Zion

The following is a the text of a talk I gave in Church today. It’s not extremely mission prep related, except inasmuch as missionaries’ work is to help establish Zion. But hopefully you’ll still enjoy it.

zion-city-of-enoch City of Enoch
I’d like to talk to you about the Zion society known as the City of Enoch. While Enoch and his people lived long ago, there times were not that different than our own today. The scripture says that at that time, “there were wars and bloodshed” all upon the earth, yet “the Lord came and dwelt with his people, and they dwelt in righteousness.” (Moses 7:16) It says that “so great was the faith of Enoch” and his people that “all nations feared greatly.” (v 13) It says that “the Lord blessed the land” where the people of Enoch lived, and they “did flourish.” (v 17)

Then we get to the familiar verse, Moses 7: 18, where it says “And 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.” Then, as we know, due to the faith and righteousness of Enoch and his people, “Zion was taken up into heaven.” (v 23) 

Collectively and individually, each of us can achieve the blessings of joy and happiness and prosperity, both spiritual and temporal, when we strive to achieve a Zion-like society. I see in the verse above, three things that lead to a Zion society:

  • Unity: “they were of one heart and one mind”
  • Righteous Living: they “dwelt in righteousness”
  • Caring for the Poor: “there was no poor among them”

Elder Dallin H. Oaks 1. Unity

“We sometimes hear the words “celebrate diversity” as if diversity were an ultimate goal,” said Elder Dallin H. Oaks. Yet “Jesus did not pray that His followers would be “diverse.” He prayed that they would be “one” (John 17:21–22). Modern revelation does not say, “Be diverse.” …It says, “Be one; and if ye are not one ye are not mine” (D&C 38:27)… Our Church has an approach to the obvious cultural and ethnic diversities among our members. We teach that what unites us is far more important than what differentiates us. Consequently, our members are asked to concentrate their efforts to strengthen our unity… We seek to establish a community of Saints—“one body,” the Apostle Paul called it (1 Cor. 12:13)—where everyone feels needed and wanted and where all can pursue the eternal goals we share.” (Dallin H. Oaks, “Weightier Matters,” Ensign, Jan 2001, 13)

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf Stand Close Together and Lift Where You Stand

In his talk about a year ago, President Uchtdorf taught of the need for unity among the saints when he urged us to “stand close together and lift where you stand.” Said he, “a group of brethren was asked to move a grand piano from the chapel to the adjoining cultural hall, where it was needed for a musical event. None were professional movers, and the task of getting that gravity-friendly instrument through the chapel and into the cultural hall seemed nearly impossible. Everybody knew that this task required not only physical strength but also careful coordination. There were plenty of ideas, but not one could keep the piano balanced correctly. They repositioned the brethren by strength, height, and age over and over again—nothing worked. As they stood around the piano, uncertain of what to do next, a good friend of mine, Brother Hanno Luschin, spoke up. He said, “Brethren, stand close together and lift where you stand.” It seemed too simple. Nevertheless, each lifted where he stood, and the piano rose from the ground and moved into the cultural hall as if on its own power. That was the answer to the challenge. They merely needed to stand close together and lift where they stood.” (President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “Lift Where You Stand,” Ensign, Nov 2007)

2. Righteous Living

Like the people of the city of Enoch, we live in times of many “wars and bloodshed,” yet we can, like they, “flourish” by living “in righteousness.” Enoch saw in vision a view of the world after his city was taken up into Heaven. He saw that Satan “veiled the whole face of the earth with darkness” and that this wickedness caused the Lord to weep. The Lord explained that wickedness caused misery and doom, and that it saddened him to see the “workmanship” of his own hands make such poor choices. The Book of Mormon prophet Alma expressed this concept well when he told his son “wickedness never was happiness.” (Alma 41:10) Righteous living is an indispensible component for all people in a Zion society.

spencer w kimballSelf-Reliance

A major part of righteous living of gospel principles is work and self-reliance. I found it interesting what the First Presidency said in 1936 about the establishment of the Church welfare program. They said, “Our primary purpose was to set up, in so far as it might be possible, a system under which the curse of idleness would be done away with…The aim of the Church is to help the people to help themselves. Work is to be reenthroned as the ruling principle of the lives of our Church membership.” (First Presidency, General Conference, October 1936.) 

