Raining Petals

Saturday, July 30, 2011

What the Pioneers Teach Us: My Sunday Talk

It is my pleasure to speak to you today as we celebrate the pioneer heritage of this church and look back on our ancestry. We are proud of where we came from, from whom we came. We have heard the stories told of these brave pioneers and some of us have been the story tellers. We may have a direct connection to these people through our blood lines or have formed our own connections through spiritual lines. No matter what the connection is we can all look back to the pioneers, to our ancestors, to give us direction as we move forward today.

Sydney Smith Reynolds is a great-great-great granddaughter of Hyrum Smith and shared her feelings on the subject of pioneers. She says,

"Although more than half of all current Church members have no personal connection with pre-twentieth-century pioneer Utah, few Latter-day Saints would deny that we can learn much from those nineteenth-century pioneers. They offer us a multitude of lessons about provident living, about sacrificing for the building up of Zion, and about creating beauty and peace wherever we may live. From the pioneers, we can also learn much about sacrifice, courage in the face of formidable odds, commitment, cooperation, and endurance.

The early Saints plowed and tilled the ground at Winter Quarters, planting seeds and weeding for those brothers and sisters in the gospel who would follow. In addition, Brigham Young chose the site for the Salt Lake Temple within a week of the Saints’ arrival in the Salt Lake Valley. But the construction took forty years, and he died many years before the temple’s dedication. More than one of the workers and craftsmen who worked on the temple must have thought, “I hope I live to see this completed.”
But whether or not they were personally able to enjoy the blessings of the temple they were building, they knew that it deserved their best effort—that they were building for eternity and for those who would embrace the gospel after they were gone. They were building for us. In that sense also, the great pioneer heritage belongs to all of us."
Along the same lines of the pioneer heritage belonging to all of us, we realize that we are modern day pioneers creating a heritage for our future generations. Our progeny deserve our best efforts. In a sense, they are counting on us to continue paving a way for them and building strong foundations for them to build upon. Elder Holland said, "We owe the same pioneering, persevering legacy to our children and our children’s children.” We want to leave the same legacy of faith, hard work and sacrifice, commitment, cooperation, and endurance to them as our ancestors, our pioneers, have left for us. It is on these values I want to touch on today. 

The first principles and ordinances of the gospel are first FAITH in the Lord Jesus Christ.
 Elder M. Russell Ballard proclaimed, "We must be sure that the legacy of faith received from the pioneers who came before us is never lost. Let their heroic lives touch our hearts, and especially the hearts of our youth, so the fire of true testimony and unwavering love for the Lord and His Church will blaze brightly within each one of us as it did in our faithful pioneers.” 

 Faith is where we start and from which we build. Faith is why we are here today, why we accept callings and perform them day in and day out, why we attend the Temple, read our scriptures and kneel in prayer. When we find ourselves slowing in pace, shrugging off our responsibilities, and becoming overwhelmed it is often because we are lacking in Faith at the time and have not taken the time to nourish it. Our faith is something we have to safeguard and protect so we do not lose it. It is also something we have to practice at. Some people have a natural gift of faith, they have always been sure and will always be sure. Others of us have to work at it, learn it, and come upon it step by step. Thus we have been given trials and tests to see where we are at along the way and to come out better for it on the other end. No doubt there are times we are unsure but Elder Holland challenges us to have faith to answer the call. He relates this story,

"The Hole-in-the-Rock expedition is only one of many examples of the dramatic determination and devotion of the early Saints to answer the call of their prophet when it came. Another example is the creation of and call to the Muddy Mission in present-day Nevada. As with so many early pioneer settlements, the Muddy promised a very hard life, and much soul-searching was done when the calls came to settle there.

