Monday, November 20, 2017

The Book of Mormon Nov. 19, 2017

Talk given to Plano 9th Ward                       Nov. 19, 2017

 I have been assigned by the Stake President to speak to you today, and reinforce the talk given in the most recent conference by President Russel M. Nelson, “The Book of Mormon: What Would Your Life Be Like without It?”
  Let me start by telling you a little story.  Almost 50 years ago I joined the U. S. Marine Corps.  This was at the height of the Vietnam war.  I talked to my bishop about what I was doing and asked for his council and advice, which he was happy to do.  He was a veteran of WWII, as was my father, and he encouraged me to be sure to seek my father’s blessing as well.  Then he gave me two little books.  One I lost some time ago.
This one (holding up the book) is a serviceman’s edition of the Book of Mormon and it is the one my bishop gave me.  This version of the Book of Mormon  was first published in 1966, just a few years before my meeting with my bishop.  It is small, as you can see, and the reason is so that it can fit in the shirt pocket of military fatigue uniforms.  What marines call their utilities.
I carried it with me for a long time.  The spine is broken, the paper is turning yellow, and the print is a bit small for my aging eyes, but I still value this, particular little book.  It was a piece of home for me as I went to places I had never seen before, where people seemed a little different from those I had known before.
It was a particular help to me when we went to the rifle range to qualify.  The marines are very serious about making every single marine an infantryman who can shoot straight.  My son, who was in the navy, received about one hour’s training on the M-16 rifle.  In the marines we spent two full weeks focusing exclusively on learning how to take care of and shoot our rifles.  Even when waiting in line for chow, we drilled on shooting technique.  Near the end of that time I had been shooting above average, but not at the top.   I wasn’t happy with that.  I grew up in a rural area and got my very own rifle when I was 12.  I usually hit what I aimed at and I had expected to do better.
There are three shooting badges you can earn in the marines.  Very few marines don’t earn one of them, and those few are not qualified riflemen and are somewhat disgraced.  The lowest qualification level is the Marksman, for which the badge is a square of metal with rings to signify a target.  The vast majority of marines earn this badge.  About 10-15% of marines do better and are Sharpshooters, for which the badge is an attractive silver cross.  The top 10% or so earn the Rifle Expert designation, which badge has a pair of crossed rifles.  I wanted to be a rifle expert.
On the day before we fired for our final scores we did a practice run and kept score.  My score that day was smack in the middle of the Sharpshooter scoring range.  But I was nervous -  Putting pressure on myself.  We had a lot of waiting time between shooting at various ranges and that was when I was thinking too much and putting pressure on myself.  As I thought about it that evening,  I recognized that it was my nerves that were keeping me from doing my best.
That night, I found a quiet spot in the barracks and knelt in prayer.  I prayed that I could do my best.  I knew very well that our Father does not care a whit what shooting medal I got to wear on my uniform.  But I knew that he would care that I cared.
I had been in the habit, during training, of keeping my little  Book of Mormon  in my footlocker, because we never knew if we were going to be in water or mud during our training.   But that night after reading it, I put it in my shirt pocket.
On qualification day, when I was waiting for my turn to shoot  I pulled out this little book and read until it was time to go up to the line.  As a result I was relaxed, thinking about what I’d read instead of about shooting.  I’d shoot and then go back to reading.  It’s not that I no longer cared what score I got, but I was no longer worrying about it.  I found that my attitude had changed sufficient that I would be happy to accept whatever score I got.  And in the end, I got to wear the Rifle Expert’s badge.
So, that’s why I value this particular  little book.  I value it’s message even more, but I can read that in other editions, too.
  (Holding up my sample books, one by one)  
Most of us have some of these paper-backed editions lying around so we can give them away when the occasion arises.  
I have a couple of a couple of these, too, a triple combination, and a quadruple combination.
  But in these days most of us use a digital edition on phone, pad, or computer.  I use all three.    
