Sunday, April 20, 2014

Easter Sacrament Meeting Talk

Today, on this Easter Sunday, as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we join together with the Christian World to commemorate the life, teachings, atonement and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Today we remember that Jesus Christ was not just a great teacher or great prophet. Jesus of Nazareth did much more that just teach great sermons and perform good deeds. Today and every day we testify to the world that Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ, and the Son of the Living God. Today we remember that Jesus Christ came into the world and through the shedding of His blood and resurrection did for us what no mortal man could ever do.

What is the Atonement of Christ? The scriptures tell us that “In Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive”. When Adam and Eve partook of the fruit of knowledge of good and evil, they were cursed with death. First, eventual physical death which is the separation of their body and spirit. Second, is spiritual death which is the separation of our spirit from God. Christ's atonement and resurrection overcome both physical and spiritual death. Many Christians recognize that Christ “died on the cross for us” and resurrected. But some may not understand completely what happened before the cross in the Garden of Gethsemane. After the Last Supper Christ went to the Garden with Peter, James and John and while praying it says “That being in agony he prayed more earnestly and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground.” We know from modern revelation and restored scripture what exactly happened in the Garden that night.

“Therefore I command you to repent—repent, lest I smite you by the rod of my mouth, and by my wrath, and by my anger, and your sufferings be sore—how sore you know not, how exquisite you know not, year, how hard to bear you know not. For behold, I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent; But if they would not repent they must suffer even as I; Which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit—and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink-- Nevertheless, glory be to the Father, and I partook and finished my preparations unto the children of men.”
So we know from the Doctrine and Covenants, Christ explains in His own words that when He was in the Garden of Gethsemane just after the Last Supper and prior to His crucifixion that in addition to dying on the cross, Christ took upon Himself the sins, and pains, and guilt of all people. Here Christ tells us Himself that the pain was so agonizing, so exquisite, that it caused God Himself to sweat blood from every poor of His body.

Honestly, I can't say I really understand or can explain how the infinite atonement of Jesus Christ was done, or how exactly it works. The atonement is the greatest gift and miracle ever given to mankind. Only Christ could pay the terrible debt of sin that we all individually carry. How many drops of blood were shed by the Savior for my sins and for your sin?

I don't understand what it is about the shedding blood that can pay a debt. Sometimes we say that the cost of freedom is blood. The scriptures say that America was “ the shedding of blood”. Also, when a patient comes to the hospital, oftentimes they must first give up some blood first before being healed and even receiving blood.

In the old days, many ancient cultures were polytheistic and believed in many gods. While these gods went by a variety of names, in reality, they all were all anthropomorphic representations for the same abstract ideas of prosperity, safety, security, and fertility. When ancient writing says that the people sought to appease their gods, these people really didn't care about making the various stone, wood or metal idol happy which were sitting in their local temple. What they wanted was a hope and an assurance of rain, good crops, peace, fertility, prosperity and security.
Inevitably, it there was a terrible storm, drought or other natural or economic disaster, false priests would rise up telling the people that to appease the gods and a return of peace and prosperity they would have to make a blood sacrifice of their children, slaves or animals. Thinking about it, do we practice this same kind of apostate and idolatrous false religion today? Are we guilty of sacrificing our unborn children, or making preemptive war to shed blood with a hope to preserve our economic prosperity and safety?

Christ offered a more excellent way. After His infinite atonement, Christ said that we no longer had to shed blood for prosperity, safety or security. We no longer would we have to go to war, or sacrifice animals. What we must do now is accept Christ's blood. Only Christ's blood can save us. Only Christ's blood will appease Our Father in Heaven. We accept Christ's blood being baptized and partaking weekly of the bread and water in remembrance of Him. Also, by offering up to Him a broken heart and a contrite spirit. Not only that, we must repent as individuals and as a nation and keep His commandments.

At Easter, the Jews celebrate Passover and their miraculous deliverance from slavery in Egypt. My family and I decided to observe Passover this year. I have a friend at work who is Jewish and talked with him about the correct way to do a Passover dinner called a Seder service. I am not so sure what we did was exactly Kosher, but it got me thinking. The first thing that God did after freeing Israel from slavery and bondage, was give them the 10 Commandments. Why did God give Israel the commandments? Because it is only by keeping the commandments that Israel's freedom could be preserved. And once that freedom is lost, only the shedding of blood can redeem and regain that freedom again. Why is that? It is because once wicked people are empowered, a wicked person usually will never voluntarily give up power. Also, an immoral people who give into any type of vice, or addiction like drugs, alcohol, or infidelity can be easily controlled and enslaved. The addicted brain in actual fact cannot think straight.

Today, we all are seeing the erosion of family values and morality in America and it should be no surprise that as we see the morality of America decline, we will also see a decline in our freedom. Many groups out there claim to want to preserve free government and the Constitution, but the only policy that will preserve our freedom in America is through a return to virtue.

For some odd reason, growing up in Salt Lake, about the time my friends and I were at the age we were reveiving our patriarchal blessings, rumors were spread around that so-and-so's brother received his patriarchal blessing, and in that blessing, it said that he would be called to serve a mission for the Lord but that during that mission, he would be “called home” to defend the Constitution. How silly is that? Be called home to defend the Constitution? Missionaries by teaching people to pray and keep the commandments of God are doing more to preserve the Constitution and preserve freedom than anyone could ever do.

