Photo by Jim Doty
The Restoring Christ
Sermon shared by Steve Veazey June 10, 2007 during a worship
service celebrating the dedication of the Kirtland Temple Visitor and Spiritual
In 1832, Joseph Smith Jr. and Sidney Rigdon were praying for
insight regarding the meaning of John 5:29. While thus engaged, they were
granted a vision of the Eternal Christ. In response to that revelatory
encounter, the prophet wrote what is now Doctrine and Covenants 76, a portion of
which I will read now:
And, now, after the many testimonies which have been given
of him, this is the testimony, last of all, which we give of him, that he
lives; for we saw him, even on the right hand of God; and we heard the voice
bearing record that he is the Only Begotten of the Father; that by him, and
through him, and of him, the worlds are and were created; and the
inhabitants thereof are begotten sons and daughters unto God. —Doctrine
and Covenants 76:3g–h
Today I come before you to bear testimony of Jesus Christ as
proclaimed and experienced by the Restoration movement, our faith heritage. The
Christ of whom I bear witness, lives eternally at the center of our faith. We
know this Christ as the embodiment of God’s nature and purposes—God’s eternal
and living Word active in creation. We know this Christ as the One in whom and
through whom divine judgment, mercy, and grace interact to affect our
reconciliation, redemption, and salvation. We know this Christ as the One in
whom and through whom the passionate dream of God for shalom—the fullness of
peace—throughout the whole creation is clearly revealed.
As a faith community, we have been given ample gifts, scriptural
resources, sacraments, spiritual insights, and symbols that orient our lives
toward Christ so that we may deepen our faith relationship. Among these gifts
are the temples in Kirtland and Independence. Both temples, through their
breathtaking architecture, call us to reverence and awe in the face of beauty
that awakens our souls to the need to worship God as the creator and sustainer
of all that is. We simply cannot be self-absorbed and self-important when we are
in the temples.
Awe, wonder, and humility are the prelude to genuine spiritual
awakening. Our souls are created to relate to God. Drawn into worship through a
sense of the Holy communicated by our surroundings, we soon find ourselves in a
place where what seems to separate the physical from the spiritual, the seen
from the unseen, and the temporal from the eternal is very permeable—a place
where we become more open and vulnerable to God’s Spirit and grace. It is
wonderful to be here to worship with each of you in such a place. This temple
has a certain drawing power for both the faithful and the casual passerby.
As a young adult, one of my best friends and I announced that we
were going to see the Kirtland Temple. As poor college students we pooled our
money for gas and ate peanut butter sandwiches as we navigated from Tennessee to
Kirtland, Ohio. After taking a tour and introducing ourselves to the guides, we
were graciously invited to come back later to sit in the temple in the quietness
and kaleidoscopic light of the dying day. As we sat in holy silence, we soaked
in the soul of the Restoration movement. We learned what it meant to be still
and know that God is God.
Photo by Jim Doty
sacred spaces also serve to keep us focused on the true meaning of the life and
ministry of Jesus Christ. I find it fascinating that the Kirtland Temple was
most often referred to as the “House of the Lord” by those who built it. We use
the phrase “House of the Lord” frequently to refer to many of our church
facilities. We often greet people by saying, “Welcome to the House of the Lord!”
However, the early Latter Day Saints were quite literal in their
belief that the Lord’s return was imminent—a belief not unique to them at that
time—and that when he returned he would need a worthy “house” in which to dwell.
In Matthew 8:20, Jesus is quoted as saying: “Foxes have holes and birds of the
air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” But if the
early Latter Day Saints had anything to do with it, that would no longer be the
case in Kirtland!
Without getting tied up in the theological questions that arise
from such a view, I am fascinated by the sense of intimate relationship with the
person and work of Christ that permeated the church in those days.
