Dear brothers and sisters, it is a delight to be with you today. I have had the privilege of working with the College on a number of projects through the years, and I can tell you, I love the LDS Business College: I love its mission, I love the students and I love the people who work here.
I have entitled my remarks today: “Nothing Can Separate Us from the Love of God.” The title comes from Romans, chapter 8, and I would like to teach you about some of the doctrines from that remarkable sermon given nearly 2000 years ago by the apostle Paul. I would also like to draw some parallels between it and things you may be experiencing in your own lives. And I would like to tell you about my dad.
So let’s start with Romans chapter 8. Paul begins in verse 1:
There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.
For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death. (Romans 8:1-2)
Are you in Christ Jesus? Do you walk after the Spirit instead of the flesh? Are you free from the law of sin and death? Alma posed this question another way. He asked “…have ye spiritually been born of God?” (Alma 5:14).
If you’re not sure you have been, you are in an excellent time and situation to find out. While you’re here at the College learning so many things about how to discover your talents, how to develop workplace skills that will prepare you for a career and fit you to serve in the kingdom of God, it’s also a good time and place to discover where you came from, why you’re here and where you’re going.
I understand, it’s not always clear. You once lived with your Heavenly Father, you were one of his valiant children, and you shouted for joy at the opportunity to come to earth, get a body, be tested and learn. But when you came here, a veil passed before your eyes. This body of ours throws up many desires that compete for preeminence with your spirit. Not only that, but a disobedient angel fell from heaven: he knows you, despises you for your preexistent valiance and wants to destroy you. He places before your mortal eyes myriads of distractions, subterfuges, snares and outright lies.
It’s tough down here on earth, even at the Business College. But let me tell you about my dad. He was born in Afton, Wyoming, in a little house that still stands on the main road going into town. He was born in 1936, in the midst of the Great Depression. Like many families trying to make ends meet during that challenging time, his family moved around a lot, but then they finally settled on a large, beautiful ranch in southeast Idaho.
To really appreciate Dad’s story, you need to know a few things about his father, my grandfather. I won’t say too much about him, because thankfully I’m not assigned to be his judge, and like Mormon, “I do not desire to harrow up the souls of men.” (Mormon 5: 8). I’ll just say that even though my grandfather came from faithful pioneer stock, at some point in his life he chose to listen to the urgings of the body instead of the promptings of the Spirit. He was unfaithful to my grandmother, he was abusive of my dad, and like the prodigal son, he “wasted his substance with riotous living.” In the end he broke up his family, lost the beautiful ranch that was to have been my dad’s inheritance, and died broken and alone.
Let’s pick up Paul’s sermon in verse 5:
For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit.
For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.
Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.
So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God. (Romans 8: 5-8)
But after this stern warning, Paul tells his beloved Roman saints:
But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. (Romans 8: 9)
Do you know how much your Heavenly Father loves you? Nephi tells us that the love of God “sheddeth itself abroad in the hearts of the children of men,” that “it is the most desirable above all things,” and “the most joyous to the soul.”
There are signs all around that he loves you. Have you noticed them? You are alive, you breathe, you see, you taste and touch and smell. The sun shines by day and the moon by night. You are on a beautiful, beautiful planet, where every morning the sun comes up, and every evening it goes down. You have the restored gospel of Jesus Christ, God’s word in your mind, the Holy Ghost in your heart, and angels round about you to bear you up. God most certainly loves you.
Why? Why does he love us? Because we are his children. This is not just a metaphor. We are literally his spirit offspring. Paul tells us, in verse 16:
The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God:
And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together. (Romans 8: 16-17)
Paul mentions suffering, because often life seems full of it. Many of you were brought up in situations of great suffering. Some of you have come from broken homes. Some have had health challenges. Some have experienced grinding poverty. Some have felt rejection from your peers, perhaps even persecution for your desire to live the gospel. Perhaps your suffering has been caused by other people, or by the nature of mortality. Perhaps it was brought on by yourself. I think all of us suffer from the disharmony between what we are and what we should be. You may even feel that it is too hard, that you cannot hang on much longer.
But Paul assures us in verse 18:
For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. (Romans 8:18)
I can testify that throughout our lives, even in our darkest troubles, Heavenly Father sends us signs of his love.
My dad did not have my grandfather’s charisma, perhaps he was not as gifted. He was baptized when he was eight, but that was about all he had to do with the Church. When he was a teenager, like so many others of his generation, he took up smoking cigarettes. But he was a kind-hearted man who knew how to work hard. And I know that Heavenly Father loved him, because he sent him my Mom.
