Sacrament meeting talk delivered to the Helsinki 3rd Ward in Finland by Ryan Boudwin on 13 March 2022.
Sometimes it can be very difficult to understand the scriptures. Peeling away the layers of symbolism couched in old, archaic language can be challenging. But then there are parts that are just so clear and easy to understand. For me, the book of James is my favorite part of the Bible, in large part because it is so straightforward. One of the major messages of this book of scripture is James’ charge to care for the poor and needy, and especially for the widows and the fatherless.
In James 1:27 we read:
“Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.”
This verse has always been a favorite of mine, no doubt due to the fact that I was one of these people. When I was fourteen years old, my father died suddenly and unexpectedly. It took me a very long time to come to terms with it, and I really struggled in a lot of ways during my high school years. Luckily for me, there were a number of men in my ward who made it a point to take an interest in me, and to help me with some of the things my father would have done for me if he was still alive.
One man in particular made a huge difference for me. His name was Philip Banfield. He was my home teaching companion, and was a very busy man with his own law practice and a family of his own. Yet somehow he made time to be there for me. Not only was he there to listen when I needed someone to talk to, he took the time to teach me how to drive a stick shift. I don’t know if his clutch ever forgave him for that. Maybe that seems like a little thing, but it made a big difference for me. It was one of those little things that my dad would have done.
I grew up in a ward in California that had a very well-organized scouting program. We did a lot of amazing activities, including winter camping in the Sierra Nevada mountains and a five day 50 mile kayaking trip down the Colorado River. But when I look back on my experience in the Young Men’s program, those aren’t the things I treasure the most.
The most meaningful experience I had in the youth program was a lot less fun. It was when we replaced the roof on the house of one of the widows in our ward that didn’t have the money to take care of it herself. I don’t think any of us really thought it was fun to be dragging shingles up onto an asphalt roof in 43 C weather. But we were putting James’ charge into action by helping a woman in crisis. There is a deep sense of satisfaction that comes from meaningful service that you cannot get in any other way.
In Mosiah chapter 2 we read the words of King Benjamin:
“16 Behold, I say unto you that because I said unto you that I had spent my days in your service, I do not desire to boast, for I have only been in the service of God.
17 And behold, I tell you these things that ye may learn wisdom; that ye may learn that when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God.
18 Behold, ye have called me your king; and if I, whom ye call your king, do labor to serve you, then ought not ye to labor to serve one another?”
As we serve our fellow man, we serve our God, and we become instruments in helping those around us feel the love of God in their own lives.
James gets into a little more detail about our obligation as Christians to help the poor and needy in the second chapter of his epistle. This part of the New Testament gets quoted a lot in our church, usually in the context of explaining the relationship between the grace of Jesus Christ and our own works. Admittedly it is a good scripture for that. But we often omit verses 15 and 16, which strips a lot of the meaning from this scriptural passage. Let’s read verses 14-18 and try to understand the context of James’ words:
James 2: 14-18
14 What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him?
15 If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food,
16 And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit?
17 Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.
18 Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works.
The apostle James makes it clear here that “sending thoughts and prayers” to people who are suffering is not enough; that we ought to be taking meaningful action ourselves to help those in need without just waiting for the Lord to provide for them. Our faith in Christ is incomplete if it does not motivate us to reach out to help our fellow man.
Mosiah 18 helps define what our baptismal covenant really means as members of Christ’s church. When we stepped into the waters of baptism, we promised to be willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light; Yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things.”
When I was 19 years old, I started putting together my mission papers; I ended up starting the process in Fresno, California and then moving to Atlanta, Georgia with my family just before I submitted my papers. It meant I ended up leaving for my mission from a ward where no one really knew me. My mom had worked very hard to provide the necessities of life for us, but I had had to come up with my college tuition money on my own. In the USA attending a university is a huge financial burden. In my case that meant working two part time jobs while going to school full time. After paying for college there wasn’t much money left for a mission.
