Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Best Defense is the Least Offense

Dorm Chief
I remember fondly my time in basic training at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas. I was housed in a single barrack together with 49 other recruits under very stressful, strenuous circumstances.

I have not forgotten my first “dorm chief”. He was a recruit, like myself, whom Drill Sergeant Cobb had selected to be our “leader”. When Sergeant Cobb gave orders, our dorm chief was responsible for seeing those orders were carried out.

I could not describe this fellow as a good leader or role model. He was arrogant, condescending, vicious, self-serving, uneducated, and inexperienced. He was, in short, a poor soldier. He also was in a position to cause me a lot of grief during basic training – and he did!

I often wondered why Sergeant Cobb picked this guy to lead us.

I imagined it was because this airman needed the most discipline. If our dorm chief could be shaped into the kind of soldier Sgt. Cobb wanted each of us to become, than any of us could do it! Having our dorm chief recite Sgt. Cobb’s orders made those orders all the more powerful and personal to him. Our dorm chief wasn’t selected to minister to us because he was the most capable or qualified; rather it was because he was among those most in need of instruction.

I hope this analogy isn’t lost on any of you as I give this talk this morning.

Prayed to speak

One night last week I lied in bed, sorrowful. I recalled recent (and not-so-recent) events and felt tremendous remorse for the part I had played in them. I certainly had made a mess of things! I knew, by my words and actions, that I had offended many – hometeachers, friends and neighbors, members of the ward and choir. I had burned – or at least set aflame! – not a few bridges.

I wanted to do something, to make amends, to tell everyone “I’m sorry” and to ask forgiveness. But when I contemplated how I had spoken in Church just last October, I knew that that opportunity would not come again for some time.

So I prayed. I asked God to help me make things right – to help me heal the wounds I had inflicted and to repair that damage I had done that I could not repair myself.

A few days later, in the Lord’s good time, Brother Lowell came to my home and invited me to speak in Church today. The inspiration for my assigned topic comes from the title of Elder David A. Bednar’s address: “And Nothing Shall Offend Them”.

The Iron Rod

Many of us -- like Lehi, Sarai, and their faithful children -- find ourselves on the straight and narrow path, striving to reach the tree of life. As we press forward, we steel ourselves to the opposition that inevitably comes our way. Many -- from beyond the filthy waters, in that large and spacious building -- mock our resolve, impede our efforts, or invite us to join them in sin. Sometimes, those calling out to us -- our greatest opposition – are not strangers or enemies, but rather family and friends.

“Not…peace, but a sword”
Jesus said:
“[I]f thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out…And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off.” (Matt. 5:29-30)
34 Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.
35 For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law.
36 And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household.
37 He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.
38 And he that taketh not his cross and followeth after me, is not worthy of me. (Matt. 10:34-38)
Those who tread the “straight and narrow” for very long become accustomed to periodic “amputations”. Surgically removing pleasurable (yet sinful) pastimes and associations is required to continue progressing toward that “measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.” (Eph. 4:13)

In making those choices, we can give offense – and become almost “careless” about how our actions affect others. We sing “Do what is right, let the consequence follow” and all that.

“It is impossible but that offences will come”

Jesus warned:
“It is impossible but that offences will come: but woe unto him, through whom they come!” (Luke 17:1)
We all come into this world imperfect and incomplete. It is the nature of our mortal endowment. We generally arrive as rough, unpolished stones in need of tumbling. It is practically impossible to exist in this world without somehow, someway rubbing up against someone. Because of our fallen natures, we are prone to err, to hurt others, and to give offense -- sometimes even when we do right!

Who cares?
Why should we care if we give offense -- or if others take offense – when we do right?

Jesus told the parable of the sower and of him who received the seed (or the gospel) in stony places. At first, he rejoiced to receive it!
“Yet [with shallow roots] when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, by and by he is offended.” (Matt. 13:21)
And the once-happy believer falls away.

In 1 Corinthians 8, Paul discusses the importance of avoiding giving offense, particularly to those new in the faith. A common practice of Paul’s time was for members of the Church to gather with friends and family in pagan temples to eat meat that had been offered as a sacrifice to dumb idols.

