This past Sunday I gave a talk during sacrament meeting. The topic was "family history". The talk itself was heavily adapted from the first lesson from the church's family history manual. It's a wonderful book, that I recommend for any member of the church who is interested in family history.
Anyway, my write-up for the talk follows:
Today, I want to talk with you about the reasons why we do family history. When that term, “family history”, is mentioned, I think most of us think about black and white photographs and family trees and weirdos in libraries who stare at microfiche all day. Well, I’m here to tell you that it’s not really like that anymore. Family history today is all about internet searches and emailing people and downloading stuff. These are the tools that our Father in Heaven has given us to bring His children back to Him in these latter days.
But the mechanics of how to do family history isn’t what I want to talk about right now. If you want to hear about that, you should come to the class I’ll be teaching in the next hour in the relief society room.
Instead, right now I’d like you to consider the following questions:
* What is Heavenly Father’s plan for His children?
* What is the role of family history and temple ordinances in that plan?
* Why do we hear about this guy Elijah so often in the scriptures?
* What can we do to turn our hearts to our ancestors?
To begin, we have to go back a little. Well, we actually have to go back all the way to the time before we were born. Back then, we lived with our Heavenly Father. He created us in His own image. He loved us and wanted us to be happy. He wanted us to become like Him. Indeed, the Lord has said:
“For behold, this is my work and my glory – to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” (Moses 1:39)
Heavenly Father at that time presented a plan for all of us, His children, to come to earth and then return to His presence. Our lives here on Earth are intended to be a homeward journey to the presence of God in His celestial kingdom.
This journey would be impossible without the Atonement of our Savior Jesus Christ. He told the prophet Ether:
“Behold, I am he who was prepared from the foundation of the world to redeem my people … In me shall all mankind have life, and that eternally, even they who shall believe on my name …” (Ether 3:14)
It is the Savior’s Atonement that makes it possible for all of us to repent, be forgiven of our sins, and be resurrected. We obtain the full blessings of the Atonement by receiving gospel ordinances, as performed by those who hold the proper priesthood authority, and by making and keeping sacred covenants with God. Some ordinances are essential for exaltation. These include baptism, confirmation, the ordination to the Melchizedek Priesthood for men, and temple ordinances. Receiving these ordinances and making the covenants associated with them should be everybody’s goal.
President Boyd K. Packer of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles explained the role of ordinances and covenants:
“Ordinances and covenants become our credentials for admission into [God’s] presence. To worthily receive them is the quest of a lifetime; to keep them thereafter is the challenge of mortality. Once we have received them for ourselves and for our families, we are obligated to provide these ordinances vicariously for our kindred dead, indeed for the whole human family.” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1987, 27; or Ensign, May 1987, 24).
So, let’s talk about families for a moment. Families are essential in Heavenly Father’s plan of happiness. Here on Earth, each of us is part of an Earthly family; what we often forget is that we are also part of a much larger heavenly family. President Gordon B. Hinckley taught:
“God is the designer of the family. He intended that the greatest of happiness, the most satisfying aspects of life, the deepest joys should come in our associations together and our concerns one for another as fathers and mothers and children” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1991, 98; or Ensign, May 1991, 74).
Most of us here today have received at least some of the ordinances of the gospel. Not everyone in our families has had the same privilege. Many of our ancestors—and perhaps even some of our immediate family members—have died without hearing the gospel or receiving those saving ordinances. Nevertheless, we are greatly blessed to know something of the nature of our Heavenly Father, and to understand that He is just and merciful, and has provided a way for these people, our deceased family members, to have these blessings.
Though they are no longer with us, they are not lost. Right now they continue to live in a place called the Spirit World. There they have the opportunity to hear and accept the gospel of Jesus Christ. However, they cannot receive the ordinances of the gospel for themselves, for this is something that must be done with a physical body. Consider baptism – it’s tough to baptize a spirit that has no flesh and bones. Therefore these bodiless spirits cannot progress until others provide these ordinances for them. Our privilege and responsibility is to give our ancestors this gift by identifying them and ensuring that ordinances are performed in their behalf in the temple. They may then choose whether to accept the work that has been done for them.
