Wednesday, September 14, 2016

That Time I Said the Word 'Ovaries' from the Pulpit

This is a talk I gave at church that manages to merge charity and gender equality, in the Sabbath setting:

Good morning brothers and sisters,

I was initially assigned to speak on Moses 1:39, which reads: “For behold, this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” This verse quotes God as He reveals Himself to Moses, who is transfigured to withstand His presence. And that is what I wrote my talk on before I realized I would be out of town the weekend for which I had been scheduled to speak. I asked if I could be switched to this Sunday and obviously that worked out, but I was then told I should try to fold in today’s theme of the Sabbath. It was back to the drawing board: Moses 1:39 and the Sabbath day, how do I combine the two? I wasn’t sure I could do it until I had pondered much, took it to prayer, and reflected on recent experiences I’d had.

I returned to Moses 1:39 with new eyes. What stood out to me about it was that God’s greatest work centered on the individual. The life of Christ on earth echoes this fact. On the Sabbath day, we read in Matthew Chapter 12 that Christ went about teaching in the synagogue –lessons that I’m sure were tailored to his audience– and healed the sick one by one. We know that we are to follow this example and, that each of us is here today, is proof that we’re trying.

So today I’d like to speak to you about consecrating your Sabbath day for 1) an improved Church experience, 2) that we might heal the sick, and 3) reclaim individual worth.

Before I go any further, I want to make sure to define some terms starting with Immortality and Eternal Life. Immortality is a free gift given to every mortal born on earth. When Christ died and was resurrected, this is what He gave all of us. Eternal life is perfection in Jesus, which allows us to live with God again. The Sabbath, as I’m sure you know, is a day given to mankind to commemorate the day of rest at the Creation, put away our cares of the world, and focus on God.

Now let me take you through a day in the life of the Sabbath as it focuses on progressing towards eternal life:

It’s Sunday morning and you’d like to sleep in, but you know you have church to attend. Isn’t this supposed to be a day of rest? Funny enough, in that same chapter (Matthew 12), even Christ “walketh through dry places, seeking rest, and findeth NONE (emphasis added).” As you can see, we’re in good company.

So you get yourself together, and any other members of your household, read your scriptures, and come here hoping to make it on time for the sacrament. What better opportunity during the week to focus on Moses 1:39? To remember that He suffered, bled, and died for us that we might return to live with our Father in Heaven. This is also a time to remember what we’ve covenanted, OR what we promise TO COVENANT, at this stage in our lives. Baptism brings with it a charge to bear each other’s burdens, mourn with those who mourn,  and comfort others that we may be filled with the Holy Ghost and obtain that great glory, eternal life. We should reflect on these promises during the sacrament, and carry those thoughts with us to Sunday school.

Now we’re in the second hour of church, the classroom setting. The Bible provides several examples of Christ’s exemplary teaching, which pulls from parables and relies on the Spirit to deliver His message. There are also great examples of the disciples asking good, earnest questions. Then there are the Pharisees. Why do we read so much about them and what they do on the Sabbath day? I believe they provide cautionary tales of how NOT to spend your Sundays, of how one might frustrate God’s work on the earth.  This is worth exploring.

Starting with some background: The Pharisees are a subset of the Jews, or covenant people, during Christ’s time on earth. They pride themselves on their knowledge of the scriptures, tout their lineage, and love the letter the law. They were also xenophobic, not willing to have contact with non-Jews. --Which was, of course, a tricky matter as Roman rule had arrived.  On Sundays, I like to play Bible Videos for my children and in them the Pharisees are typically portrayed as large, prominent, and menacing men who would love nothing more than to trap the Savior in a contradiction to His authority. While my heart goes out to Jesus for having to put up with that, reflecting on Moses 1:39 I am reminded that the work of God WILL roll forth to all lands and all people regardless of what the Pharisees try and do. This makes them look pathetic. Taken in context, I see that their world is changing, power is shifting, and even the scriptures foretell their eventual fall from grace. I can see they’re scared. They’re afraid of the son of a carpenter, a young man, born in a stable to a migrant family. That says a lot. For it appears their words and actions are reactionary (key point: reactionary). And THAT is a trap we ourselves must avoid.