Mom at the time was not a member of the Church, but she was from a religious family and lived almost all of the Church’s standards from her earliest youth. She saw the good in Dad, fell in love with him, and married him right out of high school. Dad took her down to the ranch right into the middle of the disintegration of his home and family, but Mom stood up to my grandfather and refused to tolerate his abuse. She gave dad a home, the kind of family that he had never known, and helped him to start living after the manner of happiness. The way Dad was raised, he was at first embarrassed by Mom’s displays of affection. But Mom would not be deterred, and Dad ended up the huggiest, mushiest, teddy bear of a man you could ever know.
Heavenly Father sent Mom and Dad other signs of his love. My dad’s uncle and aunt were active members of the Church, and they loved Mom and Dad and gently led them along. A neighbor, LaVen Williams, took Dad under his wing after Dad was displaced from most of the ranch. Dad worked for LaVen for a while and helped him feed his cattle. They always fed extra on Saturday nights, because, LaVen said, “We like to go to Church on Sunday.” That struck Dad, because he couldn’t imagine anyone wanting to go to Church.
Little by little the light came into their lives. When I was five years old, Mom was baptized. But life was still hard for them. They struggled to make ends meet on what was left of the ranch. They were constantly embarrassed by my grandfather, who lived just up the road from them. The Spirit touched Dad from time to time, but it was hard to make changes, hard to live the commandments.
For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now.
And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body.
For we are saved by hope: but hope that is seen is not hope: for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for?
But if we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it. (Romans 8: 22-25)
What is this hope that Paul speaks of? What do we hope for? Mormon tells us:
And what is it that ye shall hope for? Behold I say unto you that ye shall have hope through the atonement of Christ and the power of his resurrection, to be raised unto life eternal, and this because of your faith in him according to the promise. (Moroni 7: 41)
Mormon’s son, Moroni tells us:
Wherefore, whoso believeth in God might with surety hope for a better world, yea, even a place at the right hand of God. (Ether 12: 4)
And the apostle John says:
Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be…
We don’t know what we shall be. My voice students always ask me, “Brother Linford, what am I going to be?” They may mean, “Am I going to be a soprano or an alto?” If they are a little further along, they may mean, “Am I going to be a lyrico-coloratura soprano or a spinto-drammatico soprano?” Probably they mean, “Am I going to be good enough to make a living as a singer?” But it doth not yet appear what we shall be.
… but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.
And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure. (I John 3:2-3)
Dad didn’t know what he would be. He wanted to be a rancher, but my grandfather’s beautiful ranch was gone. He had no problem with the doctrines of the Church, but he didn’t think he could give up his cigarettes, so the Church just didn’t seem to be for him. But he knew he loved his family.
When I was a sophomore in high school, Dad had a heart attack, and it scared him badly. He knew he didn’t want to lose his family. And deep down, he knew the gospel was true. So he threw away his cigarettes and never picked them up again. Within a few months we were all in the temple together.
This kind of change wasn’t easy for him. But Heavenly Father, who loved him, was there for him.
Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.
And he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God. (Romans 8: 26-27)
Brothers and sisters, when we get up to the final judgment and see our lives in vast panorama, we will be astonished at how Christ was always there for us, helping us along, staging interventions for us, carrying us through our hardest times.
All of us have changes we need to make. Some are things we need to start doing; some are things we need to stop. Some are big deal breaker kinds of things that keep us out of the temple, maybe even out of the Church. Some are small things that just nip at our heels as we try to walk the covenant path. All require repentance.
As President Nelson taught us last month in Conference:
Nothing is more liberating, more ennobling, or more crucial to our individual progression than is a regular, daily focus on repentance. Repentance is not an event; it is a process. It is the key to happiness and peace of mind. When coupled with faith, repentance opens our access to the power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. (Russell M. Nelson, “We Can Do Better and Be Better.”)
Because of his love for us, the Lord has enacted a weekly ordinance designed to engage us continually in the process of repentance.
Each Sunday we witness a reenactment of the most important event in human history. I am speaking of the Sacrament. In fact, the sacrament is a reenactment made of a series of reenactments. These are important to us because they teach our minds, in a symbolic fashion, the significance of the covenants we are making and the possibilities they open up to us.
I’m sure each one of you knows that the sacrament we keep on Sunday is a reenactment of the Last Supper, when Jesus called his apostles to him the night before his crucifixion and fed them:
And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body.
And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it;
For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. (Matthew 26: 26-28)
Jesus and his disciples met this particular Thursday evening to keep the Passover Feast, the most important ritual in the Jewish faith. As you remember, Israel was in bondage to the Egyptians and were made to toil to build bricks for Pharaoh’s great and spacious buildings. But the Lord called Moses to tell Pharaoh to let his people go. Moses worked tremendous miracles including ten terrible plagues that afflicted the Egyptians. Pharaoh resisted all of them except for the last, when the angel of death slew the firstborn son of every family in Egypt. But the Lord told each household of Israel, through Moses, to slay a lamb and paint the doorposts with its blood. The angel of death then passed over each house that was thus obediently adorned.
Thus our sacrament is in similitude of the Last Supper, which was in similitude of the Passover, which was in similitude of the deliverance of Israel from Egypt, which was itself in similitude of the resurrection and atonement of our Savior. Like Israel we are in bondage to sin. Like Moses, our Savior works great miracles on our behalf to deliver us. Like the Passover lamb, Jesus died so that we might live. And as with ancient Israel, the result of this miraculous deliverance is a covenant relationship—God promises to be our God, and we to be his people.
Thus the sacrament presents to our minds a multitude of symbols. As a congregation, the first thing we do to get ready to participate in the sacrament is to sing. There are specific guidelines for what makes an appropriate sacrament hymn. This is because music has such a powerful effect upon our minds and our bodies. The music of a sacrament hymn must be reverent and evocative of sacred things. It must capture the solemnity of the occasion, and even, in a reverent and appropriate way, remind us of the suffering of our Savior. The words must talk about the Lord’s atoning sacrifice, and most sacrament hymns mention the emblems of the sacrament, the bread and water.
While we sing, the Aaronic Priesthood prepares the supper. In ancient times the Aaronic Priesthood served in the temple, performing the sacrifices on its altars. It is therefore appropriate that deacons, teachers, and priests administer the sacrament to us. These young men are bearers of a holy charge. As with all priesthood ordinances, they act in the name of our Savior, performing the work he would do himself if he were here.
This is a heavy charge for a young man. It may not seem obvious that these deacons, teachers, and priests are here to remind us of our Savior. And yet they too make sacrifices on our behalf. The sacrifices may not seem like much at first glance, but for many young men, the charge to keep themselves clean, to be in church each Sunday, to wear a white shirt and a tie, and most of all, to stay true to their covenants, demands about all that they can give. We honor them for the faithful service they perform on our behalf.
When the emblems are prepared, the priests kneel and offer the prayer on the bread. Most of the prayers we offer have no prescribed form, but these are recited exactly according to revelation, word for word. In fact, exactitude in this matter is so important that if the priest misses a word, the bishop asks him to do it over again. The prayer over the bread asks God to bless and sanctify it “to the souls of all those who partake of it, that they may eat in remembrance of the body” of our Savior. It also mentions three important promises we make to the Lord: that we are willing to take upon us the Savior’s name, that we will always remember him, and that we will keep his commandments. In return, the Lord promises that if we keep our part of the covenant, we will always have his Spirit to be with us (D&C 20:77).
Now, notice the next thing we do. We eat. The deacons bring us trays of bread, we put it in our mouths, chew it up, and swallow it. It fascinates me that the Lord used eating and drinking so often as a teaching opportunity: he said he is the bread of life and living water, he fed the five thousand, he changed the water to wine, he told Peter that he should love him more than fish. This is because eating is important to us. As you can probably tell, I love to eat.
You may have learned in a science class somewhere that bread is mostly made up of complex molecules called starches. When you digest them, starches are first broken down into simpler sugars and then converted into the energy that fuels your body. When you partake of the sacrament, don’t be in too much of a hurry to swallow your emblem of bread. Hold it in your mouth, chew it, mix it with your saliva, and notice that as the enzymes convert the starch to sugar it will become sweet. This reminds me of Lehi saying that the fruit of the tree of life was “most sweet, above all that [he] ever before tasted (1 Nephi 8: 11).
The sacrament prayers tell us that we eat and drink in remembrance of the body and blood of the Savior. Our Savior has a body. Even God, the greatest of all, had to go through this process of mortality, testing, death, and resurrection. The sacrifice of his body made possible our deliverance from our bodies. Alma tells us the Savior lived and died so that he might “know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities (Alma 7: 12).” Though we are weak, our Lord gives us strength through the Spirit, changes us, purges out the old man, makes us new. He does it at our pace, according to our ability, after the manner of our weakness. If we will, if we endure, if we seek the Lord in faith, he will lead us by his Spirit from grace to grace.
My dad was led from grace to grace. Some of the stories we hear end up with the convert becoming a stake president, or a mission president, or even an apostle. These great converts, like our apostle Paul, bring hundreds or even thousands of souls to repentance. My dad didn’t become an apostle. But he took his family to the temple. He and my mom saw to it that we had family prayer, family scripture study, and family home evening. He kept his covenants and exercised his priesthood. He served faithfully in everything he was called to do. And daily, my memories of him encourage me to be a little better.
What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us?
He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things? (Romans 8: 31-32)
Brothers and sisters, if you rivet your faith on Jesus Christ, you will feel our Heavenly Father’s love. He will speak to you through his prophets, the scriptures, and the voice of his Spirit. If you hearken, he will lead you along. He that loves you will not forsake you.
For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come,
Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8: 38-39)
With all these witnesses, I bear my own witness to you, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.