Sunday, May 12, 2013

My Mother's Day Talk

[Editor's Note: I gave this talk last Mother's Day in our ward in Anchorage. A few people asked me for a copy of it, but I never got around to it. But I thought that this would be a good day to post it.]

[P.S. Happy Mother's Day to my Mom and my dear wife Michelle.]

I want to direct my talk to the worst mother in the whole world. I just wanted to make sure that I have all the sisters' attention.

In actual fact, although this talk is for everyone, the bishopric has asked me to speak on how the brethren of the priesthood can honor women and mothers. Let me start by quoting from the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve's 1995 Proclamation entitled "The Family"

"By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children. In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners."

So let me take that as a starting point. Here we have an unequivocal, authoritative statement from our latter-day prophets than husbands and wives, fathers and mothers are to raise their families as equal partners. If I may speak plainly, there are many who call this a fiction, who claim that in any such partnership, one partner will always come to dominate the other. They claim that to adhere to differing responsibilities and attributes is to render men and women inherently unequal.

I can tell you that this incorrect. I have seen in my own experience and in those of others how mothers and fathers treat one another with the highest love, respect and equality when they conduct themselves according to the Savior's example. But without adherence to God's law, our natural impulses win out, and that mutual love, respect and honor withers away.

In the Sixth Century, B.C., Rome was a small city-state led, as was nearly every such state in those days, by a hereditary king. But in 509 B.C., the citizens of Rome did an unusual thing. They overthrew the king and instituted a constitutional republic. They created the Roman Senate, and at the head of the government, they placed not one, but two leaders, called consuls, to be elected annually. I'm not aware on any other instance in recorded history in which a nation was led by two rulers in equal stead. The potential weaknesses of such a system are obvious. With two consuls instead of one, the government's action might be slower, and less decisive. There is the danger that the consuls might not agree on anything at all, and the whole system falls apart.

But in practice, the Roman Republic's system of government was enormously successful. Because neither consul could act without the other, there was a great incentive for them to compromise. Often the consuls came from two rival political factions. Having two consuls instead of one gave both factions a stake in the success and stability of the Republic. Although there were sometimes conspiracies and civil unrest, the Republican system of government lasted for nearly 5 centuries, twice as long as our own republic has so far endured, during which time Rome grew from a small city-state into the greatest, most extensive empire in the history of mankind. The Republic came to its end in 44 B.C., when a powerful consul got himself declared Dictator for Life. The Dictator's name, as you might have guessed, was Julius Caesar.

I like to think of the First Presidency's Proclamation as a sort of family constitution, a document that prescribes the manner in which our families are to be governed. Just as the Roman constitution required compromise and unity between its two consuls, so our family constitution requires fathers and mothers to govern their families in equality and unity. And as we know from the covenants we make in the temple, we are to act in unity not only with one another, but with our Father in heaven.

However, we brethren who hold the priesthood face a temptation. The temptation is to take our responsibility to preside and turn it into something it was not meant to be: a dictatorship. We face the choice to act in accordance with God's plan, or to cast aside the law, as Caesar did, and become a Dictator.

There are many reasons why we should not and cannot do this. I should mention at this point that only one month after Caesar was declared Dictator for Life, he was stabbed to death. Now sisters, let me emphasize that violence is never the answer. And brethren, Beware the Ides of March.

The Lord blesses each and every member of the Church with the gift of the Holy Ghost. A holder of the priesthood who tries to lead his family without relying in equal measure on the revelation and inspiration that his eternal companion receives through the Holy Spirit is a man who is operating with about half the light and knowledge that he ought to be. It's as though God has provided us with a fire hose of revelation, so we kink it halfway in order to slow down the flow.

From the beginning of time, God has revealed important truths and inspiration through righteous women. We are all familiar with Lehi's teaching that "Adam fell that men might be, and men are, that they might have joy." But it was our Mother Eve who first taught this doctrine. It was she who partook of the fruit, and afterwards proclaimed, "Were it not for our transgression we never should have had seed and never should have known good and evil, and the joy of our redemption, and the eternal life which God giveth unto all the obedient." (Moses 4:11) We Latter-Day Saints are blessed among all the religions of the world to know that we have Eve to thank, and not to criticize, for our lives here on Earth.

The prophet Isaac had two sons, Esau and Jacob. The Lord's will was that Jacob surpass his older twin Esau to receive his father's birthright as a patriarch and prophet. The Lord revealed this not to Isaac, but his wife Rebekah, saying to her, "Two nations are in thy womb, and two manner of people shall be separated from thy bowels; and the one people shall be stronger than the other people; and the elder shall serve the younger." (Genesis 25:23). It was Rebekah who devised a plan whereby Jacob, and not Esau, received the birthright blessing. And Jacob could not have obtained that birthright if he had not honored his mother, and obeyed the instructions that she gave him.

We are all familiar with John the Baptist's mission as the precursor of Jesus Christ, who preached that "he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire." (Matthew 3:11) But many years before that, on the day that Mary and Joseph brought their infant son to be presented at the temple, the Prophetess Anna, an 84-year-old widow who worked in the temple night and day, set eyes on the Savior, and gave thanks, and went about the city, speaking of the Savior "to all them that looked for redemption in Jerusalem." (Luke 2:38). Imagine how her constant service in the temple had prepared her to recognize Jesus Christ as the Lord, when he was only a newborn child.

