Matthew 18:2-3 “And Jesus called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst of them, And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.”
As I pondered on what to speak about today, this thought came to my mind. Why? Anyone spending a bit of time with a young inquiring mind will find out quickly that “Why?” is the burning question of a child. Why are we commanded to become 'as little children' and why must we love our neighbors?
In my mind, answering the question: 'Who is my neighbor?” is the key to answering both questions.
Consider the story of Lehi and his family from the Book of Mormon. Suddenly packing up everyone and everything, leaving their home, their friends and property behind, off through the desert with the entire family for who knows where. I used to read the story with Laman and Lemuel portrayed in a black and white kind of light. The younger brothers, Nephi and Sam and Jacob and Joseph believed and followed their father. Good. The elder brothers chose otherwise. Bad. So, why did they bother to invite them along? Why did put up with their murmurings, mutiny's, and violence? Why did Father Lehi and Brother Nephi so freely forgive them whenever they showed a shadow of changing for the better?
I had been just taking it in as an interesting story. Re-reading it more recently, I now see it was much more personal, it was because Lehi was their father and because Nephi was their brother. Despite all their poor choices and bad actions, they were still beloved yet rebellious members of Lehi's family. They were much more than just neighbors. They were lost family, sons and brothers.
Lehi's last words to his eldest sons [the 1st and 2nd brothers], (2 Ne 1:23-24) were: “Awake, my sons; put on the armor of righteousness. Shake off the chains with which ye are bound, and come forth out of obscurity, and arise from the dust. Rebel no more against your brother, whose views have been glorious, and who hath kept the commandments from the time that we left Jerusalem; and who hath been an instrument in the hands of God ..”
Nephi (in 2 Ne 5:1-2), [the 3rd brother] before he was forced to flee for his own life from them, writes of his continuing concern for his brothers in this way: “Behold, it came to pass that I, Nephi, did cry much unto the Lord my God, because of the anger of my brethren. But behold, their anger did increase against me, insomuch that they did seek to take away my life.”
Much later, Jacob, [the 5th brother], as an old man about to pass on, writes his final words (Jacob 7:24), saying: “And it came to pass that many means were devised to reclaim and restore the Lamanites to the knowledge of the truth; but it all was vain, for they delighted in wars and bloodshed, and they had an eternal hatred against us, their brethren. And they sought by the power of their arms to destroy us continually.”
Later still, Jacob's son Enos [Laman and Lemuel's nephew] writes (in Enos 1:20) near the end of his life: “And I bear record that the people of Nephi did seek diligently to restore the Lamanites unto the true faith in God. But our labors were vain; their hatred was fixed, and they were led by their evil nature that they became wild, and ferocious, and a blood-thirsty people, full of idolatry and filthiness”
And his son Jarom [a grand-nephew] notes (Jarom 1:2): “And as these plates are small, and as these things are written for the intent of the benefit of our brethren the Lamanites, wherefore, it must needs be that I write a little; [..] Yea; and this sufficeth me.” The record they were keeping was written not for them but for their family members in the future, the Lamanites, as well as for you and I. The reason they wrote and saved their record, the Book of Mormon that we have and read today, was 'that they [their surviving family] may know the covenants of the Lord, that they are not cast off forever' (BofM Titlepage)
Their faith and efforts were not completely in vain, we know by peeking at the end of the book, about the repentant Anti-Nephi-Lehi's, about the valiant and faithful stripling Lamanite warriors, of Samuel the Lamanite prophet, and how the Lamanites eventually became some of the more righteous faithful members of the church and eventually in 4 Nephi 1:2 we read: “And it came to pass in the thirty and sixth year, the people were all converted unto the Lord, upon all the face of the land, both Nephites and Lamanites, and there were no contentions and disputations among them” for nearly 200 peaceful glorious years.
Now consider another view of mankind. Although we don't remember much about it, you and I are family as well. We all lived together in the pre-existence before we ended up here and there in my family and yours. Like Lehi, our Father in the pre-heaven also had some children who chose not to follow Him. Lehi had 2 of his 6 sons choose to go their own way. During a struggle described as the war in heaven, a similar number, a third of the hosts of heaven, followed Lucifer, the son of the morning, and as D&C 76:26-29 teaches: “[.. he] was called Perdition, for the heavens wept over him—he was Lucifer, a son of the morning. And we beheld, and lo, he is fallen! is fallen, even a son of the morning! [.. and] we beheld Satan, that old serpent, even the devil, who rebelled against God, and sought to take the kingdom of our God and his Christ—Wherefore, he maketh war with the saints of God [..]” Why did 'the heavens weep' over him and all those he drew away with him? Because, despite what they chose to eventually become, first and foremost they were lost family. They were and are our brothers and our sisters, who sadly have chosen themselves into a corner. They choose not to qualify to receive a physical body and can never progress any further. But what of our other brothers and sisters who did made it here in the world with us now?
“Who is my neighbor?” They are our brothers and our sisters, from the pre-existence, who lived and fought with us for the right to come here on earth and to gain a body and learn to live like our brother Christ and our Father. Although our brother Satan and his followers continue to try to destroy us both physically and spiritually, through deception and choices we make here, despite our having forgotten who and where we are .. we know from scripture and modern revelation, who our neighbors really are! They are our family. Why do we call each other Brother and Sister in the church? Because, we are .. brothers and sisters in reality. Why do we send out missionaries around the world? Why the desire to continue to invite our neighbors to come join with us at church? Because, they are our brothers and our sisters. Because they belong to our family and we want our families to be together both in the here and now and after this life ends.
Like Lehi, some of you may have family members, who, for now, have chosen to separate themselves from your family, who, for now, are lost and on paths that lead away from where we are supposed to be headed. Those same feelings you have for lost or wandering loved ones are felt by those on the other side of the veil. Over there, it is a deeper concern and sadness because they remember and know them as lost family members.
