Worth of All Persons

By Apostle Andrew Bolton

My journey with Community of Christ began with the love of German church members. I was a young Englishman working on a tree and-shrub nursery near Hamburg. I spoke bad German, and some German workers occasionally bullied me. I understood this mistreatment of foreigners, although it was not nice. I knew it also happened to foreigners in England, particularly if they spoke poor English.

However, the German congregations treated me with kindness and love. People were patient with my bad German. They treated me as a person of worth. I since have lived and worked in three other countries. That gives me empathy to stand up for the worth of all immigrants. In their faces as strangers I see Jesus.

If God numbers all the sparrows and knows when one falls to the ground, how much greater is God’s awareness of one human’s suffering. I oppose torture because it violates the worth of all persons. I oppose the death penalty for the same reason.

The worth of all persons is not just the worth of good, law abiding people. It is much bigger. It is the worth of all persons, no matter what a person may have done, no matter how rich or poor.

Great is the worth of all persons. There are no exceptions—not me, not you. This is at the heart of our convictions as members of Community of Christ. The following passage from Doctrine and Covenants was brought to Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, and David Whitmer in Fayette, New York, USA, in June 1829:

Remember the worth of souls is great in the sight of God; for behold, the Lord your Redeemer suffered death in the flesh; wherefore he suffered the pain of all [persons] that all [persons] might repent and come unto him. And he hath risen again from the dead that he might bring all [persons] unto him on conditions of repentance. And how great is [God’s] joy in the soul that repenteth. Wherefore you are called to cry repentance unto this people.—Doctrine and Covenants 16:3c–e adapted

What It Means
• God views all people as having inestimable and equal worth.
• God wants all people to experience wholeness of body, mind, spirit, and relationships.
• We seek to uphold and restore the worth of all people individually and in community, challenging unjust systems that diminish human worth.
• We join with Jesus Christ in bringing good news to the poor, sick, captive, and oppressed.
Oliver Cowdery wrote to Hyrum Smith with enthusiasm about this revelation.

This passage begins with the conclusion “Remember the worth of souls.” It then justifies the conclusion by summarizing the story of Christ’s crucifixion. This revelation was given nine months before the “Church of Christ” organized. So it was before the foundation of Community of Christ.

The love of God for sinners embodied in the cross of Jesus is the theological basis for the worth of all persons. You and I may have lost the image of God in our soul, but God in Christ has not given up on us, the lost, fallen, and ugly in sin.

This is the gospel, good news for sinners. All of us have a chance to be restored to full humanity. Christianity is the religion of the second chance, the third chance…forgiveness and restoration to wholeness and right relationships. The opportunity of repentance is the greatest opportunity of all.

The theme of the worth of all persons runs throughout the Bible. We are created in the image of God, male and female (Genesis 1:27 NRSV). We are made a little lower than God and crowned with glory and honor (Psalm 8:5 NRSV). We are commanded to love God with our all and equally our neighbor as ourselves (Matthew 22:37–40 NRSV).

To worship God with our whole being means worshiping God in everyone we meet, no matter how the divine image may be hidden. Serving the hungry, visiting the sick and imprisoned, and welcoming the strange is to meet Jesus personally (Matthew 25:35–36 NRSV).

I like how Outreach International works. It takes seriously the dignity and capacity of the poor to solve their problems in nonviolent ways. My Oblation offering and my local and global mission tithes also are regular commitments to restoring the worth of all persons spiritually, socially, and materially. In the politics of all countries, including the USA, ideologies—left or right wing—divide, oppress, and violate people.

This hostility can spill into church. It is important in church to root our values in the good news of Jesus Christ, not in right- or left-wing ideologies.

So we leave ideologies and embrace the Enduring Principles as our core values. No value is more important than the worth of all persons. The big difference between a faithful church and the world is this: The church declares in word and deed that all are human, and all can be reclaimed. Left- and right-wing ideologies say some are of worth; others are not.

Injustice occurs whenever the worth of persons is violated, for example, through sexism or racism. Restoring the dignity of a person is justice. Changing cultures and human systems so the dignity of all humans can flourish is the cause of Zion. Modeling gender equality and welcoming all races and ethnicities is being a congregational signal community.

Human rights, although a secular declaration, also are about honoring the worth of all. A human right is something you are born with. It cannot be taken away, sold, or given up.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, published in 1948 and now the most-translated document in history, can help us be practical and comprehensive in ministries supporting the worth of all persons.

We have heroes among us in the work for human rights. I think of Kathy and Jeff Bachman from Oregon in their leadership of Amnesty International USA. I remember Ed Guy campaigning against genocide in Guatemala; Rod Downing of Vancouver, Canada, working for those suffering in Darfur; and Rupa Kumar working for battered women in Chennai, India.

It takes courage to stand for human rights. In some places we must face persecution, even the cross.

The worth of all persons is rooted deeply in the good news of Jesus Christ through his ministry and suffering on the cross. To proclaim Jesus Christ is to proclaim the worth of all persons. I cannot do the one without the other.

