Today is Pioneer Day. The 24th of July, 1847, the LDS Saints first entered the Salt Lake Valley and President and Prophet Brigham Young declared upon seeing the barren wasteland of the Great Salt Lake Basin, “This is the Right Place, Drive on”. The Great Basin of the Rocky mountains was an unlikely destination for the LDS Church which had its beginnings in Palmyra, New York and Harmony, Pennsylvania from 1820-1830. However, due to persecution, the Church was forced to first gather in Kirtland, OH. Kirtland was a city on the banks of the newly completed Erie Canal. The Church initially thrived in Kirtand, a temple was built, but opposition and economic difficulties arose. The State of Ohio would not approve the creation of the Kirtland bank and after Kirtland was forced to make due with a join-stock trust, the surrounding banks wouldn't honor it's bank notes. The Kirkland Bank eventally failed after the financial panic of 1837, many Saints were offended, broke their covenants, and apostatized, and the Saints were forced to move on to Independence, MO which was then the Western borders of the US. However, the US borders attracted many criminals and the unscrupulous as well as the Saints. The Saints weren't in Missouri long enough to build a temple before they were forced out by an extermination order signed by Governor Lilburn Boggs. As in Kirtland, the LDS Saints left their homes and farms and were forced to move on again.
Ruth has a direct ancestor William Burt Simmons who was converted through the missionary service of Hiram Page, one of the 8 witnesses of the Book of Mormon, while living in Ontario, Canada. William Burt Simmons followed the call of the prophet to gather with the Saints. William Burt Simmon left his prosperous farm and home and traveled to Missouri with his wife and children looking to join with the Saints. However, he arrived in Missouri just as the Saints were fleeing the state for their lives and helped bury the dead after the Haun's Mill Massacre.
After being taken in by the good people of Quincy, Illinois, in 1839 the Saints moved to a bend on the Mississippi called Commerce which was renamed to Nauvoo (a Hebrew word meaning “a beautiful place”). Commerce was a mosquito and sick-infested swamp; which with considerable blood, sweat, and tears; the swamp was drained and a city was built up; in only a few years Nauvoo became one of the largest cities in Illinois, second only to Chicago. While the city was being built up, as well as the construction of the Nauvoo Temple, missionaries were being sent all over Great Britian and the converts were called to leave their homes in Ireland, England, Scotland and Wales and gather with the Saints in Nauvoo to build Zion.
However the peace and prosperity in Nauvoo didn't last. The federal and state governments provided the LDS with no protection from the Mobs. The State militia confiscated guns in Nauvoo from the Nauvoo Legion Militia, revoked the Nauvoo city charter, and the governor of Illinois broke his promise to Joseph Smith of protection if her were to allow himself to be arrested and face trial, resulting in his martyrdom by a mob, with faces painted black.
Despite the death of their beloved prophet, Joseph Smith, the Saints continued on to finish the Nauvoo Temple and recieve their promised covenant blessings only to yet again, be forced to abandon Nauvoo and their homes in the dead of winter and flee the United States (which was supposed to protect religious freedom), and try yet again to establish Zion in what was then Mexican Territory in the Desolate and Barren Great Basin of the Great Salt Lake and then throughout the Rocky Mountains from Cardston, Canada to Colonia Juarez in Mexico. Through God's blessing and the Saints industry, the American Desert was made to blossom as the rose.
But how did these Saints do it? How did the Saints's remain faithful in the face of the considerable adversity. Many saints who heeded the call of the prophet got sick, froze, starved, and died in their trip across the Atlantic from Europe or crossing the planes. Did these death's mean the prophet's call was not inspired? Did the Church's seeming failures in Kirtland, Missouri, and Nauvoo prove that Joseph Smith was not a prophet. Or in the infinite wisdom of God, was God beta testing the Saints, teaching them how to not just build up a single city in a challenging place, but preparing them to build up thousands of cities throughout the desolate Western US, and eventually, throughout the world.
How did those Saint's do it? Why didn't they just give up and go home? How did they have the fortitude to carry on after burying infants in shallow graves. If you have not held the lifeless body of your child in your arms, it is difficult to covey in words better than Christ who said about His suffering, “how exquisite you know not, yea, how hard to bear you know not.” Yet, the Saints endured. They accepted their callings from the prophet.
How did the Saints do it? It was because and by of the power of their covenants. The same covenants we have made. The precise reason God makes covenants with us is because He knows we will have every excuse in the book not to keep the commandments. In this life, we will face persecution, scorn, physical and mental illness and disability and even death. But the blessings of the gospel only come by obedience and doing and not just hoping, yearning or attempting alone. The Saints in Nauvoo had to drain that swamp. They had to cross the ocean, they had to walk across Nebraska. This is the great irrevocable law of the Universe that blessings only come through obedience and the Saints knew that their blessings of eternal life and eternal families only came at the other end of a 1000 mile handcart trek. Every one of those Saints had every excuse to give up, but they kept on walking and kept on building because they promised. They had given God their word. And we have likewise give God our word.
Mosiah 10: 7 And it came to pass after many days there were a goodly number gathered together at the place of Mormon, to hear the words of Alma. Yea, all were gathered together that believed on his word, to hear him. And he did teach them, and did preach unto them repentance, and redemption, and faith on the Lord.
8 And it came to pass that he said unto them: Behold, here are the waters of Mormon (for thus were they called) and now, as ye are desirous to come into the fold of God, and to be called his people, and are willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light;
9 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—
10 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?
