18 February 2024

"The servants did go and labor with their mights"

"...and the Lord of the vineyard labored also with them!"

I think I've mentioned before how much I enjoy reading the words of Nephi's brother Jacob. He was born in the wilderness and never lived at Jerusalem. It's possible he had two of the very meanest older brothers and also two of the very best older brothers a boy could have. He becomes the spiritual leader of the Nephites after Nephi's death. He confronted an early Nephite anti-Christ. His first recorded message in (which we'll be studying this week as part of the "Come, Follow Me" program) is energetic and encouraging:

2 Nephi 10:20

20 And now, my beloved brethren, seeing that our merciful God has given us so great knowledge concerning these things, let us remember him, and lay aside our sins, and not hang down our heads, for we are not cast off; nevertheless, we have been driven out of the land of our inheritance; but we have been led to a better land, for the Lord has made the sea our path, and we are upon an isle of the sea.
23 Therefore, cheer up your hearts, and remember that ye are free to act for yourselves--to choose the way of...eternal life.

Notwithstanding that optimistic perspective of their situation Jacob mentions several times throughout his writings that he is dealing with great anxiety, especially for his people. Anxiety is something many of us today deal with too. By the end of his poetic and vivid writings he concludes with a somewhat somber farewell, perhaps revealing his own struggles with emotional and mental health, recounting that "[their] lives passed away like as it were unto [them] a dream, [they] being a lonesome and solemn people, wanderers, cast out from Jerusalem, born in tribulation, in a wilderness, and hated of [their] brethren, which caused wars and contentions; wherefore [they] did mourn out [their] days." (Jacob 7:26) Jacob did some amazing things, and he was a regular human being like us, with feelings and challenges and was just trying to do what he had been called to do, even in difficult and changing circumstances. I love him for his authentic example.

In Jacob chapter 4 he even tells us something of one of his difficulties, that of engraving on metal plates. Interestingly, he then goes on to engrave what modern typesetters have designated the longest chapter in The Book of Mormon: Jacob chapter 5. This chapter is Jacob's quoting of a prophecy by the ancient prophet Zenos, whose writings were included in the plates of brass. Isn't it great how The Book of Mormon gives us glimpses into other records that have been lost over the centuries?

The prophecy is a sweeping historical allegory of God's work of salvation and exaltation on our planet, explained from the point of view of a man caring for a vineyard of tame and wild Olive trees that produce varying qualities of fruit. It's all a metaphor for bringing souls unto Christ through the laws and ordinances of the gospel, that they might be saved. Starting in verse 60 the Lord and his servants give their all one last time in order to try an save the trees and fruit of the vineyard. For me, this is where things really get interesting because it's describing our day and our own efforts!

I present verse 72 of Jacob 5 as our theme today:

Jacob 5:72

72 And it came to pass that the servants did go and labor with their mights; and the Lord of the vineyard labored also with them; and they did obey the commandments of the Lord of the vineyard in all things.

Ours is the unbelievable privilege of laboring with the Lord in this part of His vineyard. To be a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is to be in a covenant relationship with Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. We commit to take the name of Jesus Christ upon us. We strive to always remember him, and keep his commandments. We also commit to stand as witnesses of God everywhere we go and minister to others as best we can. As we strive to figure out how to do those things, we are afforded great privileges, the greatest of which is probably the gift of the Holy Ghost to guide us. But there are many other great blessings that come along with membership in this church, many of which I'd like to highlight and celebrate.

Membership in this church is anything but passive. We are given opportunities to participate. The general handbook of the church outlines God's work of salvation and exaltation.

We come unto Christ and assist in God's work by:

  1. Living the gospel of Jesus Christ
  2. Caring for Those in Need
  3. Inviting All to Receive the Gospel
  4. Uniting Families for Eternity

Each of the four aspects of God's work begins with a proactive verb--an action. LIVING, CARING, INVITING, and UNITING! What does it look like to do these things?

Living the gospel of Jesus Christ includes our own personal devotion through prayer, scripture study, Sabbath day worship, repentance, and making and keeping covenants as we receive ordinances of the Gospel. We are also invited to collaborate and participate in meetings and other public settings as we accept opportunities to pray in meetings, share thoughts in lessons as invited by teachers and instructors, prepare messages in Sacrament meetings, and accept callings and other assignments in the church (along with a priesthood blessing to set us apart and provide priesthood authority!), which sometimes require us to grow and stretch beyond our current capacity. In 2023, not counting fast and testimony meetings or the primary program, 74 of our ward members spoke in a sacrament meeting (19 youth) and 95 said prayers in sacrament meetings. We currently have 186 members serving in callings, with 8 of those members serving in callings associated with Young Single adult ward bishoprics. This level of participation is incredible and it's one of the things that sets this church apart from all others. It's a marvelous work, a wonder, and we are participating in the gathering Israel!

Caring for those in need includes getting to know members of the church, befriending them, ministering to them (both via formal assignments and informal efforts) and using our unique gifts and abilities to bless others. We currently have 113 companionships of ministering brothers and sisters who collectively minister to 159 households. Being in a position to observe and receive reports on so much of the ministering that takes place in our ward is one of the great privileges of leadership in the church. On behalf of the elders quorum and relief society leaders and the whole ward I thank all the ministering brothers and sisters for their service. We are gathering Israel!