To be an apostle is to be a special witness of the Lord Jesus and the worth of persons. In an apostolic church everyone is to witness this way. Our ultimate example of living out the worth of all persons is Jesus from Nazareth. We join with Jesus Christ in bringing good news to the poor, sick, captive, and oppressed.

This is the mission of God expressed in Jesus: restoring our full humanity so the image of God can shine in each of us.

Let us join with God and each other in that task.

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Unity in Diversity

This article was written by Don H. Compier, who was, at the time, Dean of Community of Christ Seminary

God relishes diversity! That came to my mind as I stood in front of a giant tank in the California Academy of Sciences. My daughter, Nancy, loved to visit the tropical fish with me. The wonderful colors, shapes, and sizes amazed us.

And this was only one animal! Nature sure seems to demonstrate that our Creator meant to populate our world with lots and lots of varied creatures.

We humans genetically are one of the least-diverse species. The differences between our races are minuscule. We have the capacity, however, to develop splendid variations from one culture to the next. Our holidays, art forms, clothing styles, languages, folktales, architecture, and approaches to the sacred present a splendid kaleidoscope. We have every reason to believe God delights in cultural pluralism as well.

I love the Book of Acts. Luke presents a delightful set of stories about how the church learned to embrace people from what the Book of Revelation calls “every tribe and language and people and nation” (5:9 NRSV). From the beginning Jesus seeks to implant a global vision, promising disciples they will preach good news to the ends of the earth.

On the day of Pentecost, pilgrims gathered from far-flung lands and heard the gospel in their own tongue. No one has to shed cultural skin to receive God’s Spirit. We are incorporated into Christ’s body as we are, wonderfully knitted together. As Luke’s story unfolds, we see one cultural barrier after another tumble.

First Greek-speaking Jews receive their rightful place, then Samarians considered to be of mixed heritage, then an Ethiopian eunuch, and finally all the non-Jewish people of the Roman Empire.

Jesus personally calls Paul to lead this great missionary expansion. In chapter 15 a major conference at Jerusalem shows great cultural sensitivity by admitting Gentiles to full fellowship without undergoing the Jewish rite of circumcision.

As the first history of the Christian church, Acts seems to indicate strongly that achieving unity in diversity is what the church is all about!

Living this reality in our congregational lives requires a fundamental shift in attitude. Strident voices in contemporary culture see cultural pluralism as a problem, even a threat. According to this “logic,” cultural exchange is a zero-sum game in which accepting insights and practices from others somehow dilutes one’s own identity.

But history teaches us that every national tradition is a constantly changing hybrid. By adopting helpful resources from other peoples, human cultures find better ways to adapt to their environment. Think of the adoption of Arabic numerals in the West, for instance. And passages such as I Corinthians 12 describe diversity as gifts of the Spirit.

What will we miss if we don’t embrace varied people? We are all more aware now of the delicious contributions made to our diet by various traditions—Thai, Chinese, Ethiopian, Turkish, Mexican, Italian, French, etc. And food is just the tip of the iceberg!

True appreciation comes when we realize that each culture holds important spiritual lessons to share. Reflecting on the growing religious pluralism of modern culture, a recent Episcopalian draft suggests that each faith tradition is a sacrament of God’s loving presence, freely offered to everyone. If we gratefully accept and unwrap the presents so graciously offered, our individual and congregational lives will be greatly enriched.

I am blessed to live in a home where we use three languages: English, Spanish, and Dutch. We try to honor each tradition. For instance, our Christmas celebration stretches over an entire month.

In the Netherlands we receive presents December 5, the feast day of the generous lover of children, St. Nicholas. Then we move into the Mexican posada celebrations, parties remembering how Joseph and Mary sought room in the inn.

With much of the world, we solemnly give thanks for the arrival of the Christ child on the evening of December 24. Finally, we unwrap more gifts on the feast of the Epiphany, January 6. In Spanish-speaking countries this is the day children expect deliveries from the same three kings who visited the infant Jesus.

Over the years my spouse, Yolanda Santos, has taught me so much about the ancient, spiritual practices of Mexico. I have come to a much deeper appreciation of our connectedness to the earth and all creatures. I now understand more about our insoluble bond with our ancestors.

Yola has taught me the importance of using material objects like candles to focus my conversations with God. Thanks to Yola’s generosity in sharing her culture, my life is so much fuller and more interesting.

I am passionate about congregational diversity mostly because I hope many can receive the type of blessings showered on my life. I pray that people throughout the church will develop a receptive attitude that will allow them gratefully and joyously to receive great gifts from many cultures.

I am convinced that cross-cultural sharing is God’s dream for all humans. God yearns to bless us as we bless each other in and through our diversity.

In recent decades God’s Spirit actively has moved in Community of Christ. Established in more than fifty lands, it really is a world church now! Who would have thought that in less than half a century this movement, largely concentrated in the US and a few other Western nations, would change so completely?

Now the majority of active members live in the so-called Third World. Evidence strongly suggests more members now speak French than English.

The emerging global church indeed has received many blessings. Each World Conference is colorful and exciting. It is thrilling to see all the flags displayed, to hear so many languages, to see striking differences in dress.

The international hymn festival is a highlight of the week. The new hymnal, now in preparation, will feature sacred songs from many lands and styles.

Thanks to the Internet, people anywhere can lift prayer concerns that elicit support from sisters and brothers around the globe. Each testimony, each lesson learned from engaged mission, enriches the whole body.

The Extended World Leadership Council brings together leaders from every corner of our planet. As a result church leaders benefit from a much broader spectrum of counsel and deliberation.

As never before, people representing many cultures talk about vital issues. As they do, trust increases. When people feel free to share honestly, painful differences also become clear. Divisions in the church mirror disagreements in the world as a whole. Faithful members of the church disagree about how to interpret scripture, and sometimes even about what should be in the canon.

Some question long-held traditions, such as rebaptism for admission to church membership. Various cultures hold divergent views on the role of women in church. Members feel varying degrees of comfort about discussions of human sexuality. While some cultures now give same-sex and heterosexual couples equal rights, others vehemently oppose what they consider sinful cohabitation.

Matters considered sacred arouse fervent passions. Both sides of a debate feel certain they represent God’s will. If we are not careful, such disagreements could tear the World Church apart and lessen intercultural sharing.

Because God clearly cherishes diversity, we safely can infer that God isn’t interested in a church where we agree on every issue! I once heard a leading theologian insist that church is meant to be a school where we have to learn to live with people not like us, who don’t agree with us on matters we consider vital.

Throughout the history of the Christian church, its theologians have insisted on the corporate nature of discipleship. We aren’t called to achieve individual salvation. We are tasked with the difficult but ultimately rewarding work of building true community.

“Unity in diversity” is a good definition of community. God’s own love in creating a world that is not God suggests that to grow in charity means maturing in our capacity to work for the well-being of those different from us. After all, Jesus asked us to pray even for our enemies.

This Enduring Principle calls on the church to listen patiently to one another and to grow in mutual understanding. Disciples must seek common consent, not legislative victories. When we fail to reach consensus on cherished principles, we lament the pain many feel.

In this way, being in community fulfills each Christian’s call to bear the cross patiently. Whatever happens, we must not let go of each other! For we are one body in one Spirit, with “one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all” (Ephesians 4:4–6 NRSV).

For Further Reflection and Discussion

1.    The author opens by using a tropical fish tank to illustrate the diversity in God’s creation. What other animals can you think of that display such grand differences while being united as a species? How can you apply the same sort of thinking to inanimate objects?
2.    The author cites Jesus’ promise that disciples “will preach good news to the ends of the earth.” In your lifetime, how many countries have been represented by guests in your home or in your congregation?
3.    Congregational diversity is a passion of the author. Yet most congregations in North America are not greatly diverse. How do our communities need to change for our churches to become more diverse? How do we as congregations and as individuals need to change?
4.    The author says that unity in diversity is a good definition of community. Yet differing groups frequently are not united. What steps can we take as disciples of Christ to bring about unity among peoples, cultures, and individuals?
5.    Think for a moment of the many ways that diversity enriches you. Imagine what your life would be if music, art, and drama were not influenced by a variety of people and different cultures.
6.    The Enduring Principles call on people to listen patiently. How can this benefit us, even when we disagree sharply on matters before the church or between individuals?
7.    Just as our diverse cultures bring new insights to everything from cooking to music, diversity in cultures also can bring insights about our Creator. In what ways would your Christian expressions differ if not exposed to various cultures?
8.    Consider your own family tree. What influences did different cultures bring to your personal history?

Discernment Activity

The diversity of gifts or talents is one way God tries to move us into loving community. In spreading different abilities among us, we are challenged to form community where each one can minister to the others, ultimately achieving the vision of communities of joy, hope, love, and peace. The Apostle Paul speaks to this in I Corinthians chapter 12 when he tells us there are a variety of gifts, services, and activities that all come from the same Spirit and are intended for the common good.

Parker Palmer, in Let Your Life Speak, shares his discovery that when we work out of our God-given talents we find fulfillment and expression of our true self. Toward this end we all share a responsibility to each other to be talent scouts, to encourage each other to develop and use our innate talents and abilities, even when they are radically different from our own. The following discernment is intended to help us to see with new eyes the talents in those around us. It is designed for two people to do together.

Select someone to participate with you. If there is not a mutually convenient time to actually be together, then do the discernment separately, but plan a time to share your experience with each other.

Go to a quiet place where you can be comfortable and uninterrupted for twenty minutes. Be intentional in transitioning from ordinary time to meditative time by taking two or three deep, cleansing breaths. Allow the concerns of the day to fall away as you move more deeply into the presence of God. Take a few moments to simply be with your Creator. When you are ready, ask to be able to see the other person as God created them. Ask to be granted a glimpse of the talents God bestowed on them. Be open to seeing them with new eyes. Staying relaxed, reach out with your soul in faith.

After your prayer time share with each other your experience. Perhaps you can affirm a talent already being used. Or perhaps you have perceived a talent just beginning to emerge. Remember to share with each other in a loving affirming way. Remember too, that the greatest gifts and talents in the world are of little use if they are not used out of love.

