Priesthood commemoration talk

Given in the Worcester Ward, Cheltenham England Stake on 12.v.2013 and heavily indebted to Lowell Bennion’s “What it means to be a Christian.”

I should like to add my voice of praise to the young men who have spoken to us today and also to their leaders, who serve them so selflessly. My talk today is directed towards these young people, among whose number is my own son. President Hinckley used to say that the purpose of the church is to make bad men good and good men better. Here are six things that I think, if followed, will make the youth — and indeed all of us — better Christians. In preparing this short talk, I have been influenced by Mormon writer and educator Lowell Bennion and I shall frequently be quoting from him.

1. Be grateful.

Life is a gift. In fact, most of the things that really matter come to us freely. Our mortal lives and the hope of eternal life are freely given. In my work with young people I have noticed that those who most impress are those who are aware of how fortunate they are. Be grateful and give back.

2. Follow Jesus.

Many people ask, “What is God like?” We already have our answer: “Jesus taught and exemplified the real values of life as no other person has done. He revealed the character and will of God.” In our devotional lives there is nothing better that we can do than study and apply the teachings of Jesus.

3. Have concern for people.

We are here to serve people not programmes or institutions or things. Notice how Jesus was interested in people, particularly the alienated of society and those we would consider to be sinners. He respected the law but did not make it an end to be served. He forgave the sinner, healed on the Sabbath and spoke out against those more devoted to rules than to people. “Even the Church is an instrument to bless people. It is not an end in itself. Man was not made for the Church, but the Church was made for people. We should not serve the Church, but rather people through the Church.” Be kind, don’t be self-righteous, and have mercy on those who “sin differently” than you do.

4. Place value on the truly valuable.

We frequently tell the youth that they need to get a good education and work hard so that they can live with economic dignity when they are older. These are tough times and they need every competitive advantage they can get, but it is one thing to put a roof over your head and to not have to worry about how you are going to pay the bills every month, it is another to be obsessed by material possessions. We are all guilty to some extent, judging by some of the cars in the car park and the electronic gadgetry on our laps. Make no mistake: these are luxuries. Have them if you must, but remember that the Christian will not “live in luxury while a third of mankind go to bed hungry . . . ” Be generous with your time and your money when you get it.

5. Have faith in God.

I like Psalm 73 (v. 26): “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” Confidence that God is there, that he loves us and that our lives have eternal meaning ought to inspire us to give up worldly things in favour of divine things: faith, hope, and above all, charity.

6. Stop trying to be perfect.

What I am about to say might be misconstrued, so I hope I come across the way I intend. Jesus told us to be perfect (Matthew 5:48). You know the scripture: “Be ye therefore perfect.” The wish to be perfect — laudable though it is — really needs to be handled carefully. I had a Mormon friend who used to fill-in a form every night before he went to bed with the title “The Way to Perfection.” It had boxes to tick listing all the things a “perfect” person should do and a space to list all the sins that had spoiled his perfection that day. Again, I do not want to detract from the impulse to improve ourselves, to do good things and to avoid the bad, but I think this was a mistaken way to go about it.

For one thing, it risks becoming self-centred, as if life is all about you. Rather than obsess about himself, my friend should probably have been doing the washing up for his mum or reading his younger sister a bedtime story. It’s difficult to sin when you are serving others. Remember what Jesus said, “He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it” (Matthew 10:39).

I also agree with Brother Bennion: “I think you are bound to fail if you try to be perfect as a human being, and you will have a sense of guilt, a sense of shame. You will be burdened with failure.” Many of our young people feel like this. Listen to me carefully: you will make many mistakes in your life and there isn’t anything you can do to stop it. Go out and serve others and you will hopefully simply make fewer mistakes. And remember, imperfection added to perfection is perfection. In other words, Christ has already made you perfect so stop worrying about it. His parable in Luke 18: 10-14 ought to stop us religious people in our tracks:

Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.

***

It’s tough being a youth in this church but the young men sitting behind me, and the young women in the congregation (whose own achievements we really need to celebrate more often) are doing a great job. Have a think about these six things — be grateful, follow Jesus, have concern for people, place value on the truly valuable, have faith in God, stop trying to be perfect — and may God bless you.

