Sunday, April 24, 2011
Easter Message: Love, Christ's Great Commandment...
A talk I gave in Sacrament Meeting this morning...
I want to thank the bishop for asking me to speak today. He knows who I am and accepts me for what I am. His love, brothers and sisters, is Christ-like.
I am grateful that my children and their families could be here today. I love them very much and appreciate their support and the efforts they have made to be here this morning.
I am also thankful that so many of my friends and acquaintances are here, especially those who are members of the Family. For some this is a difficult and even painful experience, and your attendance comes at tremendous personal sacrifice. Thank you. In return, you have my love and tremendous respect.
I’m grateful on this Easter morning to stand before you and humbly bear my testimony of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. I know that he was born of the Virgin Mary; suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried. He willingly descended into hell where he ministered unto those who were bound and on the third day He rose again from the dead. After concluding his ministry, He ascended into heaven where he sits on the right hand of the Father to judge the quick and the dead.
This is the good news. This is the Gospel of Jesus Christ, that through him you and I may be saved.
While we Latter-day Saints possess those keys, principles and ordinances that make it possible for man to walk the path that leads to exaltation, we do not possess a corner on Christianity. Today millions, tens of millions, hundreds of millions of people are gathered to recognize each in his own way the life and supernal sacrifice of Jesus—a sacrifice so awful and yet so magnificent that it caused him, even God, “to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore.”
And why did he do this. Why did he give his blood and his life in our behalf?
The answer is simple—he loves us. As Paul wrote to the Ephesians, “Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God.” (5:2)
This love that he has for us, this love that he had for those who persecuted and tormented him, is complete—whole, like him, it is unspotted without blemish.
With regard to love, Christ was clear about its necessary centrality in all that we do. He boiled down the myriad of laws that governed Jewish life to merely two: Love God with all your heart, might, mind and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself. I like to think that when Christ said, “If ye love me, keep my commandments” he in fact was referring explicitly to these two commandments of love upon which hung the entire Jewish law.
Christ taught the principle of love by example.
I find it interesting that during his earthly ministry, he spent much of his time surrounded by those who were outside acceptable society…those who failed by circumstance or decision to keep the detail of the law. Instead Christ stood with outstretched arms, filled with love, and made place for them within his heart.
To Zachias, the tax collector, Christ called him to come down from a tree and in contradiction to law and custom, and to Zachias amazement, supped with him that evening. To the woman caught in adultery, he stated simply, gently after her accusers slunk away steeped in guilt, “Neither do I condemn thee. Go thy way…” To the leper, so vile and unclean that to even approach another person violated the law, Christ brought healing with his word and his touch. Throughout his ministry, Jesus ignored custom and law by showing that his custom and his law required love of all God’s children regardless of their standing in the community or synagogue.
It is important, brothers and sisters, to remember this in our own lives. How willing are we to reach out to those on the outside, the person who feels unworthy to join the body of Christ--the drug addict, the adulterer, the Sabbath breaker, or those who for one reason or another are unable or unwilling to follow the commandments in totality. How willing are we to reach out to those who feel unwelcome among us—the single parent, the divorcee, the homosexual.
Brothers and Sisters, Christ’s love is universal. Christ’s love is unconditional. It was Christ who said, “Come unto me, ALL ye that labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.” This invitation is offered to all, not just the obedient. Not just the orthodox. As we look to Christ, regardless of our circumstance or condition, his arms are outstretched still.
Brothers and sisters, how like the Pharisees do we sometimes tend to be. How easy it is to find ourselves struggling to keep the commandments with exactness, while missing the opportunity to show our love to God, our families, our neighbors and the strangers who sojourn in our midst.
Let me share two contrasting stories to illustrate my point.
Several weeks ago, a friend and I were riding public transportation to a restaurant in the western part of the valley. At one of the stops, a group of teenage boys obviously homeless boarded the bus. As is our custom, my friend and I began a conversation with the boys—a conversation that ultimately would break our hearts.
These boys came from various parts of Salt Lake County. Each had been raised in good LDS homes attending primary and young men’s—one boy’s father was a stake president and another boy’s dad had been a bishop.
Why were these boys on the streets? Tragically, each had been driven from his home by parents who refused to accept that he was born with certain perspectives and desires which the parents viewed as deviant. Rather than try to understand, support, and accept these young men for the sons of God that they are, their fathers and mothers demanded conformity as a pre-requisite for granting parental love.
As a result, the boys were lost to their parents and lost to God, rejecting all that would make their lives rich, safe and joyful. Instead, these young men were lonely, angry and afraid.
As Paul taught, it is only perfect love that casts out fear. It is the perfect love of a father and mother, patterned after the forbearance Christ shows us, that would give these young men and others like them the courage to face life rather than flee from it.
In contrast, I have a friend, John Netto, with whom I serve on the Utah Pride Center board. John and his wife are successful entrepreneurs and devoted to building a better gentler community. Despite arduous demands and responsibilities weighing on John’s shoulders, you can find him most evenings wandering among the homeless, providing food to those who are hungry, securing shelter for those who are without.
Last Sunday, in the middle of a meeting John and I were both attending, his telephone rang. After a few minutes, he excused himself, returning sometime later. At the conclusion of the meeting, I pressed John in a light hearted way about what could have been so important to have allowed him to interrupt our meeting. Eventually, John confessed that one of his homeless friends, a schizophrenic woman who also suffered from seizures, was stranded in a bus station in Sacramento. She was confused, agitated, and afraid. John spent an hour getting her the help that she needed and a bus ticket back to Utah. Through John, Christ’s hands are outstretched still.
I love the poem by St. Theresa of Avila that begins: “Christ has no body now on earth but yours, no hands but yours, no feet but yours."
During this Easter season, as we meditate on the mystery of Christ’s great sacrifice, let us feel and be the instruments of God’s love as St. Theresa suggests, by being the body of Christ, the hands of Christ and the feet of Christ. If men are that they might have joy, it is only through love, the love of God and the love of our fellow men, that joy will be found.