Some of those called in the 1860s certainly must have asked, “Of all places on the earth, why the Muddy?” Well, there actually were reasons. First of all, the American Civil War had given rise to the possibility of shipping commodities via the Colorado River. Second, when the war interrupted traditional sources for textiles, the Cotton Mission had been established in the cities of St. George and Washington not too many miles away. It was assumed that cotton for that mission could be grown in the Muddy region. Third, the Latter-day Saints felt strongly their obligation to work with the Native American tribes in the region, helping to feed them and hoping to educate them.
But the region was nevertheless a lonely, barren wasteland. It seemed to have almost nothing to offer but heat and hard work. It was isolated and for the most part desolate, and the river that gave the mission its identity was aptly named.
As to how and with what faith and determination the Muddy was settled, I will let one of the settlers have her say. She represents the grit and spunk and moral conviction that both young and old had—in this case especially the young. Wrote Elizabeth Claridge McCune of her father’s call to settle the Muddy:
'No place on earth seemed so precious to me at fifteen years of age as [the town of] dear old Nephi [in Utah’s Juab County]. How eagerly we looked forward to the periodical visits of President Brigham Young and his company! …
'… Bro. Brigham, Bros. Kimball and Wells with [their] entire company got out of their carriages, and walked over the flowery road … to our homes, [where] dinner was prepared and served. …
'We all attended the [Sunday] afternoon meeting, the girls in white having reserved seats in front. The sermons were grand, and we were happy until President Young announced that he had a few names to read of men who were to be called and voted in as missionaries to go and settle … the Muddy. This almost stilled the beating of the hearts of all present. Many of our people had been called to go to settle the Dixie country—but the Muddy, so many miles farther south! and so much worse! oh! oh! I did not hear another name except ‘Samuel Claridge.’ Then how I sobbed and cried, regardless of the fact that the tears were spoiling [my] new white dress. The father of the girl who sat next to me was also called. Said my companion, Why, what are you crying about? It doesn’t make me cry. I know my father won’t go. Well, there is the difference, said I. I know that my father will go and that nothing could prevent him, and I should not own him as a father if he would not go when he is called. Then I broke down sobbing again. …
'As we had just moved into a new house and were fixed [so] comfortably, many of our friends tried to persuade father to keep his home and farm; to go south awhile and then come back. But father knew that this was not the kind of mission upon which he had been called. I shall sell everything I own, said he, and take my means to help build up another waste place in Zion.'
Elder Holland continues, "What we saw then and what we see now among the blessed Saints the world over is faith in God, faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, faith in the Prophet Joseph Smith, faith in the reality of this work and the truthfulness of its message. It was faith that took a boy into a grove of trees to pray, and it was faith that enabled him to get up off his knees, place himself in God’s hands for the Restoration of the gospel, and ultimately march toward his own martyrdom scarcely two dozen short years later.
Little wonder that faith always has been and always will be the first and abiding principle of the gospel and of our work. It is the heart of our conviction that the work not only should go forth but that it also can and will and must go forth."  "We all must have a conviction burning in our hearts that this is the work of God and that is requires the best we can give..."
This next value deserves some attention. One that seems so self-explanatory but one that in our current society, we are losing a little bit of each day. There is much to be said for Hard Work and Sacrifice. In Genesis 3:19 we read, "In the sweat of thy face shalt though eat bread." Back in 1993 Elder F. David Stanley of the Seventy shared his article in the Ensign entitled, "The Principle of Work"

