I can’t believe this is it. There are certain days you spend your whole life preparing for but you never actually think they will come. They’re just distant future milestones. Not anymore. Today is a threshold day. Today is the day to say goodbye, to take one last glance backwards at how and why I got here and then train my gaze firmly into the waiting future.
Traditionally, I begin my talks with a lighthearted account of my escapades in evading the bishop and his minion counselors. But today isn’t a day for such things. There is far too much to say and far too little time in which to say it. I hope as I speak and testify and bear witness that the Spirit will testify to you of the truthfulness of my words, and that you will feel prompted to ponder these things out for yourself and to pray about them if you have not yet done so. If you have real intent, having faith to act on the light and knowledge you receive, you can receive a knowledge that what I say is true. Erasmus of Rotterdam, a biblical scholar and philosopher at the time of the Reformation once promised, “If someone undertakes to teach me, I would not consciously oppose truth.” I ask the same of you.
But what does that mean, this “truth” of which so much is spoken? What does truth even mean? Much to my surprise, as I have studied and read and considered and pondered, I have found that one of the main things that differentiates us from other faiths is our firm and unwavering devotion to the concept of truth. When I say something is true, I do not mean it in the relative sense in which most people hear it. Truth is not relative. We believe in absolute and eternal law, which is founded on the principle that while truth must be found individually, it is the same no matter who you are. This is a foreign concept to many of those outside the Church, who are taught or come to believe that what is good and right depends on who you are, how you were raised, what your political leanings are. This relativist definition says that what is right and wrong and good and evil is situational, that such things are the subjects of individual decision and that a single collective standard for such definitions does not and cannot exist.
According to relative morality, I can believe that something is wrong for me but not wrong for someone else. I can hold myself to a moral standard but see you breaking that moral code and see nothing wrong with it because you are not subject to that same standard. Such thinking cannot be true. It spits in the face of Eternal Law. Relative morality is no morality at all, for it is a mockery of moral goodness. It alleges that in the end, there is no such thing as right and wrong, no absolute standard where righteousness ends and wickedness begins. It says that God has no standard and as long as you follow whatever moral code fits your taste, that He doesn’t care. As Elder L. Tom Perry explained in his recent General Conference address titled “Obedience to Law is Liberty,” “For man to substitute his own rules for the laws of God on either end of life is the height of presumption and the depth of sin.”
Instead of discerning between the saint and the sinner and seeking to elevate the sinner to the level of the saint by showing him the path by which he may improve himself, the path which is obedience to the laws and standards of God, relative morality drags the saint down to the level of the sinner and declares equality by virtue of a forced mutual denial of the very existence of the virtues and vices they exhibit. Relativism is a reduction to the lowest common denominator instead of an elevation to what is good. It declares that morality can exist irrespective of the absolute, that the absolute does not, in fact, exist, and in the end it preaches that there is no God, no law, no right, no wrong, no truth. The will and law and standards of divinity are rejected in favor of majority opinion.
As Phillippe Beneton, a contemporary French Philosopher whose work is well worth a read and serious reflection, sums up: “Modern thought… abandons vital questions to opinion; it RENOUNCES MEANING and says that all meaning is arbitrary.” How sad. How lonely. How lost. A world that renounces meaning renounces its own identity, its royal heritage, its God. How childish to have abolished the concept of Eternal Law, of absolute truth, and, by extension, expunged the very existence of right and wrong.
2 Nephi explains:
“And if ye shall say there is no law, ye shall also say that there is no sin. If ye shall say there is no sin, ye shall also say there is no righteousness. And if there be no righteousness there be no happiness. And if there be no righteousness nor happiness there be no punishment nor misery. And if these things are not there is no God. And if there is no God we are not, neither the earth; for there could have been no creation of things, neither to act nor to be acted upon; wherefore, all things must have vanished away.”
What a powerful verse of scripture that strikes exactly at the heart of what we have been saying here. I believe in absolute truth, which means that when I say that something is true, I mean that it is truth obtained at an individual level but applicable to all people at all times and in all places. This means that as you leave this place, you cannot nod politely and reason “oh how wonderful, he has found a religion that works FOR HIM and that is good FOR HIM and he is going on a mission because it is TRUE FOR HIM.” If that is your inward conversation, you have either not listened or not understood. When I say the gospel is true, I say that it is true for me, it is true for you, and it is true for all people regardless of background, race, current religion, or any other delineation you want to employ. I say that my testimony is either true for you AND me or false for both of us. I say that there is no middle ground when it comes to truth.
