Monday, August 13, 2012

Be kind, and be grateful that God is kind

This was a talk I gave on 12-August-2012 on the subject above in the LDS/Mormon ward where I attend.

By way of background, the talk was intended to be derived from Elder Jeffrey Holland’s April 2012 Conference Address, Laborers in the Vineyard. The theme of the meeting was from the address: "Be Kind, and be grateful that God is kind". My daughter spoke immediately prior to me.

You've just listened to our youngest of five daughters, each of which is absolutely unique and wonderful. Because each of our children is different, it's a wonder that we don't have favorites. We really don't -- we love each one of our children equally and hopefully unconditionally. Or at least we try. And it occurs to me that this idea of our Heavenly Father treating us kindly and lovingly, and in fact equally according to our individual needs, is exactly what Elder Holland is trying to say with the parable of the laborers of the field.

To summarize the parable, I will quote from Elder Holland's talk:
I wish to speak of the Savior’s parable in which a householder "went out early in the morning to hire labourers." After employing the first group at 6:00 in the morning, he returned at 9:00 a.m., at 12:00 noon, and at 3:00 in the afternoon, hiring more workers as the urgency of the harvest increased. The scripture says he came back a final time, "about the eleventh hour" (approximately 5:00 p.m.), and hired a concluding number. Then just an hour later, all the workers gathered to receive their day’s wage. Surprisingly, all received the same wage in spite of the different hours of labor. Immediately, those hired first were angry, saying, "These last have wrought but one hour, and thou hast made them equal unto us, which have borne the burden and heat of the day."1 When reading this parable, perhaps you, as well as those workers, have felt there was an injustice being done here.
Then Elder Holland speaks to this concern, dividing his talk into three sections:
  1. God's love and mercy is given to all. Some people complained, and others benefitted, but all received "One measure" of pay. They were all 'one'.
  2. He then relates the parable from the point of view of the first laborers: that we shouldn't be embittered or angry over past things where things didn't seem fair, then
  3. He relates the parable to all of us, regardless of the hour of day, that it's never too late to come and receive the blessings of the Lord.
So, coming back to the first part of the parable: It's really about not second guessing. I would like you put yourselves into the place of these workers. Here we are -- working the program, but it's just not going according to plan. We can see, clearly, that there isn't enough help to get the job done. We have a choice, to work harder, to complain, or to recognize that we need help.

How does this relate to our lives? When we're working and doing what needs to be done, and it isn't according to plan, do we (a) just work harder, (b) complain, or (c) ask for help? we don't know exactly what happened here, but what ended up happening is that the workers got more help -- all the way through the day until the end.

How merciful was the owner of the vinyard -- instead of forcing us to work harder, he provided help for us. How much smarter that is than either shutting up and working harder, and burning ourselves out, or complaining and getting negative.

Then at the end, everyone got paid the same. Elder Holland points out that this was according to contract, and thank heaven's it was for all those who worked so hard, regardless of the hour they got engaged.

The reality was that the Householder was merciful and kind, but it's easy to see that the Householder may not have been the best planner. Should he have had all the laborers and sufficient help at the beginning? wouldn't that have been more fair? I mean, after all, the Lord (the Householder) is perfect, right? And his plans therefore should be perfect, and that means everything should have worked smoothely, or maybe this isn't the right plan?

How many of us expect, in the service of the Lord, that the program of the church is perfect? How many of us, in finding out that someone made a mistake, are quick to judge and second guess the program?

Which program are we following? What's the plan?

We have the answer to that in the restored gospel. Before we were born, two plans were presented. One was the plan of perfection and flawlessness, the other was a messy plan: we would make mistakes, learn from experience, and have a savior to bail us out of the mistakes we make. Hmm. How does this put into perspective what the meaning of life is?

Let me give you a concrete example from the story of Adam and Eve. As they left the garden, God gave them commandments, that they
  1. should worship (which means "Love") the Lord their God, and
  2. should offer the firstlings of their flocks, for an offering unto the Lord.
Now here's what the scripture says, without elaboration:
And Adam was obedient unto the commandments of the Lord.
Moses 5:5
He had no idea why he should give the first and best his flocks to the Lord. He just did it.
After many days an angel of the Lord appeared unto Adam, saying: Why dost thou offer sacrifices unto the Lord? And Adam said unto him: I know not, save the Lord commanded me.
And then the angel spake, saying: This thing is a similitude of the sacrifice of the Only Begotten of the Father, which is full of grace and truth.Wherefore, thou shalt do all that thou doest in the name of the Son, and thou shalt repent and call upon God in the name of the Son forevermore.
Moses 5:6-8
Notice that at the beginning Adam had no idea why he was sacrificing. Not only that, he didn't try to make up a reason. He obeyed because the Lord told him so. But importantly, there was a reason, and that reason was very much a part of the plan of salvation.

