It's been awhile, poor, neglected blog.  This year has seen lots of change and happenings both good and bad. I'd like to wrap it all up at some point with a quick overview of our travels through the world.  Maybe I'll get to that before the end of 2017.  But today, I am trying to make a Christmas for my family without really having my heart in it, just knowing that we are all safe and together and maybe that's all you get sometimes.  

I was asked to give a sermon at church the week before Christmas.  Like most of the times I am asked to speak in church, I thought long and hard about the topic assigned to me and then spoke about a completely different thing.  But it was an important Thing.  And a lot of people have asked me for a copy or to read it if they weren't there.  So, while I've never much enjoyed using this format to display to the world things as sacred and personal as my spiritual feelings, I'm going to repost it here because mainly, I want to remember that at one point in my life, I felt like this.  And everyone needs a reminder sometimes.

Messengers of Peace and Love
Sacrament Meeting Talk 12/17/2017

In Moses 1:39, God says to Moses:

For behold, this is my work and my glory – to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.

I was not asked to talk about this scripture today.  I was asked to talk about this one Matthew 10:39:

He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.

And I was asked to relate this to how we can be messengers of peace, knowing this.
I’m gonna try to get there, but in a bit of a roundabout way, so bear with me.

In this scripture – the first one about God’s work and glory, not the second one I'm supposed to be talking about – there’s something problematic that’s been rolling around in my head for a while now.  The way I understand it, God is not a god on the weekends and a dentist during the week.  He does this full time.  This is all He does.  His “job” is to bring people to Him.  So as I have been pondering this verse – exactly one sentence describing God’s entire purpose – I wonder, “How’s that working out for you, God?”

Yes, missionary work spreads the Gospel and there is, of course, much good in the world that we often just choose to overlook because we’re busy fearmongering with the rest of the 24-hour news cycle. But isn’t even the fact that we overlook it problematic?  I really do wonder what progress toward that goal humanity has made recently.  It seems rather bleak, when you think about it.

Millions in this world are in pain and experiencing difficulty.  Many in this very room.  Millions deny God or goodness, choose darkness over light, die without ever having had a chance to know more or better.  Some do choose the light and are affected by the choices of others through no fault of their own.  And still more suffer through no fault of anyone’s – earthquakes, floods, fires – just because that’s the way life is and God doesn’t – or maybe He can’t – step in and alter events that were set in motion millions of years ago. 

And then there’s how we as human people react to it.

We have more access to one another than ever before in human history.  We can talk to people continents away and hear back in the blink of an eye.  We understand diverse languages and places in seconds with the help of a small, excellent rectangle most of us carry around in our pocket.  We communicate more than ever… and yet we listen less than ever.  The world’s information is literally at our fingertips and instead of using it to come together for good, we very often use it to divide us.  In many cases, it seems like it’s two steps forward, two steps back for God’s purpose.  How is that working out?

So either God is failing miserably at His purpose, or….

…there is much that we do not understand.

For me, someone who tends be a bit left-brained with this kind of stuff, God, the power of God, the priesthood, the Holy Ghost, all of it… is the power that binds the universe together.  Keeps the earth spinning, our hearts beating. 

And the conclusion that I’ve come to is that we feel that power – maybe just a tiny bit of it - when we love.

There’s a hymn in our hymnbook that goes like this:

Earth, with her ten thousand flow’rs,
Air, with all its beams and show’rs,
Heaven’s infinite expanse,
Sea’s resplendent countenance—
All around and all above
Bear this record: God is love.

The scripture reference for this hymn is 1 John 4:

7 Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God.

8 He that loveth not… knoweth not God; for God is love.

In that chapter, John goes on to teach us more about the nature of that kind of love.

9 In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him.

10 Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.

12 No man hath seen God at any time. [But…] If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us.

So back to my original assignment:

He that finds his life shall lose it: and he that loses his life - for my sake - shall find it.

But first, a story.

The morning was much like any other red-eye flight for Todd Beamer. An early alarm, a hurried shower, quiet goodbyes to the wife and kids and out the door.  His plane was delayed that morning due to traffic and it took off almost an hour behind schedule. I imagine passengers boarded the flight tired and a bit grumpy due to the delay.

Todd’s flight was just getting airborne when the first plane hit the World Trade Center towers on September 11, 2001.

About 45 minutes into United 93’s flight, terrorists stormed the cockpit and killed the pilot and copilot. They told the passengers they had been hijacked and shuffled them to the back of the plane. Some passengers made calls to loved ones, where they heard the news about planes hitting the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Word spread among the passengers.

Todd made a call and was forwarded to an airline supervisor named Lisa. He informed her that the plane had been hijacked. He told her terrorists had knives and a bomb. At one point the plane made a sharp turn and Todd yelled into the phone, “We’re going down!”

