world…and we might as well get used to it. The silence that tells us to keep quiet in the face of abusive power or suffer the same.
But the silence of Good Friday, which appeared to be final, was answered with another word. A word not expected, a word that could not be hoped for. On Easter God has the last word. His “yes” drowns out our “no.”
I invite you to participate fully in Holy Week – enter the silence, so that you can at last hear God’s “Yes.”
I received a letter recently from a young mother who lives in Homewood with her three daughters. Her youngest daughter was born with Down Syndrome which presented challenges for her family. The daughter was enrolled in Trinity’s Special Class for two years.
She was writing to thank the church for all it had done for her family. Over the past two years one of our adult Sunday School Classes has reached out to this family. They helped her to find a house, and after moving in, members of the class cleaned and helped to decorate the daughter’s room. They provided Christmas gifts for the family and they continue to check on her.
This mother writes, “It is a testimony to the faithfulness of your congregation to have such loving, ministering people that are providing outreach to the community. I am thankful for God’s provision through the members of His body.”
This is one of many, many stories that could be told about the ways Trinity, through the efforts of individuals and groups, is involved in outreach ministry. From feeding the homeless at the Firehouse Shelter, to sending cards to homebound members, or helping to construct a camp in Panama – you are the Body of Christ bearing witness to His mission of transformation. You are making a difference.
I remind you that our Lenten Offering is one of the primary ways that we provide financial support to our ministry of outreach. Last year at Trinity, more than 17% of our total giving went to mission and outreach beyond our own walls. That is many times the national average for churches.
Let me encourage you to be generous in your giving to our LENTEN OFFERING.
It helps make possible the stories like the one above.
It was the biggest night of the year for the biggest sport in the U. S. – NFL Football. The Superbowl. The two teams who made it had fought their way through the regular season and playoffs to get there. Commercials for the Superbowl cost like $4 million for 30 seconds. Days of hype preceded the game. People paid a small fortune to get into the stadium.
The big moment arrived and then half way though the game the lights went out! Play came to a halt. Players were consigned to the sidelines. For all the preparation, planning and hard work – a simple thing like the lights going out can bring it all to a grinding halt. You can’t play football in the dark.
You probably know the rest of the story. It took 40 minutes or so to get the lights back on, and play resumed. But this incident set off all kinds of theological musings in my head. The image of light and darkness is prominent in the New Testament. “I am the light of the world…” and “The light shines in the darkness.”
But for there to be light, there has to be a source of power. I haven’t heard the explanation for what happened in the Superdome on Sunday night, but I have come to the connection between the lights and the power source being cut off resulting in darkness. On a personal level, we have to stay connected to God through the power of the Spirit if our lights are to shine.
And for the church – it reminds us of the importance of CONNECTION. Trinity is a vital congregation with far flung ministry which touches so many people. For the light of this ministry to shine brightly, it takes each of us connecting our gifts and abilities to ministry. We have been talking a lot about “connection” this past month. You received a copy of our yearly Connect magazine in the mail. Inside are hundreds of ways that you can get connected to ministry. There is an insert in the center of Connect for you to indicate the ways God is leading you to be in ministry. You can complete this and return it to the church at any time, or you can go online to www.trinitybirmingham.com to complete your form.
“Let your light so shine before others that they may see your good works
and give glory to you Father who is in heaven.”
– Matthew 5:16
If you were to walk into the Sanctuary on a Saturday morning, you would find a group of ladies (and a guy every now and then) creating the flower arrangement on the altar. There are about 30 of these servant ministers who do all of our flower arrangements.
If you walk the children’s halls on Sunday morning during the Sunday School hour and peek into a room, you will find servant volunteers teaching our children. It takes a team of about 85 adults to do this.
If you wander into the church office during the week, you are likely to find a servant volunteer entering attendance into the computer or stuffing bulletins.
