Easter

The central doctrine driving Christianity is Jesus’s victory over sin and death that is both remembered and celebrated during this Easter season. I grew up with certain narratives about how to view, interpret and internalize Christ’s atonement in ways that I simultaneously took for granted and was completely mystified by. Historically, my Easter experiences haven’t been moments of deep reckoning with these mysteries. Rather, my Sunday experiences have the same basic feel week after week with only slight variations even during religious holidays. Tomorrow, there will be Easter themed talks, our choir has been working on an Easter musical number they will perform and it’s my turn to teach Sunday School.

This year in Sunday school, we’ve been studying the Old Testament, timed to be working through the Exodus story just as the Easter and Passover religious holidays arrive. To really parse this out with the detail it deserves is going to take some time and is beyond the scope of both this post, my training and my Sunday School lesson tomorrow, but hopefully I can point out broad themes.

The Exodus

Before Exodus, Israel was a person (previously named Jacob) who had twelve sons who all ended up in Egypt because a famine forced this migration after Jacob’s favorite son, Joseph, had been sold by his jealous brothers into slavery in Egypt. Joseph, by good fortune and revelatory skill, rose up to become second only to the Pharaoh in power and instituted a program to store food in preparation for that very famine that drove his family into Egypt with him. Joseph’s family prospered in Egypt because of Joseph’s position and power, receiving their own land, special privileges and access to resources that were broadly unavailable to the rest of the country. This privilege worked against them in subsequent generations. The next Pharaoh, not having the same feelings of loyalty toward Joseph’s progeny, worried that their increasing numbers posed a threat and as a result imposed escalating levels of burden in an attempts to control and reduce their numbers and power.

This is the setup for Exodus, the pharaoh, the wicked dictator suppressing and enslaving the chosen people of Israel. God calls first Moses and then through Moses, Aaron to lead the people out of Egypt in a manner that there would be no question of God’s intervention. These attempts consisted of an increasingly virulent Godly interventions that culminate in a sacrifice. The Lord required each family in Israel to sacrifice a “lamb without blemish, a male of the first year” (Exodus 12:5) then they shall take the blood and “strike it on the two side posts and on the upper door post of the houses.” (Exodus 12:7). The Lord would then “pass through the land of Egypt this night, and smite all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast” (verse 12). Those with blood on their door will be passed over. This event would then be memorialized in ritual as a way to keep this miracle in the memory of subsequent generations (verse 27).

And of course on the night of the passover, the people leave Egypt only to be held up on the borders of the red sea with Egyptians armies bearing down on them. God rescues them, famously, by the parting of the seas allowing Israel to escape.

In the book, Founding God’s Nation, Reading Exodus, Leon Kass makes the case that the oppressive Egyptian Pharaoh was decisive in turning Israel into a nation. Rather than allowing Jewish integration into the Egyptian economy, culture and eventual inter-marriage, similar to what happened with Joseph who married an Egyptian and had fully assimilated into the culture, the Pharaoh treated this people like the other, a group to be feared and oppressed, and ultimately enslaved with escalations that turned into multiple attempts to murder their children. It’s through this oppression that God intervened, turned this people, previously bound together simply through genealogical lineage into a covenant people chosen by God.

The Exodus is the founding story for the people of Israel. The passover is remembered through covenant and ritual. Through subsequent generations they managed to regain control of the land promised to Abraham only to lose it to later oppressive regimes, notably Babylon and ultimately Rome.

Through those years, different notable prophets record prophetic and aspirational predictions of an eventual King that will rescue, restore and ultimately reign.

I think it’s worth a pause to consider how important the Exodus story has been in US history, inspired from the this interview with Rabbi Meir Soloveichik that makes note that the US founding, the slave emancipation and the civil rights movement took inspiration from Exodus. The Mormon exodus from Nauvoo to Salt Lake City was also inspired by this Biblical story. It’s impossible to underestimate the influence and effect the Exodus story has had on the world.
Specific examples:

America’s Founding

  • Thomas Paine compared the British monarch to the Pharoh
  • The third most cited biblical text during the Revolutionary War was Exodus 15’s “Song of the Sea”.
  • Both Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson suggested stories from Moses become the seal of the United States.
  • Pastor Eli Forbes in his eulogy of Washington called Moses the “Washington of Israel”.

Abolition

Civil Rights

Jesus – Atonement

A Bit of Roman Historical Context – Inspired by NT Wright’s book Simply Jesus: A New Vision of Who He Was, What He Did, and Why He Matters

Jesus was born into the world during the Roman empire’s rule over Israel. Rome had a form of a Republic with various checks and balances. Julius Caesar a military leader of notable success made himself Roman dictator in 49 BC but was assassinated in 44 BC and later deified so that his successor, Caesar Augustus could claim the label, son of God. By the time Jesus came on the scene, Caesar Augustus was an absolute monarch of Rome with some claim to divinity. In that time Herod was appointed ruler over Jerusalem given the name “King of the Jews”. Rome by this time was also overpopulated, relying heavily on the import of resources from Northern Africa and other regions through which Jerusalem was situated. Rome really needed stability and cooperation within the region of Israel to sustain its empire.

The Jewish people knew in their bones the story of Exodus, God’s promises for Israel and the prophecies of a new Messiah. They felt like it was their destiny and their promise to overthrow Rome and re-establish Israel. Judas the Hammer was an early example of someone who attempted this with some success although it ultimately ended in failure. Simon bar Kokhba was another, later attempt of this that also had some early success followed by ultimate failure.

This is the context Jesus appears on the scene, with Rome in control feeling they have divine authority for their empire with every incentive and power to suppress uprisings that happen to arise. And a Jewish people who feel their history in their bones, recorded in scripture, bound by covenant, looking forward to a restoration of their nation. Within the Jewish people, there were some who cooperated and found favor with Roman rule, and others who sought opportunities to undermine the empire in hopes of being worthy to help usher in the fulfillment of prophecy.

Jesus knew the history, understood the prophecies and through the course of his three year ministry, offered a completely different interpretation of its fulfillment in ways that even his closes followers had trouble immediately understanding.

The events that lead up to Christ’s resurrection follow a well documented series of events, timed to correspond to passover, the ritualistic celebration of Israel’s redemption from Egypt.

  1. Palm Sunday – Jesus rides triumphantly into Jerusalem, prophesied in Zechariah 9:9
  2. Monday – Jesus cleanses the temple.
  3. Tuesday – Jesus laments over Jerusalem on the Mount of Olives
  4. Wednesday – Rest
  5. Thursday – Passover and the Last Supper ((Zechariah 11:12-13)
  6. Friday – Trial, Crucifixion, Death and Burial
    1. Isaiah 53:4,7
    2. Psalm 22:16, 18
    3. Psalm 69:21
    4. Isaiah 53:9
  7. Saturday – Day in the tomb
  8. Sunday – Resurrection
    1. Daniel 12:2

First of all, aligning these events with the passover marks a transition. Just as Exodus transitioned God’s work from the familial to the national. Christ pushed this work out into the world. Christ’s work was most definitely both religious and political in ways that subverted both Roman and Jewish narratives. Romans needed this redemption just as much as the Jews. Their political systems needed redemption as well. Jesus work was radically non-violent and sacrificial. Jesus offered himself up as the sacrifice and it was through that sacrifice we find redemption, from both sin and death.

How Can We Make that Sacrifice Resonant In Our lives – Ideas Inspired by An Early Resurrection among other Sources

Christ’s sacrifice calls us into sacrifice. Christ’s death is an invitation for our death – the death of our old self and resurrection into a new life in Christ. This message of death and renewal is everywhere. The cold dark season of winter brings forth new life in the spring. The darkness of evening followed by the light of the morning. So, we are called daily to sacrifice our old self to a life in Christ, which means a life fully and completely connected and alive. In this sense death is a form of surrender. We give up realizing that on our own we are hopelessly not enough. Our best efforts will always come up short. We will eventually die. So we surrender in Christ and then become renewed in Christ. How is this done? In the way it’s always been done. We seal this intention through covenant and ordinance and then live into these promises through regular, daily efforts, through constant and consistent sacrifice and consecration.

I think we can look at what’s expected of us by looking at what was expected of Christ’s closest followers. The book of Acts provides a good example. In the lives of Peter, Paul, Stephen and others, we see to live in Christ means acting like Christ, becoming as Christ was, fully engaged in the world, attempted to redeem it through sacrifice, obedience and covenant.

That is the Easter message.

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The Lord is With Us in Hard Things

Last fall my wife and I were asked to help out with the Trek experience, which is a reenactment of the early handcart pioneers making the journey from Nebraska to Salt Lake City.

From the period of 1846 to 1868 less than 10% of the total immigrants into Salt Lake used handcarts, consisting of ten total companies. We remember two of those companies, the Willie and Martin handcart companies because they met with tragedy, more than 210 of the 980 pioneers in that company did not make it across.

These Saints were poor, the church was poor, as what was so common in our early history we were striving to build Zion in our poverty and God was with us. Their stories and sacrifices continue to inspire us to this day. We have church history sites in Wyoming in Martin’s Cove where these Saints sought shelter from a brutal winter storm awaiting rescue. And many stakes across the world, commemorate these sacrifices by a re-enactment we refer to as Trek.

Last fall, when our former bishop and now young men’s president, John Jones visited my wife and I to see if we would help out with trek, my thought was.. do you actually know my camping history? what I do for a living? That I spend my days sitting on a computer. We’ve tried to camp over the years with our family, but we always do so with a bathroom nearby. We gone on family hikes, but we have a history of turning around early.

I’m going to give you a brief summary of the experience from my perspective. I was asked to be a captain, helping John Jones navigate the hiking and communicating between the families and the leadership.

Going in we knew there it was going to be unseasonably cold and that there might be rain and maybe even snow. Normally on trek the kids sleep under a canopy for some overhead protection from rain, but basically outside. The first adjustment was that they brought in 10-person tents, two for each family.

Thursday morning began, we got the families together to assemble the handcarts, load in their bucket with their clothes and their garbage bags on top holding their sleeping bags. Everything was tied down with a tarp. And we started the journey. The first day was going to be out long hike. We started our hike around 10:30am and expected to finish somewhere around 6 or 6:30pm. We hit some initial challenges almost immediately. Sleeping bags kept falling out on the bumpy trail, and families kept having to stop to make adjustments. We hit the spot for lunch which was at a fork. If we went left as planned, it would take us on a pretty long loop north of our camp where we would hit a road that would take us south back.