Inviting all to receive the gospel means humbly, yet boldly bearing our testimony, publicly and privately, through word and action. It means sharing the gospel with friends who haven't yet joined the church as well as other members of the church, including those who have stepped away from the covenant path for the time being. There are many ways to do this and they all count. Please don't think that you're not a good 'missionary' just because you may not have personally brought hundreds or thousands of souls into the church (yet!). Sharing the gospel is sharing the gospel, regardless of who you share it with because we all need to be invited to receive it every day. In 2023 we had a total of 11 full-time teaching missionaries and 3 senior service-missionaries serving from our ward. We were blessed to have 6 baptisms and confirmations of children of record in our ward in 2023 and very recently had the baptism and confirmation of Kaci Braze, one of our awesome young women. We are gathering Israel!

Uniting families for eternity means loving our own families by actually saying the words "I love you" to them as well as showing them that love in ways that are meaningful to them! We do our best to eliminate contention in our families and in our ward family. Yes, when we say 'uniting families', let's also think of uniting our ward family. How do we do this? We sing together in meetings (my favorite part)! We are organized into various organizations and plan various activities for everyone in the ward. The youth repeat the Young Women theme and the Aaronic Priesthood Quorum themes each week in unison. Uniting families also refers to sealing ordinances performed in temples. There are 17 members of our ward currently serving as temple ordinance workers. We do our best to find records of our ancestors and perform ordinances for them in the temple. 105 members of our ward submitted names for temple work in 2023. This is all part of gathering Israel.

I'd like to echo the words of the Lord to Joseph Smith recorded in Section 127 of the Doctrine and Covenants:

Doctrine and Covenants 127:4

4 And again, verily thus saith the Lord: Let the work of my temple, and all the works which I have appointed unto you, be continued on and not cease; and let your diligence, and your perseverance, and patience, and your works be redoubled, and you shall in nowise lose your reward, saith the Lord of Hosts. And if they persecute you, so persecuted they the prophets and righteous men [and women] that were before you. For all this there is a reward in heaven.

I like this verse because it's equal parts complimentary and encouraging. "You're doing great, and there's more for you to do!" It also invites us to exercise faith by orienting us to heaven, our end goal.

Lehi exercised faith and invited Sariah to do the same several years before they arrived in the promised land when he declared:

1 Nephi 5:5

5 I have obtained a land of promise, in...which...I do rejoice; yea, and I know that the Lord will deliver my sons...and bring them down again unto us in the wilderness.

Nephi, speaking of the long foretold Millenial reign of the Savior, made this bold prediction:

1 Nephi 22:24-27

26 And because of the righteousness of his people, Satan has no power; wherefore, he cannot be loosed for the space of many years; for he hath no power over the hearts of the people, for they dwell in righteousness, and the Holy One of Israel reigneth.

So, Nephi clarifies that when the scriptures speak of Satan being 'bound' during the Millenium, it's not because someone will have hog-tied him and locked him up in a jail cell for a thousand years. He will simply have no influence because of the level of purity and righteousness of the Lord's people! Mormon's insight about how if all men would be like captain Moroni the devil would have no power over the hearts of the children of men will actually come true throughout the Lord's kingdom on earth!

Let's exercise our faith to do everything we can to move ourselves and the church in that direction, with every intention of becoming those Latter-day Saints. This includes working toward becoming worthy, or remaining worthy, of a temple recommend. There's a word used in some of the temple recommend interview questions that I'd like to highlight. The questions I'm referring to all start out like this:

"Do you strive..."

What does that word mean?

From The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 5th Edition:

  1. To exert much effort or energy; endeavor.
  2. To struggle or fight forcefully; contend.
  3. To make efforts; to use exertions; to endeavor with earnestness; to labor hard.

The prophet Zenos said it this way:

Jacob 5:72

...the servants did go and labor with their mights...

Jacob 5:74-75

74 And thus they labored, with all diligence, according to the commandments of the Lord of the vineyard, even until...the Lord had preserved unto himself that the trees had become again the natural fruit; and they became like unto one body; and the fruits were equal; and the Lord of the vineyard had preserved unto himself the natural fruit, which was most precious unto him from the beginning.
75 And it came to pass that when the Lord of the vineyard saw that his fruit was good, and that his vineyard was no more corrupt, he called up his servants, and said unto them:...blessed art thou; for because ye have been diligent in laboring with me in my vineyard, and have kept my commandments, and have brought unto me again the natural fruit, that my vineyard is no more corrupted, and the bad is cast away, behold ye shall have joy with me because of the fruit of my vineyard.

I've tried to highlight some of the labors of members of this ward. In doing so, I'll again quote Jacob, who was the earliest writer in The Book of Mormon to say "and a hundredth part of the proceedings of this people cannot be written...". There are countless acts of kindness and ministering care that have gone unmentioned today. All I can do in the time remaining is say "thank you"!