As It Is or As I Am – the Art of Becoming

A journey … towards … being

Sacrament talk on love

Introduction:

A talk given in Sacrament meeting, today, the 26th October 2014. As on a previous occasion, a few people requested a copy. So I’m posting it here for easy access.

The talk itself:

Often the General Authorities begin their talks with a personal story. I sometimes wonder why. Maybe it’s to get people’s attention concerning their subject? So, I’m starting with a story, of where I was last weekend. Apparently, some people thought I was ill. No, I was in good health and enjoying myself. I was on a counselling course, on the Saturday and Sunday. I have two more such weekends, to complete this course, in mid November and December. The course was “Essentials in Gender and Sexual Diversity”. Brilliant stuff. Why so? Well, there was all the information shared. I’m not about to share it all here. Though, I don’t think that would do any harm. Maybe that could be a topic for a fireside? What was really brilliant was the acceptance and love felt. I was one of five so-called “straight” people there. As might be expected, due to the nature of the course, the other ten students, were a mixture of different genders and sexual orientations. What was wonderful was that even after sharing that I was a Christian, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, that love and acceptance did not lessen, change or alter. In any thing it increased.

How does this relate to the theme of the last few months, where people have been asked to speak on parts of the sermon on the mount, as xxxxx did before me.

6 verses, in particular about love. The last verse often being used completely out of context. It has even been the title of a Priesthood manual. It sets everyone up for false expectations, for failure – both of themselves and of others. It leads to inappropriate guilt and even to the destruction of families and individual lives.

So what is this awful verse?

Matthew 5: 48 “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect”

What is so wrong with this verse?

Firstly, the word “perfect” is mis-translated. The original Greek means whole or complete. Our current usage of the word “perfect” has become very different. The Latin has a similar meaning. In Latin it reads “having been finished or completed.”

So we are looking at something to be achieved later, not necessarily now. We often look at it as doing something absolutely correct, as in I’ve always paid a 100% tithing. I’ve never smoked. Never been in debt. I pray and read the scriptures 365 days a year. We have weekly FHE. Of course, I’m not saying these things should not be done. Nor am I saying they are true for myself.

This scripture verse, taken on it’s own, sets not only us up for failure as individuals and families, but also creates a problem for or perhaps with the church. Amongst many there is the thought that the prophet and apostles are perfect, that all they say is absolutely from God. Not only is that not the case, it can create a false sense of security.

Joseph Smith once commented “freedom of speech”

Joseph Smith’s imperfections and that of the current Brethren, actually increase my testimony and faith in our heavenly Parents and our Saviour, Jesus Christ. If they can work through such imperfect people, who achieve so much good, surely the same is true for you and me. As I’ve mentioned several times, don’t look for perfection in me. I mess up. I try not to, but on occasion things still go wrong. Yet, I hope I’m still able to do much good. And that will be and is the same for each of us. Most of the good I do here is in conjunction with others. Again, the same for all of us. A lot of the good achieved is as we work with others.

Of course, the greatest good we accomplish is working with the Saviour, as through His atonement we are enabled far beyond our own natural talents and abilities.

As I continue hopefully the context of my thoughts will become clearer. Maybe not. If not, come and see me after and let’s have a discussion.

Secondly, and for me more importantly, when this verse is separated from the preceding verses it is out of context. Now, I’m not a grammar expert. But I understand the word “therefore” is an adverb. I think that is the right term, which means there is a connection to what comes before. So what is happening here? I submit that verses 43 to 47, coming prior to verse 48 are what makes one perfect or whole or complete. What are they about?

Let’s read them. The reason for just taking these verses and not all of chapter 5 of Matthew is what is known as a pilcrow mark by verse 43. The pilcrow mark depicts the beginning of a paragraph. It’s kind of like a backwards P with two legs. This makes verses 43 to 48 one paragraph.