And most recently, I’ve been enjoying this book (1830 facsimile).  It is a reproduction of an 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon .  There are several companies producing these and they are becoming quite popular.  They are not published by the church, but they are interesting.  The first Book of Mormon  publishing, in 1830, was done by E. B. Grandin in Palmyra NY, and the typesetting was done by hand from a hand-written manuscript.  The handwritten manuscript did not have punctuation, as was common in those days.  So, the publisher inserted punctuation as he set the type.  Errors occurred in reading the handwriting and in the punctuation, plus spelling and grammatical errors made by the scribes were usually reproduced.  And errors occurred in setting the type.  These small errors occur frequently in this edition, and they are a minor distraction.  But the thing that seems to be of greatest interest is the fact that chapters are laid out, but no verses.  So it looks like non-scriptural books.          [ opening it and holding it UP]
I just completed reading the Book of Mormon  from cover to cover.  The Dallas Temple has been closed for the 6 weeks prior to this last week and during that time I signed up to man the recommend desk in the early mornings 3 or 4 times per week.  This duty was at a side door nearest where the workers needed to go.  As you may know, a recommend is required before you can be admitted into the temple.  This is true even during a maintenance shutdown.  The contractors have some workers who are not temple-worthy and they only work outside the temple.  Those with recommends do the inside work and it was my job to pass them and turn away the ones without recommends.   Most of the time I had nothing to do, so I read for an hour or two from this book every morning and finished reading it, then started over.  I thoroughly enjoyed reading it in paragraph form – without verses.  It seems to flow nicely along, and it encourages me to finish a chapter instead of stopping at any convenient verse.                   It is not so great when you are studying, or searching for a particular point or topic.  It has no cross-references, no topical guide, no dictionary, etc.
Well, I’ve talked a lot about these different editions of the Book of Mormon .  There is one overriding fact about the Book of Mormon .  Its value lies not in the edition.  Its value arises when you do this:  [Holding it up and OPENING THE BOOK].
It is only valuable when you open it up and read it.
In the most recent General Conference, President Eyring shared that he has read the Book of Mormon  every single day for 50 years!  What a fantastic example he sets for us.  Of course, he was able to do that because he made it a daily habit.  Once a habit is set in your daily life you do it almost without thinking – it’s just habit.  But even though it is just a habit, you get all the benefits and blessings of daily reading this inspired, and inspiring, book  -  just as if you really had to work at remembering to do it.  That is a habit that is worth working hard to establish in your lives. 
I’ve heard people say that they have times when they are just too tired or distracted to read.  So to combat that distraction from your habit, make your goal to read at least one verse, or if you can’t do that – at least one word.  But do it every single day so you can maintain your habit!
President Russel M. Nelson shared with us three questions to consider for our own personal consideration.  They have to do with appreciating and understanding the blessing it is to have the Book of Mormon  available to us.  He said,
Since President Monson’s challenge six months ago (to study the Book of Mormon), I have tried to follow his counsel. Among other things, I’ve made lists of what the Book of Mormon is, what it affirms, what it refutes, what it fulfills, what it clarifies,and what it reveals. Looking at the Book of Mormon through these lenses has been an insightful and inspiring exercise! I recommend it to each of you. During these six months, I have invited various groups   ---  to consider three related questions that I urge you to think about today:
1.   First, what would your life be like without the Book of Mormon?
2.   Second, what would you not know?
3.   And third, what would you not have?    “
These are excellent questions.   Personally, I think their greatest value is when we introspectively  consider them as it applies to us personally.   They are great questions to ponder when we are relaxed, alone, unlikely to be interrupted, and have pen and paper close at hand.
When President Nelson gave his talk, he did not provide answers to these 3 questions, and I am not going to share my personal answers to them either.  This does not mean we don’t have answers to them.  I means that we have our own personal answers. 
However, if you find President Nelson’s talk in the Ensign or LDS.ORG, you will see that he included the OTHER lists of significant aspects of the Book of Mormon.  These are lists I am certain he has compiled over many years of study, even though their current form is from the last 6 months..  They include answers to the things he mentioned:
   What does it affirm?
   What does it refute?     (Refute means to prove a statement or theory to be false)
   What does it clarify?
