Speaking in Church
Speaking in Sacrament meeting is always a little challenging. but doing it while being interrupted by translation of every phrase is a new verse to an old song.
Cindy and I were assigned to speak in the First Branch, that meets second on Sunday, on the topics of Relief Society and Home/Visiting teaching. Cindy's talk was a wonderfully inspirational history and introduction to the importance of Relief Society. We each printed two copies of the talks so the translator could read as well as listen. Hers was translated by a returned missionary from Temple Square, Lydia, and mine was translated by elder McCleary. Mine was a little more complex because the branch president asked me to stimulate the priesthood to doing their home teaching.
When writing my sermon, I found it a little awkward trying to motivate the 8 priesthood holders in the branch to do a better job of home teaching. I was reminded that the entire priesthood of the church in 1832 could sit in one room, so having few men to do the work is not new in the growing parts of the church. However, with 4 times the sisters in the branch, I needed to join the two functions in some way. Otherwise the priesthood was visiting 28 families each.
I reviewed how these functions are the arms and legs of the branch president in serving the members and how they can act together to watch over the families. I sure hope the Holy Ghost was active in that meeting. I felt like I was breaking new ground and needed special help in making it clear. I guess it did something because the branch president decided to have the missionaries partner with the priesthood to start making visits; ostensibly to teach them how to do home teaching and to find less actives or part-member families for the elders to teach. I think he has a good idea here.
I love the branch presidents, but especially this one. He has been a member only a few years and is trying very hard to do what he sees in the Priesthood Guidebooks. It is hard to choose what you will implement in a small branch, and he is very conscientious about his calling.
I am grateful for our assignment to speak and have prayed, and continue to pray, that the members understood and caught the vision. The text of my sermon follows.
What a country
NOVOSIBIRSK FIRST BRANCH SACRAMENT MEETING AUGUST 9, 2008
Imagine that next January the entire First Branch was instructed to move to Omsk to join with the members there to build a Temple. There are 100 members of the church already living there and they welcome you into their homes for a few days, but you must find your own homes and jobs. You are a stranger in a new city. You have your Branch Presidency and each other, but you get spread out all over the city and only get together on Sundays.
Who would be your friend? Who would care if you were sick or didn’t have food? Who would help you take care of a sick child while you worked? Who would help you feel better when you were lonely and miss your friends in Novosibirsk?
Is it the Branch President? Is it the other members now in Omsk? Is it someone in Salt Lake City? Is it Heavenly Father?
THE ORGANIZATION TO DO THE WORK
The answer is ALL OF THEM.
First, it is the Branch President. As stated in Doctrine & Covenants 84:112, “And the bishop, [in this case it was] Newel K. Whitney, also should travel round about and among all the churches, searching after the poor to administer to their wants by humbling the rich and the proud.” He has the stewardship, the job, taking care of the Branch members when they need help. How does he do this? He has tools to do the job which include:
• The Home Teachers & Visiting Teachers
• The Priesthood quorum presidencies
• The Relief Society presidency
• The District Presidency
• The Missionaries
• The Mission President
• The Europe East Service Center in Moscow
• The Church Presiding Bishopric
• The Church Humanitarian and other departments
• Heavenly Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost
As a member of the Novosibirsk First Branch of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints you have the support of a Branch organization that includes a Branch Presidency and Priesthood Quorums to direct the work. The Lord has inspired His prophets to establish these to direct the care needed for the members of His church.
God has also inspired those same prophets to organize auxiliaries, or helping organizations, in your branch to do special tasks within your Branch. The Branch Presidency cannot do everything alone. They cannot visit every member, teach every lesson, train every worker, care for every sick child, visit every hospital patient, or hold every hand of a sick or sad branch member. You have just heard about the Relief Society. You also know about Primary, Sunday School, Young Women, Young Men, Seminary, and Institute here at home. These are the arms and hands of the Branch President to serve the members.
God has also inspired the priesthood leaders in Salt Lake to create General Church helping organizations to train and encourage your Branch leaders with books, manuals, teaching aids, Fast Offering and other social service. The Presiding Bishopric administers Fast Offering and Tithing funds to help the Branch President serve the members.
But let’s go back to the beginning of that list of tools that the Branch President has. The first one is the Home Teacher and Visiting Teacher. They are the Branch President’s eyes, ears, arms and hands to help him take care of the branch members. When someone needs help, whom do they call? NOT THE BRANCH PRESIDENT! Their first call is to the Home Teacher or Visiting Teacher. If possible, the Home Teacher and the Visiting Teacher should talk together about the problem and plan how to help. They will then do all that they can to help the member. If they can take care of the need . . . job is done and the Branch President only hears about it afterward.
The Doctrine & Covenants first mentions Home Teachers in verse 111 of Section 84:
109 Therefore, let every man stand in his own office, and labor in his own calling; and let not the head say unto the feet it hath no need of the feet; for without the feet how shall the body be able to stand?
110 Also the body hath need of every member, that all may be edified together, that the system may be kept perfect.
111 And behold, the high priests should travel, and also the elders, and also the lesser priests; but the deacons and teachers should be appointed to watch over the church, to be standing ministers unto the church.
If the need is greater than they can take care of, they contact their quorum and relief society leaders to get the help of others. These leaders will inform the Branch President about the need and what they are doing. They might ask him to try to get more help from his other tools like the District Presidency, the missionaries, the Mission President, or the Eastern Europe Service Center in Moscow, but the Home Teacher and Visiting Teacher are the ones who do the work with the family to take care of the need.