Resolution of the Council of Twelve Apostles

From the Council of Twelve Apostles:

Introduction

The Council of Twelve Apostles unanimously approved the following resolution in formal session on November 30, 2004. The intent of the resolution is to provide clear support to the remaining majority of the First Presidency as they preside over the church until a successor is chosen, and to formally communicate the same to the church throughout the world. During consideration of the resolution, the Council was blessed by the Holy Spirit with an evident sense of peace, unity, and assurance regarding God’s continuing guidance to the church and its leaders as we move into the future.

Stephen M. Veazey, president
Council of Twelve Apostles

Resolution of the Council of Twelve Apostles
Approved November 30, 2004

Whereas, On November 29, 2004, W. Grant McMurray resigned as president of the church; and

Whereas, It is necessary to ensure continuing leadership of the church; now, therefore, be it

Resolved, That the Council of Twelve Apostles, in harmony with established laws and procedures of the church, support and uphold the remaining majority of the Quorum of the First Presidency to preside over the church until a successor to W. Grant McMurray is chosen at the next World Conference; and be it further

Resolved, That the Council of Twelve Apostles affirm its role in support of the remaining members of the Quorum of the First Presidency to assure that the laws and procedures of the church are being followed appropriately in the interim until the Quorum of the First Presidency is reorganized following the selection of a new president.

Discernment Process for Selection of the President of the Church

From the First Presidency

A joint council of the First Presidency, Council of Twelve Apostles, presidents of Seventy, Presiding Bishopric, presiding evangelist, and president of the Quorum of High Priests met in December 2004 and reviewed a discernment process developed by the Council of Twelve. After considerable discussion, the Council of Twelve finalized the process that is summarized below. It is now shared with the church to assist members throughout the world to prayerfully support the process. For a more complete understanding of the purpose of the process described here, and the special role of the Council of Twelve in leading this process, this material should be read in conjunction with the First Presidency’s Official statement and Questions and Answers on pages 5 and 7 respectively of the January 2005 Herald.

The First Presidency
Kenneth N. Robinson
Peter A. Judd

The Council of Twelve has affirmed the role of each of the other quorums (First Presidency, Council of Presidents of Seventy, Presiding Bishopric) and individuals (presiding evangelist, president of the Quorum of High Priests) composing the joint council in the discernment process and is upholding each one of them in prayer.

The Council of Twelve has requested that each of these quorums and individuals composing the joint council give serious and prayerful consideration to the question, “Who is being chosen by God at this time to serve as president of the church?”

The First Presidency, the Council of Presidents of Seventy, and Presiding Bishopric as groups and the presiding evangelist and president of the Quorum of High Priests individually will provide the Council of Twelve with an official communication indicating any spiritual insight they have gained as a quorum. Each member of the joint council is also encouraged to share specific insight or testimony with the Council of Twelve.

The Twelve will give prayerful consideration to the spiritual insights offered, and will seek the mind and will of God in the process of discerning the one who is called to be president of the church. The Council of Twelve will then offer the name discerned to the joint council for affirmation.

After the joint council has affirmed the name discerned by the Twelve, that individual will be presented with the call and given opportunity to accept. Following acceptance the Council of Twelve will communicate this matter to the church. It is expected that this communication will occur no later than the end of March 2005. The special World Conference called for June 2-5, 2005 will then consider the recommendation that the Council of Twelve has presented.

First Presidency Response to McMurray’s Resignation

From the First Presidency

With regret we announce the resignation of W. Grant McMurray as president of the Community of Christ, effective November 29, 2004.

Brother McMurray’s letter of resignation and request for release from priesthood will be printed in the January 2005 issue of the Herald. After careful consideration of the circumstances, including detailed conversations with Brother McMurray, we have reached the conclusion that it is the correct course of action and so have accepted his resignation and request for release from priesthood office.

Long-established procedures exist to assure continuity of leadership and order in the church in situations where the office of president is vacant. First, the two remaining members of the First Presidency have full rights of presidency over the church until a new president is chosen. The Council of Twelve has met and has offered its support for Presidents Kenneth N. Robinson and Peter A. Judd to preside over the church.

Second, a process is firmly in place that will lead to the designation of a successor in the office of president. In his letter, Brother McMurray indicates that he will not be naming a successor, but rather recommends prayerful discernment on the part of the leading quorums and the presentation of a name to the next World Conference for approval.

Church procedures stipulate a vital role for the Council of Twelve: to ensure that a process is in place for discerning who will be the next president, to set the date for the World Conference at which this name is presented, and to preside over that conference’s consideration of and action on the recommendation. Further details of this process will be shared with the church in a timely manner.

Brother McMurray served as the church’s prophet-president for over eight years, being ordained to that office on April 15, 1996. As his counselors, we offer to him and his family, on behalf of the church, our deepest appreciation for his visionary leadership and dedicated service at a critical time in the life of the church. Brother McMurray has served the church as a full-time minister for more than thirty-three years.

We know that this will be a challenging time for the church. However, we are confident that God’s guiding Spirit will continue to be with us. We ask that all pray for the church, its leaders, and its members during the weeks and months ahead.

We commit our skills and calling to the effective leadership of the church at this time and invite all members to vigorously pursue our mission to follow the Christ.

—The First Presidency

Kenneth N. Robinson
Peter A. Judd

Letter of Resignation – Grant McMurray

November 29, 2004

President Peter A. Judd
President Kenneth N. Robinson
Community of Christ
1001 West Walnut
Independence, MO 64050

Dear Peter and Ken:

With profound sadness, and yet with a strong assurance of the rightness of this action, I hereby submit my resignation as president of the Community of Christ, effective this date.

For a matter of several years I have struggled with personal and family issues that have impacted my ability to function unreservedly in my office and calling. I have done my very best to fulfill my responsibilities in accordance with the needs of the church and believe that God has gracefully blessed me in that effort. However, along the way I have made some inappropriate choices, and the circumstances of my life are now such that I cannot continue to effectively lead the church. I deeply regret the difficulties that this causes for the church I love.

I recognize within myself the need for a time for personal renewal and healing. In addition, I have in recent weeks been diagnosed with early onset Parkinson’s disease, which at this point is very treatable, but will require me to devote more attention to my physical health. For these reasons I would ask your forbearance in my desire to avoid participating in public gatherings around this decision, even though I realize that our church community may wish to give expression in that way. Likewise, it is not appropriate for me to function in a priesthood capacity as I work through these personal issues, and so I request to be released from my priesthood office at this time.

Our practice is that the remaining members of the First Presidency will continue to lead the church as equal partners in the event of the death or incapacity of the president. I know that both of you will do so with skill and dedication and am confident that the leadership of the church is in excellent hands.

On the matter of succession in presidency, our tradition anticipates that I would designate a successor. In my present situation, I do not feel it is appropriate to do so. There is ample instruction in church law regarding the process to be used in identifying who is called to serve in this office. I am assured that after preparation and prayerful deliberation by the quorums and councils, under the leadership of the First Presidency, it will become clear who is divinely called to lead the church in the years ahead.

The greatest privilege and joy of my life has been to join with my wife in parenting our two wonderful sons. Next to that is the privilege bestowed on me to serve the church on a full-time basis my entire adult life, including twelve years in the First Presidency, eight of them as president of the church. We have traveled on a marvelous journey during that time and I am grateful beyond words for the love and support of our people. As we move now to a new era, my fervent prayers will be to sustain and strengthen our church and its leaders in fulfilling its divine call to be a people of peace, reconciliation, and healing of the spirit.

Respectfully submitted,

W. Grant McMurray
President of the Church

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!

 

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?

The Mission Matters Most!

missionmattersmost
By Prophet-President Steven M. Veazey, April 10th, 2011

I previously have shared that when I was committing to paper the words that were to become Doctrine and Covenants 164, I thought I had reached the conclusion with paragraph 8. Having wrestled with complicated theological, sacramental, and ethical issues, I was grateful for the Spirit’s guidance. I wanted to rest with God.

Much to my surprise, as I began a prayer of thanks, the Spirit surged up like a fountain! I reached for my writing tablet and began to capture the experience in concepts seeking expression.

What resulted is now paragraph 9 of Section 164. It is a message of God’s affirmation and hope for the church. The concluding sentence came with undeniable clarity: “The mission of Jesus Christ is what matters most for the journey ahead!”

The MISSION of Jesus Christ is what MATTERS MOST for the journey ahead!

But, what is the mission of Jesus Christ?

The challenge in answering this question is the all-too-human tendency to mold Jesus and his mission into our national, cultural, political, and theological agendas, rather than allowing him to deepen and transform our vision!

So, I think the best way to answer the question is to turn to scripture; particularly the passage previously read: Luke 4:18–19.

After a time of wilderness spiritual strengthening, and after his baptism and confirming experience with the Holy Spirit, Jesus went to worship in his hometown synagogue. The congregation was mostly family and old friends; not the easiest place to announce that you are the Messiah.

But when Jesus was invited to read scripture, he did not hesitate. He was poised for this occasion. He was handed a scroll of the writings of Isaiah. He selected words that correspond with Isaiah 61:1–2 and 58:6 in the Bible.

Isaiah 61 poetically describes a servant who would restore God’s justice and peace to Israel and the world. Isaiah 61 is rooted in other Isaiah passages, especially in Isaiah 42.

Isaiah 42 speaks of both a servant and a covenant people of God—a faith community—who will open blind eyes, free captives from bondage, bring forth God’s compassionate justice, and be called a light to the nations.

Jesus strategically selected a scripture passage to proclaim his mission. By doing so he set the direction for the disciple community that would form around him.

He read: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me…”

Jesus was able to make this claim because he knew the ways of the Spirit. He was grounded in scripture, particularly the prophetic texts. He had spent ample time being shaped by the Spirit through prayer, as well as worshiping and learning with others.

Being spiritually formed is foundational to obtaining a clear and compelling vision of mission. A compelling sense of mission springs from the overflow of deep communion with the Spirit. And such communion occurs when we engage in personal spiritual practices as well as spiritual growth through healthy congregational life.

When the time came, such spiritual communion allowed Jesus to assert that what he was going to do was not his agenda; it was the work of God’s Spirit already in motion. And the Spirit was commissioning him to pursue the mission that “matters most” to God.

