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Monday, September 28, 2009

God Be With You Till We Meet Again

As of September 30th, 2009, I will be a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Manchester New Hampshire Mission. As such, for obvious reasons, I will not be able to post here for the next two years. However, I fully trust Rob, a bright and capable poster here on American Testament, to take the reins and impart more of his nuggets of wisdom to you our loyal readers.

I will post my farewell address I gave on September 27th, 2009 as a final testimony to all of our readers here at American Testament while I am away. If I am able to, I will post periodic updates about my mission experience on the blog or relay some of my experiences for Rob to post. But we will see what happens when that point arrives. Note also that I did not footnote the sources I quoted since I read aloud this talk.

Enjoy. And may God be with you all till we meet again!

Proclaiming the Message of the Atonement to All the World


Elder Stephen O. Smoot


In honor of my friends Peter Jensen and Jens Haugsoen, who couldnʼt be here today because of various circumstances (Peter is out in Chicago for school and Jens is, unfortunately, down with some health issues) I have to begin my talk thusly;

Websterʼs Dictionary defines the word “trite” as: beginning every single sacrament meeting talk by using Websterʼs Dictionary to define words like “faith” and “love” and “hope”.


But seriously, brothers and Sisters, I am deeply honored for the opportunity to speak here today. As one might expect, I am both excited but also nervous that the time has come for me to speak. I am excited by the prospect of me entering into the mission field, but nervous for a number of reasons, not the least of them being that quite a few of my friends and peers from school are here to see me off.


My remarks today are going to focus on the subject of proclaiming the message of the Atonement throughout the world. As a missionary, one of my key agendas is to do such. Next to proclaiming the key points of the doctrine of Christ and the message of the Restoration by the hand of the Prophet Joseph Smith, it will be my obligation and duty to tell the people of New Hampshire of the Atonement of Jesus Christ.


But by what means am I, or any of us for that matter, to do such? How is it we are to proclaim the atonement of the Savior? After much consideration and pondering the scriptures and the words of the Prophets, I think that there are three main components in how to proclaim the message of the Atonement. This is the same method that has been used since the days of the great commission by our Savior to the Apostles and to the Seventy to proclaim the Gospel to all the world, baptizing in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. These three components to proclaiming the Atonement are:


1.By revelation and prophecy, relying on the testimony from on high.


2.By the execution of the proper priesthood authority and keys.


3.Without hesitation or hinderance to all who have ears to hear. In other words, we

shout it from the rooftops and in all places.


Permit me, brothers and sisters, to explore these three components more in-depth. Before such, however, I find it fitting to quote from the Prophet Joseph Smith in his letter to John Wentworth in what is now our fifth Article of Faith. It states that “we believe that a man must be called of God, by prophecy, and by the laying on of hands by those who are in authority, to preach the Gospel and administer in the ordinances thereof”. This is the great overlying statement on how we are to be effective missionaries to proclaim the Atonement.


Now, to the three components.


First, we are to teach the Atonement by the power of prophecy and revelation. This is foundational in our ability to connect with others and proclaim the Word of God unfettered by human reasoning and speculation. As the Prophet Joseph Smith reminds

us, there is no power in salvation without personal revelation. Why so? Because it is by revelation that we come to know that Jesus is the Christ. Let us recall the account of the Savior and his Apostles at Caesarea Philippi in Matthew 16:13-17:


When Jesus came into the coasts of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying,

Whom do men say that I the Son of man am? And they said, Some say that thou art

John the Baptist: some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets. He saith

unto them, But whom say ye that I am? And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art

the Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed

art thou, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my

Father which is in heaven.


Notice that Peter didnʼt receive his knowledge by the speculation of philosophizing, but by direct inspiration of heaven. As Hugh Nibley insightfully observed in his monumental work The World and the Prophets, Peter, as well as other Prophets, simply reported their testimony that they gained from on high for the world to either accept or reject. The Prophet Joseph Smith, in the company of many of his brethren, recored his testimony of the Savior in D&C 76:22-24 by the means of a glorious vision:


And now, after the many testimonies which have been given of him, this is the

testimony, last of all, which we give of him: That he lives!For we saw him, even on the

right hand of God; and we heard the voice bearing record that he is the Only Begotten

of the Father—That by him, and through him, and of him, the worlds are and were

created, and the inhabitants thereof are begotten sons and daughters unto God.