President Nelson gives his answers to these questions in list form, and reading his answers can lead to meaningful pondering on our part.  We should all take the opportunity to do so.  It is a rare opportunity to see where a prophet of God goes on his personal study journeys.
Personal study can take us down some interesting roads.  I have long been fascinated that the New Testament is rife with women named Mary.    While I was sitting at the Recommend desk in the early mornings at the temple, after I read in the Book of Mormon each day, I started reading the New Testament, making a list of how women were identified.  In that culture women were not often addressed like men were.  I read one scholar who said Hebrew women were considered to be slightly higher in status than their children and slaves, but only slightly.   Most of the references to women were along the lines of  “Peter’s wife’s mother”,  “certain women”,  “The mother of Zebedee’s children”, or “a woman with an alabaster box”.  But, there are 7 distinct women named Mary, and there are about 15 other women named in the gospels and in Acts (which is far as I’ve gone as of now.)  No other woman’s name is used more than once, but 7 women were named Mary.
As I made my list and paid attention to how these women are referenced, some things became clear that I had not noticed before.
Mary, the mother of Jesus:  In the descriptions of her when Jesus was young, she is described as any other woman except for her status as Jesus’ mother.  But later references to her make it clear that she became a disciple, a close follower, student, and supporter of Jesus during his ministry.
Mary Magdalene:  She gets a bum wrap sometimes.  She was a virtuous woman who came into the picture early in his ministry and became probably the most important of his disciples.  She traveled with him and served him constantly.  Most significantly, she was the only one present continuously through those three days when he was condemned, died, and resurrected.  She, alone, saw and spoke with him before he had gone to his father, and his first words to her after she recognized him were, “Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father“ .  Isn’t it interesting she had to be constrained?  And, finally, she was the one who was sent to take word to the apostles that he was risen. 
Mary, sister of Martha and Lazarus:  Jesus stayed at her house during the last week of his life when he went from idol (upon his entry in Jerusalem), to goat (when he was condemned).  This Mary was accepted as one worthy to learn at Jesus’ feet even when there was woman’s work to be done, which was not a usual thing for them.  When Martha tried to take her away, Jesus defended her and kept her there.  She, too, was clearly an exceptional disciple.  Also Jesus allowed her to publicly unbind her hair and wipe her spikenard ointment onto his feet with it, a thing (unbinding her hair) unheard of in that society.  Again, Jesus defended her in this action when some apostles objected to using the expensive ointment.  We can learn from this that Jesus Christ did not consider women to be lesser beings at all.  He considered them to be equal disciples  -  Individuals who were worthy of his attention, and concern, and gospel.
The other two Marys in the Gospels, Mary the wife of Cleophus, and Mary mother of James and Joses, are mentioned but we don’t have much detail.  They were clearly followers of Jesus though.
And finally there are two Marys who were disciples of Paul.  They were Mary, the mother of John Mark, and the Roman Mary.  These women apparently had means of their own and they supported Paul so that he could carry out his ministry.
So what can we make of the Seven Marys? 
Were there so many Marys in the land that it was pure coincidence that the three most significant women in Jesus’ life were all named Mary?   And that all seven Marys were disciples?  I heard one scholar give his opinion that Mary was not a name at all, but a title, akin to a priestess.  I am no biblical scholar, but I can’t find any evidence for that.   In my mind, it remains an interesting conjecture. 
Nonetheless we know very little about most of the non-Mary named women.  Salome, Anna, Joanna, Susanna, Saphira, Tabitha, Rhoda, Lydia, Damaris, and Drusilla are barely known at all.                  Priscilla, Elizabeth and Herodias are described in more detail.    But most of the women mentioned were not considered by the authors as worthy to even have their names recorded.
And that is where my curiosity in the scriptures led me.
Brothers and sisters, I hope my message is coming through.  We are exceedingly blessed to have so many scriptures readily available to us.  We can read them in book form, large print, fine print, or regular print - or electronically.  We can read them anytime, anywhere, so we have no excuses to ignore them.  We should read them daily.  We MUST read them regularly if we are going to be men and women of God.
And, I pray that we will learn to be men and women of God.  

And I say this . . . . .