On any given week, a team from Trinity is serving meals at the Firehouse Shelter or the Church of the Reconciler downtown.
Trinity is blessed with wonderful lay servant leadership. It is what makes this church vital. Our goal at Trinity is for every member to be in ministry. We believe that all of us are gifted by God and are called by God to use those gifts in some area of ministry. The Christian life is not a spectator sport! We all are a part of the team, out on the field, doing our part.
This Sunday, February 3 is CONNECT SUNDAY.
You have received in the mail a copy of Connect magazine which lists dozens of areas of ministry. In the center of the magazine is a card for each of us to sign up for some area of ministry. Please take some time to look through the magazine this week. Bring your Time & Talent card with you on Sunday to dedicate during any of our worship services.
You may also submit your Time & Talent card online at
Sunday’s Confirmation Service was one of those special moments at Trinity. The sanctuary was filled with families and friends as 68 young people made their profession of faith in Christ, were confirmed and were received into the membership of this church. There was something special in their faces as they kneeled to be confirmed – a look of hope, expectation, openness, even eagerness to be a part of the body of Christ.
This was our largest Confirmation class ever at Trinity. It “took a village” of servant volunteers under the leadership of Rev. Suzanne Pruitt to make this a life shaping process. This year we have actually had students of non-members go through confirmation – and parents following the example of their children have become a part of this church.
This is one of many areas where our ministry has grown significantly. I have shared several of those “numbers” with you, but again I want to say thank you for being a part of all that God does through this church. I think we all take pride in the excellence of everything that we do at Trinity. This church is amazing in the scope of its ministry in this community and around the world.
I also want to share that if we are to continue to be able to be in ministry in this way – it takes the financial support of all of us. The expense for this year’s Confirmation class was more than double that of last year – simply because of the numbers involved. The same is true for other ministries such as VBS, Element Student Ministry and Music Ministry.
I tell you this because you need to know that while we grew ministry at an incredible rate in 2012, at year’s end our giving as a percentage of budget was less than it has been in ten years. In order to be faithful stewards, we build our budget on the basis of what each of us commit. As we move to adopt our Ministry Budget for this year, we currently have received about 25 less commitments than last year. We all need to be aware that this will have an impact on our ability to be able to continue to grow ministry. This is information that I think all of us need to know.
I know in the business of life, we often simply overlook and lay things aside thinking we will get back to them later. If you have not yet taken the opportunity to make your commitment of giving for this year, you may still do so by calling Ann Neptune at 879-1737, or online at
The 2013 Ministry Budget will be presented at our Board meeting next Monday evening.
Thank you for your faithfulness! I look forward to this being a great year of ministry.
To download the .pdf file of the text below, please click the following link: AndyWolfe_12.16.12
It is hard to know what to write this morning. This week should be filled with the joy of preparing for the great feast of the Incarnation, for Christmas. But our joy has been shattered by the events of last Friday. The words I would like to share are those from Sunday’s Sermon:
The Slaughter of the Innocents
Andrew Wolfe – December 16, 2012
Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, was in a furious rage, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time which he had ascertained from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah: “A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they were no more.”
This is not the sermon I had planned to preach this morning. Today has been a day of joyful music, of hearing the story of Jesus’ birth through scripture and song. I had planned to preach on Luke’s report of the angels appearing to the shepherds to announce the birth of Jesus with word and song. But, after the events of this past Friday in Newtown, Connecticut, that sermon will have to wait. As the Prophet Amos wrote long ago, “Our feast has turned to mourning and our songs have turned lamentations.”
Once again the unthinkable has happened. We have witnessed the senseless deaths of 20 innocent children and 6 of their teachers. What began as a normal day, turned suddenly violent . . . and no day will ever be normal again for the families whose lives have been torn asunder. This is, not only a day for prayer, but also a day for reflection. We come today with heavy hearts – seeking solace and comfort – but also seeking some word from God. What has happened is unspeakable, but we must speak of it.
