Matthew 22:36-40 describes an encounter between Our Savior and a Pharisee as the Pharisee asks him "Master, which is the great commandment in the law?" Note that this is the "Great commandment" - not an important commandment, not the easy commandment, not the Commandment of the Day - but the "Great Commandment". I think that the Pharisee is asking Jesus to cut to the chase, so to speak, and boil His teachings down to its simplest, most fundamental concept. "Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment." Heart, soul, and mind. Is there anything else? Sounds like a total commitment to me! Jesus then continues "And the second is like unto it". But wait a minute; the Pharisee had just asked for the Great Commandment, not for a listing. Why does Jesus continue on? I think it is because the First and Second are so entirely, completely linked that they cannot be separated. He finishes by stating "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself."
We have learned from recent priesthood and Relief Society lessons that all of God's creations testify of Him. In King Benjamin's speech to his people gathered around the temple he reminded them that "I, whom ye call your King, who has spent his days in your service, and yet has been in the service of God". Notice he does not see a difference in serving man and God - he sees them as the same. He continues on to remind us that first of all, God created each one of us and that for no other reason than that, we are in His debt. Second, we should be doing those things which he has commanded us to do. That if we do these things, God will bless us for our actions. King Benjamin continues in verse 34 to state that "there are not any among you, except that it be your little children that have not been taught concerning these things, but what knoweth that ye are eternally indebted to your Heavenly Father, to render to him all that you have and are". King Benjamin then goes on to describe the sad state of affairs that await those who fail to follow these commandments. However, please permit me the privilege to rewrite these verses in a positive expression of the blessings that are promised us for following the commandments. "If you do that which is asked of you, you will draw yourself closer to the Spirit of the Lord and you will be guided in wisdom's paths that ye may be blessed, prospered, and preserved … the person who does this will be found on the Lord's side and a friend to all righteousness and the Lord has a special place for you and you will dwell where the Lord dwells. You will be confident when you find yourself in the Lord's presence, you will have happiness, you will be bathed in the Lord's mercy, and you will obtain eternal joy." This sounds like the state of affairs that I want for myself, and especially for each member of my family.
The question now becomes one of "How do I go about obtaining this?" In verse 17, King Benjamin speaks the words that are an almost mandatory part of any talk on service when he states "And behold I tell you these things that ye may learn WISDOM" - not to get an idea of, not to form an understanding of, but to gain wisdom which is a deep insight and action - "that ye may learn that when ye are in the SERVICE" - not merely thought, not just moral support, but actively doing something - "of your FELLOW BEINGS" - not just church members, family, friends, or associates - "ye are only in the service of your God."
In the last General Conference, Elder M. Russell Ballard in his talk entitled "Finding Joy through Loving Service" told a story of a gold prospector who was trying to get rich quick by only looking for huge rock size nuggets of gold. A richly successful prospector shows him that the true way to his success is by continually laboring over a long period of time in order to obtain a large number of flecks of gold that when combined, make the riches. There are many different levels of service but for the purpose of my talk I will conveniently limit my number of levels to 3: First are the large nuggets of gold that the young prospector was searching for. There aren't many of them and one can spend their whole life in search of one and come up empty handed. Finding one is a life changing event. Next are the medium size nuggets. There are more of them out there waiting to be found but they are sometimes harder to recognize and can be passed up if you are just searching for the large ones. They may take more time and commitment to obtain. Finally, there are the small flecks that, when searched for with a practiced eye, can be found all around. They are not spectacular to behold, by themselves are not of earth-shaking value, and require some effort on our part in order to make happen. But when viewed in their totality, they can also be life altering.
