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Monday, January 12, 2009

Missionary Farewell

This is the Sunday before RoseE leaves for the Missionary Training Center (MTC) in Provo, UT, so this is the Sunday designated for her to speak in Sacrament Meeting (Sacrament Meeting is the meeting wherein we partake of the sacrament and remember the sacrifice of our Savior for us).

Lucky for us, she didn't think she would remember the talk if she just put down some notes, so she wrote the whole thing out. Thus we have it, word for word, to pass on to posterity (and/or friends and relations). She was scheduled to speak for 20 minutes, and managed to make it to 10 before ending. The Bishop got to fill in the extra time.

Here it is:

"I floundered in uncertainty for several days after the bishop gave me the topic for my talk this morning. As those of you who come to Sunday School with my family might have noticed, we Haddens have a hard time processing gospel concepts in the abstract. If it doesn't have a parallel in a superhero movie, we just don't get it. So I racked my brains to think of a good movie, book, TV show, or historical event to which I could relate my topic of 'adversity and hope', to give me some new and interesting insight to help me fill twenty minutes. Unfortunately, for the first time that I can remember, my entire movie collection failed me. This turn of events was so worrisome and distracting that I misplaced my scriptures . . . again . . . and didn't manage to catch up on my reading until midway through the week. And, of course, that's when I found the story I needed. So apparently reading your scriptures blesses your life--who knew? In his infinite mercy, the Lord showed me a phenomenal story, one filled with action and drama, fantastic characters and gut-wrenching tragedy. Awesome story. They should make a movie of it.

What I didn't understand when setting out to find the perfect story for my talk was that the relationship between hope and adversity is pretty action-packed. In our modern parlance, 'hope' is a boring word. It's passive. We hope that things will happen when we don't have any control over whether they happen or not. We hope the weather will be nice tomorrow, hope the traffic won't be bad, hope we won't get the 'flu. We don't do anything about our hopes. We can't. We live in an uncertain world, and we're used to having our hopes disappointed. Things just go wrong sometimes, and our passive hope accepts that. Everything lets us down in the end.

But back in the day, when language in general was more exciting, 'to hope in' something was to place complete confidence in it; to be sure. The scriptures still use this expression, even though today's literary circles consider it archaic. In the scriptures, when adversity pushes, hope pushes back. Hope is an active force, changing people for the better, overcoming trials and challenges. President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, in our last General Conference, spoke of "the infinite power of hope . . . to fill our lives with happiness"1 and Nephi exhorts us to "Press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men."2

The Prophet Ether explained it thus: "Wherefore, whoso believeth in God might with surety hope for a better world, yea, even a place at the right hand of God."3 The promises of God are the only things in our uncertain existence sure enough for us to hope in . . . to hope 'with surety', as Ether says. He goes on to describe the changes that hope can bring to our lives: "which hope cometh of faith, maketh an anchor to the souls of men, which would make them sure and steadfast, always abounding in good works, being led to glorify God."4 When we have faith in God and learn to believe in him as the one true, sure thing, then we can hope with surety in his promises. And that hope makes us better people: we understand God's requirements for our lives, and happily comply with them while looking forward to the rewards he has assured us we can win. There are no outside variables, no unknown factors. Elder Joseph B Wirthlin assures us that "Not even death can take from us the eternal blessings promised by a loving Heavenly Father."5 There is no bad weather or scheduling mix-up or red tape that can keep our Father in Heaven from fulfilling his promises to us, just as there is no good reason why we cannot fulfill our promises to him. The only factor that decides if we will receive those blessings is our own behavior. All the adversity in the world would not be enough to stop us if we chose to hope in the promises of the Lord.

The story I found is the tale of a hero named Moroni, 6 who reads this very same verse from the Book of Ether. At that particular point in his life, Moroni is experiencing the kind of adversity that makes our very worst experiences look like a joke. His father, Mormon, the great general and master historian, is dead . . . along with everyone else that he has ever known his whole entire life. He has watched hundreds of thousands of his people be overrun on the battlefield. The few who have survived are being picked off, one by one. He has no home to return to, no family or friends to seek out, nowhere to go except 'away'. He is so unsure of his own immediate survival that every time he sits down to write something he ends it with a 'final farewell,' just in case. He is fleeing for his life, which would probably be a lot easier if he weren't lugging around solid gold books and a number of other heavy, awkward artifacts. And in his limited free time, he's summarizing the Book of Ether, the record of some other guy who outlived his civilization and was left to record the end of his entire world . . . not peppy reading at the best of times, and considerably worse in the circumstances. I don't think we can begin to imagine how truly alone he is--just him and a long-dead Jaredite pen-pal in the whole world.

Moroni could have despaired. He could have just given up and concentrated on being miserable. I think that would have been a perfectly reasonable response to all that he'd suffered. Even going crazy as a loon would have been understandable. I wouldn't have had a word to say against him. There's only so much any one human being can be expected to take.

But instead of surrendering to despair, Moroni chooses its opposite: he chooses to hope. In these bleak, horrific moments, he writes the magnificent piece of scripture that is Mormon chapter 9. He writes of a loving God, a god of miracles and life and forgiveness. He writes of repentance and faith. He writes with conviction of sure, unshakable promises.

