Intro, who I am. I really want to be good.
I want to honor my fathers and my mothers, and my ancestors back as far as I know them and then I want to discover even more of them to honor. I want to care for the poor and needy, visit the sick and afflicted and those imprisoned by earthly authorities or their own doubts and addictions. I want to mourn with those that mourn, comfort those who stand in need of comfort and to be a witness of him at times and in all things and in all places. I want to feast upon the words of Christ and becoming willing participants of his grace, tuned to hear the speaking of the still small voice and committed to follow its directions. In occasions of questions, struggle or need, I want to fast in order to strengthen our ability to hear his word and feel his comfort. Above all, I want to be part of a holy people, consecrated unto him. I want to be, in God’s words, “unspotted from the world” (D&C 59:9)
But I live in this world where I am busy with so many things. So many times I have wanted to be a consecrated person, but I thought, “I can’t do it now—there’s no time.” I get caught up in this mortal world, instead of sacrificing for eternity. I know that, as Bruce R McConkie once said, “Sacrifice involves giving up the things of this world because of the promises of blessings to be in a better world”— but it can be hard to find time to keep myself unspotted from this world.
In order to help us to become consecrated, God gave us the time to practice the things of another world when each week he gives us the Sabbath Day. Since, as Christ said, “the sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27), we should take advantage of this day as a way to step away from this world and enjoy a more celestial life.
Elder Clayton, in a press meeting for the Church just a few weeks ago said, “What we hope is that the Sabbath will become a delight for people at home, that they'll love what happens in their homes on Sunday. It will be a time to draw apart from the world, to just give ourselves some rest from the things that are always before our eyes the other days of the week, all the things we worry about.”
The Sabbath Day was instituted by covenant since the beginning of time and in modern days is requisite for preparing a divine people. It is a perpetual covenant (Exodus 31:16-17) and God’s people keep it. In the end, we must keep the Sabbath holy by being holy. We cannot be holy if our minds and our actions are focused on wealth, selfish pleasure and the things of this world.
If we aren’t in the world, I’d like you to think of the Sabbath as a combination of two different kinds of “unworldliness”. The first kind of unworldliness is in the past, from when the Sabbath was originally ordained, after God created this world and humanity and then rested from his labors (Genesis 2:2-3). This is the part of the Sabbath that reminds us of Eden and what it would be like to live in Eden. The second aspect of the Sabbath reminds us of Zion, a time that has occurred in pockets here and there, but we know will someday cover the whole world These two ways of living, as in Eden and as in Zion, can be practiced at any time of the week, but on the Sabbath we especially have the time to practice this way of living to keep ourselves “unspotted from the world.”
Let us speak first of Eden.
In Eden, Adam and Eve didn’t yet have to work hard and earn their bread by the sweat of their brow. The Sabbath gives us a chance to reclaim this Eden. In Jesus the Christ, Elder Talmage writes, “To the many who profess to regard the necessity of toil as a part of the curse evoked through Adam’s fall, the Sabbath should appeal as a day of temporary reprieve, a time of exemption from labor and as affording blessed opportunity of closer approach to the Presence.”
On the Sabbath Day, we can rest from the labors of the week. Six days have been given us to do our work, but on the Sabbath we can enjoy peace. Many of us now work what has been called a “post-Fordian” work schedule. This means we can do our work anywhere. Instead of having to go into an office, we find that all we need is a computer and an internet connection to be doing and worrying about our work. Sometimes we don’t even need that—a smartphone will do. Under such circumstances, it can be tempting to work all week long, not resting and not recognizing that there is a life beyond work.
Prophets have declared that when a nation grows careless in observing the Sabbath Day, all aspects of life are affected, and they might have forseen how easy it is today to work at anytime and thus begin to feel that we need to work all the time.
Many countries now find that their workers are suffering from a constant preoccupation with work. Germany is “considering new ‘anti-stress’ legislation, banning companies from contacting employees out of hours” [Stuart, 2014], stating that “there is an undeniable relationship between constant availability and the increase of mental illness” [Nahles, 2014].
In May 2014 Japan invented a new national holiday, Mountain Day, to pry workers away from their work. As reported in the Wall Street Journal, “"In Japan, there is of course paid vacation, but people don't take it," says Seishiro Eto, a member of the governing Liberal Democratic Party who led the push for the holiday. "I hope with Mountain Day, people will be able to take more of their vacation."” All Japan and Germany really need, though, is a Sabbath.
The Lord knows that it can be hard not to focus on the work we love to do, or feel we need to do, and by instituting the Sabbath, he has done for us what these governments are now hastily attempting—forcing us to slow down, take a break, and enjoy our lives, our families and the world that the Lord made before he rested.
The other way that the Sabbath can be an Eden to us is in giving us the space and time to approach the presence of God. In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve dwelt in the presence of God. They could receive direction from him in person and learned of his plan for them.
