Forgiveness and Love

Below is a speech that Bobby Elam shared with our congregation at our voters meeting this past week.   It will give you a good idea of the direction and focus of our congregation moving forward:

Thank you Dale for that kind introduction. And thank you for leading Trinity and mentoring me. Like your service in the Navy, you have done your duty; more so, because instead of a single shift, you have served a double shift, and pushed yourself to exhaustion to do such good for us. A warm applause to Dale and Velda for their service.

Trinity is a church on a rock. That is our symbol; that is our reality. Thanks to the Pastor, Nikki, Dave, Natalie, Chris, Wendy, the Bensons, and the M&MS, we are on solid financial ground; we have a vibrant pre-school; a renewed journey worship service; a bustling coffee hour; and exceptional bible studies. But we have a lot of work before us. And there are very few workers for the Great Commission and harvest.

The 1980s in Marin, where I grew up in Sunday school, were good to Trinity and the other Lutheran churches. Our highest attendance was then. But over the past quarter century, we have seen a steady decline. My home church, Peace Lutheran in Mill Valley, has shrunk to one service and just last month only 32 attended. Peace Lutheran declines with each passing member.

Some of us may think this decline is inevitable. And worse, some of us are just plain tired of this world. In our private thoughts, we may think the world is heading to hell in a hand-basket. That it’s evil and can taint us by association and the best we can do is retreat to the safety of this sanctuary and ride out the storm. We look forward to a future day in the arms of our Lord, an eternal rest, and bide our time.

But we live in God’s Kingdom right now. His Kingdom is here. The hard dirt of this earth that hurts when we fall will become the beautiful Elysian fields of eternity; we are heading back here to New Jerusalem, not some cloudy heaven.

So where is our Lord? He is with the destitute, the downtrodden, the forgotten, and the afflicted in Marin County. He is calling to His wayward children until the very end. If you seek His presence, go to His children who are in need. That is where you will find our Lord! Even if the world has given up on Him; He has not given up on the world. Be like Peter jumping out of the boat into the Sea of Galilee when seeing Him resurrected walking along on the seashore. Run to Him! Do not pray “Oh Lord, take me from this hell?”  Pray instead, “Lord, let me serve you wherever you are for wherever you are is heaven to me.”

How do we serve Him today?  He whispers, “Take up your cross and follow me.”  What is our cross? We all have had experiences we are not proud of, mistakes made, sins committed, and pitched battles against our God. Some of you are probably regretful that your material success allowed you to live in Marin County but meant your loved ones could not afford to do the same. And some of you probably feel that you have “made” it and do not need to serve undeserving others. But share your testimony of failure with others. Own up to it; do not try to forget or ignore what is true. Be a guide to others who know only how to hide their failings, as if anything can be hid from our all-knowing God.

For by doing so, we begin to truly understand the great bounty and love our Lord feels for us who gazes on our sinful hearts, beholds all the horrible sins across a lifetime against all of His children, and yet can say to us, “Do not be afraid my beloved child.” Wow, we will never fully comprehend how Christ sees us; but He certainly sees us in an infinitely better light than we see ourselves. And whatever He sees, I want that reality more than the one I have chosen for myself. That is what it means to surrender to Him. In Matthew 18, Christ declares that to enter the Kingdom of God, we must become like little children. Little children make mistakes all the time but then they run to their parents in tears and fess up. Be like little children to one another!

For he who has been forgiven much by our Lord can then begin to truly forgive others.  And she who has been loved much by our Lord can then begin to truly love others. Here is our cross: for unless your rejected love for another is tearing your heart apart today, you do not love enough. And unless your forgiveness to an unrepentant is not tearing your heart apart today, you do not forgive enough. That is why we must engage this world as we find it. Not just for their salvation; but for your own! For in service to undeserving others, by walking the path of forgiveness and love, we are serving our Lord.  And to be a faithful servant to our Lord, we must first allow Him to forgive us and to feel His grace in our lives.

And what will happen if we take up our cross? He whispers, “You will suffer on behalf of me.” Great. We will be criticized and questioned and insulted when we reach out to others. We must welcome this temporary tension in our lives and respond with forgiveness and love. Another way of putting it is if you are not stepping out of your comfort zone; you are not giving comfort to others. Like a stonemason breaking a “hard-hearted” rock in the Trinity quarry, it may take seventy times seven strikes before we see their rock finally burst and submit.

For our Lord is victorious because He suffered. He is the King of all for He suffered for all of us.  It is the strangest of all circumstances, my friends, but the world will never listen to us unless they see us suffer at their hands and yet respond with forgiveness and love. That is how they know we are truly followers of Christ!  In John 13, Christ says we will be known to everyone as His disciples “when we love one another.” Only then do they see our otherworldliness and the Lord within and through us. And when the Holy Spirit pierces their heart, they finally exclaim, “God, I want what they have.”

These temporary sufferings are not just for their good; Christ the physician will replace them in us with more of His forgiveness and love. And with forgiveness and love washing over us, He will heal all of our wounds, all of our hurts, all of our pains in the service of Him. Christ can truly call us to suffer for Him not because He is a cruel master, or the world is a crueler master, but because He is master of the world! His Father, apart from Time, creator of Time itself, will reach back into your lives and undo every whip and scar you have ever felt. The more we suffer, and the more our Christ the physician tends to us, all the closer He will be.

Our earthly destination is death and our path is ruled by Cause and Effect. But God can reach back and make Effect lead to Cause all the way to the original cause of the universe – God creating us out of His love.

That is why I may be called to be your President for this present struggle. Not because I am the most righteous man in the room. I am certainly not. I am a confirmed sinner. Rather, it is because I am the most willing to suffer to help others walk the righteous path. I heed our Lord and take up my cross and suffer for Him. And the Pastor and I need you to take up your cross and give testimony to Marin County in your own way. Stop talking about doctrine and politics; start talking about forgiveness and love with all and at all times. Even if you do not want to; especially if you do not want to!

See, your playing timid doesn’t serve the world. We are all meant to shine, as children do. And yes, we will fall down and scratch our knees. But like when our parents embraced us, wrapped us in warm blankets and gave us hot cocoa, we understand, like children, that our Father can make it all better, even better than before.

We are the light in the world and a beacon on the rock of Marin County. And this community yearns to fill the God-shaped hole in their hearts. Below us are lost sheep and they call out for the good Shepherd. No longer deny this community, and your hearts, the joyful experience of forgiveness and love—the very best of our faith! You see, Trinity’s best years are not in our past but in our future. We are Christians. Of course, the best years are in front of us! We have the presence of God to behold and heaven with all of our loved ones. We have an invitation to the best party the world has ever beheld! And I have you, my dear companions with me along the way. I thank you for our fellowship but it is time that we share it with others. For they need it more. Amen.