A Sermon of Impossibility (3 Nephi 12-16)

Monday, September 21, 2020


Transcribed by Maddie Daetwyler of @lightenprint

C: Hi, I’m Channing

E: And I’m Elise.

C: And this is the Faithful Feminists podcast.

E: But this is not just any Come Follow Me podcast. We do things a little differently here. We offer approachable feminist interpretations of the Come Follow Me manual for those who want to study and understand the scriptures in a framework of equality, social justice, and sisterhood. We are here to show you all the really good ways that faith and feminism work together to illuminate and deepen the gospel experience.

C: We saved you a seat on the soft chairs. So join us today for a conversation about Third Nephi chapters 12 through 16, for the date September 21st through the 27th. We're so glad you're here.

E: Welcome back. We are so excited to share this episode with you because it's all about Jesus.

C: He's finally here! We're just excited to talk about His words. I love the poeticism of them. And just talk about Him and his message and all the radical newness that He brings to the Nephites.

E: Right. And that really is what's happening here. He's dishing out this sermon, unlike anything that people have heard before. Yes, there have been prophets and people on the ground doing the work and spreading the word, but Jesus does us one better by pushing the limits of what we think is good and righteous behavior. And asks us to do more. One of the things that I love about particularly chapter 12 is that there's this sense of impossibility, that we are expected and called to work towards things that seem impossible. Right? If someone takes your shirt, you're supposed to give them your coat. If you have enemies, you're not supposed to hate them. You're supposed to love them. And this is a radical push towards something I think is an ideal. I think Jesus would love, and we would all love and thrive, if this was our reality right now, but it's not because we are human and we make mistakes and we let our biases and our prejudices get the best of us. And we often forget that we're working towards something better. We're working toward a new reality. And in this way, Jesus calls us to do the impossible. But what makes it possible is Jesus. And in one of the books that we've talked about on the podcast before called On Religion by John D. Caputo, there's a really lovely line that says, “The name of God is the name of the chance for something absolutely new for a new birth, for the expectation, the hope, the hope against hope. “ And I'm just imagining the chapters that we just came from out of the darkness and the destruction. Here's Jesus validating the people, blessing the people for the here and now, and calling them to a better way of life, how to live a good life and not just outwardly do the right thing, but to be inwardly committed to striving to do impossible things.

C: What I love about this message from Jesus is that he knows our potential and He doesn't shy away from it. In fact, He says, this is the expectation. Obviously I know there's a timeline, but this is the expectation. And I know that you can do it. And He doesn't hold anything back. And I kind of love that because I feel like oftentimes in the scriptures, the prophets kind of, I don't know if they get bored or I'm just reading into it that they're getting bored because I'm bored of hearing it, of the baby steps, repent, repent, repent, repent, repent of a jillion times over. Part of me starts to wonder, what does repent mean? What does repent mean? And Jesus says, right here, here's all the ways that you can repent. You can stop being a hypocrite. You can turn the other cheek. You can become a peacemaker, you can do all these bajillion other things. And he gets a very specific and He just doesn't hold anything back. 

E: I like what you said there, because when we think of the beatitudes, which come at the beginning of chapter 12, right? Blessed are the poor and those that mourn and the meek and the peacemakers and the merciful -- I think on a basic level, reading these things seem like check boxes or things that we're supposed to do in order to receive a blessing. I know that you've talked about this in previous episodes, but that's kind of like the vending machine way of the gospel, right? If I'm meek, then I will get this big blessing from God. But I think Jesus is actually asking us to do something more life-changing than the checklist. I think he's calling us to embody this way of living, not a singular isolated event that we do the one time we mourned with someone that we were sad with. It's a way of life. It's a way to live a good life, to be humble and to be peaceable and to have a contrite spirit. Those are things that we strive for all along our path of life. 