It’s impossible to know all the events that transpired on that plane, but you have to believe Todd and the other passengers were connecting the dots at this point. They probably realized the plane was headed toward another important target on the ground. For awhile, the runaway plane was rumored to be headed toward Chicago. It turns out United 93’s intended target that day was Washington D.C., probably either the Capitol building or the White House.

To Todd and the other passengers, I suppose the target hardly mattered. United 93 was going nowhere good, and it was becoming clear this would likely be their final flight.  It was also clear that many more would die if they didn’t do something.

The details of exactly what happened next aren’t totally clear, but Todd and a few around him decided to fight back. He and some other ordinary passengers and two ordinary flight attendants planned to force their way into the cockpit and steer the plane into the ground. These ordinary people made an extraordinary choice to sacrifice their lives in an attempt to save the lives of others.

You’ve probably heard that thought experiment about the man standing near the tracks as a train bears down on a group of five people who will surely be killed.  He sees a lever that could divert the train to another track, but there is a workman on that track doing maintenance. A single push of the lever would divert the train and, while killing one innocent person, save the lives of five others.  Five would die if he does nothing, weighed against the option of one death, but it will be his doing.  It’s an ethical dilemma — what should he do?

Todd and the passengers on United Flight 93 chose option C that day. They chose themselves.

Still on the phone with Lisa, Todd recited the Lord’s Prayer and then the words to Psalm 23. He asked Lisa to call his family and let them know that he loved them.

“Are you ready?” Lisa heard Todd ask someone else on the plane.

“Let’s roll.”

United 93 crashed into the ground in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, killing all of its passengers but sparing hundreds more of the plane’s original intended targets.

Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:13)

…and he that loses his life for my sake  – meaning for love’s sake because God IS love – shall find it.

Many people have actually, physically, lain down their lives for love of God or friends. Thankfully, very few of us in this room are called to do that.  But that doesn’t mean this scripture doesn’t apply to us also.  In this context, for me, here is the real meaning of “laying down my life for His sake”: Can I love with a Christlike love?

Am I strong enough to love others, even when it’s hard?

Am I kind enough to allow others to follow their own path without judging what I might have done had I been on it?

Can I become good enough to continue on my own path, even when other paths might look easier or have more company?

Do I respect the agency that God gave me enough to allow others their own?

Can I love myself and my fellow man without reserve, without contingency, without judgment?  Just… love.

Look, there are a lot of things about the Gospel and the Church, about God, the Universe and Everything, that I don’t really understand.  When I was serving a mission, I actually, physically wrote down a list of questions to ask God next time I see him.  Most of those things, I’m still waiting for the answer on.  And waiting and waiting.  When I was a kid, the older people in my congregation used to bear their testimony and say that they knew the Church or something in it was true “with every fiber of [their] being”.  Personally, I’ve never really related to that phrase.  I don’t really know anything with every fiber of my being and there have been things that I was pretty darn sure about that turned out to be wrong later, so I don’t tend to like absolutes.  But here’s one thing I do know - if not with every fiber of my being, then more so than I know anything else - that everything about the Gospel is, or should be, rooted in love.

Because what you do matters. 

The smallest act of kindness… the simplest expression of love… it grows.  It reverberates throughout the world, through the universe.  And it’s a light that’s more powerful than any force of darkness.

For God so loved the world that He gave His only Begotten Son. (John 3:16)

Brother and sisters, this is the real good news that the angels proclaimed to the shepherds that night so many years ago.  That God loves us.

And on earth, peace. Good will toward men. (Luke 2:14)

It is only through knowing that and being on board with not just feeling His love for us, but also sending that love back outward in turn, that we can lay down our lives for His sake.  We can be messengers of peace by sharing the LOVE of God and Jesus Christ.  And to paraphrase David O. McKay and Jackie Kennedy, if you fail at that, nothing much else matters.

God gave us this amazing world to enjoy and take care of because of His love.  Not because we are that lowly and needy of it. Not because we’re sad, pathetic creatures without Him.  Not because we’re bad, bad rebels and we’ll never ever be any good without His grace.  But because we… are worthy of His grace.  Trials that we encounter and overcome strengthen us because of that love.  He gave us each other to lean on because of that love.  He loves me.  He loves you.  He loves the person on the street corner and the person in the penthouse apartment.  He loves us, not in spite of what we are, but because of it.  Each one of us with our strengths and our weaknesses, with our good decisions and bad, each of us, He loves for what we bring to this human existence of a table. We are all needed at the table.  And because of that love, Jesus Christ – somehow, in some way I don’t fully comprehend, but I’m okay with saying there is much I don’t understand - opened the door to allow us to progress and enjoy that fountain of love in more ways than we could ever imagine.

And knowing that?  

 Well, knowing that gives me peace in return.