Lesson 36: “The Desert Shall Rejoice, and Blossom as the Rose”
no designated scripture
Purpose: To help class members understand how they have been blessed by the sacrifices of the early Saints in the Salt Lake Valley and to encourage them to follow the example of these faithful members.
Lesson discussion and application:
1. “Right here will stand the temple of our God.”
2. The Saints were obedient as they settled and colonized the Salt Lake Valley and the surrounding areas.
3. Missionaries made sacrifices to teach the gospel throughout the world.
Human beings have always told stories. I don’t have any trouble imagining Eve telling stories to her children about “the olden days” in the Garden of Eden. Our written scripture is mostly stories: Stories about the kings of Israel, stories about Jesus in Galilee, stories about Lehi’s family leaving Jerusalem and beginning life in the New World, stories about Joseph Smith going into a grove to pray.
The kinds of stories human beings tell tend to fall into distinct patterns, no matter where or when the storyteller lived. One of the great storytelling patterns is “the quest”: Something has gone wrong in the world, and a great hero must set it right. He and his companions set out on a journey, meeting and conquering all kinds of obstacles, until at last they achieve their goal and make the wrong right again.
An example of this is the epic story of Moses leading the Children of Israel. The Israelites have been enslaved in a foreign land, and they must get back to the land that God gave them in order to live the way God wanted them to. So their hero – Moses – leads them through the desert, where for 40 years they conquer obstacles like hunger, sickness, disobedience, and warfare, until at last they reach the Promised Land.
You can see the same pattern in fictional stories, like the Wizard of Oz, and Lord of the Rings, and any number of others: A hero and his or her companions set out on a journey and must overcome all hardships in order to achieve a great goal.
One reason the history of the Latter-day Saints is so exciting to me is because it, too, follows the pattern of the great quest:
Something has gone wrong in the world: The truths of the Gospel, and the authority to act in God’s name for the salvation of mankind has been taken from the earth. The Lord must act to bring about His purposes for this earth, so he calls on men and women – Joseph Smith, the other early Saints, you and I and everyone else who is willing to help – to join him on a great quest to bring to pass his work and his glory, the immortality and eternal life of man. Along the way we face obstacles – persecution from wicked men, apostasy from within our ranks, physical hardships like crossing the Plains, social hardships like being obedient to God’s commandments while the world tells us that other paths are more desirable. We are working all the time to overcome these obstacles, and to move closer to fulfilling the plan that God has for this world.
If we look back on Sunday School discussions so far this year, it’s easy to see that the Church has been on a journey, much like the journeys in quest stories. There has been a literal journey, as in less than 30 years’ time we have moved from New York to Ohio to Missouri to Illinois to Utah. It has been a journey of faith, as one after another the great doctrines of God have been revealed. Now, though, the Church is about to settle down and spend about 50 years in the wilderness. We’ll learn how to put into practice the doctrines that God revealed through Joseph Smith. We’ll learn – with great difficulty and hardship – how to build communities and stand our ground, and not be driven again from place to place. It will be a different kind of journey from now on, but we’ll still be moving toward achieving the Lord’s great purposes.
Section 110 records a vision to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery in the Kirtland Temple in 1836, where the ancient prophets Moses, Elias, and Elijah turned over certain keys to Joseph Smith. Let’s read D&C 110:11-16: [As these verses are read, write on board: “gathering of Israel,” “generations to be blessed,” and “turn the hearts.”]
Doctrine and Covenants 110
11 After this vision closed, the heavens were again opened unto us; and Moses appeared before us, and committed unto us the keys of the gathering of Israel from the four parts of the earth, and the leading of the ten tribes from the land of the north.
12 After this, Elias appeared, and committed the dispensation of the gospel of Abraham, saying that in us and our seed all generations after us should be blessed.
13 After this vision had closed, another great and glorious vision burst upon us; for Elijah the prophet, who was taken to heaven without tasting death, stood before us, and said:
14 Behold, the time has fully come, which was spoken of by the mouth of Malachi – testifying that he [Elijah] should be sent, before the great and dreadful day of the Lord come –
15 to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the children to the fathers, lest the whole earth be smitten with a curse –
16 Therefore, the keys of this dispensation are committed into your hands; and by this ye may know that the great and dreadful day of he Lord is near, even at the doors.
These three great keys were committed to Joseph Smith, and eventually to the Twelve, and their President Brigham Young, and from there down to the present day. I’ve written on the board phrases from the scriptural description of these keys. They have been a constant factor in Church activity since 1836 – although they are perhaps more familiar to us today in slightly different words. How do you most often hear them today? [As class members respond, add “preach the gospel,” “perfect the Saints,” and “redeem the dead” next to the older wording.] [If someone brings up “Care for the poor and needy,” accept it, noting that while we *must* fulfil that mission, the first three are a little different – others can also work to care for the poor and needy, but the Church is the *only* agent that can address the first three.]
We tend to think of these missions as being fairly modern, because they were so closely associated with President Spencer W. Kimball following the 1981 talk where he listed the missions of the Church in these words. They have been present with the Church since the earliest days, though, and form a constant pattern in Church history no matter what period we’re looking at. Let’s see how these three missions were present in the early days in the Salt Lake Valley:
1. Redeem the dead.
The first members of the pioneer company arrived in the Salt Lake Valley on July 24, 1847. Only four days later, after a few preliminary scouting trips to get a look at the Valley, Brigham Young designated the site for the Salt Lake Temple. The they began laying out the site of the new city from that point.
What, briefly, is the purpose of a temple?