The plan was that we would go down the road for some distance and then turn around back to the fork and then take another road that would bring us back into camp cutting out a few miles and avoiding some pretty steep inclines.

When we got to the point where we thought we should turn around, we decided to ask the kids what they wanted to do. At this point it was about 3pm. Still pretty warm though with clouds. We could push through and potentially be out on the trail after dark. We collectively decided we should turn back. And that was a good decision because as we started the journey back, some hard winds started to bear down on us. When the winds started to die down a bit of rain started. Soon that rain turned into a wet snow and the trail got muddy. Our shoes picked up a lot of that mud.

We had intended to let the kids and the big brothers and sisters push the carts, but soon after the mas and pas jumped in. And then so did I. With a collective effort we made it into camp before the sun fell and before it got really cold. That night it got down into the 20’s but worse, the wind continued relentlessly through the night. Some of our tents weren’t strong enough to resist, some broke collapsing on the families inside. None of us slept very well because of the relentless noise.

We got up, had a hearty breakfast and made further adjustments. We pushed the handcarts with just the buckets. Some of the kids were not up for the second day hike. Some couldn’t push and just had to walk alongside. The hike was shorter and concluded by lunch when we were able to enjoy a day of activities. That night we had a beautiful fireside. And finished with an incredible hoedown.

On the third day, we hiked out. By then, our feet and legs hurt, some of us endured blisters. But we were in good spirits. And we had fun.

D&C 88:13 The alight which is in all things, which giveth blife to all things, which is the claw by which all things are governed, even the dpower of God who esitteth upon his throne, who is in the bosom of eternity, who is in the midst of all things.

The assigned topic given to me was that God is with us when we do hard things. And yes, God is with us. He will strengthen us and comfort us and guide us. God was in that decision to turn around we did, so that we would not over-extend ourselves. But if we had made the opposite decision, God would have been with us as we worked through the cold and snow and darkness. God was with us that night when the winds were blowing our tents over and none of us could really sleep. But God was also with us the next night when the night was a little warmer and the winds were still and the night was quiet. On that second night, we had a beautiful fireside, Mattie Watson spoke about her connection to our handcart heritage. The stake presidency spoke. We had a beautiful music number in the cold. And then we all sang “I am a Child of God.” in the dark and in the cold and God was with us.

Then they asked the kids whether they wanted to finish the night with a hoedown or just go to bed. They got a mixed response, but some kids wanted the dance. A ma and pa on the trip brought instruments and in the cold played their viola and violin while the kids danced. I was too tired and sore to join them but I watched the joy and the energy. God was in the dancing and in the music.

And that last day when we all hiked out. Some of the kids were strong, others less so, but we all made it out. About half way we pulled off and the families found spots of ground and had a testimony meeting. I didn’t listen but I could that God was in that moment of reflection and testimony.

God is in the midst of all things, including the details of our lives. Especially when our lives our difficult and we need him the most.

In the name of Jesus Christ Amen.



Come Follow Me: Noah and Babel, Genesis 6-11 and Moses 8

This week’s Sunday School lesson covers a lot of territory and among the most common, well-known stories in all of western civilization, if not beyond. I heard on a podcast that we are in danger of taking Noah’s flood both too casually and too seriously. I know my kids had this toy as an example of taking this story a little too casually. Because this story is so familiar it’s easy to take it for granted without having absorbed all the lessons it has to teach us.

Taking the story too seriously can be perhaps more damaging. Noah’s God comes off as cruel, willing to wipe out human life at a catastrophic scale. Or we can take the wickedness/punishment binaries too literally and wonder why our own efforts at goodness don’t always lead to positive earthly results. Thinking too literally about the global flood as a scientific possibility can lead one down anti-scientific backwaters. The stories in Genesis’ first 11 chapters is an invitation to think through the lens and worldview of those writing the story, the way they perceived the world and God. What, then, can we learn about the mercy and grace of a loving God we all so desperately want to believe in. Noah’s flood is a story we get only through this religious text, although there are very similar flood stories in other myths around the world. This religious text wants to teach its reader about God and that is the way we have to get through and into the story.

This lesson includes the Genesis account of the story as well as Joseph Smith’s revelatory expansion of chapter 6 found in Moses 8.

Corruption

The people’s wickedness is described consistently as corrupt, a description that is both broad and generic(Genesis 6:11,12, Moses 8:28, 29) but the text does provide three specific examples of that corruption.

A Corruption of Family and Marriage

First, In Genesis 6:2,4 and Moses 8:14,15 it appears on the surface the people were honoring and obeying the one commandment Adam received as he left the Garden of Eden – to multiply and replenish the earth. However, there appears to be corruption underlying this behavior. The sons of God take the daughters of men for apparent superficial reasons rather than as true, loving and equal partners working together within a marriage covenant. Men take possession of women “because they were fair”. In Moses, the Lord accuse the women of selling themselves. This union appears to be more about status than love, an an intermingling between faithful lines ( Sons of God) and those more concerned with their own welfare (the sons of men).

Violence

Second, violence is a clear component of their wickedness (Genesis 6:11, 13, Moses 9:28, 30). The flood would be a violent response to violence, but perhaps the flood is emblematic of what usually happens when societies devolve into violence. Violence begets violence. Individual violence scales up into society violence. A society organized into violence struggles to properly protect themselves against the inevitable violence nature inflicts on humanity.

Pride

Finally, pride is a clear sin described in the narrative. Genesis 6 describes the people as giants, mighty men, men of renown (Genesis 6:4, Moses 8:18). It appears that that description is probably both accurate but also says something about their emphasis, prioritizing personal accomplishments and renown over faithful lives.

In his book, The Beginning of Wisdom, Leon Kass wonders if this corruption was precipitated by the first non-violent death to take place on the earth when Adam dies. After nearly 1000 years fulfilling the promise given to him after eating the fruit of the tree (Genesis 5:4). These expansive lifespans may have been given them a feeling of invincibility only to have that punctured by the death of the first human, their lone human connection to the garden. How much of our corruption occurs in response to our anxiety of our own mortality?

Response/Consequence of Wickedness

The Righteous Grieves

God sees the wickedness and grieves (Genesis 6:6). In Moses, Noah is the one who grieves (Moses 8:25). Believing in a God who weeps, I believe both accounts are accurate and expresses God’s love and concern for all humanity and offers a lesson for us as well. We should be moved by the catastrophes we see in the world no matter what part of the earth they occur, even if we ourselves are unaffected.

A Massive Reduction in Lifespan

God reduces human lifespan (Genesis 6:3, Moses 8:17) severely impacting how much one person can accomplish, forcing a lifelong reckoning with one’s mortality. Growing lifespan is often used as a metric of progress and a reduction of lifespan usually comes from catastrophe – war, disease, despair. God wants us to have a full and long life, but ultimately, the primary purpose for life is to attach ourselves to God and through God to others. We don’t need one thousand years to do this type of work. What we do need is to emphasize helping the next generation continue our faith traditions. Our lives are short, our primary emphasis needs to be that our faith does not die with us.

A Reboot Through Flood

Ultimately, God decides to reboot. The language of Genesis echos the creation story in some surprising ways. First God looks upon the earth and beholds its corruption (Genesis 6:12). And then allows the waters to come in to destroy the “breadth of life” (Genesis 6:17). In Genesis 7:11, God allows the fountains of the great deep and the windows of heaven to undo what the creation did.

To understand this language it’s helpful to view the world the way the authors of this accounting did, surrounded by water. In the creation, the firmament is created by separating the waters from the waters (Genesis 1:6, 7). The flood reverses the separation, opening the windows of heaven and breaking up the earth.

A view of the world in this way, it’s easy to see the human vulnerability, sitting on unstable soil floating on deep waters, shielded from waters overhead by a leaky roof. Water in this world was symbolic of chaos and water, though necessary for life could also destroy it.

Noah: The New Adam

Starting over did not require a new creation. Instead, God preserves Noah, his family and a selection of the animal kingdom. Noah is tasked to preserve and continue life through this massive cataclysm, chosen not for his skill but for his faithfulness (Genesis 6:8,9,22, Moses 8:13, 27).

God commands him to build the arc, gives him precise instructions and Noah unquestionably obeys (Noah 6:22). In Moses 8, Noah tries to warn the people, pleads for them to repent, pointing them to Christ, through covenants and ordinances (Moses 8:16, 29, 24).

Covenant

Through this story and the next, covenant runs through the narrative and becomes one of the key lessons for those of us wondering how we can find peace and safety (though not necessarily freedom from suffering or death) in a troubled, difficult and often tragic world. In Genesis 6:18, God makes a covenant with Noah that he will be protected through the flood. In the midst of the flood, God remembers Noah (Genesis 8:1). The first thing Noah does after leaving the ark, seemingly unbidden, is to offer sacrifice. In response, God recognizes the inherent flaws in humanity and then makes the most famous covenant noted by the rainbow, to never again flood the earth (Genesis 9:11-15). Finally, Genesis 11 ends with the introduction of Abraham, connecting Israel to Noah through both lineage and God’s grace.

Shem, Japeth, and Ham

Noah, though righteous is flawed, understandably so. The sadness and anxiety of being among the very few who survive the flood. In response to that trauma, creating wine from a vineyard seems to have been an urgent priority. Noah gets drunk and passes out naked in his tent. Ham sees it and tells his brothers. His brothers cover his nakedness being care to do so without looking.

Like the rest of early Genesis, the story is spare. But in Ham there seems to be an impulse to denigrate his father. In Shem and Japeth there seems signs of respect for his authority. In the end, Noah curses Ham’s son, not Ham and recognizes the God of Shem. Our sins, weaknesses, failings and struggle tend to transmit through to our children. Geneology and the blessings, culture and faith that transmits through geneological lines is an important part of the Biblical narrative. Failure to respect, cherish and absorb the best of what our parents have to offer us will hurt not just us but those children we bring into this world.

Babel

The lesson concludes with another spare story, the impulse to build a tower in Babel. Here is among the first attempts at civilization. Likely in response to the flood catastrophe and a recognition of their own vulnerability, Babel is a fully human attempt to take control and provide protection and sustenance. Using brick for stone, slime for mortar (Genesis 11:3), they try to reach heaven and make a name for themselves that will endure (Genesis 11:4). God has to come down to see this and decides to disrupt their attempts by confounding their language (Genesis 11:7) and as a result of their confounded language, they abandon their attempts and scatter (Genesis 11:9).

