Sacrament Talk: Real Discipleship

A couple of months ago, I spoke in church on the assigned topic of “real discipleship.” Below is a script I wrote out for it.

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My hope for this talk, and for any meeting or class we ever have, is for all of us to get two main things: to be empowered through learning the gospel to live in ways that will bring us closer to God, and to be encouraged to do that in a way that will make us happy in everyday life. As I prepared this talk, I prayed to write a message that would help do that for all of us. That’s what I want out of this talk, and I hope that sounds good to everybody, so let’s get started.

But first, yesterday I had an idea. If any of the youth in the ward have tuned me out, listen up, this is for you. With your parents’ permission, if anyone under 18 wants to keep track of the scriptures and apostles I mention today, and get in touch with me later to talk about it, I’ll bring you a treat or snack of your choice–again, with your parents’ permission. So, Aiden, pay attention, son. You have your dad’s permission.

I’ve been asked to speak about discipleship today, and that’s a huge topic, but it also cuts right to the center of how we live our lives. When the bishop asked me speak, the phrase he used was “true” discipleship. I guess that’s meant to be the opposite of a false discipleship, and that reminds me of a General Conference three years ago, when Elder D. Todd Christofferson mentioned a great German leader from another church named Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was famous for using the terms “cheap grace” and “costly grace.” Bonhoeffer said, “Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ…Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will go and sell all that he has….It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble; it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him.”

It is this second kind of grace, this true discipleship, that we seek to develop in our lives.

One of my favorite talks of all time was given by a great apostle named Neal A. Maxwell, and it was about King Benjamin’s speech in Mosiah chapters 2-5 from the Book of Mormon. Elder Maxwell called it “a manual for discipleship.” What do we learn about living from that great sermon? King Benjamin teaches us to be grateful, to serve others, to keep the commandments and avoid contention, to pray and to become more Christlike.

Elder Maxwell said:

“Of the characteristics of a true disciple, given to us by Benjamin, we are not surprised that Benjamin emphasized 1. having no intent to injure others, 2. living peaceably with them, 3. rendering unto others what is due, and 4. not suffering people to be in hunger or poverty. Each of these expressions, of course, branches from the second great commandment. Brigham Young put the various attributes in perspective with these words: “There is one virtue, attribute, or principle, which, if cherished and practised by the Saints, would prove salvation to thousands upon thousands. I allude to charity, or love, from which proceed forgiveness, long-suffering, kindness, and patience.”

(That was me quoting Elder Maxwell who was quoting Brigham Young. OK, back to Elder Maxwell) Though it may seem obvious, these varied expressions do grow out of genuine love for others. Such concern is not possible if one is selfish or lacking in either empathy or meekness….Thus, for instance, love would clearly and quickly veto stealing from a neighbor, but it would also keep one from withholding from that same neighbor needed and deserved praise. Hence, as Benjamin said, just as it is impossible to catalogue the many ways in which we can sin (see Mosiah 4:30), it is likewise impossible to set forth the many ways we can love and serve others.”

Speaking of service motivated by love for our neighbors, that reminds me of how we always hear of missionaries who come to love the people they serve, and how it changes them and they never forget it. That comes from just two years or so of service. Think about how long any of us may have been together in our ward or stake? How much of our lives has been spent serving each other, and working together to serve others? If you’re newer around here, please put down roots and stay for a while.

Anyway, one of the subtle benefits of being active in the church is that, like missionaries, we can use all these experiences to grow our love for each other, and move us to show that love even more. As President Thomas S. Monson said, “We cannot truly love God if we do not love our fellow travelers on this mortal journey.” I like that image–thinking of life as all of us walking along a road together towards the celestial kingdom, maybe sometimes skipping, maybe sometimes trudging, but putting our arms around each other and enjoying the company.

Remember what I said before about being empowered by the gospel to live closer to God, and encouraged to do it with joy? In terms of King Benjamin’s speech about discipleship, that second part comes in with messages like this, from Mosiah 2:41: “I would desire that ye should consider on the blessed and happy state of those that keep the commandments of God.” With all of those teachings in that speech about how to live as a servant of Jesus Christ, do you know how many times Benjamin talks about happiness in living the gospel? Seven. Seven times in just those four chapters. That one was the first. Do yourself a favor and go find the other six, and pay attention to how it makes you feel when you find them.

Speaking of six, that’s how many of the talks at this April’s General Conference were about discipleship. How about that? The rest of the quotes in this talk come from that conference.

