So have you ever heard the one about the time the Pope, a rabbi in a Mormon apostle, walked into a room? This sounds like the beginning of a bad joke, but it really happened to me two years ago when the Vatican invited leaders from 14 different faiths in 23 countries to come to Rome and discuss the importance of marriage between man and woman. And of course, one of those invited was President Henry B. Irene of the First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latterday Saints. Now, I’m not going to talk more about that event or about marriage, but I simply mentioned that gathering in Rome and this picture of Pope Francis with President Irene, because to me, they illustrate a larger truth.
And that is this that God, when he said he’s no respecter of persons, that he was serious about that. Now, of course, that’s King James Bible language. It means that our God is a good father who doesn’t pick favorites in his eyes. All of us all around the world have equal dignity and value and worth. And one of the geniuses of his creation, I think, is that he didn’t make any two of us the same.
We’re all different. We all have unique talents and abilities. And I also believe we all have gaps in our souls that can only be filled by each other, by learning from those who don’t think, act, and believe the way we do. And I truly believe that’s one of the greatest blessings and gifts he gives us in this life is the opportunity to learn from each other. And in my life, I haven’t always recognized those opportunities.
And if I have, I haven’t always appreciated them. So for the next couple of minutes, I want to talk about how in my life’s journey, how I’ve come to appreciate learning from people who aren’t like me and particularly from those who are not Latterday Saints. Twelve years ago, I was a Mormon missionary in Eastern Ukraine, and I remember just being thrilled to travel halfway around the world to learn Russian and share this message with people, the message of the restored Gospel, of course, that most of them don’t have. And over time, since I’ve come home, I’ve come to realize that they also had a lot to teach me. My mission friends and I would often pass these beautiful churches that dot the land in Eastern Ukraine and the surrounding countries where Eastern Orthodox Christianity is big.
And I remember seeing the beauty of these. And I appreciate the beauty because I obviously took photos. But now I look back and I see the beauty in a different way. When I see the beauty of these, I see great symbolism. Look at the outside.
You see beautiful colors and shapes, the cupolas and the crosses that point people to Christ. And then you think of the inside of the building, the music, the candles, the art stained glass. It seems symbolic of the kind of inner moral life that a believing Christian should lead. And I’m just very grateful for the opportunity to have been there and the things that those buildings have taught me. Now, another aspect of Eastern Orthodoxy that I didn’t appreciate back then the way I do now, is what’s called a Pascold reading.
If you’ve been to Russia, you’ll know what this is or Ukraine or surrounding areas. On Easter, when you say hello to somebody, instead of saying hello, you say Christ vasqueres, which means that’s Russian for Christ is risen. And the person responds to you by saying Vaisi NUVAS cres, which is Russian for indeed he has risen. And I remember hearing this salutation a lot my first Easter Sunday. And maybe you’ve done something like this where you write something in your journal or keep a record a long time ago and you come back and look at it and you’re kind of embarrassed that you wrote that thing that night.
I wrote in my journal that seeing all this was a little annoying. Those are the words I wrote. And now I kind of wonder why I did that. Why would I, as a Latterday Saint Christian, consider this annoying? It’s a salutation that not only points to, but affirms the reality of one of the most important events of all time the resurrection.
Now, I think part of that could be because I was infected with a little bit of spiritual pride. If you’ve been a missionary, you might be familiar with that trademark fire of faith that you have to go out there and share a message. And it’s an important message, and we should be excited about it. But sometimes we can let that fire, if we’re not careful, consumer humility and blind us to the goodness that exists outside of the church. Now, I’ve had the opportunity over the years to learn more from people of other faiths, and I’m really grateful for that.
And I want to talk a little bit more about that. Think of some of the scriptures that we quote as Latterday Saints that can cause us maybe to fall into that trap of not seeing the goodness that exists outside the church. There’s the words that we hear that this church is the only true and living church on the face of the earth. Now, for all the things that that does mean, and it means a lot, it certainly doesn’t mean we’re God’s only people. And then there’s the scripture from the life of Joseph Smith, who is the founding prophet, where he describes the other churches of his day as all wrong and that all their creeds were an abomination and the professors of those creeds were all corrupt.
If you just take that scripture and don’t think of the historical context, you can make a big mistake. And our attitude toward those who don’t belong to this church can become nothing more than a we’re, right? And you’re wrong kind of mentality. And that’s not what God wants. He wants us to be people that builds bridges and people that are peacemakers.
Now, Brigham Young, who is, of course, the second president of this church, taught us that every particle of truth that every person has received is a gift from God. Every particle of truth that every person has received is a gift from God. So obviously, Latterday Saints are not the only ones out there who have spiritual insights to share with the world. Now, I like the concept taught by the late Swedish theologian and Lutheran bishop Christ Stendall, this concept of holy envy, the ability to admire elements and teachings of other faiths. And the interesting thing about his comment when I heard him say this is that he was describing his own holy admiration for a practice of performing vicarious baptism for those who have died.
Of course, that takes place in Latterday St temple. So we can do this. We can develop our own kind of holy envy, holy admiration for other faiths. And some experiences for my life kind of illustrate how I’ve come to appreciate that. Three years ago, I was assigned to travel to Monterey, California to report on an interfaith Thanksgiving food drive.
It was hosted by the Bethel Missionary Baptist church there in nearby Seaside, California. And the Sunday before the event, I remember we were invited to the office of Dr. Henry Lusk. He’s the head pastor there. And I still remember being moved by his deep faith in Christ and his fearlessness in talking about this.
