Jesus said, “I am the Way the Truth and the Life”
This is a very familiar scripture for most of us, but it had even more meaning to the early saints.
The earliest name for what would later be called the Christian Church was actually “The Way.” These upstart followers of Jesus of Nazareth were considered a radical branch of Judaism at first, and their nickname, “The Way” reflected the foundation of their belief system. That foundation was, and is, that “The Way” to salvation was through Jesus Christ.
The focus on Jesus Christ as “The Way” eventually gave way to the name Christianity, and eventually a formal church structure was developed. However, there was one title for the church that was most important to early saints and is still important to us today. It is found in Paul’s letters to the Corinthians where he defines the church as “the Body of Christ” and all of those who are baptized are known as members of the Body.
Paul knew that those who were believing in the message of Christ and His gospel were very different from one another. They were more diverse than any of us in this room can imagine. Their differences were cultural, philosophical, racial, doctrinal, political and even whether they were enslaved or free. The problems that arose from those differences were so difficult that Paul, and others, traveled to these areas many times. Since he could not be everywhere all of the time, Paul was forced to write dozens of letters (many we find in the New Testament) to the church members pleading for them to be unified and to love one another.
In the letter, Paul compares each individual member of the church to a body part, and the entire church to the full Body of Christ. He also makes it clear that no individual part is more important than another. Yet each different body part is important, even critical, for the Body to be whole.
In other words, and this is the main point of my remarks: We (the Body of Christ), need each and everyone of you. Including, and especially, those who are not here. And there is more, We need you just the way you are.
It seems so simple, doesn’t it, but man it isn’t. Just as in the time of Paul, many of you know, or will know someone who struggles to be part of the church. I hope we can agree that Body of Christ is worse off when this happens.
So today, I have three suggestions for each of us as members of the Body of Christ, on how we can improve our own and help improve other’s relationship with the Church.
Number One (comes out of the gate firing) – Don’t Hide Our Sins
God was clear to Joseph Smith in D&C 121 that when we cover our sins, the heavens withdraw. What does it mean to cover our sins?
Without much thought, I have always viewed this statement as someone intentionally and maliciously lying about their sins. After really thinking about it, I think it is different than that. Covering seems more like masking our sins, or perhaps creating an image to everyone else we are not sinning.
When we come across to others, especially our children, as if we do not sin, we make them feel like they have to be perfect, or appear perfect as well, This is, of course, unrealistic. This desire and effort we take to appear unsinful, not only separates us from the heavens, but also each other.
On the other hand, being open about our mistakes, our doubts, and our fears shows ourselves and others that we need the power of Christ’s atonement, which helps them realize they need the same thing. This need for Jesus is “THE WAY,” perhaps the only way to bring us closer to the Lord. In addition, it truly brings us together and unites us as members of the Body of Christ.
Number Two – Everyone is Suffering in Some Fashion – Suffer with Them
Everyone has problems. We are all dealing with stuff even if it appears our lives are good. We can do better at finding ways to help and accept help from each other.
Paul and Alma both taught that we should bear one another’s burdens, but listen to this plea from Paul to the Galatian saints:
For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another. For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
Our prosperity, our conveniences, our knowledge, and our foundation of faith in Jesus Christ can give us liberty. However, we cannot only use those things primarily to further our own needs and wants, we must unite and serve each other. We also need to accept help and service from each other, and try to open up about our suffering. Please bring what you have to church, even if you don’t feel like you always get what you want, there are specific people only can help that need you here.
We all want relief from our suffering, unfortunately, complete relief from our suffering is not guaranteed in this life. However, love, comfort, strength and joy can be a part of our lives if we suffer and serve together.
Number three – Bring Grace to Church
First let’s talk Grace – We already discussed how EVERY SINGLE ONE OF US are imperfect and need grace. We also must remember that the church, including its general and local leaders are not perfect either. I understand why we want them to be perfect. It is so much easier to just trust that they are always perfectly in step with the Lord. However, experience shows that they can make mistakes.
The church and our leaders need grace as well. How can we give them grace? It is simple, we shouldn’t disengage from them, we must jump in and help them, bringing our unique ideas, strengths, and faith to the altar with them. We sacrifice together for the Body of Christ despite all of our collective imperfections and mistakes. That is grace.
The last thing I want to say about Grace is giving grace to ourselves.
Everyone one of us has different life experiences, different spiritual experiences, different strengths, weaknesses, appearances, skills, and and everyone’s relationship with God is unique. We cannot look at ourselves like we just don’t fit, or we don’t measure up, or we disagree with the brethren so we shouldn’t be here, or we are burnt out and don’t know how to say no to a calling without feeling shame. We are all good enough RIGHT NOW, we all have things to add RIGHT NOW, even if it is just our smile. Give yourself some grace and just bring what you have to the table and we will be with Christ together. I know sometimes church isn’t fulfilling for some of us. Sometimes we just need to bring what we have to help others, and there will be times when what someone else brings will be just what we need. It is a group effort, so just bring whatever you can.
The Way, The Body of Christ, The Church are all the same thing. They are our opportunity to help each other become closer to Jesus Christ. It will include weakness, suffering, differences and disagreements. But it will also include redemption, comfort, learning and most importantly love.
I want to finish with a quote from Joseph Smith:
“It is a time-honored adage that love begets love. Let us pour forth love—show forth our kindness unto all mankind, and the Lord will reward us with everlasting increase; cast our bread upon the waters and we shall receive it after many days, increased to a hundredfold. Friendship is like Brother Turley in his blacksmith shop welding iron to iron; it unites the human family with its happy influence. I do not dwell upon your faults, and you shall not upon mine. Charity, which is love, covereth a multitude of sins”
I testify that there is spiritual power when we come together in love. That we will feel and see Jesus Christ in our lives when we admit we all need him. We will feel Christ’s comfort when we help those who are suffering or let others help us when we are suffering. And we will feel the grace and love of Christ when we give grace to others and ourselves.