Comments

  1. cookie queen says:

    Great Ronan. xxx

  2. Thanks Val!

    - The Archbishop.

  3. RJH, your line about not doing enough to celebrate the YW in our ward is important. I was also asked to speak this last Sunday and it was something that occurred to me as well.

  4. I think this is very well done. What were the topics of the YM who spoke before you?

  5. Thank you for this, Ronan!

  6. Generic stuff, Julia. My son only prepared his talk about 10 minutes before we left so basically just ended up reading “Duties of a Deacon.”

  7. Antonio Parr says:

    Kudos, Ronan. Great talk, as always.

    So glad to see you perpetuating the legacy of Lowell Bennion.

  8. Steve B. says:

    Ronan, it’s awesome to see Lowell Bennion’s writings forming the basis for your talk. I’ve done that frequently in many church talks over the years. Hopefully I’ll do a better job of living what Lowell taught. I like how someone who eschewed talk of perfection, nearly achieved it in so many aspects of his life.

  9. As Lowell Bennion’s biographer, I deeply appreciate Ronan’s talk–I think we need to keep Lowell’s name and insights alive! Keep up the good work!
    Mary L. Bradford

  10. Antonio Parr says:

    Kudos to Mary Bradford for her important biography of Lowell Bennion, and for her profoundly beautiful comments during his funeral. (I was not there, but have revisited many times the published account of the eulogies at Lowell’s funeral.)

  11. Thanks so much for your heart-warming remarks! I did not speak at Lowell’s funeral, so I would see the “published remarks.”
    Mary B–

  12. Antonio Parr says:

    Oops . . . Same heartfelt praise for the Lowell Bennion biography! Same heartfelt praise for Lowell’s eulogies, although I will have to go back and remind myself who it was who gave the account of Lowell giving her a blessing shortly before his death . . .

  13. Wonderful. So, when I wholesale steal your talk as mine, do I have to give attribution to both you and Bennion?

  14. Could you tell me where these eulogies are? DO you have a copy of my bio?
    Mary B–

  15. Antonio Parr says:

    The eulogies are contained at the end of “How Can I Help”. (Perhaps it was Emma Lou Thayne who gave the eulogy that I referenced above – I will double check when I get home.) I do have your bio of Lowell, and have both read it and revisited it many times. A fantastic book.

  16. Yes–It would have been Emma Lou–Thanks for your good words! Have we met?
    Mary B-

  17. I really like this talk, but point 2 and point 6 really do conflict with each other. “Stop trying to be perfect” is not something I imagine Jesus saying or said when he invited us to follow him right? In fact, it seems at multiple times he said the opposite.

    I get your overall point is to have a better understanding of Christ-centered perfection. But that’s actually “trying” to be perfect. Just because many in the world and church misunderstand perfection isn’t a reason to throw the word out and go the next step further and tell others not to be what Jesus said we should be.

  18. I believe that Lowell mentioned that some religions use the word “Balance” instead of “perfect,”
    Making a list and checking it twice keeps our attention upon ourselves. If we seek service and balance, we can avoid being OCD!
    Mary B–

  19. Kaphor, I don’t think they conflict, not if you parse “perfect” with a modicum of wisdom. The Greek word teleios means something like “complete,” or “full-grown.” We are therefore to be teleioi (masculine plural) as God is teleios (masculine singular). Understood as “complete” in the context of what comes just before in Matthew 5 (“love your neighbour and your enemy”) then we have an injunction to be complete in love for people just as God is. That’s some way away from the OCD (thanks Mary!) kind of approach to perfection that hurts some of the young men I serve, whose sins are crushing burdens on their perfectionist shoulders.

    So, no contradiction, but rather a plea to properly “follow Jesus” (#2) and not to go down the damning route of saving ourselves (#6). And because I am to love my enemy, I will invoke the Gandalf Rule (Unfinished Tales, “The Hunt for the Ring”, p. 351) and happily let you disagree with me. God bless thee, Mr. kaphor.

  20. Also, “What I am about to say might be misconstrued…” Indeed, I am a prophet.

    Meanwhile, puff, puff.

  21. Antonio Parr says:

    Just revisited your talk, Ronan, and discussed it with my wife. We both concurred that we would be well on the path to Christ if we were to take your (and Brother Bennion’s) council to heart. Great job.

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