Saturday, January 17, 2015

My Sacrament Meeting Talk Last Sunday: How Our Understanding of the Godhead Ought to Influence Our Actions

My wife and I were asked to speak about "The Godhead" today. The following is the general outline of my talk:

1) Human understanding of God has evolved throughout time. From our scriptures and Mormon theology, this includes:

a) In the pre-existence, GOD was the Father of all spirits ("Elohim", which is plural, so I included a Heavenly Mother), with Jehovah as a chosen representative.
b) In the Garden of Eden, GOD was the Father of all humans (Adam and Eve, whose names mean man and woman/mother).
c) By the time of Abraham, Issac and Jacob, God was seen as one of many competing, tribal, regional Gods.
d) When Jacob experienced God in his travel outside his homeland, he expressed surprise that God was not bound by geography - but the God of Israel still was "our God", not "their God" or the God of all humanity.
e) At the time of Jesus, that had not changed, with the Israelites tracing their chosen status to Abraham, Issac and Jacob and with a warrior God who would avenge their long oppression.
f) Jesus reintroduced the concept of a Father God, working through a Representative Son, whose primary characteristic was love. Jesus taught:

A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another. (John 13:34-35)

This focused on loving each other, and the use of the word "as" means "like; in the same way; following the same pattern".

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; 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. For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? (Matthew 5:43-46

Here, Jesus focused on the other extreme - those who actively do things that make them enemies. He also says explicitly that God blesses even those at the other extreme. What is left unaddressed in these two passages so far is the HUGE majority of people who are neither "us" nor "the enemy".

Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples. (John 15:8)

This verse also was spoken within the context of love. I told everyone I would return to that concept later.

g) Jesus then commanded his disciples to take the Gospel message outside of Judaism, and Paul's ministry began to extend the chosen people status to others. However, in a very real way, God still was limited, in that God still was seen as "our God" and not as the God of "others".
h) Over the centuries, the concept of a Heavenly Father as distinct from a Representative Son began once again to disappear within a large section of Christianity. Many essentially eliminated the Father completely - both through official theology and through removing Him from the process of prayer (praying to Jesus, in Jesus' name, for example).
h) Perhaps the most basic aspect of the Restoration through Joseph Smith was the re-emphasis on God, the Father, and God, the Representative Son, as distinctly individual Beings - and the reassertion that God is the Father and God of all who desires to save and exalt all of His children. The most distinct aspect of this is our temple theology, through which we perform ordinances for any and all who have lived. We focus first on our own ancestors, but we also do the work for those about whom we know NOTHING - and that is critical to the purity of our teaching. We don't pick and choose who receives vicarious ordinances, based on any criteria; we do the work for ALL, since ALL are equally loved by God, our universal Father.

I then went back to the idea of being disciples of Jesus. I defined "disciple" as "pupil; learner" and then added "follower" as one who applies what is learned and acts accordingly. I talked about "following" being an action verb and that following Jesus when he lived would have meant, literally, walking with him and helping him do what he did.

If that is the case, what did he do?

He preached to people, but we have ONE reference to that happening in a synagogue. We don't know if he attended synagogue regularly, since we don't have a day-by-day accounting of his ministry, but we only have one reference to that. What we have are some references to teaching and a LOT of references to serving and helping and healing - of actively ministering to people.

To whom did he minister? Whom did he love in action and not just in word?

Those who were rejected, marginalized, scorned, outcast, ridiculed, etc. by the religious people of that time: publicans (the tax collectors), sinners (those whose sins were seen as particularly heinous), lepers (the disgustingly sick), Samaritans (the unclean, heathen extended family members), etc.

If, as Pres. Uchtdorf said in "His Hands", we are supposed to be the hands of Jesus to those around us, whom would He be serving if He lived among us now? Whom are WE, as the religious people of our own time, rejecting, marginalizing, scorning, ridiculing and excluding from our fellowship?

Perhaps the list would include, those who drink too much, those who smoke cigarettes or use illegal drugs, homosexuals, those on welfare, illegal immigrants, unwed teenage mothers, etc.

I love our ward, but I look around and see that we are a fairly homogenous group - and that leads me to self-reflection. 
I have lots of friends who drink and smoke, but do I use that as a reason not to invite them to church - especially if they do so to excess? I have lots of gay friends, but do I not invite them to worship with me out of fear that they won't be accepted and loved? Whom do I instinctively avoid - and can I see myself seeking them out, serving them in a way that shows a real love for them?

Elder Wirthlin said in "Concern for the One" that many people stop coming to church because they are different. Am I contributing to their departure? I know there are members of record in our ward who drink and smoke, and I know there are gay members of our ward. Are they not among us because they feel like they will not be accepted and loved due to those things?

Pres. Uchtdorf said in "Stop It", "Don't judge me because I sin differently than you do." All of us sin and come short of the glory of God; all of us must rely on God's love and the grace of Christ to be saved. 
Am I judging others who are living as being too different to love - unlike those for whom I am willing to do temple work? If I can go through the temple for someone regardless of what they did in this life, why can't I take that same approach for those who are living? Why can't I love them in the same way - and honor and accept them simply because they are a child of Heavenly Parents just like I am, despite both subtle and obvious differences?

Mormon theology states, as a central concept, that our purpose in life is to become like our Heavenly Parents. If that is our belief - and if we really believe it, we need to participate to the greatest extent possible in the ministry of God, the Representative Son, and gain a deep conviction that our own congregation should reflect more comprehensively our community and the world. We should love and serve and fellowship those whom we would avoid naturally - and that love should be motivated solely for a love of all of our spiritual brothers and sisters.

I closed my talk by asking each person in the congregation to ask himself and herself to identify one group of people whom s/he naturally avoids and to find a way to get to know those people better, to serve them unconditionally, to love them AS Jesus loved others. I bore testimony of the transformative power of that effort.


Jeff said...

Amen Papa! I have thought a lot of the same thoughts over the past few years as I have come to know many people of varying backgrounds mostly through college. It is definitely something that has changed my outlook on how we, as Christians or of any faith really, need to act towards those around us. Love you and keep saying things from my brain but with far better words than I could muster. : )

ji said...

I think Latter-day Saints are wonderful people generally -- even those in a "homogenous" ward. What we need more if, it seems to me, is for individuals who see a need for something different to do it -- we need more action and less talking. Here, I'm talking and could benefit from my own counsel. I tend to prefer sacrament meeting talks that emphasize the "I" of the speaker ("I" need to ___) rather than the "you" of the congregation ("you" need to ___). Or "I" have learned ___ rather than "we" believe ___.

I hope your talk was received well, in the spirit you no doubt intended it, rather than as another lecture on how ward members aren't doing enough and aren't measuring up. I'm supposing they're good people, good Christians, and good Latter-day Saints.

Papa D said...

You are correct, ji - both about LDS members, generally, and my ward, specifically. I really do love our ward and feel blessed to be part of it.

There was nothing in the talk or the tone that indicated chastisement for not doing enough or not measuring up. I almost can guarantee nobody took it that way, and I make very, very few guarantees.

ji said...


Angie said...

Thank you for sharing. I love your message of open charity for all. By the way, I really love your blog

Richard Alger said...