Can this work be done anywhere but in a temple? Trick question! [Remind class members about baptisms in the Mississippi River and endowments in Joseph Smith’s Nauvoo building. Tell them also that temple ordinances were performed in Utah before any temple was dedicated: on Ensign Peak, in Brigham Young’s office next to the Beehive House, in the Endowment House which stood where today’s North Visitor’s Center stands on Temple Square, in various other places throughout the Mormon settlements. These ordinances were nearly all for the living; very, very few of them were for the dead.]
If this work could be done anywhere that was approved by the priesthood leader holding the keys, then why go to the work and expense of building temples – especially in the early days in the Salt Lake Valley when everything had to be built from the ground up, just for the people to survive?
Doctrine and Covenants 124:30-32
30 For this ordinance belongeth to my house, and cannot be acceptable to me, only in the days of your poverty, wherein ye are not able to build a house unto me.
31 but I command you, all ye my saints, to build a house unto me; and I grant unto you a sufficient time to build a house unto me; and during this time your baptisms shall be acceptable unto me.
32 But behold, at the end of this appointment your baptisms for your dead shall not be acceptable unto me; and if you do not these things at the end of the appointment ye shall be rejected as a church, with your dead, saith the Lord your God.
From a human point of view, perhaps it would do just as well to skip the temple and give endowments on the mountain tops, or marry in a garden, or baptize in the river. But God says otherwise: ordinances for the dead, and some ordinances for the living, belong to his house, his temple, and he will not accept substitutes.
The Saints of the late 19th century understood this, and took seriously this commandment of the Lord. They took it so seriously, in fact, that they put temples and temple ordinances above their families, above their leaders, above all other possessions. From the days of Joseph Smith, and especially through the 1880s, the Saints had fought and sacrificed to live the commandment they had been given regarding plural marriages. Scores of men had been imprisoned, many hundreds of Church leaders were in hiding, women left their homes and lived in primitive conditions to give birth rather than have their newborn children be used as criminal evidence against their husbands. The right to vote had been taken from us, the U.S. Government tried to cut off Mormon emigration, the government prevented children born of plural marriages to inherit property from their fathers, tithing was confiscated, and every other tactic to plunder and punish and make lire unbearable for our ancestors had been tried. Church members endured all that – but there was one threat they could not endure.
A year after the Manifesto urged the ending of contracting plural marriages, Wilford Woodruff explained what had led to that Manifesto, in material that appears in the Doctrine and Covenants after Official Declaration 1:
The question is this: Which is the wisest course for the Latter-day Saints to pursue – to continue to attempt to practice plural marriage, with the laws of the nation against it … at the cost of the confiscation and loss of all the Temples, and the stopping of all the ordinances therein, both for the living and the dead …; or, after doing and suffering what we have … to cease the practice and submit to the law … and also leave the Temples in the hands of the Saints, so that they can attend to the ordinances of the Gospel, both for the living and the dead?
The Lord showed me by vision and revelation exactly what would take place if we did not stop this practice. If we had not stopped it, you would have had no use for … this temple … for all ordinances would be stopped throughout the land of Zion. …
I saw exactly what would come to pass if there was not something done. I have had this spirit upon me for a long time. But I want to say this: I should have let all the temples go out of our hands … had not the God of heaven commanded me to do what I did do; and when the hour came that I was commanded to do that, ti was all clear to me. I went before the Lord, and I wrote what the Lord told me to write.
And, of course, there would have been no temples for the Church to defend or our enemies to confiscate, had not the men and women of that first generation in the Salt Lake Valley begun construction of the temples here.
2. Perfect the Saints
Let’s look briefly at the next mission of the Church that was addressed in the early days of Utah settlement: perfecting the Saints.
We say it all the time, but what does it mean to “perfect the Saints”?
What areas of our lives today are connecting with “perfecting the Saints”? How are these ideas reflected in the early days of Utah settlement? [Discuss briefly whatever the class suggests: Creating homes and raising families relating to colonization; education then and now; teaching the gospel to the rise of the auxiliaries; opportunities to serve, today and then – the point is to lead class members to realize that we and the pioneer generation are not all that different, and that while outward forms may have changed, the reasons we do things are exactly the same.]
3. Preaching the gospel
As badly as manpower was needed to dig canals, put up houses, plant and harvest crops, raise livestock, and a 1,001 other details of a new community, there was never any let-up in the calling of missionaries. Why would Church leaders have dispatched so many men to preach the gospel, when every capable hand could have been used at home?
What places are you aware of, that missionaries were sent in this early period? [Elicit stories of ancestors, if possible. Tell some of my own stories if necessary.]
4. Following in their footsteps
When we look back at this period in our history, it’s easy to see what obstacles they had to overcome in order to carry out the missions of the Church: poverty, physical hardships of building in the wilderness, opposition from governments, primitive methods of travel and communication. Sometimes we say, “Oh, I could never have been a pioneer!” because their obstacles were so difficult; other times we fail to notice that they did have obstacles, because we know that they survived.
What obstacles do we face to day, and how do we overcome them, in addressing the missions of the Church?
Looking for patterns in our history can help us meet the challenges of our lives: If we know what is the goal of the great quest (to prepare the world for the second of Christ, say), then it’s possible to view life’s problems as temporary obstacles to be overcome. If we know that the early Saints found ways to preach the gospel, perfect the Saints, and redeem the dead despite the overwhelming challenges of the 19th century, then we may be inspired to persevere in meeting the equivalent challenges of the 21st century. [Testimony]