In the Church we repeat the same series of lessons every four years in Sunday School based upon the scriptures.
Too often, I fear, we who have been in the Church most of our adult lives discount the power of repeating the lesson material, claiming it's all been done before, we've heard it all our lives, and there is nothing new under the sun.
For these reasons, many absent themselves first from the temples (that never changes much either), then their absence at stake meetings follows. Eventually, because of indifference it becomes easier to be absent at Sunday meetings. Weeks stretch into months, months into years and soon they find themselves losing interest all together in the ongoing miracles of the Restoration.
Elie Wiesel. He also said, "Indifference, to me, is the epitome of evil."
I picked Wiesel for a quote about indifference because of his praiseworthy journey from the abyss of hopelessness accompanying Hitler's occupation of Europe during World War II and the subsequent atrocities of the concentration camps to his eventual embrace of God and his renewal in overcoming the effects of it. Wiesel became a beacon light of hope for many who lost their way during those days, and remains an inspiration for those who seek hope and faith.
It is worthwhile for a moment to pause and remember what this man had to deal with in his life, when indifference would have been more desirable than hope.
In 1940, Romania lost the town of Sighet following the Second Vienna Award. In 1944, Wiesel, his family and the rest of the town were placed in one of the two ghettos in Sighet. Wiesel and his family lived in the larger of the two, on Serpent Street. On May 16, 1944, the Hungarian authorities allowed the German army to deport the Jewish community in Sighet to Auschwitz Birkenau. While at Auschwitz, his inmate number, "A-7713", was tattooed onto his left arm. Wiesel was separated from his mother and sister Tzipora, who are presumed to have died at Auschwitz. Wiesel and his father were sent to the attached work camp Buna, a subcamp of Auschwitz III Monowitz. He managed to remain with his father for over eight months as they were forced to work under appalling conditions and shuffled between three concentration camps in the closing days of the war. On January 29, 1945, just a few weeks after the two were marched to Buchenwald, Wiesel's father was beaten by a Nazi as he was suffering from dysentery, starvation, and exhaustion. He was later sent to the crematorium, only months before the camp was liberated by the Third Army on April 11.
J.K. Rowling, who brought Harry Potter to life, also learned to battle off the effects of indifference, and offered: "Indifference and neglect often do much more damage than outright dislike." She now admits indifference as a destitute single mother nearly cost her life, and that she came "very, very close" to committing suicide in the years before Harry Potter became a global bestseller. What saved her? Her daughter, Jessica.
Over the years we have had many lessons about the organization of the Church on April 6, 1830. Many years ago as a teacher of one of those gospel doctrine lessons in Sunday School, I felt impressed to ask the question that had been on my mind for a week as I thought about the lesson.
The question is this one, and of course, it’s a pure hypothetical – “What if the Church had never been organized?”
The other corollary questions are, “What if there had been no Restoration?"
I asked the class to think about how their lives would be different if none of those things had happened. After some initial discussion, they all concluded that life’s purposes as we have come to understand them in our lives in the Church would be totally pointless.
I reminded them, many people stand to bear testimony in this Church and include words to this effect – “The Church (or the gospel) is an important part of my life.” After posing the questions I did, then discussing them, I think people began to understand that the Church is more than an important “part” of our lives – the Church, this Church, the only true and living Church on the face of the earth with which the Lord is pleased, IS life. (See D&C 1:30).
The Savior said: "The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly." (John 10:10).
There is nothing we do in this life that is not directly tied in some way to our understanding of the purpose of life and our knowledge of the Restoration through the Prophet Joseph. All our hopes and dreams are tied to our membership in the Church. All our questions are answered in the Restoration. The only ones that aren’t are the ones that don’t matter much.
After discussing the hypothetical questions, we reviewed together the word of the Lord in the revelations contained in D&C Sections 20 and 21. There are some powerful doctrines in those two sections, far more impact than we could discuss in the class period.
One of the class members posed one particularly troubling question to me. He wondered, after all that I have taught the ward in recent years, if I believed we can really be sanctified in this life. It was obvious because of the way he asked it, that he did not.
They all answered, “We were clean and pure.”
