Thursday, August 27, 2009

Talk about Proclaiming the Gospel

This is a talk I have prepared to give in Sacrament Meeting this Sunday. Since it is public anyway, I decided to post it here.

* * *

Talk on the subject of “Proclaiming the Gospel”
30 August, 2009

When this world was first formed, our Heavenly Father created two beloved children: a son first, followed by a daughter. God taught Adam and Eve the gospel and joined them together in celestial marriage through His priesthood power. The earth began with a perfect pattern of faithful, obedient children who were taught and believed God’s plan of salvation, and who where joined together as an eternal family.

After their temptation, fall and necessary separation from God, Adam and Eve began their journey into the unknown world, where they had to rely on faith, rather than sight. But our loving Heavenly Father didn’t leave them alone; He sent angels to minister to them and teach them.

Adam and Eve were baptized and received the gift of the Holy Ghost to guide them throughout their long separation from God here in mortality. And God provided a Savior, our Lord Jesus Christ, to rescue them from sin and death and to remove every other obstacle that they would encounter, so that this temporary separation from God, which was a necessary part of their progression, might someday come to an end. God’s design from the beginning was to reclaim all of His children who would choose to return. None were to be left out of His plan.

In Moses chapter 5 we read:
9 And in that day the Holy Ghost fell upon Adam, which beareth record of the Father and the Son, saying: I am the Only Begotten of the Father from the beginning, henceforth and forever, that as thou hast fallen thou mayest be redeemed, and all mankind, even as many as will.
10 And in that day Adam blessed God and was filled, and began to prophesy concerning all the families of the earth, saying: Blessed be the name of God, for because of my transgression my eyes are opened, and in this life I shall have joy, and again in the flesh I shall see God.
11 And Eve, his wife, heard all these things and was glad, saying: Were it not for our transgression we never should have had seed, and never should have known good and evil, and the joy of our redemption, and the eternal life which God giveth unto all the obedient.
12 And Adam and Eve blessed the name of God, and they made all things known unto their sons and their daughters.

This began the pattern of proclaiming the gospel, which has been a central theme of God’s dealings with His children throughout the history of the world. The first family home evenings consisted of Adam and Eve and their posterity, gathered and discussing the plan they were all engaged in. These were also the first general conferences, because the church in its entirety was simply a family. When they first gathered their family for prayer, the entire population of the earth was united together in faith. Their journals and family histories became the first scriptures. There was nothing to prevent a perpetual state of peace and righteousness that included every member of the human family, except their own disobedience.

We all know that Satan worked very hard and sadly, had some success among Adam and Eve’s children. Thus the work of proclaiming the gospel became a little bit harder. There was resistance. But the grand goal of God’s plan of happiness, to provide the gifts of immortality and eternal life to every one of God’s children who ever has, and ever will live on this earth, remained the same. This goal is the same today, in our day, when only a small fraction of our brothers and sisters know the saving truths of the fullness of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Adam and Eve were charged with a mission to start the world out right, bringing into existence a family who knew and understood God’s plan. Because of this knowledge, every child of God was able to choose happiness or misery for himself. Our mission today, in the last days of the earth, is similar: we are to do all we can to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ to our brothers and sisters living today, providing them with opportunities to hear and accept the truth so that they can also be empowered to choose happiness or misery.

We have been given the gospel in its fullness. This brings both incredible blessings and tremendous responsibilities, including sharing the gospel with others. Only when every member of God’s great human family has been given this opportunity, will His all-encompassing plan be complete. And only when we have done all we can to assist in this great work will we be able to rest at peace, knowing we have done all we could to provide salvation for our family.

To get to that state of peace, it will not be guilt, or even duty, that motivates us to share the gospel. Instead, our motivation and strength will come from an all-consuming love that burns in our hearts because we are family. We will stop seeing the world at large, and even our neighbors close to home, in an “us and them” sort of way. Instead, we will recognize that the same Savior who gave His blood and life to save us from our sins also suffered for every other member of our family here on earth. Just as Adam and Eve wanted all of their posterity to be saved, so will we not be satisfied until every child of God has been given the same opportunity.

We may wonder how we can strengthen these feelings of love for brothers and sisters we don’t know, and even some whom we do know but don’t particularly like. There is a way. It is as sure as any formula that I know of. The way to increase our love for others is to first, come unto Christ ourselves, and second, to serve others. The sons of Mosiah, when they repented, followed this pattern with great success.

In Mosiah chapter 28 we read:
3 Now they were desirous that salvation should be declared to every creature, for they could not bear that any human soul should perish; yea, even the very thoughts that any soul should endure endless torment did cause them to quake and tremble.
4 And thus did the Spirit of the Lord work upon them, for they were the very vilest of sinners.

We have so many opportunities to serve others, and many, if not most of these, also provide chances to proclaim the gospel. When our motive is love, the fear of opening our mouths and sharing what we know will be replaced by peace and confidence. “Perfect love casteth out all fear.” (Moroni 8:16)

We proclaim the gospel when we live the gospel ourselves. We proclaim the gospel when we teach our children, our immediate families, and our extended families the doctrines of the Lord’s Church. We proclaim the gospel when we magnify our callings in the church and our assignments as home and visiting teachers. We proclaim the gospel when we help prepare our own children, or others’ children, to serve as full-time missionaries. We proclaim the gospel every time we open our mouths and speak up for faith, truth, goodness, optimism, and gratitude in a world that is increasingly faithless, deceived, depressed, pessimistic, and ungrateful.

