Hearing Good News, Being Good News

being good news
HEARING GOOD NEWS…BEING GOOD NEWS!

BY PRESIDENT STEPHEN M. VEAZEY, president of the church and PRESIDENT BECKY L. SAVAGE, counselor to the president

This is the text of the address delivered April 15 by Stephen M. Veazey, president of the church, and Becky L. Savage, counselor to the president as published in the May 2012 Herald. The event was at the Temple in Independence, Missouri, and webcast live in English, French, and Spanish.

STEPHEN M. VEAZEY:

Have you heard the good news?

One year ago we launched five Mission Initiatives to focus the church on the whole mission of Jesus Christ. This was done in response to the counsel in Doctrine and Covenants 164:9 that “the Mission of Jesus Christ is what matters most for the journey ahead.”

Since then we have made good progress toward implementing the Mission Initiatives throughout the church. We have heard exciting news from a growing number of congregations that are aligning their priorities with the Mission Initiatives.
Also, tithing contributions to fund the Mission Initiatives are increasing! We especially thank the priesthood who are leading the response. As a result, more and more people are being blessed with vibrant witness of Jesus Christ. Through the church’s enthusiastic response the peaceful reign of God—the Zion of our hopes—is gaining ground on Earth!

And that is good news!

Today, I offer some observations as we go into the future:

First, the five Mission Initiatives work best when they work together! They are not options to choose from. Each Mission Initiative enriches the others. They are like different parts of the Body of Christ. One part cannot say to another, “I don’t need you!”

All the initiatives must work together or our witness of Christ is distorted and incomplete.

We are called to pursue the whole mission of Jesus Christ!

Second, in some nations the initiative, “Invite People to Christ,” (evangelism) seems to be getting less effort. Perhaps a different way of looking at it would be helpful. This initiative is about the daily opportunities we have to invite people into loving community that generously shares the peace of Jesus Christ. It is not about talking them into anything.

If we extend invitation and hospitality to others, Jesus Christ will reveal himself in the relationships, worship, sacraments, scriptures, and mission at the center of congregational life. Evangelism is relational. It is about sincere invitation and warm hospitality that helps people feel “at home” in congregations.

Two years ago Debbie Hogan felt called to start a compassionate ministry in New Port Richey, Florida, that would love, invite, and accept all people who yearned for the hope of the gospel. With the support of Southern Field leaders, Debbie began to invite folks she befriended at work, the grocery store, and in her neighborhood to her home for fellowship and scripture study.

So many responded to her invitation to “come as you are—all are welcome” that this diverse group outgrew Debbie’s home and began to meet in a park. When several were baptized and started inviting others, the group outgrew the park pavilion.

Today, thanks to a World Church missionary grant, funded by your tithing contributions and the Florida USA Mission Center, the New Port Richey emerging congregation meets in a rented building. Because there is not a baptismal font there, on Palm Sunday, April 1, they met on the beach.

Twenty-five people were baptized, and five more joined the church through confirmation. Debbie described how the Holy Spirit is working with this signal community that lives out Christ’s mission as its own.

“We are like a puzzle. God is adding more pieces together, filling in the gaps of who we are called to become as Community of Christ.”

The good news is that God is relentless in loving this world and in inviting the church to love it.

God is at work throughout the planet. Frequently, God’s work involves the Spirit’s whisper to the church, saying, “Come and help.” In this regard, the Council of Twelve Apostles is testifying the Spirit’s invitation is again calling us into new places. The Twelve recently shared that we are ready to plant congregations in at least eight more nations when we have the funding to begin and sustain the church’s mission in those areas. This is good news!

The fact is, in many places people are responding to the call to be disciples of Jesus Christ in Community of Christ. Some of these people are previously baptized Christians. They have become members of Community of Christ through the sacrament of confirmation. This is made possible by Doctrine and Covenants 164, given in 2010 to the church.

Some people have asked, “How is that going? What has been the experience of receiving previously baptized Christians into the church through the sacrament of confirmation?”

Jesus once said we could know a tree by its fruits. In other words, if we see a tree that’s bearing apples, then we’re looking at an apple tree. Well, as we look at the lives of previously baptized Christians who have joined the church through confirmation, we are seeing the fruits of discipleship. They are sharing their witness. They are generously supporting the church’s mission. They are embracing the identity, message, mission, and beliefs of Community of Christ.

The Holy Spirit is blessing us through the gifts, faith, and service of these new members. To you who are new members, let me say this. Whether you are a previously baptized Christian who has joined the church through confirmation, or whether you are a new member who has been baptized and confirmed by Community of Christ ministers—welcome! We are so thankful you are a part of our worldwide faith family.
 
We want to affirm that the call to mission necessitates we do the best job possible of preparing congregational leaders for ministry and leadership. We are pleased that a program of special training courses called MEADS Multi-Nation (Ministerial Education and Discipleship Studies) is being held in many places around the world, mostly in non-English-speaking nations. Through these courses, many leaders are receiving training in scripture, leadership, administration, and mission.

We also are pleased to share with you that a generous contribution is making possible new educational and training opportunities in Western, English-speaking nations, as well. In fact, we are only days away from launching an effort called Leading Congregations in Mission. This project assumes there are ways of “being the church” that can decrease a congregation’s fatigue and increase its spiritual vitality while helping it discover how to be in mission according to its unique congregational gifts.

We’re going to experiment with this approach in about 70 congregations for the next three years. We’ll then collect what we learn and offer this training to many more congregations.

The same generous gift that is making this project possible has funded a new resource called the Pastors and Leaders Field Guide. This field guide, available on the church website (www.CofChrist.org/leaders), is a highly practical resource that provides pastors and congregational leaders with specific, “hands on” help for leading congregational life and mission. Again, it’s called the Pastors and Leaders Field Guide. Check it out!

Becky, I hear there is good news in your areas of responsibility. Please share some with us!

BECKY L. SAVAGE:

The good news is so abundant I can share only a few areas. Let me start with young adults.

YOUNG ADULT VISION PROJECT

The church is blessed with a wonderful group of young adults who are visionary, vibrant, gifted, educated, equipped, and dedicated to living Christ’s mission. They yearn for meaningful relationships and spiritual enrichment within a loving and inclusive community and fellowship.

For many young adults, mission means ACTION—ACTIVE ministries occurring where people and needs meet. Talk does NOT equal mission, nor does it reflect Christ’s model of compassionate ministry to the most vulnerable and the voiceless.

Young adults desire experienced leaders and ministers as mentors to share experiences, to walk beside them as spiritual companions. They need Christ-focused servant supporters who accept them and open the way for creative perspectives and change in congregational life.

To young adults: In those places where you are contributing your leadership and passions for mission, we are grateful for all you are doing to share Christ’s peace within the church.

To congregations that have not yet experienced the giftedness of young adults: The good news is there are young adults who may be waiting for an invitation to work collaboratively with you to serve Christ’s mission. Invite them to partner with you in action-focused mission and let them lead and grow.

Several important recommendations from the Vision Project will assist church leaders into the future. We are taking three essential next steps. We will:
• Establish a Young Adult Advisory and Ministry Team.
• Initiate a Young Adult Leader-development Program and encourage young adult participation in field-based leadership and Seminary education.
• Create a communication message that shares the outcomes of the Vision Project.

CHRIST`S MISSION IS OUR MISSION – WORLD CONFERENCE STUDY AND REFLECTION

Spiritual preparation is essential for the entire church. Later in his address, President Veazey will ask essential questions related to how the Holy Spirit is moving and speaking in the life of the church.

The good news: In our striving to become a prophetic people we have experienced the powerful impact of God’s Holy Spirit. The First Presidency invites the church to unite again in preparation for the 2013 World Conference, where we will focus on the theme, Christ’s Mission…Our Mission!

We have just released a new book, Christ’s Mission Is Our Mission, by Peter A. Judd. The First Presidency asks the church to prayerfully study the text individually and in groups. It is essential that we all approach World Conference spiritually prepared and focused on the mission of Jesus Christ.

COMMUNITY OF CHRIST STATEMENT OF SEXUAL ETHICS, NATIONAL CONFERENCE STUDY AND REFLECTION

The good news is that many of you already are engaged in extensive dialogue and education in preparation for national conferences. Australia and Canada will hold conferences in June 2012.
 
The USA will have a national conference in April 2013 and the British Isles is planning a conference for October 2013.

We will release additional materials for study, discussion, and spiritual reflection by the end of April. They will include two draft statements: Community of Christ Statement of Sexual Ethics and Theological Foundations for Sexual Ethics with Reflection Questions. Watch for these resources on the web at http://www.CofChrist.org/ethics. The purpose of the material is to encourage open and honest conversation in the church about sexual ethics. In addition to study and discussion, we invite feedback about the statements through the same web address.

Prayer and spiritual openness are essential for discerning God’s will, and we thank you for your courage and willingness to remain vulnerable to divine grace and guidance.

COMMUNITY OF CHRIST SINGS

One additional item of good news: We are thrilled to share the name of the new hymnal. Community of Christ Sings reflects the international personality of the church. We sing our mission and identity with poetry and harmony, in many languages and rhythms. New songs call us to pursue our mission of justice and peace for all of creation. And, not to worry, many favorites remain.

Congregations may start ordering books in November. We encourage you to attend the October 2013 Peace Colloquy, where the next hymnal will be officially released. To experience the excitement of one of the new hymns, we will now share in singing “To Be Your Presence.”

STEPHEN M. VEAZEY:

We just sang the main message today: “To be your presence is our mission here.”

Christ lives in community that is devoted to continuing his mission on Earth!

And, according to scripture, the soul of such community is “oneness” in Christ that transcends human differences.

Are we such community?

The vision that inspired Jesus’ was broadly inclusive community that mirrored God’s nature. In pursuit of that vision he gathered his first band of diverse followers and adamantly taught them to “love one another.” Jesus said, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35 NRSV).

The same vision enthused the first communities of Christ described in the Book of Acts. As a result, a tangible spirit of love, hospitality, and oneness stood out, contrasting with the larger society.

But, even those first disciples struggled to embrace all the possibilities of oneness in Christ. As Jewish Christians, their culture and religion deeply embedded in them distrust and even disgust toward some people. Not surprisingly, it took the Holy Spirit to uproot and move them toward God’s broader vision of community in Christ.

Apostle Peter was napping and praying on a rooftop when he had a vision of a sheet coming down from heaven filled with all kinds of creatures. A heavenly voice said, “Kill and eat!”

Thinking this could be a test of his faithfulness to Hebrew dietary laws, Peter said, somewhat self-righteously, “By no means. I have never eaten anything that is profane or unclean.” He was startled to hear the voice retort, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.”

God was transforming Peter’s view of how the world is ordered. But, it is hard—extremely hard—to break out of one’s inherited beliefs and biases to accept a broader vision of what God is doing to reconcile all of creation!

The vision prepared Peter for an invitation to come to Cornelius’ house to share the gospel of Jesus Christ. Why did he need preparation?

Cornelius was a soldier of the occupying Roman forces. He was a Gentile! Gentiles disgusted Peter! He had been taught all his life that Gentiles were dirty and to be avoided at all costs.

Yet, the Holy Spirit was calling Peter to go have fellowship with Gentiles. And, he had the faith to respond to the Spirit’s guidance.

It is difficult from our point in time to understand the loathing Peter felt when he crossed the threshold of Cornelius’ house. His religious upbringing and scriptural understanding screamed, “No!” But the Holy Spirit, for the sake of the gospel, kept saying, “Yes!”

Thankfully, even though Peter could not fully understand, he had the faith to follow the Spirit’s leadings. As the experience drew to a close, Peter confessed:

I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ—he is Lord of all. —Acts 10:34–36 NRSV

Not everyone was happy with his new insight. Some were scandalized. Peter had not followed the rules! He had baptized people who were uncircumcised; people who were unclean!

So what did they do? They convened a “national conference” in Jerusalem to sort it all out. There were vigorous scriptural debates. Points and counterpoints were asserted. Testimonies were shared. And somehow in the midst of it all the Holy Spirit kept shaping the community on which Christianity’s future rested.

Remarkably, when it was all over the church in Jerusalem consented to extending the hand of full fellowship to the Gentiles. They could come to Christ as they were.

If the Holy Spirit had not broken into the status quo, Christianity probably would have remained a small Jewish sect assigned to be a footnote in history.

My witness is that the Holy Spirit is working in Community of Christ today to broaden and deepen our vision of what oneness in Christ means. The Spirit’s most recent counsel to the church today states:

It is imperative to understand that when you are truly baptized into Christ you become part of a new creation. By taking on the life and mind of Christ, you increasingly view yourselves and others from a changed perspective. Former ways of defining people by economic status, social class, sex, gender, or ethnicity no longer are primary. Through the gospel of Christ a new community of tolerance, reconciliation, unity in diversity, and love is being born as a visible sign of the coming reign of God. —Doctrine and Covenants 164:5

This counsel calls the church to fully embrace the broader vision of love, inclusion, and oneness that was a shining quality of the first communities of Christ.