"Behold, I say unto you that whoso believeth in Christ, doubting nothing, whatsoever he shall ask the Father in the name of Christ it shall be granted him, even unto the ends of the earth."7 He writes those words after watching the destruction of his people, though I don't doubt he'd pleaded with the Father for their lives. His hope in the promises of the Lord continues sure and strong. He has already witnessed their fulfillment: the Lord had prophesied that the Nephites would fall away and be destroyed, and so they have been. And in that tragedy, Moroni sees an assurance of God's faithfulness in keeping all his words. He looks ahead to other promises--the promise that the records of his people will be preserved, the promise that the faithful will be exalted.

Our adversity, too, is a witness of God's faithfulness. He has promised us that we will be tested and tried throughout our mortal lives. And though we may not like the challenges we are called to face, we can find comfort and strength in the assurance that since this has happened like the Lord promised, his other, more positive promises will be fulfilled as well.

Moroni has the opportunity to see, even in the midst of his suffering, the fulfillment of the Lord's promises to him and to his ancestors. In Mormon 8:35 he assures us, "Behold, I speak unto you as if ye were present, and yet ye are not. But behold, Jesus Christ hath shown you unto me, and I know your doing." "Behold, I speak unto you as though I spake from the dead; for I know that ye shall have my words."

These verses creep me out a little every time I read them--I keep expecting to turn around and find Moroni reading over my shoulder. But this week, I thought about what Moroni must have known, and what it must have meant to him. He was able to see the fulfillment of his sure hope: he saw the coming forth of the Book of Mormon. He saw how many hearts would be turned, how many lives would be changed, how many testimonies would be built upon the words that he wrote. Many centuries later, he had the privilege of bringing to light the record that he lugged all the way to New York. Moroni's hope in the Lord gave him the strength to overcome unimaginable adversity, and the Lord blessed him beyond measure both in his mortal life and in the eternities. And if the Lord will fulfill such great promises to Moroni, surely he will fulfill his promises to us as well, if we follow that great prophet's example and heed the words of our modern-day prophets, who exhort us to "Never give in. Never surrender. Never allow despair to overcome your spirit. Embrace and rely upon the Hope of Israel."8

May we, in our adversity, learn to place our hope in the promises of the Lord, that we may be counted among the faithful saints and receive the blessings that have been set aside for those who trust in Him. I add my testimony to that of Moroni, who added his to the record of Ether, that God's promises are steadfast and eternal and are the only things in which we may safely and surely hope. And these things I testify in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen."

1 A Perfect Brightness of Hope, Deiter F. Uchtdorf, Ensign, November 2008.

2 Nephi: 2 Ne. 31: 20 A prophet of God who lived on this continent about 600 B.C.

3 Ether: Ether 12: 4 Ether was also a prophet of God who lived on this continent.

4 Ether 12: 4

5 Come What May and Love It, Joseph B. Wirthlin, Ensigh, November 2008.

6 Moroni: A prophet of God living on this continent about 300 B.C.

7 Morm. 9: 21

8 A Perfect Brightness of Hope, Deiter F. Uchtdorf, Ensign, November 2008.

1 comment:

  1. The idea of Moroni's loneliness had never really struck me in the way it did you, and I appreciated your giving me a new perspective. Most of us feel lonely, even when we are surrounded by friendly people. We sometimes feel hopeless when we have great reason to hope. It's a part of the human condition to feel these things paradoxically. But Moroni really found hope in a situation which was objectively hopeless, and he found the comfort of spiritual companionship when he was most desperately and continuously alone. I need to grow in my faith until I can be hopeful in my everyday life.

    Years ago, the Ensign published an article on hope by Rebecca Stradling. I thought it very good a the time, and still do, now that your talk has given me reason to review it. She wrote:

    Indeed, current popular usage portrays hope as a singularly weak and pallid word, not at all an appropriate companion to those mighty virtues, faith and charity. It is worn to banal impotence in daily conversation, where “I hope” (I hope I pass that exam; I hope it doesn’t rain) usually expresses a feeble with overshadowed by a strongly implied doubt. What does a word like “hope” have to do with faith, or charity—or anything at all but wishful thinking?

    By consulting a good dictionary, we find that the problem is partially one of misuse, or at least misunderstanding. In spite of the way we are accustomed to using it, a primary definition of the word connotes, not a wish, but an expectation of things to come. This emphasis on expectation harks back through centuries of English usage to New Testament Greek. And it is this sense of expectation, as opposed to wishing, that makes all the difference when “hope” appears in a scriptural context.

    That's much more to the purpose for me. We believe to such a degree that we come to expect that the actions we take will have certain results. Faith specifically in Christ makes those expectations turn our actions into the direction of service to others.

    On another topic, we are working with the boys in the youth program to try to help them experience what it is to teach investigators using the techniques of missionaries. It's interesting to see how different the priest-aged boys are from the deacons. The deacons are a bright bunch, and they have learned the stories of the scriptures. They've learned the names of characters in the narrative and the plot lines, but they don't know where the stories came from -- what book of scripture contains the stories. And they don't really have a framework upon which to hang the stories to make, as they say at the Walker Art Center, "the semblance of a whole."

    I have no worries with you. You know the stuff, and you have the faith, the hope, and the charity you'll need to be helpful the next few months. And lots of folks root for you. We're all watching, in the meantime. And reading.