[Unabridged version of a sacrament meeting talk delivered 11 October 2020 in the Melton Lake Ward of the Knoxville Cumberland Stake.]
And now, if God, who has created you, on whom you are dependent for your lives and for all that ye have and are, doth grant unto you whatsoever ye ask that is right, in faith, believing that ye shall receive, O then, how ye ought to impart of the substance that ye have one to another. (Mosiah 4:21)
So spoke king Benjamin, as his people were filled with joy and peace of conscience upon receiving a remission of their sins. This great blessing came to them “because of the exceeding faith which they had in Jesus Christ who should come, according to the words which king Benjamin had spoken unto them” (Mosiah 4:3). In this moment of their own personal joy of reconciliation with God, Benjamin was quick to point out the natural sequel: their own hearts being filled to overflowing with the love of God, it could not help but overflow to those around them. From those closest to them — their own families — to those most estranged from their society — the beggar — the desire of their hearts would be, ought to be, to “administer to their relief, both spiritually and temporally, according to their wants” — that is, according to that which they lack, which is worthy, and which they justly desire to receive (Mosiah 4:13–26).
Brothers and sisters, the COVID-19 pandemic has been a reminder of the extent to which, in Benjamin’s words, we “are dependent [on God] for [our] lives and for all that [we] have and are” (Mosiah 4:21). Earlier in Benjamin’s address, in establishing the foundation for the covenant he wanted his people to make or renew, he described the nature of our relationship
…to that God who has created you, and has kept and preserved you…
…who has created you from the beginning, and is preserving you from day to day, by lending you breath, that ye may live and move and do according to your own will, and even supporting you from one moment to another. (Mosiah 2:20–21)
As we face a potentially lethal respiratory disease, how vivid is Benjamin’s description of God “lending you breath, … and even supporting you from one moment to another”! Recalling the restrictions of quarantines and lockdowns, how apt is his recognition that it is the Lord who grants that “that ye may live and move and do according to your own will”!
From time to time in recent years, as I have watched our daughters grow up and begin to leave home, I have wondered what sorts of challenges they might face in the future, what kinds of crises, upheavals, disasters, and tribulations might arise that would severely stress their individual lives and society as a whole. In my mind I always imagined such episodes happening decades in the future. I remember saying to Patriarch Dahl one Sunday last year, as we discussed the Church’s recent focus on home-centered worship, that who knows, the time might even come, someday, in some distant benighted country, where it might not even be possible to have normal Church meetings!
Little did I know that such would be the case, not decades in the future, but within a year or so; not under some far-flung authoritative regime, but in our own land of the free and home of the brave. Even President Russell M. Nelson, in his opening remarks in general conference in April, said “little did I know” regarding the circumstances that would soon engulf us (“Opening Message,” April 2020).
Of course, we ought not be surprised at our surprise. As Jesus said,
But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father. (Mark 13:32)
Or as Paul reminded the Thessalonians,
For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night. For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape. (1 Thessalonians 5:2–3)
If this is true of Jesus’ Second Coming, we see now that it is also true of the waves of global convulsions that will precede His coming. Paul continued — and it has been true of us as a people —
But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief. Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness. (1 Thessalonians 5:4–5)
While President Nelson indicated that he had not known the specifics or timing of the pandemic, it is clear that the Lord did not leave His prophets, or us, in darkness. The day did not overtake us as a thief in the night.
Last weekend in General Conference, Elder Uchtdorf acknowledged that much about the virus remains unknown.
“But if there is one thing I do know,” he said, “This virus did not catch Heavenly Father by surprise… God has prepared his children and his Church for this time.” (“God Will Do Something Unimaginable,” October 2020)
We can all list a number of ways in which we, as a Church and as a people, have been prophetically prepared for times such as these, in which our activities, worship services, and temple work were not possible for a time — and remain modified and restricted. One of the sections of Elder Uchtdorf’s talk was entitled “We Thank Thee, O God, for a Prophet.” He listed four ways we have been prophetically prepared:
- The sacrament was reemphasized as center of our Sabbath worship.
- Come, Follow Me was provided as a home-centered, Church-supported tool to strengthen individuals and families.