He says, "the principle of work has been taught from the foundation of the world. It is the bottom line of any forward motion of success. The frightening disappearance of work as a part of our basic ethic is alarming. We constantly hear the statements, “It’s too hard,” “Give me something easier,” “I want it now,” “I can’t wait that long” coming from our young people. The ugly disease of “nothing to do” is growing in epidemic proportions among us. It undermines the basic fabric of our nations. The prophet Ezekiel clearly defined iniquity as an “abundance of idleness.” (Ezek. 16:49.)
We are what we are as a people because our ancestors were not afraid of honest, hard work. Our forefathers understood the necessity of it; sheer survival demanded it. A common ingredient among all successful people is an understanding of what constitutes paying the price of success. Basic in that formula of paying the price is an inner gift of determination that “I’ll do whatever it takes.” That means, “I’ll work hard, with integrity, to achieve my goal.”
Hard work is a blessing of God. It involves going after it “with all your heart, might, mind and strength.” (D&C 4:2.) That alone is the difference between the average and the excellent.
Brothers and Sisters more than ever are we needed to put forth hard work, effort and make sacrifices. It is not time to sit idly by or let apathy be a word the defines us. We must be a proactive people in defending what we know is truth. We must be an example to the world of what hard work and determination looks like and never be accused of complacency. It is not a matter of what is easiest, it is a matter of what is right. We need to recognize the current trends of our youth and put a stop to the harmful. We need to raise up our kids with the attitudes that we work for what we need and work to protect what is important. If we do not do this we stand to risk losing our pioneer heritage and carrying on the great legacy that it is and really what we are all about as members in this Gospel. 
When I think of a word that I hope someday people will use to describe me, "committed" is one that I hope comes up. This is my "project word" if you will. I feel sometimes lacking in commitment comes to easily. When given even the littlest reason or excuse to bow out or raise the white flag it is taken all too frequently.  We all know what those people who are committed look like. I think back on my best friend growing up. Her name is Katie. She had enough determination and commitment to pass around to all her family and friends and still have some left over. When she wanted something she set her mind to it 100%...she was committed. This included a desire to make the school basketball team. When we were driving home from town we often had to pass her house on one of our routes. I remember honking and waving to her as she was outside practicing her dribbling and free throws. She would practice for hours until daylight retired. Even then she would practice by porch light until beckoned to come inside. On weekends she would practice, during our sleepovers she would even take a few minutes to shoot some jump shots while I was off being silly and probably making prank phone calls. But she learned that lesson early. That being committed means you do not have time for the silly or unnecessary because there are things far more great that needs our attention. This does not mean that fun in is not had and life is not enjoyed, it just means that priorities are straight. Katie made the basketball team every year that she tried out. She was not naturally a basketball player. It did not come easy for her. But through her commitment to the sport she succeeded in accomplishing her goals. I could spend the rest of the meeting reading a list of the other areas in her life that she used the same commitment to gaining her achievements. She has definitely been a great example in my life and I am blessed to call her my friend. 
Imagine where we would be today if the pioneers had lacked in commitment, if they had given up when it got hard. And we all know it got HARD...REALLY HARD...when reading about the circumstances they faced I don't think any of us would blame them had they said, "I am done, I can go no further". But they did not. They had the Faith and were committed to it. 
In the First Presidency Message in this month's Ensign, President Dieter F. Uchtdorf shares his thoughts on commitment
Two young brothers stood atop a small cliff that overlooked the pristine waters of a blue lake. This was a popular diving spot, and the brothers had often talked about making the jump—something they had seen others do.
Although they both wanted to make the jump, neither one wanted to be first. The height of the cliff wasn’t that great, but to the two young boys, it seemed the distance increased whenever they started to lean forward—and their courage was fading fast.
Finally, one brother put one foot at the edge of the cliff and moved decisively forward. At that moment his brother whispered, “Maybe we should wait until next summer.”
The first brother’s momentum, however, was already pulling him forward. “Brother,” he responded, “I’m committed!”
He splashed into the water and surfaced quickly with a victorious shout. The second brother followed instantly. Afterward, they both laughed about the first boy’s final words before plunging into the water: “Brother, I’m committed.”
Commitment is a little like diving into the water. Either you are committed or you are not. Either you are moving forward or you are standing still. There’s no halfway. We all face moments of decision that change the rest of our lives. As members of the Church, we must ask ourselves, “Will I dive in or just stand at the edge? Will I step forward or merely test the temperature of the water with my toes?”