I work in the Emergency Room, I am in the trenches and on the front lines of a great spiritual and social war in America. I see the casualties of this great war come in to the ER every day. My heart aches as I see the great pain and suffering many times caused by the very poor choices of themselves or others.

That is why I love missionary work so much. These missionaries sit down with individuals and families like spiritual and social therapists teach people to pray individually and as families, and teach and commit them to living laws of self restraint soberness, and morality. Every member of the Church can be a missionary and a defender of freedom by standing up for traditional family values and encouraging a return to virtue in America and in the world.

“Keep the Commandments, Keep the Commandments, in this there is safety, in this there is peace. He will send blessings He will send blessings, words of a prophet, keep the commandments, in this there is safety and peace.”

The Book of Mormon makes the point that Jesus Christ came to save us from our sins and not just in our sins. The great atonement of Jesus Christ is not just grace to forgive and overlook sin. The atonement of Christ is also power to overcome sin. We are told in scripture that the people reached a point were they had “lost all desire for sin or disposition to do evil, but to do good continually”. Thinking you are forgiven is nice, but unless you actually overcome the sin and completely forsake it, forgiven or not, sin still carries painful and serious consequences. I don't want the painful consequences, and I don't want the sin. That is why I am so thankful for the power of Christ that has the power to help us overcome all sin and any addiction or vice.

Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints understand the true relationship of God the Father and God the Son. Jesus Christ is God but not the same person as our Father in Heaven. Joseph Smith like Stephen the disciple who was stoned in the New Testament saw the glorified Jesus Christ standing on the right hand of God. Why is it important to understand that Jesus Christ is the Son of God? Because God the Father sent God the Son to Earth to condescend to our level and raise us up. When we accept Christ we feel that Christ is in us. And that is true, Christ's spirit is in us even thought we are not yet perfect. However, that is not the end. The point of Christ's spirit being with us and in us is so that His spirit will begin to empower us to repent, and change, and elevated us eventually back to the perfection of our Heavenly Father. If we stay as we are, then even though Christ is in us, we still will not be able to dwell in the presence of our Father in Heaven because we are told that “no unclean thing can dwell in His presence”. Christ condescends to our level not to leave us where we are but to raise us back up the the level of our perfect Father were we used to be.

The Young Men and Women's theme is: “Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and live God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ”

In the Church of Jesus Christ, our sacrament meetings are very solemn and reverent. We don't have a band, we don't get excited or entertained, because this meeting is a memorial of the death of Christ. It is very much like holding a funeral service for Christ every week, and every sermon given at the pulpit is Christ's eulogy. Under the sheet covering the bread and water, it is made to look like Christ's body could be laying there and the Aaronic priesthood administer the bread and water to the congregation symbolizing partaking of the body and blood of Christ as a reminder that only His infinite atonement and only His death and His blood and save us

The good news of the gospel, is the conditions of repentance. And we know we are saved after all we can do? What is all we can do? Is this saying that we can do anything on our own without Christ? No! Captain Moroni in his letter to Pahoran in Alma 60 supplies us with the perfect understanding of what is “all we can do”. Captain Moroni is said by Mormon to have had a “perfect understanding” and in Alma 60, Captaun Moroni is explaining to Pahoran the conditions of deliverance which are the same exact conditions as the conditions of salvation. Captain Moroni asks if we “can we sit upon our thrones and think that God will still deliver us when we do not make use of the means the Lord has [already] provided for us?” That is the good news, that is the meaning of “all we can do” All we can do is make use of the means that the Lord has already provided for us. And those means are keeping His commandments and denying ourselves of all ungodliness, receiving baptism, and covenants in the temple, and joyfully serving in His kingdom.

I do not fully understand how the atonement of Christ was done, or how it works. But nevertheless, I know the atonement of Christ is real. I have felt the weight of sin on my heart and on my shoulders miraculously lifted by talking the appropriate steps of repentance. I have felt remorse, and regret, and guilt, and through repentance, I have been empowered to improve, to change, to forsake sin and addiction, and felt the wonderful return to the glorious peace of conscious mind and heart. I know it is real.

I have been fortunate in my life to have a wife and 5 beautiful and healthy children. When I consider the hardships of the pioneers, any little thing I have gone through so far pales in comparison. I was watching the Church's video of the Life of Joseph Smith. I didn't realize that at the same time he was translating the Golden Plates, and He and Emma Smith were being ostracized, and rejected by Emma's side of the family, that Joseph and Emma lost their first child. The movie showed Joseph digging a shallow grave to bury their first son. I have felt that pain, to hold one of my deceased children in my arms.

When it comes to moments like a death of your baby, that is where the rubber meets the road when it comes to religion. When it came to that painful time in my life April 3, 2002, when I was in Medical School and defending my Masters Thesis, I am so thankful for my testimony of Jesus Christ and the assurance I have that through Christ, His resurrection, His temple, and keeping His commandments, that my eternal family can and will be together forever. In the sacred name of Jesus Christ Amen.

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