I gave this talk today in my branch. Please enjoy:
Good afternoon brothers and sisters. Last week in Sunday School, we discussed Matthew 5. We recognize this chapter as Jesus’ infamous Sermon on the Mount. As we enter this chapter, we see our radical elder brother setting the record straight with his disciples as to what was expected of them from Him. I love this chapter. I believe that as Christians, it highlights our moral responsibility to put away any sort of social hierarchy and advocate love and equality among our sisters and brothers. I believe it shows us a way of living that, if implemented, would revolutionize our individual lives and communities. This chapter teaches us that salvation not only lies in our outward actions, but also with the heavier weighted inward thoughts. It teaches us how our interactions with our fellow brothers and sisters must be: full of love and less of preconceived judgments.
Alas, my talk today is NOT about the Sermon on the Mount, but I would, as a side note, recommend you to reread this beautiful manifesto and staple of the gospel by our Savior. I would, however like you to remember the closing verse of Matthew 5, where Jesus leaves us with a daunting invitation. He says that we need to “be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (Matt 5:48). In this case, the Greek translation of the word perfect means complete, finished and fully developed. I have often pondered this invitation. Even in my most valiant attempts, I find myself in particular to be a very selfish and prideful human; I am in no way finished or complete. What is interesting to me is that this invitation infers a process to go through rather than something we miraculously become. Sometimes the word perfect is used interchangeably with the word righteous and it is on this word that I would like to focus the subject of my talk. I wish to first discuss how we define righteousness. I would then like to categorize righteousness into three important relationships. I will then like to talk about how by nurturing these relationships we can cultivate a perfection of our very own.
First, how do we define righteousness? We call Jesus Christ the Son of Righteousness. Christ is the son of God, so we can assume that righteousness is an attribute of God. The word righteousness is a word composed of a plethora of other words: integrity, upright, just, innocent, true, and sincere. It is a moral and ethical duty to do right. When we are righteous we know our actions are pleasing to God. In the Old Testament, we understand righteousness to be a result of keeping the commandments, or doing rightly as part of a covenant relationship with God. As a person met the demands of hers or his social relationships this person was thought to be a righteous being. In the New Testament, righteousness is changed a bit with the introduction or emphasis that Christ puts on love, faith and mercy. Although the OT understanding is still recognized, faith and love for God becomes the motivating factor of doing right. As a person lives with faith in God and does His will, she or he is reckoned righteous by God.
I do not think it is very easy to be righteous and so I do not use the word lightly when I say someone is righteous—indeed, I would say that there aren’t many people in this world who I would assign this title to. For me, she or he would have to be saint-like to be deemed righteous. Perhaps that is why I think it appropriate that Christ is referred to as the Son of Righteousness, or as Righteousness himself. God is righteous because he is not only right, but because he does the right thing and because He puts right things that are wrong. Is not our purpose on Earth to “know the only true God and Jesus Christ” (John 17:3)—or to know Righteousness? Understanding what it means to be righteous is understanding eternal life and true happiness. Just look up righteous or righteousness in the Topical Guide, I promise you that you will find reference after reference saying that those who were righteous were happy. When we make righteousness become the working principle in all our relationships we develop a character like God’s.
Righteousness can be developed by doing right in the relationships we find ourselves in. There are three different relationships I would like to talk about: first, with our Heavenly Father and Mother—or God; second, with the Earth; and third with people. First, righteousness as it pertains to God and our relationship with Him. In a righteous relationship with God we are doing what is right, or we are following the commandments. We regard our relationship with God as a priority, as sacred and as real. In this regard we faithfully devote ourselves to be like God. We believe him when he says he will make us clean if we repent. I do not believe that simply following the commandments will get us an in with God though. The nature or quality of our relationship with God is a manifestation of our love and faith in him. It is a manifestation of the trust we have in him, in Christ, in repentance and grace--all that makes the Atonement real. Remember, to be perfect is to be fully developed, and our relationship with God is just one of the many we need to do right by, albeit a very important one.