How do we try and fail to control our environment, predict the weather, hold back the floods, lean into technology without grappling with our ethical responsibilities beyond just what we can do and what we discover. Is scientific and technological innovation all we need? Can a fully humanist response to the human condition be enough? This story provides an emphatic no in response to these questions.

Conclusions

What’s clear in these narratives our primary focus should be toward God through covenant, manifested through reproduction and ensuring the transmission of faith flows through the geneology that comes out of that reproduction.

Making our mark more often than not ends up in catastrophe. Or perhaps catastrophe is baked in the his world. The writers of Genesis believed in a world surrounded vulnerably by waters from both above and beneath. Water can be catastrophic and chaos inducing. Even today, we struggle to deal with the chaos of water as hurricanes spring up on a regular basis, flash floods erupt out of an unusually excessive storm. We’ve made progress in predicting the weather, holding back the water, but regularly nature overwhelms are best efforts.

However, our more modern view of the world should give us plenty of reasons to be petrified, a crust floating on a ball of fire making up a globe rotating around the sun with massive rocks regularly hurling past us, with plenty of marks indicating past, life altering collisions. Floods, fires, earthquakes, disease and all sorts of catastrophes spring forth out of nature regularly wreaking havoc. Meanwhile, humanity’s propensity to destroy ourselves has been pandemic in earth’s history with regular eruptions of violence happening individually and among nations.

Ultimately, in the midst of our vulnerabilities, weaknesses and confrontation with our mortality, the way to peace is God.

Come Follow Me – Moses 1, Abraham 3

Initial Old Testament Thoughts

This year’s Sunday School program covers the Old Testament, something that both scares and excites me as one of my congregation’s adult Sunday School teacher. I’m excited to finally be able to do a deep dive on this section of our standard works, recognizing it’s among the more neglected books in our cannon. I’m scared because it’s a messy, difficult, mundane book filled with contradictions, difficult to accept stories, and a lot of minutiae. It’s the one part of our cannon I still have not read cover-to-cover. Excited because there exists thousands of years of thinking and writing on this inspired work of scripture. It has inspired three of our major global religious traditions, Islam, Christianity and Judaism and has attracted the attention of the best minds that have ever existed. The amount of scholarship and scrutiny this book has endured over the thousand of years of its existence speaks to its timelessness and influence. It’s a book worth careful study despite its difficulties. I look forward to it, trepidly.

Historical Context for Moses and Abraham

My religious tradition takes the Old Testament seriously, even if I, for the most part, have not. Soon after, Joseph Smith completed the translation of the Book of Mormon and organized the church, he began an effort to re-translating the Bible, starting first with the Old Testament. The Book of Moses that now sits within “The Pearl of Great Price” comes from this re-translation attempt, written sometime between June 1830 and February 1831. The book of Abraham has a more complicated history addressed by the church in on of their Gospel Topics Essays on the Book of Abraham. The short story is that in around 1835, Joseph Smith purchased a mummy that came with papryi scrolls. Joseph Smith was interested in the scrolls more than the mummy and attempted an inspired translation of them. Joseph Smith was not a scholar of any subject and had no knowledge of languages, so the translation process for Smith was more a revelatory experience. From this, the book of Abraham was produced, eventually published and eventually accepted as scripture.

Both the books of Moses and Abraham provide an expansion on the lives of these two Old Testament prophets from what we find in the Old Testament, providing theological teachings about the nature of God, our relationship to God, our purpose here on earth, the eternal nature of souls and our eventual destination after we pass on.

The scriptural content stand on its own whether one accepts Joseph Smith’s translations as literal events that actually happened or not. Regardless of where one comes down, although these passages of scripture deal with ancient prophets in an ancient text, the books of Moses and Abraham have only been made available with Joseph Smith’s introduction, so they were written for a modern audience. I think situating these experiences within the Moses and Abrahamic narratives is fruitful, the revelations come through Joseph Smith’s perspectives and biases. In that sense, they stand apart from the Old Testament.

Major Themes

Abraham 3 and Moses 1 have cover very similar ground. Both describe a visionary encounter between God and the prophet. The subject of each vision cover similar ground and hit on similar themes. Given that, I will proceed through both chapters together.

Abraham 3 provides a bizarre and esoteric astronomy lesson describing a sort of hierarchy of planets, orbits and stars, some being greater than others, the greatness determined by its proximity to God. The revelation identifies the governing star of the universe, Kolob, being the star nearest to God (verse 3), describes a hierarchy of of planets based on its orbits, determined by its proximity to God (verse 9). Now it’s important to note God’s purpose in this exchange is not to teach about astronomy but to teach about God. The book of Abraham is not a book about science, it’s a religious book meant to instill faith. Abraham is being prepared to enter Egypt, a civilization obsessed by the stars with beliefs connecting stars with gods, each having a relative hierarchy of importance. God’s intent here, then, is to find a way to connect with Egyptian thought and lead them to the God who gave them life.

Prophetic Mission

Both Abraham 3 and Moses 1 describe a prophetic encounter with God before each prophet is about to embark on a mission with the Egyptians. Both visions are preparatory.

And the Lord said unto me: Abraham, I ashow these things unto thee before ye go into Egypt, that ye may declare all these words.

Abraham 3:15

And I have a work for thee, Moses, my son; and thou art in the asimilitude of mine bOnly cBegotten; and mine Only Begotten is and shall be the dSavior, for he is full of egrace and ftruth; but there is gno God beside me, and all things are present with me, for I hknow them all.

Moses 1:6

We talk often of being present, to avoid allowing our past mistakes to consume us with regret, or possibilities of the future to consume us with worry. Total presence is the way Moses describes God here. “All things are present with me, for I know them all.”

The Lord is Greater than Us, Eternal and Endless

Among the points in these rich revelations is to evoke an awe inspiring reverence with the vastness of God, God’s creations, and our relative diminutive place within that.

And I saw the astars, that they were very great, and that one of them was nearest unto the throne of God; and there were many great ones which were near unto it;

Abraham 3:2

And the Lord said unto me: These two facts do exist, that there are two spirits, one being more intelligent than the other; there shall be another more intelligent than they; I am the Lord thy God, I am amore intelligent than they all.

Abraham 3:19

And he said unto me: My son, my son (and his hand was stretched out), behold I will show you all these. And he put his hand upon mine eyes, and I saw those things which his hands had made, which were many; and they multiplied before mine eyes, and I could not see the end thereof.

Abraham 3:12

Howbeit that he made the greater star; as, also, if there be two aspirits, and one shall be more intelligent than the other, yet these two spirits, notwithstanding one is more intelligent than the other, have no beginning; they existed before, they shall have no end, they shall exist after, for they are bgnolaum, or eternal.

Abraham 3:18

And God spake unto Moses, saying: Behold, I am the Lord God aAlmighty, and bEndless is my cname; for I am without beginning of days or end of years; and is not this endless?

Moses 1:3

 And, behold, thou art my son; wherefore alook, and I will show thee the bworkmanship of mine chands; but not all, for my dworks are without eend, and also my fwords, for they never cease.

Moses 1:4

 And it came to pass that Moses looked, and beheld the aworld upon which he was created; and Moses bbeheld the world and the ends thereof, and all the children of men which are, and which were created; of the same he greatly cmarveled and wondered.

Moses 1:8

When God leaves Moses the first time, he was so overwhelmed he fell to the earth (verse 9) and wakes up after many hours to exlaim “I know that man is nothing, which thing I never had supposed.” (verse 10).

We are God’s Children, Also Eternal and Can be Partakers of God’s Goodness, Grace and Abundance

And it was in the night time when the Lord spake these words unto me: I will amultiply thee, and thy bseed after thee, like unto these; and if thou canst count the cnumber of sands, so shall be the number of thy seeds.

Abraham 3:14

Both Abraham and Moses are referred endearingly as God’s son (Moses 1:4, Abraham 3:12, 19)

God spends time to discuss stars as a setup to discuss intelligences, the eternal nature and potential of human life.

And God saw these souls that they were good, and he stood in the midst of them, and he said: These I will make my rulers; for he stood among those that were spirits, and he saw that they were good; and he said unto me: Abraham, thou art one of them; thou wast achosen before thou wast born.

Abraham 3:23

Our souls existed as intelligences “before the world was” (Abraham 3:22) and each of us were chosen before our birth. There’s something intuitively true about this idea. Each of feels like we have a calling, a life’s work. We each seem to have our own unique aptitude and circumstance that spans beyond our life’s circumstances. We’re born with gifts, it’s our job to discover this calling and to do our best with what we have.

When Moses is delivered from the temptation of Satan, God promises him glory and power.

And calling upon the name of God, he beheld his aglory again, for it was upon him; and he heard a bvoice, saying: Blessed art thou, Moses, for I, the Almighty, have cchosen thee, and thou shalt be made stronger than many dwaters; for they shall obey thy ecommand as if thou wert fGod.

Moses 3:25

The True Temptation is to Forget God’s Light and Our Own potential

In Moses’ revelation, Moses’ interaction of God is followed by an interaction with Satan. The contrast is instructive. First of all, in Satan’s temptation, Moses is referred to as a son of man and desire of Satan is to become Moses’ object of worship.

And it came to pass that when Moses had said these words, behold, aSatan came btempting him, saying: Moses, son of man, worship me.
And now, when Moses had said these words, aSatan cried with a loud voice, and ranted upon the earth, and commanded, saying: I am the bOnly Begotten, worship me.

Moses 3:12, 19

In this encounter, Satan denies Moses’ familial relationship with God and attempts to redirect Moses focus from God. This is not an encounter I can see I’ve personally have had literally, but I’m wondering if my own temptations can’t be summed up similarly. Where I forget myself, my potential and my connection with God and my purpose is and my action, rather than getting wrapped up in God’s purposes are centered elsewhere – in my own neurosis or in an attempt to win favor, adulation, or acceptance in other earthbound sources, whether a religious figure or someone else with power that I admire and want to get near.

Moses response to Satan’s demands are to recognize Satan’s limitation because he was able to compare this encounter with the encounter he had with God. “But I can look upon thee in the natural man” (verse 14), “Where is thy glory?” (verse 15). But it took work and repeated effort for Moses to resist and reject Satan. Three times, with increasing effort Moses tries before he succeeds, culminating in verse 20:

And it came to pass that Moses began to afear exceedingly; and as he began to fear, he saw the bitterness of bhell. Nevertheless, ccalling upon God, he received dstrength, and he commanded, saying: Depart from me, Satan, for this one God only will I worship, which is the God of eglory.