My wife and I were blessed to be able to participate in our stake youth trek this past summer as one of the 20 trek families. One of the surprise trek events occurred on our Sunday morning after our meetings began. We had given each of the trek children a 'trek middle name'. I wrote this in my journal: “I joked along the trail that somehow our family seemed to be missing Faith, despite having plenty of Hope and Charity and other remarkable virtues among our trek children .. That all changed Sunday afternoon, when our family participated in the emergency rescue mission for those lost somewhere back along the trail. With your brothers standing to immediately respond to the call at Priesthood meeting to go and find them - now, as well as the rest willing and able to stay and prepare for their needs back at camp, with some effort we helped find the 'lost sheep' and return them safely to the valley. I was surprised to find so many in the group to be rescued. After getting them all safely across the creek, Bro Zobell extended our family a call to accept a new daughter into our trek family. [..] Upon our return, Hope and Ma each immediately agreed with me that we should call her Faith. She fit right in with the other trek children and enjoyed a glorious Sunday afternoon with us in the valley. The Sacrament and testimony meeting, our breaking the fast meal, letters from loved ones, and time to reflect and ponder and write in our journals were all spiritually uplifting and even somewhat emotionally draining. Ma and I had moments to talk with our new daughter all that day, until she had to return back home with [her] Bishop [..] Despite not knowing [them] nor [their] names before trek began, we were taken by surprise with the overpowering sense of family love [we, their trek Ma and Pa] felt for each of [them in our short time together]. I believe it to be a gift from our Heavenly Father – a trek miracle. He loves each of us so much and is just waiting for us to remember to turn, [to] look and listen, [to remember] and then act and obey.” We now tell them that "Trek Families are Forever, too" .. they are family.
To remind and teach us of the true nature and condition of our covenant relationship with Him, Christ used the metaphor of a mother hen and her chicks. He taught: “[..] how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!” (Matt. 23:37), to those in his land of birth and to the people in North America, “[..] how oft have I gathered you [..], how oft would I have gathered you [and ..], how oft will I gather you as a hen gathereth her chicks under her wings, if ye will repent and return unto me [..]” (3 Ne 10:4-6)
I have heard it explained this way: “[A hen] will never abandon its offspring when danger arises [.. and] will gather its offspring together to protect them. If necessary it will shield its little chicks with its own body — offering itself to preserve their lives. [..] Just as the mother hen literally uses her body to protect her chick's life, Christ literally uses his body to protect [us,] his children from spiritual destruction [.. and], to bring the resurrection of all people to pass. The beauty of the hen metaphor is that it goes beyond language, allowing [us] to simply feel Christ's love for us”. (Deseret News 11 Oct 2008 Professor Jane Allis-Pike on the 'hen metaphor'). His love for us emulates what our love should and can be for each other.
I wrote this in my July 2014 talk on Hometeaching [shortly after returning from trek], “On trek, our Ma and Pa duties were much the same: to 'watch over our trek family always, to 'exhort them to pray vocally and in secret and to attend to all 'trek' family duties', to 'be with and to strengthen them', to 'warn, expound, exhort, and teach, and invite each of our assigned 'trek children' to come unto Christ'. I found myself constantly turning and looking and counting heads. Is everyone here? Is anyone missing? Is anyone in trouble? Even sitting together under a large shady Pine tree I named 'the tree of Life' at our trek testimony meeting on Sunday, I couldn't help but constantly turn and count and check on everyone in our 'trek family. We were prompted then and even now to pray for them and discuss their welfare. As home teachers, I believe we are to do the same. Are your [assigned and own] families at church? Is anyone missing? Is anyone in trouble? Are they OK? What can you do to help? What is the spirit prompting you to do or to say to help them on their way? Is anyone lost? In reality, I believe that conversion to the gospel, being a successful missionary, being a faithful home teacher, and raising a righteous family are all elements of the same great work – bringing souls [our brothers and our sisters] unto Christ.”
If we could truly remember our life before today, how we lived then and who we were then, and who 'our neighbors' were and are and how related they are to us .. how would that change the way we view our wards and branches, our community, our country, and the world we live in? How could it change the way we treat our brothers and sisters, our neighbors? No, we cannot change others by force, as Satan had planned to do. And yes, they are free to choose for themselves as are we. But if we start to see each other in our true light, as true brothers and sisters, walking and working together along the path back to our home, how would that change our actions and attitudes to each other? What would you not do to help your own son or your daughter or your own brother or your sister along the way? How do you feel when you read of someone, perhaps a child, lost out in the world? But, if that someone was your son or your daughter, a family member, how would you feel then? When we internalize that our neighbors are, in fact, our close family, our brothers, our sisters, needing our help and assistance, when viewing the world in this true light, we begin seeing others as Lehi and Nephi saw their own brothers and their descendants, the Lamanites, as lost family members. We start to see others as Christ and His Father see us. We start to feel and share the love and concern they have for each of us, His own children and see the way He wants us to see and treat each of our brothers and sisters.
Why must be become as little children? I believe little children naturally include and love each other. Little children have not yet forgotten that we are all part of His family. They have not yet learned to categorize others into this and that, into us versus them. He loves us all and wants us to love each other, now and in the future, as little children do. Why did he say: “[..] how oft have I gathered you [..], how oft would I have gathered you [and ..], how oft will I gather you as a hen gathereth her chicks under her wings, if ye will repent and return unto me [..]” (3 Ne 10:4-6). It is because He loves us all always, as we should love Him and each other.
Graphic source [borrowed from a neighbor]: http://fumcah.com/2013/06/who-is-my-neighbor/