Sunday, June 9, 2013

Sister Carly Graff's Farewell Talk

Добре вранці брати і сестри. (Dob-re vran-tsee brati ee sestri.) That mean’s, “Good morning Brothers and Sisters” in Ukrainian. I’d like to thank those who may have traveled long distances to hear me speak today as I prepare to serve in the Ukraine L’viv Mission.  As I speak this morning, I hope to share with you some of the bases for my testimony and my motivation for serving a mission.

The third Article of faith says “We believe that through the Atonement of Christ all mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel.”  I sincerely believe this to be true.  This belief governs who I am and lies at the core of our Church doctrine.

But what is the Atonement, and why is it necessary for our salvation?

In Preach My Gospel we read: “Before the world was organized, our Heavenly Father chose Jesus Christ to be our Savior and Redeemer. The atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ made it possible for us to overcome the effects of the Fall. All of the prophets since the world began have testified of Jesus Christ as our Redeemer.” Close quote.

Jesus Christ “came into the world…to be crucified for the world, and to bear the sins of the world, and to sanctify the world, and to cleanse it from all unrighteousness; That through him all might be saved whom the Father had put into his power and made by him;” (D&C 46:41-42)

This is the greatest sacrifice that has ever been made.  All other true sacrifices are in similitude of the Great and Eternal sacrifice of the Lamb of God.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.” (John 3:16-17)

“The Fall of Adam brought about two kinds of death into the world: physical death and spiritual death. Physical death is separation of the body and spirit. Spiritual death is separation from God” (Gospel Principles pg. 59)

Although Adam and Eve had fallen from the presence of God, our Heavenly Father already had a way designed for us to return to His presence.

 (Moses 5:5-8) “And he gave unto them commandments, that they should worship the Lord their God, and should offer the firstlings of their flocks, for an offering unto the Lord. And Adam was obedient unto the commandments of the Lord. And after many days an angel of the Lord appeared unto Adam, saying: Why dost thou offer sacrifices unto the Lord? And Adam said unto him: I know not, save the Lord commanded me. And then the angel spake, saying: This thing is a similitude of the sacrifice of the Only Begotten of the Father, which is full of grace and truth. Wherefore, thou shalt do all that thou doest in the name of the Son, and thou shalt repent and call upon God in the name of the Son forevermore.”

Indeed, the very purpose of the Holy Scriptures, the mission of the Apostles and Prophets since the time of Adam point to the Atonement.

(1Corinthians 15:22) “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive”

Just a few months ago my Great Grandma passed away, and just over four years ago my Grandfather passed away. For me, when each of them passed, it was a devastating experience. I honestly don’t know how I would cope with their passing if I did not know that our Savior and Redeemer Jesus Christ has overcome death itself for us, so that we can be resurrected and reunited with our loved ones who have gone on before us.

In speaking with my Grandma, who is a convert herself, she said quote:

 “One night, I was sitting talking with some Relief Society sisters.  One said, ‘I can't even imagine what it would feel like not to be a member.  I've been one all my life.’  I said, ‘Let me tell you exactly what it feels like to not know, what we know.’  I was 15, when the phone call came that my Grandfather had been hit and killed by a motorcycle, as he crossed the street. I was devastated and sobbing hysterically and in desperation, I called a close friend who had just recently lost her dad, thinking she could offer me some solace.  It was awkward and she had no answers for me at all.  I went into my bedroom and cried and cried.  Later that night, when I couldn't sleep, I contemplated for the first time in my life, the fact that someday my mother and father would die, my Grammas and my other Grampa, my aunts and uncles.  I realized for the first time, that someday I would be left totally alone on the earth.  I can't tell you, the horror and the devastation of that thought . . . the loneliness, the heavy blackness that surrounded me.  Over 58 years later, I still remember with vividness, the desperation I felt.  That . . . is having no understanding of the gospel.

