Note: This is a sacrament talk given on November 20, 2016
Last Sunday, I attended evening Mass at St. Paul’s and heard a homily by Father Radmar reflecting on the presidential election. He said, “We need to be listening for God’s voice in the pain and concerns of others. As Christians, we are obligated to nurture hope.”
The next day, I came across a post-election essay by Junot Díaz, who said, “Radical hope is not so much something you have but something you practice.”
These words about hope helped me in thinking about gratitude as a practice that supports our creative moral action as a Zion people. When we are grateful, we are more aware of the blessings of mortal life and see more clearly the possibilities of Zion. Our gratitude for this life, this earth, for each other, and for our Savior enable us to collaborate with the Godhead to cast out fear and create a world that is more loving and just.
In this talk, I’d like to share my gratitude for what President Uchtdorf calls “the soul-expanding doctrine” of the restored gospel. Then, I’ll share some ideas about how we can practice radical gratitude as disciples of Jesus Christ.
For most of my life, I have been trying to understand the Atonement. As a young person I wanted to participate in Christianity but couldn’t make sense of this core doctrine. What helped me was the Mormon concept that the Savior suffered, died, and lived again, not only to overcome sin and death but to be with us as we experience loss, illness, heartache—all the traumas of mortal life.
We all have to leave the Garden of Eden. It’s painful, and terrifying. But we see that even the Savior had to do it. In the Garden of Gethsemane He felt in his body our collective suffering, and it was so overwhelming for Him that His “soul was exceedingly sorrowful unto death,” as we read in the scriptures (Matthew 26:38). Like us, He had His empathy expanded through His experience of mortal life. And His Atonement is the ultimate act of love and empathy that empowers us with new life.
Through all my doubts, I know that the Savior has carried me. I’m being resurrected from the death of anxiety, despair, and fear, and my experience of Him and His Atonement is why I chose to be baptized.
In the Book of Mormon, the baptismal covenant is described as our shared foundation for living as a Zion people. We are “to be called his people…willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light…willing to mourn with those that mourn…comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses to God in all times and in all things, and in all places that [we] may be in” (Mosiah 18:8-10). We know that salvation, or healing, is a personal, communal process. As we read in Doctrine & Covenants, “[T]heir salvation is necessary and essential to our salvation” (128:15). And as Michael Austin writes on By Common Consent, “For Alma, as for Paul, this is the defining characteristic of the church: it is a personal relationship with Christ that is part of—and inseparable from—relationships with others.”
This is a truth that I’ve been learning in ways that I didn’t expect. There is a lot of pain in life in the Church. We can be hardhearted and fail one another. Our vision gets clouded by tribalism, self-righteousness, and judgment to where we can’t see the heart of another person. The afflicted pass by us and we notice them not.
Gordon C. Thomasson taught that “Satan was unwilling to suffer for others, unwilling to give the ultimate gift, unwilling to give Christ-like service.” Too often, we walk Satan’s path of individualism when the Savior is calling us to community. And our Savior knows in His body the pain that we cause each other. Through all of it, He asks us to do the work of healing and justice. He shows us how to do the work, and He does it through us. This is what it means to share His good news with the world.
The gospel of Jesus Christ is thus a radical way of being. In the gospel, we act not as optimists but as realists because we know that Christ is real and He lives, that His life has made the world a translucent place, and if we have the eyes to see Him in all things, we see the work that God is doing beneath the surface; we know that mortality is a gift that makes our progression possible, and the earth with us is in a process of transformation. Through Christ we are transformed, with the strength and willingness to participate in the work of our salvation, nurturing hope for people who desperately need it, the people we are becoming together.
The Savior has instructed us: “Take no thought, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘Wherewithal shall we be clothed?’ for your Heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matthew 6:31-33). When we try to let go of anxiety and ask different questions to see the concerns of the kingdom, we’re able to fully prioritize the healing work that God needs us to do.
Paul of Tarsus taught, “Above all put on charity, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful” (Colossians 3:14-15). We practice gratitude in the context of community, with the goal of building the kingdom, which is Zion.
Paul also says, “Be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:1). To heal each other, we have to offer up our lives. It’s the only way; it is the way of Christ. Through bodily spiritual sacrifice we find our lives again in each other, in the body of Christ. We grow in goodness and unity as we act in gratitude for our lives bound together.
Now I’d like to share some ways that we can practice this radical gratitude of sacrificial love.
Number 1 is prayer. I’ve been having a hard time praying lately, but I notice the difference in my energy and outlook when I use words to name the things that I am grateful for and express that to my Heavenly Parents. So I am trying to commit to writing my prayers in a journal. Brother Mitch Mayne has a texting ritual with a friend where they share with each other three things that they are grateful for each day. Mitch says, “In so doing, I often change my perspective and come from a place of strength—not fear.” It reminds him that “our Savior is present still.” Writing, prayer, and meditation are grounding practices that help us to see the world with eyes of gratitude, aware of the Savior in our everyday. They’re practices that we can also use during the Sacrament, when we affirm that we are a body made up of many bodies who have covenanted to care for each other physically and spiritually.
