Saturday, August 20, 2016

On sacrament II

Last week we covered the ETB lesson on sacrament. It starts with this story:

Howard W. Hunter was raised by an active Latter-day Saint mother and a good father who was not then affiliated with any church. His father did not object to the family’s participation in the Church—he even attended sacrament meetings with them occasionally—but he did not want his children to be baptized when they were 8 years old. He felt that they should not make that decision until they were older. When Howard turned 12, he could not receive the Aaronic Priesthood and be ordained a deacon because he had not been baptized. Even though he was able to participate with the young men in other activities, Howard was deeply disappointed that he could not pass the sacrament with them.

“I sat in sacrament meetings with the other boys,” he recalled. “When it was time for them to pass the sacrament, I would slump down in my seat. I felt so left out. I wanted to pass the sacrament, but couldn’t because I had not been baptized.”

As I read this, I was struck with the thought that this must be how some young women feel. Surely we can figure out a way to help our daughters more fully participate in the ordinances of the gospel.

Monday, August 15, 2016

On sacrament

Yesterday my family was out of town so rather than sit next to the aisle at church, saving an entire pew for my crazy clan, I move all the way in and sat against the wall. It's the spot my 12 year old and 14 year old usually fight over as it is best for leaning against should you need a nap (each week).

By the time the sacrament started, no one had joined me in my pew. I thought about sliding back to center to make it easier for the young men passing the sacrament to get to me. But I was comfortable and didn't feel like moving. So I stayed put.

As the young man assigned to my quadrant of the chapel walked down my aisle, he almost passed me before noticing that I had blended in somewhat with the wall. I watched him take a deep breath, course correct, and the begin to make his way towards me. (We have long pews. It was a long walk.)

As he made his way to me I had the distinct impression that this is how it works. No matter how far away from the Lord I get, He will bring himself an offering to me. He will find me and offer himself up to me.

I know the scriptures say, "Draw near unto me, and I will draw near unto you," and I believe it's true. We should seek him. But I also believe that the Lord has on occasion drawn near unto me even though I have desperately tried to remain immovable in relation to Him.

And for this, I give thanks.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

1 Nephi 2:24 "ways of remembrance"

And if it so be that they rebel against me, they shall be a scourge unto thy seed, to stir them up in the ways of remembrance.

So last week the new Star Wars movie, "The Force Awakens" premiered. (No spoilers! I see it this coming Tuesday.) With Star Wars and "the ways of the Force" on my mind I noticed the phrase "the ways of remembrance" in the above scripture. To me this phrase implies that remembrance is a skill (or set of skills) that can be developed.

What are the lessons needed to hone the ways of remembrance? (I'm thinking one armed handstands may not be required.)

President Spencer W. Kimball taught,
"When you look in the dictionary for the most important word, do you know what it is? It could be ‘remember.’ Because all of [us] have made covenants … our greatest need is to remember. That is why everyone goes to sacrament meeting every Sabbath day—to take the sacrament and listen to the priests pray that [we] ‘… may always remember him and keep his commandments which he has given [us].’… ‘Remember’ is the word" (Circles of Exaltation [address to religious educators, Brigham Young University, 28 June 1968], 8).

Clearly partaking of the sacrament each week is a critical "way of remembrance."

Scripture study and prayer are also likely "ways of remembrance."

I'll have to be on the look out for additional "ways of remembrance."

In honor of the quote above, a picture of President Kimball:

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Matthew 25:31-46 "as a shepherd divideth sheep from the goats"

When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory:
And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats:
And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.

The Lord then tells us what his litmus test will be when dividing sheep from goats:

For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:
Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.

Speaking of this scriptural passage Marion G. Romney said, "the Master declared that the test on which the division would be made on that great day would be the care given to the poor and the needy." I agree with this, but would add that this Christ-given injunction also includes a hospitality component. (I was a stranger, and ye took me in.) How are we doing personally, as a religion, and as a nation?

Two things have brought this scriptural passage top of mind this month. First, the Syrian refugee crisis has many people talking about whether we should let more refugees in the United States. It is definitely a tough call, especially with the recent attacks in Paris. But the scriptural injunction to take in the stranger is clear. (I personally feel we should let as many refugees in as quickly as possible without lessening the strict immigration controls that predate the crisis, but no one of consequence asked me.)

Second, in the weeks since the LDS Church's policy changes, there has been a lot of discussion in the Bloggernacle about dividing the wheat from the tares. Many stalwart members defending the Church's new policy have taken to saying that by making this policy, the Lord is dividing the wheat from the tares (i.e., the wheat = those that support the policy; the tares = those that are offended by the policy). If this is true I am proudly a tare. But all this talk of dividing, got me wondering less whether I am wheat or tare and more whether I am sheep or goat.