To perceive that one’s faith community was called, literally, to
build a house for Jesus Christ to dwell in reveals an unusual passion for the
mission of the person at the center of the gospel story. And to construct such a
house despite incredible obstacles, chief of which was their poverty, is truly
challenging and inspiring for us today. Oh that we might recover such devotion
and unfettered generosity to support the mission of Christ in our time!
a call is before us. The purposes of the Temple in Independence also summon us
to become more intimate with Jesus Christ through its emphasis on peace,
reconciliation, healing of the spirit, and wholeness of body, mind, and
spirit—ministries at the heart of Jesus’ life and mission.
Doctrine and Covenants 156:5 asserts that the Temple “…shall be
a place in which the essential meaning of the Restoration as healing and
redeeming agent is given new life and understanding, inspired by the life
and witness of the Redeemer of the world.”
In a time when many seek to fashion Christ in their own images,
to serve their own agendas, these temples constantly draw us back to the true
focus of the gospel: God’s revelation in Jesus Christ and the call for all to
“follow him” to discover healing, reconciliation and peace.
Both temples—in Kirtland and Independence—remind us that, above
all else, Jesus Christ seeks to restore us to life as we were created to
experience it; life as God intends it to be; life characterized by love,
generosity, relationships of mutuality, sharing, and peacefulness.
And so we begin to see that these sacred places serve as symbols
of who we are called to be, individually and corporately, as God’s new community
in Christ. This is expressed most clearly in Ephesians 2:17–22. Speaking of the
ultimate aim of the ministry and sacrifice of Christ on the cross, the writer
He (Christ) came and preached peace to you who were far away
and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the
Father by one Spirit. Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens,
but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built
on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as
the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and
rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being
built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.
The temples, places of beauty, worship, education, and church
guidance, are compasses and lighthouses for our faith journey. They serve as
constant reminders that we are called to live counter to the cultures of
isolation, individualism, greediness, and suspicion that surrounds us. They
constantly point beyond themselves to steer us to our true calling to become
God’s spiritual house, built on the witness and sacrifice of Jesus Christ—a
household that unites, heals, restores, and frees people through community to
express their best selves no matter who they are…a household in which Jesus
would truly feel at home!
This understanding is critical to our future as a faith
community if our true desire is to be faithful to the call of God to us. These
are not just words meant to sound nice. God in Christ is calling us to become a
worldwide community through which the vision, personality, and purposes of
Christ continue to be fulfilled. This is a truth that was indelibly imprinted on
me through the impress of the Spirit as I was engaged in a series of prayerful
reflections and experiences that led up to what is now Doctrine and Covenants
Speaking of the hope and need for spiritual awakening and
renewal in the church that will re-ignite and fuel effective ministry and
witness, the following counsel from Section 163:8c emphasizes our ultimate
purpose and mission:
Vital to this awakening is the understanding that the Temple
calls the entire church to become a sanctuary of Christ’s peace, where
people from all nations, ethnicities, and life circumstances can be gathered
into a spiritual home without dividing walls, as a fulfillment of the vision
for which Jesus Christ sacrificed his life.
It is this calling and vision that we must translate into the
attitudes and behaviors of life together in Christ. On several occasions
recently I have seen that vision becoming reality in different parts of the
world. Cathi and I traveled along with others to Honduras just after World
Conference to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the church there. Over the
course of several days, a growing number of people gathered to share in the
festivities. There was a noticeable spirit present of joy in community.
At one point, as we were gazing over the diverse crowd, one of
the local ministers noted that such a gathering was quite remarkable. There were
people from Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Nicaragua: “Only a few years
back,” he said, “we were strangers to each other. Our governments were at odds.
We projected attitudes of hate and suspicion across our borders. We did violence
to one another. But now it is different. We are being transformed into a
community of peacefulness and we must take this witness to other places and
The dividing walls of hostility were being broken down through
witness of the Christ. They were becoming a household of God, a spiritual temple
or sanctuary of peace in Christ. And, as he spoke, it occurred to me that the
backdrop for all of the activities that week was an artist’s rendering of the
Temple in Independence, dedicated to the pursuit of peace. The ministries of the
Temple, which re-present or exhibit the ministries of Jesus Christ, had become
the ministries of the expanding church in Central America.