- We began a higher and holier way of ministering to all.
- The use of technology in sharing the gospel and doing the Lord’s work has spread throughout the Church. (“God Will Do Something Unimaginable,” October 2020) [Note for example that smart devices only recently had been put into the hands of missionaries, by which they now do so much of their work.]
Like you, I have had sacred experiences in connection with each of these prophetic preparations and adjustments.
On 15 March 2020, I was overcome as I knelt to participate in the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper for the first time in our home, as our family witnessed together that we would always remember Jesus Christ and keep His commandments. (Not very convenient to be overcome when one is called upon to act as voice!) Earlier that week the First Presidency had suspended all meetings worldwide, and our local leaders had temporarily approved formal home worship including administration of the Sacrament. Then, about three months later, 21 June 2020, I was again overcome, this time as we arrived here at our ward building to partake of the Sacrament once again with fellow Saints in our chapel. (Not very convenient to be overcome while wearing a mask!) In both cases I was surprised by the sudden intensity of the Spirit with which I was overtaken.
The Come Follow Me program has been a wonderful opportunity to study the scriptures on a scheduled basis, with discussion daily or weekly. As a family we had long read the Book of Mormon a few verses at a time, taking many years to make it through from beginning to end. But from my perspective at least, something new was unlocked with Come Follow Me. In the past, bearing testimony of the Savior or sermonizing at home would have felt formal and awkward and unnatural to me. But somehow this changed with Come Follow Me. It became a license and an occasion to teach and testify at home in a way that felt expected and natural. I continued to be surprised at the discernible Spirit that descended, week after week, seemingly without fail, as I shared thoughts and feelings in our family. I don’t fully know what the rest of my family has experienced, but for me it became clear how important these kinds of interactions with our families are to the Lord, because I have felt His power on a continuing and consistent basis supporting and accompanying my words in our home.
With a year or so of practice at this, how natural it was to simply continue without skipping a beat when the isolation of the pandemic arrived. I have been reminded of the words of Nephi:
“I beheld the church of the Lamb of God, and its numbers were few… And… the power of the Lamb of God… descended upon the saints of the church of the Lamb, and upon the covenant people of the Lord, who were scattered upon all the face of the earth; and they were armed with righteousness and with the power of God in great glory.” (1 Nephi 14:12–14)
The Saints, and eventually all of humanity as the universal family of God, are meant to be gathered — if and when they allow themselves to be so gathered — with a power that is nearly invisible by worldly metrics and yet indelibly tangible to those who partake thereof (Matthew 23:37; 3 Nephi 10:4–6; D&C 38). And one of the manifestations of this broader gathering is that in the places where and episodes when conditions require temporary isolation, for prepared Saints it will remain true that
“where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” (Matthew 18:20)
Those are some of my experiences with the first two of Elder Uchtdorf’s bullet points on how we have been prophetically prepared — an emphasis on the Sabbath day and the Sacrament, and the Come Follow Me program. These first two points prepared us for wonderful opportunities in home-centered, Church-supported worship even during this year of COVID-19. As such, they are somewhat inward-looking.
In contrast to these inward-looking first two items, the last two items on Elder Uchtdorf’s list of prophetic preparations are more outward-looking: a higher and holier way of ministering, and the use of technology in sharing the gospel and doing the Lord’s work. If his first two bullet points relate to the first great commandment — our love of God, as individuals and families — his second two bullet points pertain to the second great commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves.
Brothers and sisters, I confess that I have been a bit slow on the uptake when it comes to these second two bullet points, especially during the pandemic. I have been so focused on the spiritual blessings of home-centered worship, that I tend to forget that these blessings are not to be hoarded all for myself or for my family. I tend to think that if I don’t have to show up and see my brothers and sisters at Church, or if I am not allowed to see friends and neighbors out in the world, I don’t have to “show up” for them in any sense. It can be easy to bask in the glow of spiritual security at home with our families. But we need to remember that not everyone’s situation at home is like this, and that many feel isolated — either without family, or with family circumstances less conducive to spiritual peace. At times I have felt so blessed in the spiritual cocoon of our home, that it is easy to give in to the introverted side of my personality and take a spiritual vacation from extending myself to others.
