Sunday, November 29, 2009

Last Time That Will Happen, or, Keeping The Sabbath Day Holy, or, Why I Hate Sunday, or, My Sacrament Talk

Clearly I haven't been writing much lately. This past month I was all over interviewing for residency, but I just got back home. I have had a few ideas for upcoming posts, including The Adventures of a Mormon Sommelier, and the Best TV Opening Credits Ever. But, most recently I wrote a talk for my church services, where the homilies or sermons are typically given by a couple members of the congregation. I was the concluding speaker and went until the normal time, but the Bishop stood and took about 7 minutes after me. I am not sure whether I am proud of this or embarrassed -- or maybe it was completely unrelated. While he did not clearly recant any of my words for me, he may have been trying to. It was difficult for me to write this talk, so I thought I would share it here. By way of preface, please remember this was written to be spoken, not read, and intended it to be humorous frequently. Some Most of those jokes fell flat. Surprise, surprise.

Why I Hated Sundays

Brothers and Sisters, I hate Sundays. Or at least, I used to hate them. Now I just don’t look forward to them very much. Why? Well, first and foremost, background. The Sabbath, by Hebrew definition, means “day of rest.” When the Lord gave the command to Moses to “Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy” he also added, “Six days you shall labor and do all your work.” Josephus, the First Century historian, wrote that the Sabbath day was “set apart from labor and dedicated to learning our customs and laws.” This teaching nicely dovetails with D&C 59:10 where the Lord instructs that the “Sabbath Day is appointed unto you to rest from your labors and to pay thy devotions unto the Most High.” (Incidentally, we have the Jewish labor unions of the 19th century to thank for the 5 day workweek and 2 day weekend. Since a large portion of workers were Jewish and wanted Saturday off to worship the labor bosses capitulated. But since an even greater portion of workers wanted Sunday, “the Lord’s Day” to worship, we got both days off, and road trips became possible.) And what do we do as Mormons do with that two day weekend? I believe it is summarized well in the 14th Article of Faith:

We believe in meetings, all that have been scheduled, all that are now scheduled, and we believe that there will yet be many great and important meetings scheduled. We have endured many meetings and hope to be able to endure all meetings. Indeed, we may say that if there is a meeting or anything that resembles a meeting or anything that we may possibly turn into a meeting, we seek after these things. (Robert Kirby, SL Tribune)

On a more serious note, part of the reason I have not always looked forward to Sundays is epitomized in an experience I had in Elder’s Quorum last week. Before the Bishop or President Moody have conniptions, this experience was in my parents’ ward in Utah. Priesthood opening exercises were good – great even. A boldly sung hymn. Warm welcomes. Elder’s quorum started out with the usual announcements and invitations to do service in the middle of the workday. With about 30 minutes left of the block, a teacher came to the front of the room and an iPod was turned on. For the remainder of the time, Elder Holland’s talk from this past session of conference was played. En toto. That was the lesson. Approximately 3 minutes of comments were made at the end of the lesson. Then we dismissed. While Elder Holland’s is a good talk – some may even say an instant classic – I will confess I took little from the class other than a sense of bewilderment that I had to listen to the same material a second time, and that the opportunity to discuss and explore these inspired words in a more personal setting was being completely ignored.

But remember, I don’t hate Sundays anymore, even though this stellar EQ lesson was just last week. Why don’t I hate them anymore? Let me turn to one of my favorite passages from the Epistles: Paul wrote: (1Cor13:11 NRSV)

“When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became a man, I put an end to childish ways.”

When I was a little younger, I expected to come to church and be, served plugged in and recharged. I expected to come and have others take care of my spiritual needs. I came to church expecting not only to be fed, but to be spoon-fed.

Brothers and sisters, this is obviously the wrong attitude. Church is not here to let us sit back and become better people. Now please do not misunderstand me. I am not trying to say that I have "put away all my childish ways" and am now a "man" in all gospel-senses. I am only trying to say that I think I have moved past this one childish thought. Let me use another favorite scripture. Moroni, near the end of his life, wrote (Mormon 9:27) “. . . hearken unto the words of the Lord, and ask the Father in the name of Jesus for what things soever ye shall stand in need. Doubt not, but be believing, . . . and come unto the Lord . . . and work out your own salvation with fear and trembling before him.” Moroni here tells us that the purpose of the gospel, including the Sabbath day, is to learn. He also says that it is our responsibility to learn it. We need to figure it out individually. Sometimes that means 9 hours of meetings on Sunday. It almost always means that the Sabbath is not a day of rest anymore, like I wanted it to be as a child. The Sabbath may not be the most restful day anymore, but that is okay. To quote Eugene England, “If we constantly approach the Church as consumers, we will never partake of its sweet and filling fruit. Only if we can lose our lives [in church service] will we find ourselves.” “If we only ask ‘What has the Church done for me?’ we will not think to ask the much more important question, ‘What am I doing with the opportunities for service and self-challenge with which the Church provides me?’” (England, Why the Church is as True as the Gospel.)