Let’s read through the verses:

43 and 44 ¶Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;

Okay. Four things are admonished here:
Love your enemies
Bless those who curse you
Do good to those who hate you
Pray for those who despitefully use you

Quite straightforward statements – but not always easy to fulfil

Now who are our enemies? Who are these people we are supposed to be praying for? Do we as a Church or do you as an individual or family really have any? Perhaps you do have some enemies. I’m not sure I do. There are some people I do not agree with about some things, but that doesn’t make them my enemies. I have close friends who I do not always agree with, nor they with me.

Sometimes I think these days we try to create enemies. It can kind of make us feel good about ourselves, if we can point out that there are enemies out there against us. In a way having enemies can give us a sense of superiority of being more righteous than others. But, of course, it’s a false sense of security and righteousness.

Sure the early church had people being violent against members and who stated they were enemies of the Church and therefore did persecute individuals and families. But today? Some say the family is under attack, from gays and lesbians who want to marry. How is that an attack? It’s people the church disagrees with. They actually want to get married, to increase the number of people who are married. No one I’ve heard of is trying to get rid of marriage. If anything it seems we are trying to create enemies were there are none.

Are there those who curse you? Again, who is it that really curses us? Some people might think we’re a bit crazy for our faith. But that’s not really cursing us. Anyway, if anyone does, let us bless them.

Who is it that actually hates you?

Do good to them.

I  think it easier to think of those who might despitefully use you. Again, pray for them.

I think the whole object of these verses is to get us to look outside ourselves, to get away from the victim mentality. If we do find ourselves in a bad situation, let’s bless and pray and do good for those people who are trying to hurt us.

However, I must bring in some words of Elder Oaks:

“As a General Authority, I have the responsibility to preach general principles. When I do, I don’t try to define all the exceptions. there are exceptions to some rules … don’t ask me to give an opinion on your exception. I only teach the general rules. Whether an exception applies to you is your responsibility. You must work that out individually between you and the Lord. The Prophet Joseph Smith taught this same thing in another way. When he was asked how he governed such a diverse group of Saints, he said, ‘I teach them correct principles, and they govern themselves.'”
(Dallin H. Oaks, Ensign, June 2006)

The result though of living in such a way results in the following, in verse 45:

45 “That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.”

The next two verses I see as a rebuke for those who don’t live this way. The Saviour said:

46 and 47 “For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so?”

If we’re only kind to those who love us what reward should we expect? Well, I’m not sure we do such things out of expecting a reward, either a reward now or in the eternities.

President Marion G Romney in 1984, but then published again in 2009 said: “Service is not something we endure on this earth so we can earn the right to live in the celestial kingdom. Service is the very fiber of which an exalted life in the celestial kingdom is made.”

We cannot limit our service or love to our families, our Ward, to members of the LDS Church. We must reach out to all.

Then we come to that perfection verse!!

48 “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect”

“Be ye therefore” – therefore links what has been spoken before to what comes next. “Be ye therefore perfect, because you have done what I’ve just said. Tyndale’s 1529 translation words it this way: “ye shall therefore be perfect”.  This perfection spoken of, is not an injunction to do something. It is describing a result of us being something.

As we love we shall be perfect, remember – whole or complete – as you do what I – the Saviour – just said. Again, it is the love we have that makes us whole or complete.

Often in the Church we have myriads of tick box like activities that we can do:

Quite straightforward statements – but not always easy to fulfil

Now who are our enemies? Who are these people we are supposed to be praying for? Do we as a Church or do you as an individual or family really have any? Perhaps you do have some enemies. I’m not sure I do. There are some people I do not agree with about some things, but that doesn’t make them my enemies. I have close friends who I do not always agree with, nor they with me.

Sometimes I think these days we try to create enemies. It can kind of make us feel good about ourselves, if we can point out that there are enemies out there against us. In a way having enemies can give us a sense of superiority of being more righteous than others. But, of course, it’s a false sense of security and righteousness.