With our Humanitarian Society and Bishop's Storehouses we're probably doing OK helping the hungry and thirsty. But I fear as a people we may have forgotten the scriptural charge to take in and care for the stranger. As I think of our LGBT brothers and sisters who, let's face it, can be somewhat foreign to our homogeneous, hetero-normative culture, I fear we are failing them. Even if we think homosexuality is wrong, we can stand up against institutional shunning of same-sex couples and their natural born and adopted children. We can invite them into our homes. We can become their friends and laugh with them and cry with them and just stand beside them.

Is that not what the Savior would do? Why shouldn't I?

Friday, November 6, 2015

Mosiah 18:9-10 "mourn with those that mourn"

Yea, and are willing 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, even until death, that ye may be redeemed of God, and be numbered with those of the first resurrection, that ye may have eternal life--
Now I say unto you, if this be the desire of your hearts, what have you against being baptized in the name of the Lord, as a witness before him that ye have entered into a covenant with him, that ye will serve him and keep his commandments, that he may pour out his Spirit more abundantly upon you?

Today I mourn with those that mourn. It is part of the baptismal covenant I made when I was 8.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

2 Samuel 6:6-7 "and God smote him there for error"

And when they came to Nachon’s threshingfloor, Uzzah put forth his hand to the ark of God, and took hold of it; for the oxen shook it.
And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Uzzah; and God smote him there for his error; and there he died by the ark of God.

In 2 Samuel chapter 6, David got the bright idea to move the ark of the covenant to his city. He knew that the ark has been in times past a harbinger of great blessings. But neither David nor any of the others he involved in his plan bothered to consider the strict guidelines the Lord had established for transporting the ark. Uzzah was one appointed to help with the move. Unfortunately when the ark shook and Uzzah put forth to steady the ark, the Lord struck him dead for touching the ark.

In our modern era this episode is often cited as an example that people without authority shouldn't seek to "steady the ark" or direct how the Church is moving. D&C 85 started this line of thinking, but it's still taught regularly. Take for example this quote from the Old Testament Institute Student Manual:

“Uzzah’s offence consisted in the fact that he had touched the ark with profane feelings, although with good intentions, namely to prevent its rolling over and falling from the cart. Touching the ark, the throne of the divine glory and visible pledge of the invisible presence of the Lord, was a violation of the majesty of the holy God. ‘Uzzah was therefore a type of all who with good intentions, humanly speaking, yet with unsanctified minds, interfere in the affairs of the kingdom of God, from the notion that they are in danger, and with the hope of saving them.’"(Keil and Delitzsch, Commentary, 2:2:333.)

The quote above is then followed by this commentary:

"In modern revelation, the Lord made reference to this incident to teach that very principle (see D&C 85:8). The Lord is in His heavens and does not need the help of men to defend His kingdom. Yet in our own time we see those who fear the ark is tottering and presume to steady its course. We hear of those who are sure that women are not being treated fairly in the Church, of those who would extend some unauthorized blessing to those not yet ready, or of those who would change the established doctrines of the Church. Are these not ark-steadiers? The best intentions do not justify such interference with the Lord’s plan."

Taking away this lesson from the story of Uzzah is not inappropriate. However I'm afraid that we get so caught up in this one meaning that we miss other, perhaps more important, implications in the story.

Lesson 1--We are responsible for our own salvation
Uzzah's first mistake was not touching the ark. He should never have agreed to David's plan for moving the ark in the first place. We don't know for sure whether or not Uzzah was familiar with the law regarding ark transportation. If he wasn't, then his first mistake was not studying and seeking out God's will in the matter before acting. If he was aware of the strict commands regarding the ark but chose to move the ark anyway, then his first mistake was not standing up to David. (If this were the case, perhaps his first error was actually giving into vanity, for surely being asked to play such an important role in the king's festivities was a great honor.) If our leaders tell us to do something we know we shouldn't, we should be strong enough to express dissent. We can do this politely, but we need to do it.

I find it interesting that this scripture says, "And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Uzzah; and God smote him there for his error." Here the italics are not emphasis; here they mean this word is not in the original text. The italics means the translator using context has added this word to clarify what was missing from the text. From the context, it is very likely the author meant "his error". But what if the author actually meant "their error"? I'm not a Hebrew scholar. Perhaps there's no way that this could be read from the text. But given David's reaction, I think all there that day felt reprimanded.

Lesson 2--Our actions affect other people
It was David's plan to move the ark that resulted in Uzzah's death. It was not David's fault alone, that Uzzah died (see lesson 1). But David certainly bore some of the blame. And it is apparent from the text that Uzzah's death affected David. He took it personally. We see this in the second attempt at bringing the ark to his home. This time he orders the Levites only to move the ark. Speaking to them he says, because they did not move it the first time, "the Lord our God made a breach upon us, for that we sought him not after the due order" (1 Chron 15:13 emphasis added).

