Some years ago, as our youngest son, Clark, was approaching his twelfth birthday, he and I were leaving the Church Administration Building when President Harold B. Lee approached and greeted us. I mentioned to President Lee that Clark would soon be twelve, whereupon President Lee turned to him and asked, “What happens to you when you turn twelve?”
This was one of those times when a father prays that a son will be inspired to give a proper response. Clark, without hesitation, said to President Lee, “I will be ordained a deacon!”
The answer was the one President Lee had sought. He then counseled our son, “Remember, it is a great blessing to hold the priesthood.”
I hope with all my heart and soul that Clark and every young man who receives the priesthood will honor that priesthood and be true to the trust which is conveyed when it is conferred.
President David O. McKay spoke to a group of Church officers on one occasion and provided counsel related to the power of the priesthood. He declared that while he was traveling on board a ship in the far reaches of the Pacific Ocean, a fellow passenger approached him and asked if he were a leader of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. When President McKay acknowledged that he was, the visitor asked what specific belief set apart the teachings of the Church from those of any other faith. President McKay told us that he was inclined initially to respond that divine authority was the belief which was differentiating. Then he realized that there were others who professed a belief in divine authority, such as the Catholics, the Coptics, and members of the Greek Orthodox Church. Divine authority simply was not sufficient as a response.
President McKay said that he then felt inspired to answer his newfound friend with this statement: “That which differentiates the beliefs of my church from those of others is divine authority by direct revelation.”
Brethren, our very souls are filled with gratitude when we remember the events of that “beautiful, clear day, early in the spring of eighteen hundred and twenty,” when the lad Joseph Smith retired to the woods to pray. His words describing that moment in history are overpowering: “I saw two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in the air. One of them spake unto me, calling me by name and said, pointing to the other—This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!” (JS—H 1:14, 17.) What a magnificent example of divine authority by direct revelation!
Our thoughts turn to the visit of that heavenly messenger, John the Baptist, on May 15, 1829. There on the bank of the Susquehanna River, near Harmony, Pennsylvania, John laid his hands upon Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery and ordained them, saying, “Upon you my fellow servants, in the name of Messiah I confer the Priesthood of Aaron, which holds the keys of the ministering of angels, and of the gospel of repentance, and of baptism by immersion for the remission of sins.” (D&C 13:1.) The messenger announced that he acted under the direction of Peter, James, and John, who held the keys of the Melchizedek Priesthood. Ordination and baptism followed. Yet another example of divine authority by direct revelation.
In due time, Peter, James, and John were sent to bestow the blessings of the Melchizedek Priesthood. These Apostles sent by the Lord ordained and confirmed Joseph and Oliver to be Apostles and especial witnesses of His name. Divine authority by direct revelation characterized this sacred visitation.
As a result of these experiences, all of us carry the requirement—even the blessed opportunity and solemn duty—to be true to the trust we have received.
President Brigham Young declared, “The Priesthood of the Son of God is … the law by which the worlds are, were, and will continue forever and ever.” (In Discourses of Brigham Young, comp. John A. Widtsoe, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1954, p. 30.) President Joseph F. Smith, expanding on this theme, advised, “It is nothing more nor less than the power of God delegated to man by which men can act in the earth for the salvation of the human family, in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost, and act legitimately, not assuming that authority; not borrowing it from generations that are dead and gone, but authority that has been given in this day in which we live by ministering angels and spirits from above, direct from the presence of Almighty God.” (Gospel Doctrine, 5th ed., Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1939, pp. 139–40.)
The oath and covenant of the priesthood pertains to all of us. To those who hold the Melchizedek Priesthood, it is a declaration of our requirement to be faithful and obedient to the laws of God and to magnify the callings which come to us. To those who hold the Aaronic Priesthood, it is a pronouncement concerning future duty and responsibility, that they may prepare themselves here and now.
This oath and covenant is set forth by the Lord in these words:
“For whoso is faithful unto the obtaining these two priesthoods of which I have spoken, and the magnifying their calling, are sanctified by the Spirit unto the renewing of their bodies.
“They become the sons of Moses and of Aaron and the seed of Abraham, and the church and kingdom, and the elect of God.
“And also all they who receive this priesthood receive me, saith the Lord;
“For he that receiveth my servants receiveth me;
“And he that receiveth me receiveth my Father;
“And he that receiveth my Father receiveth my Father’s kingdom; therefore all that my Father hath shall be given unto him.” (D&C 84:33–38.)
