On Sacrament Meetings Redux
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This talk introduces the theme for our sacrament meetings for 2009. This talk is inspired by Elder Oaks' talk in October 2008 General Conference. It also draws on a fifth Sunday lesson I gave on the same subject about 6 years ago when I was a new bishop. Given in Sacrament Meeting of the Sterling Park Ward on Sunday 11 January 2009.
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On Sacrament Meetings Redux
A Talk Given in Sacrament Meeting of the
Sterling Park Ward, Ashburn, VA Stake
By D. Calvin Andrus, Bishop
11 January 2009, Version 1.0
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When I was 7 years old, our Sacrament meeting started at 7pm and continued to 8:30pm. The other ward had the early schedule. Their Sacrament meeting was from 5pm to 6:30pm. As a 7-year-old, I remember getting sleepy by the end of the meeting. (Things have not changed much between then and now.) I also remember being bored sometimes. When I was bored I would look up at the chandeliers and try and count all the crystals. I could never finish because I was at such an angle that the light refracting in the near crystals partially obscured the crystals on the far side. I would then try counting the crystals in a different chandelier with a similar lack of success. Eventually sacrament meeting would end and I could put off my counting activity for another week.
- During one such Sacrament meeting I was watching an elderly brother across the aisle from me. When it came time for the sacrament prayers, my mother told me to fold my arms, which I did. I noticed this elderly brother did not fold his arms, but put forehead in his palm and rested his elbow on the arm of the bench. I asked my mother why he did not have to fold his arms. She said he had a broken neck, and if he didn't hold his head up it would fall off. (For those humor-impaired readers, this is a joke.)
No, my mother really didn't say that. I don't remember what she said. I just know that I had to continue folding my arms during the sacrament, regardless of what other people did.
About six years ago my son, Ryan, and I had a disagreement over whether or not he should take the car out into the snow. For most of the discussion I remained calm. Toward the end I got angry, but was able to keep my cool. At the very end of the discussion, however, I lost my temper and spoke a few words in anger. When I was able to calm down, after a little while, I apologized to my son. That was not the end of it, however. In losing my temper, I also lost a significant measure of the Spirit. I could tell. Not only was there an emptiness and an edginess in my life, but my thoughts were not as lucid and quick as they were before. I could sense a darkness creeping in at the edges of my soul.
The argument was on a Tuesday. I prayed for forgiveness over the next several days, but the portion of the Spirit that had left me did not return. As I wondered why, I was reminded that my repentance would not be complete until I took the Sacrament. With this realization, I became anxious for Sunday to come and to take the Sacrament. This was a Sunday, however, when I had to leave town for a business trip. Before departing, I went to the Algonkian Ward Sacrament meeting in the morning--rather than ours in the afternoon. When the Sacrament service finally came, I wanted very much to feel the Spirit. I wanted to be forgiven. I was grateful for the reverence that prevailed in the meeting that allowed me to examine my life and commune with Our Father without distractions.
Guess what? It worked! No sooner had I completed taking the Sacrament and finished my silent prayer, than the Spirit returned. It was as evident to me as when It had departed 5 days earlier. I was able to leave town with a peaceful heart and a clear mind. The Sacrament is a significant blessing in my life and I am grateful for it.
Taking the sacrament is, for Latter-day Saints, the most sacred and most important observance of the week. Through the sacrament we bring our lives in harmony with our Celestial Father.
After the sacrament, the second most important aspect of sacrament meeting is individual spiritual conversations. What do I mean by that? I mean that as we worship our Heavenly Father in sacrament meeting, he responds by sending His Spirit to give us personal revelation about our lives. The prayers, the music, and the talks all provide a context in which we praise the Father and the Son. Within this context, the Spirit comes to teach us the will of the Father concerning our earthly responsibilities. The primary purpose, then, of the talks in sacrament meeting is to invite the Spirit into the lives of the members of the congregation, so we can receive personal revelation.