Let me contrast.  Years later, my most precious Gramma, who had suffered a stroke and lingered for a year and a half unable to do anything, finally passed away.  My initial feeling was euphoria, not an ounce of sadness . . . to know that she wasn't dead, she was free!  I knew she was as alive as you and me.  Only her broken down earthly shell was buried, to patiently waiting for the Resurrection. I was thrilled with the knowledge of the Gospel of Christ and a testimony that assured me that a loving Heavenly Father would not create earthly families to love and care for one another so deeply and with such tender feelings, to then tear us cruelly apart and to leave us bereft in grief . . . never to see one another again.  He wouldn't do that!!!  So, He sent His Son…We will live eternally as loving families and I know that, with every fiber of my being!” Close quote.

This is the divine purpose of the Atonement—to be “made alive” through Christ that we might regain the presence of the Father in a glorified, resurrected body of flesh and bone.

Let’s continue.  In the Book of Mosiah, King Benjamin taught (Mosiah 3:7) “For behold, and also his blood atoneth for the sins of those who have fallen by the transgression of Adam, who have died not knowing the will of God concerning them, or who have ignorantly sinned.”

The Book of Mormon Prophet Alma said:

“For it is expedient that an atonement should be made; for according to the great plan of the Eternal God there must be an atonement made, or else all mankind must unavoidably perish…For it is expedient that there should be a great and last sacrifice; yea, not a sacrifice of man, neither of beast, neither any manner of fowl; for it shall not be a human sacrifice; but it must be an infinite and eternal sacrifice…There is not any man that can sacrifice his own blood which will atone for the sins of another…Therefor there can be nothing which is short of an infinite atonement which will suffice for the sins of the world…”

See, our Father in Heaven doesn’t give a commandment which He doesn’t expect to be obeyed.  But, if we break His commandments, we are found in open rebellion against the Almighty—our sins, staining our souls with the guilt of having violated the standards of a just God.  But that is precisely why the Atonement is so necessary, for all of us.

Alma’s sermon continues:

“Therefore, it is expedient that there should be a great and last sacrifice, and then shall there be, or it is expedient that there should be, a stop to the shedding of blood; then shall the law of Moses be fulfilled; yea, it shall be all fulfilled, every jot and tittle, and none shall have passed away. And behold, this is the whole meaning of the law, every whit pointing to that great and last sacrifice; and that great and last sacrifice will be the Son of God, yea, infinite and eternal. And thus he shall bring salvation to all those who shall believe on his name; this being the intent of this last sacrifice, to bring about the bowels of mercy, which overpowereth justice, and bringeth about means unto men that they may have faith unto repentance.”

Again, these verses show us that JUSTICE demands condemnation for anyone who has broken God’s laws.  It was by justice that Lucifer was cast out of Heaven for his rebellion against the Father, for “no unclean thing can dwell in the presence of God.”   This is an eternal truth.  However, we have been placed on earth, in a mortal state, where ultimate judgment has been postponed through the MERCY of the Atonement, to allow us time to repent and be reconciled with our Redeemer Jesus Christ, instead of being exiled from the Father’s presence forever for our sins.

Let’s go back to the Book of Mormon and continue where we left off in Alma.

“And thus mercy can satisfy the demands of justice, and encircles them in the arms of safety, while he that exercises no faith unto repentance is exposed to the whole law of the demands of justice; therefore only unto him that has faith unto repentance is brought about the great and eternal plan of redemption.” (Alma 34: 9-16)

But redemption from sin is not the only aspect of the Atonement.  The Atonement also deprives the grave of its victims, by extending the Resurrection to all who come to this Earth in mortality, as I mentioned earlier in the words of my Grandma.

“We will all suffer physical death, but Jesus Christ overcame the obstacle of physical death for us. When He died on the cross, His spirit became separated from His body. On the third day, His spirit and His body were reunited eternally, never to be separated again.” (Preach My Gospel pg.51)

It is Christ’s overwhelming, pure love and compassion for us that make the Atonement effective.

The New Testament teaches, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13)  Christ is the Perfect Man, who has literally laid down His life for us.  And, as we accept His Gospel, He calls us “friends.”