C: You're right. What is the difference between comforting someone when they're going through a moment of grief versus living as if like Jesus is on your doorstep. That this is who you are. Somehow in my mind I've always thought like judgment day is going to look a lot like a temple recommend interview. I know, right? That is how I've thought about it for a long time. We're just going to go in and God's going to be like, did you do this, this and this did you mourn? And I would be like, you know, I would try and come up with, yes, I did. I checked the box. I'm a peacemaker, that one time I was going to argue with my father-in-law, I decided to take the higher road. So, see the kind of a person I am? And I think that, what you're saying, to kind of move out of that space of checking all the check boxes because, we do, we want to be like Jesus, and that's not a bad thing, but Jesus is asking us to step out of the temple recommend room, to step out of the church, and go live like Him. He literally just lays it all out. This is exactly what it looks like. 

E: And I think then that even changes the way that chapter 12 ends, right? In chapter 12, verse 48, it ends with “therefore I would, that you should be perfect even as I or your father who is in heaven is perfect.” And I think if we have understood the beatitudes as a checklist, then verse 48 is really daunting, that we have to do all of these things perfectly as if there's no room for error or misstep, as if that's what God and Jesus expect of us. But if we think of it as a lifelong striving towards something, then I think that it's a road to perfection, a road to wholeness, a road towards understanding that our heart and our actions need to be aligned. And they're aligned in love, not in, “Okay, I'll do this so I can get blessed for it.” Right? 

C: Yeah. I love this whole idea of perfection as wholeness, and that is the meaning of the biblical word. Perfect. It means to be whole, and this is seriously one of my favorite concepts in all of the scriptures. So in the LDS church, we believe that every single person is a child of God. Deep down at the core, at the very center of who we are, is that Godliness, that seed, that truest part of ourselves that can't be changed, is our Godliness. And our sacredness. And I think what Jesus is calling us to do when He says, be ye therefore perfect, is not to try and attain some kind of ultimate level where that is kind of defined by the society that we live in. What does perfect look like for us now? I don't know, ask me tomorrow and the answer will have changed. That's the very nature of our society and even still the church that we live in sometimes, but I think when Jesus says, be there for perfect or be ye therefore whole, what He’s essentially asking us to do is come home to ourself, come home to the part of ourself that rests in literal wholeness and in literal love because we come from God and that part, our child of God self, it can't be changed. And so all of the steps that Jesus gives us in chapters 12 and 13 are the ways to remove all of the layers that society puts on us that take us further and further away from our whole selves. Jesus says, Well, if that person takes your shirt, then give him your coat too. But I can't think of a better way to picture that removing layer by layer, by layer to reveal that true whole self. 

E: I love that you shared that because it reminds us that at our core we are good and we are holy, and yet Jesus is calling us all here to continually strive towards an even deeper, more intimate understanding of what it means to be whole, to bring all things together, to work for our goodness. 

C: Something else that was really striking to me about these chapters, especially chapter 12, was the presentness of Christ's language that He uses to refer to the people and to their blessings. And to get a little more specific I'll just read you a couple of examples. These are in chapter 12, verses 3 through 11 ish. There's quite a few. So Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit who come unto me, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. And again, blessed are all they that mourn, for they shall be comforted, and blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” And what I love about these verses is that they demonstrate blessings in both the here and in the now. And that's something that Elise and I were really excited about. 

E: Well, I think the kind of immediacy nowness of the blessing comes in the first part, blessed are these people blessed and you are blessed right now. You are holy because of this attribute or characteristic or behavior that you've been practicing right now. So there's the nowness and the immediacy of it, which is so striking to think about after all of the destruction, after all of the extremely wicked people have been sucked up into the earth or swallowed up into the water. The people that are left are those who have suffered. And so I find it important that one of the first things Jesus says in His sermon is that He blesses them. He flips the whole hierarchical structure on its head and says, no, I was serious when I said the last shall be first. I was serious when I said the least of these will have the greatest blessing, have the biggest inheritance, both now and to come. And I think that future lens comes in with the later part of each of these blessings that says “for they shall be comforted for, they shall inherit the earth for, they shall be filled with the Holy Ghost.” And I love this duality of being blessed both here and in the future. The blessing is both now and on its way to come. I am experiencing the blessedness of myself and I will continue to experience it in the future.

E: In these chapters there are some images that really stood out to me. Sometimes it's Jesus describing Himself, and sometimes it's Jesus describing us. But things like talking about the way that we shouldn't light a candle stick and then hide it under a basket, or that we should all be the salt of the earth, or that Jesus is the shepherd who goes after the lost sheep. And the idea that we've already talked about this perfection that Jesus says that both He and God and we are supposed to be. So I just thought maybe we could, in our own words, say what these ideas or these images mean to us when we understand the gospel. 

