If I would be asked what, in my understanding, is the most important event to have happened on earth in the last 200 years, I would answer without any hesitation: it is the consequence of the prayer of a young boy who, in the early years of the 19th century, in upstate New York, knelt before God and asked questions of eternal truth.
This young man with the name Joseph Smith became, in the hands of the Lord Jesus Christ, the instrument to restore to mankind the knowledge of the long-lost and nearly forgotten truth: the knowledge about us human beings--who we are, where we came from, what the meaning and purpose of our earthly existence is, and why mankind has experienced so much misery and injustice. Eventually answers were also given to mankind's questions of life after death and our final destiny.
Even to this day, more than 42 years after I accepted, by my own choice, the Lord's sacred covenant of baptism, I am still in a state of awe at all of the marvelous and miraculous happenings of the Restoration. Not only were we permitted to learn all about the essential meaning of the Atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ, but also the important meaning of the priesthood of God was revealed, and it was restored for us to act in caring love and patience to bring about the choice of salvation to all.
Time will not allow me to talk more about the details of this marvelous work in our time, but I feel to talk about one key aspect in the Lord's kingdom that, if not understood, may result in the fact that the whole picture may never be quite in focus.
In order to come to the point, I want to tell you of a faithful brother who was a member of the same branch in my home country of Germany in the early years of my membership.
He was living in humble circumstances and felt very blessed to have recently begun a job in a small, privately owned company. He told me about an upcoming event where all of the employed people were invited to participate in a traditional company dinner party. He was concerned because he knew that there would be a big beer party at the end of this meeting, with the boss being probably the heaviest beer drinker of them all. But he also knew that it would be considered very impolite if he did not attend the dinner at all.
When I saw him again, after that dinner event occurred, I saw him with a most happy, deep inner glow, and he could not wait to tell me what had happened. Because he was new in the company, the boss had sat right next to him, wanting to get to know him better. As the evening progressed, the brother saw his wildest fears confirmed because the boss would not tolerate that he would not drink beer with him, and he said, "What kind of church is that that would not permit you to drink even a glass of beer with me?"
The fear of my friend did not grow into panic as he was able to calmly answer his boss that the reason he was not drinking had nothing to do with the church that he belonged to, but that he himself had made a sacred covenant with God that he would not drink. If he would ever break this covenant, how could he continue to stay true to that which he would ever promise, and how could he be trusted, even by his employer, that he would not lie or steal or cheat.
According to my friend, the owner was deeply touched by this statement, and he hugged him, speaking words of profound admiration and confidence.
My dear brothers and sisters, in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, many new members, specifically when they come from countries other than the United States, learn for the first time the true dimension of the word freedom. Freedom for most people of the world means "freedom from" the absence of malice or pain or suppression. But the freedom that God means when He deals with us goes one step further. He means "freedom to"--the freedom to act in the dignity of our own choice.
What then does it mean to be free? Freedom means to have matured to the full knowledge of our dangerously many responsibilities as a human being. We have learned that everything we do, and even say or think, has consequences. We realize that too long we have believed that we were victims of circumstances. In the Gospel of John, 8:32, we read the following: "And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free."
As we open our hearts to the message of God's truth, as it was restored in our time, we begin to understand why there was, and still is, so much misery, pain, suffering, and even starvation. In the same dimension as we are learning to accept the revealed truth in our own life, our faith in the living Son of God will grow, and therefore we will receive spiritual gifts of heretofore unknown capacity. We will learn that nothing is impossible for those who believe in Jesus Christ. False bondages will be loosened. Narrow thinking born in tragedies of false traditions will disappear.
The more our understanding of the vastness and the completeness of the plan of salvation is developing, the more we see ourselves in our smallness, in our incompleteness. And seeing ourselves in that humility, with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, will let us understand and finally accept this most sacred covenant with our Heavenly Father in the form of baptism.
We gladly will submit ourselves into this covenant, knowing that there is a big difference between mere desire and covenant. When we just desire something, we will work towards achieving it only when convenient. But when we are bound by a sacred covenant, like baptism, we are learning to overcome all obstacles through obedience, and in so doing we will be blessed with the presence of the Spirit and therefore eventually with achievement. We are beginning to become alive as we take, knowingly, full responsibility for our own life and as we stop blaming circumstances.
One thing, of course, we know: having "freedom to" means that we have the potential of making wrong choices. Wrong choices have their merciless consequences, and when they are not stopped and corrected they lead us into misery and pain. Wrong choices, if not corrected, will lead us to the ultimate possible disaster in each person's life: to become separated from our Heavenly Father in the world to come.
When we have received this life-enabling message, we begin to understand that in our earlier life we were like a football player standing in the middle of the field, totally depressed because we did not know the purpose and the rules of the game. We did not know which team we belonged to and we didn't even know who was our coach. Only in the awareness of the restored gospel, our game plan becomes clear, and we comprehend that Jesus Christ and His restored Church and priesthood are the only way for us to succeed in our earthly experience.
Jesus Christ wants to empower our lives, according to our own righteous choices, to that dimension that, through our faith and our doings, the circumstances whose prisoners we were in the past will eventually change. In the Book of Mormon we learn that the Redeemer monitors our lives, together with a multitude of holy angels. We read:
"Have miracles ceased? Behold I say unto you, Nay; neither have angels ceased to minister unto the children of men.
"For behold, they are subject unto him, to minister according to the word of his command, showing themselves unto them of strong faith" (Moro. 7:29-30).
In this freedom that we have received in our time, through our understanding of His divine plan for us, we stand in our full responsibility. Let us always stay close to the loving, caring hand of our Redeemer and our Savior to find safety and joy. I say this in deep humility. And I bear you my testimony as your brother and servant that I know that Jesus lives and that He is the head of this work. I say this in Jesus' name, amen.