The late Elder Delbert L. Stapley observed: “There are two main requirements of this oath and covenant. First is faithfulness, which denotes obedience to the laws of God and connotes true observance of all gospel standards. … The second requirement … is to magnify one’s calling. To magnify is to honor, to exalt and glorify and cause to be held in greater esteem or respect. It also means to increase the importance of, to enlarge and make greater.” (In Conference Report, Apr. 1957, pp. 76–77.)
The Prophet Joseph Smith was once asked, “Brother Joseph, you frequently urge that we magnify our callings. What does this mean?” He is said to have replied, “To magnify a calling is to hold it up in dignity and importance, that the light of heaven may shine through one’s performance to the gaze of other men. An elder magnifies his calling when he learns what his duties as an elder are and then performs them.”
Those who bear the Aaronic Priesthood should be given opportunity to magnify their callings in that priesthood. I shall ever remember as a deacon being given the assignment by the bishop to take the sacrament to Edward Wright, a shut-in who could not come to his meetings in the chapel. Of course the assignment was gladly received. What deacon would not rather walk several blocks in the bright sunlight of spring than to remain at church!
As I entered Brother Wright’s modest home, I noted he was confined to his bed. He welcomed me. The feeling I received as I placed the small cup to his trembling lips lives with me to this time. I knew that day the significance of a deacon’s duty.
When I served as president of the teachers quorum, a memorable evening was experienced when Joseph Miller, the first counselor in our bishopric, invited the teachers quorum presidency to his home to learn our duty. The visit wasn’t billed as a seminar or instruction period. Rather, we were invited to have a glorious dinner of home-cooked meat pies and then to play Monopoly. The memory of the Monopoly game and the taste of the meat pies have long since vanished. But the instruction we received that evening concerning how we might best magnify our callings has remained bright and clear.
The privilege to magnify our callings may come without announcement or fanfare. When I was a deacon, I recall sitting on the front row of benches in the chapel, along with the other deacons, as the priests prepared to bless the sacrament. One of the priests, whose name was Leland, had a “golden” voice. When he offered the prayer at the sacrament table, the words were clearly pronounced and beautifully spoken. Many would compliment him as the meeting concluded. I think he became a bit proud.
Another priest, named John, sat with Leland of the golden voice one day. John had a hearing impairment and an accompanying speech problem. His words were somewhat difficult to understand. Often we deacons would snicker a bit when John prayed. How we dared to do so is difficult to understand, for John had fists like bear paws and could have silenced us simply by doubling up those fists.
The bread was broken, the hymn was sung. All bowed their heads as Leland prepared to pray. We heard no words spoken. The silence seemed eternal. I opened my eyes and saw Leland looking frantically for the small card on which the words of the prayer were printed. It was nowhere to be found. Others began to open their eyes and raise their heads in wonderment.
Just then, John, with the hearing and speaking problems, reached forth with one of his mighty hands and gently lifted Leland back to the bench. Then John knelt down and, from memory, spoke the words of that familiar prayer: “O God, the Eternal Father, we ask thee in the name of thy Son, Jesus Christ, to bless and sanctify this bread to the souls of all those who partake of it. …” (Moro. 4:3.) He never missed a word.
As we left the chapel that day, Leland said to John, “I thank you from the bottom of my heart for rescuing me today.”
John responded, “We are both priests in the same quorum doing our duty.”
This priest, who magnified his calling, had changed lives, altered perspectives, and taught an everlasting lesson: Whom God calls, God qualifies.
The priesthood is not really so much a gift as it is a commission to serve, a privilege to lift, and an opportunity to bless the lives of others.
Most of the young men I have known have longed for membership in adult society. Only the fictional Peter Pan went about saying, “I won’t grow up!” Brethren, let us who have responsibility with the Aaronic Priesthood young men provide them opportunities to learn but also set before them examples worthy of emulation.
For those of us who hold the Melchizedek Priesthood, our privilege to magnify our callings is ever present. We are shepherds watching over Israel. The hungry sheep do look up, ready to be fed the bread of life. Are we prepared to feed the flock of God? It is imperative that we recognize the worth of a human soul, that we never give up on one of His precious sons.
