Remember the Sabbath Day, to Keep it Holy

On behalf of our stake presidency, I convey to you their love and admiration for who you are and all the good you do. We meet with them several times a month, and each time they express how much they love you and how much they know you are loved by the Lord. Every once in a while, especially when preparing talks like this one, Father in Heaven generously sends his Spirit to let us know just how much he loves you. This feeling is real. It is often overwhelming. It generally ends up with a burning heart, a lumpy throat and two very sweaty eyes.

So thank you, brothers and sisters, for being an example of the believers. Thank you for getting back on your feet after making mistakes. Thank you for trying. Thank you for spending time here today, whether you’re here live or watching somewhere else. Thank you for your demonstration of faith.

The Last Days

We are living smack dab in the last days. It doesn’t take a very deep dive into the scriptures to see signs that the end is near. For example, in front of our eyes we see that good is being redefined as evil, and evil is becoming “good.” Some teach there is no such thing as right vs wrong, or righteousness vs sin; that all truth is relative. Vices are more valued than virtues. Fame and fortune are more important than faith and families. The only thin worthy of effort is immediate pleasure.

But as we look around the world, we also see signs that some are becoming more righteous even as others are becoming more wicked. The gulf separating the faithfull from the faithless is becoming more obvious to see. As prophets have declared, someday, sooner than we would like, those who openly follow Christ will be mocked, scorned, punished, persecuted, and even killed for their beliefs. This is part of the reason our prophets have encouraged us to root ourselves and stand in holy places, and consistently do holy things, like attending this meeting. Being here on the Lord’s Day is a clear sign or token that you have chosen to be on the Lord’s side.

Today is our Sabbath day, moved from the seventh day of the week to the first day of the week to coincide with the Savior’s resurrection—a reminder that before we start off our work week, we should put God first.

Origination of the Sabbath

The word Sabbath comes from the Hebrew word Shabbat, which literally means “he rested”, referring to how God rested after creating our world and its occupants. It starts on Friday night right before sunset and ends 24 hours later. Well-meaning rabbis identified 39 specific activities that were forbidden during the sabbath, things like sowing, reaping, sifting, kneading, baking, kindling, writing, and so on. That list has expanded over the millenia, and today, some orthodox Jews follow these rules to the letter, even prohibiting themselves from turning electrical devices on or off during the Sabbath. That takes some serious commitment, and I admire their devotion.

Back in Moses’ day, if you entered into a covenant of obedience to God, and then you intentionally violated his commandments—like the man who broke his covenant and willfully gathered sticks on the sabbath and then remained unrepentant after being caught—it was seen as a matter of active rebellion against God. After consulting with the Lord, Moses was instructed to have the man stoned to death (Numbers 15:35). I can’t imagine how hard that was for meek Moses and our loving Lord—who suffered beyond comprehension to save every one of us. The Lord doesn’t hand out physical death sentences too often, but when he does, as he did when he instructed Nephi to slay the wicked Laban, it serves as a reminder that:

1 Nephi 4:13 : The Lord slayeth the wicked to bring forth his righteous purposes. It is better that one man should perish than that a whole nation should dwindle and perish in unbelief.

Scriptures make it clear that sometimes that Lord issues punishment for violations quickly and decisively. But in our day and age, he doesn’t seem to be as involved in meting out immediate consequences. But he is all-knowing and all-powerful. We cannot hind from him. He is intentionally allowing his children who are living in the fullness of time, particularly those who have made covenants with him, the time to either fully repent or fully ripen in iniquity. His judgement will come, and it will as just as it is merciful.

Nowadays, intentionally violating the Sabbath doesn’t result in physical death, but it sure puts you on the path that leads toward spiritual death, because you are willfully choosing to ignore or rebel against God’s instructions. History tells us that this is never a smart long-term plan.

What the World Thinks About Sabbath

Of course, we understand that some people must work on Sundays, especially our essential service providers. But I’m afraid what the world now thinks is essential doesn’t come close to what God thinks is essential. So if you’re not sure what is what, check out what his prophets have said over the last 6,000 years. And if it still isn’t clear to you, feel free to ask him. He has promised to answer sincere questions lovingly, without upbraidment.

I wanted to see what the world thought about the Sabbath day and so I naturally turned to Google—the fount of all worldly knowledge. The majority of search results on the first page indicated that you can be Christian and not take an entire day off from work.

Others thought that filling the day with wholesome recreation was the thing to do. To an extent, God wants that too, except he wants us to choose to use Sundays to re-create ourselves in his image.

Another author said that you just need to devote 24 hours each week to rest, and since they already sleep for 56 hours each week, they’ve got that one covered.

Another said that sleeping didn’t count, duh, so if you subtracted 8 hours from the 24 that leaves you with 16, divide that by 7 days, which comes out to 2½ hours a day. She didn’t think you needed to pray or read scriptures during that time, just think happy thoughts, like the kind you get when you’re reading a good book, watching a good movie, playing a good video game, visiting parks and museums, taking scenic drives, or any number of wholesome activities.

