I had to give a sermon of sorts in church yesterday. The bishop asked that I share some of the remarks from this talk:
The Family Is Of God by Carole M. Stephens, 1st Counselor in the General Relief Society
The family is of God:
Sister Stephens says this: “We each belong to and are needed in the family of God. Earthly families all look different. And while we do the best we can to create strong traditional families, membership in the family of God is not contingent upon any kind of status.”
(At this point I extemporaneously talked about growing up in a perfect family where my parents got divorced. I talked about how Antonio grew up with divorce too. I talked about all the perfect families in the Bible—like Lehi and Sariah and their perfect children. And Adam and Eve and their perfect sons Cain and Abel. I talked about how every ward family is made up of perfect teachers and professionals who are perfect….And then I started my talk. I was nervous. It went all over the place.)
One of the classes that I taught in Virginia was called Introduction to Ethics. I taught several ethical theories, introducing the students to different ways of making decisions. For example, egoism teaches us that the right decision is the decision that brings about consequences that are best for you. Utilitarianism teaches us to choose a decision that brings about the best consequences for the most people. Kantian Ethics teaches us to look at the consequences of establishing a rule through our actions. In other words, would the world be better or worse if everyone else chose to make this exception?
We also discussed Aristotle and the idea that each action leads to a habit and helps to shape us, whether we like it or not.
In Doctrine and Covenants Section 93, we read:
For if you keep my commandments you shall receive of his fullness, and be glorified in me as I am in the Father; therefore, I say unto you, you shall receive grace for grace.
Every action brings light, or darkness. Grace for grace.
Doctrine & Covenants 93:30 All truth is independent in that sphere in which God has placed it, to act for itself, as all intelligence also; otherwise there is no existence. Behold here is the agency of man, and here is the condemnation of man; because that which was from the beginning is plainly manifest unto them, and they receive not the light. And every man whose spirit receiveth not the light is under condemnation. For man is spirit. The elements are eternal, and spirit and element, inseparably connected, receive a fullness of joy. And when separated, man cannot receive a fullness of joy.
Every good action, brings more light and truth into our lives. We become better.
If I were to give a snippet on Ethics according to the teachings of Christ, I would say, “Love God, Love Your Neighbor, Show love through obedience.”
Sister Stephens says, From the Proclamation, “We accepted Heavenly Father’s plan by which His children could obtain a physical body and gain earthly experience to progress toward perfection and ultimately realize our divine destiny as heirs of eternal life.”
Just as I taught my students, we gather our beliefs through our life’s experiences. While I do not believe that truth is relative—my relationship to the truth is relative to my experience. I know that God lives. I know it because of experiences and witnesses I have had. I cannot give you that experience. We came here to earth to progress individually. You must have your own relationship with truth. And I must respect your own experiences and honor your relationship with God.
Through my experiences, I have learned that some decisions require I approach things form a utilitarian perspective, taking into account the feelings of the majority. Other times, I must approach things with an eye to the rule and to the precedent I am setting. Most times, I have found that I want to choose what God tells me. But even then, I believe that as a daughter of God, He wants me to reason things out for myself because He respects the divinity I possess as a daughter of God.
As a member of the Family of God, I feel a great expectation from my Father. As a member of His family, he wants us to remember that we are all a part of a grand family both in heaven and on earth.
In Proverbs 8:14 we read,
"When there were no depths, I was brought forth; when there were no mountains abounding with water. Before the mountains were settled, before the hills was I brought forth. When he gave to the sea his decree, that the waters should not pass his commandment; when he appointed the foundations of the earth; Then I was by him, as one brought up with him: and I was daily his delight, rejoicing always before him.”
Before we came to earth, we lived with our Father in Heaven and our brother Jesus Christ. He knows us now, even as we knew Him then. 1 Corinthians 13: 12 For now we see through a class, darkly, but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.”
You are known. Better than a mother knows her child, you are known.
Sister Stephens says, “Our opportunity as covenant-keeping daughters of God is not just to learn from our own challenges; it is to unite in empathy and compassion as we support other members of the family of God in their struggles, as we have covenanted to do so. When we do so, we also come to understand and trust that the Savior knows the difficulties of the way and can guide us through whatever sorrows and disappointments may come. He is true charity, and His love endureth forever—in part through us as we follow him. As daughters of God and disciples of Jesus Christ, we then ‘act according to those sympathies which God has planted’ in our hearts. Our sphere of influence isn’t limited to our own family members”
I love the words, “according to those sympathies which God has planted”.