2: We can be serious about the spiritual practice of seeing people as our Heavenly Parents see us. Elder Renlund said it best in his first talk as an apostle: “to effectively serve others we must see them through a parent’s eyes, through Heavenly Father’s eyes…Only then can we sense the love that Heavenly Father has for all of His children. Only then can we sense the Savior’s caring concern for them. We cannot completely fulfill our covenant obligation…unless we see them through God’s eyes. This expanded perspective will open our hearts to the disappointments, fears, and heartaches of others…We need to have eyes that see, ears that hear, and hearts that know and feel.” Lately I’ve become more conscious of how hard it is to see people as people, for who they actually are. It’s easier to go through the day on autopilot and not pay attention. But especially now, after our recent election, during the holidays, and always, we want to take extra care to notice service workers, the homeless, people who are marginalized, and all families who need to be seen.
3: We practice gratitude for the great big world we live in when we seek opportunities for service and learning outside the Church. Joseph Smith taught that we should embrace truth and goodness wherever we find it, and we see this also in our Thirteenth Article of Faith. Cultural and religious diversity show us that there is endless truth and goodness to be discovered in the lives and traditions of others. When we live, learn, and serve with people who are different from us, we enact the gospel, and we’re grateful for the lives of others and what they have to teach us.
4: We can practice honoring the honest thoughts and feelings of others. Sometimes in Mormon culture, church becomes a business meeting, or a Sesame Street where we review the alphabet and are really happy. But the prophets teach that church should be a place where we build the kingdom with the “actual, severe labor” of confronting difficult things and bearing each other’s burdens. When we make room for people to share honestly—room for doubt, uncertainty, fear, ugliness, and messiness to be worked through together—we honor true gifts from the heart and truly care for one another.
5: “Thou shalt not idle away thy time, neither shalt thou bury thy talent that it may not be known.” This is from Doctrine & Covenants (60:13). I’ve included it because it’s a big lesson that I’ve learned in the gospel. If I were Catholic, my Deadly Sin would be Sloth. I have a tendency to focus too much on others and forget about my own life. But selfless gospel action is not the same as self-neglect. Practicing gratitude, we see not only others but ourselves through God’s eyes, and we do the sacred work of self-love and self-development, getting to know who we are and investing in our individual gifts and talents as children of God.
6: We need to take care of the earth and be mindful of our relationships with other living things and with our ecosystems. lds.org says, “All humankind should gratefully use what God has given, avoid wasting life and resources, and use the bounty of the earth to care for the poor…the state of the human soul and the environment are interconnected—each affects the other.” Brigham Young taught that “Zion will extend, eventually, all over this earth…It will all be Zion.” The earth will be our home into the eternities as it becomes the Celestial Kingdom. It is therefore our sacred responsibility to act in gratitude for the earth, helping the Godhead to make our earth into the heaven it is meant to be.
The Savior, through His life and Atonement, has already announced and embodied a heaven on earth, a limitless expansive reality of things renewed, dynamic, and whole. As Saints, we are called to reveal that reality by living and sacrificing as He did and does. We express radical gratitude for His sacrifice by working together to become Zion: a kingdom of healing, peace, and justice. As we practice radical gratitude, we experience repentance not only as a turning away from sin but as a process of total transformation, where all of our pain and struggle is redeemed on the path of eternal progression. As we practice radical gratitude, we are naturally willing and prepared to serve and sacrifice, as the desires of our hearts align with those of our Heavenly Parents, our Savior, and each other.
I know that our Heavenly Mother and Father love each of us and all of us unconditionally, and when we recognize our true nature as their children, Zion is possible on this earth. I know that there is healing, uniting power in the Atonement of Jesus Christ. I know that He is our brother and Savior.
I’m grateful for my family and what they’ve taught me about living the gospel: always learning, being generous, and choosing the right. I’m grateful for the Prophet Joseph Smith, for his heart and his work in the Restoration of the Church. I’m grateful for this ward, where we are doing the hard work of nurturing hope and learning the gospel together.
I’m grateful that our mortal experience can purify our hearts and enable us to form deeper bonds of love. I know that these bonds are eternal. I know that God is calling us to engage in the physical, radical, revolutionary gospel-action of many bodies as one, a community driven by gratitude for the Atonement of Jesus Christ. As we covenant with one another and work together, with our Heavenly Parents and Jesus Christ, I know that we have priesthood power to build Zion, with Christ as our chief cornerstone.
In the name of Jesus Christ, amen