Moses 1:20

It’s interesting to describe hell as bitter, resentful, jealous. In this sense, when our focus is on God, perhaps the temptation that causes such bitterness falls away.

The Purpose of God’s Creation, Our Purpose

Abraham concludes with the creation story.

In verse 24, God does not create the worlds from nothing. “we will take of these materials and we will make an earth whereon these may dwell.” For the purpose of our growth.

 And they who akeep their first bestate shall be added upon; and they who keep not their first estate shall not have glory in the same kingdom with those who keep their first estate; and they who keep their second cestate shall have dglory added upon their heads for ever and ever.

Abraham 3:26

To keep our “second estate”, to meet the obligations of our life on this earth, it’s our job to receive God’s glory and as we receive the glory, we receive more, “grace for grace” “for ever and ever”.

In Moses second revelation, God gives Moses a vision of infinity.

And it came to pass, as the voice was still speaking, Moses cast his eyes and abeheld the earth, yea, even all of it; and there was not a particle of it which he did not behold, bdiscerning it by the cSpirit of God.

Moses 1:27

After beholding all of God’s creation, Moses asks why (verse 30) and God responds coyly, “For mine own purpose have I made these things (verse 31).

First how, “by the word of my power” (verse 32). They are innumerable, but “all things are numbered unto me, for they are mine and I know them (verse 35).

Finally, God answers the question in verse 39:

For behold, this is my awork and my bglory—to bring to pass the cimmortality and deternal elife of man.

Moses 1:39

Questions

What can we learn from these experiences of Abraham and Moses? In what ways have we/can we have this type of experience with the expansiveness of God and our nothingness by comparison?

How can we experience are familial and intimate relationship with God as our Heavenly Father? Can we have that same feeling God’s children? How do these experiences (both reverential awe at the infinite and intimate connection with God) work in tension? When have we experienced each of these?

What sort of temptations have we or can we experience that can shake us from this relationaship and awe of God? How have we been asked to worship something other than God? Can all temptations be summarized in this way? Have we felt the bitterness of hell and what sort of lessons does that teach us? How can we learn to resist and endure through difficult experiences?

What is our eternal purpose? How can we discover it? How can we get this same sort of call that both Abraham and Moses receive?

Come Follow Me – The Family – A Proclamation to the World and The Living Christ – The Testimony of the Apostles

In the last two weeks of the Doctrine and Covenant study, the Come Follow Me curriculum covers the most recent officially published proclamations, The Family – A Proclamation to the World published in 1995 and The Living Christ – The Testimony of the Apostles published in 2000. Family and Christ are fundamental to the gospel. Christianity encourages its adherence toward better lives, providing guides, but then enables that adherence through the sanctifying power that comes when a Christian yields to Christ’s grace. We don’t live as individuals. So much of who we are is shaped by the community we live in. We think of individual responsibilities for sins, but the evidence points more clearly to societal culpability. Similarly, it’s through our associations, especially our familial associations where salvation comes. We need to strive to live up to standards, but in that striving we need to yield to Christ’s grace. This generosity and magical goodness is most profoundly felt and expressed during this Christmas season.

The Family Proclamation

Among progressive parts of the church, this proclamation has taken a lot of heat given the way it’s been filtered through the cultural war lens. It was at least partially written through that lens in response to an attempt to change the law in Hawaii to legalize gay marriage, one of the first attempts to do so. The proclamation describes the importance of traditional marriage, the eternal nature of gender and the traditional nature of gender roles in marriage. The proclamation emphasizes the need for children to be reared in loving nuclear family, to parents who sacrifice and willingly populate the earth with their progeny. Needless to say, those within the LGBTQ community, those who are single or from troubled or complicated family situations, and those who care about people in these situations, have very understandable reasons to struggle with the proclamation as it is written. And those people include all of us. Right now, half of the church membership is single, and all marriages and families have complications and struggles. For those who can’t or won’t read it, I won’t press the issue, but for the rest of us, there are beautifully important principles that can and should be elevated within our public discourse.

Through the Perspective of Children

Christianity is fundamentally about placing people into covenant to love and service to others. For a Christian, entering into the marriage sacrament is yet just another call to service – to love and care for a spouse and for most who do, to ultimately help bring into the world, the next generation of human life. According to the proclamation, marriage and families is “God’s planned destiny for children”. Christianity is a religion concerned about life beyond this life, but it’s also fundamentally concerned about this life. We hope for a better world in the there-after but we’re called into making this world as good as possible in a way that will sustain and progress long after we depart it. How we raise children is a fundamental part of that.

A few years ago, Diane Rehm interviewed Penelope Leach about her book on the impact divorce has on children. No matter how old the children are when divorce happens, they will feel the effects. What we do effects others and we should hold ourselves responsible for the negative impact our choices and behaviors have.

We warn that individuals who violate covenants of chastity, who abuse spouse or offspring, or who fail to fulfill family responsibilities will one day stand accountable before God.

From the Family Proclamation

Every child deserves to have connection to loving, stable caregivers. We need to do more as a society to ensure every child has that opportunity no matter the exact circumstances that brought that child to this world. Too often, but inevitably, biological parents cannot fulfill the obligations of parenthood. Thankfully, many good-hearted people step in to fill in these gaps, through adoption and other essential social services.

But losing this connection to one’s biology leaves gaps.

 What I would say, though, is that even if a child is better off being raised in a one parent home, as this child clearly is, it’s still important that that child be allowed to know about the other parent. We all seem to need to know where we came from, and if you look at the — look on the internet, the adopted children desperately looking for news of their own backgrounds. The same is equally true of children of divorce.

MS. PENELOPE LEACH

I’m not an expert on divorce or adoption, I do feel the joys, yearnings and desires for the well being of my own biological children. I see myself in them. I worry for them in many of the same ways I worry for myself. Fiction is filled with stories about the struggles children have with missing, abusive, or otherwise severely flawed children. A past This American Life episode describes a crazy true-story case where a baby was accidentally switched at birth and the trauma both children felt feeling like neither fit in with the family they were raised in. Barbara Kingsolver similarly dives into the difficulties and complexities adoption imposes in her book, Pigs In Heaven, describing a women’s adoption of a Cherokee daughter.

Relying on the nuclear family, however, to do all of the lifting is problematic and fragile. To this point, David Brooks wrote an important essay recently about how much give up by removing the infrastructural support that used to be provided by an involved extended family, saying

If you want to summarize the changes in family structure over the past century, the truest thing to say is this: We’ve made life freer for individuals and more unstable for families. We’ve made life better for adults but worse for children. We’ve moved from big, interconnected, and extended families, which helped protect the most vulnerable people in society from the shocks of life, to smaller, detached nuclear families (a married couple and their children), which give the most privileged people in society room to maximize their talents and expand their options. The shift from bigger and interconnected extended families to smaller and detached nuclear families ultimately led to a familial system that liberates the rich and ravages the working-class and the poor.

David Brooks

The well-being of children, then, is not just the responsibility of parents. Extended family, church and society all should help shoulder the enormous burden of raising children.

Christmas is fundamentally a family celebration. At the heart of it is a Jesus’ birth. A new life, a young mother, a worldly celebration. I think every birth should have that celebration, that promise, that support, that hope.

The Baby Bust

We declare that God’s commandment for His children to multiply and replenish the earth remains in force.

From the Proclamation

The family proclamation is concerned with humanity’s eternal destiny. What becomes of us after we die has traditionally been church’s predominant concern. But we also care about the thriving sustainability of human life on this earth as well. We must strive for a growing, thriving existence for humankind on this earth right now. As such, we need to bear, raise and nurture the next generation. A shrinking number of us have children which will put pressure on society going forward. This baby bust has been a concern for Ross Douthat among many, many others.

Many young adults are delaying marriage and child-rearing not because they want to but because they feel a sense of vulnerability and uncertainty in an economic system that increasingly puts all the pressure and burden on them.

We call upon responsible citizens and officers of government everywhere to promote those measures designed to maintain and strengthen the family as the fundamental unit of society

The Family Proclamation

If we want stronger, larger families, our policies should be designed to ease this burden, providing necessary financial support, more consistently good schools, and more equitable access to college.

A Multitude of Individual Adaptations

Disability, death, or other circumstances may necessitate individual adaptation. Extended families should lend support when needed. Extended families should lend support when needed.

From the Proclamation

There are broad and important principles in the proclamation but individual circumstances are messy and complicated. We understand the general principles but we can’t use them as weapons to beat ourselves or others. Not everyone will get married. Not ever married couple will have children. Some of this will be by choice, for many others, by circumstance. No life looks the same. Within each experience we have an opportunity, an obligation and grace. Extended family, friends, and neighbors can all lend a hand to provide the support for others. Church congregations can also fill in as a sort of unofficial family. In my faith, we lovingly refer to our wards as a type of family. I think this is right and important.

Life is Precious

We affirm the sanctity of life and of its importance in God’s eternal plan.

From the Proclamation

But it’s not just about having children, we must recognize the inherent worth of human life, every single human life. Parents have the primary obligation, but all of us should care for, nuture, and reach out to every single human soul to the best we can.

Grace Needs to Infuse all of This

I think it’s an interesting time of the year to be doing a deep dive into the Family Proclamation. Christmas has always been fundamentally a family holiday for me. I grew up in family poverty and dysfunction but I had older sisters who worked hard to provide the magic that is so much a part of my childhood memory. But not just my older sisters, members of my church congregation at times provided extra gifts to ensure Christmas magic had a slightly more bit of equity. There was also an over-arching infrastructure that provided this magic freely to as many who would pay attention. School, church and neighborhood programs and parties. Extra gifts sent out to those in need. Neighbors who spent time to light up their houses, widespread holiday music. The whole season is magical and unifying.

I can’t think of a better example of this than the Christmas truce in 1914.

The so-called Christmas Truce of 1914 came only five months after the outbreak of war in Europe and was one of the last examples of the outdated notion of chivalry between enemies in warfare. It was never repeated—future attempts at holiday ceasefires were quashed by officers’ threats of disciplinary action—but it served as heartening proof, however brief, that beneath the brutal clash of weapons, the soldiers’ essential humanity endured.

Interestingly, the Christ story itself is an example of an individual adaption to this nuclear family. Mary was single, though betrothed, pregnant and poor. Her people were marginalized and subjugated. Joseph, famously encouraged by an angel, chose to marry her despite a pregnancy that wasn’t his. Jesus life was lived in the shadows and on the margins. Defending, sustaining and nurturing those well on the outside of what was considered proper.

