Sunday, October 23, 2011

Rescuing "That Which Was Lost" in Today's World

Last night we held our Saturday night adult meeting in conjunction with a regional conference that will be broadcast into our stake center this morning. Our stake presidency invited the mission presidency for the Utah Salt Lake City South Mission to come and instruct us. It was one of those meetings where the spirit carried us along speaker by speaker, punctuated by a stake choir with missionary-themed hymns that were heavenly.

It has been said there is no such thing as an original idea in the Church, since we repeat so many things we hear and experience. I can say the lesson I have learned is that it can all be traced eventually to the fountainhead of this dispensation, Joseph Smith. I was into the eighth volume of the Journal of Discourses years ago when that realization hit me -- this all came through Joseph Smith! That said, despite how many times we read and study the scriptures, someone comes along and puts an interpretation on something we've never considered before. Such was my experience last night.

President and Sister Bruce E. Miller
When it was President Bruce E. Miller's turn to speak, he began with the Lord's introduction to the Doctrine and Covenants:

Hearken, O ye people of my church, saith the voice of him who dwells on high, and whose eyes are upon all men; yea, verily I say: Hearken ye people from afar; and ye that are upon the islands of the sea, listen together.

For verily the voice of the Lord is unto all men, and there is none to escape; and there is no eye that shall not see, neither ear that shall not hear, neither heart that shall not be penetrated.

And the rebellious shall be pierced with much sorrow; for their iniquities shall be spoken upon the housetops, and their secret acts shall be revealed.

And the voice of warning shall be unto all people, by the mouths of my disciples, whom I have chosen in these last days.

And they shall go forth and none shall stay them, for I the Lord have commanded them. (D&C 1:1-5).

He emphasized that this revelation was given to members of the Church, certainly, but it also included all the people of the earth. He then cited Luke 15, where the Savior is quoted delivering three parables, all having to do with things that were lost - a sheep, a coin and a son.

One can turn to numerous commentaries on the meanings of these parables, and just when you think you've heard it all there is one more interpretation suggested you had never considered. President Miller suggested Luke 15 with its three parables are the ways in which people leave the Church for a season and are lost to the doctrine of Christ. They either wander away, either they or we are careless, or they rebel and turn away for a season. It may be true this is how people leave the safety net of the gospel, but it is also true for those not of our faith who have yet to find it in this life. . .

He had an audience member read each of the parables, and taught the principles concisely and with precision.

The parable of the lost sheep is actually given twice in the scriputres to different groups of hearers and with differing purposes and applications. However, in Luke the message is clear. It was delivered in Perea. The Savior illustrates the length the Shepherd will go to find the sheep and the rejoicing that takes place when the lost is found. He is teaching the murmuring and self-righteous religious leaders of the day what they should have been doing (but were not) in rescuing the lost sheep. The Good Shepherd was teaching them what was needed to become His true under-shepherds.

Joseph Smith
The Prophet Joseph explained: "The hundred sheep represent one hundred Sadducees and Pharisees, as though Jesus had said, 'If you Sadducees and Pharisees, are in the sheepfold, I have no mission for you; I am sent to look up sheep that are lost; and when I have found them, I will back them up and make joy in heaven.' This represents hunting after a few individuals, or one poor publican, which the Pharisees and Sadducees despised." (TPJS, 277). President Miller suggested some of the sheep today are lost because of the first reason -- they wander off and are lost.

One of the sister missionaries in the audience had been to Israel, encountered a shepherd there, and inquired why he had a lamb draped over his shoulders. She was told by the shepherd that this little lamb had wandered off one too many times. "The first time it happens, I tell the little lamb, don't do that again. The second time it happens I repeat my instructions, but the third time it happens I must break all four of its legs then carry it on my shoulders and do everything for it until the bones heal. Once I have demonstrated my love for the lamb in caring for and protecting it, it will never wander away again."

by Del Parson
The application of the parable for each of us takes on new meaning in the context of those symbolic explanations, doesn't it? When we come unto the Savior, something profound must be broken within each of us -- our hearts must be broken and our spirits must be contrite, and then we can recognize what great things He has done for us so we never hunger nor thirst again. (See 3 Nephi 9:14-22). Our tendency to love Him more increases, but only after our hearts are truly broken for our sins. Only then is our tendency to love Him increased and our diligence in obedience manifested.