I recently received an e-mail from Diane Barnett a good friend in Fremont,
California. She has taken the concept of the Children’s Peace Pavilion, housed
at the Temple Complex in Independence, and established it in her own
congregational facility: a peace pavilion for children to visit—particularly
schoolchildren—to learn about peace in their lives and relationships. Here is an
excerpt from her e-mail:
The Peace Pavilion has been overwhelmingly well received.
All of the teachers that have come through, 18 to date, have been extremely
impressed. Not only with the activities, but with the concept. Some have
said every elementary school child in the Tri-City area should come through.
That, of course, is the goal. Some of the children have said they want to
live there and never leave. In a couple of weeks we will have a 3' x 12'
sign on the side of the building and I expect we will then begin to get lots
of phone calls. Many of the parents who have come with their child's class
have asked why they didn't know it was there. The members of the mission
center have been willing to come many miles and some have come to spend the
night in order to be able to volunteer at the Peace Pavilion when there is a
field trip visit.
The congregation in Fremont is demonstrating what it means to be
a people of the Temple, a sanctuary of Christ’s peace, a community that unites,
heals, and restores—a place where children want to live because they have
tasted of life as God’s intends it!
Recently, Dave, Becky, and I met with Apostle Susan Skoor, who
oversees the Pacific Field, including the West Coast of the United States. She
shared with us how some of our church members in California are living in fear
because, as Spanish-speaking immigrants from Mexico and Central America, they
are being targeted for oppressive treatment.
She told us the story of how one member of the church, who is
here legally, was taken from his home and interrogated for hours because of his
name, appearance, and where he lived. Despite his documentation, he was told
that he was not believable.
This is just one story of a growing number about our own church members in the
United States who are being mistreated because of their ethnicity. Our Hispanic
ministers are pleading for help.
Local members of the church are organizing to provide pastoral
support, including child care for children whose parents are being detained or
sent away from their homes. They are also networking with other organizations to
provide legal aid for immigrants who are being treated harshly because of the
rising tide of fear and anger toward “foreigners” in this nation.
They are creating a network of ministries and partnerships that
are providing a sanctuary of peace for people who are desperately trying
to create a future of hope and opportunity for their children.
If our faith is genuine, it cannot be limited to idealistic
rhetoric, but must be translated into attitudes and actions that are congruent
with whom we say we are.
It is interesting that both of the temples of the church were
constructed in places where our faith ancestors were seen as aliens, immigrants,
and strangers and, who, as a result, were marginalized, threatened, and
persecuted. The walls of this temple [Kirtland] are marked by the tears of those
who feared for their lives as they were building it because they were seen as
outsiders. And yet here we are, generations later, proclaiming peace in Christ
and working for communities of peace, as our best understanding of the essence
of the gospel.
In the years ahead we intend for the Kirtland Temple and the
Temple in Independence to play vital roles in guiding the ongoing development of
our identity, message, and mission as a prophetic faith movement throughout the
The Kirtland Temple, in addition to being a nationally
registered historic landmark, will play an important role in shaping generations
of disciples in the Community of Christ. This will occur through the telling of
our sacred story which informs the shape and content of our faith and character.
It will also occur through the provision of spiritual formation programs and
retreats for individuals and groups that will enrich the sharing of the gospel
throughout the world.
These ministries, as I indicated yesterday, will be directly
linked to the unfolding ministries of the Independence Temple. Currently we have
a Temple Ministries team that is exploring how the purposes of the Temple
related to spiritual healing, reconciliation, and peace can be brought to fuller
expression for the blessing of the whole church.
We look forward to the continued emergence of truly
transformative ministries for people who live in the real world—a world too
often filled with pain, struggle, and conflict. We intend to present to the
world a Christ who restores and heals through the grace of God.
These are exciting and hope-filled times for the church. We are
reconnecting to the initial spiritual impulses and vision of the Restoration
movement even as we bring them to new expression for this time and for centuries
Let us go forward into the future as a people who are confident
in our calling and mission to generously share the peace of Jesus Christ with