While I wasn’t born into the church, my Mum joined early enough that when I was eight I was baptized. Several decades later I can’t remember every detail of the event, but I do remember the baptismal talk given by my friend’s mum. She spoke of how she wasn’t baptized until she was 19 years old and how fortunate I was to be baptized young. I remember wondering at her desire to have been baptized younger, theorizing that once a person made it through childhood and adolescence all their sinning and temptations were over. If they were then to be baptized as an adult, they were washed clean, and could enjoy a pure and easy adulthood. In my mind adulthood was a smooth sailing reward if you had learned what you needed to as a child and then the job was to help the next generation to make it to adulthood. Of course when I shared this opinion with the adults in my life they chuckled and told me that being a grown up has it’s own challenges and that the sooner you can be baptized and establish righteous habits and a close relationship with the Lord, the better.
I am especially happy to speak on the subject of baptism today as it has been a topic of discussion in our home recently. In December our older son, Red, was baptized. In preparation for this event we spoke extensively about being ready and worthy. Now that he has been baptized and has received the gift of the Holy Ghost we engage in conversation regarding the responsibilities of a baptized member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
We know from the fourth article of faith that the first ordinance of the gospel is baptism, and that to get there we need to follow the first two principles of the gospel, which are faith in the Lord, Jesus Christ, and repentance. This is a pattern established by Christ which we can see laid out in the New Testament. 2Ne 31:17-18 also supports this and reads “For the gate by which ye should enter is repentance and baptism by water; and then cometh a remission of your sins by fire and by the Holy Ghost.
And then are ye in this straight and narrow path which leads to eternal life.”
In the October 2000 general conference Elder Hales said, “We cannot take lightly the law given to us to teach our children the doctrine of repentance; faith in Christ, the Son of the living God; and of baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands when eight years old, which is the age of accountability appointed by God. We need to do a better job of teaching our children and our grandchildren to understand what it means to enter the kingdom of God, for we will be held accountable. Many members of the Church do not fully understand what happened when they went into the waters of baptism. It is very important for us to understand the marvelous gift of the remission of sins, but there is much more. Do you understand and do your children understand that when they are baptized they are changed forever?”
He continues, “When we are baptized, we take upon ourselves the sacred name of Jesus Christ. Taking upon us His name is one of the most significant experiences we have in life.” He further reminds us that weekly as we partake of the sacrament we renew our baptismal covenants.
It is during that quiet time we should reflect upon the previous week and take stock of our actions. The sacrament is an opportunity without the distractions of the rest of our lives to open up our book of deeds and have a conversation with the Lord. It is in this quiet communion that we are guided to know aspects of our lives that are in need of fine-tuning. As we partake of the sacrament worthily we will be inspired to know how to refine ourselves, bringing us even closer to the Lord.
One of my favourite scriptures is chapter 18 of the Book of Mosiah. Here Alma preaches privately the words taught by Abinadi. He taught of Christ, of the resurrection, and of the redemption of the people that would come through Christ’s atonement. As he taught, the number of people who came to hear his words of repentance and redemption grew, and they desired to change their lives with this new knowledge Alma had given them.
Beginning midway through verse 8 and continuing through verse 9 Alma says, “and now, as ye are desirous to come into the fold of God, and be called his people, and are willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light; Yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death, that ye may be redeemed of God, and be numbered with those of the first resurrection, that ye may have eternal life—“
This, my friends, is what we each promise to do when we are baptized, and each week that we partake of the sacrament we renew that covenant with the Lord.
As we seek to be perfected through Christ’s atonement, we refine ourselves to be tools in the hands of the Lord for the building of Zion. Exaltation is not achieved simply by eliminating ourselves of our sins, it’s not simply avoiding the “thou shalt not”s of the commandments. Indeed the highest state of glory in the next life is achieved the same way true happiness is created in this life: we need to be actively engaged in helping others. Christ’s entire mortal ministry was one of service; He healed the sick, He performed miracles, He taught the gospel, and He loved everyone.
