Friday, December 18, 2009

The Sabbath

I gave this talk in my home ward on April 26, 2009. It had been 16 months since I had given a talk.

What is the Sabbath? What do we do on the Sabbath? We honour the Sabbath day as a way of commemorating God's seventh day of rest, as well as the redemption from Egyptian bondage. Even more, it's a weekly commemoration of Christ's resurrection. Although the actual day is insignificant (that is, whether it's on Saturday, Thursday, or Monday), in our world, our Sabbath day - our holy day - is Sunday. And what are we supposed to do on days like today? What is the purpose of today?

Doctrine and Covenants 59:9-10
"And that thou mayest more fully keep thyself unspotted from the world, thou shalt go to the house of prayer and offer up they sacraments upon my holy day. For verily this is a day appointed unto you to rest from your labours, and to pay thy devotions unto the Most High;"

The scripture goes on to say that, "Nevertheless, they vows shall be offered up in righteousness on all days and at all times." In other words, just attending sacrament meeting and our classes today is the very least that we're to do. This isn't to say that us going home, switching on the TV to watch a popular program or going out to play sports, is condoned. Rather, our minimal requirement on worship is that we simply protect our Sundays and use them to think about spiritual things, about our Saviour, and our Heavenly Father.

The purpose of today, the reason that we're all here, is to partake of the sacrament. And why do we partake of the sacrament?

Doctrine and Covenants 59:9
"And that thou mayest more fully keep thyself unspotted from the world, thou shalt go to the house of prayer and offer up thy sacraments upon my holy day."

The answer to my question then is that we may "more fully keep [ourselves] unspotted from the world." We're all aware of what the sacrament is a symbol of. It says exactly what the bread and water represent in the prayer: the flesh and blood of Christ.

Jesus instituted the sacrament during the First Supper, when we walked on this earth, and he did so again on the American continent after he was resurrected.
3 Nephi 18:5-7
"...[Ye] shall break bread and bless it and give it unto the people of my church, unto all those who shall believe and be baptized in my name. And this shall ye always observe to do, even as I have done. ...And this shall ye do in remembrance of my body, which I have shown unto you. And it shall be a testimony unto the Father that ye do always remember me. And if ye do always remember me ye shall have my Spirit to be with you."

So we partake of the sacrament to remember of Saviour's sacrifice. This isn't the only reason we take the sacrament though.

Elder Dallin H. Oaks, quoted by Elder Jay E. Jensen:
"The sacrament of the Lord's Supper is a renewal of the covenants and blessings of baptism. We are commanded to repent of our sins and come to the Lord with a broken heart and a contrite spirit and partake of the sacrament. In the partaking of the bread, we witness that we are willing to take upon us the name of Jesus Christ and always remember Him and keep His commandments. When we comply with this covenant, the Lord renews the cleansing effect of our baptism. We are made clean and can always have His Spirit to be with us."

The invitation to be baptized and receive the sacrament is one that is open to all.

3 Nephi 18:25
"And ye see that I have commanded that none of you should go away, but rather have commanded that ye should come unto me..."

There can be restrictions on those who can partake of the sacrament though, but these restrictions are only put in place by ourselves; when we commit certain sins, the blessing of partaking of the sacrament can be taken from us.

I know how it is to go into a temple recommend interview, answer all of the questions in the best way possible, and yet feel unworthy, to answer that last question something along the lines of, "No, I don't feel worthy to enter such a holy place, though I know that I answered those other questions 'right," for lack of a better word.

There have been times when the sacrament tray has been passed to me and I've wondered if I'm really worthy. I read a scripture before one of these times:
3 Nephi 18:29
"For whoso eateth and drinketh my flesh and blood unworthily eateth and drinketh damnation to his soul..."

Scary, huh? I found comfort in the words of Elder John Groberg:
"If we desire to improve (which is to repent) and are not under priesthood restriction, then, in my opinion, we are worthy. If, however, we have no desire to improve, if we have no intention of following the guidance of the Spirit, we must ask: Are we worthy to partake, or are we making a mockery of the very purpose of the sacrament, which is to act as a catalyst for personal repentance and improvement? If we remember the Saviour and all he has done and will do for us, we will improve our actions and thus come closer to him, which keeps us on the road to eternal life."

An important part of prayer is that we not only have faith that our prayers will be answered, but that we are willing to act on whatever guidance we are given. Like prayer, we must be willing to listen to the Spirit when he tells us what we need to do to improve in our lives.

I am a professional procrastinator, I'm great at it. There is not a soul I have ever met that can procrastinate like I can, but I have only recently realized how destructive this habit has been in my life, and after having this realization, I've been working hard at eradicating it. It's been difficult, especially since I've gotten so used to preparing for exams last minute, and writing papers the night before they're due, but change does not come easily.

