Monday, January 18, 2016

Sacrament Meeting Talk given in the 8th ward 01/17/2016

My assignment today is to speak about the Book of Mormon.  I am going to tell you a trivial story and then talk about some outstanding characters to be found in the Book.
When I joined the Marine Corps (about 100 years ago, or so) I spoke with my bishop and he gave me two little books.  One was the Principles of the Gospel.  I was surprised and a little chagrined to see that it contained instructions on how to dedicate a grave.  The Viet Nam war was in full swing at the time, so that hit kind of close to home.  I hoped I would never have occasion to use that instruction while in the service.
The other book was this little Book of Mormon [Serviceman's Edition].  It is designed to fit in a shirt pocket, and I carried it there quite often.  It helped me in one very unexpected way.  While in training, we took two weeks out of boot camp to go to the rifle range.  The rigid discipline we’d experienced up to that point was relaxed a bit and we focused only on learning to use our rifles.  The first week we practiced how to hold the rifle, how to align the sights, and how to squeeze the trigger.  Mostly we practiced the very unusual positions for holding the rifle - positions that stretched muscles we hadn’t known we possessed – positions that hurt to do correctly, but that eventually became easy.   The second week we started actually firing our rifles.  Every day we’d go to the range and we’d fire.  From the most difficult position (standing) we fired at a mere 100 meters, and from the most stable position (laying down) we fired at 500 meters, with various other positions at interveneing ranges.   200, and 300 meters.  Now, I easily hit bullseyes at 500 meters; no worries.  But I had much difficulty at the closer ranges where it was difficult to maintain the position and hold the rifle on target.
We kept track of every shot, including the wind, our settings on the sights, and marking where we thought we thought each shot went.  If we shot perfectly we could get a score of 300.   If you scored 280 or better, you would be rated as an expert rifleman.  If you were under that score, but shot at least 250  you’d be a sharpshooter.  Under that, but at least 220 and you would rated as a marksman, which is where most recruits end up.  Lower than that and you didn’t rate as a rifleman at all and the disgrace was nearly unthinkable.  All of us wanted to be Expert, but as qualification day approached I had settled in to shooting a few points below that mark.  I needed a few more points at the closest ranges to qualify as an Expert rifleman, but it eluded me and I began to put pressure on myself.
The night before qualification, I knelt beside my bunk and prayed.  I was very aware that the Lord had no interest in whether I qualified as an expert, sharpshooter, marksman, or even at all.  But I cared, and I hoped he would care that I cared.
The next morning I put my Book of Mormon in my pocket.  I didn’t have a plan, I was just trying to follow the spirit.
At the range, We didn’t shoot constantly.  We spent part of the time pulling down and putting up the targets of other shooters and marking the holes so they could be scored.  And we spent a lot of time just waiting.  On qualification day we started out with my group waiting.  I pulled out my Book of Mormon while we were waiting and began to read.  I read  -  and forgot about what we were doing.  When I was called to the line, I fired and went back to reading.  When we pulled targets, I marked them and then read while the firing went on.  At the end of the day, I had those few extra points I needed and I qualified as an expert rifleman.   Nice.
I said I was going to tell you a trivial story and this one qualifies as trivial.  There is no eternal significance to whether I got to wear this badge (the Rifle Expert badge) on my uniform.

However,  in my mind this badge is linked to my little Book of Mormon, which I used mainly just when I was in Boot Camp.
The point here is not why I was reading this little book.  It is simply that I was reading it.  The book doesn’t do us any good to have; it doesn't do us any good to have it IN our pocket; or even to hold it – it does us good to open and read it.
What do the prophets and general authorities tell us about the Book of Mormon?    To Read it!

There are many outstanding stories of great men of God in the Book of Mormon.  Nephi’s story is one of great courage to overcome severe obstacles placed in his way by sibling rivalry.  Alma’s story is a case of repentance that is matched only by Paul’s.  Ammon had great physical strength to go with his spiritual strength and he was able to do great things.  Helaman was a great leader of the army as he defended his home and country, and led a group of young men in righteousness.
Probably my favorite story in the Book of Mormon is in the book of Ether.  The Nephites had had the record of the people of Ether for a long time, but were instructed that it was not to be revealed generally until after Christ came.  Moroni gave us a brief account of their origins and it goes back to the Tower of Babel and a man named Jared.  Jared was concerned about his family and friends losing the ability to talk to each other when the languages were confounded.   So he asked his brother to ask the Lord if they could keep their language.  This is the most curious thing in the Book of Mormon.  Jared apparently had faith enough to ask for help, but not directly.   He had his brother ask instead, and his brother had even greater faith than Jared.     The Lord talked to the brother of Jared and he did many important things,  but his name was lost over time.  Only Jared’s name remained.  So, we have this amazing man, who is known only as the Brother of Jared.  But what, really, is so amazing about him?
Under the Lord’s direction they built some curious barges that were totally enclosed so that they could be driven completely under the water during severe storms.  The Brother of Jared asked the Lord how they would get air and was told to make holes that could be opened to let in the air, and stoppered to keep out the water.  The most curious thing about them was that they could be turned upside down and still keep the people safe inside.  I imagine comfort was no part of that trip!
 Then the  brother of Jared asked the Lord to help them so they wouldn’t have to be in darkness.  And the Lord threw it back at him, asking, “What will ye that I should do that ye may have light in your vessels?      For behold, ye cannot have windows, for they will be dashed in pieces; neither shall ye take fire with you, for ye shall not go by the light of fire.” 
This is where it gets interesting.  The Brother of Jared took that as a challenge.  He was not discouraged, and did not take that as a No.  Instead he thought about it, thought some more, and then melted some clear stones out of a rock.  At first this seems unlikely, but today we take fine white sand and melt it down and purify it.  What we call this . . . is  GLASS.