Righteous living means obeying the Lord’s commandments. The first and great is to “love the Lord thy God” Matt 22:37, “And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” Matt 22:39 The Savior taught that loving and serving others was the basis for all the other gospel commandments. The prophet Spence W. Kimball said that “we can see that Welfare Services is not a program, but the essence of the gospel. It is the gospel in action.” (Spencer W. Kimball, Ensign, Dec 1984, 2) 

3. Caring for the Poor

Righteous living naturally leads to the third component of a Zion society, caring for the poor. King Benjamin that, benevolent prophet king in the Book of Mormon, taught that by caring for the poor and needy, we help keep ourselves unspotted from sin. Said he, “for the sake of retaining a remission of your sins from day to day, that ye may walk guiltless before God—I would that ye should impart of your substance to the poor, every man according to that which he hath, such as feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and administering to their relief, both spiritually and temporally, according to their wants.” (Mosiah 4:26.)

president thomas s monsonPresident Monson’s Example

President Monson’s compassion for and caring of the poor and needy throughout his life is an example we should all know and emulate. It has been written many times about the 85 widows that lived in his ward when he was a young bishop. “At Christmastime he called personally at the home of each widow, leaving a gift and his blessing,” and continued that even after his release as bishop. (see President Thomas S. Monson). At the First Presidency Christmas devotional last month, President Monson said, “real joy comes as we show the love and compassion inspired by the Savior of the world, who said, ‘Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these, ye have done it unto me.’” (First Presidency Gives 2009 Christmas Message)

My Dad’s Example with Sister Funderburk

My father provided a great example to me of caring for the poor and needy. When I was a young teenager, I was my father’s home teaching companion. One of the families we visited on a regular basis were the Funderburks. Sister Funderburk was an older lady who lived in extremely impoverished conditions. She had no husband (not that lived with her anyway). Sister Funderburk always had a foster child living with her. I believe this was her only means of income, as the government would pay her a small stipend in return for housing and caring for a foster child. She lived in a very old trailer/mobile home, with plastic sheeting on many of the walls and windows and in general need of serious repairs.

The plumbing in Sister Funderburk’s home was a frequent object of our attention as home teachers. My dad and I were no plumbers, but the plumbing needed attention, so we rolled up our sleeves and worked on it many times. I remember one winter, the mountains of northern Georgia got pretty cold and her pipes froze, leaving her without running water. We went, the following Saturday, and worked the entire day to insulate and bury the pipes in the ground.

Sister Funderburk had no telephone, so my dad and I simply dropped in on her a couple times a month to make sure everything was ok. I remember one night we stopped by and found they had no food in their house. My dad immediate made a run to the grocery store, which was probably a ten to fifteen mile drive each way, since she lived out in the country, as did we. My dad bought milk, bread, and other essentials. The Spirit had prompted him to stop by and ask if she had any needs, and it was at just the right time as Sister Funderburk was, no doubt, praying for help.

james walker and jimmy smith familyWorking with James Walker

Years later, when my wife and I were living in Memphis Tennessee, I met a member of the Church in similar impoverished circumstances. His name was James Walker. James was an older gentleman, perhaps 65 years old. The missionaries had recently baptized him. James lived alone, aside from the hand full of chickens he raised, which as far as I could tell was his only source of income. I had met James when he got baptized, but I really didn’t get to know him until our bishop asked me to work with James and teach him how to read and write. In working with James, as I did over the next couple of years, I was no doubt prepared by the great example of my father.