I think this is the message, we strive to live good lives, but we are vulnerable. We’re less vulnerable with support. Christ’s grace flows through the supporting networks we build up.
I love this message that was smuggled into the move Home Alone.

Home Alone

Come Follow Me – D&C 137, 138

Historical Context

These last two sections were added to the current version of the Doctrine and Covenants in 1981. Previous to that, these revelations were accepted as scripture and added to the Pearl of Great Price in April 1976. (Information from wikipedia). D&C 137 was a revelation received by Joseph Smith in Kirtland Ohio on January 21, 1836 just prior to the dedication of the Kirtland temple. D&C 138 happened much later, received by Joseph F. Smith (Joseph Smith’s nephew) on October 4, 1918. Both were revelations providing more light and knowledge about life after death.

The Come Follow Me lesson that introduces these sections reference a recent General Conference talk given by Dallin H. Oaks where he reminds us how little has actually been revealed about the after life. These revelations are glimpses only, revealing important and helpful principles and insights. As we feel tempted to wonder or worry about the details, we should, to use Elder Oaks’ words, “trust in the Lord“.

D&C 137 (January 21, 1836)

Alvin Smith

This revelation centers on and was triggered by Joseph Smith’s thoughts, feelings and relationship for and with his older brother Alvin Smith. Alvin had previously passed away on Nov. 19, 1823 at the age of 25. During his funeral service, the minister presiding over the funeral service had taught that Alvin’s soul was in jeapardy because he had not been baptized in any church before his death. Thirteen years later, Joseph received this revelation about the celestial kingdom after both giving and receiving a blessing from his father.

The Vision of the Celestial Kingdom

Verses 1-4, Joseph Smith describes his vision, “whether in the body or out I cannot tell.” He described the “transcendent beauty of the gate” “like unto circling flames of fire”. “The blazing throne of God”, the “beautiful streets of the kingdom” with the “appearance of being paved with gold.”

Next he describes who he sees, starting first with two significant Old Testament prophets, Adam and Abraham, followed by his still alive father and more significantly, his brother Alvin. (verse 5). Joseph Smith had long dismissed the authority of the minister who presided over Alvin’s funeral, but the preeminent importance of baptism stayed with him. Seeing this vision caused him to question and then receive an assurance.

 And amarveled how it was that he had obtained an binheritance in that kingdom, seeing that he had departed this life before the Lord had set his hand to cgather Israel the second time, and had not been dbaptized for the remission of sins.

Thus came the avoice of the Lord unto me, saying: All who have died bwithout a knowledge of this gospel, who would have received it if they had been permitted to tarry, shall be cheirs of the celestial kingdom of God;

Also all that shall die henceforth without a knowledge of it, who awould have received it with all their hearts, shall be heirs of that kingdom;

verses 6-8

That the Lord will “judge all men according to their works, according to the desire of their hearts.” (verse 9).

We should be careful to interpret these words too narrowly. As a general rule, imagine a kind, loving God who loves and cares for every single one of God’s children. Thinking too about the capricious, uneven, wildly unjust nature of this world, we’re called into love, compassion, care and forgiveness. There is an accountability. We do need to adopt a sense of urgency. We need to avoid complacency. But God wants us with Him. Heaven is not Harvard. The bar for Heaven is far higher and more essentially important than Harvard’s admissions, but God desires a 100% admission rates, US News & World Report rankings be damned.

D&C 138 (October 3, 1918)

More Background

This revelation came to Joseph F. Smith just as WW1 was ending, a war that resulted in an estimated 40 million lives lost. It was also the start of the first outbreak of deadly 1918 flu epidemic in Utah. One week after this revelation, there would be a ban on all public meetings in Utah. Moreover, president’s life was also nearing his end, his death would be a couple of months later, in December of that year. Joseph F. Smith’s life was filled with tragedy and death. He was only six years old when his father, Hyrum and his uncle Joseph were killed in Carthage Jail. When he was only 13, his mother died in Salt Lake City of pneumonia. He also had 13 children precede him in death.

The Nature of this Revelation

Joseph F. Smith before getting into the revelation describes the manner in which the revelation comes. He’s pondering over the scriptures, reflecting on God’s great love and mercy. While engaged, he remembers the writings of Peter.

While I was thus engaged, my mind reverted to the writings of the apostle Peter, to the aprimitive saints scattered abroad throughout bPontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, and other parts of Asia, where the gospel had been cpreached after the crucifixion of the Lord.

I opened the Bible and read the athird and fourth chapters of the first epistle of Peter, and as I read I was greatly bimpressed, more than I had ever been before, with the following passages:

5-6

He proceeds to quote several verses in Peter culminating in 1 Peter 4:6

For for this cause was the gospel preached also to them that are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit.

1 Peter 4:6

As he reads these passages, the spirit rests upon him and the eyes of his understanding are opened, and he sees the “hosts of the dead”.

Christ First Teaches to the Just

His vision first focuses on the just. The scriptures often talk in binary, the just and the unjust, when in reality, this binary is not well representative as we all fall within some complicated continuum. What’s interesting here is the specific attributes that qualify someone as just.

  • Verse 12: “Offered sacrifice in the similitude of the great sacrifice of the Son of God”
  • Verse 13: “Departed the mortal life, firm in the hope of a glorious resurrection, through the grace of God”
  • Verse 14: Those “filled with joy and gladness”, rejoicing because the “day of their deliverance was at hand.”

There’s something within the just that has a general knowledge and relationship with God that calls them into an enduring effort to love and serve others. It was them that Christ preached the everlasting gospel. Unto the wicked he did not go (verse 20).

Death is described here as bondage that all endured. The difference is that the righteous had knowledge of God’s grace having experienced it while in the flesh, striving to live as Jesus lived. They had a gut-level hope of an eventual resurrection and with that, hope for deliverance. I’m sure there were degrees and continuums here, but it speaks to the importance of living well here, while embodied, to ease the burdens while there, disembodied.

Constrast With the Unjust

The unjust were those who “defiled themselves”, were rebellious and “rejected the testimonies and the warnings of the ancient prophets”. Who can this be? How can we recognize when it’s happening within us? I believe that the spirit of prophecy can come from all kinds of sources and that we need to be willing to listen to their testimonies and warnings with an open heart, willing to repent and change our minds and our hearts. There’s too much of stubbornness in this world.

Verse 22 describes their state and then compares them with those who have light.

Where these were, adarkness reigned, but among the righteous there was bpeace;

And the saints rejoiced in their aredemption, and bowed the bknee and acknowledged the Son of God as their Redeemer and Deliverer from death and the cchains of dhell.

Their countenances ashone, and the bradiance from the presence of the Lord rested upon them, and they csang praises unto his holy name.

verse 22-24

The Vastness of the Mission

In the middle of this remarkable vision, Smith begins to wonder and marvel, beginning in verse 25, that Christ’s ministry was so short (three years), converting only a smattering of followers and his ministry among the dead was even shorter. How could he reach so many people in so short of time.

 I marveled, for I understood that the Savior spent about three years in his aministry among the Jews and those of the house of Israel, endeavoring to bteach them the everlasting gospel and call them unto repentance;

And yet, notwithstanding his mighty works, and miracles, and proclamation of the truth, in great apower and authority, there were but bfew who hearkened to his voice, and rejoiced in his presence, and received salvation at his hands.

But his ministry among those who were dead was limited to the abrief time intervening between the crucifixion and his resurrection;

verses 25-27

The Mission – Continual Preaching and Teaching After Death

The answer came through a quickened understanding (verse 29), that Christ organized the mission among the just to teach the gospel to the unjust (verse 30). The gospel would be taught to those who died in their sins, “faith in God, repentance for sins, vicarious baptism, the gift of the Holy Gost” (verse 33). The idea here to entrance to God’s kingdom, that through God’s judgment they might live with God in the Spirit.

Thus was it made known that our Redeemer spent his time during his sojourn in the world of aspirits, instructing and preparing the faithful spirits of the bprophets who had testified of him in the flesh;

That they might carry the message of redemption unto all the dead, unto whom he could not go personally, because of their arebellion and transgression, that they through the ministration of his servants might also hear his words.

Verse 36-37

The Mighty and Great ones

Similar to Joseph Smith’s revelation in D&C 137, President Smith sees Old Testament prophets among those present in this revelation, but it’s far more expansive, spanning the dispensations, Adam, Eve, Abel, Seth, Noah, Shem, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Elias, Malachi, Elijah, and so many more. Righteous daughters of Eve, though many are sadly left out of scripture are referenced as well as the Book of Mormon prophets. This teaching spans from the very unique and narrow perspective of a prophet of this modern Christian church, but I think with a broader lens, one could see the need to teach and be taught from all prophets who ever lived everywhere, representing all traditions, cultures and people. This was a mission to shine light in dark places.

The Eternal Mission

The point of this mission was life:

For the adead had looked upon the long absence of their bspirits from their bodies as a cbondage.

verse 50

The spirits of the faithful were eternal, forever learning and expanding.

Even before they were born, they, with many others, received their first alessons in the world of spirits and were bprepared to come forth in the due ctime of the Lord to labor in his dvineyard for the salvation of the souls of men.

verse 56

Conclusions

And so concludes the revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants. This book of scripture was intended, originally to contain Joseph Smith’s revelations as the church was just beginning while Joseph Smith was trying to figure things out and largely that is what this book is. The final two sections are appropriate exclamation marks on the ultimate mission and vision of this church. One from Joseph Smith, the other given by his nephew, both describing visions of the afterlife. Joseph Smith’s describes the Celestial glory with God and the real possibilities to be at one not just with God but our loved ones as well – our brothers, sisters and parents. Joseph F. Smith describes an afterlife filled with teaching and preaching, shining light where there was darkness and the proposition that repentance is still possible after death. Most emphatically, the revelation describes the need for the resurrection and that a core part of salvation is this intuitive longing for life.

How I Navigate My Church Membership

I Believe in a High Demand Religion, Not a High Stakes Religion

Churches seem to be losing members for a whole host of reasons. I don’t have my finger on all the reasons why. I’m sure every individual who stops regular church attendance has their own personal reasons. I don’t believe, however, the way to keep members active in the church is by scaring them into staying. It doesn’t resonate and is not backed up by empirical evidence. A person’s life will not completely fall apart when they transition out of organized religion. There are plenty of people within church whose lives completely fall apart while maintaining active participation.