But I’m not quite sure that’s what the Lord had in mind when he gave our forefathers the Big Ten Commandments. If you recall, the fourth commandment said:

Exodus 20:8-11 : Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God. In it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.

That commandment seems to still be in place today, because listen to what the Lord told us in Section 59 of the Doctrine and Covenants:

D&C 59:9-10, 13: And that thou mayest more fully keep thyself unspotted from the world, thou shalt go to the house of prayer and offer up thy sacraments upon my holy day; For verily this is a day appointed unto you to rest from your labors, and to pay thy devotions unto the Most High. And on this day thou shalt do none other thing.

As I was thinking about Sabbath day observance, and your ward in particular, the first thing that popped into mind was how thankful I am that most of us can return to this wonderful building to worship the Lord with our neighbors. To go to this house of prayer and offer up our sacraments.

While it is true that some of us have had wonderful experiences during quarantine, some of us haven’t. And it isn’t just because one group was more optimistic than the other. Not only have we been tested in physical ways, but we have been tested spiritual ways as well. Some of us had to develop new spiritual muscles once we discovered how spiritually weak we were.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve learned that part of my personal identity exists because of my relationships with my ward family. I am who I am because I am surrounded by people who love the Lord and are trying to keep his commandments. Just like I try to be the best I can at home in my relationships with my family—with varying degrees of success—I also try to be the best person I can be at church because I know I have responsibilities to other members—I must stay worthy to be able to feel the Spirit and know what to say, what to do, and how to do it.

But it is hard to do that if you are alone and isolated, sick and tired, and your knees start to wobble, your faith starts to falter, your heart starts to fail, and your mind starts to question. That why I desperately need the church in my life and am so thankful for it. It helps me practice my faith and live my religion outside of my home.

The Symbolism of the Cross

What I am about to day may seem like a detour, but it really isn’t. So please bear with me for a moment. One of the things that I love about our Christian brothers and sisters from other churches, is their appreciation for the symbol of the cross. In our church we don’t use the symbol very often because we focus more on the resurrection rather than the death of Christ. But his death on Golgatha is a critical station on the path from the Garden of Eden, to the Garden of Gethsemane, and to the empty Garden Tomb. But today, I’d like to talk about an aspect of this cross symbol that isn’t mentioned very often.

The cross consists of a vertical post and a horizontal beam, with Christ in the center of it. It is near that intersection between the vertical and the horizontal where his head was placed as his hands and feet were nailed to the cross. And that is where we want to be if we want to follow the Savior’s commandment to “take up your cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24).

Let me explain. Symbolically, the cross means many thing, but to me, one of the things that jumps out is that the vertical post represents our relationship with God—the first great commandment to love God and the first four of the Big 10 Commandments. The horizontal beam represents our relationship with God’s children, the second great commandment and the rest of the Big 10 Commandments.

In Matthew 22 we read:

Master, which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord, thy God, with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

So we want to hang at the intersection of both the vertical and the horizontal as we obey these two great commandments and all the rest.

What would our church be like if we only focused on the vertical, on our relationship with God? It would be one where personal revelation and devotion was the prime directive. So you don’t need an organization, or scriptures, or ordinances to help you do that. It would focus on our spiritual well-being only. You only need to accept Jesus as your Savior and then you’re good. Some churches preach this exact doctrine today.

On the other hand, there are also churches that only focus on the horizontal, believing that we can’t receive personal revelation and all that matters is how we treat each other. They join church for the benefits that come from associating with other good people. Because God is everywhere and in everything, we can’t have a personal relationship with him, but leave that up to church authorities.

But it is the intersection between the two, as symbolized by the cross, where we need to be. It is what makes our church so different from all the others.

Joseph Smith discovered this early in his ministry. His experiences were too miraculous for the skeptical and too extra biblical for the religious. He had enemies that were both religious and irreligious. He preached about the balance between justice and mercy, between faith and works, between individuality and community, between inclusivity and exclusivity, and as a result, alienated almost everyone.

If a Catholic married a Protestant, or if a Jew married an Anglican, I suspect their children would look a lot like us. We have Old Testament prophets and New Testament apostles. We have Old Testament temples and a New Testament church. We are a mixture of the best parts.

Three weeks before his martyrdom, the prophet Joseph Smith wrote a letter to Israel Rupp to thank him for a book Israel had written (He Pasa Ekklsia) and sent to Joseph about religious denominations in the United States. In the letter, the prophet wrote this phrase, which I find remarkable. He said, “By proving contraries, truth is made manifest.” (History of the Church, 6:428, Volume 6, Chapter 20; or  “Letter to Israel Daniel Rupp, 5 June 1844,” p. [1], The Joseph Smith Papers.

