We Believe in God the Eternal Father, and in his Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost.
So begins the final portion of the Wentworth letter, a document written by Joseph Smith that lays out the foundation of Mormonism. Yes, I'm going to use the term “Mormonism.” today to refer to the Christian movement that Joseph Smith started that eventually splintered into multiple churches, one of which we now belong to, which calls itself “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.” I hope you all can forgive me. In any case, the Wentworth letter ends with thirteen articles, which we now call the thirteen articles of faith, and which many of us memorise as children (or are currently memorising) and the first one states our doctrine of the Godhead as three separate personages, God the Father, his son, Jesus Christ, and the Holy spirit.
This doctrine is one of those that marks us out as different from other Christian sects and is why some consider us not Christian. I'm not really interested in why, though. I personally believe that between the account of the first vision and multiple scriptures in the New Testament that our belief in three separate individuals is warranted. I think focusing on how this makes us different from other sects is, ironically, at odds with the doctrine of the Godhead itself, as it's something that is used to divide us from others rather than uniting us.
So, I would like to turn to unity and what our understanding of the nature of the Godhead teaches us about it. How is it possible for three distinct individuals to be united as one as the Godhead is described by Joseph Smith? And how are we to be united as one body of saints?
In John 10:30, while in the temple preaching during the feast of the dedication Jesus says, “I and my Father are one.” Some time later, during the great intercessory prayer that he gives at the conclusion of the last supper (found in John 17:21) he prays over the Twelve “That they may all be one; as thou, Father art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.” Since clearly the Twelve did not become physically one with each other or with God and Christ, again, I think this is indicating the Lord expects his disciples to become one with each other in spirit and in purpose. He asks the same of us today.
How is that to be accomplished among his disciples? Just a couple of weeks ago we studied the Last Supper. Just a few minutes ago we took part in the ordinance that came out of the Last Supper. Every week when we partake of the sacrament we promise that we, “do always remember him [Jesus Christ], that we may have his spirit to be with us.” We promise to keep his commandments, and to take his name upon us.
This is part of the oneness. By remembering him, by taking on his name so that our actions are taken under his behalf, and by accepting his spirit, or the companionship of the Holy Ghost, we promise every week to become one with Jesus Christ. We are, as a congregation, unified in that covenant and in renewing that covenant every week.
Unity is about the type of relationships we develop with those around us. During the last supper, Jesus twice gives the commandment to love one another. The first of these scriptures (in John 13:34-35) we sing regularly in the hymn, Love One Another. Loving one another is a definite theme in Christs teachings throughout his Earthly ministry, but I think it's significant that in the final hours of his life he emphasised Love so strongly. I've heard in my life a lot of discussion of the different words for love that Jesus uses that would have had slightly different meanings in the original language and yet are all translated into the word 'love' in english. I'm not enough of a scholar to be able to explain that to you today, but I do want to point out that Christ is talking about Godly love, and that Godly love is different from the love that we typically share with family or friends.
It's easy to love some people. It's easy to love those who listen to us, or who are like us in significant ways. I find it easy to love people who are kind to me, who say nice things to me or who do nice things for me. I don't want to discount the importance of these things within healthy, happy relationships. We all need those things, and we all need relationships that provide safety and acceptance and validation. The Trappist Monk, Thomas Merten said:
“The beginning of love is the will to let those we love be perfectly themselves, the resolution not to twist them to fit our own image. If in loving them we do not love what they are, but only their potential likeness to ourselves, then we do not love them: we only love the reflection of ourselves we find in them.”
But God's love is different. Dieter F. Uchdorf said in the 2009 October general conference:
“Though we are incomplete, God loves us completely. Though we are imperfect, He loves us perfectly. Though we may feel lost and without compass, God’s love encompasses us completely. He loves us because He is filled with an infinite measure of holy, pure, and indescribable love. We are important to God not because of our résumé but because we are His children. He loves every one of us, even those who are flawed, rejected, awkward, sorrowful, or broken. God’s love is so great that He loves even the proud, the selfish, the arrogant, and the wicked.
What this means is that, regardless of our current state, there is hope for us. No matter our distress, no matter our sorrow, no matter our mistakes, our infinitely compassionate Heavenly Father desires that we draw near to Him so that He can draw near to us.”
When I was in college there was a girl in my class who was difficult to like. I'll call her Robin. Robin was not well-liked because she was abrupt and seemed to expect people to dislike her. She had a disability that made her difficult to talk to and, as is the case with many very smart people, she was more than a little arrogant. Her arrogance seemed as much a defence against a world that she assumed saw her as worthless. In any case, she wasn't well-liked and really didn't have any friends that I knew of. I'm a pretty awkward person myself and I remembered spending several years in my early adolescence friendless and remembered how miserable that time was, so even though I didn't much like her either I tried to be nice to her in the ways I've been taught to be nice to people.
You're probably thinking this is going to be a heartwarming tale where my efforts at kindness were received gladly and we learned to love each other and through the influence of my caring support Robin saw her worth as a person and her heart grew three sizes and whatnot. Yeah, that didn't happen. For the first two years I knew Robin I tried to engage her in conversation and unfailingly greeted her when I saw her around campus. And every time she rebuffed me. And she was not nice.
So after two years I gave up. I started ignoring her.
Once I respected her space and once she perceived that I wasn't being a fake friend she did respond to that. She's still a difficult person, but we are friends to this day because we're on equal footing. I thought I was showing charity, but it wasn't until I stopped making our friendship about making me feel good about myself that we could actually be friends. Robin taught me a lot about love and about friendship.
I believe unconditional love is a prerequisite for unity within our community. I don't think it's sufficient, but I do think it's where we have to start. I think much like faith, love is without work is dead.
As it says in James 2:17, “Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.”
What are the works we are to be engaged in if we want to create a unified community? Let's back up a few verses, and start with verse 14 of the second chapter of James.
14-17 What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister be naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.
We live in a time of exceptional bounty. There is enough and to spare for everyone on the planet. There is enough food produced to feed 10 billion people. There is no good reason for people to go hungry. There is plenty of work to be done and plenty of money to pay people for their work. There is no good reason for people to be jobless or homeless. The degree of inequality between people and the concentration of wealth in the coffers of a few speaks to the inadequacy of our economic system to provide the necessities of life to everyone. We don't often talk about the immorality of that, but I do believe it is immoral when there is enough that we allow poverty to persist. It is most assuredly a huge barrier to the creation of a unity when we don't value people enough to provide the basic necessities of life.
It is my belief, and my personal opinion that we should use whatever tools are at our disposal to combat poverty and the multitude of social ills that follow it. The thing is, I can't alleviate poverty through my own individual actions. However, I can support using the government to address the problem of poverty.
And if you want to argue with me about it, feel free. I will be here in the chapel after church. Just be forewarned, I'll probably force a music score into your hands and make you sing with the choir.
I'm going to end with my testimony that the Lord loves each of us, whatever our circumstances, whatever our faults, whatever our sins. He loves us constantly in a way that we can perhaps glimpse a few times in our lives. He asks us to develop our capacity for love and for charity, to love those with whom we disagree, to sit with the publicans and the sinners of the world and show them their worthiness. I am grateful to have landed in Firle ward, where I do feel loved, where we do disagree and do so in love and with respect. I hope that this testimony I've offered today gives you a better idea of what I mean when I call myself a Christian, and what I mean when I say I believe in God, the Eternal Father, and in his Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost.