Here's my farewell talk. Just imagine me standing nervously at the podium, making jokes that no one really thinks are funny, and speaking in a semi-monotone voice. It'll be like you were there!
Covenants: God's Promises
The Merciful Contract
There are three kinds of very serious promises in the world. First and lowest is a legal contract, where two or more parties agree to a trade of goods or services in exchange for something the other party deems equally valuable. These are recorded on paper and signed by all contributors, and if broken, the offender faces serious monetary and possibly legal consequences. There is plenty of room for negotiation and both parties can supply their own terms to the contract.
Second comes the pinky promise. It is a serious and binding process between two individuals, often children and teenagers, where one party sets the terms and the other can negotiate, but usually ultimately accepts. It is sealed when the parties lock pinkies, and unless one of the parties crosses their fingers behind their back (which can easily be voided by the other stating “crosses don’t count”) the contract is effective immediately and unbreakable. If you break a pinky promise, you make a lot of people sad and people are less likely to promise you anything.
Highest of all (yes, even higher than a pinky promise) is a covenant. A covenant is also an agreement between two or sometimes more parties, except one party sets the terms and the other either accepts it and all the promised rewards that come with it, or rejects it and forfeits those rewards. There is no negotiation, no barter. In the church, the offering party is always God and the accepting party is always man. The contracts usually go as follows: We promise to keep certain statutes and rules that have been laid out before us and explained so we understand, and in return, we are promised rewards that far exceed our obedience. In the covenant of baptism, for example, we promise to try live the commandments laid out in the scriptures, and in exchange, we are promised forgiveness of our failings and, so long as we are faithful, the constant companionship of a member of the Godhead. The covenants are binding, and if we void our portion of the contract we forfeit the blessings and rewards promised us, just as any other contract However, the covenants we make, just like our Heavenly Father, are both merciful and just. The promises our Father makes us provide a way for forgiveness, and we are permitted to accept the terms of the contract over and over, despite our frequent failings. However, if we choose to reject such a generous offer, we are left without the promised rewards. The balance is already set—through the atonement of Christ we just have to add as much as we can to the scale and Christ will even out the rest. He has taken the full contract and permitted us to take part in it.
Like how a debt can be co-signed between two partners, usually a person with more wealth and one with less, so are the covenants we make co-signed with Christ. In the book “Believing Christ” by Stephen E. Robinson, he relates the parable of the bycicle. His daughter wanted a bycicle, but Elder Robinson knew it was far out of her capacities to pay for one. He told her to give everything she had by saving all of her money, and he would cover the rest.
This parable is not only referring to the Atonement, but also with the covenants we make. We want the rewards of the temple, the rewards of the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost, but even if we save all our spiritual pennies we don’t have anywhere near the merit needed to receive such wonderful gifts. Fortunately we don’t have to do it alone. We’re in a partnership, and in that partnership we are only required to do as much as we can and are still given the reward despite our ultimate unworthiness as mortals.
However, just because we are asked to give so little compared to the Saviour does not mean it is easy. In the scriptures it often is said “it is by grace ye are saved after all ye can do.” The same goes for our covenants. They’re surprisingly similar. Just because we are the lesser partners in the contract doesn’t mean that we can slack off and not give our whole selves. The Saviour has more to give than us, but our giving should be proportionate to what we can do. This is not an easy world to live in. It’s not an easy world to abide by the laws our Father set out. Christ says in Malachi that this world is like “a refiner’s fire…” Allow me to go nerdy for a minute here and a bit blatant with the analogies. Refining consists of purifying an impure material, in this case a metal. It is different from things such as smelting in that smelting involves a chemical change to the raw material, whereas in refining, the final material is usually chemically identical to the original one, only purer. In old times, before Nitric Acid could really be used, a refiner would sit at his fire, for example, with silver, and burn the impurities away until He could see his own reflection in the precious metal. That’s when He knew it is pure enough to work with. It hurts. The fire’s hot. The metal has to be melted to mould into the form the refiner wants it to be. In case you didn’t notice, we are not the refiner; we are the silver. The covenants we make are the moulds the silver is poured into after it is malleable enough to change form. They help us keep our form in the years to come, after the original firing process has cooled.