Adam's attitude is very instructive. He obeys, he doesn't make stuff up. He doesn't judge the Lord and wonder why it doesn't seem fair. Later in moses, Adam does ask questions, and wonders why, but he doesn't doubt. He has faith, without knowledge. And that power of faith without knowledge allows him to act in the name of the Lord and be sanctified.

So how does this relate to the parable? Instead of thinking that everything must be perfect when the Lord is involved, we need to be thinking about how we are hear to learn from our own experience... and THAT will involve something other than flawless execution most of the time.

The lord's standard of perfection is different than ours. We read in Matthew 5:48, "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your father in heaven is perfect", and sometimes we think, we need to do that of ourselves. But I would ask you "What is the 'therefore' there, for"? If we look back just a couple of verses, we read the following
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.
Matthew 5:44-45
In other words, be grateful that god is kind TO ALL of his children, notice here that Jesus is comparing how the sun and the rain provide equal sustenance to all. God is complete in his grace, to give us all sunshine and rain -- god, and he uses the term 'Father' here -- loves us equally and unconditionally -- as any father would his child.

So now let's return to verse 48 where Jesus says, "Be ye THEREFORE perfect (or complete, impartial), even as (Notice this is a simile, a comparison to...) YOUR FATHER IN HEAVEN is perfect (in other words, complete, impartial, and not worried about who gets paid what).

Let me apply this to our daily walk in the church.

Because we have, perhaps, a distorted view of perfection, we think that the church of god must be without any flaws, that our leaders must be flawless, that the lord will never allow the prophet to lead us astray. We even get to the point that we think it's all or nothing. I've heard myself say that god has had his hand in every aspect of the church and kingdom from the beginning.

But having a perfectly flawless world or church organization is not God's plan of salvation for us. We learn line upon line and precept upon precept. Yes, there was a plan proposed in the premortal existence that provided for perfection -- as in flawlessness -- in everything. That wasn't the lord's plan. The Lord's plan was that we would come here to this life, make free choices, and learn from our own experience to distinguish good from evil. Such a plan of learning is messy -- people are going to make mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes.

We honor Joseph Smith, Brigham Young as prophets of god, and I testify that they absolutely were, and that we have a prophet today in Thomas S. Monson. Yet they were and are human. Does the fact that they are prophet exempt them from the plan of Salvation? Did they make mistakes? YES, YES they did. But in the main, this is the work and glory of god, and the restored gospel is true.

We honor the Martin and Willey handcart companies. The sacrifice of the pioneers was beyond measure, and each one of the survivors lived lives thanking god for the miracles that occurred along the way.

The reality was that the challenges they had were completely avoidable. Somebody made a lot of mistakes along the way, leaving too late from england, leaving too late from winter quarters -- huge mistakes. Levi Savage, one of the members of the company was extremely experienced in the trek westward, and he voiced his concerns, publicly, that they were going to have serious problems - even death and getting caught in weather.

But Levi was faithful in supporting his leaders even in their mistakes. He was even condemned for nay-saying, but to the end of his life, he remained faithful, never bitter, on supporting and defending the kingdom of god.

I could look at the situation of the Martin and Willey companies one of two ways: either it was god's plan to have them go late, or it was a mess-up and proves that our leaders are wrong.

The reality is that it's both and neither. Out of 800 people in the two handcart companies, over 200 died along the way and many were maimed with frostbite and the like. Yes, this was avoidable. Yes the leaders made a mistake. But as well, we honor these pioneers and each and every one of them honored the trek and their experience in seeing the loving hand of the lord guiding them along the way. Miracles happened each and every day.

Isn't there a huge paradox in this thing? It was not God's will to lose over 200 people, and had the leaders listened to Levi Savage, such loss would have been avoided. But they didn't. And on the other hand, the faith of the members in supporting their leaders and moving forward even in the adverse circumstances sanctified the mistakes, overcame huge difficulties. And in the end, the church and city of Zion is stronger because of the sacrifice of the pioneers.

Blessed, honored Pioneer.

We are on a trek today. We are pioneers at a unique point in our history. Until today, the Church has been that fringe that the gentile world readily dismissed. And, as a result, we've had a sort of siege mentality of the outside world versus our own, and we've more or less kept to ourselves.

No longer. We are in the world, visible, public, and under the greatest degree of scrutiny ever. Our foibles and history as members of the church are becoming readily available for everyone to see, and in so doing, people have uncovered some of the more "human" aspects of our church history and culture.