Here in the Book of Mormon is a description of the baptismal covenant we all have made. Here it says that we have covenanted to be called God's people, and to bear one another's burdens. Our brother and sister's poverty is our poverty. Our brother and sister's lack of a ride, is our lack of a ride. Our neighbor's endlessly crying18-month-old who needs a good nursery leader, is our crying18-month old that needs a nursery leader. Our fellow ward member who needs to be home and visiting teachers is like our own family who needs home and visiting teachers. Whatever challenges or adversity the Augusta Ward has is all of our to bear together.
According to Alma, we all have covenanted to stand as witnesses of God at all times, and in all things, and in all places. Even until death. Not so long as we feel like it, or as long as its easy, or for as long as its convenient, or as long as I got a good night sleep last night. The challenges we face in the Augusta Ward are not easy, I am not going to pretend, that I have all the answers-- I don't. But, I know that God does, and I know that I have covenanted with God to build up His kingdom and devote and consecrate everything to God.
Joseph Smith said, "A religion that does not require the sacrifice of all things never has power sufficient to produce the faith necessary [to lead] unto life and salvation." (Lectures on Faith, p. 58.)
This is what the LDS Church is. God is not asking right now that we drain a mosquito and malaria infested swamp, or pull a handcart across Iowa, Nebraska and Wyoming. Remember Naaman going to Elisha to be healed of Leprosy. The servant had to remind Naaman, had the the prophet asked you to do some great thing, you would have done it, but what about the small things? Can we exercise a particle of faith and accept calls to serve here at home?
There is no retirement in the Lord's Kingdom. We are not asked to run faster than we have strength, but we are asked to run. We are asked to lift were we stand and to accept whatever callings are extended to us, we are expected to show up, and magnify those callings (magnify and honor Christ through our callings).
3 Nephi 28:1 And it came to pass when Jesus had said these words, he spake unto his disciples, one by one, saying unto them: What is it that ye desire of me, after that I am gone to the Father?
2 And they all spake, save it were three, saying: We desire that after we have lived unto the age of man, that our ministry, wherein thou hast called us, may have an end, that we may speedily come unto thee in thy kingdom.
3 And he said unto them: Blessed are ye because ye desired this thing of me; therefore, after that ye are seventy and two years old ye shall come unto me in my kingdom; and with me ye shall find rest.
4 And when he had spoken unto them, he turned himself unto the three, and said unto them: What will ye that I should do unto you, when I am gone unto the Father?
5 And they sorrowed in their hearts, for they durst not speak unto him the thing which they desired.
6 And he said unto them: Behold, I know your thoughts, and ye have desired the thing which John, my beloved, who was with me in my ministry, before that I was lifted up by the Jews, desired of me.
7 Therefore, more blessed are ye, for ye shall never taste of death; but ye shall live to behold all the doings of the Father unto the children of men, even until all things shall be fulfilled according to the will of the Father, when I shall come in my glory with the powers of heaven.
8 And ye shall never endure the pains of death; but when I shall come in my glory ye shall be changed in the twinkling of an eye from mortality to immortality; and then shall ye be blessed in the kingdom of my Father.
9 And again, ye shall not have pain while ye shall dwell in the flesh, neither sorrow save it be for the sins of the world; and all this will I do because of the thing which ye have desired of me, for ye have desired that ye might bring the souls of men unto me, while the world shall stand.
10 And for this cause ye shall have fulness of joy; and ye shall sit down in the kingdom of my Father; yea, your joy shall be full, even as the Father hath given me fulness of joy; and ye shall be even as I am, and I am even as the Father; and the Father and I are one;
The 3 Nephites weren't looking to retire and rest from their labors but understood that God's work never ends but continues on forever. Satan has controlled this Earth for 6000 years. God wants it back. God desires that the Earth be a place where He can send His spirit children to grow up “without sin unto salvation.” We can't claim the Earth for God after we die. This work can only be done with our bodies. The Spirit World, even paradise, is a prison away from our bodies and away from the physical Earth which is promised to be our eternal home “The meek shall inherit the Earth”
We all need to beware of an Entitlement mentality. Sometimes we point the finger at the poor and needy in this regard. But maybe we should be also be pointing a finger back at ourselves if we think it's someone elses turn for this or that calling or we have servered enough in the Church. There is no end to service in the Church and no one owes anyone else anything. The only person we owe, is Christ who paid for our sins in exchange for our willingness to serve in His Church and build up His Kingdom. In the next life when we stand before him and see His face, can we imagine how we will feel? Can we examine ourselves and honestly say that we have sacrificed enough for Him? Can we stand with Abraham, Moses, Joseph Smith and the Early Saints at Nauvoo and imagine how we will feel, that we have made a comparable sacrifice in our time?
Elder Eyring in a General Conference talk from 2002 entitled “Rise to your call” gave 3 things we should remember when being called to serve in God's Church:
First: know that you are called of God. By priesthood authority, prayer, and revelation Second: know that the Lord will guide you by revelation just as He called you. Through prayer, commitment and diligent scripture study. Third: know that Just as God called you and will guide you, He will magnify you. There will be times when you will feel overwhelmed and feel inadequate. Well, we are inadequate to answer a call to represent God with only your own powers. But you have access to more than your natural capacities, and we are promised that when we are on the Lord's errand, we do not work alone. But are entitled to the Lord's help. The Lord will labor with us and we will stand as witnesses of His power.
My invitation to us all is to examine ourselves. If we have a calling, are we magnifying the Lord in our calling as much as we can? Are we praying for the Lord's help in our callings? Are we doing our home and visiting teaching? If we don't have a calling or feel like we could do more, could we approach our RS or EQ or Bishopric and let them know that we could do more. Can we let our Missionaries know that we have time to invite investigators into our homes for discussions or go out with the missionaries for team-ups. There is more we all can do when we have the correct perspective on what is important and what things are truly worth sacrificing for and when we truly remember our Savior and Redeem Jesus Christ and our sacred covenants.