When early Christians were baptized they committed themselves—sometimes at a great cost—to join a new kind of community. It was a community in which “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28 NRSV).

The future of the church rides on understanding what the phrase, “for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” means.

To me, it means that true baptism in Jesus Christ makes us all equal despite what the world says about our human differences. Through new life in Christ we see each other from Christ’s perspective. And, Christ sees capacity for discipleship and ministry as the same across the whole spectrum of human life.

Oneness in Christ means we simply refuse to label people and assign worth and opportunities for ministry accordingly. To do so is to return to the old world we publically stated we had left behind when we were baptized and confirmed.

Before Jesus was crucified he intently prayed that his disciples in all generations would live in the world as a deeply loving community of oneness:

I ask not only on behalf of these, but on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. —John 17:20–21 NRSV

What is the divine purpose in this call to oneness?

The purpose is that we might live with each other as God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit live. God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit live in love, mutuality, and unified purpose. It is only through sacred community, which manifests the eternal community of God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit, that we are spiritually sanctified, completed, and equipped for life in God’s kingdom of peace.

The purpose is also so the “world may believe” in the mission and message of Christ. Think about it! What more effective witness could there be in a world filled with fear and hate between people than communities of “unity in diversity” and oneness forged through the power of the Spirit of Christ?

Is such oneness possible, or just wishful thinking?

Peter’s story reminds us how hard it is to let go of what we have been taught about other people except through the power of the Spirit. Our cultures, politics, and family and religious backgrounds deeply embed biases and fears in us.

A song from the musical, South Pacific, puts it well:

You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear…You’ve got to be carefully taught.

Beginning this June, and over the next several years, the church is entering into national conferences in some fields as provided in Doctrine and Covenants 164.

The questions these conferences will consider have to do with the relationships and possibilities for ordained ministry for our non-heterosexual brothers and sisters in Christ.

These questions cannot be avoided. They are being raised with increasing frequency and intensity by church members and leaders. We are called to a time of serious discussion and discernment about the fundamental nature of our faith community.

Since last World Conference I have been prayerfully engaged, along with many others, in a journey of discernment about the questions before us. I would like to share some perspectives gained so far.

Informed discussion of the issues, including scripture study, will continue to contribute to our understanding and knowledge. However, I am increasingly convinced that the questions before the conferences ultimately will be resolved only through humble listening to the Holy Spirit’s witness today.

The basic question is, “What is the Spirit saying and doing today?”

It is interesting to note the unease being expressed about issues coming before national conferences is no different in intensity than the concern expressed by early church leaders over the status of Gentiles in the Christian community.

An important scripture lesson is that the early church, in response to the Holy Spirit, was willing to struggle with questions about the nature of the church community when some strenuously objected to even raising the topics. However, by paying attention to the questions being raised by the Spirit, the church grew in its understanding of the gospel’s power to bring very different groups of people into relationships of oneness in Christ.

My sense of the Spirit’s guidance for nations preparing for national conferences is that before specific policy issues are decided we need to give serious attention to some more fundamental questions.

First, no matter what the outcomes of the national conferences, some beloved brothers and sisters in Christ will be disappointed, afraid, and angry. Conference recommendations do not instantly change strong views about the nature of God, humankind, human sexuality, and human relationships.

This prospect weighs very heavily on me. No matter what happens, the initial response of some probably will be to want to separate themselves from the faith community.

So, here is a more fundamental question to prayerfully consider: Regardless of the outcomes of the conferences, how will we continue to live as loving communities of “oneness” in Christ, called to focus on the whole mission of Christ, while some have such strong differences around certain matters?

We all need to feel the weight of this question now.

Second, we need to give serious attention to a reality in the church today. In some nations experienced pastors and church leaders are receiving priesthood calls through what they testify is the Holy Spirit’s witness for people in monogamous, committed, same-sex/gender relationships (legal marriages, civil unions, legal de facto relationships).

The people being brought to the pastors’ awareness are responsible, trusted, gifted, and compassionate disciples of Jesus Christ. Their lives evidence the presence of the Holy Spirit.

Let me be clear, these calls are not being approved. This is in compliance with the 2002 World Church Leadership Council statement that there would be no more exceptions in matters related to ordination unless policies were changed through the common consent of the people.

So, here are some more-fundamental questions we need to prayerfully consider:

What does it mean that pastors and church leaders in some nations continue to receive what they testify is the Holy Spirit’s witness of these calls?

Is it conceivable that we may be hindering what the Spirit is trying to do to provide for needed ministry in some congregations?

These are very serious questions to pray about and discuss.

Third, in true community that upholds the Worth of All Persons, the majority should not decide the status of a minority (non-heterosexuals) without fully hearing those in the minority who are feeling discrimination. I am talking about the need for ethical discussion and deliberation that do not further wound, alienate, or mute people who already are feeling judged and condemned.

Are we willing, in essence, to go to “Cornelius’ house” and talk, even when some of us are very uncomfortable with the topic?

Are we truly willing to listen to others—especially to those in the minority—before we decide?

In this respect, we should hear again the counsel given in Section 161:3b:

Do not be fearful of one another. Respect each life journey, even in its brokenness and uncertainty, for each person has walked alone at times. Be ready to listen and slow to criticize, lest judgments be unrighteous and unredemptive.

The most fundamental question for me as we approach national conferences is: What is the Holy Spirit doing today to continue to shape us as true community in Christ? I am referring to the sacred community in which “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28 NRSV).

We need to participate in national conferences with an unusual degree of spiritual preparation and sensitivity. Daily spiritual practices that further open us to the Holy Spirit’s guidance and God’s universal, eternal love are vital as we prepare ourselves in the months ahead.

It is so easy to confuse our individual feelings, thoughts, and egos with genuine guidance from the Holy Spirit. That’s why it is essential that we do our spiritual discernment together. We must all consider our views in relation to the views of others.

Our church’s diversity is a gift that helps us better understand God’s nature and will. Learning to graciously talk together from different perspectives and to listen together to the Spirit are essential skills needed for our continued journey as a prophetic people.

In the meantime, our primary focus throughout the worldwide church will be on pursuing and funding the five Mission Initiatives! We must not become distracted from the clear call to passionately live the mission of Jesus Christ…the whole mission of Jesus Christ!

If we resolutely keep our feet on the pathway of living Christ’s mission together, the church will make major strides forward in fulfilling God’s vision for the future. I can see that future!

I can see the future of Community of Christ with enough clarity to know it is beautiful and full of joy, blessing, and peace for everyone.

It is a future in which we become the visible answer to Jesus’ prayer that “they may be one” so the world will have a shining witness of God’s coming kingdom, the Zion of our hopes!

The future I can see is one in which we will turn to each other as we immerse ourselves in the reconciling and healing waters of oneness in Christ and say, “Why did it take us so long to get here?”

Until that day the spiritual journey toward true oneness in Christ is our home.

And, in conclusion, let me say that I am sure glad to be “at home” on the journey with ALL of you!

 

Advertisements

The Restoring Christ

Sermon shared by Steve Veazey June 10, 2007 during a worship service celebrating the dedication of the Kirtland Temple Visitor and Spiritual Formation Center.

In 1832, Joseph Smith Jr. and Sidney Rigdon were praying for insight regarding the meaning of John 5:29. While thus engaged, they were granted a vision of the Eternal Christ. In response to that revelatory encounter, the prophet wrote what is now Doctrine and Covenants 76, a portion of which I will read now:

And, now, after the many testimonies which have been given of him, this is the testimony, last of all, which we give of him, that he lives; for we saw him, even on the right hand of God; and we heard the voice bearing record that he is the Only Begotten of the Father; that by him, and through him, and of him, the worlds are and were created; and the inhabitants thereof are begotten sons and daughters unto God. —Doctrine and Covenants 76:3g–h

Today I come before you to bear testimony of Jesus Christ as proclaimed and experienced by the Restoration movement, our faith heritage. The Christ of whom I bear witness, lives eternally at the center of our faith. We know this Christ as the embodiment of God’s nature and purposes—God’s eternal and living Word active in creation. We know this Christ as the One in whom and through whom divine judgment, mercy, and grace interact to affect our reconciliation, redemption, and salvation. We know this Christ as the One in whom and through whom the passionate dream of God for shalom—the fullness of peace—throughout the whole creation is clearly revealed.

As a faith community, we have been given ample gifts, scriptural resources, sacraments, spiritual insights, and symbols that orient our lives toward Christ so that we may deepen our faith relationship. Among these gifts are the temples in Kirtland and Independence. Both temples, through their breathtaking architecture, call us to reverence and awe in the face of beauty that awakens our souls to the need to worship God as the creator and sustainer of all that is. We simply cannot be self-absorbed and self-important when we are in the temples.

Awe, wonder, and humility are the prelude to genuine spiritual awakening. Our souls are created to relate to God. Drawn into worship through a sense of the Holy communicated by our surroundings, we soon find ourselves in a place where what seems to separate the physical from the spiritual, the seen from the unseen, and the temporal from the eternal is very permeable—a place where we become more open and vulnerable to God’s Spirit and grace. It is wonderful to be here to worship with each of you in such a place. This temple has a certain drawing power for both the faithful and the casual passerby.

As a young adult, one of my best friends and I announced that we were going to see the Kirtland Temple. As poor college students we pooled our money for gas and ate peanut butter sandwiches as we navigated from Tennessee to Kirtland, Ohio. After taking a tour and introducing ourselves to the guides, we were graciously invited to come back later to sit in the temple in the quietness and kaleidoscopic light of the dying day. As we sat in holy silence, we soaked in the soul of the Restoration movement. We learned what it meant to be still and know that God is God.
Photo by Jim Doty

These sacred spaces also serve to keep us focused on the true meaning of the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. I find it fascinating that the Kirtland Temple was most often referred to as the “House of the Lord” by those who built it. We use the phrase “House of the Lord” frequently to refer to many of our church facilities. We often greet people by saying, “Welcome to the House of the Lord!”

However, the early Latter Day Saints were quite literal in their belief that the Lord’s return was imminent—a belief not unique to them at that time—and that when he returned he would need a worthy “house” in which to dwell. In Matthew 8:20, Jesus is quoted as saying: “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” But if the early Latter Day Saints had anything to do with it, that would no longer be the case in Kirtland!

Without getting tied up in the theological questions that arise from such a view, I am fascinated by the sense of intimate relationship with the person and work of Christ that permeated the church in those days.

To perceive that one’s faith community was called, literally, to build a house for Jesus Christ to dwell in reveals an unusual passion for the mission of the person at the center of the gospel story.

And to construct such a house despite incredible obstacles, chief of which was their poverty, is truly challenging and inspiring for us today. Oh that we might recover such devotion and unfettered generosity to support the mission of Christ in our time!

Such a call is before us. The purposes of the Temple in Independence also summon us to become more intimate with Jesus Christ through its emphasis on peace, reconciliation, healing of the spirit, and wholeness of body, mind, and spirit—ministries at the heart of Jesus’ life and mission.

Doctrine and Covenants 156:5 asserts that the Temple “…shall be a place in which the essential meaning of the Restoration as healing and redeeming agent is given new life and understanding, inspired by the life and witness of the Redeemer of the world.”

In a time when many seek to fashion Christ in their own images, to serve their own agendas, these temples constantly draw us back to the true focus of the gospel: God’s revelation in Jesus Christ and the call for all to “follow him” to discover healing, reconciliation and peace.

Both temples—in Kirtland and Independence—remind us that, above all else, Jesus Christ seeks to restore us to life as we were created to experience it; life as God intends it to be; life characterized by love, generosity, relationships of mutuality, sharing, and peacefulness.

And so we begin to see that these sacred places serve as symbols of who we are called to be, individually and corporately, as God’s new community in Christ. This is expressed most clearly in Ephesians 2:17–22. Speaking of the ultimate aim of the ministry and sacrifice of Christ on the cross, the writer asserts:

He (Christ) came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.

The temples, places of beauty, worship, education, and church guidance, are compasses and lighthouses for our faith journey. They serve as constant reminders that we are called to live counter to the cultures of isolation, individualism, greediness, and suspicion that surrounds us. They constantly point beyond themselves to steer us to our true calling to become God’s spiritual house, built on the witness and sacrifice of Jesus Christ—a household that unites, heals, restores, and frees people through community to express their best selves no matter who they are…a household in which Jesus would truly feel at home!