We are all faced with decisions in life, all of which relate to the essential question of whether truth is absolute or whether we renounce meaning in favor of an imaginary and ultimately destructive notion that morality exists only in the eye of the beholder. We renounce meaning and truth in a desperate effort to cling to gray areas that do not exist, in the hope that we will not be called upon to stand up and be counted. In preparing to go out into the world to declare the Gospel, I have resolved that it is my time to stand up and be counted. I expect the same of you. Too often we do not. We do not give referrals, we do not serve missions, we do not live worthily, we do not attend the temple, we do not share the gospel, and we do not do our home teaching because we are afraid, because we are ashamed, because we are called names and laughed at, because the mists of darkness and the echoing, empty laughter of the inhabitants of the great and spacious building fills our ears and stays our hands.
It occurs to me that those who were lost in that parable found in 1st Nephi were merely seeking a gray area. They let go of the rod or slunk away from the tree because the judgments and ridicule of others made them think that perhaps if they stepped away for a minute, they could gain a little acceptance. They fled to a middle ground that did not exist and they were lost because of it. Brothers and sisters, do not seek middle ground. In the war for souls, middle ground does not exist. Stand up and be counted. Follow the example of Paul, who declares in Romans 1: 16 “For I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.”
If ever there was an important time, it is now. The missionaries need your help. Families in the ward need your help. The Lord needs your help. And seeking a gray area for the sake of a little acceptance is no longer acceptable. Matthew—“No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and Mammon.” There is no middle ground. I know it’s scary. Believe me, in preparing to leave, I’ve had a day or two of wondering if I can do it. I have been scared. But I am no longer scared. I have found peace in the temple and solace in the promises made to those who will choose to serve the Lord rather than shrinking to the gray areas we try to construct for ourselves.
But it is not only that we are scared. It is also that it is hard. But I count it as a blessing that it is hard sometimes. It is just another testament to me of the truthfulness of the restored gospel. If it was not true, I believe less would be asked of us. But it IS true, and because it is true, what is asked of us is truly very little. In comparison to the Savior and his sacrifice, what are we asked to give up? Money? Alcohol? Short skirts? A little comfort? Two years? The comparative triviality of such things strikes me as a little sad. That these are the things we choose over full participation in the Lord’s kingdom. This is what we choose after a loving Heavenly Father sent his only begotten Son into the world “that the world through him might be saved” (John ). This after the suffering of Jesus Christ for our sins, “which suffering caused [Him]…,the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit” (D&C 19: 18).
And we say that it is too hard. We choose other things, other priorities, other entertainments and trifles and by so doing rob ourselves of the blessings that come from following the Savior and living the commandments. William Law said it best way back in the 18th century: “If you have not chosen the Kingdom of God first, it will in the end make no difference what you have chosen instead.”
But still we are not finished, for there is another reason we fail to act—feelings of inadequacy and insignificance. I was struggling with this very problem in making my preparations when I talked to my Mom about my worries. I said, “Mom, sometimes I wonder if I can make any difference. The stakes are too high and I wonder if what I do will matter. How many billions of people are there in the world who won’t listen, how many this, how many that. My contribution isn’t even a fraction of a drop in the bucket and I can’t help like feeling that whatever I accomplish won’t matter anyway.” Now my mother is a wise woman, and she speaks to you in the way a mother should, letting you know that she understands and wants to help. And she shared with me a story that completely changed the way I thought about it. It is called "The Boy and the Starfish."
A man was walking along a deserted beach at sunset. As he walked he could see a young boy in the distance, as he drew nearer he noticed that the boy kept bending down, picking something up and throwing it into the water. Time and again he kept hurling things into the ocean with all his might.
As the man approached even closer, he was able to see that the boy was picking up starfish that had been washed up on the beach and, one at a time he was throwing them back into the water.
The man asked the boy what he was doing, the boy replied,"I am saving these starfish. If they don’t get back in the water, they will die.” "But", said the man, "You can't possibly save them all, there are thousands on this beach, and this must be happening on hundreds of beaches along the coast. Anything you do won’t possibly matter!” The boy looked down, frowning for a moment; then bent down to pick up another starfish, smiling as he threw it back into the sea. He replied, "It mattered to that one.”
What a story. D&C reads: “Remember the worth of souls is great in the sight of God.” One matters. Every one matters. “And if it so be that you should labor all your days in crying repentance unto this people, and bring, save it be one soul unto me, how great shall be your joy with him in the kingdom of my father” (D&C ). What a testament that each and every one of us matters to our Heavenly Father. “For behold, this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” (Moses ). We must save the one and do what we can, because every single one matters so much.