Bishop Gerald Cause titled his talk, “It is all about the people.” He teaches: “are we active in the gospel, or are we merely busy in the Church? The key is to follow the example of the Savior in all things. If we do that, we will naturally focus on saving individuals rather than performing tasks and implementing programs….I promise you that as you strive to be on the Lord’s agenda, nothing will become more important than finding those people you can help and bless.”

Elder Massimo de Feo of the 70 gave a talk that he called, “Pure Love: The True Sign of Every True Disciple of Jesus Christ,” where he said that “The gospel of Jesus Christ is centered on the love of the Father and the Savior for us —  and our love for Them and for one another.”

Has anyone seen a pattern here yet? One is reminded of the Redeemer’s great teaching on the night of His betrayal, in John 15:9-12, As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue ye in my love. If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love. These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full. This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you.” In our families and neighborhoods, in our ward and stake, wherever and whenever we are, let us show love for each other.

The wonderful Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf gave this beautiful description of the atonement of Jesus Christ:

“When we truly behold the Man, we learn of Him and seek to align our lives with Him. We repent and strive to refine our natures and daily grow a little closer to Him. We trust Him. We show our love for Him by keeping His commandments and by living up to our sacred covenants. In other words, we become His disciples.” Honestly, that sounds like a lot of work, doesn’t it? That’s a lot of responsibility, and it dominates your life–and it’s supposed to. But then listen to what he says right after that: “His refining light saturates our souls. His grace uplifts us. Our burdens are lightened, our peace deepened. When we truly behold the Man, we have the promise of a blessed future that inspires and upholds us through the bends and bumps in life’s journey.”

Perhaps this is a good place to be reminded of the Savior’s words from Matthew 10:39: “He that findeth his life shall lose it, but he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.” Worrying about ourselves will only dry up happiness, but forgetting ourselves in the service of others will fill us with a special joy that comes in no other way.

Are you stressed out or confused or tired? Are you here today with life’s troubles weighing you down?

Sister Bonnie B. Oscarson, the church’s Young Women president, spoke directly to young women but gave counsel that is worthwhile for each and every one of us: “Turning your thoughts outward, instead of dwelling on your own problems, may not resolve all of these issues, but service can often lighten your burdens and make your challenges seem less hard….raise your hands to volunteer and to put those hands to work when you see needs around you. As you fulfill your covenant responsibilities and participate in building the kingdom of God, blessings will flow into your life and you’ll discover the deep and lasting joy of discipleship.”

To celebrate the start of this new millennium, the First Presidency and Quorum of the 12 apostles wrote an amazing summary of our testimony of the Savior called “The Living Christ.” At one point, it quotes Acts 10:38, saying that Jesus “went about doing good.” Then it says, “His gospel was a message of peace and goodwill. He entreated all to follow His example.” And what was that example?

Jean B. Bigham, the church’s Relief Society general president, talked about our Savior as an example of ministering. She quoted The Living Christ, then said, “But He also smiled at, talked with, walked with, listened to, made time for, encouraged, taught, fed, and forgave. He served family and friends, neighbors and strangers alike, and He invited acquaintances and loved ones to enjoy the rich blessings of His gospel. Those “simple” acts of service and love provide a template for our ministering today….It looks like becoming part of someone’s life and caring about him or her.”

Brothers and sisters, on Tuesday morning or Thursday night or next Saturday afternoon, how can our lives be different, how can our service be better, how can we invite more light into our hearts? Can we start by making a habit this week of seeking out this path of joy in our prayers?

As this talk has gone on, I’ve moved from talking about discipleship to talking about ministering, and for good reason–they’re really the same thing: serving our God by serving others, out of love, in any way that they need, because our Lord and Savior always has and always will serve us, out of love, in every way that we need. Brothers and sisters, looking at our own lives, how can we not see our Savior’s love infinitely in every day of it, and how can that not move us to pay it forward in whatever little ways we can?

My friends, do we feel the Spirit this morning? I hope we do, and I hope that as we do, we remember that this feeling isn’t the end, it’s supposed to be the beginning. What comes next is what we do with this faith and love after we go home, every day. My prayer is that we each invite the Spirit in, even more than we ever have, and ask our Heavenly Father to become answers to other people’s prayers. Living the gospel keeps our inner light strong, and living in the church gives us countless chances to serve and grow…and to make things even better, the church also happens to be true. A true church does help to make true disciples.

Jesus Christ lives and loves you, knows and loves each of us. I say these things in His holy name, the name of our Savior Jesus Christ, amen.

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