C: Yeah. I love that idea. 

E: So if we start by thinking about light or lighting a candle and not hiding it away, I think for me, Jesus is calling me to be bold and bright and unapologetic in the ways that I try and live out the gospel, and the ways that I try and love others.

C: I love what Jesus says after He says don't hide your candle under a basket. He says, “Let your light so shine before this people that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” And I think it really does come down to that good works part. It's kind of like that Roald Dahl quote. He says “A person who has good thoughts cannot ever be ugly. You can have a wonky nose and a crooked mouth and a double chin and stick out teeth. But if you have good thoughts, they will shine out of your face like sunbeams, and you will always look lovely.” And I always think of that quote when I think of this verse, because I think it totally applies to good works too. You can't perform good works and not have them like shine out of your face, like sunbeams. Because it changes our approach to the world. It changes our approach within ourselves. And I feel like good works are, just going back to that same idea of wholeness again, good works are a reminder of the sacredness in ourselves and the sacredness and others. And that literally makes for a pretty joyful world to be alive in.

E: Absolutely. And then if we think about salt, this one always trips me up. Because I'm like, wait, people are like salt? We are the salt of the earth? It is chapter 12, verse 13. And Jesus says, “But if the salt shall lose its savor wherewith shall the earth be salted? The salt shall be thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out and be trodden upon under the under everyone's feet.” And I'm like, okay. So if Jesus is saying for me personally, Elise, you are the salt of the earth. So for me, maybe that means to have a bit of savor about myself, to have a bit of passion and, just like spice or flavor, to the way that I understand the gospel. I think a lot of times, honestly, before my feminist awakening, I moved through my gospel experience in a very bland way, in a very washed out, unexciting way. Nothing really moved me. Nothing really -- I wasn't passionate about anything. There was no salt. There was no flavor to my gospel experience. And so I think if Jesus is calling me to be the salt of the earth, I think Jesus is saying, Put your whole heart into it. Dig up, sprinkle the salt all over. Give us something that we don't want to leave the dinner table for. Leave us a meal so good that we want to stay at the table a bit longer.

C: I feel like I read this verse a little differently and maybe it's because I like cooking and I like baking. Whenever I think of salt, I think of it as an absolute essential, like you add salt to everything. You add it to bread. You add it to chicken or soup or whatever, but even your dressings on your salad have salt in them and you put salt and cookies because it enhances the flavors of all of the other things that are in the cookies. When I read this verse about salt, I'm like, huh? If salt loses its savor, then it ceases to be salt. Then it's literally like you're sprinkling quartz crystal on your salad. It’s not salt, right? And so, I think when I read this verse, I read it a little differently. When I hear Jesus say, “I say unto you, I give unto you to be the salt of the earth.” Okay. Great. So we're salt, right? But he says, “But if the salt shall lose its savor, wherewith shall the earth be salted? The salt shall thenceforth be good for nothing, but to be cast out and be trodden under the feet of men.” Literally Jesus is saying, I give unto you to be salt. Salt cannot be anything else. That's literally what I'm thinking. Salt cannot lose its savor, or it will not be salt. Does that make sense? And so how that applies to us is, I don't think we can lose our savor. I don't think it is something that we have to work toward, or that we have to try to increase or keep. Jesus literally said that He gave it unto us to be salt. And I think, I mean, I'm not a expert scriptorian, so I might be reading this wrong, but I think Jesus is literally just saying, be who you are because I made you to be salt. Don't try and be something else. Don't try and be something different, just be who you are and you'll keep your savor. And I don't know. I don't know. So I just read a little differently, but both readings are good and both readings I get excited about. 

E: Yeah. I agree. And then it makes me think, okay, what does it mean to be too salty? In what way might Jesus be like, whoa, whoa, whoa, I said a pinch. I said a pinch, not a whole dang cup. So I don't know. I think those are some questions that I need to ask myself. In what ways can I take this passion and this vibrancy for the gospel that is what is making me want to come back for more because the flavors are so delicious, in what ways can I overdo it? In what ways can I take myself just a bit too seriously and a bit too salty? I don't know. 