We know how important it is to pray, to read scriptures, to fast and to worship, but on the Sabbath, we can put away the things of the world and focus more fully on our spiritual lives. Brigham Young said “When a people assemble to worship, they should leave their worldly cares where they belong, then their minds are in a proper condition to worship the Lord.” True Sabbath keeping seeks to communicate with our father more fully and obey his commandments. I was struck by the story Brother Burton told a couple of weeks ago about how his family used to go get ice cream every Sunday evening. Later, his mother, acting under the spirit and under wise counsel, decided that it was more important to be obedient and be in a position to receive the spirit than to enjoy ice cream at a parlor. What a great example of putting God first on the Sabbath!
All of us can renew our commitment to focus on God on Sunday, and follow the spirit to know what things we should put away on this day. At the last General Conference, Elder Nelson said, “when I had to make a decision whether or not an activity was appropriate for the Sabbath, I simply asked myself, “What sign do I want to give to God?” That question made my choices about the Sabbath day crystal clear.” We return to Eden when we use the Sabbath to strengthen our relationship with God and seek him more diligently.
Imagine a world where everyone kept the Sabbath as if it were Eden. What if everyone within reason was able to have a day of rest, to see themselves not as workers, but as people? What if everyone could spend time each week with their families, in introspection or in spiritual exercise? What if everyone could be given time to pray, to meditate, to take long strolls, call home, and to read the words of the Lord? Wouldn’t that be an Eden?
Now let me jump ahead from Eden to the future, to the Zion that we will see. Zion has existed in pockets at various times.
At one time a prophet named Enoch led Zion. In this city “the Lord called his people Zion, because they were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness; and there was no poor among them.” How were these people of one heart and mind, dwelling in rightouesness and caring for the poor? They did God’s work.
When we seek Zion on the Sabbath, we do God’s work rather than seeking our own pleasure. We care for each other in ways that the Lord would care for us. We serve faithfully in our callings, visit the sick and the sorrowful, visit the captive. We are all needed. We all have something we can do to build the kingdom of Zion. As President Faust once said “You can be powerful instruments in the hands of God to help bring about this great work. You can do something for another that no one else ever born can do.”
On one Sunday, November 30, 1856, , Brigham Young read a letter describing the plight of handcart pioneers who were stranded out on the plains –look, this just became a Pioneer Day talk!—cold and starving. At this time, he called the people to action. “Prayer is good,” he told the Saints at morning worship service, “but when baked potatoes and pudding and milk are needed, prayer will not supply their place on this occasion; give every duty its proper time and place.” The people responded right away: some of the women in the congregation leaned over and pulled off their socks right there to send with the rescue efforts.
They began right away on that Sabbath to do good and we can too. The Sabbath Day is a day to “deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him” (Isaiah 58:7).
Sometimes the good we do on the Sabbath will be of a more invisible sort—doing home and visiting teaching to make certain that every person in the ward feels loved and watched over, teaching the gospel to our friends and family members, turning our hearts to our fathers—but when we do the work of the Lord, we build Zion.
Again I’d like you to imagine a world where everyone took time at least once a week to do the good they mean to do. What would it look like if everyone had time to write thank you notes to those who had influenced them for good or visit the elderly and sick? What would happen if every week the spiritually and physically poor were attended to? Wouldn’t that be Zion?
If all of this seems too idealistic, if it seems like the sort of thing that human beings just can’t do—well, you’re right. We can’t. Not alone, anyway, but then we were never asked to do it alone. If the Sabbath Day is a chance for us to be consecrated, to make us holy, it is imperative to remember that we can be holy only with the great sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
For this reason the sacrament is the climax of the Sabbath Day and all the days preceding and following it. In this action we make ourselves more unspotted from the world by letting Christ’s Atonement cleanse us, remind us of our covenants to be his consecrated people. We let his grace work in us as we promise to take his name upon us and always remember him. If we are to build little Edens and little Zions, then we can do so only with the power of Jesus Christ. The sacrament reminds to overcome human nature and be more like Christ, more holy, and the rest of the Sabbath Day gives us a chance to practice being more Christ-like.
And when we become more Christ-like, then the Sabbath becomes a delight. Let me read the scripture that line comes from. It’s Isaiah 58:13-4 : If thou turn away thy foot from the sabbath, from doing thy pleasure on my holy day; and call the sabbath a delight, the holy of the Lord, honourable; and shalt honour him, not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words:
Then shalt thou delight thyself in the Lord; and I will cause thee to ride upon the high places of the earth, and feed thee with the heritage of Jacob thy father: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.
I like the second verse just as much as the first. We call the Sabbath a delight when we delight ourselves in the Lord, when our wills are aligned with his and we no longer think about strict lists of dos and don’ts, but engage in a weekly practice of becoming more like Christ, in re-creating Eden and Zion in a fallen world.
Before ending, I’d like you to take a minute right here and right now to review the past: are there practices that you have engaged in on the Sabbath that have sent you back into the world and away from seeking the will of the Lord? I encourage you to commit to stop them. Are there things you have done which have filled your soul with the approval of God? I encourage you to cultivate them.
Some of you will commit today to doing more and seeking righteous industry; some of you will commit to doing less and seeking peace. This Sabbath, though, take time to meditate on how you can build a Sabbath of Edens and Zions in your own life. I know as you do so not only will you be blessed, but our whole ward will be stronger, our families will be stronger and we will bless everyone around us until this world becomes a heavenly world.