I can think of two particular occasions where I felt God plant love in my heart for someone who needed particular attention and love. Both of those stories are personal, but they are witnesses to me that God knows us and loves us through all circumstances. Both friends felt desperately alone in their pain. My confession of love helped both of them to know that God was aware of their struggles.
The family of God is the way that we will return to live with God again. It is the method by which we receive light and truth and further our understanding of ourselves and of God. Every day, we work hard to be obedient and spread forth the love necessary to help one another to progress and grow.
But, just as was foretold in the beginning, every day we find ourselves failing in small and large ways. How can we grow grace for grace when we are set upon by temptations? If Nephi struggled—how are we supposed to progress?
Alma 34:8-9 And now, behold, I will testify unto you of myself that these things are true. Behold, I say unto you, that I do know that Christ shall come among the children of men, to take upon him the transgressions of his people, and that he shall atone for the sins of the world; for the Lord God hath spoken it.
For it is expedient that an atonement should be made; for according to the great plan of the Eternal God there must be an atonement made, or else all mankind must unavoidably perish; yea all are fallen and are lost and must perish except it be through the atonement which it is expedient should be made.
Through the infinite and eternal sacrifice made by our Savior Jesus Christ, we can choose every day to grow and find peace and salvation through repentance as we strive every day to become better and better.
As a wife, daughter, sister, and mother, I want to honor the sacrifice of my Savior and strive every day to be worthy of the gift of His atonement. Through the blessing of mortality, I have the opportunity to grow in light, truth, understanding and love. As a daughter of God, I have the responsibility and the capacity to help my brothers and sisters to grow in light, truth, understanding and love. As family, we are privileged to serve one another and joy in one an others' successes, while mourning with those that mourn.
As a family, we can be sealed to our Heavenly Parents through sacred ordinances in the temple. As a family here on earth, we can strive to build one another up and to have faith in the gifts that each family member possesses.
As a ward family, we each possess gifts to ensure that the work of the Lord goes forward. Some of us are born with gifts necessary for the ward to function, other times, we are given gifts through the power of the priesthood. With God’s authority, a bishop has the keys to extend heavenly gifts to those who need them in order for the work to move forward.
Our most important relationship is the relationship that we each have with our Father in Heaven. Through the infinite atonement of Jesus Christ, we are able to visit with our Father and share our thoughts, fears, and our needs. As we strive to foster that relationship, all of our relationships will in turn be strengthened.
(The point I tried to drive home is that none of us are ideal. No family. No ward family. No one person. We need the keys of the priesthood to give us the gifts needed to run a ward family. We need the atonement of the Savior to repent and better ourselves every day. We need families in order to support and uplift one another. We need Jesus Christ to enable us to approach our Father every day and help us to grow closer to our Father in Heaven. I did not talk about gay marriage. How I feel about gay marriage does not help you or I to draw closer to God. In order to honor and strengthen the family—I must first strengthen my own relationship with Heavenly Father and help my family to draw closer to Him. My obligation in this debate is to continue to support and love all members of the family of God. On this blog, I will say this—liberty requires liberty for all. It is a difficult path to walk. I believe in the capacity for all of us to respect the rights and liberty of all. I believe in the right for every one to follow the dictates of their own heart and conscience. I believe this because this is what I require for myself. And so I fight for this for all. I do not believe that the Supreme Court’s decision will bring about the end of marriage. I do believe that it will introduce the idea of polygamy as a right and that with the legalization of polygamy—church members will find themselves in a different kind of debate in a few years. And I believe that this redefining of marriage under the law will complicate the ways in which members view the relationship between God’s law and the law of the land. It is this complication that I believe is most frightening for people who wish that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints was just another Christian denomination where we happened to read the Book of Mormon. We are a peculiar people. This latest evolution on the law of marriage in the land might remind people of our peculiarities. But this digression doesn’t help me to draw any closer to God. So I will work on my little corner of the vineyard and do my best.)