This understanding is critical to our future as a faith community if our true desire is to be faithful to the call of God to us. These are not just words meant to sound nice. God in Christ is calling us to become a worldwide community through which the vision, personality, and purposes of Christ continue to be fulfilled. This is a truth that was indelibly imprinted on me through the impress of the Spirit as I was engaged in a series of prayerful reflections and experiences that led up to what is now Doctrine and Covenants 163.

Speaking of the hope and need for spiritual awakening and renewal in the church that will re-ignite and fuel effective ministry and witness, the following counsel from Section 163:8c emphasizes our ultimate purpose and mission:

Vital to this awakening is the understanding that the Temple calls the entire church to become a sanctuary of Christ’s peace, where people from all nations, ethnicities, and life circumstances can be gathered into a spiritual home without dividing walls, as a fulfillment of the vision for which Jesus Christ sacrificed his life.

It is this calling and vision that we must translate into the attitudes and behaviors of life together in Christ. On several occasions recently I have seen that vision becoming reality in different parts of the world. Cathi and I traveled along with others to Honduras just after World Conference to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the church there. Over the course of several days, a growing number of people gathered to share in the festivities. There was a noticeable spirit present of joy in community.

At one point, as we were gazing over the diverse crowd, one of the local ministers noted that such a gathering was quite remarkable. There were people from Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Nicaragua: “Only a few years back,” he said, “we were strangers to each other. Our governments were at odds. We projected attitudes of hate and suspicion across our borders. We did violence to one another. But now it is different. We are being transformed into a community of peacefulness and we must take this witness to other places and nations.”

The dividing walls of hostility were being broken down through witness of the Christ. They were becoming a household of God, a spiritual temple or sanctuary of peace in Christ. And, as he spoke, it occurred to me that the backdrop for all of the activities that week was an artist’s rendering of the Temple in Independence, dedicated to the pursuit of peace. The ministries of the Temple, which re-present or exhibit the ministries of Jesus Christ, had become the ministries of the expanding church in Central America.

I recently received an e-mail from Diane Barnett a good friend in Fremont, California. She has taken the concept of the Children’s Peace Pavilion, housed at the Temple Complex in Independence, and established it in her own congregational facility: a peace pavilion for children to visit—particularly schoolchildren—to learn about peace in their lives and relationships. Here is an excerpt from her e-mail:

The Peace Pavilion has been overwhelmingly well received. All of the teachers that have come through, 18 to date, have been extremely impressed. Not only with the activities, but with the concept. Some have said every elementary school child in the Tri-City area should come through. That, of course, is the goal. Some of the children have said they want to live there and never leave. In a couple of weeks we will have a 3′ x 12′ sign on the side of the building and I expect we will then begin to get lots of phone calls. Many of the parents who have come with their child’s class have asked why they didn’t know it was there. The members of the mission center have been willing to come many miles and some have come to spend the night in order to be able to volunteer at the Peace Pavilion when there is a field trip visit.

The congregation in Fremont is demonstrating what it means to be a people of the Temple, a sanctuary of Christ’s peace, a community that unites, heals, and restores—a place where children want to live because they have tasted of life as God’s intends it!

Recently, Dave, Becky, and I met with Apostle Susan Skoor, who oversees the Pacific Field, including the West Coast of the United States. She shared with us how some of our church members in California are living in fear because, as Spanish-speaking immigrants from Mexico and Central America, they are being targeted for oppressive treatment.

She told us the story of how one member of the church, who is here legally, was taken from his home and interrogated for hours because of his name, appearance, and where he lived. Despite his documentation, he was told that he was not believable.

This is just one story of a growing number about our own church members in the United States who are being mistreated because of their ethnicity. Our Hispanic ministers are pleading for help.

Local members of the church are organizing to provide pastoral support, including child care for children whose parents are being detained or sent away from their homes. They are also networking with other organizations to provide legal aid for immigrants who are being treated harshly because of the rising tide of fear and anger toward “foreigners” in this nation.

They are creating a network of ministries and partnerships that are providing a sanctuary of peace for people who are desperately trying to create a future of hope and opportunity for their children.

If our faith is genuine, it cannot be limited to idealistic rhetoric, but must be translated into attitudes and actions that are congruent with whom we say we are.

It is interesting that both of the temples of the church were constructed in places where our faith ancestors were seen as aliens, immigrants, and strangers and, who, as a result, were marginalized, threatened, and persecuted. The walls of this temple [Kirtland] are marked by the tears of those who feared for their lives as they were building it because they were seen as outsiders. And yet here we are, generations later, proclaiming peace in Christ and working for communities of peace, as our best understanding of the essence of the gospel.

In the years ahead we intend for the Kirtland Temple and the Temple in Independence to play vital roles in guiding the ongoing development of our identity, message, and mission as a prophetic faith movement throughout the world.

The Kirtland Temple, in addition to being a nationally registered historic landmark, will play an important role in shaping generations of disciples in the Community of Christ. This will occur through the telling of our sacred story which informs the shape and content of our faith and character. It will also occur through the provision of spiritual formation programs and retreats for individuals and groups that will enrich the sharing of the gospel throughout the world.

These ministries, as I indicated yesterday, will be directly linked to the unfolding ministries of the Independence Temple. Currently we have a Temple Ministries team that is exploring how the purposes of the Temple related to spiritual healing, reconciliation, and peace can be brought to fuller expression for the blessing of the whole church.

We look forward to the continued emergence of truly transformative ministries for people who live in the real world—a world too often filled with pain, struggle, and conflict. We intend to present to the world a Christ who restores and heals through the grace of God.

These are exciting and hope-filled times for the church. We are reconnecting to the initial spiritual impulses and vision of the Restoration movement even as we bring them to new expression for this time and for centuries to come.

Let us go forward into the future as a people who are confident in our calling and mission to generously share the peace of Jesus Christ with the world.

Share the Peace of Jesus Christ

2005 World Conference Sermon, by Prophet-President Stephen M. Veazey
Note: This was President Veazey’s first sermon as prophet and president of the church.

veazeyofficialShare. . . share peace. . .share the peace of Jesus Christ! That’s it! No new programs, no new goals, no new themes, no new logos…just being faithful. Being faithful to God, being faithful to the gospel of Jesus Christ, and being faithful to the central mission of the Restoration.

After teaching all that he could, Jesus gave a culminating gift to his disciples—the fullness of his peace. Listen to his words:

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. –John 14:27 KJV

The phrase “the peace of Jesus Christ” contains all of the promises, hopes, and blessings of the gospel as revealed by Christ and as affirmed by the Holy Spirit, his promised presence with us. In all of the places in our lives where we are afraid, anxious, discouraged, guilt-ridden, or alienated, Jesus Christ speaks “peace” and opens the way to peace, not just for individuals, but for the whole of creation.

