Sunday, October 27, 2013

Relief Society: Sisters, This is Our -Hood

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"Daughters of God, do we know who we are? Do we know what we have?"  These questions were posed in the Saturday morning session of the October 2013 General Conference by Sister Carole M. Stephens.  As First Counselor in the General Relief Society Presidency, she addressed the worldwide membership of the Church, asking the sons of God, then daughters of God, if they knew who they were and if they knew what they had.

She continued, "As covenant sons and daughters, do we have faith in our Heavenly Father and His eternal plan for us? Do we have faith in Jesus Christ and His Atonement? Do we believe that we have a divine nature and destiny? And in our efforts to achieve this destiny and receive all that the Father has, do we understand the importance of receiving priesthood ordinances and making, keeping, and renewing our covenants with the Lord?"

Sister Stephens listed the ordinances and covenants that we need:
We need baptism.
We need the gift of the Holy Ghost.
We need to receive the temple endowment.
We need the sealing ordinance, which leads to eternal life.
We need the opportunity to renew our covenants each week as we partake of the sacrament.

 All of these vital symbols of devotion are available to each and every worthy Latter-day Saint man, woman, and child, at appropriate age and maturity.

In 2 Nephi 26:33 Nephi declares, "[the Lord] inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile."

Elder M. Russell Ballard explained, “Our Father in Heaven is generous with His power. All men and all women have access to this power for help in our own lives. All who have made sacred covenants with the Lord and who honor those covenants are eligible to receive personal revelation, to be blessed by the ministering of angels, [and] to commune with God.”

Sister Stephens added, "We all need each other. Sons of God need daughters of God, and daughters of God need sons of God.  We have different gifts and different strengths. First Corinthians chapter 12 emphasizes the need for sons and daughters of God, each one of us, to fulfill our individual roles and responsibilities according to the Lord’s plan, that all may benefit."

While men and women have distinct and specific roles and responsibilities, they are still expected to work in unity and equity to build up the Kingdom of God on the earth.  Within the family, husbands and wives are given clear instruction:
By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children. In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners.
Within Church service, men and women are, again, given distinct and specific roles and responsibilities that, when employed in humility and with charity, will successfully continue in God's essential work to lead His children to salvation and to prepare for the Savior's return.

The aforementioned list of ordinances and covenants is offered to us to receive in order that we might give.  We give in order to support the cause of Christ; building the Kingdom of God in preparation for the Savior's Second Coming.  At the heart of giving is service.

Men have been ordained to the order of the priesthood.  The suffix -hood is defined as "individuals sharing a (specific) state or character" (Merriam Webster Dictionary), "denoting a condition or quality, denoting a collection or group" (Oxford Dictionary.  Women have been organized into a Relief Society.  Society is defined as "a part of a community that is a unit distinguishable by particular aims or standards of living or conduct" (Merriam) and "an organization ... formed for a particular purpose or activity" (Oxford).

The oath and covenant of the priesthood is for ordained men to maintain the structure of the Church and conduct the sacred ordinances and covenants, while reaching out to individuals in order to strengthen and ennoble them.

The divine charge for Relief Society is to "seek out and help" all who are in need.  John A. Widtsoe taught that the work of Relief Society is the "relief of all that hinders the joy and progress of woman.”

In this light, the work of male priesthood and female Relief Society are united in purpose; ministering to others through service so that they can be shepherded along the path that leads to covenant making and covenant keeping.

Sisters need not feel slighted that priesthood ordination is not part of their assignment.  Sisters may preach, teach, preside, lead, instruct, inspire, plan, receive revelation, participate in temple ordinances, etc., without priesthood ordination because she has already been given her -hood.

Sisters, Relief Society is your -hood.  And the purpose is to serve others.  As explained in Daughters in My Kingdom, "The Relief Society was not just another group of women trying to do good in the world.  It was different.  It was "something better" because it was organized under priesthood authority. Its organization was a necessary step in the unfolding of God's work on the earth.  It prepared women of the Church to receive priesthood ordinances and covenants, and it helped them with their family responsibilities" (p. 16).

Emma Smith, the first president of Relief Society, had caught vision of the great importance Relief Society has in our Heavenly Father's plan for us.  She announced, "We are going to do something extraordinary. ... We expect extraordinary occasions and pressing calls" and Joseph Smith prophetically declared, "This society is to get instruction through the order which God has established -- through the medium of those appointed to lead -- and I now turn the key to you in the name of God, and this society shall rejoice and knowledge and intelligence shall flow down from this time -- this is the beginning of better days to this society" (p.14-15).

When the Prophet Joseph used his priesthood key to bless the society, he was also consecrating and dedicating it to similar privileges and responsibilities ordained men of the Church had already been utilizing; receiving knowledge and intelligence, as well as joy.

The end result for all who magnify their callings, whether it be in the priesthood quorums or the Relief Societies of the Church, is joy.  Service brings joy and love.  Worthiness for ordinances and covenants brings joy and love.  Unity and cooperation bring joy and love.

"And the Lord called his people Zion, because they were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness" (Moses 7:18).  "Therefore, verily, thus saith the Lord, let Zion rejoice, for this is Zion—the pure in heart; therefore, let Zion rejoice, while all the wicked shall mourn" (D&C 97:21).

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