President Stephen M. Veazey delivered the following sermon during the Friday-evening, April 19, worship service at the USA National Conference in Independence, Missouri.
As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. —Colossians 3:12-15 NRSV
We are not without inspired witness of God’s beautiful vision.
Rooted deeply in the Hebrew and New Testament scriptures, Restoration scripture and hymnody enrich our understanding of God’s vision for people, the church, and the whole creation.
From the earliest days of our movement, we are told: “Remember the worth of souls is great in the sight of God” (Doctrine and Covenants 16:3c). So great, that the beloved Son, Jesus Christ, willingly suffered death in the flesh that we might have an abundance of life here and hereafter.
The worth of souls—with the understanding that soul means body and spirit—has been a strong theme of our understanding of God’s vision throughout our history. And, each generation has been called to put that principle into action in the context of issues of its day.
In 1974, during a time of dramatic social upheaval, through Continuing Revelation we are directed:
You who are my disciples must be found continuing in the forefront of those organizations and movements which are recognizing the worth of persons and are committed to bringing the ministry of my Son to bear on their lives. —Doctrine and Covenants 151:9
More recently, we are instructed by the Sprit that:
From the earliest days you have been given a sacred principle that declares the inestimable worth of all persons. Do not forget. —Doctrine and Covenants 162:6a
I think it is clear. God’s vision is that human beings have worth to God beyond calculation or description. Now, when we can truly view others that way, including those who seem very different from us, we will be living God’s beautiful vision!
What else is included in God’s vision for us?
Early in the Reorganization, some were contending over who was greatest, and who was least, and who was called, and who was not really called. The prophet, Joseph III, saw God’s beautiful vision and described it to the church:
All are called according to the gifts of God unto them; and to the intent that all may labor together, let him that laboreth in ministry and him that toileth in the affairs of the men of business and of work labor together with God for the accomplishment of the work intrusted to all. —Doctrine and Covenants 119:8b
God’s vision is that all are called to divine vocation, whether in defined ministerial roles or in the world of business and labor. All are gifted to make a contribution to the accomplishment of God’s work, and all should work together in partnership with God to accomplish that work.
What would happen if our members saw all their endeavors—whether in business, education, church, or community service—as divine calling, a stewardship of life for which they had been given giftedness, talent, opportunity, and strength by God for divine purposes and not just individual happiness or gain?
Many decades after Section 119 was given, the church struggled to understand the scope of “all are called according to their gifts” in relation to priesthood ministry. Once again, prophetic enhancement of vision blessed the church. President Wallace B. Smith shared inspired words of counsel:
I have heard the prayers of many, including my servant the prophet, as they have sought to know my will in regard to the question of who shall be called to share the burdens and responsibilities of priesthood in my church.
I say to you now, as I have said in the past, that all are called according to the gifts which have been given them. This applies to priesthood as well as to any other aspects of the work.
—Doctrine and Covenants 156:9
No, we are not lacking in vibrant witness of God’s beautiful vision.
What about God’s vision for the nature of the church?
Understanding that God’s vision was incarnated in Jesus Christ, we look to Christ to help us open our spiritual eyes to what we need to see. As he approached death on the cruel cross, Jesus prayed for his community of disciples, and those who would follow “that they may be one.”
From John 17:20–23 NRSV:
“I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me…I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”
As I continue to try to understand the beautiful vision of “oneness is Christ”—what it looks like, feels like, and acts like—I am drawn to consider in the Book of Mosiah the instruction Alma gave to those preparing to be baptized:
If you are desirous to come into the fold of God, and to be called his people, and are willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God in all times, and in all things, and in all places that you may be in… —Mosiah 9:39-40
It is very interesting that the meaning of baptism in Jesus Christ stressed in this scriptural witness emphasizes the nature and depth of relationships in the community of disciples.
Are you willing to bear and lighten one another’s burdens in life whatever they may be? Are you willing to mourn with those who are heavy laden as if their grief is your grief? Are you willing to comfort others with the kind of comfort you desire for yourself in particularly difficult life circumstances—not just sympathetic, but truly empathetic relationships energized by a profound spiritual connectedness in Christ?
Emphasizing God’s vision for the church in this regard, in Doctrine and Covenants 161:3a–b we are invited to:
Open your hearts and feel the yearnings of your brothers and sisters who are lonely, despised, fearful, neglected, unloved. Reach out in understanding, clasp their hands, and invite all to share in the blessings of community created in the name of the One who suffered on behalf of all. Do not be fearful of one another. Respect each life journey, even in its brokenness, and uncertainty…
A hymn in Community of Christ Sings calls the church to
…build a house where love can dwell and all can safely live…Built of hopes and dreams and visions, rock of faith and vault of grace, here the love of Christ shall end divisions: All are welcome, all are welcome, all are welcome in this place. —”Let Us Build a House”
God’s vision for the church is that we “more fully embrace and embody our oneness and equality in Christ” so the world may believe in the power of the gospel to reconcile diverse people to God and each other through the Spirit of Christ.