One of the most wondrous ordinances that occur in the temple is that of the sealing. This sacred temple ordinance unites husbands to their wives and parents to their children. The goal of this process, as the Prophet Joseph Smith once said, is that:
“the whole chain of God’s family shall be welded together into one chain, and they shall all become the family of God …” (Joseph F. Smith, Millennial Star, Oct. 4, 1906, 629).
Seen in this light, the ultimate goal is to seal the entirety of the human family together, that we may all return to our Father in Heaven together. Let me restate the scripture from Moses,
“For behold, this is my work and my glory – to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.”
How glorious it would truly be if we were all to return to Heavenly Father again, together.
These keys of the welding or sealing power of the Melchizedek Priesthood were bestowed upon Elijah, a prophet of the Old Testament. This priesthood includes the authority to perform ordinances that bind families together eternally. Ancient prophets foretold the return of Elijah before the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. The Lord Himself, as recorded in 3rd Nephi, shared this prophecy from Malachi with the Nephites:
“I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord; and he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse” (3 Nephi 25:5–6; see also Malachi 4:5–6; D&C 2:1; Joseph Smith—History 1:38–39).
This prophecy was also one of the first messages that Moroni gave to young Joseph Smith.
President Henry B . Eyring of the First Presidency taught:
“It is important to know why the Lord promised to send Elijah. Elijah was a great prophet with great power given him by God. He held the greatest power God gives to His children: he held the sealing power, the power to bind on earth and have it bound in heaven… And the Lord kept His promise to send Elijah. Elijah came to the Prophet Joseph Smith on April 3, 1836, just after the dedication of the Kirtland Temple, the first temple built after the Restoration of the gospel” (in Conference Report, Apr. 2005, 80; or Ensign, May 2005, 78).
When Elijah appeared to the Prophet Joseph, he said,
“Behold, the time has fully come … to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the children to the fathers… Therefore, the keys of this dispensation are committed into your hands.” (D&C 110:14–16)
Since that time, the sealing power has been conferred on men as authorized by the President of the Church. These priesthood holders use the sealing power to perform ordinances in the temple for the living and the dead. Elijah’s return marked the beginning of a worldwide interest in genealogical research that continues to grow even today.
Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught that an outpouring of the Holy Ghost accompanied Elijah’s return:
“Elijah came to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the children to the fathers... Elijah came not only to stimulate research for ancestors. He also enabled families to be eternally linked beyond the bounds of mortality. Indeed, the opportunity for families to be sealed forever is the real reason for our research” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1998, 43; or Ensign, May 1998, 34).
Allow me to repeat that last part,
“Indeed, the opportunity for families to be sealed forever is the real reason for our research.”
Temple and family history work can bless and protect you and your family. President Boyd K. Packer promised:
“The Lord will bless us as we attend to the sacred ordinance work of the temples. Blessings there will not be limited to our temple service. We will be blessed in all of our affairs. We will be eligible to have the Lord take an interest in our affairs both spiritual and temporal. . . . Our labors in the temple cover us with a shield and a protection, both individually and as a people.” (The Holy Temple , 182, 265).
President Thomas S. Monson said:
“In this work, no lock will open without [the key of faith]. I testify that when we do all we can to accomplish the work that is before us, the Lord will make available to us the sacred key needed to unlock the treasure which we so much seek… My brothers and sisters, do not be weary in well doing. If you feel your contribution is small or insignificant, remember that the worth of souls is precious in the sight of God. Our opportunity is to prepare the way, and to accomplish the ordinance work, after faithful research, that these souls may prepare for the glory which is their divine opportunity” (“The Key of Faith,” Ensign, Feb. 1994, 5, 7).
The Lord has said,
“For behold, this is my work and my glory – to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.”
Seeking for our family members and performing their temple work is one way for us to contribute to that great work. In doing so, we bring glory to our God in the form of our united families.
This is my testimony in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.