Sunday, March 21, 2010

I gave a talk in Church

Hello friends and potential friends. I am Zach Myers. I’m getting married in two weeks so I’m not going to be coming to the Single’s Ward much longer. I’ve often heard people who are about to leave a ward look out from the pulpit and gush that they love everyone in the room. I, however, am not often gifted with such love and so I can not honestly say I love all of you, especially since Adam Back is here today. Haha, jk. But that’s not to say that you’re not lovable, all of you. Even Adam Back is lovable. I know everyone in this room is very precious because there is at least one person who loves each of you very, very much. In fact greater love hath no man than this man has for you, for he gave his life that you might live. Jesus Christ suffered in Gethsemane and died on the cross so that we can live again.

Brother Zarbock has asked me to talk today about a request that this man, Jesus Christ, has made of his followers continually for two millennia: Christ asks, “Will you…Repent… that I may heal you?” {pause}

The prophet Alma describes Christ’s call to repent in chapter 5 verse 33, “Behold, he sendeth an invitation unto all men, for the arms of mercy are extended towards them, and he saith: Repent, and I will receive you.” In this verse Alma talks about the “arms of mercy.” How can mercy have arms? That’s kinda weird right? What do mercy’s appendages look like? I like sci-fi. So for this talk I imagined a sci-fi interpretation of “mercy’s arms” which would be like a bunch of wispy, feathery tentacles reaching out of the sky trying to attach onto people. However, the gospel isn’t sci-fi, which is why Elder Neil L. Anderson has given us a better interpretation for the arms of mercy in a recent conference talk.

Anderson’s puts the “arms of mercy” in their proper place, attached to the body of Jesus the source of all mercy. He says,

“I have thought of the Lord’s invitation to come unto Him and to spiritually be wrapped in His arms. [Christ] said, ‘Behold, [my arms] of mercy [are] extended towards you, and whosoever will come, him will I receive; and blessed are those who come unto me.’”

Anderson goes on to say,

“The scriptures speak of His arms being open, extended, stretched out, and encircling. They are described as mighty and holy, arms of mercy, arms of safety, arms of love, ‘lengthened out all the day long.’

We have each felt to some extent these spiritual arms around us. We have felt His forgiveness, His love and comfort. The Lord has said, ‘I am he [who] comforteth you.’”

Repentance then is like a big Jesus hug. Only the arms that embrace us are spiritual rather than physical. This was a somewhat new perspective on repentance to me but one that rings very true to me personally. I have had many opportunities to repent in my life. It feels so good when you turn to Christ with your heart. It really does feel like being embraced in a warm hug.

I think the reason it feels so good to have that spiritual connection that hug is that generally, mortality is a very lonely sojourn. I’ve often pondered the impossibility of human connection. We’ve heard it before on daytime TV - “You don’t know me!” We laugh at the bearer of this exclamation, yet not because it isn’t true. No matter how much time you spend with someone you can never truly say you know them. Our perception is just too limited. I often just feel trapped in my own head. I fear that there is no way to that I can ever be understood the way I want to be. And I certainly realize that I can never truly understand another because I can’t help but analyze everything from my own perspective and inevitably send others perspective out into orbit around the massive pull of my own ego. From this realization it is then easy to lapse into solipsism where life loses all meaning because we find ourselves utterly alone. This truth at the heart of reality is the horrible and tempestuous void which Schopenhauer and Nietzsche appropriately call “the will.” It is what Nephi calls the natural man and without Christ’s intercession it is inescapable.

Elder Anderson says in his conference talk that at this very moment, someone is saying, “Brother Andersen, you don’t understand. You can’t feel what I have felt…” True empathy requires perfect knowledge of another person. For one of us to achieve perfect understanding and oneness would require us to cease to be ourselves and to literally become the Other.

Elder Anderson, therefore, admits that “You are correct” he cannot fully understand you. However even though Anderson, an apostle gifted with the spirit of prophecy, says that he cannot understand you, he does points us towards the one person who can.

Christ bridges the impossible void that separates all of us. Anderson explains that “Christ knows. He has felt your pain. He has declared, ‘I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands.’ The Savior is there, reaching out to each of us, bidding us: “Come unto me.’ We can repent. We can!” Only a God with infinite knowledge including the knowledge of our innermost thoughts and feelings could ever truly claim to know what it is to be another person. He is the only one who completely understands you. Only Christ can ever hope to bridge the gap between man and man and look into your heart to grant forgiveness. Furthermore, only through the light of Christ is human empathy a possibility. In Second Nephi chapter 2 verse 16, a Seraphim, which is like a total sci-fi creature, by the way – I mean it’s a celestial beast covered in twine and with wings made of twine, it reminds me of the digimon angimon - Anyway the Seraphim exclaims to Isaiah, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of Hosts; the whole earth is full of his light.” Christ gives us glimpses of what it is to be another person. He gifts us with insight into the heart of reality. His light imbues the world with meaning. Turning to Christ is the only hope for man to escape himself and feel connected to another person or to something larger generally. This sublime notion is one reason why Christ and the atonement are a necessary foundation for reality. Otherwise Silenus was right that life is meaningless and the best we can hope for is die to young.

Christ is quite explicit about the unifying power of the atonement. In Moses 7:18 we learn that the people of Zion “are of one heart and one mind.” Christ’s people are not lost in the valley of solipsism; they alone escape the natural man, “the will.”

This unifying power does not come without cost; however, and the price of getting outside ourselves and into something larger is that we let go of the selfish desires that hold us back – our sins. This seems simple but actually requires a significant level of painful self annihilation. Christ expresses this painful process when he told his followers “if your arm offends thee, cut it off.” This implies that repentance is much deeper than merely saying no to certain temptations, Christ requires an utter self-transformation ending in the removal the natural inclination towards wickedness.

Helaman 15:7 says “repentance bringeth a change of heart…”
Repentance is a turning towards Christ. When you repent and forsake your sins you are surrendering your own will to Christ’s will. So when I repent I am opening myself to Christ to allow him to make me into whatever person he wants me to be. Personally, I like myself a lot better when I stop trying to construct an identity and through a certain amount of self annihilation allow myself to be whatever it is that Christ intends.

Elder Anderson tells us that this is a gradual process. It is a continual turning to Christ as we learn to trust his will before our own. Becoming one with Christ and one with the hearts of others is a beautiful promise. This incredible closeness and familiarity is perfectly represented by an embrace. A warm perfect embrace far beyond a physical hug. Repentance is a return to Christ’s fold. The feeling that we get when we repent foreshadows the joy we will feel when we return to live with him and are fully enveloped in the love of Him and the love of our family members.

I bear my testimony of the truth of Christ’s love. I bear witness that repenting of your sins is totally worth it, even though its painful. And I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ Amen.