When my elder’s quorum president heard of our financial situation, he personally committed to paying for a large portion of the costs of my mission, for some kid he had just met and didn’t really know. He didn’t wait for someone else to do something about it. He saw a need, and he stepped forward to help without anyone asking him to do it. He helped make my mission possible, and by so doing massively blessed my life.
It’s very easy for us to rationalize not doing things like this. We say to ourselves, well I would do things like that if I had a lot of money but I’m too poor to do things like that. But when we do this we deceive ourselves. There is always something we can do to help our fellow man on some scale.
I ended up serving in the Brazil Salvador mission, in one of the poorest parts of South America. I spent most of my mission serving in the favelas of Salvador, where I saw real third world poverty up close and personal for the first time. It was always a little awkward, going to eat lunch with people that we knew could barely feed their own families. But these people treasured the opportunity to feed the missionaries – not only members but sometimes non-members that just knew us from the neighborhood. Even when they didn’t share our faith they still chose to share the food they had with us. The Brazilian people have an expression for this situation; they say “It’s time to put a little more water in the beans” when they choose to stretch a meal across too many people.
Our leaders have repeatedly emphasized the criticality of becoming self-reliant, and there are many great reasons for that. As we are responsible financially, and choose to live within our means, we are better able to meet the temporal needs of our families, and we give ourselves then emotional bandwidth to help our children develop spiritually and strengthen our own faith. These things are all important.
Sometimes being self reliant means making changes to our circumstances. That might mean moving somewhere for a better job opportunity. Sometimes it means going back to school to gain additional skills.
I know my own family has had to make a lot of sacrifices to ensure my independence. Going blind was not exactly part of my life plan. And when I got my diagnosis, in 2018, we had to radically alter our family strategy. My wife went back to work so that I would be able to attend rehabilitation, and re-learn all kinds of basic life skills: cooking, traveling independently with a cane, and learning how to use a computer non-visually, and learning braille. Because I went and did those things and I got this training, I ensured that I will be able to be the primary breadwinner for my family for the rest of my life.
But one of the greatest blessings of becoming truly self reliant is that we can put ourselves in a financial position where we can be an instrument in the hands of God and answer the prayers of a family that is in crisis. When that happens, the giver is as blessed as the receiver and both of them come closer to God.
Becoming truly self-reliant is certainly a challenge. We aren’t born with the innate ability to budget and manage our finances effectively. Some of us are blessed with parents that teach these principles well. Others, not so much. It definitely didn’t seem to be something we learn in school in the United States. Gratefully for us, the Lord has inspired our leaders to create a program to educate the saints on these matters. The Church has self-reliance classes established to help anyone who has an interest to develop these skills as they learn together.
I was asked to facilitate one of these courses when I lived in the United States. The class is structured very differently than I expected; rather than having a teacher prepare a lesson and teach the material in a traditional fashion, the entire class learns together in a collaborative approach. We had meaningful discussions where everyone had an opportunity to participate, and we were all able to learn from everyone’s own experiences. As we shared and got to know one another, we helped encourage each other to keep our commitments and make the meaningful changes we need to improve our personal financial situations. I learned a ton from this course and I am so grateful for the opportunity to participate. I know that this is an inspired program that is blessing the lives of Latter-day Saints all around the world. And as we as a people become more self-reliant we will be better prepared to follow James’ charge to take meaningful action to help those in need.
We are currently facing the greatest humanitarian crisis since the second world war, as millions of people flee the brutal war in Ukraine. As we contemplate how to respond, let us consider the words of Matthew 25: 35-40:
35 For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:
36 Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.
37 Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?
38 When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?
39 Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?
40 And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.
We may individually be powerless to stop the war in Ukraine. But it is nevertheless our Christian duty to step up and do whatever we can to alleviate the suffering of the refugees who are fleeing this terrible war. Our stake is already taking meaningful steps to organize help for refugees. In so doing we fulfill James’s sacred charge to take meaningful action and help our fellow man in need.
I know that as we personally make sacrifices to help those around us who are suffering, that we will be better equipped to live a consecrated life, that we will have the Spirit with us, and we will come closer unto God than we can by any other way. I leave these words with you in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.