I simply don’t believe in a sad heaven. I believe that loving relationships will continue into the next life regardless of faithful attendance. I believe in a God that loves all of humanity that will work with us in our language, within our culture and through our institutions. I believe in a church of God that spans institutional boundaries. I believe that we are saved by grace, that grace requires our active reception of it, but does not require literal beliefs in specific dogmas. There’s a way to think about grace that transcends Christianity. Grace is a core part of all healthy religious institutions. Grace is a part of all healthy institutions, secular and religious. Thriving businesses offer grace-filled working conditions. Academic studies find that forgiveness and gratitude are key components to mental health. Christianity believes grace was activated by Christ’s atoning sacrifice. But mouthing a belief in Jesus is not how we enable that grace in our lives.

Additionally, I believe that churches should be concerned with falling membership but not too concerned.

Matthew 16:25 reads

For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will alose his life for my sake shall bfind it.

Matthew 16:25

I believe this verse applies to churches as much as people. Churches that think too much about church end up dying. To thrive, churches care most about how to help and encourage their members to lose their lives in the service of others. In this sense, I believe in a high demand religion – that we should be called into total consecration, intertwining our lives into helping our communities, societies and individuals thrive. But I don’t believe in a high stakes religion. No single religious institution has a monopoly on grace. High demand, but not high stakes.

There Are High Stakes in Life – We Need to Try Harder to Reduce Them

Leaving the church should not be considered a high stake catastrophe. I know people who have left my faith and found a thriving, healthy spiritual journey that has led them into a life of love and service. Our relationships should and must withstand these sorts of transitions. We should love, care and learn from others both within and without church, maybe even especially those who are critical. We should allow ourselves to be called into church service, called out of church service, called into the church and called out of the church.

But it doesn’t mean there aren’t high stake decisions in life. There are. Religious institutions can provide structure and protection here. Too many people die far too young. There are too many people living on the streets. Too much abuse of all kinds. Lives have been ruined by poor choices. Our societal institutions should do a better job trying to alleviate poverty, suffering, addiction and abuse by providing better, more effective safety nets and a network of community support. Churches play an important role here.
Reducing high stakes means better mental health support, more access to addiction services, a justice system that’s more restorative and less purely punitive, a much more comprehensive safety net, better access to an educational system that is nurturing and works better for more people.

Let People Not Programs Complicate Our Lives

Churches need to impose more sacrifice for those with the means, talents and abilities that can really make a difference. A church’s core mission is to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable”. Those with excess resources, talent and abilities should sacrifice some of their abundance in the service for those with greater needs. Talented people should get the necessary training to care for and serve others, both professionally where necessary but also in their spare time.

We need more counselors and case workers helping the most vulnerable. Those with extra money should donate that excess to ensure those who need support get it. Many more people should be trained in caring professions.

The poor, the mentally ill, those with the most challenges should complicate our lives. More of what we do should be about pulling more people into our sphere of influence and uplift.

Some Truths are More Important Than Other Truths

Endless apologetic attempts to defend typical religious truth claims completely miss the point about the purpose of religion. I don’t know nor do I much care about what literally did or did not happen with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. The six day creation story seems so obviously allegorical I feel embarrassed to have ever thought there was something scientific about the way Genesis presents creationism. Jesus leaving the tomb at his resurrection is a mystery I’m not sure how to even attempt to solve.

I have faith in life after death, in the eternal nature of relationships and identity. I don’t care too much about the details. I don’t think literal belief in religious truth claims should be a determining factor in someone’s religious participation. Does my involvement in my weekly religious service lead me into love, care, grace and gratitude? Truths about how to purify my soul into more consistent and sincere acts of goodness, love and charity are fundamentally what matters.

Conclusions

I’m not sure what will keep religious institutions thriving into the future. What will be the ultimate factor in convincing my children to stay active in this church? I’m not sure. But what I do know is that I want my kids to be kind, loving, thriving adults making significant contributions in society where they feel loved, included and supported. I want that for everyone. If they can’t find that kind of love and support at church, I won’t blame them if they leave. I believe they can find it at church, but church’s need to make that their primary mission. Nothing else matters nearly as much.

Come Follow Me: Doctrine and Covenants 133-134

Historical Context

These sections are out of temporal order in the Doctrine and Covenants. Taken together, they serve different purposes but have an interesting set of complimentary voices when coupled together. D&C 133 was originally intended to be the appendix to the revelations. Written only a few days after D&C 1, the prefix, in November of 1831, a year and a half after the church was first established, recorded at about the time they intended to publish the revelations for mass consumption. They have similar themes and serve as a good way to sum up Joseph Smith’s revelations. They describe the intent, purpose and ultimate vision of the restoration. D&C 134 was written later, in 1835 by Oliver Cowdery in response to the persecutions and injustices inflicted on the Saints in Missouri. D&C 133 serves to spell out the role, expectations and responsibilities of the church. D&C 134 serves to summarize the church’s position on their relationship with and expectation from the civil governments within which they operate. D&C 133 spells out the church’s mission. D&C 134 spells out governments role in relationship to that mission.

D&C 133

Judgment

The revelation starts off quickly with the theme in verse 2:

The Lord who shall suddenly acome to his temple; the Lord who shall come down upon the world with a curse to bjudgment; yea, upon all the nations that cforget God, and upon all the ungodly among you.

verse 2

This verse contains harsh language and the revelation generally deals in harsh binaries that don’t actually reflect my own experience but I believe represents the religious language of the time. My experience is different, with gradations, growth, times when I’m doing well, other times when I’m not. Good people sometimes do bad things, recognizing most people are doing their best, often with mixed up incentives and difficult circumstances.

Terryl Givens has a really great way of nuancing the word judgment that shows up here in this interview on Faith Matters:

But I think the key is in Paul, his epistle to the Corinthians, when he tells us that Jesus will judge us so that He need not condemn us. Judgment, as I understand — as we understand, as it’s being used in both the Book of Mormon and the New Testament, is that process by which we are brought to recognize distinctions and how they have operated in our lives and in our character. Judgment in this sense is the prelude to further progress. So judgment is that process by which we are made to become aware of where we are, what yet needs to be done, what lies have we been telling ourselves, how have we been alienated from our true identities.

Terryl Givens

Verse three seems to be saying the same thing but at a larger scale, talking of nations, though I think it applies to both nations as well as us personally.

For he shall make abare his holy arm in the eyes of all the nations, and all the ends of the earth shall see the bsalvation of their God.

verse 3

If Christ is light, making bare is holy arm could be a way to discover what’s actually happening through all nations. Experiencing moments of clarity within the fog of circumstance and bad incentives is the work of Christ. When these moments happen before we’ve prepared for them, they can be painful. In that sense, we don’t have to wait for God to find us. We can find God. Verses 5 and 6 is a call to be more proactive.

Babylon vs. Zion

Go ye out from aBabylon. Be ye bclean that bear the vessels of the Lord. Call your asolemn assemblies, and bspeak often one to another. And let every man call upon the name of the Lord.

5-6

Two contrasting organizations described here, Zion and Babylon. This language is big-tent thinking. Zion includes the pure in heart, those striving to eradicate poverty and build a tent large enough to include all who love God and have a desire to serve God through the service of others. Babylon is the contrasting big tent, filled with people looking to enrich and uplift themselves over others. All of us at times wander in Babylon, perhaps that is our starting point. It takes hard work, sacrifice, consecration and ultimately the grace of Christ to root our hearts and our feet in Zion.

And of course, verse 8 reminds us this is not an individual endeavor. We need to seek out all and invite them into Zion as well, recognizing Zion is truly large and complex. When we think about Zion, we think about enlarging our tents to include more people. Zion is open, big, expansive.

Send forth the elders of my church unto the anations which are afar off; unto the bislands of the sea; send forth unto foreign lands; call upon all nations, first upon the cGentiles, and then upon the Jews. And behold, and lo, this shall be their cry, and the voice of the Lord unto all people: Go ye forth unto the land of Zion, that the borders of my people may be enlarged, and that her astakes may be strengthened, and that bZion may go forth unto the regions round about.

verse 8, 9

Preparation for the Coming of Christ

There’s urgency in many of the verses in this revelation, but verse 15 stands out in this regard.

But verily, thus saith the Lord, let not your flight be in ahaste, but let all things be prepared before you; and he that goeth, let him bnot look back lest sudden destruction shall come upon him.

verse 15.

We don’t need to be in a hurry. I think when it comes to Zion, the preparation is just as important as the event. Both the striving toward Zion can be thought of in some ways part of Zion itself. Preparation takes time, but we need to start now. We don’t just flip a switch and find our hearts pure. It’s work, effort, coming moment by moment, grace for grace.

Verse 19 and 20 also stands out for me:

Wherefore, prepare ye for the acoming of the Bridegroom; go ye, go ye out to meet him.For behold, he shall astand upon the mount of Olivet, and upon the mighty ocean, even the great deep, and upon the islands of the sea, and upon the land of Zion.

19, 20

We should be proactive. Prepare and then proactively go out to meet him. Let Christ’s return come soon, now, in our hearts. This is shadow work, letting Christ’s light shine in our dark corners. Verse 20 describes the ubiquity of this event(s) – in the mounts, on the mighty ocean, and upon the islands of the sea – everywhere, for all.

The next section describes the possibilities. Lands unite (v 24), desserts bloom (v29), rich treasures (v30) and every person shall be filled with the “songs of everlasting joy” (v 33).

All of this sounds good, but starting in verse 41, things get dark and terrible, the Lord’s return is like a “melting fire” (v41), people will tremble (v42), and terrible things come (v43). The Lord will be clothed in red apparel (v48) and the sun, the moon and the stars flee in “shame” “whithholding its light (v49). Verse 51 describes an angry, vengeful God. I’m not sure this makes sense or represents the type of God I yearn for. One way to think about it isn’t so much God, but our reaction to an unprepared return, when we are forced to reckon with what we’ve done and who we are. These moments of clarity can often be painful and dark. The dark night of the soul. But it’s temporary, invariably, and Christ suffers with us, ultimately, v53:

In all their aafflictions he was afflicted. And the angel of his presence saved them; and in his blove, and in his pity, he credeemed them, and bore them, and carried them all the days of old;

verse 53

After the darkness comes light. After the winter, spring. After death, resurrection (v56).