While James was very poor in terms of material possessions, I never felt my purpose in working with him was to give him financial assistance as much as it was just to be his friend. I was aware of the many generous Church members who gave freely to help James, as did we from time to time. But James needed friends as much as anything. He needed people in his life who had love and confidence in him. Working with James in this literacy program allowed me to help and support him in all those ways. And though we live 2,000 miles apart now, James and I still talk on the phone from time to time.

hurricane katrina relief waveland 2 Hurricane Katrina Relief Efforts

In the late summer of 2005, we were living in Memphis Tennessee, just 6 hours north of New Orleans, when Hurricane Katrina struck. Within days, if not hours, our Church and many others organizations were on the ground helping those peoples whose lives and property had been destroyed. A couple of weeks after the storm, in Church one Sunday, we got a request like I’ve never had before or since as a Church member. They asked us, particularly the brethren, though a number of sisters went as well, to go to New Orleans to help with the relief efforts. They asked us to leave Friday afternoon, drive down to New Orleans, sleep in the Stake Center or its parking lot, work all day Saturday, then work half the day Sunday and then drive home Sunday evening. This schedule allowed us to put in a day and a half of labor and not miss any of our normal Monday through Friday jobs.

hurricane katrina relief wavelandFor me this seemed like a once in a lifetime opportunity to help and I jumped at the chance. If you remember the photos and videos of the destruction of Hurricane Katrina, seeing it in person trumped it all. Photos and videos just can’t completely convey the horrible scene of destruction. Over the next months, I made three of these weekend trips down to New Orleans for relief, recovery, and rebuilding. The brethren from our stake and many others were there every weekend for months and we helps thousands of people. 

President Hinckley’s Comments on Church’s Katrina Relief

President Hinckley spoke of these relief efforts in the Priesthood Session of General Conference in October 20005. “Great numbers of our men have traveled considerable distances, bringing with them tools and tents and radiant hope. Men of the priesthood have given thousands upon thousands of hours in the work of rehabilitation. There have been three and four thousand at a time. There are some there tonight. We cannot say enough of thanks to them…hurricane katrina relief waveland 3

“Two of our Area Seventies, Brother John Anderson, who resides in Florida, and Brother Stanley Ellis, who lives in Texas, have directed much of this effort. But they would be the first to say that the credit belongs to the great numbers of men and boys who have given assistance. Many have worn shirts that say “Mormon Helping Hands.” They have won the love and respect of those they have assisted. Their assistance has gone not only to members of the Church in trouble, but to great numbers of those concerning whom no religious affiliation has been made. 

“They have followed the pattern of the Nephites as recorded in the book of Alma: “They did not send away any who were naked, or that were hungry, or that were athirst, or that were sick, or that had not been nourished; and they did not set their hearts upon riches; therefore they were liberal to all, both old and young, both bond and free, both male and female, whether out of the church or in the church, having no respect to persons as to those who stood in need” (Alma 1:30).

hurricane katrina relief waveland buildingListening to Pres Hinckley from Waveland Mississippi Building

I heard this talk of Presidents Hinckley’s live from that storm battered LDS Church building in Waveland Mississippi. The walls and carpet of that building had been ripped out, but there was still a roof over head so it was serving as a sort-of rescue and relief headquarters, with tons of tools, supplies and willing helpers. I remember sitting in these circumstances, in filthy clothing from a hard days work, with dozens of other brothers and sisters, huddled around a little television set in that gutted building. I remember the sense of pride, and accomplishment, and joy in having helped others.  In some respects, of course, it was a sacrifice to go there, but the rewards of serving others far outweighed that in my mind.

I uploaded to my Flckr account all the photos I have of my trips to the gulf coast in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina:

Conclusion

As I said at the beginning, each of us will enjoy that truest form of joy and we will have an abundance of spiritual and temporal prosperity when we strive to achieve a Zion-like society through:

  • Unity: “they were of one heart and one mind”
  • Righteous Living: they “dwelt in righteousness”
  • Caring for the Poor: “there was no poor among them”

Then we, like the Zion society established by the Savior in the Americas, it may be said of us, “surely there could not be a happier people among all the people who had been created by the hand of God.” (4 Ne. 1:16)

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