Especially apropos is the account of the commission of Peter and Andrew to become “fishers of men” in Matthew 4:18-20:


And Jesus, walking by the sea of Galilee, saw two brethren, Simon called

Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers.

And he saith unto them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.

And they straightway left their nets, and followed him.


Notice here what the text doesnʼt say. It doesn't say that Peter and Andrew enrolled in courses of theology, biblical exegesis, Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic at the divinity school. They didnʼt first finish their PhDs in philosophy (indeed, they may well have

been illiterate) or wait to get special training. No, the text says that they straightway left their nets and followed him. How audacious for these unlearned and unlettered men to be professing religion to the educated and noble Jewish, and later Gentile, authorities! The Roman and Jewish critics of the Apostles loved nothing more than to mock their

ignorance in philosophy, their lack of sharp rhetorical skills and their humble manners.


But the Lord assured Nephi that it is by the weak and lowly things of the world that the Lord confounds the pridefully learned. The Apostles preached with authority and power even though they lacked the worldly knowledge of the philosophers; so much so that it drove the wise philosophers and pious religious authorities mad. The Prophet Joseph Smith, in his unlettered youth, produced the Book of Mormon, a complex, sober, compelling and impressive record by any standard, in a matter of a few months, which to this day gives the critics of the Church heartburn and consternation.


Thus we see that the Prophets have always taught the message of the atonement and the Gospel of Jesus Christ by the spirit of revelation and the Holy Ghost. And just as they have done so, so we too, as individual members of the Church, are to teach the message of the atonement by revelation and the Spirit. We need not fret over our worldly possessions, status, or knowledge; for if we have the spirit of revelation we will touch the hearts of those who hear our message. That is not to disparage knowledge gained by means other than revelation. Indeed, D&C 88:118 tells us to seek learning by

study and also by faith. However, we should rely primarily on revelation and the spirit in teaching others about the Atonement.

Second, by the execution of the proper priesthood authority and keys are we to teach the central message of the Gospel; the Atonement. When Christ organized his Church, he ordained his disciples under proper priesthood authority to go into the world, teaching and baptizing in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost (Matthew 28:19-20). In the Dispensation of the Fulness of Times, the Prophet Joseph Smith, shortly before his death, utilizing the keys of the Priesthood restored to him by heavenly messengers, also ordained modern Apostles to do the same. The missionary manual, Preach my Gospel, has this to say on the subject:


Missionaries are to go “in the power of the ordination wherewith [they have] been

ordained, proclaiming glad tidings of great joy, even the everlasting gospel” (D&C 79:1).

You have authority to preach the gospel. If you hold the priesthood, you have the authority

to administer the ordinances thereof. As you prayerfully and worthily exercise that

authority, you will receive spiritual power, which is evidence of the reality of your call.


Do not be afraid or shy about fulfilling this commission. Just as the sons of Mosiah,

you are to teach with the power and authority of God (see Alma 17:2–3). In

addition to authority, you are also to exercise power in your work. The authority

that you have received can lead to power. Indeed, spiritual power is one evidence

that your authority is real. Spiritual power is a gift that makes it possible for you to do your

work more effectively.


This is important, as Preach my Gospel reminds us that:


Your power and authority should be evident as you work and teach. Power may be

manifest in many things you do, such as:


•Being led by the Spirit to say what the Lord would have you say at just the right

moment (see D&C 84:85).

•Receiving guidance about where to go or what to do (see D&C 28:15; 31:11; 75:26–27).

•Having your testimony confirmed by the witness of the Spirit (see 2 Nephi 33:1;

D&C100:5–8).

•Taking part in ordinances of salvation (see D&C 84:19–20).

•Giving priesthood blessings if you are an elder (see James 5:14–15).

•Praying with and for the people you work with(see Alma 6:6; 8:18–22; 10:7–11; 31:26–35;

D&C 75:19).

•Expressing love for the Lord, your family, fellow missionaries, and the people you

serve.


