I’m pretty sure this talk was assigned for the purpose of having me, Brother Stern, take yet another step toward becoming a better disciple of Jesus Christ. When the assignment came in from President Bumbaugh to tie our ‘Third Sunday Talks’ in with Dallin H. Oaks’ talk, Love Your Enemies, my thoughts were something like, “Oh, great, this should be fun”, thinking in my sarcasm mode.
Then I remembered the opening scene from, Fiddler on the Roof, where the rabbi’s son asked if there was “a proper blessing for the Czar.”
The rabbi responded, “A blessing for the czar?” He pondered awhile, then pronounced: “Of course: May God bless and keep the czar — far away from us.” Amen!”
Interestingly, this was used in Colbert I. King’s Washington Post op-ed piece, “Should you pray for the president?,” as he discussed the current struggle in faith communities over whether to pray for President Trump and his appointees as they have routinely done for others in positions of trust. Mr. King concluded that, “it would be in our country’s best interest for all of us to pray that this president gets the appropriate help he needs”.
I, on the other hand, was thinking how it fit easily with Joe Biden and Kamal Harris. You can see the importance of Elder Oaks’ cautionary words, bear in mind, his talk was given a month prior to the much-contested elections. The Lord’s admonition applies evenly to all, regardless of political leanings.
While sitting in the last Fast and Testimony meeting wondering how to best accomplish putting my thoughts together a curious idea surfaced.
Some of you will have doubts about my sanity as I share a line from the movie, Cool Hand Luke, when the prison warden stood, holding a sap slapper in hand, addressed Luke after he’d been apprehended for attempting yet another escape.
“What we have here is a failure to communicate”, his slow southern drawl dancing into the air followed by, “You have to get your mind right”. Luke was then punished by having to dig a huge hole all day only to have to refill that hole as his energies were taxed to the limit.
What has this got to do with Elder Oaks’ talk, Love Your Enemies? He mentioned the political climate and how it was affecting members; but in reality, Elder Oaks was talking to me, saying, “Brother Stern, You have to get your mind right”.
“We live in a time of anger and hatred in political relationships and policies. We felt it this summer when some went beyond peaceful protests and engaged in destructive behavior. We feel it in some current campaigns for public offices. Unfortunately, some of this has even spilled over into political statements and unkind references in our Church meetings.
“Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy.
What revolutionary teachings for personal and political relationships! But that is still what our Savior commands. In the Book of Mormon we read, “For verily, verily I say unto you, he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another” ().
Loving our enemies and our adversaries is not easy. “Most of us have not reached that stage of … love and forgiveness,” President Gordon B. Hinckley observed, adding, “It requires a self-discipline almost greater than we are capable of.” But it must be essential, for it is part of the Savior’s two great commandments to “love the Lord thy God” and to “love thy neighbour as thyself” (). And it must be possible, for He also taught, “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find” ().”
I found myself at odds with the Lord’s commandment to Love Thy Neighbor, even those we don’t agree with. I was encouraged to ponder the message found in James, chapter 3, basically the entire chapter; but more particularly as I read, starting in verse 8, which identified my shortcomings in greater detail.
“But the tongue can no man tame; an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.
Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God.
Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be.”
At this point is where I borrowed a sobering thought from Dicken’s, <a href="a_christmas_carol__abridged___1_.pdf (weebly.com)"> A Christmas Carol </a>.
Ebenezer Scrooge had been shown his own failings by the Ghosts who’d visited him. He then is found, pleading as it were, to make things right.
“Men’s courses will foreshadow certain ends, to which, if persevered in, they must lead,” said Scrooge.” I remember adding an extended pause between each thought as he continued…
“But if the courses be departed from… the ends will change”, (unsure if that was a period or a question mark in the manner of his speaking) ... “Say it is thus with what you show me!” (Once again, in my mind I wasn’t sure if that was an exclamation mark or a question mark with emphasis.)
In case you need that translated…Dickens understood the ability to Repent along with the promise that anyone, regardless of how long they’ve traveled in the wrong direction…anyone can alter their path and be forgiven by the Lord.
During that same Fast and Testimony meeting Sister Dean of the Madisonville Branch shared her definition of Peace as being in harmony with God. Oh, how we could all use that feeling of Peace and of being in harmony with God.