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. —Luke 4:18–19 NRSV

In the Greek text, some scriptural phrases in this passage are even more forceful. For example, the phrase rendered in English “to let the oppressed go free,” translates more directly from Greek as “to send away in freedom those who have been crushed.”

A translation from the Aramaic text adds: “to strengthen with forgiveness those who have been bruised.”

Also, compare the full text of Isaiah 61 and Luke 4:18–19. According to Luke, Jesus left out the phrase “and the day of vengeance of our God.” Jesus was showing how to responsibly interpret scripture through his intimate knowledge of God’s loving heart and intent.

Now, back to the text! The Spirit of God inspired—Dare we say compelled?—Jesus to boldly proclaim the mission that would define his ministry. If Community of Christ is serious about the mission of Jesus then we need to be serious about what he clearly said his mission was!

Throughout my time in ministry, I have found this to be true. No matter what the setting—local or global; urban, suburban, or rural; among the poorest of the poor or the richest of the rich, and in vastly different cultures—Jesus’ mission is most faithfully pursued as follows:

“To bring good news to the poor” means evangelism in the fullest sense of the term. It means gospel proclamation in word and action, including invitation and welcoming hospitality!

In today’s varied social and economic settings, it means inviting people to Christ to experience the good news of the gospel whether they are poor in substance or poor in spirit. This invitation ALWAYS includes the understanding that people best experience the gospel through the fellowship, ministries, and sacraments of the faith community.

The idea of introducing people to Christ without engaging them in the faith community distorts the gospel as Jesus lived it! The good news is that the resurrected Christ lives in community that restores persons to right relationships with God, others, themselves, and the Earth.

“To bring good news to the poor” and “recovery of sight to the blind” also means caring and healing ministry for the hurt, grief-stricken, and brokenhearted. Isaiah 61 includes the phrase, “to bind up the brokenhearted.”

This means compassionate ministry with people who are physically, spiritually, or emotionally hurting, which at one time or another is all of us. It means pastoral care as extending Christ’s love to everybody: church members, friends, and neighbors. And, according to the gospel definition, “neighbor” is anyone in need, including those who society or religion have taught us to overlook, fear, or avoid.

“To release the captives…, let the oppressed go free,” and “proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” is clearly about ministries of justice and peacemaking. The phrase “the year of the Lord’s favor” is particularly informative. It refers to specified times in the Hebrew calendar when steps were taken to restore balance and harmony to community relationships. The goal was to remedy social and economic injustices to better reflect the will of God. Jesus was saying that time is now and always!

In other words it is not enough just to care for people in their suffering. The mission includes ministries that release people from unfair or crushing conditions that cause suffering. Jesus’ mission is about restoring people to wholeness in healthy community.

So, we must address the root causes of poverty, hunger, discrimination, and conflict. These conditions keep large numbers of people from realizing their potential while others flourish.

This aspect of Jesus’ mission is about promoting the peaceable reign of God on Earth as it is in heaven. It is about the cause of Zion—the gospel expressed in real Christ-like communities of inclusion, generosity, equality, and peacefulness.

Community of Christ is called to share the peace of Jesus Christ in all of its aspects. Sharing Christ’s peace can begin with any dimension of Christ’s mission: invitation, compassionate ministry, or promoting communities of justice and peace. But, to be authentic to the real Jesus our ministries must expand to integrate all of them.

Our mission statement says proclaim Jesus Christ AND promote communities of joy, hope, love, and peace. We are called to pursue the whole mission of Jesus Christ, not just the aspects that most interest us.

The first communities of Christ described in the Book of Acts understood this! The church community in that time stood out as an alternative to the life-crushing conditions of its day.

The first followers of Christ boldly invited others to faith in Christ and baptized them after a time of serious discipleship preparation. They intentionally included new disciples in Christ-like communities of love, generosity, and equality. They committed themselves to living Jesus’ core teachings daily as presented in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5–7).

They did not retreat or seek refuge from the world. They brought the vision and demands of Christ’s peace to bear on the segregation, violence, and injustices of the false peace of the Roman Empire. They believed that being rich or poor, male or female, Jew or Gentile, slave or free didn’t matter because baptism made all one in Christ.

The spiritual impulse to restore the mission of the first Christian communities energized the early Restoration movement. For a time the church in Kirtland, Ohio, would host a great banquet for everyone in the community. The church wanted to demonstrate the inclusive love of the Savior as revealed in the Parable of the Great Dinner recorded in Luke 14:15–24.

Elizabeth Ann Whitney, who lived in Kirtland, wrote in her diary:

According to our Savior’s pattern…we determined to make a feast for the poor, such as we knew could not return the same to us; the lame, the halt, the deaf, the blind, the aged, the infirm.

The feast lasted three days, during which time all in the vicinity of Kirtland who would come were invited, and entertained as courteously and generously as if they had been able to extend hospitality instead of receiving it…
—Quoted in Hearken, O Ye People: The Historical Setting of Joseph Smith’s Ohio Revelations, Mark Lyman Staker, page 245

Founding Prophet Joseph Smith Jr. remembered:

The feast was after the order of the Son of God—the lame, the halt, and the blind were invited, according to the instruction of the Savior. We then received bountiful refreshment furnished by the liberality of the Bishop. —Ibid.