Ordinances—The “written agreement” of a Covenant
Ordinances are “sacred [ceremonies] or [rites] that show we have entered into a covenant with God.” An ordinance is an outward manifestation of inward commitment, but ordinances and covenants go hand in hand. Why do we use ordinances, then, instead of just making the covenants and leaving it at that? By witnessing and often partaking of the ordinances we have been given, we remember the covenants we have made and refresh our commitment to them. Ordinances hold us accountable to the covenants and make the covenants easier to understand.
The Covenants We Make are Merciful and Important
In our church, there are certain principles that cannot be fully seen or understood with a mortal mind. It’s just the way we are—we can’t understand celestial things in the state we are now. That’s where the symbols come in. As a church, we are surrounded by symbols and often don’t pause to think about what they mean. The sacrament, for instance, is administered every Sunday at our normal, commonplace meeting. That little bit of bread and water, though, symbolizes the covenants we have made, sacred promises with God that we are willing to remember Him and stand as His witness at all times and in all things and in all places. We promise to remember the Savior, and at the end we say “Amen,” a Hebrew word that means to be firm, reliable, and faithful until the next time the word Amen is used. It also means, “so be it,” meaning that by accepting that prayer we accept any consequences that come with not keeping the covenants we have made. In essence, the word amen binds us even before we take the sacrament. Surely this sacred and binding covenant and its accompanying ordinance deserve a little more than just a passing glance each Sunday.
One important thing about the sacrament that shows the unending mercy of God is that the wording of either prayer does not say basically “if you sin you’re condemned.” The prayers say that if we are “willing to take upon [us] the name of [the] Son, and always remember Him and keep His commandments which He has given [us]….” That we may have the Spirit, His Spirit, the third member of the Godhead, always with us. We promised when we took the bread and water earlier today that we were willing to try. God knows we’re not perfect, and He’s not going to make us covenant to do something that He knows we are unable to do. It’s like Elder Holland said in April’s General Conference: “Except in the case of His only perfect Begotten Son, imperfect people are all God has ever had to work with” He makes it possible for us to keep our covenants because He knows He can’t expect perfection from us. We promise every Sunday that we are willing to do our best, and even if we make a mistake, it’s okay, as long as we try and do better the next time around. The reason we’re on this earth and the center principle of this church is the plan of mercy, after all.
We are offered the blessings of making covenants as early as possible. Why are we allowed to take a step into the path of exaltation as early as 8 years old? Obviously an eight year old doesn’t have the same knowledge as a 19 year old, and a 19 year old doesn’t have the same knowledge of a 40 year old. Each of us is only responsible for what we know and understand. But the longer we have those blessings, such as the gift of the Holy Ghost, the more we learn to understand and appreciate them and the more good we can do for ourselves and our future families.
If we take the sacrament weekly, doesn’t that show how important it is to frequently renew our covenants of all kinds? Why, if we take the sacrament so often, should it be acceptable to shirk in performing the other ordinances leading to exaltation? Here we sit, with a temple just 15 minutes away. Do we take advantage of it? Are we participating in and renewing the covenants that will let us become Gods and Goddesses in our own time? Those of you who not have received your endowment yet, do you still try to attend the temple as often as possible, to perform sacred saving ordinances and prepare yourself for the day you’ll go inside? I think if we truly understood the importance of the covenants we make in the temple, no power in heaven or earth would be able to keep us away from it. No power on earth would keep us from striving to be worthy to enter its doors. As it is, I feel we have grown casual. I know, I’m a 19 year old girl. I only went through the temple 4 months ago. I really have no right to lecture anyone on temple attendance, but I had the opportunity to really learn to appreciate its blessings. The first month after I received my endowments, I was so desperate to understand that I often went to the Logan temple more than once a week with some friends who were also preparing for their missions. After a while, we only went once a week, but the difference it made in my life and my insanely busy schedule was really amazing. I’ll admit, I’ve slacked off since I got home and the contrast is stark. I echo the General Authorities and invite everyone to make temple attendance a regular part of their schedule.