No church talk about keeping the Sabbath Day Holy would be complete without a discussion of “do’s and don’ts.” Guidelines certainly exist for keeping the Sabbath day holy, but they are inadequate. The only appropriate set of guidelines that I have found for appropriate Sabbath day activity is this: you should be doing things on Sunday to help yourself and others become better people. For a professional cyclist, he or she may not feel it appropriate to go for a bike ride on Sunday. For the rest of us who do not get to ride bikes much, Sunday may be a wonderful day to take that opportunity to enjoy God’s Green Earth from a bike saddle. Indulge me for a moment on this topic; while preparing for this talk, I came across a blog that had a posting regarding Sabbath day activity lists, asking for commenters to add their own insights into what they, and their typically young families did or did not do on Sundays. It seemed to quickly devolve into something of keeping-up-with-the-Joneses. One commenter would say they didn’t watch team sports on Sundays. The next would say they only watched Discovery Channel, and that as a family. The next said that they never watched TV on Sundays. The next said that they sold their TVs and were forging ahead with a plan to feed the world. Not only did these comments not seem helpful, they started creating a sense of anxiety in me. I watch TV. I have not been working for world peace enough, and so on. Am I not doing what is right? I want to share a word of caution that my grandfather once gave to my sweet mother, who was an accomplished violinist. When mom was about 14, she was asked to perform a piece in church. She practiced and practiced, but she choked when the time came and did not do so well. She of course was devastated. But Grandpa Kirton came to the rescue, taking her into the front room, sitting her down, and saying, “My sweet Collie, you are good enough.” He went on to say that by comparing herself to others, she was setting herself up to either be puffed up in pride or racked with self-doubt and feelings of inadequacy. Comparing yourself to others is a good way of setting yourself up to fail, because you will always come up short in some aspect. So it is with Sabbath Day observance. I hope we can remember that, while there are basic guidelines, each individual and each family’s path, is, ultimately, their own path. Do not let anyone tell you otherwise. Your best is good enough.

Allow me to discuss another reason why attending church and keeping the Sabbath day holy are important. Martin Luther wrote that “Marriage is the school of love.” Note that he did not say that marriage is the product or result or home or goal of love. Marriage is the school. Marriage is what teaches someone how to love. I think part of the reasoning behind this is because at times, I have heard, you want to murder your companion. But marriage does not just teach you how to not kill your companion; rather, marriage teaches you how to deal with and love and cherish your companion. Church, similarly, is the school of godliness. At least half of you, if you had the choice, would choose to never associate with me. At least half. Yet here you are. Forced to associate with me. Typically, we see each other at least once a week. And by that forced association, you are made better people. Not by associating with me, necessarily (though that is often the case – eg Chris Sorensen). But in learning to deal with and work alongside and worship together with people that you would otherwise choose to avoid. By doing this we all become a little more, well, Godlike. Is there anything more Godlike than learning to care for and take responsibility “for the personal and marital, the physical and spiritual welfare of people we may not already love [or] (may even heartily dislike)[?], and thus we learn to love them. It stretches and challenges us, even when we are disappointed and exasperated in ways we would not otherwise choose to be stretched and challenged. . . [church] gives us a chance to be made better than we may have chosen to be – but ultimately want to be.” (E. England, Why the Church is as True as the Gospel –edited with brackets). Is it any wonder that attending church meetings is such an important part of keeping the Sabbath day holy?

Let me close with the words of President Spencer W. Kimball, “We do not go to Sabbath meetings to be entertained or even solely to be instructed. We go to worship the Lord. It is an individual responsibility, and regardless of what is said from the pulpit, if one wishes to worship the Lord in spirit and truth, he may do so by attending his meetings, partaking of the sacrament, and contemplating the beauties of the gospel. If the service is a failure to you, you have failed. No one can worship for you. (Ensign, Jan 1978, p4-5, emphasis mine).

What beautiful opportunities the Sabbath presents us with. A chance to mingle and serve people we do not always want to be around, a chance to actively pursue our spiritual needs, and a chance, as Josephus said, to take a day “set apart from labor and dedicated to learning our customs and laws” and finally, the Sabbath presents us with a chance, to practice true religion which James, the brother of Jesus, wrote that (James 1:27) “Religion (and I might add Sabbath observance) that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” That is the only “do’s and don’t’s” list I will give. And that is why I don’t hate Sundays anymore.


RNAi said...

Best talk I have heard in a year. (Granted the only talk I have heard in that time as well). Love ya B-train.

peetie said...

A-bone, that's what I'm here for.