But I do not believe this is what the Lord intends. Does he want to bless us as individuals and families? Yes, of course! Does he want us to keep those blessings to ourselves? No, I don’t think so.
This is why King Benjamin’s words impact me. For many of us in the midst of this pandemic,
God who has created you …has kept and preserved you, and has caused that ye should rejoice, and has granted that ye should live in peace one with another. (Mosiah 2:20)
We have been taught that through home-centered worship we could
always retain in remembrance, the greatness of God, …calling on the name of the Lord daily, and standing steadfastly in the faith of that which is to come…. And behold, I say unto you that if ye do this ye shall always rejoice, and be filled with the love of God. (Mosiah 4:11–12)
But then Benjamin teaches that the love of God leads to love for our neighbor.
O then, how ye ought to impart of the substance that ye have one to another. (Mosiah 4:21)
When we think of “substance,” what comes to mind most immediately are temporal things — food, clothing, shelter, medical care — the tangible necessities of physical life. And Jesus taught in no uncertain terms that loving our neighbor in these ways is what will separate the sheep from the goats (Matthew 25). It speaks well of the Saints that, as President Nelson reported, despite widespread unemployment and economic damage, fast offerings and contributions to the humanitarian fund have actually increased during the pandemic, apparently spontaneously, without any special emphasis from Church leaders (Elder Jaggi, “Let Patience Have Her Perfect Work, and Count It All Joy!”, October 2020). In general conference last weekend he noted that “the Church has provided pandemic humanitarian aid for 895 projects in 150 countries” (“Moving Forward,” October 2020).
In addition to this, Benjamin points beyond physical necessities:
ye should impart of your substance … both spiritually and temporally. (Mosiah 4:26)
In significant measure, Elder Uchtdorf’s second two bullet points describe the sharing of our “spiritual substance.” If we have been blessed with the peace that comes through the cleansing and transforming power of the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the natural desire that follows is to help others come unto Him as well. In moving to a higher and holier way of ministering, we have greater flexibility in the means and timing of contacts, but also a greater responsibility to discover and discern individuals’ needs and to be led by the Spirit to do for others what Jesus would do for them were He physically present among us. Both of these aspects are of course just what are needed in our current circumstances. And by using technology to share the gospel and do the Lord’s work, we can continue to magnify our callings even when the usual types of meetings and activities are altered or suspended. We can reach out, one by one, to the individuals and families who normally would be sitting here in the pews, and in the classes or the quorums in which our callings give us stewardship.
In general conference last week, President Nelson emphasized “places of security,” including both our homes and temples as important examples (“Places of Security”, October 2020). In pondering our responsibility to, on the one hand, make our homes “places of security” for ourselves and our families — and then, on the other hand, to reach beyond our comfortable safety — I like to keep in mind images of the pioneer era temples.
The St. George, Logan, Manti, and Salt Lake temples were all designed to look like fortresses or castles, with their towers and almost absurdly thick stone walls crenellated with battlements and parapets. The Salt Lake Temple, seen for example on the cover of Saints Volume 2, is the iconic example. This architecture reflects the nature of each temple as a place of security, a refuge from the world, a place where we are endowed with power from on high, a place where that which is sacred and holy is experienced in undisturbed safety and reverent purity.
And yet, as Latter-day Saints we do not remain cloistered in temples continuously, 24/7, week after week. Consider what Elder Bednar said about the temple this past April:
We do not come to the temple to hide from or escape the evils of the world. Rather, we come to the temple to conquer the world of evil. As we invite into our lives the “power of godliness” by receiving priesthood ordinances and making and keeping sacred covenants, we are blessed with strength beyond our own to overcome the temptations and challenges of mortality and to do and become good. (“Let This House Be Built unto My Name”, April 2020).