Now, does this mean that unless we have ordained to be missionaries we cannot be such in our individual lives? Of course not! As most of you likely know, President David O. McKay encouraged all members to be missionaries. We teach the Gospel, including the message of the Atonement, to friends, family, co-workers, schoolmates or associates in all of lifeʼs vicissitudes. However, in order to officially represent the Church as a missionary, one must first be ordained to the call by the proper priesthood authority. And finally, number three, we should teach the message of the Atonement without hesitation or hinderance to all who have ears to hear. In other words, we shout it from the rooftops and in all places.


Christ made clear to his apostles and disciples that they should preach the Gospel loudly and for all who can hear. Peter, Stephen and other Apostles did it in the Synagogues and at the Temple; Paul did it on Mars Hill in Athens, in front of kings and governors and in his circulated epistles to Church communities. In the modern Church, great missionaries such as Presidents John Taylor and Wilford Woodruff proclaimed the Gospel to large crowds in Europe, who had gathered together to hear the quaint teachings of the Mormons.


Unfortunately, more often than not this created trouble for the Lordʼs ministers. Peter, Stephen and the other Apostles were expelled from the Synagogues and eventually martyred. Paul, who to the Greeks was a “babbler” and “fool”, created a ruckus in many cities because of his preaching, which led to his subsequent imprisonment and lawsuits on multiple occasions. And Presidents Taylor and Woodruff, among other of the Lordʼs modern messengers, received the condemnation of the local ministers and the press, who spewed forth libelous epithets about the Mormons, the Prophet Joseph Smith and his successors from the pulpit and the evening post.


Notwithstanding, we should not cower or be afraid. Like Paul, we should not be ashamed of the Gospel of Jesus Christ unto salvation (Romans 1:16). Even though there will be opposition, we should wade through tribulation with patience and faith in

the Lord. As the magisterial hymn “How Firm and Foundation” penned by John Keith in 1787 promises:


When through the deep waters I call thee to go,

The rivers of sorrow shall not overflow;

For I will be with thee thy trouble to bless,

And sanctify to thee thy deepest distress.


When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie,

My grace, all-sufficient, shall be thy supply;

The flame shall not harm thee; I only design

Thy dross to consume and thy gold to refine.


Or consider the words of my unquestionably favorite LDS poet, Eliza R. Snow, in her poem “Be not Discouraged”:


Though deepening trials throng your way,

Press on, press on, ye Saints of God!

Ere long the resurrection day

Will spread its light and truth abroad.


Though Satan rage, 'tis all in vain;

The words the ancient Prophet spoke,

Sure as the throne of God remain;

Nor man nor devils can revoke.


All glory to his holy name

Who sends his faithful servants forth

To prove the nations, to proclaim

Salvation's tidings through the earth


Let us therefore not be discouraged in the face of our foes or those who mock and belittle. Nephi, in his recital of his Fatherʼs vision of the Tree of Life and the Great and Spacious Building, noted the following in 1 Nephi 8:33:


And great was the multitude that did enter into that strange building. And after they did

enter into that building they did point the finger of scorn at me and those that were

partaking of the fruit also; but we heeded them not.


Even though, as the hymn “As Zionʼs Youth in Latter Days” mentions, the “truths and values we embrace are mocked at every hand”, we should take the council of Nephi and not heed those who mock or scorn as we press forward, feasting on the words of Christ. Thus, we are to proclaim the message of the atonement without reserve or fear, as the Lord will look over all those who are steadfast in his ways. Shout from the rooftops the Atonement of Christ. Fools may mock, cowards may libel, calumny may defame, but the truth of God surely will go forth boldly as we remember the rock of our foundation, Jesus Christ.


Brothers and Sisters, let me again voice how grateful I am for this opportunity to speak. I am both excited and nervous for my mission to New Hampshire, but I am confident that if I strive to live up the standards that the Lord holds for me I will be blessed in the field. I am so grateful for the friendship and love that you have all shown me. To my priesthood and young men leaders, I am grateful for your leadership and example you set for me, and the sacrifices you made to ensure I had an undeniably enjoyable experience in the Young Menʼs Program and Priesthood Quorum. To my dear friends and brethren of the Quorum, thank you for your friendship and kindness. Likewise to all my friends who have come here to support me, thank you for suffering a nerd like me to be in your midst. You truly have been a beacon for me as I have prepared for my mission. To the bishopric and ward, stake leaders who have done so much for the ward and stake, I thank you for your service and example. To my general ward family, my many thanks and gratitude goes to you for making my experience in the Monument Park 16th Ward both edifying and uplifting. And to my family, especially my parents, for your love and never ending support. Moroni taught that charity is the pure love of Christ, and I have never felt Christʼs charity stronger than in the bonds of my family.

