Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Third Nephi: A Living Christ, A Living Church, Individuals Living By the Spirit

A friend sent me an email yesterday saying her daughter was asked to speak in church on Sunday and was feeling overwhelmed. The topic is "3 Nephi 11-20: Establishing the Church." She asked if I could offer any suggestions.

I found it exhilarating to read these chapters with the focus on "establishing the church" (which at first sounds a little dry and left-brained when there is so much here that is spiritually powerful and deeply moving). What I found is that seeing the Living Christ establishing His living church here in the Americas is a deeply spiritual call to each of us to step up our individual seek and receive a personal witness, to participate in ordinances and make covenants one on one, to receive His power, to pray more intensely, to feel his love, his ministry, even his smile...

And then become newly committed by not only avoiding the really bad (outward) sins, but avoiding even the desire to go there by guarding our thoughts. (Not just don't kill...but don't allow yourself to be caught up in anger...Not just don't commit adultery, but don't even entertain a lustful thought.) And also give more than is asked or required.

And of course we know that the fruits of such a spiritual experience, such deep commitment, is 200+ years of peace...the only time and place in the history of the world where we read about such an enduring happiness.

Here is my rough train of thought and some key passages to consider:

His Audience

We know from the previous chapters that his audience of Nephites are people who are imperfect, who have suffered, grieved, yet allowed themselves to believe. They are in need of repentance, have resisted some gathering, and need to return to Him with "full purpose of heart".

This sets a more realistic and applicable stage for what happens in Chapter 11, when they hear the voice and feel the spirit.

Intense Focus

What jumps out at me first in vs. 3-6 is the amount of focus required to truly understand The Voice. ("And again the third time they their ears to hear it, and their eyes were towards the sound thereof; and they did look steadfastly towards heaven, from whence the sound came.") Their full attention is riveted on the Spirit.
It is only then, just like in the Road to Emmaus, that they see and recognize the Savior.

Seeking A Personal Witness

Next, in vs. 14-17 he calls on them to stand up and come to him so they can each receive and FEEL an individual witness: " Arise and come forth...that ye may thrust your hands into my side, and also that ye may feel the prints of the nails in my hands and in my feet that ye man KNOW that I am [who I said I am]." They go up ONE AT A TIME so that each has an opportunity to personalize his pain, individually appreciate what He has done for them, and verify for themselves that He lives...and worship at his feet.

Power To The People, One by One

In vs. 19 -35 Christ then gives Nephi (and others) His Power (priesthood). He instructs them regarding ordinance given individually, one on one, with an individual commitment. He spells out how we should be unified (regarding his baptism, his doctrine) but wants our covenant-making and commitment to be individual.

The Sacrament — Individual Renewal

Chapter 18 - He is the one who breaks and blesses it, setting the example for our priests today. Another one-on-one ordinance, set up to renew our individual covenants. The purpose: Always Remember, Witness. The promise: Always have His Spirit with us. We are commanded to repent and return to him with "full purpose of heart" (18:32) and promised to be healed.

Individual Preparation For Sunday Meetings

(Chapter 17, verse 3) We have the scriptures, the Sunday School reading, the Relief Society Manual...and even an upcoming general conference. He teaches us that we need to prepare ahead of time: ponder the teachings, pray for understanding, and prepare our minds...all in advance of our Sunday meetings. Then in verse 5 we see (again, like the Road to Emmaus) he perceives their tears with compassion and recognizes that they want to ask him to stay a little longer with them. They are blessed with his presence, healed. Again in chapter 19, verse 3, we see them making an enormous effort to be in the right place at the right time, so they can be in his presence. In 19, verse 22 he tells us we should meet together often, and try not to turn anyone away.

Membership Benefits

In Chapter 12-15, it struck me that that recap of the Sermon on the Mount (which I sometimes skim, because, yeah, we have that someplace else) is given specifically to members of the church, following yet another verse on bearing witness and being baptized. That seemed to make the message more applicable somehow...and I appreciated the addition in verse 12: "Ye shall have great joy and be exceedingly glad, for great shall be your reward in heaven"...even while referring to the persecution we may face as members. He commands us to strive for perfection, all the while being patient and forgiving of those around us.

Interpreting Scripture

Christ personally clarifies some of the Bible's teachings-- explains John 10:16, the Law of Moses fulfilled, and their lineage. One of the primary roles of Christ's true church (and the Book of Mormon itself) is to shed greater light on ancient scripture and provide greater clarity for us today. In verse 21-24, getting back to the theme of the actualized individual, he uses that understanding to teach them who they really are.

Missionary Work

Then in Chapter 16 he turns our focus outward, remind us that there are yet others who need to be gathered, need to hear His voice and receive their own witness of the Savior. Chapter 18, v. 25: "See that I have commanded that none of you should go away, but rather have commanded that ye should come unto me, that ye might feel and see; even so shall ye do unto the world".

Focus on Children

The later part of Chapter 17 perhaps shows us the first Book of Mormon primary, and says that our "little children should be brought." He commands the multitude to kneel and pray for them. He tells parents to "Behold your little ones" and proceeds to bless and minister to each one of them individually (again, it says one by one) and encircle the children with angels, with fire...showing them their divine nature and letting the parents see the power and beauty of these spirits they are raising.

We are also told to become more like those little children we are raising. 3 Nephi 11:31

Personal and Family Prayer

Chapter 17: 15-20 Christ sets the example and shows us how to achieve a fulness of joy through prayer. We see some of the deepest expressions of indescribable joy ever written.

Chapter 18: 16-21 He tells us to follow his example of personal prayer and pray always, both individually and in families. And He promises answers.

Chapter 19: Prayer in congregations, quorums. Prayers of gratitude. Inspired prayers, where we're given what we should say. Purification and sanctification through prayer. Deepened understanding through prayer. Ch. 20 -Pray in our hearts.

19:9 "And they did pray for that which they most desired; and they desired that the Holy Ghost should be given unto them."

Summary: The Spirit

The establishing of Christ's church in the Book of Mormon both begins and ends with the Holy Ghost. The ordinances of baptism and the sacrament both promise us His spirit. His command to see for ourselves, to receive our own witness involves the spirit. The spirit is key to all we do in His church.

And finally, some added hope for our day:

2 Ne: 2:4 "Thou art blessed even as they unto whom he shall minister in the flesh; for the Spirit is the same, yesterday, today, and forever."