Some sins are committed because we do wrong; other sins are committed because we do nothing. Being only sort of committed to the gospel can lead to frustration, unhappiness, and guilt. This should not apply to us because we are a covenant people. We make covenants with the Lord when we are baptized and when we enter the house of the Lord. Men make covenants with the Lord when they are ordained to the priesthood. Nothing can be more important than keeping a commitment we have made with the Lord. Let us remember the reply of Rachel and Leah to Jacob in the Old Testament. It was simple and straightforward and showed their commitment: “Whatsoever God hath said unto thee, do” (Genesis 31:16).
Those who are only sort of committed may expect to only sort of receive the blessings of testimony, joy, and peace. The windows of heaven might only be sort of open to them. Wouldn’t it be foolish to think, “I’ll commit myself 50 percent now, but when Christ appears at the Second Coming, I’ll commit myself 100 percent”?
Commitment to our covenants with the Lord is a fruit of our conversion. Commitment to our Savior and His Church builds our character and strengthens our spirit so that when we meet Christ, He will embrace us and say, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21).
There is a difference between intention and action. Those who only intend to commit may find excuses at every turn. Those who truly commit face their challenges squarely and say to themselves, “Yes, that would be a very good reason to delay, but I made covenants, and so I will do what I have committed to do.” They search the scriptures and earnestly seek the guidance of their Father in Heaven. They accept and magnify their Church callings. They attend their meetings. They do their home or visiting teaching.
A German proverb says, “Promises are like the full moon. If they are not kept at once, they diminish day by day.” As members of The Church ofJesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we have committed to walk in the path of discipleship. We have committed to follow the example of our Savior. Imagine how the world will be blessed and transformed for good when all members of the Lord’s Church live up to their true potential—converted in the depth of their souls and committed to building the kingdom of God.
In some way, each of us stands at a decision point overlooking the water. It is my prayer that we will have faith, move forward, face our fears and doubts with courage, and say to ourselves, “I’m committed!”
Cooperation: An act or instance of working or acting together for a common purpose or benefit;joint action. 
Obviously the church relies on each of us to have a spirit of cooperation, to work together for our common purposes. Without this cooperation and sense of unity the organization of the church could not survive. Thus, Satan puts much effort in to creating instances of contention, power struggles, and driving wedges into our willingness to cooperate and unite. We all know it is hard to come together when we are angry and upset with another person in our group. When times like this occur we notice that progress stops for a time as we have to wait for feelings to heal and we can continue what it is we were working on. Thus is Satan's goal. Precious time is lost and it is hard to make that up. With this reminder may we keep the purpose of our church at the forefront of our minds, always remember what we are working toward. That we will not allow room for discord or hurt feelings but will allow time  to remember and appreciate the importance of each member. For the worth of souls is great in the sight of God and that many hands make light work. The more the merrier. This is the whole point. Gathering the flock, bringing all into the fold. If we are on our own agenda and are only committed to things if done our way and by our rules then we are not helping and most likely hinder those around us. Remember who's errand it is that we are on...the Lord's. Be of a cheerful spirit, with a helping heart, and encouraging words. Lift up those around you and support each other in our callings. Do not belittle the efforts of others or scoff at other's attempts. We are on a team. We should always be pulling for and rooting for each other. We get enough opposition from the outside world that there is absolutely no room for it within the walls of this church. Stand side by side with your brothers and sisters, buoy each other up in the spirit of cooperation, unity, and love and we will see great things come to pass.  
And finally by awaking each morning with a renewed sense of Faith and being committed to the covenants we have made, we will have the endurance needed to make it to the end.  Just as the pioneers endured through horrible circumstances, burying loved ones along the trail, freezing, starving, more tired than any of us can probably comprehend to make it to their destination. They did it, so we could be here today. And we will do it so our children, and their children, and their children will be here tomorrow. May they be able to celebrate our efforts and accomplishments the way we celebrate those of our ancestors and those first members of this church. May their faith, hard work and sacrifice, commitment, cooperation, and endurance be a testament to us that this Gospel is true, that it is worth fighting for, and that it absolutely requires the best we have to give.
May we look to the first and ultimate pioneer. The one who went before us all to show us the way. Who died for us that we might live again. Even Jesus Christ. 

1 comment:

Judy said...


Well said! You gave a great talk and I especially liked your personal touch with the story of Katie. Julie is blessed to have such friends!

Bless you!