The New Testament scriptures pick up and expand on this theme. From the book of Ephesians, chapter 2, we read,

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one, and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility. –Ephesians 2:13-14 NIV

Jesus Christ is our peace! Christ is the One through whom true peace is found—not through human philosophy, not through escape from the world, not through possessions, not through achievements, not through building walls (physical or emotional), not through anything of our own creation.

God’s will for human life and for creation comes through revelation, especially as revealed in the life, death, resurrection, and continuing presence of Jesus Christ, the Living Word. Through Christ, something not fully explainable, but utterly transforming, has occurred. It can best be described as the movement of God to bring reconciliation and wholeness into all dimensions of life.

We begin to experience the peace of Jesus Christ as we are being reconciled to God, to others, to ourselves, and to creation. This is the heart of the gospel as we are called to live it and to proclaim it.

And this is my testimony. As I am becoming increasingly rooted and grounded in Christ, I am finding, at the center of my being, peace—abiding peace—that passes understanding. This peace is not a passive peace. It is a peace that frees me to relate and act in ways that are counter to many of the destructive attitudes and trends so common today. It is an all-encompassing peace that assures me that in life or death I belong to Christ. Therefore, I do not need to be afraid.

And we are called, as disciples of Jesus Christ and as the Community of Christ, to share that peace—the peace of Jesus Christ—with others. Over the years, we have spoken of the Restoration movement as emerging from the call to share “the fullness of [the] gospel . . . unto the ends of the world” (Doctrine and Covenants 1:4e).

What, really, is the fullness of the gospel? Is it particular beliefs and practices to be taught and even guarded? These defining elements of our faith—such as continuing revelation, an open canon of scripture, and the various sacraments of the church, to name just a few—are very important to our identity and are to be respected and cherished. But they are not the central witness.

These aspects of our faith are the means and resources given to us to be used in our mission. And our mission is to share the kind of ministry through which people can experience the fullness of Jesus Christ as reconciliation, hope, and peace in all dimensions of their lives. This is the fullness of the gospel.
Our identity and mission must always arise from the revelation of God in Jesus Christ or we will find ourselves off on tangents that eventually lead to a rigid legalism that snuffs out life, rather than a dynamic faith that brings us to abundant life.

Now, having established first things first, let us focus on one of the more distinctive elements of our faith—the cause of Zion:

Now, as you have asked, behold, I say unto you . . . seek to bring forth and establish the cause of Zion. –D. and C. 6:3a

If there is one consistent theme at the heart of our journey as a people of faith, it is the cause of Zion. This phrase captures the sense of divine call to enflesh the gospel in community living, through which the physical and spiritual needs of people are to be met, and through which harmony, security, and peace can be realized.

Initially, though, we must confess that our limited understanding and zealous attempts to bring the dream to reality fell short and generated reactions that resulted in serious tensions and even violence—the very antithesis of the vision of God’s kingdom on earth. Isn’t it ironic that it was a self-defense military company, called Zion’s Camp, to whom the revelation now recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 102 was first addressed? They were headed for Jackson County, Missouri, from Kirtland, Ohio, prepared for armed conflict if necessary, when they were told to pursue a different approach:

And again, I say unto you, Sue for peace, not only the people that have smitten you, but also to all people; and lift up an ensign of peace, and make a proclamation for peace unto the ends of the earth. –D. and C. 102:11a-b

Like most revelation, this message emerges from the particular time and context to which it initially spoke. Basically, the first part of the revelation says that getting into a fight is not a good idea! Violence begets more violence. In response to grievances, it suggests, find a way to settle differences that doesn’t erupt into more people being hurt or killed.

But the counsel does not stop there. Immediately following, there is a prophetic leap of vision and hope for the future: “…and lift up an ensign of peace, and make a proclamation for peace unto the ends of the earth.

At this point in our journey, we now understand that the cause of Zion cannot be separated from the message of reconciliation and peace brought by Jesus Christ. Jesus wept over Jerusalem because the inhabitants had not recognized the things that make for peace (Luke 19:42). Jesus said,

Blessed are all the peacemakers; for they shall be called the children of God. –Matthew 5:11 IV

The cause of Zion is the ongoing call to enflesh the peace of Jesus Christ in all dimensions of life. I have heard people talk about experiences at reunions, camps, and retreats as a “glimpse” or “taste” of Zion. What was experienced? Love. Acceptance. Unity. Generosity. Peacefulness. A desire to serve others.

The cause of Zion is the pursuit of conditions and relationships that bring this foretaste of God’s ultimate will for creation increasingly into all aspects of life: families, congregations, neighborhoods, nations, and the world. It is grounded in the scriptural concept of shalom, or God’s peace, for all of creation. The scriptures proclaim that the ultimate will of God for creation is wholeness, balance, and peace. God’s shalom integrates a whole range of concepts that point the way to the ultimate redemption of creation, including reconciliation, justice, well-being, stewardship, generosity, righteousness, the worth of all people, and true community. This is the peaceable kingdom of God:

Blessed are they who shall seek to bring forth my Zion at that day, for they shall have the gift and the power of the Holy Ghost. . . . And whoso shall publish peace, even tidings of great joy, how beautiful upon the mountains shall they be. —I Nephi 3:187 and 189

Jesus Christ had a full depth of understanding regarding God’s vision for creation. That is why he opposed the dominant religious and political trends of his day that were counter to God’s purposes. That is why he ate with sinners, healed the unclean, reconciled the guilty. That is why he tended to the needs of the poor, and called people from all walks of life to a new kind of compassionate, peaceful community grounded in the love of God, self, and neighbor. Jesus Christ is the revelation of what it means to live out God’s peace in the world. The cause of Zion is how we understand our call to live in the way of Jesus Christ, the peacemaker.

How do we measure our depth of responsiveness to the cause of Zion, the peaceable kingdom? The scriptures tell us that we need to be especially aware of the condition of the most vulnerable in our midst: the aged, the young, the sick, the poor, the marginalized, and the oppressed. How are they doing? Are they experiencing well-being? Do they have full opportunity to become who God created them to be, which is the heart of justice? Are they unfairly hindered by the attitudes and actions of others who have a more secure or powerful place in society? Do they live in conditions of poverty and disease that cause them fear and suffering?