Sure the early church had people being violent against members and who stated they were enemies of the Church and therefore did persecute individuals and families. But today? Some say the family is under attack, from gays and lesbians who want to marry. How is that an attack? It’s people the church disagrees with. They actually want to get married, to increase the number of people who are married. No one I’ve heard of is trying to get rid of marriage. If anything it seems we are trying to create enemies were there are none.

Are there those who curse you? Again, who is it that really curses us? Some people might think we’re a bit crazy for our faith. But that’s not really cursing us. Anyway, if anyone does, let us bless them.

Who is it that actually hates you?

Do good to them.

I  think it easier to think of those who might despitefully use you. Again, pray for them.

I think the whole object of these verses is to get us to look outside ourselves, to get away from the victim mentality. If we do find ourselves in a bad situation, let’s bless and pray and do good for those people who are trying to hurt us.

However, I must bring in some words of Elder Oaks:

“As a General Authority, I have the responsibility to preach general principles. When I do, I don’t try to define all the exceptions. there are exceptions to some rules … don’t ask me to give an opinion on your exception. I only teach the general rules. Whether an exception applies to you is your responsibility. You must work that out individually between you and the Lord. The Prophet Joseph Smith taught this same thing in another way. When he was asked how he governed such a diverse group of Saints, he said, ‘I teach them correct principles, and they govern themselves.'”
(Dallin H. Oaks, Ensign, June 2006)

The result though of living in such a way results in the following, in verse 45:

45 “That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.”

The next two verses I see as a rebuke for those who don’t live this way. The Saviour said:

46 and 47 “For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so?”

If we’re only kind to those who love us what reward should we expect? Well, I’m not sure we do such things out of expecting a reward, either a reward now or in the eternities.

President Marion G Romney in 1984, but then published again in 2009 said: “Service is not something we endure on this earth so we can earn the right to live in the celestial kingdom. Service is the very fiber of which an exalted life in the celestial kingdom is made.”

We cannot limit our service or love to our families, our Ward, to members of the LDS Church. We must reach out to all.

Then we come to that perfection verse!!

48 “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect”

“Be ye therefore” – therefore links what has been spoken before to what comes next. “Be ye therefore perfect”, because you have done what I’ve just said. Tyndale’s 1529 translation words it this way: “ye shall therefore be perfect”.  This perfection spoken of, is not an injunction to do something. It is describing a result of us being something.

As we love we shall be perfect, remember – whole or complete – as you do what I – the Saviour – just said. Again, it is the love we have that makes us whole or complete.

Often in the Church we have myriads of tick box like activities that we can do:

Daily Scripture study
Daily prayer.
Weekly Family Home Evening
Keeping the Word of Wisdom in not smoking, not drinking alcohol, or tea or coffee
Researching our family history
Getting a Temple recommend and attending the temple
Doing a 100% home or visiting teaching
Attending various meetings

Such a list could go on and on and on, but we don’t have the time for that.