The sacrament enables us to change, to make ourselves better. We have a wonderful and amazing opportunity each week when we come here to commit ourselves to be something more than what we are: to be better. I am grateful that the Lord extends this opportunity to each of us, especially when sometimes we may feel inclined to think, or to say about someone: "They can't change, there's no way, they've been doing it wrong for so long that there's no chance they'll be able to figure it out." When we do this, we're denying that person the opportunity to change. We're saying, in essence, that the Saviour's Atonement isn't good enough, that it can't reach that person. I am grateful to know that the Atonement stretches out to everyone, despite our judgments.

It is so vital in a world like ours that each of us feel the power and strength of the Holy Ghost. There are some weeks where I lament, and wonder why we can't have two sacrament meetings - which is sad, but which is a reality that each and every single one of us has to face.

It is essential that we do everything in our power to be worthy, and then to stay worthy to partake of the sacrament.

After the Prophet Joseph Smith helped administer the sacrament in the Kirtland Temple, he and Oliver Cowdery received a vision in which the Saviour appeared to them. It's recorded in:
Doctrine and Covenants 110:5
The Saviour said, "Behold, your sins are forgiven you; you are clean before me; therefore, lift up your heads and rejoice."

As we partake of the sacrament, knowing that we are worthy to do so, we should imagine the Lord saying those same words to each of us and we can say, "I am clean, and I WILL lift up my head and rejoice."

I've heard many times in my life that we can't really appreciate something until it's gone, and I can testify that although it applies to many other things, it doesn't have to apply to the sacrament.

I hope that we can learn to appreciate the sacrament while we have it - that hopefully it won't take a priesthood restriction on us partaking of it, that makes us realize how marvelous it truly is.

Elder L. Tom Perry:
"Partaking of the sacrament provides us with a sacred moment in a holy place."

This is true, whether we hear babies screaming or youth snoring. As Zion is the pure in heart, if our hearts are pure, then we will feel the holiness of those sacred moments during our sacrament meetings.

Monday, December 7, 2009

More on Baptism for the Dead

So, unbelievably, I haven't posted anything for a couple months shy of a year. This, I think, is unfortunate. Why? Well, silly folk, because I've actually looked in depth at many anti-Mormon arguments, several temple topics and have listened to loads of talks and done quite a bit of reading (with topics surrounding controversies in the early church, onto the Mountain Meadows massacre, and over to the martyrdom of Joseph and Hyrum Smith).

Well, all that matters is I'm back, and you, my adoring fans need wait no longer!

All right, so with my assumed fame securely in place, let's move on. I re-read my article, "Baptism for the Dead?" and was somewhat troubled by some conclusions I failed to draw.

1 Cor 15:29 asks, "Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? why are they then baptized for the dead?" I've recently learned to love the way Paul speaks, just like I've learned to love how confusing Isaiah seems to be. But really, I love how Paul words his epistles.

I suggest you read all of 1 Corinthians 15, just as I hope I can convey that which will compel you to understand: reason.

Up until verse 19, Paul is talking about the resurrection, and specifically the resurrection of Christ. I find verse 19 to actually be the most powerful thus far: "If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable." (In other words, the believers are up a creek without a paddle if Christ wasn't resurrected, because if He wasn't, then He wasn't the Savior, and their belief would then be blasphemous against God.)

In verse 23 Paul is referring to the order that we'll be resurrected. First Christ, and then Christ's followers (and by "followers," I do not mean the members of a particular religion) at his Second Coming: "But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming." Conceivably afterward will follow the resurrection of the unrighteous. Why? Simply because of the fact that Christ died for all of mankind, promising us all immortality, not just a select elite.

Verse 24: "Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power." So, after Christ is finished resurrecting everyone (which here is referred to as "delivering up the kingdom,") He, Jesus Christ, will remove the governments in each country and establish His rule over the whole Earth. In simple terms, a perfect rule, or government, I suppose, with a perfect ruler.

Verse 25 refers to "enemies," being put "under his feet," and this of course refers to Jesus' wrath upon the wicked of the earth.

Plain and simple, in the words of Paul in verse 26: "The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death." After being judged, those worthy of it will receive eternal life. That is, will be put back in the presence of God, we having lost that at the time of the Fall, when Adam and Eve were literally sent out of God's presence. This continues on through verse 28, which actually says "And when all things shall be subdued unto him, then shall the Son also himself be subject unto him that put all things under him, that God may be all in all." This refers to when Christ has perfected all of His work among us, and God will finally judge us.

This is everything I can conclude with my own, obviously vast, knowledge on the subject, and a straight-through reading of the chapter up until verse 29, which is the subject of so much debate.

OK, time to backtrack. I've recently delved into the volumes of The History of the Church, as written by Joseph Smith and subsequently edited and then approved for release by the First Presidency. In the introduction of the first volume, it says that Joseph Smith, when writing, would often go on long narrations of the character of various people he met, and these were, in the editing process, taken out and moved. Why? Simply because Joseph wrote in a manner called Stream of Consciousness. In this method of writing, one writes as one thinks. It makes for an often convoluted, difficult reading. Add the subject of religious doctrine not heard since Christs' Church in early times and you've got a very difficult read ahead of you.