I like that phrase, “the liberality of the Bishop.” Of course, the “liberality of the Bishop” was made possible by the generosity of the Saints who gave out of their own poverty!

Do you hear the three fundamental mission themes in these accounts? Following the teaching of Jesus, they invited all and received them with warm hospitality, they demonstrated great compassion, and they practiced justice for everyone, which always precedes real peace.

Our call is to reclaim the same vision and passion for the full mission of Jesus Christ today! That is what Doctrine and Covenants 164:9 means when it says, “The mission of Jesus Christ is what matters most for the journey ahead”!

My comments do not mean that we have not been involved in mission. We obviously have congregations, ministers, members, and affiliated organizations actively engaged in mission. Thank you for your faithful efforts!

What I want to emphasize today is that we now are going to do the mission of Jesus Christ with greater determination, alignment, wholeness, and effectiveness. And, here is how we are going to do it!

From this point forward, we will focus all ministries, personnel, and resources of the worldwide church on the whole mission of Jesus Christ. We will do this through five mission initiatives.

These five mission initiatives are not new programs that begin and end at certain times. They build upon our mission statement and the foundation of We Share and the Enduring Principles. They are unceasing emphases that ensure Community of Christ is being faithful now and in the future to the full mission of Jesus Christ.

The first three mission initiatives are:

Invite People to Christ—Christ’s Mission of Evangelism
Abolish Poverty and End Suffering—Christ’s Mission of Compassion
Pursue Peace on Earth—Christ’s Mission of Justice and Peace

We can begin to share the peace of Jesus Christ with any of these initiatives, depending on opportunities, needs, and the Spirit’s guidance. However, because they are so interrelated, it is important to pursue all of them to be true to Jesus’ mission.

Just like Jesus, we need to be rooted and shaped by the Spirit as individuals and in congregational community. The next two mission initiatives create the environment and opportunities through which disciples can grow as they encounter the Spirit of the Living Christ that motivates and empowers them for mission.

Develop Disciples to Serve—Equip Individuals for Christ’s Mission
Experience Congregations in Mission—Equip Congregations for Christ’s Mission

Through these two mission initiatives, disciples and congregations can find their identity, giftedness, and calling and confidently respond with the affirmation, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon us!” as they launch into mission with Christ.

Let’s briefly explore each of these.

Invite People to Christ. We will increase the number of Community of Christ members/disciples and congregations pursuing the whole mission of Jesus Christ. We will do this by baptizing and confirming new members, by opening new congregations designed to reach new groups of people, and by launching the church in new nations.

The continuing mandate for the church is to share the gospel through the world.

Abolish Poverty and End Suffering. We will strengthen and expand ministries to serve the poor and hungry. We also will address the conditions that cause poverty.

We will help those who hurt by bringing compassionate presence in times of need. We will extend Oblation funds to provide immediate aid.

We will feed the hungry through World Hunger grants and help congregations find effective ways of addressing hunger in their communities.

We also will continue to support affiliate organizations dedicated to alleviating poverty and promoting healthy communities.

Pursue Peace on Earth. We will be the feet, hands, and voice of the Prince of Peace by pursuing peace on Earth. We will further develop the Temple, dedicated to the pursuit of peace, as an educational, spiritual-formation, and networking center to support peacemaking throughout the world.

We will expand our emerging PeacePathways network to maximize the impact of church and affiliate-sponsored peacemaking initiatives.

We also will continue involving children in peacemaking through Young Peacemakers Clubs, Peace Mobiles, and the Children’s Peace Pavilion and its satellites.

We want to provide more young-adult peacemaker internships.

And, we will continue to engage in ecumenical and interfaith partnerships to be at the forefront of organizations pursuing peace on Earth.

Our fourth mission initiative is Develop Disciples to Serve. We will help all ages—from the youngest to the oldest—continuously grow as disciples of Jesus Christ through spiritual practices, community experiences, and educational curriculum for disciple formation.

I am pleased to share that a church member family has committed $300,000 to accelerate our efforts in this initiative. This generous gift resulted in the sooner-than-expected launch of the Community of Christ “Disciple Formation Guide,” available on the church’s website (www.CofChrist.org/dfg/).

The “Disciple Formation Guide” is an interactive website for accessing ideas, tools, lesson plans, and information, including an introductory video, for planning Christian education for all ages. It contains resources that focus on Community of Christ identity, message, mission, beliefs, and history.

Upon being introduced to the mission initiatives vision, the same family has generously committed an additional $100,000 per year for five years, for a total of $500,000 to support the mission of the church.

Develop Disciples to Serve also includes priesthood-faithfulness training and support, plus increased help for pastors and congregational leadership teams.

Our fifth mission initiative is Experience Congregations in Mission. Individual preparation and effort is not enough. We especially need congregations that are living expressions of the personality, love, spirit, and mission of Jesus Christ.

What we do as congregations must be much more than routine social activities. Where is the love, spirit, and mission of Christ calling us to focus or redirect congregational activity?