- I have a good friend who was laid off of her job around the first of November. Needless to say she was very worried about finding another job. She pondered, and prayed, and submitted applications, but was having no luck. As she sat quietly in church the Spirit came to her and said not to worry. She should attend to her family over the holidays and something will turn up after the first of the year. This personal revelation was unrelated to the subject of the talk then being given. Her personal revelations was, however, enabled by the Spirit that abounded in the meeting. Now, after the New Year, she has received two job offers, and is having a hard time choosing between them.
We all contribute to the Spirit of the meeting. In doing so, we help the members of our congregation receive the blessings of personal revelation.
In a revelation given to Emma Smith, the Lord says the song of the righteous is a prayer unto the Lord (DC 25:12).
Our ward has been blessed over the years with excellent musicians who freely share their gifts with us. When our musicians play in sacrament meeting they are inviting us to worship our Heavenly Father through song. When we accept the invitation to worship through song, we become ready for the Holy Ghost to teach us. I, for one, am very grateful to the musicians who do me the great service of helping me worship through song.
- On a few occasions, I have had members of the congregation complain to me about the quality of the music in sacrament meeting. On the outside I just silently smile, but on the inside--I confess--I am thinking something snarky. I am thinking, "Well it is a good thing they weren't playing for you." The question is not whether a musical performance is up to the standards of the congregation. The two relevant questions are: does Heavenly Father accept the sacrifice the musicians are making? and, does the congregation accept the invitation to worship through song? I do not want to be the person, who at the judgment bar, rationalizes, "I refused to worship You through song because I did not like the way the organist played." I think we all can predict how well that excuse will be received. (It won't.)
When I was about 10 years old, our family lived in the Huntington Beach Ward in Southern California. We did not have a chapel. We met in the old Huntington Beach Recreation Center. I remember having Sunday School class in the room with the pool tables. We needed to arrive early to set the building up for our meetings. We would often arrive to a building that had not been cleaned from the previous night's activities. This means cigarette butts, empty beer bottles, and other assorted trash would be scattered around the building. While we could get rid of the trash, we sometimes could not get rid of the smell. We certainly did not get rid of the pool tables.
Nevertheless, we were happy to have a place to meet. We were happy to congregate with the saints. We still felt the spirit in our meetings. Reverence was difficult with steel folding chairs on a hard wood floor. We somehow managed. We did our best to create a reverent environment and the Spirit made up the difference.
We need to remember, that upon opening our meeting with prayer, we are inviting our Heavenly Father to join us in our meeting. We must reverence Him and His Son during the meeting. As a bishopric we try to be in our places a little early. The other officers of the meeting--the organist, the chorister, those who bless and pass the sacrament, and the speakers--must be in their places a little early. We must be prepared to worship our Heavenly Father before the meeting can begin.
The quality of reverence we each bring to the meeting is a measure of the seriousness with which we take our personal devotion to our Heavenly Father.
Let me spend a few minutes talking about this year's Sacrament meeting theme for our ward. We have chosen "the words of the modern prophets" as our topic. This means we will draw on the talks from General Conference as the basis of our sacrament meeting talks. When we invite members to speak, we will, at the same time, suggest a particular conference talk. These conference talks should be an inspiration and a departure point for preparing our own talks.
- For example, my talk today was inspired by the talk that Elder Dallin H. Oaks gave in conference last October, on the subject of the sacrament and sacrament meetings. I have used some of the same scriptures and made some of the same points, but have used stories from my own life and have matched the subject matter to our ward.
We hope that as we prepare talks for our ward, the Spirit will guide us to give talks tailored to the needs of our ward. The Spirit knows our congregation. It will help us give talks designed to allow for our congregation to receive personal revelation during sacrament meeting.
The Lord gave us a commandment through the prophet Joseph to come to sacrament meeting, saying:
- DC 59:9-10 - And that thou mayest more fully keep thyself unspotted from the world, thou shalt go to the house of prayer and offer up thy sacraments upon my holy day; For verily this is a day appointed unto you to rest from your labors, and to pay thy devotions unto the Most High.
Elder Oaks says "[t]his is a commandment with a promise. By participating weekly and appropriately in the ordinance of the sacrament, we qualify for the promise that we will 'always have His Spirit to be with [us]' (DC 20:77)."
To this I bear my personal witness. In the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.