There is a fundamental question I was asked a few times as I prepared to submit my mission papers that focused my thinking. “Why do you want to serve a mission?” It is a simple question that should be asked more than it is. It is behind the eyes and subtle head tilts of those not of our faith when you tell them you will be gone for two years, out of contact with everyone and everything, focusing exclusively on spreading the gospel and saving the one. But I was shocked at how few times I was asked the question. Perhaps my answer would have disturbed their comfortable gray areas. I started thinking about it more. I’m sure there are a lot of good, meaningful answers that people find within themselves before they leave on their missions, but as I prayed about it and tried to understand my true motivations, I always came back to a simple answer: because it is true.
There are a million reasons not to serve a mission, just like there are a million reasons not to do anything in the church. I’m scared. It’s too hard. It won’t matter. There are people you will miss when you go, there are plans to execute, school to attend, life to live. There are places I’ll never go and things I’ll miss. It is a scary undertaking to leave for two years, to tear away from the embrace of a weeping mother and walk onto an airplane, smile, wave, and disappear from the lives of the people who care about you most. It’s not easy. It’s not easy to take a last look at your life and walk out of it, knowing nothing will be the same when you come back, including you. But this gospel, this message I have been called of God to deliver…it is true. And because it is true, I CHOOSE to serve a full time mission. Because it is true, I choose to step on that plane. Because it is true, I choose to do what is hard.
Because truth exists and because I was raised by a family blessed to know that we can be together forever and because I want to share that truth with other families and individuals. Because I was raised by a mother who taught her children in truth and a father who honored his priesthood. Because I watched my sister marry a good man in the temple and my brother serve a mission and come back glowing with a Spirit and a testimony that I want. Because of all the examples I’ve had and the lessons I have learned and the leaders I have followed and the truth I have gained. Because one night I knelt and I prayed before God and asked Him if the Book of Mormon was true, if this was his true church, and if He was really there. And I know I must serve because I received that Spiritual confirmation and I know that the Book of Mormon is another testament of Christ and that this is His restored gospel on the Earth. Because I have studied the Book of Mormon and felt the change that the Gospel has made in my life, because there is a God, because Jesus IS the Christ, because truth is not relative, because the Restoration is not fiction, it is history. Because one morning a boy of 14 named Joseph Smith had the courage to kneel before his maker and ask God with real intent what the truth was and touched off the Restoration of the true church to the Earth.
I have a testimony of this gospel. I know it is true. I have a testimony of truth and its absolute nature when it comes to eternal law. I have a testimony of the power of prayer and of the willingness of the Spirit to testify of the truthfulness of these things if you will only ask for them. I know that Christ came to this Earth for you and for me, that he suffered for each of our sins, and that through Him we may return to our Heavenly Father again. I have a testimony of families and the influence positive people and positive examples can have. It is up to us. Every starfish is worth saving. There is no middle ground in this fight, and at some point we will have to stand up and be counted. Now is my time to be counted, and it is yours as well.
I leave you with the knowledge that I know this church is true, and with the testimony of Elder Holland as another witness:
“Now, I did not sail with the brother of Jared in crossing an ocean, settling in a new world. I did not hear King Benjamin speak his angelically delivered sermon. I did not proselyte with Alma and Amulek nor witness the fiery death of innocent believers. I was not among the Nephite crowd who touched the wounds of the resurrected Lord, nor did I weep with Mormon and Moroni over the destruction of an entire civilization. But my testimony of this record and the peace it brings to the human heart is as binding and unequivocal as was theirs. Like them, “[I] give [my name] unto the world, to witness unto the world that which [I] have seen.” And like them, “[I] lie not, God bearing witness of it.”
I ask that my testimony of the Book of Mormon and all that it implies, given today under my own oath and office, be recorded by men on earth and angels in heaven. I hope I have a few years left in my “last days,” but whether I do or do not, I want it absolutely clear when I stand before the judgment bar of God that I declared to the world, in the most straightforward language I could summon, that the Book of Mormon is true, that it came forth the way Joseph said it came forth and was given to bring happiness and hope to the faithful in the travail of the latter days.”
When I first stood before you 7 short years ago, I told you that for those of you who don’t know me, my name is Pedro Bow-and-Arrow, and for the rest of you, my name is Tyler Molinaro. Today, I stand before you with a name applicable to both parties: Elder Molinaro, a representative of Jesus Christ. I say these things in his Holy name, amen.