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Talk: The Lord’s Sheep, Bread of Life, and Living Water

The following is a post created from a talk I gave in church this morning.

There is an idea in thermodynamics that everything in the universe eventually moves from order to disorder. The Book of Mormon is a window into how this happens in the lives of individuals and civilizations. Around 385 A.D., the bodies of tens of thousands of men, women, and children, lay strewn across the land as an entire nation went extinct save for a few.

Mormon, on of the last surviving leaders beheld this scene and cried out in anguish: “O ye fair ones, how could ye have departed from the ways of the Lord! O ye fair ones, how could ye have rejected that Jesus, who stood with open arms to receive you! Behold, if ye had not done this, ye would not have fallen. But behold, ye are fallen, and I mourn your loss. O ye fair sons and daughters, ye fathers and mothers, ye husbands and wives, ye fair ones, how is it that ye could have fallen! But behold, ye are gone, and my sorrows cannot bring your return. (Mormon 6:17-20)

They had fallen, and they did so together, as one. 

“They were once a delightsome people,” Mormon recalled, “and they had Christ for their shepherd; yea, they were led even by God the Father.” (Mormon 5:17) “But now, behold, they are led about by Satan, even as chaff is driven before the wind, or as a vessel is tossed about upon the waves, without sail or anchor, or without anything wherewith to steer her; and even as she is, so are they.” (Mormon 5:18)

The Nephite nation had dissolved into chaos, then extinction – but it didn’t have to happen.

Stayin’ alive

The body needs continual sustenance to not only stay alive but to grow and heal as well; but what about us? Not this vessel of clay, this mortal frame, I’m talking about us, the spirit, the intelligence within. Scriptures teach that we do need spiritual sustenance in order to stay alive, grow, and heal.

Jesus miraculously fed 5000 for a day, but hours later, hunger returned as usual. Jesus taught, “Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again; but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.” (John 4:13-14 NASB) In another place he taught, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst.” (John 6:35 NASB)

One who professes to follow Jesus also accepts a call to feed his sheep. If they were real sheep that might be easy, just provide some grass and you’re good to go. But Jesus’ sheep require this bread of life and living water; they don’t sell that at supermarket.

There are a few questions that need answering: who and where are these sheep, how exactly do you feed them, what is this bread of life and this living water? What lies beyond the metaphor that we can actually take hold of?

Identifying the sheep

There is a broad context in which you could say that God’s sheep are everyone in the whole world. For the sake of this post, let’s look at who Jesus said his sheep were.

Jesus said that, “I am the door of the sheep… if anyone enters through Me, he will be saved…” (John 10:7,9 NASB) Later Jesus taught that, “He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved;” (Mark 16:16 NASB) Nephi explained clearly, “the gate (or door) by which ye should enter is repentance and baptism by water; and then cometh a remission of your sins by fire and by the Holy Ghost.” (2 Nephi 31:17) Jesus continues: “I am the good shepherd, and I know My own and My own know Me, even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep.” ((John 10:14-15 NASB)

Moroni gives a basic description of how the church received new sheep among the Nephites:

“…after they had been received unto baptism, and were wrought upon and cleansed by the power of the Holy Ghost, they were numbered among the people of the church of Christ; and their names were taken, that they might be remembered and nourished by the good word of God, to keep them in the right way, to keep them continually watchful unto prayer, relying alone upon the merits of Christ, who was the author and the finisher of their faith.” (Moroni 6:4)

Next time you are at church sitting in a pew, look to the left and right and you will find some sheep. Examine your home and visiting teaching routes and you’ll find more sheep, many of whom are not at church with us today, and won’t be next week, or the week after.

What is the bread of life?

Now that we have identified who the sheep are, let’s figure out how we feed them starting with the bread of life. Jesus said, “I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread also which I will give for the life of the world is My flesh.” (John 6:51)

Jesus broke bread, blessed it and gave it to the Nephites saying, “…this shall ye do in remembrance of my body, which I have shown unto you…” (3 Nephi 18:7) What body was he showing them? It wasn’t a mortal body, bloodied and hanging from a cross. This is very significant, it is one of those unique little gems the Book of Mormon offers us.

When you eat bread, it goes into your stomach and is digested. Energy is produced, structure is reinforced, and tissue is healed. The aforementioned process is not the purpose of the sacrament, although a little bit of nourishment is actually taking place. This ordinance points towards something else that should be taking place. Just as the body needs energy, structure, and healing, the spirit needs light, knowledge, and atonement.

The scriptures are there to help point the way for us. George MacDonald, a man who C.S. Lewis referred to as “my master” once wrote: “The one use of the [scriptures] is to make us look at Jesus, that through him we might know his Father and our Father, his God and our God. Till we thus know Him, let us hold the [scriptures] dear as the moon of our darkness, by which we travel towards the east; not dear as the sun whence her light cometh, and towards which we haste, that, walking in the sun himself, we may no more need the mirror that reflected his absent brightness.” (Unspoken Sermons Series I., II., and II.)

You can feed a sheep, but they must choose to eat, while God’s grace blesses with nourishment.

Stoic philosopher Epictetus wrote, “…sheep do not throw up the grass to show the shepherds how much they have eaten; but, inwardly digesting their food, they outwardly produce wool and milk.” (Enchiridion)

We are not here to chew facts and regurgitate them on social media or even Sunday school classes – that would be spiritual bulimia. We must inwardly digest the bread of life and outwardly show forth what we have become, until we are like him, in all the ways that matter.

