Disclaimer: This is kind of a long talk. Please don't think I expect you to read it! I'm mainly posting it for my Mom and sister, who would be interested.
A day nearly 24 years ago stands out in my memory as a very special one. On June 30, 1984, the sun was shining in Eugene, Oregon–not something to be taken for granted–and the trees were in full bloom. I wore a pretty new dress that my Grandma had made for this special occasion. I was nervous and excited. When my time finally came, I remember walking down into the baptismal font, and thinking gratefully, that the water was warm. I had asked my oldest brother, who had recently returned from a mission, to baptize me, and he was there with a big smile on his face. As I came up out of the water, I remember seeing my proud, smiling father, who was standing as a witness. And I remember hugging my mother when I stepped out of the font, probably getting her wet, now that I look back on it!
I don’t know that I fully understood then all that my baptism represented. I remember wondering if what my Grandpa joked about had come true: that all my sins were washed away, and because I had so many, they clogged the drain! But I do know that I loved my Heavenly Father and Jesus, and wanted to please them, and that even at that tender age of eight I had a strong testimony that I was doing the right thing.
I would later learn that just as important as my baptism, was receiving the Gift of the Holy Ghost. The Prophet Joseph Smith taught: ""You might as well baptize a bag of sand as a man, if not done in view of the remission of sins and getting of the Holy Ghost. Baptism by water is but half a baptism, and is good for nothing without the other half——that is, the baptism of the Holy Ghost""
2 Ne 31:17 says, "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." It’s the combination of baptism by water and by fire that sanctifies us and gives us remission of our sins.
President Wilford Woodruff called the gift of the Holy Ghost the greatest gift we can receive in mortality. Let me repeat that so it can soak in: the gift of the Holy Ghost is the greatest gift we can receive in mortality. Why so?
Elder Dallin H. Oaks quotes some of the scriptural teachings about the Holy Ghost:"The Holy Ghost, or Comforter "teaches us all things and brings all things to our remembrance. He guides us into truth and shows us things to come. He testifies of the Son...[He is] the means by which God inspires and reveals his will to his children. The Holy Ghost bears record of the Father and of the Son. He enlightens our minds and fills us with joy. By the power of the Holy Ghost we may know the truth of all things. By his power we may have the mysteries of God unfolded to us. The Holy Ghost shows us what we should do. We teach the gospel as we are directed by the Holy Ghost, which carries our words into the hearts of those we teach."
Elder Oaks continues: "The gift of the Holy Ghost is so important to our faith that a prophet gave it unique emphasis in a conversation with the president of the United States. Joseph Smith had journeyed to Washington to seek help in recovering compensation for injuries and losses the Saints had suffered in the Missouri persecutions. In his meeting with the president, Joseph was asked how this Church differed from the other religions of the day. The Prophet replied that "we differed in mode of baptism, and the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands." He later explained that this answer was given because "all other considerations were contained in the gift of the Holy Ghost."
The blessings of having the gift of the Holy Ghost in our lives comes with one condition: worthiness. The Nephites learned this the hard way in Helaman 4:24: And they saw that they had become weak, like unto their brethren, the Lamanites, and that the Spirit of the Lord did no more preserve them; yea, it had withdrawn from them because the Spirit of the Lord doth not dwell in unholy temples."
Elder Oaks again, "Even though we have a right to his constant companionship, the Spirit of the Lord will dwell only with us when we keep the commandments. He will withdraw when we offend him by profanity, uncleanliness, disobedience, rebellion, or other serious sins."
So we must be clean and unspotted to keep the Holy Ghost in our lives. The same Holy Ghost that Wilford Woodruff said is the greatest gift we can have in mortality. I know none of you will be shocked, but the truth is that I’ve sinned since June 30th, 1984, when I received a remission of my sins! Technically that sin would make me unworthy of the gift of the Holy Ghost. I’m not sure, but probably most of you have sinned too. So what do we do? Are we supposed to try and time our baptism and confirmation so that we just die right after it?
Heavens no! Thank goodness the Lord has spelled out a plan, and made a way for us to renew the covenants we made at baptism, thus becoming clean again, and regaining the gift of the Holy Ghost.
First we must repent. I love with all my heart Alma the younger’s example of repentance that he shared with his son: he cried, "O Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me, who am in the gall of bitterness, and am encircled about by the everlasting chains of death. And now behold when I thought this, I could remember my pains no more; yea, I was harrowed up by the memory of my sins no more. And oh, what joy, and what marvelous light I did behold; yea, my soul was filled with joy as exceeding as was my pain!"