This outward, rather than inward, focus — this idea that we do not enter the temple to escape the world, but on the contrary to overcome the world — was present from the beginning of temple consciousness in this dispensation. Also last April, President Eyring discussed at some length how the purpose of gathering the Saints to Ohio to build the Kirtland Temple was not to withdraw from the world, but to provide them an endowment of power that would prepare them to go out into the world. The Twelve apostles would soon undertake two missions to England within five years of the dedication of the Kirtland Temple. But before this, they were told,
Remember you are not to go to other nations, till you receive your endowment. (“He Goes before Us”, April 2020)
In dedicating the Kirtland Temple, Joseph Smith prayed,
And we ask thee, Holy Father, that thy servants may go forth from this house armed with thy power, and that thy name may be upon them, and thy glory be round about them, and thine angels have charge over them;
And from this place they may bear exceedingly great and glorious tidings, in truth, unto the ends of the earth, that they may know that this is thy work, and that thou hast put forth thy hand, to fulfil that which thou hast spoken by the mouths of the prophets, concerning the last days. (D&C 109:22–23)
As President Eyring noted,
preparatory temple ordinances began to be introduced there, along with an outpouring of spiritual manifestations which armed those called on missions with the promised endowment of “power from on high” that led to a great gathering through missionary service…. between 7,500 and 8,000 were baptized during the two missions of the Twelve to the British Isles. (“He Goes before Us”, April 2020)
The 19th-century pioneer Saints understood their responsibility to go forth, as illustrated in a world map in the opening pages of Saints Volume 2. Following the prophet, Brigham Young, they found refuge from persecution in the valleys of the West. Under the prophet’s inspiration, they built their fortress temples and were endowed with power from on high. But they understood that this was not all: responding to the prophet’s call, practically before catching their breath, despite hardly being able to scrape a living from the desert, they undertook missions to the ends of the earth — Europe, Africa, Asia, South America, Australia, and numerous isles of the sea. The gospel didn’t take root in all these places immediately, though it has now, as described by Elder Gong in general conference this past weekend (“All Nations, Kindreds, and Tongues”, October 2020). But even back then, “By the end of the 19th century, some 90,000 had gathered to America” (President Eyring, “He Goes before Us”, April 2020).
So far, my own circumstances in the midst of COVID-19 have been peaceful. At times I am self-absorbed and complacent enough that picking up the phone, or responding to a Zoom invitation, or organizing a Zoom meeting, or fulfilling an assignment, or praying for an errand from the Lord, seem inconvenient, a step too far out of my comfort zone. We do need to do things in wisdom and order, not running faster than we have strength, as King Benjamin also warns; yet we are to be diligent (Mosiah 4:27). When I catch myself feeling self-centered, I try to remember these images of both 19th-century fortress temples and a world map dotted with the travels and travails of faithful Saints radiating from those temples.
We have seen that in unusual circumstances buildings can be closed and meetings and activities can be suspended. But brothers and sisters, the heavens are never closed, and our covenants are never suspended. Those covenants include sacrifice and consecration. They include
[a willingness] to come into the fold of God, and to be called his people… to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light… to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, [pandemics not excepted!], (Mosiah 18:8–9)
as taught to an ancient church founded by Alma.
Having their hearts knit together in unity and in love one towards another… [they did] gather themselves together to teach the people, and to worship the Lord their God, and also, as often as it was in their power, to assemble themselves together. [And with the means of communication the Lord has provided today, it remains in our power to assemble ourselves together.] (Mosiah 18:21,25)
The basics of the gospel being consistent, even if circumstances differ, Alma taught his people along the same lines as King Benjamin.
And again Alma commanded that the people of the church should impart of their substance, every one according to that which he had… of their own free will and good desires towards God… imparting to one another both temporally and spiritually according to their needs and their wants. (Mosiah 18:27–29)
In his general conference talk, Elder Uchtdorf acknowledged that
At first it may have seemed that a worldwide pandemic would be a roadblock to the Lord’s work.… [But] This is the Lord’s work. He invites us to find His ways of doing it, and they may differ from our past experiences….
[While life in a pandemic] might feel like flying in a holding pattern, waiting for the fog to lift so we can land safely[,] The Lord’s purposes for us are much higher than that. Because this is the Church of the living Christ, and because He directs His prophets, we are moving forward and upward to places we’ve never been, to heights we can hardly imagine! (“God Will Do Something Unimaginable”, October 2020)
That we may find the peace the Lord offers in our places of security, and also be willing to impart of the substance He so freely gives, both temporal and spiritual, is my prayer in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.