Oh yeah, it was Valentine's Day yesterday. "What did you do for Valentine's Day?" "I wrote a talk". Also I ate chocolate. So there's that.
I will start with Andrew's talk because he did a great job. Yes, he's only nine, so it was a little unusual to have him speak in Sacrament meeting, but he was fabulous! He sounded cool, calm, and confident. =)
Andrew's Talk on Love Thy Neighbour
Good Morning Brothers and Sisters. I have been asked to talk about Love Your Neighbour.
In Matthew 5:43-44, Jesus said, “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;”
This means that it is important to love your neighbour and your enemies.
Who is your neighbour? When someone asked Jesus this question, he answered by telling the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10.
“And Jesus answering said, A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead.
And by chance there came down a certain priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side.
And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side.
But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him,
And went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him.
And on the morrow when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the host, and said unto him, Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee.
Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves?
And he said, He that showed mercy on him. Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise.”
So how can we do likewise? What kind of things can we do to show we love our neighbour?
We can be kind. We can bring food or water if they're poor or don't have enough money to buy them. We can help shovel our neighbour's driveway. We can help bring in the shopping. We can help make blankets for those who are cold. We can welcome new people when they come to church.
I know that this church is true, and that we will be blessed if we help other people.
Pretty uplifting, eh? =)
Here's my talk. The topic was huge and a little overwhelming. After writing it I was worried it was boring, so I asked Bert to listen to it. He fell asleep. Nooooooo!!!!! =P I guess I got my answer.
I thought it would be amusing to count the number of sleeping people by the end of my talk. Six. =P Well, better than the entire congregation! However Everett Pallin (as well as many other members of his family including his wife, children, and their spouses. I love that family) who is just about the most awesome person I ever met told me that it was a good talk so YAY! =D
As a by-the-by, he randomly pulled out one of his own talks (before knowing what my topic was) just in case he was asked to speak at the last minute if I ran away and didn't turn up. The talk he selected from his collection? It was on the Sermon on the Mount. That man may be rather inspired... =)
So here's the talk. I'm sorry.
The Sermon on the Mount.
Good Morning, Brothers and Sisters. I have been asked to talk about the Sermon on the Mount, a terrifyingly huge topic. I hope and pray the Spirit will be with me as I talk, so that it may touch your hearts and minds with the things the Lord would have you know.
The Sermon on the Mount took place early in the Lord's ministry. It is recorded in Chapters 5, 6, and 7 in Matthew, and also in Luke 6. It is densely packed with doctrine. I could talk every Sunday for an entire year and still not give justice to the sublime message our Saviour delivered. In his message, he takes the teachings of the Old Testament and progresses them further along the path to perfection. He is fulfilling the old covenant, and teaching a new one.
While, to our eyes, his teachings appear gentle, kind, and right, at the time what was he was saying was absolutely radical and shocking. For example, in Matthew 5:41 he says,
“And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain.”
To put this in historical context, the Herodian dynasty was merged into the Roman Empire when Christ was around 6 years old. As a client kingdom the Jews had had quite a lot of autonomy. However, after becoming an official Roman Province, freedoms were restricted. The fiercely independent Jews hated the Romans. They had to do whatever a Roman said, and it galled them. For example, there was a practice called “impressment”, which allowed a Roman soldier to compel a Jew to carry his equipment for one Roman mile – that is, about 1,000 paces. As a Roman backpack could weigh 100 pounds or more this was not easy. Furthermore, it was a huge interruption in a person's life, and the Jews hated it.
And here is the Saviour, saying, “Hey, if someone makes you carry his stuff for a mile – go two miles.”
Wait, what? Here are these people oppressing us, restricting our religious freedoms, taking our children, beating us, abusing us, forcing us to carry things we can barely manage....and you want us to do WHAT now?”
Please take a moment to ponder on a wrong that has been done to you. We have all been wronged or hurt in some way. It is painful to remember. Perhaps you have been humiliated at school. Perhaps you have been discriminated against because of your race, gender, accent, or religion. Perhaps it has been overt, perhaps it has been secretive. Maybe think about a wrong done to someone you love – somehow that one makes me angrier.
And here's Christ saying, “Hey, how about you be nice to those people. Not only nice, but EXTRA nice.”
That takes a level of faith, hope, and trust in God that is unprecedented. To truly forgive, and to give up your anger and hurt, and be kind to those who have abused you takes great inner strength.
This was all pretty radical stuff. In Matthew 7:28 it states, “...the people were astonished at his doctrine.” Christ even seems to be reassuring those who are listening: “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill.”