President Uchtdorf recounted an experience of a friend of his, that relates to such a list:
“An acquaintance of mine used to live in a ward with some of the highest statistics in the Church—attendance was high, home teaching numbers were high, Primary children were always well behaved, ward dinners included fantastic food that members rarely spilled on the meetinghouse floor, and I think there were never any arguments at Church ball.
My friend and his wife were subsequently called on a mission. When they returned three years later, this couple was astonished to learn that during the time they were away serving, 11 marriages had ended in divorce.
Although the ward had every outward indication of faithfulness and strength, something unfortunate was happening in the hearts and lives of the members. And the troubling thing is that this situation is not unique. Such terrible and often unnecessary things happen when members of the Church become disengaged from gospel principles. They may appear on the outside to be disciples of Jesus Christ, but on the inside their hearts have separated from their Savior and His teachings. They have gradually turned away from the things of the Spirit and moved toward the things of the world.
Once-worthy priesthood holders start to tell themselves that the Church is a good thing for women and children but not for them. Or some are convinced that their busy schedules or unique circumstances make them exempt from the daily acts of devotion and service that would keep them close to the Spirit. In this age of self-justification and narcissism, it is easy to become quite creative at coming up with excuses for not regularly approaching God in prayer, procrastinating the study of the scriptures, avoiding Church meetings and family home evenings, or not paying an honest tithe and offerings.
My dear brethren, will you please look inside your hearts and ask the simple question: “Lord, is it I?”
Have you disengaged—even slightly—from “the … gospel of the blessed God, which was committed to [your] trust”?6 Have you allowed “the god of this world” to darken your minds to “the light of the glorious gospel of Christ”?7
My beloved friends, my dear brethren, ask yourselves, “Where is my treasure?”
Is your heart set on the convenient things of this world, or is it focused on the teachings of the diligent Jesus Christ? “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”8
Does the Spirit of God dwell in your hearts? Are you “rooted and grounded” in the love of God and of your fellowmen? Do you devote sufficient time and creativity to bringing happiness to your marriage and family? Do you give your energies to the sublime goal of comprehending and living “the breadth, and length, and depth, and height”9 of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ?
Brethren, if it is your great desire to cultivate Christlike attributes of “faith, virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, brotherly kindness, godliness, charity, humility, [and service],”10 Heavenly Father will make you an instrument in His hands unto the salvation of many souls.11″

Am I saying such things are not important? No, of course not. They are good things, important things, things that bring blessing to ourselves and others. I’m hoping the message is similar to what the Saviour said, when speaking to the Pharisees:

Luke 11:42 “But woe unto you, Pharisees! for ye tithe mint and rue and all manner of herbs, and pass over judgment and the love of God: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.”

What I am saying is don’t get too stressed about the minutia of the Church. Particularly don’t get caught up in the church culture that certain things are expected. Because a lot of time it is the traditions of men in the church that need forgetting. Love must be supreme in all we do. Forgiveness is part of that love.

My hope is for the Ward to be a place of full inclusion.

Sometimes, members of the Church, it seems, feel as if loving someone gives them the responsibility to tell others what to do or perhaps more accurately what not to do. For example, using the list just cited, a brother or sister may visit someone and say “you know sister or brother Smith, you really should stop smoking.” Does that really help? If anyone is not doing something right, they invariably know that already. They don;t need to be told. Perhaps they need to be offered help, but even that can hurt.

The aim of all Stakes and Wards I would assume is to become a place of Zion. That is why we sometimes get very enthusiastic about having everyone do everything that we feel is right. “Brother so and so or sister so and so is not ….” and here we can put anything from the list I gave above and/or add a multitude of other things. But, you might say, didn’t the prophet just say something in General conference about doing x, y or z? Probably he did. Maybe though, we should take on board what President Uchtdorf said in the Priesthood session of Conference. As a side note, I’m not sure why we have separate priesthood and sister meetings anymore. Isn’t most, if not all, that is said in each applicable to both male and female? Anyway, President Uchtdorf said the following:

“It was our beloved Savior’s final night in mortality, the evening before He would offer Himself a ransom for all mankind. As He broke bread with His disciples, He said something that must have filled their hearts with great alarm and deep sadness. “One of you shall betray me,” He told them.
The disciples didn’t question the truth of what He said. Nor did they look around, point to someone else, and ask, “Is it him?”
Instead, “they were exceeding sorrowful, and began every one of them to say unto him, Lord, is it I?”1
I wonder what each of us would do if we were asked that question by the Savior. Would we look at those around us and say in our hearts, “He’s probably talking about Brother Johnson. I’ve always wondered about him,” or “I’m glad Brother Brown is here. He really needs to hear this message”? Or would we, like those disciples of old, look inward and ask that penetrating question: “Is it I?”
In these simple words, “Lord, is it I?” lies the beginning of wisdom and the pathway to personal conversion and lasting change.”