The members of the Church understood that “an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is none other God but one” (1 Cor 8:4). The fact that this meat had been offered by others to a powerless, senseless idol didn’t make it any less nutritious or delicious! So why should they not eat it?

For us in our day, this practice would be akin to visiting a local casino to enjoy a delicious buffet dinner. We know why the food is there: To entice us to gamble!

But even if we don’t gamble -- because that doesn’t happen to be our particular stumbling block -- what if, in following our example by patronizing a casino, someone else were enticed to sin? Would our good meal still be worth it?

With this in mind, Paul wrote:
“Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend.” (1 Cor. 8:13)
So great was Paul’s desire not to offend or turn another from the faith, even when doing nothing wrong, he would endure any privation, even death.
“When ye sin so against the brethren,” Paul wrote, “…ye sin against Christ.” (1 Cor. 8:12)
Hence, Jesus’ warning:
“…but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh!” (Matt. 18:7)
“It were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he cast into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones” (Luke 17:2) “which believe in me.” (Matt. 18:6).
“If ye have love one to another”
I have fought and “won” several “battles” and, in the process, offended many. But I can see now that, if I continue in this course, I am going to lose the war.

At the Great and Last Day, I doubt Jesus will ask how many songs I got the choir to sing. He won’t be interested in hearing my arguments against gay marriage, or how I supported or opposed the policies of John McCain or Barrack Obama. He won’t inquire about my diligence in ensuring that the priests recited the sacrament prayers with the full reverence and dignity they deserve.

What Jesus will ascertain is whether I…
“…love [Him] the Lord, [my] God, with all [my] heart…soul…strength, and…mind; and [my] neighbour as [myself].” (Luke 10:27)
Mormons today should not be best known for abstaining from alcohol, coffee, and tobacco. They should not mostly stand out for paying tithing or for having a year’s supply of food or for living the law of chastity or for doing missionary work, or for doing any number of other “good” works.

Jesus said:
“By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” (John 13:35)
Paul wrote:
“Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal…[a]nd though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.” (1 Cor. 13:1, 3)
I am a big-time haggler and debater. I love to argue points and discuss ideas and see all sides of every issue. My strength is my knowledge. However, as Paul observed:
“Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth.” (1 Cor. 8:1)
Mormon and Paul were both privy to the same discourse on charity:
45 [C]harity suffereth long, and is kind, and envieth not, and is not puffed up, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil, and rejoiceth not in iniquity but rejoiceth in the truth, beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.
46 Wherefore, my beloved brethren, if ye have not charity, ye are nothing, for charity never faileth. Wherefore, cleave unto charity, which is the greatest of all, for all things must fail—
47 But charity is the pure love of Christ, and it endureth forever; and whoso is found possessed of it at the last day, it shall be well with him.” (Moro. 7:44-47)

Because, Peter explained:
“…charity shall cover the multitude of sins.” (1 Pet. 4:8)
Brothers and sisters, I urge each of us to follow the example of our Savior, as well as those of our bishops and Relief Society presidents past and present – of Bishop Gonzalez and Bishop James, of Sister Preston and Sister Caress, among many others. They have set the good example for us. They have shown us the proper way. They have lead us with true “charity and love” (D&C 4:5), as the scriptures require.

We are very blessed to have the gospel – and to have each other.

May we live the gospel and ever strive, whenever and wherever possible, not to give -- or take -- offense.

May we remember that feeling the love of Christ and sharing the love of Christ is the essence of living the gospel. It is the fruit of the tree of life. It is the ultimate measure – the evidence -- that we have truly come unto our Savior.
“Yea, the love of God, which sheddeth itself abroad in the hearts of the children of men…is the most desirable above all things…Yea, and the most joyous to the soul.” (1 Nephi 11:22-23)
Let us not let enmity and discord and strife destroy our peace or ruin our joy. Let us let nothing but brotherly love come between us. Let us resolve to be true disciples of our Savior, Jesus Christ.

In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.