Verse 57 gets to the entire point of this whole thing:

And for this cause, that men might be made apartakers of the bglories which were to be revealed, the Lord sent forth the fulness of his cgospel, his everlasting covenant, reasoning in plainness and simplicity

57

Essentially, the purpose of the gospel is to provide the vehicle for repentance, so that through the weak things “the Lord shall thresh the nations by the power of His spirit” (verse 59). Given that none of us are strong. Every single one of us are weak and vulnerable and utterly dependent on the God who gave us life. God uses those who admit as much to break down those who won’t.

The revelation ends on a dark note as a warning to those who will not listen and as a reminder that there is always an escape.

D&C 134

Section 133 describes the purpose of the church. Section 134 describes the responsibility and duties of government. On the Unshaken podcast, Jared Halverson describes this section as the twelve articles of faith expansion of Article of Faith 12. A few highlights:

Government has been instituted by God (verse 1). This is a strong rebuke of the latest trends disparaging government. No, we need government, we need a good government that makes and administers laws for “the good and safety of society.”

Verse 4 expands on the right of religious worship as long as it does not “infringe upon the rights and liberties of others”. The government should “punish guilt, but never suppress the freedom of the soul”.

Verse 5 is a call to citizens to sustain and respect government, while the government is duty bound to “secure the public interest” while also “holding sacred the freedom of conscience.”

Verse 6 makes a distinction between the laws of men and the laws of God, the one “regulating our interests” in how we relate to each other while the other for “spiritual concerns”.

Verse 12 is a difficult one and is a principle deeply contextualized to the Saints’ experiences in Missouri. The LDS church had black members early on. Missouri was a slave state that worried the influx of preeminently northern members moving into the state potentially with free blacks among their mix may tilt the balance in the state. This verse seems designed to assuage that concern. But it’s awful text and has no relevance beyond that limited context. That it’s not worth the risk to try to help the “bond-servant” without consulting the master believing it is “unlawful and unjust, and dangerous to the peace of every government.”

Come Follow Me: Doctrine and Covenants 125-128

Historical Context

The Missouri Mormon War spanned from August to November of 1838 culminating in Governor Lilburn Boggs’ extermination order, demanding that the Mormons leave Missouri or be killed. Forced to flee Missouri in the winter of 1838, the Saints sought refuge in Illinois and Iowa across the Mississippi River. Meanwhile, Joseph Smith and other church leaders had surrendered and languished in jail. The Saints were forced to leave Missouri, having to give up all of their possessions in Missouri once again and find a way to find a new home, led by Brigham Young and the councils Joseph Smith had set up.

They were obliged to leave Missouri but had not yet determined centralized gather spot, ending up scattered across the Missippi River in Iowa and Illinois, although the area around Quincy, Illinois would become a central gathering spot. By April of 1840, Joseph Smith and the other prisoners had escaped into Illinois to join the Saints. What was Commerce, Illinois that had been renamed Nauvoo had been purchased on favorable terms. Going into 1841, the Illinois government had shown sympathy to the Saints’ plight and had allowed them to settle in what would be a period of peace after so much turmoil, giving them the power to organize, create laws, build a university, and establish a militia.

The revelations in this week’s lesson occur during a moment of city-building, peace and hopefulness after a period of some of the most challenging times in the church’s young history.

Section 125 – March 1841

Nauvoo was the designated new headquarters for the church, but the Saints questioned whether the area could accommodate all of those who would be immigrating into this area. Settlements in Iowa across the river were established. This revelation deals with those settlements. Verse two lays out the central theme of this section.

Verily, thus saith the Lord, I say unto you, if those who acall themselves by my name and are essaying to be my saints, if they will do my will and keep my commandments concerning them, let them gather themselves together unto the places which I shall appoint unto them by my servant Joseph, and build up cities unto my name, that they may be prepared for that which is in store for a time to come.

D&C 125:2

Gathering into cities has always been the central mission of this church. Joseph Smith wasn’t building simply a church, he was building a society, a gathering place, where both temporal and spiritual concerns dominated his thinking. Building up cities not churches in God’s name. Creating zion, a place for the pure in heart with no poor among them. That has always been central to Christianity, taken central shape in this revelation. Within modern times, have we stopped? Should we think more in terms of cities and not churches? I think so.

Section 126 – July 9, 1841

Amazingly, after the conclusion of the Missouri War, after Joseph Smith’s imprisonment, and after the expulsion of the Saints from Missouri, Brigham Young and others were called yet again to serve a mission, into England, leaving their wives and children to fend for themselves as refugees before they had yet created stability in Nauvoo.

Brigham Young’s wife Mary Ann devoted her life to the church and to Brigham. Church missions and service pulled Brigham from his home half of their first five years married together. Then on September 14, 1839, Brigham bare farewell once again to England with his family forced to find a way in severe poverty shortly after Mary Ann had given birth. During the two years Brigham Young served, his wife and children suffered, destitute, doing all they could to survive, find a plot of land and build shelter. This revelation comes upon Brigham Young return.

I therefore command you to asend my word abroad, and take especial bcare of your family from this time, henceforth and forever. Amen.

D&C126:3

It’s amazing to me that the church required so much from so many. The ambition to grow the church, to gather, to build temples under constant threats from enemies, in the midst of horrifying poverty is amazing. Recognizing that at times immense sacrifice is required at other times, we need to shore up our circumstances. Here, through revelation, Brigham Young is told that his calling right now is to care for his family, I’m sure much to the relief of his wife who deserves all the credit here.

Section 127 – Sept 1, 1842

Joseph Smith’s legal concerns were never really resolved in Missouri. The trials never actually took place. They escaped in transit. Likely a fair trial was impossible and an unjust sentence was likely. They fled but the Missourians continued efforts to bring Joseph Smith back. Additionally, a failed plot on Governor Bogg’s life was attributed to Joseph Smith further exacerbating his legal troubles. As a result, Joseph Smith was forced into perpetual hiding, removing himself from direct access to the Saints in Nauvoo. The first part of this revelation deals with the perpetual suffering and difficulty that has followed Joseph Smith his entire life. Verse two is particularly poignant:

And as for the aperils which I am called to pass through, they seem but a small thing to me, as the benvy and wrath of man have been my common lot all the days of my life; and for what cause it seems mysterious, unless I was cordained from before the foundation of the world for some good end, or bad, as you may choose to call it. Judge ye for yourselves. God dknoweth all these things, whether it be good or bad. But nevertheless, deep water is what I am wont to swim in. It all has become a second nature to me; and I feel, like Paul, to glory in etribulation; for to this day has the God of my fathers delivered me out of them all, and will deliver me from henceforth; for behold, and lo, I shall triumph over all my enemies, for the Lord God hath spoken it.

D&C 127:2

Life can sometimes feel like swimming in deep water – a constant struggle, without firm support. Not being a good swimmer myself, this sounds particularly fretful. There’s a contextual issue here. 1830’s and the 1840’s was a particularly fraught time in American history, with a bloody Civil War looming just around the corner. Americans had a firm history of treating populations not found worthy savagely – black Americans, the Native populations and in this case members of the church. We need to learn to keep struggling, “to glory in tribulation”. Hopefully, we can find tribulation within the difficulty of building and creating rather than enduring persecution. Joseph Smith and the early saints did both, often at the same time, as noted in verse 4.

And again, verily thus saith the Lord: Let the work of my atemple, and all the works which I have appointed unto you, be continued on and not cease; and let your bdiligence, and your perseverance, and patience, and your works be redoubled, and you shall in nowise lose your reward, saith the Lord of Hosts. And if they cpersecute you, so persecuted they the prophets and righteous men that were before you. For all this there is a reward in heaven.

D&C 127:4

Additionally, the doctrine of baptisms for the dead had recently been revealed, unfolding over time through multiple revelations. After years of suffering, having to see so many depart their earth at very young ages, mothers losing children, children losing mothers, many of the Nauvoo saints suffering from malaria in Nauvoo, many others dying in Missouri. Edward Partridge has died, Joseph Smith’s father had also passed away. Being able to participate through covenant and ordinances to connect the living to the dead must have been an amazingly comforting revelation.

This revelation pointed out that these ordinances had to be recorded.

That in all your recordings it may be arecorded in heaven; whatsoever you bbind on earth, may be bound in heaven; whatsoever you loose on earth, may be loosed in heaven;

And again, let all the arecords be had in order, that they may be put in the archives of my holy temple, to be held in remembrance from generation to generation, saith the Lord of Hosts.

D&C 127:7,9

Section 128 – Sept 6 1842

This section is a continuation of the previous revelation. It begins with some hints that Joseph Smith, while in hiding, has been consumed with thoughts on baptisms for the dead.

I now resume the subject of the abaptism for the dead, as that subject seems to occupy my mind, and press itself upon my feelings the strongest, since I have been pursued by my enemies.

D&C 128:1

In section 127, Joseph Smith taught the importance of recording the ordinances, in this revelation he works through the details, to appoint a recorder in every ward, taking careful minutes, citing three witnesses present, then transferring these records regularly to a general recorder, to keep a record of these ordinances in a centralized location. Calling providing this level of rigor and care that the record shall be “just as holy” (verse 4).

All of this care is comes from Joseph Smith’s study of the Bible, Revelations 20:12 cited in verse 6.

Revelation 20:12And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged out of those things which were awritten in the books, according to their works.

D&C 128:6

The act of recording, invokes the priesthood power.

Now, the nature of this ordinance consists in the apower of the priesthood, by the revelation of Jesus Christ, wherein it is granted that whatsoever you bbind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatsoever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Or, in other words, taking a different view of the translation, whatsoever you record on earth shall be recorded in heaven, and whatsoever you do not record on earth shall not be recorded in heaven; for out of the books shall your dead be judged, according to their own works, whether they themselves have attended to the cordinances in their own propria persona, or by the means of their own agents, according to the ordinance which God has prepared for their salvation from before the foundation of the world, according to the records which they have kept concerning their dead.

D&C 128:8

In other words, to bind something done on earth in heaven, it must be done “in authority, in the name of the Lord”, “truly and faithfully”, keeping “a proper and faithful record of the same”. (verse 9).

This sealing power is referenced in Matthew 16:18, 19 in D&C 128:10.

Joseph Smith declares this the summom bonum, the highest good, the means to provide the salvation of the “children of men, both as well for the dead as for the living” (D&C 128:11).

According to v. 12 and 13, the ordinance was established relationally the baptismal font symbolized the grave, built underneath, and then the person living, immersed as if dying, into the water, to be reborn to a new life, binding the living person with the dead.

Fundamentally, baptisms of the dead is the ordinance to provide a “welding link” (verse 18) between fathers and children because we cannot find salvation without them, nor they without us. A welding together of dispensations.