In the end, brothers and sisters, I leave you my final testimony before I go. I have a testimony that Joseph Smith is a Prophet of God. In the spring of 1820 that young man entered a grove of woods and beheld a marvelous vision of God the Father and his Son Jesus Christ, ushering in the last dispensation. I have a testimony that 7 years later Joseph Smith received and subsequently translated by the gift and power of God, ancient plates of gold into the Book of Mormon. That record is an authentic ancient text written by inspired Prophets and stands as a second witness of Jesus ChB. H. Roberts so eloquently said on the Churchʼs centennial in 1930:


Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth, for God hath spoken. The record of Joseph in

the hands of Ephraim, the Book of Mormon, has been revealed and translated by the

power of God, and supplies the world with a new witness for the Christ, and the truth of

the fulness of the Gospel.


And as Elder Roberts said later:


I am convinced that when men of intelligence can be brought to the point of being

sufficiently humble to read again the Book of Mormon, and to take into account the high

purposes for which it was written, and will stop sneering at such human elements that

may be in it, and will examine once more its teachings upon the great theme of salvation

through the atonement of the Christ, they can indeed find wisdom and truth in its

doctrines.


Brothers and sisters, it is my testimony that Joseph Smith the Prophet restored the priesthood of the Lord by ordination under the hands of heavenly messengers. It is my testimony that Joseph Smith restored many plain and precious doctrinal truths lost to the long night of apostasy; that he received a multitude of glorious revelations and translations as contained in the Doctrine and Covenants, the Pearl of Great Price and elsewhere. In short, I have a testimony that, in the words of President John Taylor in D&C 135:3,


Joseph Smith, the Prophet and Seer of the Lord, has done more, save Jesus only, for

the salvation of men in this world, than any other man that ever lived in it. In the short

space of twenty years, he has brought forth the Book of Mormon, which he translated by

the gift and power of God... has sent the fulness of the everlasting gospel, which it

contained, to the four quarters of the earth; has brought forth the revelations and

commandments which compose this book of Doctrine and Covenants, and many other

wise documents and instructions for the benefit of the children of men... and left a fame

and name that cannot be slain. He lived great, and he died great in the eyes of God and

his people; and like most of the Lordʼs anointed in ancient times, has sealed his mission

and his works with his own blood.


I have a testimony that Thomas S. Monson is a modern, living Prophet who has received inspiration from the Lord in leading the Saviorʼs Church. We would do well to hearken unto his counsels and the counsels of the other General Authorities of the church, all of whom I wholeheartedly sustain as Prophets, Seers and Revelators.


And finally, above all, I testify that God lives and that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God. He has performed the grand and infinite atonement that will cleanse our sins and enable us to enter back into the presence of the Father. Only on his name can the children of men come unto salvation. Indeed, we “talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that [we and] our children may know to what source [we] may look for a remission of [our] sins" (2 Nephi 25:26). I am far from perfect, and will undoubtedly make mistakes in the years to come, but I am so grateful for a loving Heavenly Father who sent His Son to shed his blood that I may repent and call upon Him and His undying mercy. I am deeply honored to be a missionary for the Lord Jesus Christ, and wish that I may walk

the path of the Master as I proclaim the message of his atonement.


In the end, brothers and sisters, I end my testimony with the words of Elder Bruce R.

McConkie:


I believe in Christ; he is my King!

With all my heart to him Iʼll sing;

Iʼll raise my voice in praise and joy,

In grand amens my tongue employ.

I believe in Christ; he is Godʼs Son.

On earth to dwell his soul did come.

He healed the sick; the dead he raised.

Good works were his; his name be praised.


I believe in Christ; he stands supreme!

From him Iʼll gain my fondest dream;

And while I strive through grief and pain,

His voice is heard: “Ye shall obtain.”

I believe in Christ; so come what may,

With him Iʼll stand in that great day

When on this earth he comes again

To rule among the sons of men.


And so it is my testimony to you all, in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.