Such conditions, according to scripture, are a glimpse, a foretaste, and signal of the coming kingdom of God on Earth, what we typically call the “cause of Zion” or the “hope of Zion.”
From the hymn, “The Cause of Zion Summons Us,” by Geoff Spencer we read inspired words of vision:
The cause of Zion summons us to claim a distant dream: the love of God in every place, the will of God supreme…The cause of Zion celebrates the victory over fear, the witness of the kingdom’s power, new life already here…The cause of Zion prophesies, the future yet to be, when men and women everywhere shall walk in dignity. We now anticipate the day when pain and tears shall cease, when humankind shall live as one in righteousness and peace.
So, now we must enlarge our vision even more. What is God’s vision for the whole creation?
If God’s vision for the church is to be a signal or foretaste of God’s kingdom coming on Earth, then God’s vision for creation includes conditions on Earth in which the worth and giftedness of all people are valued in communities of truly reconciled diversity.
But that is not all.
God’s peace is not just for human life and relationships. God’s vision of peace is for the healing and redemption of the whole created order. Romans 8:19–22 NRSV says,
For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God…that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay…The whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now.
The whole creation waits for the coming of the “children of God!” And, who are the children of God? Jesus said that the children of God are the peacemakers! “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9 NRSV).
The whole creation is waiting for the true peacemakers to appear!
Related to this aspect of God’s vision, Doctrine and Covenants 150:7, given to the church in 1972, states:
These are portentous times. The lives of many are being sacrificed unnecessarily to the gods of war, greed, and avarice. The land is being desecrated by the thoughtless waste of vital resources. You must obey my commandments and be in the forefront of those who would mediate this needless destruction while there is yet day.
And, more recently in Doctrine and Covenants 155:7: “The earth my creation groans for the liberating truths of my gospel…”
And, even more recently in 2007:
The earth, lovingly created as an environment for life to flourish, shudders in distress because creation’s natural and living systems are becoming exhausted from carrying the burden of human greed and conflict. Humankind must awaken from its illusion of independence and unrestrained consumption without lasting consequences. —Doctrine and Covenants 163:4b
The Creator’s vision of creation includes heightened concern about how we are treating the Earth. God’s vision is peace, not just on the Earth, but for the Earth. How can God’s peaceable kingdom come on Earth if Earth becomes a place the kingdom cannot inhabit?
We have talked about God’s vision for individuals, the church, and the whole creation, from a Community
of Christ/Restoration perspective. It is a powerful and compelling vision.
Now, how do we respond to such a beautiful vision?
Fitting response, aligned with God’s vision and will revealed in Jesus Christ, is whole-life stewardship.
Stewardship is the response of my people to the ministry of my Son and is required alike of all those who seek to build the kingdom. —Doctrine and Covenants 147:5a
And what is the scope and content of whole-life stewardship? Inspired counsel given in 1916 asserts:
…all should consecrate of their talents, abilities, and substance for the prosecution of the great work intrusted to us. —Doctrine and Covenants 132:3b
Consecrate…consecrate means to make holy through full devotion or complete dedication.
I had an “Isaiah” experience as a young adult. I was trying to decide what direction my life would take after college. One evening I went up to the sanctuary of the church in Paris, Tennessee, to spend some quiet time with God. This was the sanctuary where I had been nurtured in the faith since before I can remember. It was the sanctuary where I had been blessed, baptized, confirmed, and ordained several times. I sat in darkness, looking at the beautiful light streaming from the high-arching stained-glass windows.
Then, I sensed the holy presence of God. My first instinct was to run from that place and to lock the door
behind me. Then, I decided to stay “present” to whatever was happening.
The Spirit of God drew my attention to a big cross on one side of the front sanctuary wall. As I meditated on the cross, through the spirit of revelation, I sensed in new dimensions what God had done and was doing in Jesus Christ for all people and for the creation. I had new understanding of certain spiritual principles that had been set in motion through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ that were bringing reconciliation and redemption into the world.
Then, my attention was focused on the church seal on the other side of the front sanctuary wall. As I reflected on the church seal, the Spirit bore witness that this church had been divinely established and sent into mission to make a significant contribution to the coming forth of God’s kingdom on Earth.
In response to encounter with the divine, I knelt in prayer in the presence of the Holy, and I prayed, “Lord, just as you have given me my whole life as a gift—all that I have been, all that I am, all that I will be—I give it back now, all of it. And I pray that you will help me make the kind of good decisions that will enable me to make my maximum contribution to the cause of Christ and the church’s mission!”
That was my act of total, unreserved consecration in response to God’s beautiful vision. I think I got my priorities right at that moment. All I know is that I don’t have to make daily or weekly decisions about how I will behave, or whether or not I will serve, or give generously, and or share my witness.
My time, talents, tithes, and testimony flow from my commitment to consecrated living in light of God’s vision for individuals, the church, and the creation.
The joy and meaning of my life is to continue to expand my capacity to comprehend God’s beautiful vision of what can be that was revealed in Jesus Christ. And, concurrently, to continue to enlarge my capacity to live in the light and hope of God’s vision.