I really don’t believe that Zion is all about keeping the individual commandments. As we are all sinners, in a very real and literal sense, under the definition in Moses 7:18 where “the Lord called his people Zion, because they were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness; and there was no poor among them.” if we take “dwelt in righteousness” as being how good we all are in keeping the commandments, are we not thus doomed to failure in building Zion?

Zion in the way I see it, is in having love for each other and ourselves. It is a place of diversity where everyone feels accepted and fully loved regardless of who they are. My hope for the ward is a place of inclusion. Sue Berlin, a recently called relief society president, at the conclusion of a lesson she taught, summarised my feelings, as she said:

“I don’t care if you smoke! Drink, abuse substances, are unchaste, wear pants (trousers) to church, hate relief society, don’t sustain church leaders, don’t have a testimony, wear tank tops, don’t know if you believe Joseph Smith was a prophet, have had an abortion, don’t love your husband, don’t like being a mother, think women should have the priesthood, are gay or lesbian or transgender, don’t know if you believe in God, don’t relate to Jesus Christ, don’t want to go to the temple, wonder about polygamy – you belong here. We need you and you need us.”

She “said this in the context of women supporting one another as we try to receive Christ in our lives and let Him heal us. We talked about building a ward relief society that is a ‘No Judgement Zone’ and a ‘Safe Zone’.”

We will become a Zion Ward when, both literally and figuratively, we can put our arms around someone and say “I’m glad you’re here. Thank you for being part of Bracknell Ward” and when they reply, “but I smoke, I drink, I’m unchaste, I don’t have a testimony, I don’t believe Joseph Smith is a prophet, I had an abortion, I don’t read the scriptures or pray every day – in fact I hardly pray at all, I’m gay, I’m lesbian, I’m transgender, I’m bisexual” or anything else we might feel not quite in line with how we see the world or the church, if we can truthfully say in reply “That’s okay. I love you and am glad you’re here”, then I think we will be approaching Zion.

We love each other not in spite of who are we but because of who we are. I hope we can love each other not in spite of the things we see in each other that we may not appreciate, but that we can love each other because of them.

If we fully love each other, then if any change is supposed to come, it will come from within an individual. If needed, they will then ask us for help in making any changes. Change made from within will be more significant and lasting than if coming from feeling they have been judged as lacking. Making a change just to be accepted is not the right reason.

Let us become whole or complete as we love unconditionally.

Let us forgive each other when this does not happen. And it won’t happen everyday. As an example, as much as I love everyone here I mess up. Sometimes spectacularly. No doubt, I’ve offended some people here. Let us forgive each other our mistakes and sins and try a little harder to love unconditionally that we may become “the children of [our] Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust” and closer to becoming whole and complete.

This is what the atonement of Christ is about. Helping us to love as He and our heavenly Parents love us.

In  the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

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2 responses to “Sacrament talk on love

  1. Ray Summer 27 October, 2014 at 08:48

    Amen. Well said, brother.

    I’m not in the slightest organisedly religious, but I see no difference between this and the fundamentals of Carl Rogers’ writings (which feature amongst my personal ‘articles of faith’).

    Thanks for sharing it beyond the LDS network.

    Ray

    On 26 October 2014 17:54, As It Is or As I Am – experiences of an LDS

    • Neil 29 October, 2014 at 10:04

      Hi Ray, I can relate to your comments about Carl Rogers’ writings. When I first started looking into counselling training years ago, the first certificate course turned out to be psychodynamic. It just didn’t sit right with me. I’m not saying it doesn’t work for others, as it obviously does. But for me it felt so, almost judgemental. Now that is probably a reflection of me, rather than that mode of counselling. Anyway, one of the tutors mentioned Carl Rogers and person-centred counselling. Wow, it was so different and for me liberating. I’ve embraced the practice in most aspects, if not all, of life. For me it also fits very much into living Christ-like. Others, I know, don’t agree with that thought 😕

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