In his talk, Lessons from Liberty Jail, by Elder Holland it says, quote:

“…it ought to be a matter of great doctrinal consolation to us that Jesus, in the course of the Atonement, experienced all of the heartache and sorrow, all of the disappointments and injustices that the entire family of man had experienced and would experience from Adam and Eve to the end of the world in order that we would not have to face them so severely or so deeply. However heavy our load might be, it would be a lot heavier if the Savior had not gone that way before us and carried that burden with us and for us.

Very early in the Prophet Joseph’s ministry, the Savior taught him this doctrine. After speaking of sufferings so exquisite to feel and so hard to bear, Jesus said, “I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they [and that means you and I and everyone] might not suffer if they would repent” (D&C 19:16). In our moments of pain and trial, I guess we would shudder to think it could be worse, but the answer to that is clearly that it could be worse and it would be worse. Only through our faith and repentance and obedience to the gospel that provided the sacred Atonement is it kept from being worse.”

In the summer of 2003, I had the opportunity to drive home from Chicago with my Dad. On the way we had the opportunity to stop in Missouri and actually visit Liberty Jail. I was only nine years old at the time but, I remember the spirit that I felt there as we stood only feet from where the Prophet Joseph Smith stood. I am eternally grateful for the many sacrifices and trials of faith that he went through in his life to help bring the gospel of Jesus Christ back in its fullness.

Consider that for a moment.  What would our life be like without the Atonement?  Where would we be without Christ and His Gospel?  Let’s return to Elder Holland’s words.

“Furthermore, we note that not only has the Savior suffered, in His case entirely innocently, but so have most of the prophets and other great men and women recorded in the scriptures. Name an Old Testament or Book of Mormon prophet, name a New Testament Apostle, name virtually any of the leaders in any dispensation, including our own, and you name someone who has faced trouble. …My point? If you are having a bad day, you’ve got a lot of company—very, very good company. The best company that has ever lived.” Close quote.

In Preach my Gospel, we read: “We are not responsible for the Fall of Adam and Eve, but we are responsible for our own sins. God cannot look on sin with any degree of allowance, and sin prevents us from living in His presence. Only through the Savior’s grace and mercy can we become clean from sin so that we can live with God again. This is possible through exercising faith in Jesus Christ, repenting, being baptized, receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost, and enduring to the end. To fulfill the plan of salvation, Christ paid the penalty for our sins. He alone was able to do that. He was called and prepared in pre-earth life.” (Preach My Gospel pg.51)

Of course, we center our faith and hope in Christ, that we may become clean through the Atonement.  Altogether too often, we fall short of our potential (In fact, some days it seems like we are continually falling short!).  But that is part of mortality.  And, a loving Heavenly Father saw it would be when He designed the grand Plan of Salvation, with Christ’s everlasting Atonement at its center.  However, when we make mistakes, the enemy comes, whispering that because we have sinned, we are hopelessly lost and undeserving of Christ’s loving sacrifice.  This is false.

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland once said. “It is not possible for you to sink lower than the infinite light of Christ's Atonement shines”

But what do we do when we are too worn down, too broken to hope?  After nearly dying in his fight with cancer, Elder Neal A. Maxwell promised in a Priesthood Leadership Training Broadcast:  “When you are exhausted, feast on the inexhaustible gospel. You will never plumb its depths or measure all of its metes and bounds. So as you feast upon the scriptures, you will be renewed even when you’re exhausted.” (Elder Neal L. Maxwell, Priesthood Training Broadcast, 12 June 2003, page 16)

So, with the assurances of an Apostle behind us, one of the things I will be doing as a missionary in Ukraine is to encourage the good people in my mission to study the scriptures, and to listen to and understand the promptings of the spirit that they feel when reading them.