C: Yeah, I think that's a good question and a good analogy. This is why the scriptures are so cool. Weliterally just did three interpretations of one verse. Of salt. Of quartz crystal. Right? That's how exciting… that's why I love the scriptures, because literally you can come back to them again and again and again, and it's just going to depend on your mindset what you're going to get out of it. And you said one thing, and I said another thing, and then we both together said something different and none of them are wrong. Oh, the scriptures are so cool. 

E: That’s one thing that I think right now is a good point to talk about it, but I was so struck in chapter 12. There's so much goodness coming out of chapter 12, but in chapter 12, verses 21 through 44, Jesus does this whole laying it out really clear for everyone by saying “you have heard that it has been said that this thing should not happen” -- that you shouldn't kill. “But I say unto you, that whosoever is angry with their brother shall be in danger of judgment.” And it goes verse by verse, you have heard it said, but I say, you have heard it said, but I say, and I think that there is something powerful in this taking back of the interpretive nature of the scriptures or interpreting principles and gospel elements for ourselves. Right? You have heard your relief society president say, but I say, right, you have heard your church leaders say some really absolutely strict and exclusive and homophobic things, but what do you say for yourself about these things? So I think there's some power that Jesus offers us in this practice of thinking about what we are told from the systems of power and the people who get to decide what the dominant interpretation of scripture and doctrine is, but I think Jesus is showing us that you can interpret for yourself, too. This is why we have personal revelation. 

C: Oh, my gosh, you and I just love this topic. And literally I'm listening to you talk and I'm like, what is Jesus saying to me? Oh my gosh, how cool would it be… And this is the even cooler part, that we literally get to experience this whenever the heck we want… We can literally ask Jesus any time. They say that it is written, but what do you say to me? Oh, it's so mindblowing and so amazing. And we don't even… part of me is like, Oh, if only I was here in Third Nephi, getting to hear and listen to all of this, but that's the best part is that God is all around us and with us and we get to still have that experience even now.

E: What I'm thinking even about… I think Heavenly Mother is a really good example here. Bringing it to God or Jesus and saying, “Well, They say that Heavenly Mother is too sacred to talk about, what do you say?” Or what do I say, right? What do I, Elise, say for myself about the way I understand Heavenly Mother, even if other people are saying she's too sacred to talk about or any of the other handful of reasons why we're not supposed to search after this divine feminine, but what do I say for myself?

C: I love that you mentioned Heavenly Mother. And I do think that in these couple of chapters that we have this week, She makes quite a few appearances and it's just reminded me a lot of something that I've really felt to be true in my feminist understanding of the gospel in that Jesus Christ is the perfect example of what balance between masculine and feminine look like. And one of my favorite things to do when I'm studying the ministry of Christ is to look at all of the different ways that He honors Heavenly Mother and honors the feminine within Himself throughout all of His works and His ministry.

E: Yes, absolutely. And that reminds me of a poem from Carol Lynn Pearson in her book, Finding Mother God: Poems to Heal the World. She has a poem titled Jesus Remembered, and I think it would be a really good fit here. It says “I'm imagining this morning after my amen and His name, that when our mother helped Jesus prepare for His 33 year mission into the world's wilderness, She laid a hand on his heart and said, don't forget this. Of the many people you will teach and bless, pay special attention to the ones who look like me. Things have gone awry, as we knew they might, and many are badly used, especially your sisters who are seen as property and positioned five feet lower in the temple than the men, and are kept from the scriptures and from speaking and are subordinate everywhere. And oh, the daily prayers your Father hears from our dear Jewish boys. Praise be God that He has not created me a woman. You will not forget your Mother's words. You will pay special attention to the ones who look like Me. I'm imagining that She watched carefully as He walked the dusty earth, doing shocking things that made their way into my Bible and perhaps into His mother's journal: He spoke today to a woman in public. A Samaritan at Jacob's well, disreputable act, they said. He calls women from their houses to come and listen and follow Him as disciples, ministering to Him. Unheard of, they say. Today He allowed a woman of ill repute, they say, to wash His feet with her tears and dry them with her hair. I wept. He performs miracle after miracle at the request of those who look like me. He saved a woman from stoning by calling out our dear hypocritical boys, the Scribes and Pharisees. Ah, to sweet Martha and Mary, He speaks of the life of the Spirit and the Mind as the better part of the busy-ness of women. He calls women to pray, to lead, to preach the gospel. Such good news. He remembered. Sitting here now with the thin pages that softly rustle as I turn them, I feel Jesus laying a hand on my heart and saying to me, do what you have seen me do. And I believe He asks me to pay special attention to those who look like our mother. I remember.”  I love this poem because it helps, just like Channing said, it helps me remember that Heavenly Mother and the divine feminine are always already at work in all of us and in Jesus, too. And I think this is such a tender representation of Jesus's ministry, and it makes it seem like His good works were intentional. That he remembered his mother, and so He cared for the ones that were like her, and He not only cared for the woman in Jerusalem, but He’s caring for the women here, now, when He’s visiting them, after he has been resurrected. There are women that He’s ministering to that have their own personal stories. And I believe He’s remembering them, too.