I know that the branches do not have many priesthood holders to be Home Teachers. I know that there are more sisters to be Visiting Teachers than there are priesthood holders to be Home Teachers, but there are still very few. I also know that we think that we are short of priesthood, but at the time that Section 84 was given, the entire priesthood of the Church could be seated in one room. If the active members in this branch do their duty it will be as the 110th verse states, “110 Also the body hath need of every member, that all may be edified together, that the system may be kept perfect.” If we do not do our duty as Home and Visiting Teachers, the whole organization will fall down and we cannot serve our brothers and sisters nor be called “Good and faithful servants” by Jesus Christ at His coming. He expects us to do our duty, for He said to Ezekiel the prophet, “Woe be to the shepherds of Israel that … feed not the flock.”
This Church is a church of workers. This is not a club of nice people that meet on Sunday to socialize. This is not a church where we come once in a while on special Sundays to watch someone else worship God for us. This is not just a nice club; this is the CHURCH OF JESUS CHRIST, restored to the earth through the sacrifice and labor of many who came before us to:
1. Serve and perfect God’s children
2. To save all those who lived before or in a place where the Gospel was not yet established
3. And to share the Gospel with everyone.
We are all called to be laborers in the kingdom. None of us can say that it is enough to be baptized or even come to church. THAT IS NOT THE WAY CHRIST HAS RUN HIS CHURCH SINCE HE STARTED IT.
Peter, James and John were not paid ministers, Paul was not a paid missionary, and there were very few of them to do the work. Every congregation that they organized had a leader who had to make a living as well as watch over that group of Christians just like you have to do in Novosibirsk, or like you would have to do in my little story abut OMSK. It has always been that way until men decided to make it a paying job and take away the blessings of service from the people. It is by serving that God blesses us. It is by working that we obtain the honorable title of “servant of the Lord”. You and I are the workers in the field. You and I are the Ten Virgins that came to meet the Bridegroom. You and I are the 5000 that he preached to on the hillside, many of whom became his disciples. You and I are the 70 that he sent two by two to spread the gospel. You and I are all that God has to labor in his kingdom. He said to us in Doctrine & Covenants 31: 5 “Therefore, thrust in your sickle with all your soul, and your sins are forgiven you, and you shall be laden with sheaves upon your back, for the laborer is worthy of his hire. Wherefore, your family shall live.”
Some people think that when they die they will sit around heaven and rest for eternity. The only ones who will sit around will be those in Hell who will be tortured by their own guilt and prevented from being near God and serving Him. Our destiny is not rest. Our destiny is to labor and progress. In chapter 18 of the Priesthood manual “Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young” we read, “The Lord directs His work in heaven and on earth through the priesthood.”
Satan promised us that we would not have to work, that he would do all the work for us, and we rejected that plan. God has a work for each of us to perform and we must do it or Satan’s plan will succeed for us individually and as Nephi warns against deception in 2 Ne. 28:21 “And others will he pacify, and lull them away into carnal security, that they will say: All is well in Zion; yea, Zion prospereth, all is well—and thus the devil cheateth their souls, and leadeth them away carefully down to hell”).
God trusts us to do the work. He wants us to learn to be like Him by doing things that He does. God does not go to His Dacha on Sunday. He does not neglect his children’s prayers because He is on vacation. He is not too busy to listen to our complaints and send help. God is working for us every moment of eternity and if we do not want to be like Him, whom do we want to be like? As the apostles said when Jesus asked if they too would leave him, “Unto whom shall we go?”
Brothers and sisters, Home Teaching and Visiting Teaching are two of the important things God has asked us to do and what excuse do you think He will accept for our failure to do it. I think it is a very short list. Home Teaching and Visiting Teaching are the foundation labor for the welfare of the members of the Church, and to the extent that we do them, your Branch, the Russia Novosibirsk Mission, and the kingdom of God in Russia will grow and strengthen, or it will not. You and I are the workers and that is our joyous task.
What is in it for you and I? What do we get out of it? He has promised us everything that His Father has, but one very important thing that I want right now in this life out of my service to God is for Him to hear my prayer and honor my cry for help. When I am standing over my sick child, or my injured friend, or my kitchen table full of bills I cannot pay and I raise my voice to God, pleading for His help, I want to know that He honors my service, my sacrifice, my labor in His behalf, and that He will answer my prayer with a blessing on my head if it is for my good, and not do as he says he had done to the Saints in Missouri in Doctrine & Covenants Section 101: 7-8
“7 They were slow to hearken unto the voice of the Lord their God; therefore, the Lord their God is slow to hearken unto their prayers, to answer them in the day of their trouble.
8 In the day of their peace they esteemed lightly my counsel; but, in the day of their trouble, of necessity they feel after me.”
Finally, when I am dead, I want to stand before Jesus Christ and say as Paul said in 2 Timothy 4: 7
“7 I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith”
and have Jesus say to me, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.”
This is the Church of Jesus Christ, restored to the earth because wicked men corrupted it soon after the apostles’ death. This is the Kingdom of God on the earth and it is correct and true here in Russia as it is in every part of the world where it is established. Jesus Christ is the head of this church and Joseph Smith was the one he chose to restore it and Thomas S. Monson is his prophet today. I love you. I love this wonderful work. I love my wife and missionary companion. I love these young missionaries and the sacrifice they are making for you.