Matthew chapter 5 begins with the Beatitudes:
“Blessed are the poor in Spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.
Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.
Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.
Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.
Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.”
It is clear in these verses, that the Saviour is teaching kindness, gentleness, long-suffering, and meekness. He acknowledges that in this life we have suffering and pain, and reassures us that if not in this life, then certainly in the one to come, we will be comforted and uplifted. He encourages us to not just do good, but to hunger and thirst after it. He encourages us to make doing good and being good one of the strongest desires of our hearts. He encourages us to be kind, and lets us know that what goes around comes around. If you are kind to others, it comes back to you. He encourages us to be patient if lies are spread about us, or if we are judged unrighteously, or even if we are persecuted. Be patient and trust in the Lord. Eventually, all will be well.
The injunction to bear with unrighteous judgement brings me to Matthew 7:1-5:
“Judge not, that ye be not judged.
For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.
And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?
Or wilt thou say to thy brother, let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye?
Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye.”
The interesting thing about that last verse is once you acknowledge the beam in your own eye, and work with diligence to remove it, when it is gone you are so much less likely to complain to your brother about his mote. In fact, once that beam is removed from your eye and you notice the mote in another's eye, the overwhelming feeling is one of compassion, and a desire to love and support.
Removing the metaphor from this teaching, what I mean to say is, once you have recognized you are sinning in a certain way, and strive with all diligence to repent and do it no more, you have no desire at all to condemn another for that same sin, because you feel empathy and compassion. You know how much it hurts to sin that way, and how difficult it is to repent of it. You feel more love for those around you, and wish to lift them, not complain or gossip about them.
To give you a real world story, when I was younger I seemed to know everything, and to my deep shame, judged. About ten years ago my daughter had a leader. It was one of my favourite stories to tell of this woman and the shocking things she did and said that I, in my wisdom, did not consider appropriate. It was shocking! I was shocked! How could she do those things? The Spirit would quietly tell me to stop talking about it. It took years, but I finally listened. I am now deeply ashamed and wish I could take back all the times I talked about her. I wish I could erase those words I said.
In the subsequent years I have felt judged by others in ways I considered deeply unfair and hurtful. Those people do not know my life. They have not experienced the things I have experienced. They do not see the thoughts, intents, and desires of my heart. They have not seen my struggles. The judgement I judged and the measure I meted came back to me.
In Matthew 7:12, the Lord says, “Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.”
I invite you to think back to a time where you felt someone was judging you. Remember how it felt. It was awful, wasn't it? It was painful and unfair. If ever you look at a person, at what they have done or what they have said, or if you have opinions on the way people's children are acting, or on the decisions others make, and you look at them and think things like, “What the heck?! What is that person doing?!” I invite you to listen to the still small voice, and to President Uchtdorf's words - “Stop it!” Remember how it felt when you were judged. Remember that horrible feeling, and do not inflict it on others.
I do not speak, of course, of the righteous judgements those in authority must make, but of those unrighteous judgements we make. The ones in which we look down on others and disparage them. The ones that make us, in our secret hearts, feel superior in some way. “That person is doing this awful thing and I'm not therefore I'm better.” Life is not about feeling superior to other people. Life is not a fight where we must beat everyone else up in order to come out the victor. We are the victor when we love, lift, help, and serve others. We are the victor when we suppress our desires to feel better than everyone else, and when we are kind to others rather than judging them and putting them down, even in our own minds.
Matthew 5:43-48 says:
“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?
And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? Do not even the publicans so?
Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.”
In this passage, Christ teaches us to be patient with our afflictions. He reminds us that our Father in Heaven loves all His children, so should we not do the same? Christ points out that it's easy to be kind and loving to those who are kind and loving to us. However, we are taught to love those who are mean to us, and who hate us and abuse us. The scripture ends with this terrifying injunction: “Be ye therefore perfect.” Be perfect? How can we possibly be perfect when we are so flawed and sin so easily?
Elder Joseph B.Wirthlin said, “In both his old and new world ministries, the Saviour commanded, "Be ye therefore perfect". A footnote explains that the Greek word translated as perfect means "complete, finished, fully developed". Our Heavenly Father wants us to use this mortal probation to fully develop ourselves to make the most the most of our talents and abilities. If we do so, when final judgement comes we will experience the joy of standing before our Father in Heaven in the final judgement as complete and finished sons and daughters polished by obedience and worthy of the inheritance that he has promised to the faithful.”