What is living water?

Around 60% of our bodies are water so in one sense, we are literally living water, but this isn’t what Jesus meant.

He revealed through Joseph Smith, “…unto him that keepeth my commandments I will give the mysteries of my kingdom, and the same shall be in him a well of living water, springing up unto everlasting life.” (D&C 63:23)

Mysteries.

Nephi wrote, “…For he that diligently seeketh shall find; and the mysteries of God shall be unfolded unto them, by the power of the Holy Ghost…” (1 Nephi 10:19)

Alma proclaimed to Zeezrom, “…he that will not harden his heart, to him is given the greater portion of the word, until it is given unto him to know the mysteries of God until he know them in full.” (Alma 12:10)

Alma taught in another place, “…he that repenteth and exerciseth faith, and bringeth forth good works, and prayeth continually without ceasing—unto such it is given to know the mysteries of God; yea, unto such it shall be given to reveal things which never have been revealed; yea, and it shall be given unto such to bring thousands of souls to repentance…” (Alma 26:22)

What are the mysteries of God?

Mystery, from the Greek: musterion, “it does not mean something mysterious, or something that one could not understand; it means something that one could not know until it is revealed.” (Rick Calvert, Greek Thoughts, studylight.org)

Enos wrote, “And my soul hungered; and I kneeled down before my Maker, and I cried unto him in mighty prayer and supplication for mine own soul; and all the day long did I cry unto him; yea, and when the night came I did still raise my voice high that it reached the heavens. And there came a voice unto me, saying: Enos, thy sins are forgiven thee, and thou shalt be blessed. And I, Enos, knew that God could not lie; wherefore, my guilt was swept away.” (Enos 1:4-6)

Alma the younger recalled, “…as I was thus racked with torment, while I was harrowed up by the memory of my many sins, behold, I remembered also to have heard my father prophesy unto the people concerning the coming of one Jesus Christ, a Son of God, to atone for the sins of the world. Now, as my mind caught hold upon this thought, I cried within my heart: O Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me, who am in the gall of bitterness, and am encircled about by the everlasting chains of death. And now, behold, when I thought this, I could remember my pains no more; yea, I was harrowed up by the memory of my sins no more.” (Alma 36:17-19)

Lecture Sixth teaches, “Such was and always will be the situation of the saints of God, that unless they have an actual knowledge that the course that they are pursuing is according to the will of God, they will grow weary in their minds and faint; … for whatever may be their belief or their opinion, it is a matter of doubt and uncertainty in their mind; and where doubt and uncertainty is, there faith is not, nor can it be. … and they will grow weary in their minds, and the adversary will have power over them and destroy them.” (Lecture 6:4,12)

These examples are speaking of real experiences and actual knowledge. This is where actual experiences fill out the crude approximations projected by metaphor and symbol. The mysteries of God, or those things that one cannot know until they are revealed, are the living waters Jesus spoke of.

Starting within

“Can the blind lead the blind? Shall they not both fall into the ditch?” (Luke 6:39)

“I ask of you, my [brothers and sisters] of the church, have you spiritually been born of God? Have you received his image in your countenances? Have you experienced this mighty change in your hearts? (Alma 5:14) Do you exercise faith in the redemption of him who created you? (vs. 15) Can you look up to God at that day with a pure heart and clean hands? I say unto you, can you look up, having the image of God engraven upon your countenances? (vs. 19)

I say unto you, my [brothers and sisters], if you have experienced a change of heart, and if you have felt to sing the song of redeeming love, I would ask, can you feel so now? (vs. 26)

Have you been sufficiently humble? (vs. 27)

Are you stripped of pride? (vs. 28)

Are you stripped of envy? (vs. 29)

The good shepherd calls you; and in his own name he calls you. (vs. 38) He sends an invitation unto all men, for the arms of mercy are extended towards them, and he says: Repent, and I will receive you. He says: Come unto me and ye shall partake of the fruit of the tree of life; yea, ye shall eat and drink of the bread and the waters of life freely; (vs. 34) the good shepherd calls after you; and if you will hearken unto his voice he will bring you into his fold, and you are his sheep (vs. 60)

I speak unto you that belong to the church; and unto those who do not belong to the church I speak by way of invitation, saying: Come and be baptized unto repentance, that you also may be partakers of the fruit of the tree of life.” (vs. 62) “…and when thou art converted, strengthen thy [brothers and sisters].” (Luke 22:32)

Born of God

Because of the promises of the gospel, I have been born of God. This doesn’t mean that I was taken into heaven in a chariot of fire, this is and should be the typical experience of any follower of the Savior. To be born of God is not the end game, it is a new beginning. Like a child, you must still grow, make mistakes, learn, and struggle with the paradoxes of life.

Rebirth introduces a new paradigm that didn’t exist before. After birth, a child comes to know their parents and can begin to understand their own personal potential. They also understand that their brothers and sisters across the earth and throughout time are all loved and cherished the same.

All of us need the bread of life and living water or we suffer spiritually as we would without the physical counterparts. The more we understand these things, the more we can nourish ourselves and help to nourish those around us as well.

  • Anita Wells

    Particularly loved the insights on feeding the sheep. Thanks for sharing.