Joseph Smith said “we ought to have the building of Zion as our greatest object.”
To begin with a quick definition of Zion, D&C 97:19,21 tells us it is the pure in heart and Moses 7:18 tells us that the people of Zion are of one heart, one mind, etc. A quick word of note on unity: it is not sameness. A Zion people are not clones of each other, rather it is their unity of purpose and love that allows them the freedom to truly be the individuals God created.
To build anything you need a good foundation, and since Zion begins in our hearts we need to prepare our hearts by learning how to worship. I love the blueprints given to us by the Nephites for building Zion.
3 Nephi 17 teaches us to come to Christ as families, as the Nephites did. We must bring our children to
Christ, stand united as parents in keeping them separated from the world, and then we can have the divine help and
protection for our children that we so need.
3 Nephi 18 and 20 are duplicate teachings of the sacrament ordinance; an ordinance so important that we do it weekly to effect change in our lives. This is where we renew our covenants.
Prayer and the gift of the Holy Ghost are also important foundations for building Zion, purity of ordinances administered by authority are important, and feasting on the complete Word of God (it is not an a la carte menu.)
Finally, 3 Nephi 18:22-25 reminds us, as a former teacher of mine said, “Zion is a GROUP PROJECT! We need each other to help us become more Christlike – we knock the rough edges off each other, we find out what our weaknesses are as we interact with each other, we get a chance to practice being Christlike as we learn to tolerate, appreciate, love and serve each other – we need much time to practice this! Meetings and Ward activities are essential for this!” (Christie Frandsen)
Going back to Mosiah 18, we see Zion in progress:
*vs1-2: Hear the truth – focus on the central truths of the Gospel
*vs3-7: Gather together
*vs8-11: Make covenants – vertical and horizontal connections
*vs12-13: Authority is essential!
*v16: Be filled with the grace of God – our ONLY power source
*v18: Share authority and responsibility generously
*vs19-20: Teach NOTHING but the purity of Christ’s doctrine
*vs23-28: Be doers and not just hearers of the Word by attending meetings, praying often, and performing service
*vs21-22: End Result? Becoming children of God – ZION
Mosiah 25:5-10 demonstrates for us some practical day-to-day Zion-building. Here Mosiah read to his people the records of Zeniff followed by the account of Alma and his brethren, articulating their struggles and their journeys back to Zarahemla. When he had finished his people felt a unifying force to these people whom they hardly knew, bonded together with them. We need to do the same. As we reach out in friendship, as we do our home and visiting teaching, we need to share our testimonies and our personal experiences. We need to be honest about our struggles and be compassionate with those who struggle. We need to bear one another’s burdens that they may be light, we need to mourn with those that mourn and comfort those that stand in need of comfort.
It is my belief that for us to live in the kingdom of God we must do all we can to create it while we are here on earth. We must follow the example of Christ in dealing with our fellowmen, loving those who sin and who hurt us just as we love those who are kind to us. We must follow the examples of the righteous Zion builders in the scriptures. The metaphor used in Mosiah 18:21 is that their hearts were knit together. Is anyone here a knitter? Knitting transforms one thin strand of yarn into a warm, useful piece of clothing in which different colors of yarn make it better. Holes need to be repaired immediately but if done so that spot can be even stronger than it was before. Can we knit our hearts together to create Zion? Yes, as we keep our baptismal covenants.
Our local leaders receive inspiration for our local needs, and at the beginning of this year Bishop exhorted us all to be more compassionate, more kind, and less judgmental. In short, Bishop asked us to create Zion.
Our will probably never be translated as was the City of Enoch, but the true blessings for us will come as we work together to build up Zion. Lucy Mack Smith said, “We must cherish one another, watch over one another, comfort one another, and gain instruction, that we may all sit down in heaven together.” In short, we must keep our baptismal covenants.