Second, is our relationship with the Earth. Our interaction with the Earth and responsibility to do right by Her is a duty we do not often think of as a moral or religious responsibility. We see no commandment that says, “Do not litter,” or “renew, reuse, recycle” or “cut back on your carbon usage” or “reduce monoculture crops” or “eat meat sparingly” (oh, wait, I think that one may be out there already…). To me, pollution and the excessive overuse and disrespect for the Earth’s resources is just as sinful and hurtful to God and Mother Earth as it is when we lie, cheat or steal. Perhaps not a sin of commission—most of us are not actively destroying our Mother Earth, but a sin of omission by not doing anything to keep our beautiful earthly home clean, respected, healthy and beautiful. What kind of relationship do you have with the soil, the trees or the air you breathe? May I invite you cultivate this relationship righteously? Start a garden, recycle, drive less, walk more, buy less, learn where your food comes from and recognize what it is, get involved with your community and get educated.
Third is our relationship with the people around us. We have only to refer to the Sermon on the Mount to get the idea Christ wants us to have. In Matthew 5:38-44 it reads:
38 Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: 39 But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40 And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloke also. 41 And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain. 42 Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away. 43 Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy. 44 But I say unto you Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;
Here we read of a drastic change in the social understanding of the Law as Christ infuses mercy, love, respect, and a pacifist outlook into what before was a black and white understanding of right and wrong. Turn then to Mosiah 4:26:
...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 you substance to the poor, every man according to that which 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.
I love this scripture because it charges us to be charitable with our less fortunate brethren. It charges us to put away pride and in humility give what has been blessed to us. The seriousness of this verse is qualified by the first phrase, “for the sake of retaining a remission of your sins from day to day.” And lastly to John 13:34-35:
34 A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. 35 By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.
Such a simple phrase, “love one another” and yet, I think it is the most neglected. Sure we love our family and our friends, and our hearts go out to people in need all over the world, but is that enough? It is very clear to me what our relationship with our fellowmen should be like if we want to deem it righteous and the word is love. I was excited when the 3-fold mission of the church became a 4-fold mission. If any of you are not unfamiliar with this addition, they are now: proclaim the gospel, redeem the dead, perfect the saints and now, care for the poor and the needy. While I appreciate our churches efforts to extend its helping hands to people in need around the world, I worry that many, including myself, let this be the excuse that keeps us from being “anxiously engaged in a good cause” ourselves, in our own communities (D&C 58:27-28). In the Doctrine and Covenants 58:27-28, we learn that we not only need to be involved, but that it is up to us individually to use our agency to choose to become involved in righteousness. When we chose to live our lives righteously we can as Ghandi said, “Be the change [that we] want to see in the world.”
My favorite Beatitude is found in Matthew 5:6, “Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.” I love this scripture because it shows us what happens as we lfill ourselves and strive to be righteous: that we will be filled. Think back of our definition of perfect—to be complete, finished and fully developed. I believe that as we care for the relationships we have with God, the Earth and its humanity, and try to do right by them, we shall become filled. We shall be filled with happiness, the Spirit and love. I am in no way close to this type of nirvana, and so I feel somewhat like the pot calling the kettle black here, but these are some of the things I have discovered about what it means to be righteous. I hope that my words have touched some of your hearts. I testify that we will not come to know righteousness by ourselves, but it is only through the Atonement and love that we are able to make righteousness the working principal in our personal lives. In Romans 10:3-4 it says,
3 For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God. 4 For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth.
I emphasize again that we cannot do this by ourselves, and for this I am grateful for my Savior, who, by example, taught us how to live by righteousness and who comes in the meridians of my life to help bring balance and peace to me as I strive to attain righteousness. I testify that, as children of our Heavenly Parents, we will come to know them and become more like them, as we hunger and thirst after righteousness in the relationships we cultivate. I know God loves us. In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.