There is another text from the Christmas story that calls to be preached today. It is a story we do not often read – because it is not a tranquil story of shepherds and sheep, wise men and stars, a manger and a baby. This story points to the dark side of Christmas. But this story, no less that of the manger, shepherds and wise men, needs to be told, especially today. Matthew records this story for us. It is the story of Herod’s reaction when he receives the news that Jesus, a new King of The Jews, has been born.
Unfortunately, for the families of Bethlehem, Herod had no intention of allowing this potential usurper to grow to adulthood. Warned in a dream to flee, Joseph and Mary took Jesus and left in the middle of the night to find refuge in Egypt. Matthew says that Herod was in a furious rage, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem who were two years old or younger. Church history refers to this as “the slaughter of the innocents.”
Now, this story has once again repeated itself. To the slaughter of the innocents of Bethlehem, we must now add the slaughter of the innocents of Newtown – and countless other places around the world – wherever human beings have seen violence as an acceptable way to solve their problems, be they personal or political.
Of course, we would prefer to skip this story. We are tempted look away, to cover our eyes and pretend not to see – because what we see is so painful and horrible. Before Newtown, there was the high school at Columbine, a movie theater in Aurora, an Amish schoolhouse in Pennsylvania, a supermarket parking lot in Tucson. There have been so many incidents that we are numbed by them. We can only handle so much tragedy before we begin to shut down.
Like the priest and the Levi in the parable of the Good Samaritan, we are tempted to pass by on the other side, pretending that we do not see the victim lying by the roadside as we go about our business. But, these victims are our business as God’s people because we are people who know the full story of Christmas – both the glory and the horror. We must instead take our place beside the Samaritan in the parable who saw the victim, had compassion and did something. To know the full meaning of Christmas, we must hear Rachel and the women of Bethlehem and the parents of Newtown weeping for her children. Only in that way will we find the compassion to take our place beside those victims and the courage to face all the demonic structures – the Herod instinct – that leads to violence.
We look first of all to see that amidst the evil that has happened – there was good. To not name that good and claim it, is to allow evil to have the only say in our world, which we must never do. Already we have heard the stories of teachers who put themselves in harms’ way, using their bodies as shields, to protect and save the children. We have seen law enforcements officers respond without fear for their own lives. We have seen first responders, who have offered comfort and healing at great cost to their own peace of mind. That first Christmas was the worst of times and the best of times. If, on Friday, we saw the worst of what we humans are capable of, we also saw the best. We also saw undaunted courage, selfless devotion, and boundless compassion. We saw the Samaritan go to the aid of the victim. We saw Jesus taking his place beside us in the chaos and brokenness of this world. We thank God, for those who refused to turn their heads and look away – but who, instead became the way for good to answer evil.
We must also look into the face of the one who committed these senseless acts. We cannot know the dark forces within this young man – the rage, the pain. Even if we knew the reasons for this act, it would never excuse his act. We are all accountable for our actions – we must all choose between the darkness and the light. There must be no notoriety in such senseless acts. We look into the face of Herod, only so we can name the evil that would undo us all. With our prayers for the victims, there must be prayers for all who are lost in darkness in our world.
But, we must also recognize that these individual acts of violence do not happen in a vacuum, they take place against a backdrop; they have a context. We are the most religious nation in the western world, but we are also the most violent. What happened on Friday was not an isolated incident.
The most recent statistics reveal 2,694 children and teens were killed by gunfire in 2010. If those children and teens were still alive they would fill 108 classrooms of 25 each. Since 1979 when gun death data were first collected by age, a shocking 119,079 children and teens have been killed by gun violence. That is more child and youth deaths in America than American battle deaths in World War I (53,402) or in Vietnam (47,434) or in the Korean War (33,739) or in the Iraq War (3,517).