Beginning in verse 19, Joseph Smith spills out in exclamation marks.

Now, what do we hear in the gospel which we have received? A voice of agladness! A voice of mercy from heaven; and a voice of btruth out of the earth; glad tidings for the dead; a voice of gladness for the living and the dead; glad tidings of great cjoy. How beautiful upon the mountains are the dfeet of those that bring glad tidings of good things, and that say unto Zion: Behold, thy God reigneth! As the edews of Carmel, so shall the knowledge of God descend upon them!

D&C 128:19

Imagine now, Joseph Smith, in hiding, fresh from spending months of time in jail, watching his people suffer, seeing many of them die, worried about the salvation of all people, agonizing over doctrine, trying to understand God’s purpose. Fresh off of Missouri, Joseph Smith gets the doctrine of baptism for the dead revealed piecemeal, slowly and evolving, precept upon precept. Here, he looks back on his life and sees the connecting tissues, the priesthood restoration, the new scriptures, the angelic visits, the revelations, all of it culminating in this moment.

22 Brethren, shall we not go on in so great a cause? Go forward and not backward. aCourage, brethren; and on, on to the victory! Let your hearts rejoice, and be exceedingly glad. Let the earth break forth into bsinging. Let the cdead speak forth anthems of eternal praise to the dKing Immanuel, who hath ordained, before the world was, that which would enable us to eredeem them out of their fprison; for the prisoners shall go free.

D&C 128:22

Joseph Smith cherished this revelation so much, he imagined the mountains shouting for joy, the valleys crying aloud, the seas and dry lands, the rivers and brooks flowing with gladness. The earth and all of its creations overwhelmed with joy as ordinances bind the living with the dead.

Conclusion

This weeks revelations were like a symphony. Fresh off the Missouri war, struggling to establish themselves in Nauvoo. I can imagine a bit of rest as they again begin to gather, finding settlements, building cities, dedicating them to God. Brigham Young is told to care for his family. Joseph Smith is forced into hiding, recognizing the deep waters he swims in and the need to endure through tribulation. All of this culminates in the revelation on temple ordinances for the dead that brings through Joseph Smith an obvious outpouring of joy and happiness. A final crescendo.

Come Follow Me: Doctrine and Covenants 115-120

Historical Context

These revelations take place from April through July of 1838 in Far West, Missouri. At this time, Far West would become the headquarters of the church. Just two years earlier, in Kirtland, Ohio the temple had finished construction and its revelatory dedicatory prayer, recorded in D&C 109 marked a spiritual high point for the Saints. Since, they struggled with financial trouble that came from losing land and resources in Jackson Country, Missouri and in their poverty, building the temple. Significantly exacerbating their problems, they tried and failed to start a charterless bank, the Kirtland Safety Society, but that lasted a single month before wiping out the funds of all who invested in it, most significantly Joseph Smith. These and other difficulties cause many in the church, including key leaders, to lose their faith. Additionally, longstanding grudges against the Saints were inflamed. In the midst of rising persecution many Saints fled to Missouri, including Joseph Smith, leaving behind a newly constructed temple and the rest of their land and other resources.

Far West was a city built on rolling, largely unoccupied planes in Caldwell County, a country carved out of northern Missouri especially reserved for the Saints to occupy independent of other settlers. Far West became its capital.

From this context comes this week’s revelations

(This is a really short summary taken from chapters 17 through 19 of Rough Stone Rolling.

D&C 115 – The Name of the church with Far West as Its HQ

Eight years after the forming of the church the church undergoes an official name-change that continues to this day.

For thus shall amy bchurch be called in the last days, even The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day cSaints.

v 4

The next two verses lay out the reason for this name change – that the church may be a light that can serve as a standard for the nations (verse 5) and be a means to gather Zion for the safety and security of the Saints (verse 6).

Since President Nelson became prophet he has leaned in heavily into the official name of the church hoping that outsiders might refer to us by this name rather than the more common Mormon nickname. General conference talks come up from time to time on this topic, most recently, Elder Neil L. Anderson’s talk entitled The Name of the Church Is Not Negotiable.

Where the “Mormon” nickname differentiated the church from the mainline Christian faith, leaning into our Christian name does two things in my opinion 1) Establishes our faith as one deeply rooted in Christ, 2) Binds us more closely to the broader Christian tradition rather than a heretical, peculiar offshoot. In fact Elder Anderson makes this precise point.

Christians who are not among our membership will welcome our role and our sure witness of Christ. Even those Christians who have viewed us with skepticism will embrace us as friends. In these coming days, we will be called by the name of Jesus Christ.

Elder Neil L. Anderson

I admit that I’ve been reluctant to use the full name. It’s awkward to say and confusing to outsiders who know us only as Mormons. I suppose confusion is the point. We want to more firmly establish ourselves within the Christian tradition offering our contributions as insiders within the larger faith rather than as outsiders that many Christian faiths have tried to make us.

The revelation goes further as it pivots to Far West, in verse 7:

Let the city, Far West, be a holy and consecrated land unto me; and it shall be called most holy, for the ground upon which thou standest is aholy.

v7

Far West shall be the new headquarters, consecrated as a holy land where another temple will be built, after having to abandon the one just recently built in Kirtland. The command here is to build it in earnest to completion without going into debt (verse 13).

This is the legacy of my faith born out of an unwavering confidence of Joseph Smith bound to make the best of whatever situation they found themselves in. Whatever land they’ve been forced into, they consecrate and make holy.

D&C 116 – Spring Hill is Adam-ondi-Ahman

And this section follows through with the promises of D&C 115. They were pushed out of Jackson County into Caldwell County. Surveying the land north of Caldwell County near the Grand River, Joseph Smith declares Spring Hill the location of Adam-ondi-Ahman, the place Adam shall come to visit his people some day.

It’s hard for me to take these pronouncements literally, but its easy for me to appreciate Joseph Smith’s every desire to connect the church to the deepest roots of Christian faith, tying our traditions and locations to these Biblical sacred places.

D&C 117 – A rebuke to William Marks and Newel K. Whitney and Some Love for Oliver Granger

William Marks and Newel K. Whitney were still in Kirtland at this time unwilling to leave their possessions to join the Saints in Missouri. Verses 6 and 7 connect previous revelations to this command to leave their possessions behind.

Therefore, will I not make asolitary places to bud and to bblossom, and to bring forth in abundance? saith the Lord.

 Is there not room enough on the mountains of aAdam-ondi-Ahman, and on the plains of Olaha bShinehah, or the land where cAdam dwelt, that you should covet that which is but the drop, and neglect the more weighty matters?

verse 7 and 8

Again, the legacy of my church. In its history, we’ve drained a swamp to build Zion (Nauvoo), irrigated deserts (Utah and Arizona) and ploughed the fields (Missouri). With prophetic leadership and divine blessing, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints has blossomed.

Oliver Granger on the other had was asked to perform an apparently impossible mission – to try to reclaim value from property left behind in Kirtland.

Therefore, let him contend earnestly for the redemption of the First Presidency of my Church, saith the Lord; and when he falls he shall rise again, for his asacrifice shall be more sacred unto me than his increase, saith the Lord.

verse 13

This verse provides hope. Our lives can sometimes feel like one failure after another as we grind away at what seems like impossible dreams. Sometimes what we hope to achieve takes more than our lifetime and our contributions are only a small piece of a larger effort. Often our attempts end up in failure, perhaps most of the time. In these times, “we rise again, for our sacrifice is more sacred than our increase.”

Oliver Granger would end up passing away at a young age in Kirtland after having behaved honorably in his attempts to fulfill this assignment.

D&C 118 – A Prophetic Mission

Many members of church leadership have left the church by this point requiring others to replace them (verse 1). More importantly, this revelation is a call to send church leaders to England to seek to gather to Zion. The revelation gets extremely specific.

Let them atake leave of my saints in the city of Far West, on the btwenty-sixth day of April next, on the building-spot of my house, saith the Lord.

verse 5

Going on these missions, in the midst of poverty and persecution, leaving their wives and children behind, this promise:

Let the residue continue to preach from that hour, and if they will do this in all alowliness of heart, in meekness and humility, and blong-suffering, I, the Lord, give unto them a cpromise that I will provide for their families; and an effectual door shall be opened for them, from henceforth.

verse 3

Interestingly, the prophecy in verse 5 ends up proving difficult to fulfill as the Saints would soon be driven from Missouri altogether. Filling it would involve a covert meeting in Far West on this date before setting off on a mission, a mission by the way that would culminate in over 50,000 converts immigrating into the United States from England between 1840 and 1900.

I encourage you to read about the fulfillment of this prophecy that directly involves my direct ancestor, Theodore Turley.

D&C 119-120 Tithing

With a command to build a new temple, this time without borrowing money, still recovering from tremendous losses in both Kirtland and Independence, this revelation laid out the principle of tithing for the first time in this new church. Members were already familiar with consecration and sacrifice. Paying a church tithing would give the church a revenue stream from which to build temples and other church buildings so essential to the goals of this church.

Temporal matters are also spiritual. Pay attention to the language in verse 4:

And after that, those who have thus been atithed shall pay one-tenth of all their interest annually; and this shall be a standing law unto them forever, for my holy priesthood, saith the Lord.

verse 4

That tithing is a standing law forever for God’s holy priesthood. And again in verse 6, zion cannot be built without the principle of tithing.

And I say unto you, if my people observe not this law, to keep it holy, and by this law sanctify the land of Zion unto me, that my statutes and my judgments may be kept thereon, that it may be most holy, behold, verily I say unto you, it shall not be a land of aZion unto you.

verse 6.

In Summary

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints from its earliest inception has been to bring about Zion, asking its members to both sacrifice and consecrate, doing so through covenant, with an emphasis on temple rituals much of these practices inspired from Old Testament as well as New Testament sources. We’ve always been a Christian church, though many mainline Christians have sought, over the years, to other-ize us. Btu we are fundamentally Christians. We strive to be Saints, committed followers, engaged in both gathering and Zion-building. We are quick to designate places sacred, but a careful study of our history, teachings and practices over the years, recognize a few fundamental facts:

1) Every single person on this planet can become Saints. We have the spark of divinity within us.

2) Every piece of land on this good earth can be and should be considered sacred.

3) We can make this earth blossom and the abundance within our planet should be made available to all.

Gathering, for me, is an attempt to do this universal mission, combining the efforts to gain both temperal and spiritual abundance and equity within one unified, zion-building purpose, sanctified by God through covenant.