And I can guarantee you, that if you go out on the internet, if you even read official church history, you will find that our leaders have made mistakes large and small from the very beginning. And why should this be a surprise? Why should we allow the humanity of the lord's church and kingdom to shake our faith, faithfulness, and loyalty?

Recently, there was a prominent director in the Church Educational System who discovered some aspect of church history that he thought wasn't the way it should be. He and his wife allowed that to question the 'it's all true or it's all false' premise that sometimes we get. within months, he and his wife left the church, his job, everything, to pursue what he considered was 'intellectual integrity', and to be united as a family in this 'cause'. Now, a few months later, they are getting a divorce, and nothing in their life is going well.

In this case, they allowed the increased scrutiny of the world to affect their faith and faithfulness in the gospel and church. And instead of putting things into perspective, they jumped to the conclusion that it was 'all wrong'. In my impression, that is the great lie we hear today. we even say it to ourselves: expecting flawlessness to be the Way the lord works, and in fact that is the 'other guys' plan. And when we buy into 'false perfection' instead of 'perfect unity', we are on the wrong track.

To me, this isn't about that they made a wrong choice. It's about making a choice without proper regard to the whole truth and an enlightened understanding of the Lord's plan, the plan that involved messy humanity in all we deal with. Those who are stuck on the concept of perfect flawlessness will have problems in an imperfect world and church. "All true or all false" is not the Lord's plan. We must be able to deal with the necessary human failings in every institution with love, kindness, and an understanding that Heavenly Father forgives us our shortcomings.

This last thursday night, Jon Stewart invited Joanna Brooks, an LDS scholar who recently published a memoir called "Book of Mormon Girl" to his show. Joanna came of age during the 80s and 90s at a time when some of our more liberal scholars and members were pushing the envelope of feminism. She was 21 in September 1993, when some of her professors were excommunicated at BYU due to pushing that envelope too far. She became inactive and disaffected with the church.

Yet she returned and found a place and a way to be faithful in the community of saints. She is faithful, and loyal, even if some of her opinions are unorthodox. And as Jon Stewart, a comedian who loves to poke fun of religious people, he was completely impressed by her, and positively compared today's plight of mormonism with his own Jewish ancestry.

What a difference it makes to be authentic! What a difference it makes to be kind, and faithful! We don't belong to the church because it is perfectly flawless. We belong because to us, it is the Lord's church. We don't follow the plan of salvation because it will prevent us from making mistakes. We follow the plan of salvation, including making mistakes, because it is the Lord's plan.

Joanna Brooks makes a difference because she's authentic, positive, and real. She has learned from her own experience that it's not fruitful to let some problem in the past get in the way of enjoying the blessings of the gospel today.

That's why, in sense, Elder Holland is saying "beware of the dark side".

You know, Yoda's explaining of the force to Luke..... But beware of the dark side. Anger, fear, aggression; the dark side of the Force are they. Easily they flow, quick to join you in a fight. If once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny, consume you it will..."

There is much wisdom in Yoda's statement. Whenever you feel that some aspect in the church or your family, or anywhere you are is getting you to that dark place of anger, resentment, criticism, and dark emotions. It's time to stop. to realize that we are all different, that the Lord's plan is the one where we would learn together, and no matter what happens, if we've learned from an experience, we've executed god's plan.

Paul addressed this challenge in the church, where people would be fighting and frustrated with the differences between people and their roles. He called this "diversities of gifts", and encouraged us to recognize that as we exercise our gifts, testifying of jesus christ, none of us are accursed. He said,
"For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ."
1 Corinthians 12:12
How important it is to realize that as we approach Zion, we are to be of one heart and one mind. Jesus said to Joseph Smith, "I say unto you 'be one', and if you are not one, ye are not mine. (D&C 38:27) Being one, is not being the same, but rather of gifts differing, but of the same spirit.

And in teaching this, Paul went one step further, saying that above all this, there is a more excellent way. And that way is love.

I testify to you that god loves you. It is never too late to come to him. He says to us, as he did to the nephites in the darkness, "O Ye that are spared, will ye not now come unto me, repent of your sins, and be converted, THAT...I....MAY....HEAL....YOU!" (3 Nephi 9:13)

He stands at the door and waits, he is just and kind, and I am deeply grateful that he is kind, because without Him, I am nothing.

God lives, Jesus is the Christ, the Gospel is all truth necessary for us to be happy today, and supremely happy in that world to come.

1 comment:

  1. Beautiful. I'm sad that I missed Joanna's appearance on Thursday.