Each one of us has such great potential for doing good in this world. There is a reason why Heavenly Father sent us to earth now, at this time, and here, in this place. He believes in us. He has entrusted us with the care of His most precious assets, His children.

We read in D&C 18:
10 Remember the worth of souls is great in the sight of God;
11 For, behold, the Lord your Redeemer suffered death in the flesh; wherefore he suffered the pain of all men, that all men might repent and come unto him.
12 And he hath risen again from the dead, that he might bring all men unto him, on conditions of repentance.
13 And how great is his joy in the soul that repenteth!
14 Wherefore, you are called to cry repentance unto this people.
15 And if it so be that you should labor all your days in crying repentance unto this people, and bring, save it be one soul unto me, how great shall be your joy with him in the kingdom of my Father!
16 And now, if your joy will be great with one soul that you have brought unto me into the kingdom of my Father, how great will be your joy if you should bring many souls unto me!

I know this scripture to be true; some of the happiest times in my life have involved seeing those I love accept the gospel and receive its blessings.

Growing up in the church, I have not often had the experience of feeling lost and being found. But we recently had an experience that helped me understand just a little bit how our brothers and sisters without the gospel might feel when we reach out to them and share with them what we know and show them the way to happiness.

A few weeks ago my wife and I were in Idaho to celebrate her sister’s wedding with our family. On the morning of the wedding, we were to leave from where we were staying in Idaho Falls about an hour before the wedding, to travel to the Rexburg temple. We both thought we knew the way, having traveled through Rexburg a couple of times in past years. I knew that when we got to the highway, we turned right and drove until we got to Rexburg. What we didn’t realize is that there was more than one possible road to travel.

As we set out, we made the mistake of turning right on the first highway we encountered. We were running just a little behind, and I was driving as fast as I dared. We tried to distract our restless kids by pointing out the beautiful scenery around us: rolling fields of golden hay with forested mountains on either side of the valley. I was a little puzzled when I recognized the Snake River running parallel to the highway, and I wondered why we hadn’t seen any mileage signs for Rexburg yet, but it wasn’t until the road started turning and descended towards the river that I realized--to my horror--that we were on the wrong road.

After verifying our error at a little tourist shop, my wife burst into tears. The wedding was starting in fifteen minutes and we were now thirty minutes out of Idaho Falls, in the wrong direction. We turned around and started back, going faster than ever, but we really didn’t know where we had gone wrong or how to get on the right road. We desperately tried calling my wife's siblings, but we could not hear anything on our cell phone. After several failed attempts to call for help, we realized our phone had been put into headphones mode, probably through random button-pushing by little Charity. We didn’t know how to fix it. We were stuck. It was now 11:00, time for the wedding, and we were still lost. My wife broke into fresh tears.

Then, as an answer to our silent prayers, the phone rang. My wife tried to answer it, but again, no sound. She remembered that there was a speaker phone feature, and by using that, we were able to finally hear the sweet sound of a concerned brother’s voice, calling to find out why we were not with the rest of the family. We knew we were hopelessly too late, since the photographer, the luncheon, and the reception all hinged on a tight schedule for the day. Still, we felt a great deal of comfort knowing that the family was aware of our predicament. My wife told her brother where we were, that we were probably still 45 minutes away from Rexburg, and that they should go on without us and we would eventually find our way there. After heartfelt “I love you’s” from both ends of the phone, she hung up.

Ten minutes later, as we were approaching Idaho Falls, the phone rang again. It was another brother, one who knew the roads, who understood where we had gone wrong, and who was able to give us detailed directions to get us onto the right highway. His step-by-step instructions probably prevented us from getting lost again, we were so frazzled and disoriented by this point. Again, already ten minutes after the wedding start time, my wife asked them to go on without us.

We finally made it onto the correct highway and saw the road signs confirming this. We were about fifteen minutes out of Rexburg when the phone rang again. It was a brother again, checking up on our progress and making sure we knew which exit to take. My wife broke into tears again, and then on the phone came the voice of the sweet, old temple president. He wanted to assure us personally that they would wait to begin until we arrived.

When we got to the temple, all the workers were waiting for us. They ushered our kids into the waiting area and a worker had us run up the back stairway, since that would be faster than the elevator. When we reached the third floor, panting, my wife's sister and her soon-to-be-husband were there, waiting for us with a smile. They embraced their lost sister and brother in a big hug and told us that how glad they were that we had made it and that they never would have gone on without us.

In all, close to “ninety and nine” people waited for us at the temple. The rest of the day we had both old and new family members telling us how glad they were that we made it. This was sometimes mixed with some good-natured ribbing, but never in a resentful way. There was no passing judgment, no rebuke. Our desperation and embarrassment at having been the “lost sheep” gradually melted away to feelings of gratitude and love for those who reached out to us and waited for us, and that in the end, the whole family was together in the temple. We were whole.

I know that the gospel of Jesus Christ is true and that it has been restored in its fullness in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Nothing in life matters as much as the salvation of God’s children. It is why we are here. I pray that we will all strive to do our best to keep our covenants and help the mission of the church move forward by proclaiming the gospel to our brothers and sisters who are lost, so that we might rejoice together with them in the celestial kingdom some day. How great will be our joy!