C: The best part of these chapters is that seriously, every verse is a treasure. It just keeps getting better and better. The language is so rich and the lessons are so rich that we could spend more than a week on these chapters and not ever fully grasp all of the teachings that Christ offers us here. But one of the things that we wanted to end on, because we haven't done this maybe ever, but definitely not in a long time, is share our favorite verses. And this just feels like a chapter that lends itself to doing that. 

E: Alright. So Channing, what was your favorite verse or some of your favorite verses from this week's reading?

C: My favorite is in Third Nephi, chapter 13, and it's the verses 25 through 26. And I'll paraphrase a little. I'll skip half of the first verse. “Jesus says, therefore I say unto you take no thought for your life, what you shall eat or what you shall drink, not yet for your body, what you shall put on. Is not the life more than meat and the body more than raiment? Behold the fowls of the air, for they sow not neither do they reap nor gather into barns, yet your Heavenly Mother feedeth them. Are you not much better than they?” If you read the text, it will say Heavenly Father, but it can be both. It is both, it technically is both. And I just, I love this idea, that very last sentence. “Are you not much better than they?” And I think you can read that in one of two ways. I think you could say that Christ is arguing that people are better or more important to God than the birds, or you can also read it that they’re not, and that they're all equal. And that Christ is trying to say here that God will take care of us all equally. And not just human life, but all life upon the earth. And it's just such an evocative image of surrender and faith to just trust God, to not worry about what I'm going to eat tomorrow. But just this idea of every moment, every breath, every meal, every time you go to your closet to put on clothes, just imagine, it's so big and so wide that I can't even imagine just trusting God in every single small little thing in my life. I'm not there yet, but someday I would love to be. And someday I would like love to feel one with the birds and one with God, and just totally surrendered to this constant flow of life and love. So that's my favorite verse. I just love it. Okay, so it's your turn now. What is your favorite verse? 

E: One of my favorite verses in this set of scriptures comes from Third Nephi chapter 12, verses 23 and 24. It says, “Therefore, if you shall come unto me or shall desire to come unto me and remember that thy brother hath aught against thee -- go thy way unto thy brother and first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come unto me with full purpose of heart and I will receive you.” This is my favorite set of verses in the scripture because it goes back to something I feel very passionately about. That to love God is to love others, and I think Jesus says this here. Jesus says, if you want to be welcomed into my love, you need to love your neighbor. You need to love your stranger. You need to love the person who comes knocking at your door and offer them a radical hospitality, a radical openness, and we can see God in the face of others. And I just gather verses that help reinforce this idea for me, and you've said it before too, God is all around us. And if we want to know Jesus and we want to know God, then we get to know our neighbors and we get to know the strangers.

C: Thank you so much friends for joining us this week for our discussion about the Come Follow Me readings. We're honored as always to share this time with you, and can't wait to hear your thoughts about this episode. 

E: And remember Jesus's words are meant to be taken personally. They are meant for you. So in the same ways that we're trying to say our favorite verses or think about how Jesus might speak to us, we encourage you to do the same thing. You might be surprised what he calls you to do. 

C: We love you and we'll see you soon. Bye .

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