Not long ago I read an obituary in the daily newspaper noting the passing of a man I had known from my youth. The obituary mentioned his wife and children and gave a brief account of his life. The words that registered on my mind were these: “Marriage later solemnized in the Salt Lake Temple.” Backward, ever backward, my thoughts turned—to a special day where, in the temple of God, I performed that sacred sealing. Jack was a good man, a generous man. However, it remained the privilege and opportunity of a loving, patient, and understanding wife to quicken within him the desire to live a better life and walk the higher road.
The sealing room of the temple was a scene of tranquility. The cares of the outside world had been temporarily discarded. The quiet and peace of the house of the Lord filled the heart of each one assembled in the room. I knew that this particular couple had been married for eighteen years and had never been to the temple. I turned to the husband and asked, “Jack, who is responsible for bringing this glorious event to fulfillment?”
He smiled and silently pointed to his precious wife, who sat by his side. I seemed to sense that this lovely woman was never more proud of her husband than at that particular moment. Jack then directed my attention to one of the brethren serving as a witness to this ceremony and acknowledged the great influence for good that he had had upon his life.
As the three beautiful children were sealed to their parents, I could not help noticing the tears which welled up in the eyes of the teenage daughter and then coursed in little rivulets down her cheeks, finally tumbling upon clasped hands. These were sacred tears, tears of supreme joy, tears that expressed silent but eloquent gratitude of a tender heart too full to speak.
I found myself thinking, “Oh, that such men and women would not wait eighteen long years to receive this priceless blessing!”
Should there be anyone who feels he is too weak to change the onward and downward course of his life, or should there be those who fail to resolve to do better because of that greatest of fears, the fear of failure, there is no more comforting assurance to be had than the words of the Lord: “My grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.” (Ether 12:27.)
Miracles are everywhere to be found when priesthood callings are magnified. When faith replaces doubt, when selfless service eliminates selfish striving, the power of God brings to pass His purposes.
About eight years ago, in far-off Dresden, a city in the German Democratic Republic, I visited, with a handful of members, a small cemetery. The night was dark, and a cold rain had been falling throughout the day.
We had come to visit the grave of a missionary who many years before had died while in the service of the Lord. A hushed silence shrouded the scene as we gathered about the grave. With a flashlight illuminating the headstone, I read the inscription:
Joseph A. Ott
Born: 12 December 1870—Virgin, Utah
Died: 10 January 1896—Dresden, Germany
Then the light revealed that this grave was unlike any other in the cemetery. The headstone had been polished, weeds such as those which covered other graves had been carefully removed, and in their place was an immaculately edged bit of lawn and some beautiful flowers that told of tender and loving care. I asked, “Who has made this grave so attractive?” My query was met by silence.
At length, a twelve-year-old deacon acknowledged that he had wanted to render this unheralded kindness and, without prompting from parents or leaders, had done so. He said that he just wanted to do something for a missionary who gave his life while in the service of the Lord. He said, “I’ll never be able to serve a mission, as did my father. I feel close to missionary work when I tend this grave where the body of a missionary rests.”
I wept out of respect for his faith. I sorrowed at his inability to fulfill his greatest desire—to serve as a missionary. But God did hear his prayer. He noted his faith. He honored one who magnified the calling of a deacon.
Eight years have gone by since that special night in Dresden. Many significant changes have taken place in the German Democratic Republic. A temple of God graces the land, chapels accommodate wards and stakes, and the full program of the Church blesses the lives of our members. On Thursday, March 30, 1989, the first missionaries in fifty years crossed the border into the German Democratic Republic. Already investigators are being taught and the first baptisms have taken place.
But what of the lad who so tenderly tended the grave of Joseph Ott? Well, Tobias Burkhardt, a deacon then, is an elder now. On May 28 he and nine other companions will come to the Missionary Training Center, the first ever from their country to serve abroad as missionaries. Asked concerning his feelings at this special time, he responded, “I am anxious to serve my mission. I’ll strive to work ever so diligently, that Joseph Ott can, through me, yet perform an earthly mission.”
Brethren, the spirit of Joseph Ott has long since gone home to that God who gave it life. His body rests in the peaceful, well-kept grave in faraway Dresden. But his missionary spirit lives on in the service to be rendered by a faithful elder—even the deacon who so long ago trimmed the lawn, tidied the flowers, polished the headstone of Joseph Ott, and dreamed of missionary service once denied but now bestowed.
May our Heavenly Father ever bless, ever inspire, and ever lead all who hold His precious priesthood is my prayer, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.