Now, you may ask, am I digressing, as I often do? No, I'm just letting you know where my brain has been and where yours now is.

Back to Paul and the Corinthians.
Let's look at the entire chapter and it's sections, because oh! how there are sections.

From verses 1 through 20 Paul is talking about the resurrection. From 21 to 28 he's talking about the consequences of the resurrection as they will be. Sweet, sweet consequences.
And then in verse 29, he's back to talking about the resurrection!

Look at it like this, verse 12 is his chastening of the people who deny the resurrection of Christ. After that, he's telling of the consequences of there not being a resurrection of Christ. Check out the verses:
13 But if there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen:
14 And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain.
15 Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that he raised up Christ: whom he raised not up, if so be that the dead rise not.
16 For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised:
17 And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins.
18 Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished.
19 If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.
20 But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept.

He, unknown to those who haven't taken a Philosophy 101 course, is employing a brilliant form of argument.

If you're where my brain is at, then way to be! If not, let's look at it in terms of the words Paul is using. We're going to only notice the words relating to being "asleep." I'll add some italicization for you. This will be fun, I promise!
18 Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished.
20 But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept.
Paul, our most beloved letter-writer, is obviously using euphemisms here. Basically, if there is no resurrection (following his reasoning given to those who were denying the resurrection), then those Christian followers aren't just physically dead, but also spiritually dead (spiritually dead here meaning that they cannot return to God's presence) therein referred to as having "perished." Verse 20 is where Paul is giving the Corinthians the good news: Christ was resurrected, and not only that but He was the first, and *key point* not the last to be resurrected.

And now we return to our favourite verse of all verses, verse 29:
29 Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? why are they then baptized for the dead?
Paul's wording is essential to understand to know what he's saying. When I first read this, ages before I wrote my last article, I really had no idea what was going on, and I confess that I was relatively all right with not going to the trouble of trying to understand it. However, and thankfully, people can, and do change.
But I digress.
So, Paul, in typical Tephrochr translation, is quintessentially saying, "If there is no resurrection, what are the people who are performing baptism for the dead doing? Why are they being baptized for people who've died and who aren't going to be resurrected?" Notice my first phrase, "if there is no resurrection," because I'll be using that again, referring to his previous argument.

And it goes on, in verse 30, "And why stand we in jeopardy every hour?" Jeopardy meaning peril, danger, or risking loss. More Teph translations: "If there is no resurrection, why do we put ourselves in danger by falsely believing there is?" Of course I use the word "falsely," because Paul is talking to the Corinthians under the pretense that there is no resurrection, that they have indeed been "found false witnesses of God" (verse 15), risking damnation.

Because there's controversy surrounding verse 31, I'll not touch on it here, simply because it doesn't detract from my explanation.

Here's verse 32, which is quite like verse 30, elaborating more on "standing in jeopardy."
32 If after the manner of men I have fought with beasts at Ephesus, what advantageth it me, if the dead rise not? let us eat and drink; for to morrow we die." Here he's being ironic, while maintaining his seriousness. In my previous article, I elaborated on what he meant when he said he "fought with beasts at Ephesus," which is that he spoke, by reason and persuasion, with the men at Ephesus. With the knowledge I have about Judaism and how they receive greater and greater understanding of scripture, etc, I conclude that he wasn't just talking with men, but most likely with learned men, like Jesus had. Although, I think since Paul uses the word "fought," it probably wasn't a pleasant experience like Jesus seems to have had. It also would have been done as a missionary would, because Paul was an amazing missionary, and he does those kinds of things. But I digress. Teph's translation? I think so: "If there is no resurrection, why have I reasoned and persuaded learned men at Ephesus of the resurrection?" As for the latter part of that scripture, I think it's obvious. Isaiah mentions something along those lines, talking about how the people at Jerusalem at to be taken captive. The alternative? Eat, drink, and get with the merry-making.

Verse 33 and 34, our final two verses of the night I think, are good ones to conclude on. He returns to chastening those who were denying the resurrection of the Lord.
33 Be not deceived: evil acommunications corrupt good manners.
34 Awake to righteousness, and sin not; for some have not the knowledge of God: I speak this to your ashame.

Verse 33 in a nutshell? Don't let people trick you into believing lies.
In verse 34 he teaches one my most favourite of doctrines. That which involves ignorance: "some have not the knowledge of God," but because of the epistle which I've just sent you, which you are now reading, "I speak this to your shame." Let me illuminate his words.

Jesus taught in parables so that those who were ready to receive His instruction would be able to, and so that those who weren't quite as ready just got to listen to a nice story. Paul doesn't speak that way. It's easy to understand why. He's building Christ's Church and needs the members to be strong, valiant, and righteous.

In the simplest of terms, he doesn't want them to dilly-dally, he wants them to understand. Indeed, they need to understand. And so do we.