I said, “That’s right. And another word for ‘clean and pure’ is ‘sanctified or purified.’ What none of you has yet realized is that you are sanctified each week as you come to this building to partake of the emblems of the suffering of your Savior’s gruesome death on your behalf. The prayers offered over the emblems (or symbols) of the deep meaning behind the sacrament are, '. . .we ask thee in the name of thy Son, Jesus Christ, to bless and sanctify this bread (water) to the souls of all those who partake (drink) of it.'"
We ask for the emblems or symbols to be sanctified -- but are we not really asking for our souls to be sanctified?
Sanctification, therefore, must be attainable, even though it is a process undertaken throughout our lives.
If you don’t really believe Christ can change you from your intemperate and fallen selves, then why bother coming each week to partake of the sacrament? The promise is that you “may ALWAYS have his Spirit to be with [you]." If you don’t believe it, you really don’t have enough faith in Christ. If you did have enough faith, you would come to understand, as I have come to understand over my lifetime, that his power is sufficient to sanctify us, to purify us, and to perfect us IF WE REPENT. (See Moroni 10:32-33).
The power lies in his perfection, not ours under the requirements of the laws of the gospel. Compliance with the laws of the gospel is what justification is all about. We are "justified" which is a legal term, when we submit to the outward ordinances of baptism and the laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost.
But we are "sanctified" when the Holy Spirit begins to dwell within us as the token of the covenant of baptism we make when we are immersed in the water. The Spirit is like a fire to purify us. The ordinance in and of itself has no power. It is merely a symbol of a spiritual rebirth. It is the Spirit of the Holy Ghost dwelling in us that purifies us.
When I went home from Sunday School that day all those years ago, I wrote those words in my journal, then in a letter to two sons were were serving as missionaries at the time. I didn't want to lose the memory of what I had learned once again as I taught what could only be described as the "same old, same old" lesson about the organization of the Church. Today that memory was renewed as yet another fresh revelation. There is power in repetition.
Joseph Smith said the Holy Ghost is a sanctifier. You can't be a member of the Church and avoid being sanctified if you fully understand what you're doing when you partake of the sacrament each week.
After baptism, we are "sanctified by the reception of the Holy Ghost" (3 Nephi 27:20). If we were to be immersed in water and then never be confirmed a member of the Church and never receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, we would still be in our sins. "You might as well baptize a bag of sand as a man," Joseph Smith pointed out, "if not done in view of the remission of sins and getting of the Holy Ghost. Baptism by water is but half a baptism, and is good for nothing without the other half — that is, the baptism of the Holy Ghost" (TPJS, 314; see also 149-50; 360).
Parley P. Pratt wrote that the Spirit "quickens all the intellectual faculties, increases, enlarges, expands, and purifies all the natural passions and affections, and adapts them, by the gift of wisdom, to their lawful use. It inspires, develops, cultivates, and matures all the fine-toned sympathies, joys, tastes, kindred feelings, and affections of our nature. It inspires virtue, kindness, goodness, tenderness, gentleness, and charity. It develops beauty of person, form, and features. It tends to health, vigor, animation, and social feeling. It invigorates all the faculties of the physical and intellectual man. It strengthens and gives tone to the nerves. In short, it is, as it were, marrow to the bone, joy to the heart, light to the eyes, music to the ears, and life to the whole being" (Key to the Science of Theology, 61, italics mine).
I don’t know how you could understand all that, and still ask the question, “Can we be sanctified in this life?”
Too many quit trying. They become weary in the battle of mortality. The enemy consumes them, wears them down, weakens them, then they give up. That's when the indifference is the strongest. They are adrift from the anchor of the redeeming sacrifice of their Savior, right where Satan wants them, safe in their shell, never venturing out again into the land of ironies,condradictions and disappointments in their quest for the sanctification He offers.
C.S. Lewis once wisely observed: "It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird: it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg. We are like eggs at present. And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad."
To be sure, sanctification is a station at which no one arrives in an instant, but it is a process to be incrementally improved upon each week as we come to the sacrament table.
In the end, sanctification is the antithesis of indifference. When we are indifferent to the majestic possibilities in the Restoration as they affect us personally, the gospel forever remains just an important "part" of our lives. When we are "hatched" we see it for what it is. . .
. . . it IS life!