I was looking in the mirror and didn’t like what I was seeing. I’d bristled at having to give a talk on a subject which I had yet to master, in my heart and mind, not really willing to follow the Lord’s commandment, Love your enemies. Pride was getting in the way; isn’t that at the heart of our inability to follow the commandments of the Lord?
To become better disciples, we must do things the Lord’s way, turning our will over to Him.
Elder Oaks continued,
“The Savior’s teaching not to “contend with anger” is a good first step. The devil is the father of contention, and it is he who tempts men to contend with anger. He promotes enmity and hateful relationships among individuals and within groups. President Thomas S. Monson taught that anger is “Satan’s tool,” for “to be angry is to yield to the influence of Satan. No one can us angry. It is our choice.” Anger is the way to division and enmity. We move toward loving our adversaries when we avoid anger and hostility toward those with whom we disagree. It also helps if we are even willing to learn from them.”
How are we to take the next step toward becoming better disciples, being slow to change from our ways to being one in heart and mind with the Lord?
“The Prophet Joseph Smith taught that “it is a time-honored adage that love begets love. Let us pour forth love—show forth our kindness unto all mankind.”
President Howard W. Hunter taught: “The world in which we live would benefit greatly if men and women everywhere would exercise the pure love of Christ, which is kind, meek, and lowly. It is without envy or pride. … It seeks nothing in return. … It has no place for bigotry, hatred, or violence. … It encourages diverse people to live together in Christian love regardless of religious belief, race, nationality, financial standing, education, or culture.”
And President Russell M. Nelson has urged us to “expand our circle of love to embrace the whole human family.”
Okay, I get it; but what about folks in positions of power forcing me to pay taxes, using my money to fund abortions, open our borders to anyone to include those intent on destroying our culture and nation? What about that? Am I supposed to love these folks too?
I got hammered again as Elder Oaks explained:
“An essential part of loving our enemies is to render unto Caesar by keeping the laws of our various countries. Though Jesus’s teachings were revolutionary, He did not teach revolution or lawbreaking. He taught a better way. Modern revelation teaches the same:
“Let no man break the laws of the land, for he that keepeth the laws of God hath no need to break the laws of the land.
Apparently, once I’ve paid my taxes according to the laws as set forth, how that money is spent no longer falls under my responsibility. Those in government take over and will have to explain to the Lord how they completed their stewardships. We can do our best to put individuals of integrity and character in positions of power and then trust in the Lord who knows the beginning from the end.
I’ll touch on a little bit more of Elder Oaks’ talk before tying this up.
“At one extreme, some seem to have forgotten that the First Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees the “right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” That is the authorized way to raise public awareness and to focus on injustices in the content or administration of the laws. And there have been injustices. In public actions and in our personal attitudes, we have had racism and related grievances. In a persuasive personal essay, the Reverend Theresa A. Dear of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) has reminded us that “racism thrives on hatred, oppression, collusion, passivity, indifference and silence.” As citizens and as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we must do better to help root out racism.
At the other extreme, a minority of participants and supporters of these protests and the illegal acts that followed them seem to have forgotten that the protests protected by the Constitution are protests. Protesters have no right to destroy, deface, or steal property or to undermine the government’s legitimate police powers. The Constitution and laws contain no invitation to revolution or anarchy. All of us—police, protesters, supporters, and spectators—should understand the limits of our rights and the importance of our duties to stay within the boundaries of existing law. Abraham Lincoln was right when he said, “There is no grievance that is a fit object of redress by mob law.” Redress of grievances by mobs is redress by illegal means. That is anarchy, a condition that has no effective governance and no formal police, which undermines rather than protects individual rights.”
Knowing that we are all children of God gives us a divine vision of the worth of all others and the will and ability to rise above prejudice and racism. As I have lived for many years in different places in this nation, the Lord has taught me that it is possible to obey and seek to improve our nation’s laws and also to love our adversaries and our enemies. While not easy, it is possible with the help of our Lord, Jesus Christ. He gave this command to love, and He promises His help as we seek to obey it. I testify that we are loved and will be helped by our Heavenly Father and His Son Jesus Christ…”
It is my prayer that through repentance, doing our best to have our lives in accordance with the commandments of the Lord, we find that Peace which comes from being in harmony with God. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.