After our repentance, and with a "broken heart and contrite spirit," we take the Sacrament in remembrance of the body and blood of the Son, and we promise again to Heavenly Father what we promised at our baptism: that we are willing to take upon us the name of his son, always remember him, and keep his commandments. In return, we again receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, "that we may always have his Spirit to be with us."
Do we treat the Sacrament as the great gift that it is? It is one of the most sacred ordinances in the Church. Elder Melvin J. Ballard once said: "I am a witness that there is a spirit attending the administration of the sacrament that warms the soul from head to foot; you feel the wounds of the spirit being healed, and the load is lifted. Comfort and happiness come to the soul that is worthy and truly desirous of partaking of this spiritual food."
Taking the Sacrament is not a difficult thing. In return for the awesome gift of remission of sins and the Holy Ghost, the Lord isn’t asking us to do some great big feat. He has simply said, "That thou mayest more fully keep thyself unspotted from the world, thou shalt go to the house of prayer and offer up thy sacraments upon my holy day." Once a week. For a few minutes. Remember Him. And we’ll be given what a Prophet of God called the greatest gift we can receive in mortality!
Such a small and simple thing. Hmmm...that sounds familiar. What are we told about small and simple things? That by them are great things brought to pass. It’s in the little things that we either sink or swim.
I like to look at the Sacrament as a safety net, of sorts. If I truly come to the Sacrament table every week with a broken heart and contrite spirit, remembering what the Lord has done for me, and feasting on His Spirit, I will never fall too far away. If there’s only a week between each sincere sacramental experience, I doubt that I’ll drift so far that I’ll never want to come back, because apostasy doesn't usually happen in a day. It sneaks in our back door.
Sheri Dew said it this way: "Men and women who sell their birthright for a mess of pottage almost universally confess that their demise began with something small, with some seemingly insignificant breach of integrity that escalated. The little things do matter...Believe me, Lucifer wants those of the noble birthright. He wants our minds and our bodies and our souls. I daresay there is no greater smirking in the underworld than when he gets his chains around a man or woman who has made sacred covenants."
When we partake of the sacrament worthily, reverently, and regularly, we are putting on spiritual armor that protects us, and our families, from the wiles of the devil. We are declaring who’s side we choose to be on, and with the companionship of the Holy Ghost, we can do miraculous things!
Brigham Young taught that "if the Latter-day Saints will walk up to their privileges, and exercise faith in the name of Jesus Christ, and live in the enjoyment of the fulness of the Holy Ghost constantly day by day, there is nothing on the face of the earth that they could ask for, that would not be given to them." Wow! And yet he also said, "I am satisfied, however, that in this respect, we live far beneath our privileges."
Perhaps you’ve heard the story of a woman who had always wanted to go on a cruise. She saved her money for a long time and the day finally came that she was able to buy passage on a her dream cruise. She took a tour of the ship, impressed by all the amenities. When the time came for her dinner reservation, however, she went back to her cabin and ate some cheese and crackers that she had brought with her. She knew that she had spent all of her money just being able to go on the cruise–she didn’t have any left for extravagant feasts. She did this for every meal. As the cruise ended and she was disembarking, the crew was there to say goodbye. She passed one crew member who seemed genuinely confused.
"I am the Food Service Director," she said, "and I’m so surprised because I never saw you in the dining room. I made an effort to talk to every guest, and yet I’ve never seen you. Did you not eat while you were on board?"
Embarrassed, the woman nodded, and explained, "Well, I spent all I had just to be on the ship, so I knew I couldn’t afford the fancy food you serve. I ate in my cabin at every meal."
At this the Food Service Director looked shocked. "Did you not know?" she asked. "The price of the food was included with your passage. All the meals on the ship were free!"
Can you imagine this woman's dismay when she realized that she could have been feasting on gourmet food, when instead she had been getting by on cheese and crackers? What about us? Are we feasting on the Spirit that Heavenly Father so wants to give to us, or are we settling for cheese and crackers?
It is my prayer that we take full advantage of the feast of the sacrament that is offered to us every Sunday. I’m the first to acknowledge how difficult that can be with little ones. But if we can remember the sacredness of the ordinance, remember the blessings that accompany it, remember Him!, we will notice a difference in our hearts and in our everyday lives.