Blessings of Keeping Covenants
Why are missionaries asked to make more covenants before they leave to teach the world about the restored gospel? The promises we make open the doors to the fullness of the Holy Ghost, which is one of the greatest gifts ever given to mankind. We send 18 and 19 year old kids out to preach the gospel to people much older then them? How on earth do we expect any conversions to take place without that Holy Ghost? I have a fair number of friends returned from and currently on missions, and the impact the Holy Ghost has made in their life as missionaries is impressive, even just hearing about it. One of my friends said that it helped him and his companion with everything from planning to contacting. How do you expect two complete strangers to come together, live with each other and constantly be in each other’s company, and not murder each other? There’s got to be some help there, more than any mortal can give.
Even just in daily life, this world gets harder and harder to live in. The fire is getting hotter. Each of us has our own special group of trials that were made just for us, and without the guidance and influence of the Holy Ghost; they become a lot harder to deal with. With baptism and confirmation, we allow the Spirit to enter our lives more fully so we can have help in everything we need. I am so grateful for the guidance of the Spirit in my life.
Covenants also help on the days there seems to be no point in getting out of bed. Whether that be the loss of a spouse, child, or friend, or just the debilitating loneliness that comes from knowing you won’t see someone again for a long time, the covenants I have made help me realize that this life is short enough that I will see them again soon.
When I was younger, two of my very good friends were sisters, Kylene and Hayley Knutsen. Kylene was my age and Hayley was two years younger. My mother substitute taught for their mother and we generally got along quite well. Hayley had leukemia that went into remission off and on throughout her life. She dealt with everything, from dialysis to radiation and chemo to bone marrow transplants. She went into remission, but her body was scarred and needed help. She needed an extremely expensive liver transplant, but Haley never faltered with her smile or her positive attitude. She was a beacon of hope and love to the community. She brought the entire city of Chandler together in a massive effort to help pay for her medical costs. One of the high schools raised over $30,000. Together, we as the city raised over $175,000 in the fundraiser “Hope For Haley.” She was going to get the liver transplant she needed. Prayers were being answered. Then, the Monday before she flew out to be evaluated, the doctors told the family the worst news—the cancer was back. They couldn’t operate and there was nothing they could do except maker her comfortable. On September 15, 2005, Haley passed away at age 9.
As an 11 year old kid, I had already been baptized. I didn’t fully understand, but seeing the funeral, held in a massive catholic church that was packed past capacity for this little nine year old, it tore me to see her family so completely heartbroken. They thought she was going to beat it. Here was a 9 year old who had never deserved any of what she went through. She was brave and cheerful and kind. She was sweet and always optimistic. I rarely heard anyone in her family complain. But the wrenching loneliness that comes after a death of one so young is almost unimaginable. I know tragedy has struck this ward as well and I am speaking far too close to home for some. But through the covenants that we have, because of the knowledge we have, we can “Enjoy the same association we have in this life in the world to come.” We know, through the promises made at the altar in the temple, that no matter what happens, if we are faithful we will have those we were separated from with us again. What a joyful reunion it will be.
The power behind the covenants we make is real. It is eternal. And nothing will take those blessings from us except our own foolishness. I cannot wait for the day when I am sealed to my future husband and know that despite what comes, we are together for eternity. We have been promised that we will be given all that the Father has, but it will require sacrifice on our part. But Brother Pilimai said it right last week in his Sunday school lesson—“All that the Father has is certainly worth all I have to give to get it.”
I am so blessed to be a member of this church where I can receive such rich rewards when I am nowhere near sinless. I am grateful for the mercy of our Heavenly Father, and I’m thankful He truly is our Father and He acts like one. He is not distant, He is anxiously aware of each and every one of us. He wants us to grow up and become like Him, and through the covenants we make on this earth we are taking steps towards that all important day when we will be admitted into His presence and live with Him and our families for eternity. I cannot wait to tell the world—well, maybe just Louisiana, about what’s in store for us. I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.
 Robinson, Stephen Edward. Believing Christ: the parable of the bicycle and other good news. Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Co., 1992. Print.
 2 Nephi 25:23
 Malachi 3:2, 3 Nephi 24:2
 R. F. Tylecote, A history of metallurgy (Institute of materials, London 1992).
 Preach My Gospel. Salt Lake City, Utah: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2004. Print.
 Doctrine and Covenants 20:77-79
 Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, “Lord, I Believe” General Conference April 2013