The month of December has my wife and me traveling back to our former ward so often that I am beginning to think that I need to encourage some of our friends there to move here just so that I can cut down on the mileage on my car. Truth be told, we had the son of a friend return from his mission and then this past Sunday, our children fulfilled a promise to our former choir director that they would sing in their Christmas program. So, although I am a bit late, may I say Merry Christmas, Feliz Navidad, Mutlu Noeller (mutt new nuwahla) to all of you and I hope your Christmas was wonderful.
I am thankful to be here today and for those of you that I have not yet been able to meet, my name is John Kennedy. My wife Catherine and I moved to Laguna Woods about 3 months ago. We were blessed to get to know the Williams family when they lived in Tustin and so when we came here it was good to be able to see them. It made our move a little easier. I am grateful to be able to speak today because our daughter Karen and our son Andrew are both home for the holidays and are here today. They are both music majors with emphasis on voice at BYU. They both sing opera. Andrew also sings with the BYU Singers and Karen with the BYU Concert Choir. We love when they are home because our home is filled with music.
My message today is based on President Dieter F. Uchtdorf’s talk, “Lord, Is it I?” from the Priesthood session of the October 2014 General Conference. President Uchtdorf began his talk by discussing our Savior’s final mortal night on Earth.
At the Last Supper, surrounded by his disciples, Christ made a chilling admonition; “One of you shall betray me.” Can you imagine this? Today, many would be looking around the room trying to figure out who he was talking about. But in those days, each one asked Him, “Lord, is it I?” I think about Judas and what was going through his mind knowing that it was he would betray his Lord. The first step in taking personal responsibility for our own salvation is introspection, not outward accusation.
Another story President Uchtdorf shared was about a man who liked to walk around his neighborhood in the evening and admire his neighbors’ landscape. One of his neighbors had a particularly well manicured lawn. On this one particular walk around his neighborhood, he passed that beautiful lawn and discovered right in the middle of it a single dandelion weed. He became obsessed with that dandelion. He thought it was incredible that the owner of this beautiful lawn could live with this huge weed in the middle of his yard. The man was so bothered by the image of that weed in his neighbor’s yard he starting thinking of ways to remove it. Should he spray weed killer on it, or sneak over in the middle of the night and dig it out? As he approached his home he was so consumed with his thoughts that he failed to notice the number of dandelion weeds taking over his own yard.
The first step in taking personal responsibility for your own salvation is introspection not outward accusation.
It is outlined in Matthew Chapter 7:1-5
1 Judge not, that ye be not judged.
2 For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.
3 And why beholdest thou the mote (toothpick) that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam (fence post) that is in thine own eye?
4 Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote (toothpick) out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam (fence post) is in thine own eye?
5 Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam (fence post) out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote (toothpick) out of thy brother’s eye.
Certainly this scripture speaks to our human nature and ability to give what we consider expert advice to others while at the same time missing the mark in our own life regarding the same subject.
So how can this manifest itself in our lives today?
Consider home teaching and visiting teaching. What importance do we attach to these acts of service. Do we say “Oh, I am too busy to visit anyone,” or “I will get to them later.” I would like to share a story about a man named Ron that I met while serving as the Ward Mission leader. Ron is elderly, on dialysis and cares for his ailing wife who suffers from the effects of a stroke. He is Mormon and she is Catholic. When they were younger they were each active members of their own faiths. They just sort of stood on their own when it came to their religion. As time went by, Ron became less active and it was at this time that I met him. As ward missionaries, we would often go on splits with the full-time elders and sisters assigned to our ward. We went to visit Ron and his wife and when we introduced ourselves he invited us into his home. As we spoke with him, we found out that his father had been a bishop when Ron was growing up and that members of his family were part of the Willie handcart company. He came from pioneer stock, from the early history of the church. We enjoyed our time with him and as we were leaving we asked if we could pray with him and at the conclusion of the prayer he asked if we would visit him again the following week. A couple of weeks into our visits, we asked if he had a Book of Mormon. He checked his home but could not find one. The ward missionary and full-time elder who were visiting him told me that they felt prompted by Holy Ghost resolve this issue. Our Full-time Missionaries jumped into action and acquired a large print type BOM. The day we went to give this to him, I brought one of our ward missionaries and the full-time missionaries. There wasn’t a dry eye between the 5 of us. Ron thanked us profusely, the spirit was strong in that home that night. The next week, I was so pleased to see as we walked up to his home that he was sitting in his living room reading that Book of Mormon. He shared with us that he had never read it cover to cover and now he was determined to do so. The tears flowed again… the simple act of checking on a less active member of the Ward had in fact re-kindled and in some ways started the fire of passion of the Gospel for this man.
Now is the time for us to ask the question, “Lord, is it I?” are we the ones that will make the difference in someone’s life? Is there something we need to do for our families, ourselves to bring us closer to our Heavenly Father? Is it regular Church attendance, prayer both individual and family, scripture study or paying tithes and offerings.
I will close with this short story. At BYU our son is blessed to sing under the direction of Dr. Ronald Staheli. Dr. Staheli is the Choral and Conducting Division Coordinator and the Director of Graduate Studies in Choral Music. He is also the founder and conductor of BYU Singers. He is an amazing and accomplished man. We have seen him conduct choirs during General Conference. However, in his home ward, he is the primary chorister. Our son and his fellow singers have been known to show up at their Primary programs just to watch Dr. Staheli work with these children.
Brothers and sisters, let us consider the still small voice of the Holy Ghost, in making decisions that will shape our future and the future of those around us. It is never too late to choose the right, seek righteousness in our dealings with others, humble ourselves to serve others and accept any calling.
May we humbly follow our Lord and Savior and I say these things in the sacred name of Jesus Christ,