Each congregational activity must be evaluated in terms of its mission alignment and be developed to strengthen mission.

But that is not all! To ensure focus and accountability, we’ll align the entire World Church budget—all income sources and related expenses—with our five mission initiatives starting with the next fiscal year. What does this mean?

The five mission initiatives now will define everything we do!

All World Ministries Mission Tithes and every other World Church income source will be applied to the five mission initiatives. Each mission initiative will have a tithing income goal. We will grow mission by growing generosity.

Contributors will be able to indicate through the offering envelopes, pre-authorized transfers (PAT), or electronic giving which mission initiatives they prefer to support. You can express your preference to support all of the mission initiatives. Or you can indicate which ones you especially feel called to support.

The church, in turn, will communicate regularly about what is being achieved in each mission initiative, progress toward the tithing goals, and what is yet needed.

Is your passion evangelism, pursuing peace on Earth, or helping congregations engage in mission? Is it abolishing poverty and ending suffering, or is it helping disciples of all ages deepen their discipleship?

All of the mission initiatives are essential!

Many are aware we have begun experiencing an increase in World Mission Tithes since World Conference. Because of the continuing effects of the 2007–2009 economic recession additional financial recovery is needed before we begin to increase our budget for mission, but we are headed in the right direction!

You may not know that the current generous response is being led by World Church leaders, the World Church Finance Board, the Standing High Council, other World Church teams, and our World Ministries staff. These church leaders were invited to lead the way by increasing their contributions to support the church’s mission. Many of our international field staff members in less-affluent settings were among the first to respond!

We also have invited priesthood members to discover their true capacity and to lead the church by contributing or increasing their contributions to World Ministries Mission Tithes, if possible. We are encouraged by the initial response.

Today we also are launching the “Power of Ten” emphasis for the church. This emphasis was designed by young adults who have been meeting with us to envision the church’s future.

The idea is that if people will begin to contribute the equivalent of $10 a week or $10 a week more to World Ministries Mission Tithes—roughly the cost of a movie ticket or a fast-food lunch in some nations—the impact on the church’s ability to pursue Christ’s mission would be beyond our greatest imagination!

Young adults, the Presidency has met with close to a thousand of you in 32 Vision Project retreats throughout the world. You asked the church to be more serious in pursuing and funding mission that makes a real difference in the world. Here it is!

Today, the central question is, how much does the mission of Jesus Christ really matter to us? Words and good intentions are not enough. Are we willing to align our time, energy, and means to show the mission of Christ matters most?

In 1978 the church was admonished through revelation that echoed Luke 4:18–19:

Let my word be preached to the bruised and the brokenhearted as well as those who are enmeshed in sin, longing to repent and follow me. Let the truths of my gospel be proclaimed as widely and as far as the dedication of the Saints, especially through the exercise of their temporal stewardship, will allow. —Doctrine and Covenants 153:9a

Through this counsel, the crucified and resurrected Christ is asking the church to make his mission our highest priority!

As I travel I continue to run into questions about the concepts of generosity and tithing. So, let me be clear. Here is how we respond in my family.

First, we constantly seek to be more aware of how God’s generous grace blesses us daily. Then, in thankfulness, we tithe according to our true capacity and desire to support the church’s mission so others also can be blessed. This includes Local (congregational) and World Ministries Mission Tithes.

Then we give to other organizations. We understand our giving to church-affiliated organizations, community charities, and other good causes is part of our discipleship, but it is not Local and World Mission Tithes.

Let me also say a brief word about generosity and true capacity.

I was participating in a worship service in an inner-city congregation. We were dedicating a new building made possible by local and church-wide generosity.

During the offering my attention was drawn in deep appreciation to several contributors who were present from other areas. They had given hundreds of thousands of dollars to the project.

Then my attention was turned to a little girl sitting next to me. She was from the impoverished neighborhood where the church was located. She placed an unused postage stamp in the offering plate. As she gave her offering she looked up and smiled at me because of her joy in being able to give what she could to support the mission.

In that moment the Spirit witnessed to me that all offerings should be celebrated. Those with more and those with little had given according to their true capacity. All contributions were valued equally by God because of the thankful spirit in which they were given as response to God’s grace, which is God’s constant giving.

Generous response from all, according to true capacity now and in the years ahead—through tithing, major gifts, and estate planning—will make mission happen beyond what we now can see. Your support of one, some, or all of the five mission initiatives will bless many lives. And, your life will be filled with greater joy, hope, and peace than you ever have experienced.

What an opportunity for us! In response to God’s Spirit we are moving from being a church defined to a great extent by organizational needs to being a church driven by Spirit-led mission.

Today, the voices of those preaching doom for the world and manipulating people through fear are increasing. They are calling people to retreat from the struggles of humanity and the Earth.

In the midst of such times, Community of Christ is called to be fully present in the world to make visible the whole mission of Jesus Christ. Community of Christ is called to move against the tides of fear as a shining beacon of hope in response to the divine call to establish the peaceful reign of God on Earth.

I am inviting each of you at this pivotal moment in the church’s life to put your hearts and souls into mission—the divine mission for which Jesus Christ lived and gave his life!

Christ’s mission…Our mission!