Gordon Steward Wood was a notable professor of history at Brown University. In 1980, he wrote an essay entitled, “Evangelical America and Early Mormonism.” Because he’s a professor, he’s going to throw out some fancy ten-dollar words, so hang in there and I promise you’ll see his point. He said this:

Mormonism was both:

  • mystical and secular
  • restorationist and progressive
  • communitarian and individualistic
  • hierarchical and congregational
  • authoritarian and democratic
  • antinomian and arminian (unconditional grace vs conditional grace)
  • anti-clerical and priestly
  • revelatory and empirical
  • utopian and practical
  • ecumenical and nationalist

In that same essay he said:

Mormonism was undeniably the most original and persecuted religion of any period of American history. It defied as no other religion did both the orthodox culture and the evangelical counterculture. Yet at the same time it drew heavily on both these cultures. You see how it would offend both by combining both. It combined within itself different tendencies of thought. From the outset it was a religion in tension poised like a steel spring by the contradictory forces pulling within it.

So brothers and sisters, do you feel that tension? Isn’t it wonderful? It is almost like we have two legs while most others only have one. When our legs work in harmony with each other, we don’t have to hop around on one leg until we topple over, but we can confidently walk down the straight and narrow path and overcome any obstacles in front of us. It’s a marvelous thing.

So Sundays are perfect days to set aside the profane things of the world and champion the sacred. It is the perfect time to spend our time on both the vertical and the horizontal—on our relationship with God and our relationship with God’s children. Because it will take both to survive and thrive in the latter days.

Life after Covid

Now let me conclude with a few things that make me want to shout “Alleluyah!” that we now have the opportunity to return on the Sabbath day to meetinghouses like this one and offer up our prayers and songs to the most high God. Soon we will even be able to return to our temples. Won’t that be wonderful?

The building we are now meeting in, has been dedicated by priesthood holders to be a sacred space. When you walk into the chapel for the first time after a long time away from it, you feel something different. Part of it is nostalgia, as we think about the sacred events from our past. The primary programs, the Christmas and Easter messages, the missionary homecomings and farewells, baby blessings, baptisms, and hundreds of sacrament meetings. This has been a sacred space in the past, and will be a sacred space into the future. And what makes it sacred? The presence of the Holy Spirit.

Many of our homes have become more sacred as a result of our time spent there doing sacred activities, and that is exactly what God wants to have happen.

Now, our church meetinghouses, having rested for 15 months, have finally opened their doors and are ready for us to return to offer up our sacraments, sing our songs of redeeming love, and live up our hearts together in prayer. This act of learning together, teaching together, preaching to each other, praying together, singing together, sharing the same space, and yes, even shaking hands and giving hugs—these activities open a conduit to heaven through which we can praise our Lord and through which he can shower down his infinite love. When we unite together in these shared experiences, we are far more than the sum of our parts.

Whether we choose to remain at home for health reasons, or come back to our holy spaces, I promise you that as you keep the Sabbath Day holy, you will feel the presence of the Holy Ghost, for it is his presence that makes it holy. And if you feel his presence, it also means you have been sanctified, purified, and pronounced worthy to have a member of the godhead dwell with you. What more could we want?

Therefore, I pray that your sabbath day will become a priceless refuge from the raging storms. May it be a time for learning, for developing and sharing our talents, and for interacting with others. May it be a day for growth, a day for ordinances, a day to strengthen our community, and bond with our families. May it be it be a time for sacrifice, a time for service, a time for renewal, and a time for worship. May it be a day of healing, a day for sacred music, a day for extra prayer. May it be a day for love, for hope, for charity. A day where we can mourn together, celebrate together, and learn how to be better disciples of Christ. May it be a time for counseling, a time for ministering, a time for repenting, and a time to develop unity and cohesion with others. May it be a day where we accept others, no matter who they are or how they offended us. It we do that, if we keep this day as holy as we can, it will fill us with joy, with light, with power, and with holiness. It will allow us to spend some time with God.

I testify that God our Father dwells in yonder heavens but constantly sends his Holy Spirit to tell you he loves you and wants the best for you. That same Spirit has confirmed my belief that Jesus is the only hope we have of returning to the presence of God and that he will do absolutely everything within his power to help us return to our heavenly parents surrounded by our loved ones. I witness that the Holy Ghost is real, is all-powerful, all-knowing, and speaks to our eternal soul as often as we are worthy of it. We are led by God’s prophets who are given glimpses of our glorious future and are trying to prepare us for it. I know we have local leaders who are desperately trying to do what’s right, who sometimes make mistakes, but quickly repent and realign. As they follow the Savior, they will help us make it back to our heavenly home. I know that as we choose to make our Sundays more holy, we will be filled with more joy, more peace, more hope, more love, and more resistant to the temptations of the devil. We will be able to rise up and become the women and men faith and courage that we were foreordained to be. These things are true. In the holy name of Jesus Christ, amen.