This is the draft of a sermon (talk) I gave on Nov. 8, 2020, at the Union Park Stake (Utah) 3rd Ward of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Love is central to the gospel.
Jesus himself said that the first and greatest commandment is to love God with all your heart, soul and mind, and that the second is like it, to love your neighbor as yourself. (1) And since Jesus said how we treat others is how treat him (2), these two commandments say much the same thing: We love God by loving God’s children.
One of the central beliefs I have as a Latter-day Saint Christian is that our purpose in life is to learn, to grow, and ultimately to fulfill our potential as divine creatures in becoming like God. And what is the key characteristic of God? The writer of the first epistle of John tells us that God is love, and that it is by loving that we know God. If we love one another, God resides in us, and God’s love becomes perfected in us. As we love, we become like the God who made us.
This morning, I am suggesting three ways that we can love more, that we can be more loving. These aren’t the only ways, of course, but they are three ways that have stood out to me recently in my studies.
One step to loving others is to strive to see others as the way Christ sees them. Jesus saw all people as beings created in the divine image, and he didn’t judge them by their social status or any other characteristic that we use to classify people. I can’t mention this concept without referring to a General Conference talk two years ago by Elder Robert C. Gay. (4) He said:
A few years ago my older sister passed away. She had a challenging life. She struggled with the gospel and was never really active. Her husband abandoned their marriage and left her with four young children to raise. On the evening of her passing, in a room with her children present, I gave her a blessing to peacefully return home. At that moment I realized I had too often defined my sister’s life in terms of her trials and inactivity. As I placed my hands on her head that evening, I received a severe rebuke from the Spirit. I was made acutely aware of her goodness and allowed to see her as God saw her — not as someone who struggled with the gospel and life but as someone who had to deal with difficult issues I did not have. I saw her as a magnificent mother who, despite great obstacles, had raised four beautiful, amazing children. I saw her as the friend to our mother who took time to watch over and be a companion to her after our father passed away. During that final evening with my sister, I believe God was asking me, “Can’t you see that everyone around you is a sacred being?”
Yes, Christ sees all of us as sacred beings.
A second way we can learn to love is to befriend the marginalized and oppressed.
Jesus set the example by dining with tax collectors and people referred to as sinners. We don’t have any indication from the Scriptures that he did so for any reason other than that he loved them and enjoyed their company. He certainly didn’t have any social status to gain by being with those who were rejected by society.
Jesus also spoke highly of the marginalized. We’re all familiar with the parable of the Good Samaritan. To fully understand the story we need to recognize that the hero of the story was of a nationality or ethnicity that was despised by Jesus’ listeners. Similarly, we’re familiar with the story of the woman at the well; it would have been scandalous at the time that Jesus was speaking not only to a random woman by a well, but a Samaritan one at that.
The need to care for those who are outcast, such as poor persons or refugees, is a constant theme of the Old Testament and the Book of Mormon. One way to read portions of both sections of scripture is as a call for social justice. When God’s people came under condemnation, it was almost always because they neglected the poor. The prophet Ezekiel tells us that the great sin of Sodom was that she did not strengthen the hand of the poor and needy. Time and time again, God’s people in the Book of Mormon face their downfall when they become greedy and selfish and neglect the poor while lifting themselves up in destructive pride, caring more about the clothes they wear than about the destitute.
In addition to the poor, there are many around us who are marginalized in different ways and whom we are called to love. I believe President Dallin Oaks had this in mind when he addressed Brigham Young University students recently, and told them that “black lives matter” is an eternal principle. (5) Similarly, President Oaks at the last General Conference proclaimed that we should be of goodwill toward all, regardless of their politics, regardless of their ethnicity, regardless of their religion, and regardless of their sexual orientation. (6) In other words, we are called to love not just people like us, but also people who are different than we are.
A third step we can take to become more loving is to pursue the forgiving of those who have wronged us.
There are many ways we can learn to forgive more completely, but I am going to offer just one piece of advice that I have found helpful in dealing with difficult people. Brené Brown, a well-known researcher and bestselling author, has suggested that for our own mental health it is helpful, when someone has wronged us, to assume that the person was doing the best he or she knew how at the time. That may sound counterintuitive, but isn’t that what we want others to think of us? By taking this generous approach to others, she writes, we are in a better position to deal with the wrong that has been done and to move forward. I believe Dr. Brown’s approach is similar to the meaning behind Jesus’ words on the cross when he asked his Father to forgive his tormenters, saying “they know not what they do.”
Seeing others as Christ sees them, befriending the outcast and striving to forgive are just three of the ways that we can increase our capacity to love. As we do these things, we will become more like our Heavenly parents who gave us life and who desire, ultimately, to welcome us home. I speak in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
(1) Matthew 22:37-29.
(2) Matthew 25:4O
(3) 1 John 4:7ff