Sunday, September 20, 2009
The Inexhaustible Gospel
Several years ago, our daughter Melanie served as a full-time missionary for the Church in the New Hampshire Manchester mission. Her first companion was Ashli Sorenson. They were like peas in the same pod. To this day they remain close friends.
This weekend, Ashli was sealed to her husband in the Salt Lake Temple. I've always loved that word "sealed," because it embodies so much more than "married to." Sealed has the ring of permanence -- something that will endure the grave, sin, disease, misfortune and everything else that mortality serves up. Of course, to make the sealing valid for eternity we must live the gospel and there must be a seal applied. And that "seal of approval" is what we also refer to as being "sealed by the Holy Spirit of Promise." (See D&C 132:7). All the ordinances of salvation are conditional -- they are "iffy" promises based upon our faithfulness in honoring the covenants we have entered into with Heavenly Father.
While these two missionaries were serving together, they began teaching Patti and John, an older couple. They spent months together, growing closer, bonding and having one spiritual experience after another, but John and Patti declined the invitations to be baptized. As Christmas drew near that year, I even wrote them a letter testifying to them that the gospel was the path leading toward eternal life and they could be immeasurably blessed if they entered the waters of baptism together.
Time marched on, until both missionaries were released and returned home to their native Utah. We learned through the girls that Patti had contracted cancer. John patiently and lovingly cared for her, but despite his ministrations and many, many prayers of faith Patti died.
Melanie was married by then, Ashli was still searching for her eternal companion, then it was learned by Ashli on a trip back to her mission that John had met Christina, a widow. They met at the Baptist Church. They became good friends. They began travelling and being with one another. When Ashli's sealing date was set, invitations went out to John and Christina.
This weekend we had the joy and privilege of spending some time with John and Christina. John had quit smoking cold turkey just before making the trip to Utah. Christina's father had warm and affectionate feelings for his trips to Utah in years past. Patsy and I had the opportunity to meet them for the first time at Ashli's reception on Thursday night, then take them with us to stay overnight in our parents' condominium in Salt Lake. All that night, they plied us with questions about the Mormons, Salt Lake, Temple Square, and so on. Melanie was to join us, but her flight was cancelled, so we talked and answered their questions all night.
The next morning our Q&A continued until we left to pick up Melanie at the airport. Patti's former sister-in-law, Norma, and her daughter Cindy, members of the Church, drove up from American Fork and met us for lunch at the Joseph Smith Memorial Building. Everyone had a chance to visit, get acquainted and renew friendships again.
Simultaneously, a few months previously, Ashli and Norma and Melanie began having thoughts about Patti. Norma approached John and asked for his permission to have her temple work done. John agreed. By proxy, Melanie did the baptism for Patti, Ashli performed the initiatory ceremony, and this week Norma will be doing the endowment for Patti in the Manti Temple.
As we escorted John and Christina around Temple Square while Ashli's sealing was being done on Friday, we spent most of our time in the North Visitor's Center in fulfillment of Christina's desire to view the magnificent Thorvaldsen replica of the Christus statue standing in the second floor rotunda of that building. We walked past all the scenes in the life of the Savior portrayed by the artists, then up the spiral ramp leading into the room where the Christus stands.
I reminisced with them about standing in that room as a tour guide on Temple Square and giving a tour 40 years ago on July 20, 1969, at the precise moment Neal Armstrong had stepped out of the lunar lander onto the surface of the moon. As we stood in that setting looking back through space at planet Earth, it was a moment frozen in time I have never forgotten. Christ was the Creator of the universe, I testified to John and Christina, and He overcame death and hell to preserve our happiness and joy in eternity if we are faithful.
As we were exiting the rotunda area, noting her cross around her neck, I commented to Christina that many ask why the Mormons don't seem to value the cross. I explained, pointing to the statue of Christ, "We do not devalue the crucifixion and His suffering on the cross. We simply choose to emphasize that He is the Living Christ." To which she responded touching her cross with a smile, "Yes, and that's why there is no Christ on my cross -- I know that He is risen!"
We took them through the Church's presentation about eternal families and how important temple covenants are in sealing families together forever under the authority of the priesthood. Both John and Christina believe they will see and be with their respective spouses again. That simple belief is the universal hope of all who have loved and lost loved ones in death. It is the eternal theme of love -- that love doesn't die at the side of the grave, even though marriages performed without priesthood authority always end in "until death do you part."
The sweet sister who accompanied us through the presentation was Sister Larsen. On her third mission she suffered a stroke. The doctors and her mission president advised her to return home. "No," she insisted, "I have a little nine-year-old grand-daughter praying for me that I'll be good as new. I can't go home now and destroy that little girl's faith. I'll be fine." She survived the heart attack that produced the stroke, then later breast cancer, chemotherapy and six stents. She and her husband are now serving their fourth mission -- this one on Temple Square. She bore witness of her faith and her absolute certainty of the plan of happiness. It was my impression that John and Christina were deeply moved by her witness and her faith.
We reunited with the wedding party at the east doors of the temple for pictures. John and Christina went on to the dinner that was planned later that evening while Patsy and I tended our grand-daughter, Eliza, back at the condo.
They spent another night with Melanie at the condo with Grandma and Harold, then Melanie left Saturday to return home. John and Christina departed this morning after spending all day together roaming around Temple Square -- they couldn't quite get enough. I explained to them what they were feeling was the power of the Holy Ghost bearing witness of the truths taught there.
For each son and daughter of God there is an inexhaustible supply of gospel goodness, hope and abundance of spirit, as evidenced by these words of scripture from The Book of Mormon:
Behold, he sendeth an invitation unto all men, for the arms of mercy are extended towards them, and he saith: Repent, and I will receive you.
Yea, he saith: Come unto me and ye shall partake of the fruit of the tree of life; yea, ye shall eat and drink of the bread and the waters of life freely. (See Alma 5:33-34).
Norma, as we were parting, expressed concern that her sister-in-law Patti might not accept the vicarious work that was being done for her, to which I gave her assurance in the words of Lorenzo Snow and Wilford W. Woodruff:
"I believe, strongly too, that when the Gospel is preached to the spirits in prison, the success attending that preaching will be far greater than that attending the preaching of our Elders in this life. I believe there will be very few indeed of those spirits who will not gladly receive the Gospel when it is carried to them. The circumstances there will be a thousand times more favorable." (Lorenzo Snow, CR October 6, 1893).
"So it will be with your fathers. There will be very few, if any, who will not accept the Gospel. . . The fathers of this people will embrace the Gospel." (Wilford W. Woodruff, Collected Discourses, 5 vols., 4, April 8, 1894).
None of us will live long enough to be filled totally in this life with the inexhaustible supply of the fullness of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Whether we come in at the gate of baptism in the first hour or the eleventh hour, it matters not, only that we come, and come we will either in this life or the next. And when we come, early or late, we will always be filled and our thirst will be quenched. It is then that the promise to the Samaritan woman at the well in the heat of the day will be fulfilled -- we will never hunger nor thirst again. (See John 4).