Before we came to Texas, Liz was the stake Primary President and she wanted visual aids for these stones as she taught the children in the wards about the Brother of Jared.  We used to have to go out to Forks, Washington each year for ward conference (You know, Forks, where the Cullens live).   It was so far away, we’d spend the whole weekend out there, and we took the time on our first trip to Forks to walk along the Sol Duc River - looking for stones.  (Kind of like this one, but egg-size.)  We found sixteen nice-sized stones that were a clear, whitish quartz, rounded from being washed down the river.  They were perfect.  Liz used them for her lesson in each ward in the Silverdale Washington stake.   And then we lost them over the years.
The brother of Jared took his stones to the top of a mountain and presented them to the Lord, and said, “I know, O Lord, that thou hast all power, and can do whatsoever thou wilt for the benefit of man; therefore touch these stones, O Lord, with thy finger, and prepare them that they may shine forth in darkness; and they shall shine forth unto us in the vessels which we have prepared, that we may have light while we shall cross the sea.
  This is where it gets interesting.  Notice that he came up with a solution to his problem that only needed help from the Lord?  He thought it through and presented the solution to the Lord.  Of course the solution still needed divine intervention, but he had done his best, and he faithfully expected the Lord to do the rest.  So many times we ask for help, but do not take the time to think for ourselves and do our best.
The Lord did what he asked and the brother of Jared saw his finger as he touched the stones, one by one.  That frightened him because he didn’t  know the Lord really had a finger.   
What the Lord told him next is very revealing.
And the Lord said unto him: Because of thy faith thou hast seen that I shall take upon me flesh and blood; and never has man come before me with such exceeding faith as thou hast; for were it not so ye could not have seen my finger. 
Of course, this was long before Christ came to Earth as a man, and he had no physical body at that time.  So the brother of Jared saw what he WOULD look like.  And since the veil was parted, the brother of Jared saw Christ’s spirit body in its entirety, not just his finger.
Christ told him, “And never have I showed myself unto man whom I have created, for never has man believed in me as thou hast.   Seest thou that ye are created after mine own image? Yea, even all men were created in the beginning after mine own image.
  Behold, this body, which ye now behold, is the body of my spirit; and man have I created after the body of my spirit; and even as I appear unto thee to be in the spirit will I appear unto my people in the flesh.
Of all the men who have had great faith, very few, if any, of them matched the faith of this man whose name was lost.  It is a most-amazing example.  
So we can use his experience as a marker-post for our own progress:  Do we have faith as great as the brother of Jared?  If not, we know we still have work to do, although not everyone will have his gifts.  In D&C 46 we learn that spiritual gifts are not the same for every person:    

11 For all have not every gift given unto them; for there are many gifts, and to every man is given a gift by the Spirit of God.
 12 To some is given one, and to some is given another, that all may be profited thereby.
 13 To some it is given by the Holy Ghost to know that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and that he was crucified for the sins of the world.
 14 To others it is given to believe on their words, that they also might have eternal life if they continue faithful.
Jared and his brother are like that.  The Brother had faith enough to see the Lord’s spiritual body, Jared had faith enough to believe his brother.  Do we have faith as great as Jared’s – enough to ask those with greater faith to intervene for us.  It’s simple enough to ask for help, but pride keeps us from doing it sometimes.  It is an act of faith to ask for help from church leaders.   Something we should do when we need their help.
Do we have faith enough to read the Book of Mormon?  This is getting very basic.  We are told, over and over, to just read it.  Just read.
My testimony is that reading the Book of Mormon does help us.  It will make a difference in our lives.  It will help us become experts with our spiritual gifts, and not merely marksmen.

 And I say this in the name of  .  .  .