We must look to ourselves as a people and ask what are the causes of this culture of violence; a culture that both sanitizes and sanctifies violence and then wonders why it happens. What we must not do is pass by on the other side. What we must not do is to accept this horror in the name of some false freedom, nor accept it with a fatalism that says, it just happens – there is nothing to be done. What we must not do is to throw up our hands and acquiesce to the slaughter of innocents.
Albert Camus, Nobel Laureate, speaking at a Dominican monastery in 1948 said, “Perhaps we cannot prevent this world from being a world in which children are tortured. But we can reduce the number of tortured children.” He went on to describe our responsibility as human beings, “if not to reduce evil, at least not to add to it” and “to refuse to consent to conditions which torture innocents.”
In the name of Jesus we must refuse to consent to a culture that promotes violence and acquiesce to the slaughter of innocents. We must join our voices in saying a loud “no” to the Herods of the world – “no” in the name of Jesus, the Price of Peace. We must cling to and claim the promise of scripture of the prophet Isaiah who dreamed of that day when they shall beat their swords and guns into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nations and people shall not lift up swords against nations and people.
What we must do is to be a people of hope and not despair. Professor Tom Long tells about a photograph on the wall of the museum in the former concentration camp at Dachau. The photograph shows a mother and little girl being taken into a gas chamber at Auschwitz. The girl, who is walking in front of her mother does not know where she is going. The mother does know, but there is nothing the mother can do to stop this atrocity. In her helplessness, she performs the only act of love left to her. She places her hand over her little girls eyes, so, at least she will not have to see the horror that faces her. When people see the picture in the museum, they do not move easily to the next one. Long said that you can feel the emotion, almost hear their cries, “O God don’t let that be all there is. Somewhere, somehow set things right.”
In Bethlehem, God hears those prayers and moves to begin to set things right. Herod did his worst. Yet, the slaughter of the innocents was not the end of the story. Herod’s plan failed. Jesus lived and grew into manhood. He brought good news to the poor, healed the sick, and comforted those who grieved. He was crucified, dead and buried and on the third day he rose again – forever conquering evil and death. In Jesus, God has met the love of power, with the power of love and won.
I was watching a pastor from Newtown being interviewed the night of the tragedy. He said he has had parishioners come to ask him if they should turn off their Christmas lights in response to this tragedy. He told them, “By no means – leave them on.” Leave them on so that we can be reminded that: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
Darkness came to Newtown on Friday morning – we mourn with those who mourn. But, in the darkness there is a light that shall not be overcome. Emmanuel, God is with us – even in the chaos, the brokenness, the pain, the sorrow.
That is the meaning of Christmas.
LD Tyson was one of those Methodist preachers I looked up to when I was a young preacher myself! After he retired, he served on the staff at Vestavia UMC, where I was an associate right out of seminary. At every Administrative Board meeting, he told a joke. In fact, I think some people came to board meetings not to hear the finance report, or learn what the trustees were working on – they came to hear LD’s joke!
A sense of humor is an important thing to have. In his book, Anatomy of an Illness, Norman Cousins told about how he laughed himself well. Cousins had been diagnosed with a degenerative disease for which there was no known cure. The doctors told him there was nothing that could be done. Refusing to accept that diagnosis, Cousins had a friend bring in a movie projector, screen and reels of films, all of them comedies. (This was before the days of VCR, etc). He used the films as part of his therapy. Day after day, he would laugh until he was crying. After a while, something strange began to happen, the symptoms of his disease began to regress. Cousins laughed himself well. Laughter is good medicine.
Laughter can be a form of “whistling past a graveyard.” It is a way we deal with our fears and anxieties. Harvey Mindess writes that “Those topics we laugh at most heartily are all, in some way, sources of anxiety or discomfort, but as we laugh at them our anxiety lessens and our discomfort decreases.” Humor, he concludes, is therapeutic. It helps us to get through the stressful times of our lives.