You know, for the past several months, ever since opening my mission call, I have been trying to teach myself to read and speak Ukrainian.  I can now say: Doozhe prihyemno poznayo-mih-tih-sya (Дуже приємно познайомитися) which in English means: Pleased to meet you. But, in learning Ukrainian, I’ve come to realize it is a lot like learning to understand the language of the Holy Ghost.  Sometimes, I think, it may even be easier to learn the Cyrillic alphabet!  But, if we work on it, and ask Heavenly Father for His help, soon, those impressions become more and more distinct.  At first, it may only be a feeling, or a single word.  But, in time, we will gradually come to be fluent in the language of the Spirit.

I would like to take few moments to share with you some of those promptings and experiences how I arrived at the decision to go on my mission.

This past fall I had the opportunity to attend school at BYU Idaho, and while I was up there my sister and I were fortunate enough to attend the Sunday Morning session of General Conference. For me being able to attend was amazing, especially since that wonderful announcement had just been made.

A few weeks before conference my older sister, Meghan, had received her call to serve in the Washington D.C. North Temple Visitors Center Mission. As soon as president Monson made the announcement, I was in a state of shock at the thought that Meghan and I might have the opportunity to serve at the same time.

There are stories that I heard about young Men and Women who that night called up their bishops and started the process of preparing for a mission. For me that was not the case. The whole drive home I couldn’t stop thinking about what I would do, now that the option to serve had been opened up to me as well. It took me a few weeks to finally decide to start my papers.

Up at school, I attended the temple to do baptisms as often as I could. Once, while I was waiting to do confirmations I was reading in the Doctrine and Covenants 31:3, which says: “Lift up your heart and rejoice, for the hour of your mission is come; and your tongue shall be loosed, and you shall declare glad tidings of great joy unto this generation.” After I read those words, I knew that it was my time to serve.

However as I was preparing this talk, I realized that when I had read those words I had already known that it was my time to serve, from the moment our Prophet, President Thomas S Monson made the announcement I had known. Through my patriarchal blessing my Heavenly Father had already told me that I would have “the opportunity to serve as a missionary and that [I would] prepare for this great experience in [my] youth.”

As I look back now I suppose that I was just afraid of what would happen when I decided to go--- But because of that I almost ignored that first prompting of the Spirit. So in addition to what the Lord told me in my patriarchal blessing, he had to tell me an additional time through my reading of the scriptures.

We need to make sure that we are listening to the guidance and promptings of the Spirit. These are the guardrails that will help us to stay on the straight and narrow path, that, if we are tuned in and listening will help us through our daily life leading us down the path that leads to our redemption.

Said the ancient American Prophet Nephi: Wherefore, redemption cometh in and through the Holy Messiah; for he is full of grace and truth. Behold, he offereth himself a sacrifice for sin, to answer the ends of the law, unto all those who have a broken heart and a contrite spirit; and unto none else can the ends of the law be answered. Wherefore, how great the importance to make these things known unto the inhabitants of the earth, that they may know that there is no flesh that can dwell in the presence of God, save it be through the merits, and mercy, and grace of the Holy Messiah, who layeth down his life according to the flesh, and taketh it again by the power of the Spirit, that he may bring to pass the resurrection of the dead, being the first that should rise.” (2 Nephi 2:6-8) 

“The Atonement is conditional, however, so far as each person’s individual sins are concerned, and touches everyone to the degree that he has faith in Jesus Christ, repents of his sins, and obeys the gospel.” (Bible Dictionary: Atonement)

(D&C 19:15–19) “Therefore I command you to repent—repent, lest I smite you by the rod of my mouth, and by my wrath, and by my anger, and your sufferings be sore—how sore you know not, how exquisite you know not, yea, how hard to bear you know not. For behold, I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent; But if they would not repent they must suffer even as I; Which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit—and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink—Nevertheless, glory be to the Father, and I partook and finished my preparations unto the children of men.”

(1 John 1:7) “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.”

So, the Atonement reconciles us with our Heavenly Father on conditions of repentance.  The Atonement also resurrects us from physical death.  But beyond that, the Atonement also provides relief for the physical challenges, sicknesses and bondage of mortality.  Consider these words in Alma chapter 7:

(Alma 7:11–13) “And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people. And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities. Now the Spirit knoweth all things; nevertheless the Son of God suffereth according to the flesh that he might take upon him the sins of his people, that he might blot out their transgressions according to the power of his deliverance; and now behold, this is the testimony which is in me.”