Elder Russell M.Nelson also had some insight into this overwhelming concept:
“Scriptures have described Noah, Seth, and Job as perfect men. No doubt the same term might apply to a large number of faithful disciples in various dispensations” but “does not mean that these people never made mistakes or never had need of correction.” Rather, the process of “mortal perfection can be achieved as we try to perform every duty, keep every law, and strive to be as perfect in our sphere as our Heavenly Father is in his.”
This is comforting as Elder Nelson says “as we try to perform every duty.” That does not mean that we are perfect in what we are trying to do, simply that our desire is to be perfect, and we strive for that, repenting when we fall short.
Frank L. Judd, a professor of ancient scripture at BYU continues, “Modern scripture states that “Noah and his sons hearkened unto the Lord, and gave heed, and they were called the sons of God” (Moses 8:13) Thus Noah and his children demonstrated their perfection or complete integrity by means of their loyal obedience to the Lord.”
Thus, we are perfect when we strive to be obedient. Again, it is the true desires of our hearts that determine whether we are perfect.
Elder Mark E. Peterson taught, “A certain degree of perfection is attainable in this life. I believe that we can be one hundred percent perfect, for instance, in abstaining from the use of tea and coffee. We can be one hundred percent perfect in abstaining from liquor and tobacco. We can be one hundred percent perfect in paying a full and honest tithing. We can be one hundred percent perfect in abstaining from eating two meals on fast day and giving to the bishop as fast offering the value of those two meals. We can be one hundred percent perfect in keeping the commandment which says that we shall not profane the name of God. We can be perfect in keeping the commandment which says, “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” We can be perfect in keeping the commandment which says, “Thou shalt not steal”. We can become perfect in keeping various others of the commandments that the Lord has given us.”
When we read, then, “Be ye therefore perfect”, we can ask ourselves, “Am I completely keeping the commandments I can keep? Am I earnestly striving to keep those I have difficulty with?” If the answer to both those questions is “Yes”, then we are obeying the Lord's injunction to be perfect.
In Matthew 6, the Saviour talks about the various ways we can do righteous things, but for the wrong reasons. We may fast - but tell everyone about it so that they think we're amazingly righteous. I must add I think this is different than saying to your spouse on the way home, "My gosh I'm starving". That's a statement of fact rather than a wish to be thought of as a saint. You may argue that I am not, in fact, starving. I counter with "Well it sure feels like it."
The Saviour mentions paying tithing, praying, and helping others. He encourages us to do those things quietly, without fanfare, and without calling attention to ourselves. Speaking about those who do draw attention to themselves in this matter he says, "Verily I say unto you, They have their reward."
Those who serve, who pay tithing, who pray, who fast, those who follow the Lord's commandments without fanfare, simply striving to do the best they can, they are those whom the Lord delights to bless. Those who ostentatiously do those things receive the reward they desire - the attention of others. They receive no other reward.
Those, however, whose hearts are set upon the things of the Lord, who quietly strive to follow Him and do His will, also receive the reward they desire - the approbation of their Father in Heaven, who blesses them abundantly.
There are many here who serve quietly, without telling anyone. Your Father in Heaven sees, and delights to bless you.
“Ask,”, says the Saviour, “and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you:
For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.
Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone?
Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent?
If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?”
Our Father in Heaven loves us more than we can, at this moment, imagine. The love is intense, and were we to feel it in our mortal state it may consume us. Think of your children, and how much you love to give them things. How fervently you desire that they make right choices so that you can help them. Our Heavenly Father also fervently desires that we make right choices so that He may bless us in abundance. If we even think about making a right choice he will bless us. If our desires are righteous, we will receive the desires of our hearts.
Sometimes, if our desires are unrighteous, we receive those also, but that is a curse rather than a blessing. “Be careful what you wish for”, the proverb says, “because you just might get it.”
If we wish, then, for righteous things, Our Father in Heaven will open the windows of heaven and pour out such a blessing that there is not room enough to receive it. The trick is to make sure your heart and mind are aligned with the Lord's. Follow His will, and you will be blessed.
I hope and pray that this talk brought peace to your mind and heart, and that you heard something that you needed to hear. For those who found it boring, for whom it went in one ear and out the other, I would like to offer the TL;DR version: Be kind. Don't judge. Serve others. Strive to keep the commandments. Have faith. Read your scriptures, pray, fast, pay your tithing. As Jacob said, “O be wise; what can I say more?”
If you made it to the end after actually reading the whole thing, I owe you brownies, man.