[Given by Chris Juchau at the Priesthood Leadership session of Stake Conference, April 2017.]
Good morning, Brethren. It is Easter Sunday. I would just like to share a few words with you about the Savior before we break into groups.
A week ago yesterday I had the privilege of touring the Vatican. We were in a small group of about twelve, mostly Americans, being led through by our Catholic Italian guide, Laura, who was knowledgeable and passionate. It felt like there were a half-million people there as we squeezed through dense crowds to see, among other things, the Sistine Chapel, the works of Raphael, Michelangelo’s Pieta, and four sainted Popes whose caskets lie inside and not just underneath St. Peter’s Basilica.
It was both a fascinating and, at moments, a claustrophobic tour. For me, there were two particularly moving moments.
The second of the two came after we’d been through the Vatican Museum and the Sistine Chapel and were inside St. Peter’s Basilica. As you know, old European Cathedrals are basically laid out in the shape of a cross with the highest point in the ceiling typically formed by a large dome at the intersection of the cross. In St. Peter’s, this point is tall enough to accommodate the Statue of Liberty underneath it.
As we approached this point at the end of our 3.5-hour tour and I was walking alongside Laura, she said, “And now we enter the very heart of Christianity.” I was immediately and deeply struck by the incorrectness of her words.
The heart of Christianity is not a physical location. Yes, there are sacred places. But I have been to the Garden Tomb and to Bethlehem and the Sacred Grove—and the heart of Christianity is not there, either.
The heart of Christianity lies within my heart and your heart. For me, it is in that portion of my heart and soul that loves God our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ whom He sent. I strive for that portion to be more than a portion—to be my entire heart and my entire soul—and to love them with all my heart, might, mind, and strength.
The heart of Christianity lies also in His heart and in the love that He has for you and for me. His love is perfect. It is perfectly kind, generous, patient, good, forgiving, just, and merciful. His love withstood unfathomable pain and suffering that you and I might receive forgiveness and sanctification.
The heart of Christianity will be found wherever I am—and for you, wherever you are—provided that we remember the Savior and are striving to be one with Him. He said:
I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman.
Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me.
I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.
My other moment came earlier in the tour when Laura was explaining the Pope’s Coat of Arms and showed a painting of Peter receiving two keys from the Savior—one gold and one silver. I was, in that moment, filled with gratitude for the reality of priesthood keys and for their restoration to the earth today. Those keys are found in the restored Church. Many in this room right now hold priesthood keys or have in the past. President Smith here holds keys for ordinances in the Mount Timpanogos temple through which eternal families may be formed. President Killpack, represented here today by President Lindley, holds keys to bless the lives of non-members in our stake.
Just a week prior to our visit to the Vatican, fifteen men stood in the Conference Center in Salt Lake City and spoke to us one by one. Each of them holds all of the keys once held by Peter and others. Those keys are with us and they are exercised on our behalf.
As priesthood leaders in the Highland Utah South Stake, all that we do should be for the purpose of helping individuals and families come to the Savior. All that we do should be done under the direction of legally authorized representatives of God who hold his authority and the right to exercise it.
On this Easter morning, I wish to testify of the Savior and express my gratitude for Him and for His restored Church. My testimony involves faith and agency. It has not yet been replaced by what Alma calls a perfect knowledge. But that does not mean it isn’t very well grounded and doesn’t rest on a strong, solid foundation.
I have felt the Spirit many times in my life. Occasionally in very large ways. Frequently in smaller ways. I have experienced a joyful connection with the Savior through repentance and forgiveness. I have tried (not completely successfully, but I have tried and do try) to live the gospel. I have many weaknesses. I know that bad things happen to good people. I also know that in all circumstances, there is a sweet and reassuring peace that accompanies me when I strive to live the gospel—and an emptiness and darkness when I don’t.
I often think of myself like the man in the ninth chapter of John, who was blind from his birth and who, after having been granted the gift of sight from the Savior—and then grilled repeatedly by the Savior’s opponents as to how he came to see—said, “One thing I know, that, whereas I was blind, now I see.”
Like all of you, I hope, I am growing and maturing in my faith and testimony and in my familiarity with the Spirit. Day to day personal growth seems quite imperceptible, but over time it can be significant in each of us. Like the blind man, I don’t know everything, but increasingly I know that I am seeing more and that I am seeing more clearly because of the Savior.
Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world. He is, very personally to me, my Savior. He is, I hope personally to you, your Savior. He rose on the third day. The empty tomb said everything we claim it said. He stands at the head of this Church and it is His authority we bear. None of us here bears all of His authority, but we bear the portion that has been delegated to us. If we bear it well, we will bless many lives, including our own.
May you and I come ever closer to knowing Him, to feeling his love, and to developing His attributes. May we find healing in Him and may we help our family and others for whom we have stewardship find that healing—and ultimately that peace that passeth all understanding.
I testify that Jesus Christ is the Living Christ—and the son of the living God—in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
The Sabbath, it seems to me, is one part blessing, one part opportunity, and one part test.
The blessings are many! Through our Sabbath worship, attitude, and change of pace, including church attendance, our spirits, bodies, and minds are rejuvenated. Honoring the Sabbath keeps us “unspotted from the world.” It also results in the Lord blessing us in ways that are scripturally broad (“I will cause thee to ride upon the high places of the earth” and “the fullness of the earth is yours” and “therefore he giveth you on the sixth day the bread of two days,” for example)—but which become individual and specific as we recognize distinct blessings in our lives. As in many aspects of our covenant relationship with God, those blessings flow generously depending upon the sincerity and contrition of our hearts.