Like Alma, I, also have this testimony, that the Son of God suffered for us to extend us Mercy, when without the Atonement, the demands of Justice would consign us to death and misery for the rest of eternity.

(D&C 45:3–5) “Listen to him who is the advocate with the Father, who is pleading your cause before him—Saying: Father, behold the sufferings and death of him who did no sin, in whom thou wast well pleased; behold the blood of thy Son which was shed, the blood of him whom thou gavest that thyself might be glorified; Wherefore, Father, spare these my brethren that believe on my name, that they may come unto me and have everlasting life.”

“God sent His Beloved Son, Jesus Christ, to overcome the obstacle of sin in addition to the obstacle of physical death. He was the literal Son of God in the flesh. He was sinless and completely obedient to His Father. Though tempted, He never gave in to temptation. When the Father asked His Beloved Son to pay the price of the world’s sins, Jesus was prepared and willing. The Atonement included His suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane and His suffering and death on the cross, and it ended with His Resurrection. Though He suffered beyond comprehension—so much so that He bled from every pore and asked whether it were possible that this burden be lifted from Him—He submitted to the Father’s will in a supreme expression of love for His Father and for us. This triumph of Jesus Christ over spiritual death by His suffering and over physical death by His Resurrection is called the Atonement.” (Preach My Gospel pg. 51)

(Alma 34:8–10) “And now, behold, I will testify unto you of myself that these things are true. Behold, I say unto you, that I do know that Christ shall come among the children of men, to take upon him the transgressions of his people, and that he shall atone for the sins of the world; for the Lord God hath spoken it. For it is expedient that an atonement should be made; for according to the great plan of the Eternal God there must be an atonement made, or else all mankind must unavoidably perish; yea, all are hardened; yea, all are fallen and are lost, and must perish except it be through the atonement which it is expedient should be made. For it is expedient that there should be a great and last sacrifice; yea, not a sacrifice of man, neither of beast, neither of any manner of fowl; for it shall not be a human sacrifice; but it must be an infinite and eternal sacrifice.

In February of 2008 after completing a Personal Progress Value Experience on the Atonement, I wrote in my journal this, “My understanding of the Atonement has grown so much. It makes me want to be as good as possible, because I know that all the pain I feel he has felt…”

I would like to now add a little bit more to that short entry.

It’s hard for me to specifically tell you of one time where I had someone, “turn on the light” with regards to the Atonement. Instead I have gained my testimony of this “line upon line, precept on precept, here a little and there a little,” one drop of oil filling my lamp at a time. Whether it was filled by going to church weekly, attending early morning seminary, participating in Sunday school, listening to the guidance given in young women’s, building lifelong friendships at year after year of girls camp, being inspired by complete strangers at EFY, by finding a way to connect with our ancestors at youth conference, and by seeking refuge from the fiery darts of the adversary by attending the Temple of the Lord.

When I think of the immense sacrifice our Savior did for us, so that we could return into the presence of the Father; there is no way for me to put into words the immense joy and gratitude that I feel towards him for this infinite sacrifice.  But, in serving a mission, I hope to show what I feel, but can’t adequately say in words.
But I do know this much:  Jesus is the Christ, the Redeemer of the world.  He came into the world to perform the Eternal Atonement on our behalf and to bring about the great Plan of Happiness our Heavenly Father prepared.  By this, I know that we will all be resurrected some day.  I also know that repentance is real and is possible through His divine Work of salvation.  I know that a Prophet, Thomas S. Monson, receives revelation from God the Father and from Jesus Christ on our behalf.  And, that the Prophet, Joseph Smith, restored the fulness of the Gospel and the Priesthood to the earth in these latter days.  This is why I'm going on a mission to the Ukraine-- to share with the people of Ukraine my testimony of these things.  And, to invite them to study the scriptures for themselves that they can learn these truths also, and be baptized.
I share these things with you in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.