Our Lord's earthly under-shepherds today, because they are mortal and weak, sometimes lose precious members of their flocks. When he was a bishop, President Miller told a simple story of elderly lady in the congregation scolding a young sister that her skirt may be too short. Through an unkind word, or inattention, or perhaps even something trivial said carelessly, or because of some other weakness, the soul of much worth like the lost silver coin in the parable, is finally recovered after it seems all attempts that previously failed are finally rewarded with recovery. President Miller suggested the second reason people leave the Church is that either they or we were careless and misplaced or lost our priorities in focusing on things of lesser value. The parable of the lost coin also speaks of rejoicing in the celestial realms when erring members of the kingdom repent and pursue again the course leading to eternal salvation.

Elder James E. Talmage
Elder James E. Talmage offered this insight: "The woman who by lack of care lost the precious piece may be taken to represent the theocracy of the time, and the Church as an institution in any dispensational period; then the pieces of silver, every one a genuine coin of the realm, bearing the image of the great King, are the souls committed to the care of the Church; and the lost piece symbolizes the souls that are neglected and, for a time at least, lost sight of, by the authorized ministers of the gospel of Christ." (Jesus the Christ, 456.) How many times have we misjudged another because of their outward appearance and thought, "Surely, that person would have no interest in the gospel?"

In the more famous parable of the prodigal son, the teaching of the previous two is repeated. All three are part of Jesus' answer to the Pharisees and scribes who murmured because He mingled and ate with publicans and sinners. They all show what joy there is in heaven when straying souls repent, and in this case an illustration is given of the third reason people leave the Church or never embrace it -- they rebel.

The Father in the parable is God who endows all His children with certain talents, capacities, powers, and agency — all according to their needs and situations, all subject to the divine decree that they shall keep His commandments and use their inheritances wisely. We all have gifts, spiritual gifts and endowments designed to aid us in our mortal journey back to Him.

The Prodigal Son
One son is faithful all his life, he keeps the commandments, labors diligently without disruption or complaint at his Father's side, and lays up a rich spiritual harvest for himself and magnifies his Father's kingdom. The other son, however, is tempted, becomes jealous and is overcome by the world's wiles, he squanders away his inheritance on the lusts of the flesh, and soon finds himself in a state of degenerate behavior and suicidal thoughts. Finally, humbled by his adversity he "comes to himself," recalls that even his Father's hired servants are better off than he is, and in his distress turns to God. He seeks relief and begins his journey home. He is emblematic of so many in the Church today who rebel against authority, cheat themselves of the happiness through obedience that otherwise might have been theirs. Those who have never known a day of peace and happiness are also in this group. The gospel truly is all about joy, it's about the good news of Christ's atonement. It's a timeless and timely message for all God's children.

There is much fodder for discussion in this beloved parable. Repentance is real, hearts can change and obedience can be demonstrated, but we can never have back the time wasted in rebellion that might otherwise have been ours. Our memory of our former rebellion is never fully taken away either, to keep us in remembrance of the pain of our former suffering. We may be forgiven, it is true, but that which is lost is lost forever in what "might have been" during the season of our discontent. To rebel is a common theme, to repent is even more common, but wasted time is unrelenting and cannot be fully recovered to us.

Properly applied, this parable has found application for me in all three scenarios -- as the rebellious son in the sense of "holding back" what I might have given in service to others, the faithful older brother who wrongfully judged himself worthy by comparison, and the father of the prodigal who has experienced the joy of welcoming home the prodigal. Seeing it all fulfilled through life's experiences within ourselves is the first step of the true disciple.

In today's world, perhaps as never before in the world's history, we must come to understand why people leave the warmth and safety of the gospel of Jesus Christ, or know not where to find it (see D&C 123:12) and do all we can to succor them.

In so doing we find that which was lost as the true under-shepherds would.


  1. What great thoughts. It sounds like it was an awesome meeting. We were recently visited by Sister Beck. Her teaching and approach were truly masterful and I found I couldn't take notes fast enough. The mantle of her calling to help save the sisters of the church was clear, and her approach was loving, direct, and powerful. What a blessing to be taught and instructed by those given stewardship over us.

  2. When the Spirit does the teaching, the ideas flow freely and resonate deeply. A teacher and a leader who can tap that deep reservoir is a blessing to all. Fortunately, in the Church today the leadership bench is deep and the powerful teachers are plentiful. Today's Israel are a blessed people!