Let me start with the riches that come from mining those small flecks of golden service that take a lifetime to accumulate. These service opportunities are all around us and because of that, we often overlook them. Holding open a door, letting someone ahead of you in the grocery line who has few items or is obviously harried. Taking a meal to a family that is pressed by other events. Doing genealogy work and then going to the temple for ancestors. Being a part of LDS movers as residences change. Giving a kind word, or oftimes more importantly giving a listening ear. Fixing a broken thing or helping to heal a broken heart. By accomplishing the many and varied acts of service we help others but we also continue the process of turning ourselves into the person we hope to become. We also build and guide the development of each member of our family as we teach Christ-like behavior by modeling and providing them with opportunities to serve others, to do the work that is necessary to help others, and very importantly, to feel the Spirit that manifests itself to those who serve. We all have to learn what the Spirit feels like. The more we feel the Spirit, the more real and alive that feeling becomes in each of us and the more able we are to recognize the Spirit when we are being prompted. We need to provide ourselves with these opportunities. As parents, it is our responsibility to place our children in positions where they can have this wonderful experience. I'm a grandfather but I still look to teach my children because I still have a responsibility to them. My roles as a father are different now that my children have their own families, but the responsibility never goes away.
Next are the medium size nuggets of golden service. They are not as numerous nor as easy to be found but when accomplished are of significant meaning. I count these acts as those such as when several years ago, volunteers were asked to assist hurricane victims. Crews were organized and dispatched to provide all kinds of help. I believe it is possible that we will shortly be asked to provide similar service to those who have been the victims of wild fires. At our meeting on the 14th, we will be told how we can provide help to those in hospice care and their families as we unite for a morning of service on Oct 8. This is an opportunity to involve our entire families in a worthwhile opportunity to be of service to others who are undergoing a very difficult period in their lives. We all can make a difference for them. In doing so, we can make a difference for ourselves, our spouses, and our children. I urge each of us to determine that participating in this ward service project become a personal and a family necessity. I hope that this becomes not a nice thing to do, not just us passively following the general guidance that President a Eyring outlined in last conference and the specific plan that our Bishop and others have developed, but that we take this as a personal opportunity for personal growth and most importantly, for the aid of others. Let us not look for excuses or reasons or barriers to our enthusiastic participation. Let us proactively and with determination decide that this is something we WILL do. We will be blessed as individuals, as families, as a ward and as a church for our willing service. More importantly, we will be helping others in their time of need.
Today, Patriots' Day, we celebrate the heroic men and women who 10 years ago found the large gold nuggets of service strewn all around them. Risking their own lives - and in too many cases sacrificing their lives, these selfless heroes battled fire, smoke, falling buildings, and countless other horrors in order to serve, save, and protect others. Not just family and friends but complete strangers. Firemen, policemen and ordinary citizens rushing in to places that others were fleeing from because of the imminent danger. Passengers on a hi-jacked airplane deciding that they were not going to be instruments in the death and destruction of others. Many of us watched much of the horror unfold before us on live TV. Then, later, stories came out from survivors and witnesses who told of the heroes and their deeds that were so profound. Friends staying behind to comfort friends. Strangers slowing down and in many cases forfeiting their opportunities to escape the disaster in order to give someone else a chance to survive. Too many stories of the heroes of 9/11 will never be known to us because their stories never made it out of the wreckage. But all of these ARE known to our Father in Heaven and to our own personal savior Jesus Christ. Jesus, the giver of the commandment to "love one another as I have loved you", the same who showed his love by laying down his life on the cross at Calvary. I stand in reverent respect and gratitude for these everyday people who responded in such extraordinary ways. While on this topic, I also want to pay respect to many more of our patriotic Americans who have sacrificed so very much. In our congregation we have those who have fought and left their blood on battlegrounds around the world. They, and we, but they in a much more intimate way since they were right there, have lost friends and loved ones to the violence of others. They bear the physical and emotional scars of combating evil in a direct face-to-face way that the rest of us have been fortunate enough to never have faced. We survive as a nation and as a people because of your service and the service of so many like you. We are stronger because of you and those you represent. We honor you and those who have gone before. Our debts of gratitude can never be repaid except by those who in the future will follow in your footsteps and who will choose to place others and country ahead of themselves.
Brothers and Sisters, could we please have a few seconds of prayerful and reverent silence as we show our respect and gratitude for our Patriots, especially those of September 11, 2001.
© Walter W. Darnall, Jr., September 2011