The opportunities are also many! “The Sabbath was made for man!” And: “it is lawful to do well on the Sabbath!” (My exclamation points.) The Sabbath is for doing good. The Savior taught this over and over again as he healed a man with a withered hand, another with “the dropsy,” a woman bent 18 years with infirmity, and, no doubt, others. He taught of “weightier matters,” which certainly place people and worship and principles and attributes over rules. He taught that an ox in a pit must be pulled out and that people who hunger must be fed.
James taught about visiting the widows and fatherless. In fact, the phrase “unspotted from the world” is found twice in the scriptures: once as an introduction to the Savior’s teachings on keeping the Sabbath in D&C 59 and also connected to James’s teachings about “pure” and “undefiled” religion. Clearly the Sabbath is for serving others and is an opportunity to give of ourselves, typically in quiet ways, to lifting, building, encouraging—and maybe even helping heal—others. True Sabbath worship consists of more do’s than don’ts.
The Sabbath is also a test—a test of our hearts. The Sabbath might be made for man, but it was given as a “sign” and a “covenant” and is about our relationship with God. Of the ten commandments Moses received on Sinai, the first four specifically refer to our worshipping and respecting God. The fourth of those is “Remember the Sabbath.” That probably means remembering more than that the day of the week is Sunday and that that’s the day we’re supposed to go to church. Remembering the Sabbath might mean remembering the Savior, remembering God’s love, remembering that He provides for us, remembering His mercy, and remembering to have grateful hearts. It might mean remembering that our hearts should be broken and our spirits contrite. It definitely means worshipping and demonstrating that we “have no other gods before [Him].”
Keeping (or honoring or remembering) the Sabbath is yet another way to live after the manner of real happiness. Lasting and meaningful joy is found neither in Super Bowl games, Super Bowl outcomes, Super Bowl commercials, nor in Super Bowl parties. Nor is it found in demonstrations of isolated piety or in sleeping all day. Joy and happiness are found in placing God first, knowing that we sincerely strive to place Him first, knowing that He knows that we strive to place Him first, and in serving Him by serving our neighbors: family, friends, and strangers. May we seize the day.
What do we see when we encounter or interact with other people? Whether it’s your best friend, a teacher at school, a clerk at the 7-Eleven, your mother, the person in your rear-view mirror tailgating you, an old rival from high school, a co-worker, someone standing near a road holding a sign asking for money… When you see these people, what do you see? Which “them” do you see?
Numerous scriptures refer to seeing incorrectly or not seeing at all in spite of having the ability. We read things like:
- “they seeing see not” (Matthew 13:13)
- “having eyes, see ye not?” (Mark 8:18)
- “wo unto the blind that will not see” (2 Nephi 9:32)
- “we see through a glass, darkly” (1 Corinthians 13:12)
- “seeing many things but thou observest not” (Isaiah 42:20)
The promise is that the Savior, who “seeth not as man seeth,” will help make it so “that they which see not might see.” (1 Samuel 16:7 and John 9:39) To illustrate his ability to do so, he gave sight to many physically blind people during his ministry—one of whom emphatically declared, “One thing I know, that, whereas I was blind, now I see.” (John 9:25)
What is it, exactly, that we should see so much differently—so much more clearly—than we normally do? Some things high on our list might be: God, the nature of his love for us, and his role in our lives; ourselves and who we really are; also, our correct relationship to God. Thursday we discussed seeing other people more clearly.
The 13th Article of Faith says that we believe in being benevolent. Benevolent means having an inclination to be good and generous toward others, wishing others well, and having goodwill toward others. It is the opposite of having malice or ill will toward others.
The Savior showed us myriad examples of benevolence. He seemed to see people in a way that looked right past typical interpretations from outward appearances and status, and focused on their goodness, potential, and efforts. How did he react to the woman taken in adultery? To the publicans Matthew and Zacchaeus? To children (who were apparently annoying to some)? To the paralyzed man lowered through a roof to him? To the man at the pool of Bethesda? To the woman who touched the hem of his garment? To dozens or hundreds or thousands of others he healed? To thousands who came to hear him teach—and didn’t have enough to eat? To Nephites and Lamanites who longed to be with him? And so on.
Who did you encounter yesterday and how did you see them? Did you see someone who annoys or angers or offends you? Did you see someone who is less than you or better than you? Did you see someone you’re competing with or someone you need to appear a certain way to? Or did you see someone deserving of compassion, patience, and respect because, just like you, they have worries and struggles and pains and shortcomings (which probably trouble them more than they trouble you)? Was your first inclination to appreciate them for their humanity?
The good people at the Arbinger Institute have a lot to say about these topics. The principles they teach in The Anatomy of Peace and The Peacegiver are worth studying because they teach a practical approach to seeing others properly and exercising benevolence from our inside out, the way the Savior does. Among the principles they teach are the ideas of a “heart at peace” (which sees and reacts to people as humans like me) and a “heart at war” (which sees and reacts to people negatively). Perhaps my favorite principle is the concept that people actually perceive the state of our hearts toward them and reciprocate. However, they do it, people we encounter have a sixth sense which tells them whether we are viewing them with empathy and respect or not. If I am, they tend to react to me the same way and good things happen between us. If I am not, they tend to reciprocate my coldness and wrong thinking and we generally take nothing of any good meaning away from our encounter.
The point is that people are people. And people live and love and struggle and endure and laugh and cry and regret themselves and a million things—just like you and I. Mostly, they are good and trying and even though they frequently come up short, they continue to struggle and try and look for peace and happiness just like the rest of us. We owe them benevolence. We believe in benevolence. The Savior’s heart was (is) always at peace. He sees people with concern for them more than concern for himself. To the extent that I do the same, my life is richer and fuller and more rewarding—and the people I spend either brief encounters or a lifetime of companionship with also enjoy greater happiness. Seeing others the way Jesus sees them is one important way to live after the manner of happiness.