When God told Abraham, who was 99, that his wife Sarah, who was 90, would have a son born to them, Abraham laughed. It seems that even God enjoys a good joke.
Somewhere I read that one reason the Military Services have trouble operating jointly is that they don’t speak the same language. For example, if you told Navy personnel to “secure a building,” they would turn off the lights and lock the doors. Army personnel would occupy the building so no one could enter. Marines would assault the building, capture it, and defend it with suppressive fire and close combat. The Air Force, on the other hand, would take out a three-year lease with an option to buy.
The language we use and how we understand that language is essential to understanding. The same word or phrase can mean something very different to different people. To understand something, we have to “get on the same page” when it comes to words. We have to mean the same thing when we use the same word.
This is true when it comes to Christian faith. Take a word like “salvation” and you will get a variety of understanding and definitions of what that word means – which also leads to misunderstanding.
To guard against this kind of misunderstanding, it is necessary to return to the original language of the New Testament, to see what the words meant in context. When we turn to the New Testament, we discover that because being Christian revealed a new life, it required a new vocabulary to express it. Some of the key words that are a part of our faith language were absolutely new inventions, others, were so charged with new meaning as to be equivalent to new words. There is a freshness and power of these words that give shape to our faith.
During the month of September, I will be preaching on “CHRISTIAN WORDS.”
We will look at what some of those key terms of our faith meant and mean:
September 9 – Sin
September 16 – Salvation
September 23 – Love
September 30 – Faith
On Sunday I shared a story about Pablo Casals, perhaps the greatest cellist ever to play. When someone asked him while he was still practicing up to four hours a day when he was in his 90’s, he replied, “Because I think I am making some progress.” I hope I have that same spirit of openness to growth when I am that age.
Part of our mission statement here at Trinity is to help people GROW in Christ. The Christian life is a lifelong journey of growing in grace. Being saved in our understanding is a process.
Some ways this growth happens:
1) Practical learning – through Bible study and other studies that aim at life transformation and application.
2) Relationships – all of us have key persons who have influenced us in life. Finding a group, a spiritual friend, or a mentor is a way our journey is nurtured.
3) Private disciples – particularly the disciple in prayer as well as the public discipline of worship.
4) Personal ministry – living one’s faith out in service.
At Trinity all of these avenues of growth are available. Now is a good time to make your growth plan for this year.
I ran across a story about a farmer who noticed a highway department truck pulling over on to the shoulder of the road. A man got out and dug a hole, then got back into the truck. Then the other occupant got out, filled up the hole and got back in the truck. Every fifty yards this amazing process was repeated.
Finally the farmer went up to the driver and asked, “What are you doing?” The driver replied, “We’re on a highway beautification project, and the guy who plants the trees is at home sick today.”
As the London Olympics came to an end, one of the enduring memories will be the effectiveness of the American athletes in team sports: men’s and women’s basketball, women’s track, soccer, beach volleyball, men’s and women’s relay teams in swimming – the list of team gold medals is impressive.
In each of these events, success would not have been possible if each team member had not shown up – been fully present, joining his or her efforts for the overall success of the team.
We have had an amazing summer of ministry at Trinity. VBS for pre-school and younger elementary students and Venture for older elementary students, approached the over 500 mark. Student ministry events soared – 120 students went on the SOS mission project, 70 mid-highs attended Element Summer Camp. David Thompson tells me that fully a third of these students are not “members” of Trinity – they come from the wider community. They showed up.
But none of this would be possible had not dozens of adult servant ministers/volunteers also shown up to make this ministry happen. VBS/Venture alone required more than one hundred volunteers.
Ministry at Trinity requires teamwork. We simply could not engage in the scope of ministry that we do if YOU did not show up. Paul, of course, gave expression to this when he talked about the Church being the body of Christ – with each part needing every other part in order for the body to function effectively. The effectiveness of any church is a function of how well we function together as a team.
So thank you for “showing up,” for being a part of this vital body of Christ.