So how do we prevent being as the Pharisees at church? How do we check our insecurities, our hang-ups, at the door that we might cultivate goodness? Ever since President Uchtdorf gave his now popular talk, ‘The Merciful Obtain Mercy,’ otherwise known as the ‘STOP IT’ talk, I’ve given much thought to this. If we are to sustain God’s work and glory, which yearns to bring ALL of us home to heaven, then as President Uchtdorf states: “We simply have to stop judging others and replace judgmental thoughts and feelings with a heart full of love for God and His children.” It’s really that simple. In my own case, I’ve found if I think to comment on something in class and it requires a comparison –ANY COMPARISON– it’s going to fall flat, it’s going to shoo away the Spirit. So yes, I’m trying to stop that.

This is a matter near to my heart. Today, as in all times, there are many who are afflicted physically, emotionally, and spiritually including among us.

With respect to spiritual suffering, how do we begin to heal those wounds? This question perhaps brings us to that time between classes or right after the third hour when we’re mingling with people in the hallway. What can we do during such times to alleviate spiritual suffering? Let me warn you that one way NOT to behave is what I’ve observed to be a “Hunger Games” approach to the Gospel. Mind you, I have not seen an episode of this show, but from what I gather it has to do with survival of the fittest, last man standing wins… Let me be clear, caring only about yourself in your journey towards eternal life while others lie wounded along the road is a sure way to bring down God’s contempt. And we know this, because that’s what, in effect, the tale of the Good Samaritan is about. What’s telling is that in that story, it’s a Levite who’s down and his fellow church members pass him by. It takes a Samaritan, one of the “undesirables” in society, to extend charity, or the love of Christ. Returning to Moses 1:39, if God’s greatest work and glory is our immortality and eternal life, then I suspect standing by idle as one falls away is the opposite of that. What Christ wants, what He demands of us, is that we do NOT dismiss those who are struggling. President Uchtdorf again spoke about this in the October 2013 conference:

“One might ask, ‘If the gospel is so wonderful, why would anyone leave?’ Sometimes we assume it is because they have been offended or lazy or sinful. Actually, it is not that simple. In fact, there is not just one reason that applies to the variety of situations. Some of our dear members struggle for years with the question whether they should separate themselves from the Church.”
Let us not be the one to add to that struggle! If you see someone having a hard time, may I suggest telling them you’re glad they came or if you noticed their spouse hasn’t been to church in some time, tell them they’re missed and ask if it’s okay to pay a friendly visit. Do something, and do it with genuine love.

Now you’re home, you’re trying to teach your children the Gospel or perhaps this is part of your calling. I didn’t grow up in the Church so I rely heavily on others’ examples as to how to do this.
Someone I love and respect has a ten year old daughter, another teenage daughter, and two sons, so from time to time I’ll request her seasoned advice in this area. As I was asking her about how best to teach our children she told me about her challenges regarding the 10 year old. She said that with her sons, the curriculum is clear. Teach them about the offices of the priesthood and their responsibility in them. With her youngest daughter, however, she was struggling to give her personalized lessons. On one Sunday this sweet child commented that someone had told her she was “needed” at church, but she didn’t understand why because she’s “just a girl.” This statement floored her mother, for here was a girl with no hidden agenda, she wasn’t suing for power, and her comment was anything but prideful. It gave her pause and it did the same for me.

After further investigation it was discovered that this 10 year old girl had received the impression, possibly from her older sister, that the so-called individualized lessons she could look forward to would be ones that happen to hinge upon sexual maturation. --Namely marriage, reproduction, and the covering up of “her lady parts.” And while there are lessons to be had there, no one wants to feel like her value depends on her ovaries. So to avoid this happening to my own daughter, I’m working on two specific things: The first is, I ask myself if what I’m teaching is in proportion to how much it is emphasized in the Book of Mormon, which was truly written for our time. Second, I pull from a unique experience I had when I was living in the city. A church member there (in Chicago) had Turner’s Syndrome, which is a congenital condition caused by having only ONE X-chromosome. (That’s it.) Not XX (standard female). Not XY (male).  Just X ZERO. Interestingly, it was from this person (for whom puberty did not apply) that I learned what God’s love for the individual woman is focused on. Being different, she used her Sabbath days to build a ministry of caring for the ones who felt like they didn’t fit in.  She still had the divine feminine powers of discerning where there was a need for charity and acting on it. Like a mother hen, she took people under her wings. THAT is something I can teach my daughter, teach my children, when we have our precious time together on the Sabbath. Taking it back to Jesus will always reclaim individual worth.

It then appears that the answer at the end of the Sabbath day is the same as it was at the beginning: The worth of souls is great in the sight of God, even the individual person for whom God sacrificed that we all might have immortality and eternal life.

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