And then we attended his worship service, and some of the most beautiful music I’ve ever heard was performed by a group of men in that congregation. And then later on in the worship service, as it concluded, we were invited to hold hands with other people as we closed in prayer. Somewhat of a different experience than we have as Latter day Saints and our worship services, but no less inspiring. And then during the week, it was great to see Baptists and Latterday Saints and Pentecostals come together and put aside the doctrinal differences that are certainly there and serve our fellow man. And Dr.
Les told us that this type of thing was important because we’re all God’s children. We all worship the same God, we all have the same purpose, and the welfare of our fellow man is our mutual concern. And he reminded us that it was Christ who taught us that we have to get outside the walls of our churches and reach out to everyone. Of course, reaching out to those within the churches is important as well. We can’t forget those who are outside the walls.
Now, more recently, I have been touched by some of the things I’ve encountered, some of the writings I’ve encountered from some Christian and Jewish authors, and I’ll just share a few of them with you. Some of the ones that are most meaningful to me. The first is from maybe a name you’ve heard robbie Zacharias. He’s an internationally well known itinerant preacher, travels the world defending the gospel of Christ. I like the story he tells from the New Testament.
You’re familiar with it, where a man comes to Christ and asks him if it’s appropriate to pay taxes. And Christ says, Give me a coin. And he says, Whose images on that coin? And the man says, well, it’s Caesar’s image. And then the well known line comes, render therefore under Caesar the things that are Caesars and unto God the things that are God’s.
And then I just love this commentary that David adds to this. It’s a new way to look at the scripture for me. He said that the disingenuousness of the questioner was exposed immediately because he didn’t ask a follow up question. He should have asked, what belongs to God? You told me what belongs to Caesar?
What belongs to God? And then Robbie says, Jesus would have answered it this way whose image is on you? You give yourself to God because you are fashioned in his image. And I just love that way of thinking about that verse. I’d never thought of it that way.
And the more I read from Robbie Zacharias, the more I come to appreciate him as a man who’s very gifted at helping people think about the gospel, not just believing it, but thinking about it and thinking about why it makes sense. Now, another quote I wanted to share comes from Dr. Russell Moore of the Southern Baptist Convention. That’s one of the largest religious groups in the country. In a recent book, he talks about the importance of recognizing what our Common Core identity is.
And I like the way he says it. He says that national identity is important, but it’s transitory. He says there will come a day when old glory, of course, speaking of the American flag, yields to an older glory when the new Republic succumbs to a new creation. We must not shirk our callings as citizens, but we must not see our citizenship of the moment as the final word. And then he concludes by saying, we are Americans best when we are not Americans first.
I love the way that teaches me of how we should remember that before anything else in this life, we are children of God and brothers and sisters. Really well said. And then another quote from rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, former chief rabbi in the UK. He, in a recent book, talked about how we are each blessed by God, each precious in his sight, each with our role in his story, each with our own song and the music of humankind. And he goes on to say that to be a child of Abraham is to learn to respect the other children of Abraham, even if their way is not ours.
And we know that we are loved, and that must be enough. And to insist that being loved entails that others be unloved is to fail to understand the nature of love itself. And I appreciate this so much, perhaps because I, like a lot of people, waste too much energy in life, maybe jealous of others who seem to have more or given more by God somehow thinking that means he’s passed me over, when the truth is that divine love is something that everybody can have. And I just love the way Rabbi Sachs teaches that truth. Now, these comments remind me of something that Elder Jeffrey R.
Holland, in fact, taught just a month ago at Brigham Young University. He said that of course we can’t measure the value of the good that has come to us from Mormon prophets and apostles, but we can put them aside in a special category all their own. And he says we can still consider the world shaping views and moral force that have come to us from a Martin Luther or a John Calvin or a John Wesley in an earlier age, or from a Billy Graham or a Pope Francis or a Dalai Lama in our current time. And we could add to that from a ravi Zacharias, from a Russell Moore, from a Rabbi Sachs and many others. So we know that there are 15 million Latter day Saints in the world.
It’s great that so many have accepted the restored Gospel, but we should also put it in context that among 7 billion people were still a pretty tiny minority. And in fact, this illustration is probably an exaggeration of what 15 million will even look like among 7 billion. You’d need a pretty powerful microscope to even see us there. So we’ve got to remember that we’re small. But among the 7 billion, there are lots of others.
Other Christians, other Jews and Muslims and others who are doing great good, and they have great influence. And there’s opportunity to partner with them in our communities to show the world at large the fruits of good faith.
Now that considered, we have to remember something from Elder Mormon F. Whitney, who was a Latter day Saint apostle. He said this 88 years ago that God is using more than one people for the accomplishment of this great work. And the Latter day Saints cannot do it all. It’s too vast, it’s too arduous for any one people.
So yes, we can work together, and we should, and we need to. And of course, we have a message that other people need to hear. We have a very special thing, the restored Gospel. But we also need to remember that God expects us to learn from others as well. And we can’t do that unless we’re willing to open our hearts and our minds and our ears to those who think and act and believe differently than we do.
And I believe that as we do that not only will we be uplifted, but I think we’ll become better ambassadors of good faith. And it’s the fruits of good faith that I believe that our despairing and hopeless world needs now more than it ever has. Thank you. Bye.