Take children, for instance. How are the children doing in our families, congregations, schools, and neighborhoods? How are the children doing in our nation and in our world? Jesus blessed the little children and said that they carried within them the seeds of the kingdom of God. How tender was his love for them, as told so beautifully in the Book of Mormon, Third Book of Nephi:

…[Jesus] wept, and the multitude bore record of it, and he took their little children, one by one, and blessed them, and prayed to the Father for them. And when he had done this he wept again, and he spoke to the multitude, and said to them, Behold your little ones. — III Nephi 8:23–24

If our vision of Zion does not promote the well-being of children throughout the world it is not the Zion to which God calls us. Furthermore, I believe it is essential that we pull our children back from the warring ways of our world and teach them the things that make for peace, before the seeds of the peaceable kingdom they carry within their souls become hopelessly dormant. That is why I am fully behind those ministries birthed by church members and friends that are devoted to equipping children and youth with the things that make for peace, such as the Young Peacemakers Clubs, PeaceMobiles, and the Children’s Peace Pavilion, with a growing network of satellite exhibits. These and similar efforts must be accelerated and expanded for the sake of the children, for our sakes, and for the kingdom cause.

Why is this call to the peaceable kingdom, Zion, so critical to our identity and mission? Look around you. Listen. There is a desperate crying out for peace, but there is no peace. Nations rage against nations, religions against religions, and people against people. People are living, acting, and reacting out of fear rather than hope. The cause of Zion, the peaceable kingdom, is a compelling, desperately needed vision of hope for creation that we are called to lift up and proclaim with all of the energy and resources we can muster.

There are many diluted and shallow expressions of the gospel in the world today that lead people to believe that the message of Jesus Christ is just about “me and my salvation,” apart from the plight of others. The cause of Zion is the ultimate call to repentance from self-worship. It is about growing in righteousness, love, and purity of heart. It is about learning to share generously to meet the needs of others. It is about opening our hearts and minds to new insights and understandings about others. It is about embracing hope for the earth as a sacred place where the will of God is to be done.

The Temple has a unique role to play in understanding our mission and in pursuing the cause of Zion. The Temple is much more than a building. It is revelation: God speaking to us regarding our identity, our message, and our future. The ministries of the Temple challenge the church to deepen its understanding and practice of those ministries that bring the fullness of the peace of Jesus Christ into individual lives and into the world:

The Temple shall be dedicated to the pursuit of peace. It shall be for reconciliation and for healing of the spirit. It shall also be for a strengthening of faith and preparation for witness. –D. and C. 156:5a

If we are striving for peace, reconciliation, and healing of the human spirit, we are expressing the essence of the ministry of Jesus Christ.

Now is the time to go deeper—deeper in our exploration, deeper in our understanding, deeper in our discernment of the meaning of peace, reconciliation, and healing of the spirit, and how they are to be expressed in today’s world. We are called to share the peace of Jesus Christ, through our vibrant witness and particularly through our pursuit of the cause of Zion, the peaceable kingdom.

So what will it take to be successful in this mission? We must start with ourselves. The call of discipleship is the call to attach our lives fully and completely to Jesus Christ. Are we experiencing the peace of Jesus Christ in our heart, mind, and soul? Discipleship must be grounded in intentional spiritual formation that centers us in the presence of God, where we find inner peace. It is out of the depth and overflow of this peace that we find the capacity to cope with life and to extend ourselves in the ministry of Jesus Christ in the world.

We also must recover our passion for sharing the gospel with others in those parts of the world where the spirit of evangelism has waned. How do we do that? Again, it comes through spiritual formation. If we deepen our experience with Christ through creative prayer, scripture study, worship, Sabbath keeping, and life in community, we will discover the love and joy of the gospel bubbling up in our souls and flowing naturally into the lives of neighbors and friends. The key to evangelism is joyful, loving disciples who are constantly inviting others to come with them to the source of true life.

Furthermore, I believe it is essential to the witness and mission of the church for us to stop defining each other in divisive ways. So easily we are tempted to categorize people by terms like “liberal” and “conservative,” “progressive” and “traditional,” “right” and “left,” “more spiritual” and “less spiritual.” Why? Because categorizing people means we don’t have to get to know them. We can simply hold on to assumptions and stereotypes that reinforce our views. Here’s a novel idea: How about referring to each other as “brother” and “sister” in Christ as the beginning, middle, and end point for all of our relationships in the Community of Christ? What a witness to the world that would be!

We could begin right now by confessing that we have all done something to hurt or offend others. Sometimes it is inadvertent; sometimes it emerges out of the heat of conflict that naturally occurs from time to time. We need to confess that we all have participated in behaviors that have marginalized, offended, and wounded people to the point that they wonder whether they have a place in the Community of Christ.

Last January, while at a winter reunion, I heard an American woman of African heritage share her testimony of how she came to be a member of this church. What struck me most about her testimony was the prejudice and lack of understanding that she and her family had experienced in the church, including an “official decision” from church headquarters that had been made decades before that they should form their own group and not meet with white members because of the disturbances being caused in the congregation and in the neighborhood.

As the impact of what she was sharing sank in, I felt deep regret and shame. Following her testimony I was to preach, but I could not proceed as planned. Prompted by the Spirit of Christ, I stood and told my dear sister that I was sorry, and that, on behalf of the church, I apologized for what she and her family had endured. I also shared with the congregation that too often the church withdraws from its prophetic role in the world, reflecting biases and prejudices of the larger society, rather than impacting society with a vision of the gospel and the values of the Restoration, such as the worth and giftedness of all people. Following the service my good sister came to me and said, “I sure wish my grandmother could have heard that.”

In order to be the prophetic community of peace, reconciliation, and healing of the spirit, we must first examine our attitudes and behaviors. One of the greatest challenges facing the church today is that we are allowing the same polarization so common in many societies to prevail in our own church relationships. We place a higher premium on being “right” than on being “in right relationship,” truly reconciled in Christ.

The walls of hostility and division that Christ has torn down are being rebuilt by us because of our suspicion of others who are different from us. Here is the truth: We are much more alike than we are different; our destinies are intertwined. Why, then, do we focus on the differences rather than on the fact that we are all children of the One God who created us, who, despite our rebellion and shortsightedness, has made us of one household in Christ Jesus?

In Doctrine and Covenants 162: 4b and 6b, we read:

It is for divine purpose that you have been given the struggles as well as the joys of diversity. So must it always be in the peaceable kingdom. . . .The One who created all humankind grieves at the shameful divisions within the human family. A prophetic people must work tirelessly to tear down walls of separation and to build bridges of understanding.