When we approach the scriptures we need to be careful not to assume we know the message they have to teach us, lest we miss other important truths.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

1 Samuel 15:22 "better than sacrifice"

And Samuel said, Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams.

Part of me just wants to take this scripture out of context; that is after all what so many in the church, myself included, have done over the years. But I'll resist this urge for a few minutes. Here's a brief contextual summary.

God, after His initial displeasure with Saul for not waiting on Him (1 Samuel 13), gives the king a second chance to show his devotion. Saul is commanded to destroy the Amalekites for their wickedness. The order specifically was to spare no living thing. Saul starts out well, but in the end, he lets the king of the Amalekites live and then Saul's army keeps the best of the Amalekite livestock. And Saul goes along with them. When Samuel questions him on why they did not destroy every living thing as commanded, Saul explains that "the people took of the spoil, sheep and oxen, the chief of the things which should have been utterly destroyed, to sacrifice unto the Lord thy God in Gilgal."

Then Samuel delivers this oft quoted scripture, "to obey is better than to sacrifice."

My general comments on the scripture in context are:
1.) Saul's sin here was very similar to his offense two chapters earlier. He worried more about the opinions of the people he was supposed to be leading than what his God thought. Am I guilty of this? Or perhaps more correctly, how am I guilty of this? Do I sometimes align my thinking to my perception of what my friends believe? My leaders? My boss? My Facebook feed? Do I worry about how others will view my dress or behavior? (Don't we all do this to some extent? Is this always bad?) I definitely need to do a better job worrying first about what God thinks before considering how my actions look to others.

2.) Saul seems to have rationalized his folly, such that he convinced himself he had completed God's ask of him. I know I am guilty of this, but I'm not going to list all the ways on a public blog. ;)

As I started this post I mentioned that I wanted to take this verse out of context because that's just what you do with this scripture. According to the LDS Scripture Citation Index, this scripture has been cited 28 times in General Conference (since 1942), Journal of Discourses, and Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith.  I can't tell for certain, but this appears to be significantly above average; it seems most Old Testament cited scriptures have been used 2 to 4 times. (This verse is certainly no "stone cut without hands" (Daniel 2:44), quoted some 291 times though surprisingly not since 2008 and more interestingly its use is clearly waning).

The fact that this verse from Samuel gets so much airtime definitely adds to its perceived importance. Even biblical prophets quoted this scripture. When they did, however they often changed it. The most famous version is probably Hosea 6:6 in which the Lord says, "For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings." In case you're curious, Hosea's verse per the LDS Scripture Citation Index has been cited only 4 times even though this was the verse likely quoted by Jesus when answering the Pharisees in Matthew 9:13 (cited 6 times).

Juxtaposing these two versions of scripture raises some interesting questions. How are obedience and mercy related? How are they different? And how does "knowledge of God" fit in?

The root of obey is to hear but hearing is not enough; obedience requires action. It requires us to hear the Lord when He speaks to us and then to act on His requests.

Regarding mercy, Little Kittel writes, "In the LXX [the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible] éleos [or mercy] is mostly used for hesed... This denotes an attitude arising out of mutual relationship, e.g., between relatives, host and guests, masters and servants, those in a covenant relation. It is an act rather than a disposition with trust as the basis and loyalty as the appropriate attitude." We often think of mercy as merely an emotion, compassion for those around us, but mercy is much more than just a feeling. True mercy requires us to see and feel our relationship with both the Lord and with those around us and then to act on this relationship.

Obedience to God should turn our heart towards God. As we hear His word and act on it, we begin to see more clearly our relationship to Him; we begin to know God better which in turn makes us the type of person who acts with compassion for those around us. Obedience then is a means to making us more like our Heavenly Father.

Our latter-day preference for the Samuel's "obedience over sacrifice" instead of Hosea's "desired mercy" causes me to fear we have made obedience an end in and of itself, not a means to an end. I wonder if we more concerned with keeping the law (or pharisaical regulation) that we forget to let the law change us. Obsessing over the length of our shorts, the color of our shirt, or the number of earrings we wear, do we forget the reason the law was given in the first place?

Perhaps the best illustration of this tension between being strictly obedient and showing mercy is the parable of the good Samaritan. (I started to summarize it, but it's short and beautiful in its simplicity.)

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.

I won't bother analyzing this parable. Others have done a better job than I could anyway. But reflecting on this, I have to ask myself, "Am more like a Levite than I care to admit?" As a people, are we Mormons becoming more Samaritan like or more priest like?

I'll end with my favorite version of the scripture that began this post, found in Micah 6:

Wherewith shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before the high God? shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves of a year old?
Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil... ?
He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?