Matthew tells us that while Jesus was in the cities of Tyre and Sidon, "behold, a woman of Canaan came out of the same coasts, and cried unto him, saying, Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou Son of David; my daughter is grievously vexed with a devil. But he answered her not a word. And his disciples came and besought him, saying, Send her away; for she crieth after us. But he answered and said, I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel."

In other words, because this woman was a Canaanite, and Jesus in his earthly ministry only went to the Israelites, he had not been sent to minister to this woman.

"Then came she and worshipped him, saying, Lord, help me. But he answered and said, It is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it to dogs. And she said, Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table. Then Jesus answered and said unto her, O woman, great is thy faith be it unto thee even as thou wilt. And her daughter was made whole from that very hour." (Matthew 15:22-28).

When first refused by the Lord, she could have gone away disappointed, but instead, she reasoned with Him. In the words of my profession, she found a "loophole." And as a Gentile woman whose faith was so great that she refused to be turned away from the blessings of the Gospel, she set the stage for the Lord's later revelation to Peter that all the nations of the earth should receive the Gospel.

Let me give one more example from latter days. The hymn "O My Father," which beautifully details nearly the entirety of pre-mortal, mortal, and post-mortal life, contains the following words: "In the heavens are parents single? No, the thought makes reason stare! Truth is reason, truth eternal Tells me I've a mother there." It is not clear when it was first taught that we are the sons and daughters of both a Heavenly Father and Mother. But this hymn is the first instance of that teaching having been published by the Church. And it was written by Eliza R. Snow, the second president in the history of the Relief Society. Think of the high esteem in which women are held in our religion, in which we are taught that we have a Heavenly Mother, and that this doctrine was first popularized by a woman serving faithfully in the Church.

You may have noticed that some of these women received revelation in their capacity as wives and mothers, but not all of them. It isn't only within marriage that a woman may receive revelation and inspiration for the edification of others.

Having established that women may possess the gift of prophesy as well as men, I should mention that my mother used to prophesy all the time. One of her prophesies was that if I didn't stop being lazy and start practicing the piano, I would end up in some congregation on my mission where they wouldn't have anyone to play the piano, and I'd be unable to do so. And sure enough, as a green missionary, the first time that I attended our little 20-member Spanish branch in Prescott, Arizona, the eyes of my understanding were opened, and I saw with my spiritual eyes that what she had prophesied had come to pass.

When President Gordon B. Hinckley came to Columbus, Ohio (to announce, it turns out, the building of the Columbus Temple), the local stakes formed a regional choir to perform during his visit. My mom insisted that I join the choir, but I didn't want to give up my next four Saturday mornings to practice. On the morning of the first rehearsal, my dad, who did intend to join the choir, woke me up and said, "Your mom wants you to do the choir, and I think she's right." I said no. My dad walked out of the room and returned five minutes later. "Your mom REALLY wants you to join the choir." I said no again. Another five minutes passed and my dad, who had the look of a man stuck between a rock and a hard place, said, "Listen, at this point I don't really care if you want to join the choir. Your mom REALLY wants you to do it, and it will be a lot easier for ME if you do. So if you don't want to do it for yourself then do it for me." Grumbling all the way, I got dressed and went to choir rehearsal.

Participation in that choir, to sit on the stand with a prophet of God and to make such wonderful music, was one of the choicest experiences of my young life. It helped instill in me a love for music that continues to this day. And it was my mother's foresight and wisdom that made it possible.

In all of these things, I truly believe that my mother received inspiration from God, and I'm glad that I followed her counsel.

Michelle asked me not to mention her in this talk, and I told her that I had to because it's Mother's Day, and if I didn't mention her, the omission would be too conspicuous. But for her sake I won't belabor the point. A couple years after we were married, my sister confided in Michelle that she was really glad that we were married because, quote "before you married Matthias, he was kind of a jerk." So for those of you who think I'm still a jerk, trust me, it could have been worse.

We had our first son Lincoln a year and a half ago, and while I don't remember everything I said in his baby blessing, I do remember one strong impression that I had. I blessed him that he would be able to find a companion like his mother, a good woman with a pure heart who serves the Lord. I can't think of any greater blessing for a priesthood holder than to preside over a family in which his children are raised by a virtuous woman. As the Proverb says, "her price is far above rubies."

Let me close with a quote by President Hinckley. A 14-year-old girl wrote to President Ezra Taft Benson with several questions about women's place in the Church and in the Gospel. At the time President Hinckley was a counselor to President Ezra Taft Benson, but President Benson was too frail to speak in public. President Hinckley took the liberty of answering those questions in a talk. All of the questions and answers are interesting, but this one stood out most:

"The next question you ask is why Eve was created from Adam. I can only respond that an all-wise Creator did it that way. However, as I have noted before, there is something very interesting about this situation.

"In the sequence of events as set forth in the scripture, God first created the earth, and the earth was without form, and void. He then separated the light from the darkness, and the waters from the land. Then came the creation of vegetation of all kinds, giving the beauty of trees and grass, flowers and shrubs. Then followed the creation of animal life in the sea and upon the land.

"Having looked over all of this, He declared it to be good. He then created man in His own likeness and image. Then as His final creation, the crowning of His glorious work, He created woman. I like to regard Eve as His masterpiece after all that had gone before, the final work before He rested from His labors."

I testify that these words are true, that women and mothers are God's capstone creation, through whom all of God's children are blessed. In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.