So in the Spirit of Jesus Christ, the reconciler and peacemaker, I want to begin to tear down some walls of separation.

To all those who have been offended or injured—by words or by silence, by actions or by inactions, by whatever has not reflected our highest aims emerging from our vision of the peaceable kingdom—I am truly sorry, and I apologize on behalf of the church and myself. This includes those who have experienced any type of attitude or behavior that diminished their sense of worth as a child of God. This includes those pushed to the margins and beyond because of divergent views in the church around various social and moral issues.

It also includes those brothers and sisters who have felt it necessary to separate from active participation in the church because of differences over theological and sacramental issues, or who have found it necessary to form independent branches and churches. We know that such differences are real and that they are not resolved by simply ignoring them. The Community of Christ is committed to being an active partner in ongoing attempts to seek the level of reconciliation and healing that is possible.

As that work continues, let us affirm that we are neighbors in this community and in the world. Unless we can live as good neighbors, who love and care for each other, and who help each other out in times of need, then the Zion for which we all yearn and work, will not find its full expression for the salvation and blessing of humanity. Let us acknowledge that we have all fallen short of the highest ideals of our common heritage and faith, and that we are sorry for the hurt that has resulted in the lives of people we love.

In this spirit, let us also recognize that the ministry of reconciliation is ultimately the responsibility of individuals. It is not by accident that we will conclude this Conference by partaking together in the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. Let each of us examine our lives as we prepare to participate in that sacrament, to discern where we have fallen short in our relationships with others so that we can come to the necessary attitude of humility and repentance that will release us to embrace the gifts of forgiveness, reconciliation, and hope that, in turn, free us to reach out to others in the peace of Jesus Christ.

Our ability to pursue our mission is also highly dependent on the preparation, attitude, and response of the priesthood of the church. I consider ministry in the priesthood a sacred privilege that is to be expressed through a deep sense of devotion and willingness to provide servant ministry, in the likeness of Christ. It is one of the highest forms of stewardship of life and involves not only initial response to calling, but ongoing growth, development, and accountability.

Priesthood should never be a source of pride or a way to manipulate or control others. It is not a platform from which to assert one’s viewpoints. We are well reminded of the counsel in Doctrine and Covenants Section 11 that no one can assist in this work except they be humble and full of love, having faith, hope, and charity (4b). The way into the future includes the call to shape a body of ministers who are known for their humility, integrity, and commitment to effective ministry in today’s world. It is imperative that there be renewed efforts focused on training, mentoring, and leadership development to equip the ordained ministry—lay and professional—for the mission of peace, reconciliation, and healing of the spirit throughout the world.

It is also essential that we apply additional energy and resources for support of congregational pastors. Nothing is more vital to the revitalization and forward movement of the church than congregational pastors who have not only the heart for ministry, but also have a firm grasp on the skills needed to lead congregations into vibrant, healthy expressions of the Community of Christ in the twenty-first century. The Co-Missioned Pastors Initiative (CPI) is off to a great start and shows signs of true success in this regard. I would urge congregations and pastors to take advantage of the remaining slots before they are all filled.

Beyond this, we are aware of the need to take the most effective elements of this pilot program and make them available to pastors and potential pastors throughout the world. Can you envision what would happen in countless congregations if there were pastors leading them who were motivated, trained, resourced, supported, and committed to long-term service in pursuit of our mission?

At this point, I must speak plainly and clearly regarding a vital matter. All of this talk about identity and mission is for naught if we do not have the financial means to support and expand the ministries of the church locally and globally. Stewardship, discipleship, and mission cannot be separated.

During the course of this Conference we have seen the figures that reflect our current level of stewardship response. It is not difficult to see that the World Ministries tithing projections we approved for the next several fiscal years are significantly less than this year’s projected tithing income. This, in turn, tells us that there will have to be a corresponding reduction in vital church ministries and services. Those figures reflect the future that is most probable if something does not change.

However, that future is not inevitable. If, by our individual and corporate choices, we begin to lean in faith toward God’s preferred course for the church, a new future will begin to dawn with increasing brightness. So in order to mark the beginning of our preferred future, let me say emphatically that the current direction of stewardship response is not acceptable! The real issue here is not just about numbers and budgets. It’s about attitude. How much does the mission of sharing the peace of Jesus Christ and the cause of Zion with a world in need really mean to us?

When I consider how God has blessed me with hope and purpose in life, my heart overflows with love and gratitude in response to God’s grace. As a result, my heart’s desire is to generously share my life, my witness, and my resources to support the ministries of the church and affiliated organizations that take the gospel to others, including those beyond my reach, but certainly not beyond my concern.

Generously sharing to help others is one of the primary ways we grow spiritually because it roots us out of self-centeredness and the incessant need to have more. Peace grows as we let go of that which is contrary to peace—individualism, consumerism, competition—and as we lay hold of the things that make for peace: sharing, generosity, and cooperation in a common cause.

As for me and my house, we will increase our tithes for local ministries and for world ministries in the days ahead, according to our capacity, not because we expect to be blessed with more in return, but because we feel it a blessing to give as we grow in Christ, and we consider it a joy to support the vital ministries of the church in our hometown and throughout the world. I urge each of you to do the same, and then to watch in amazement as the impact of the Community of Christ is unleashed for the benefit and blessing of humankind and creation.

So here we stand at a pivotal time. And there is really only one question for us to answer: Do we have the courage and conviction to be who we really are? We stand on the edge of greatness—not as the world measures greatness, but as God measures greatness—in terms of wholehearted participation in bringing to pass divine purposes in creation.

And, we are called! We are called to deepen our discipleship through spiritual formation that centers in the Spirit of the Living Christ, who continues to redeem and restore people to life in community. We are called to share the peace of Jesus Christ, the fullness of the gospel, with all who will hear and respond. We are called to bear witness, through word and deed, of the cause of Zion, the peaceable kingdom, the vision of hope for this desperate world. We are called to reveal Jesus Christ in the world through finely honed ministries of peace, reconciliation, and healing of the spirit, making the ministries of the Temple manifest through our lives.

We are called to shape a diverse family of peace in Jesus Christ from among the cultures and nations of the world, for the blessing and salvation of humanity. We are called to give of ourselves and our resources generously so that our witness of Christ and Zion can increase, not decrease, throughout the world. We are called!

I am ready to respond to the call to share the peace of Jesus Christ. Are you?