Professor, J. Reuben Clark Law School, Brigham Young University
I have great love for BYU-Idaho and its predecessor institution, Ricks College, for two reasons. My son, Scott, who shares my first name but is my superior as a teacher and a poet, is now teaching in the English Department here. And, my first full time job was as a freshman English and literature teacher at Ricks College 41 years ago. My position at Ricks College was not only my first position; it was my favorite.
I came to Rexburg from Palo Alto, California, in 1971 after my bachelor’s and master’s degrees. Rexburg was a welcome relief for me. No, not the weather––the climate of Palo Alto is milder—in fact, I had never had my eyelashes freeze before I moved to Rexburg. It was the peace of the campus. My life during the late 60s and early 70s at Stanford University had been marked by observing protests and tear gas and broken windows. I had crossed picket lines to get to class.
Ricks College, by contrast, was almost pastoral.
I was single and 25. I loved teaching and enjoyed the students that came from different communities from all over the United States. As a single faculty member I did not date the coeds, and so I had a lot of time to grade papers and read the scriptures. I had time to sit in on a number of religion classes and observe master teachers like President Henry B. Eyring, who was then president of Ricks College, Keith Sellers, and Mel Hammond. I loved the devotional assemblies in the Hart Building.
Once while sitting in a devotional, my conscience was pierced by a comment made by then-apostle Spencer W. Kimball. To the best of my recollection, he said, “If you are a priesthood holder and 26 years old and still single, you are a menace to the Church.” I had just turned 25 and while I had aspirations to be married, I was not close. My number one prospect was Sister Cameron; however, at that time she was in Salt Lake City, and I was not her number one prospect.
I was inspired to make marriage my number one priority. As I mentioned, I had a lot of free time and used my best freshman English teacher skills to write letters. I would write about my classes and include bits of poetry we were reading, like part of Sonnet 29 by Shakespeare: “Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising, Haply I think of thee, and then my state, Like to the lark at break of day arising from sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven’s gate; For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings, That then I scorn to change my state with kings.”
Through the help of friends, I convinced Christine to visit Rexburg, and we went on a geology field trip through Yellowstone. She met President Eyring and his wife, Kathy, and we ate at Walker’s Café. Could there be anything more memorable? We courted over Christmas vacation in Salt Lake, and she visited when I was called into the bishopric of the Ricks College 13th Ward. We were engaged at the end of my first year teaching and married two days before I turned 26, saving me from becoming a menace.
I wondered what would have happened had I not been intently listening in the devotional. The most important things in my life––my wife, our six children, their spouses, and our 17 grandchildren––might not have been mine. We spent our first year of marriage––my second year on the faculty––serving in the Ricks College 13th Ward with Bishop Bob Wilkes and his wife Estella and Lane and Helen Dearden. It was idyllic because we lived among people described in Moroni 7:3 as “peaceable followers of Christ.”
At approximately the same time I was asked to speak at this devotional assembly, Sister Cameron received a document entitled “BYU-Idaho—Keeping a Sacred Trust.” This beautiful brochure states that the primary reason for the existence of BYU-Idaho is “to assist [you students] in developing and deepening [your] devotion as disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ.” I immediately started thinking and praying about how I could help you develop and deepen your devotion to the Savior.
Two thoughts came to me. First, that I should center my address on a phrase in Isaiah 58:12: “repairer of the breach,” a phrase I have always associated with the mission of the Savior; and second, that I should relate that scripture to why the Savior organized a church as stated in Ephesians 4:11-13. I was concerned that I was not focusing on the Book of Mormonuntil I remembered Nephi’s assessment of Isaiah: “My soul…delighteth in the words of Isaiah” (2 Nephi 25:6). And that the Savior had given a commandment to search the words of Isaiah: “… Yea, a commandment…I give unto you that ye search these things diligently; for great are the words of Isaiah” (3 Nephi 23:1).
I also knew the Savior’s concern for both the Saints in Jerusalem and the Nephites at the land Bountiful when he was with them was to assist them in developing and deepening their devotion as disciples, and for this reason:
“And he [Jesus] gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11-13).
While the inspiration came almost immediately, over the next several weeks I wondered how a phrase from Isaiah 58 covering the true law of the fast and a brief passage in Ephesians could develop sufficiently to occupy your time.
I thought deeply about the phrase “repairer of the breach.” What is a breach? It is a separation, a division, a rift, whether accomplished over a slow process of years or a single violent occurrence, it creates a painful separation. In personal relationships, a breach can be devastating. I plumbed the depths of my legal training and remembered that a contractis an agreement between two or more parties creating obligations that are enforceable or otherwise recognizable at law. A breach of contract is a “violation of a contractual obligation by failing to perform one’s own promise, by repudiating it, or by interfering with another party’s performance.”
Think of how devastating a divorce (a breach of a marital contract) can be not only to the parties to the contract as well as those who love them. Our Heavenly Father wants us to be whole, undivided, united with Him. The adversary has wanted to cause a breach in all relationships, cause individuals to be divided and fragmented, and has done so since the war in heaven. In fact, the word “breach” is used in another way in times of war. If an army is defending a city against an enemy and the enemy makes a hole in the line of defense, it is said to have “breached” the line. Because this is a critical moment in any defense: it is usually very brave men or women who thrust themselves into the breach to prevent the enemy from penetrating further. Consequently, I read Isaiah to determine how a person can develop the courage and the wisdom to become a “repairer of the breach.”
As I mentioned, I have always felt this title was one of the most beautiful references to the Savior, who is the Savior because He is the hero of this sojourn on earth. As we know from the scriptures and from “The Family: A Proclamation to the World,” “each [of us] is a spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents, and as such has a divine nature and destiny…” We accepted God’s plan to obtain a physical body and gain earthly experience to progress toward perfection and ultimately realize [our] divine destiny as heirs of eternal life.”
The fall of Adam caused a physical breach between each of us and our Father in Heaven; this fall separates us. Through the use of our agency, each of us has violated God’s laws, or as Paul said in Romans 3:23, “For all…have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” Sin is a breach in our relationship with God. Through His resurrection and atonement, Jesus Christ repairs the breach caused by death and sin and makes it possible for us to become whole and return to live with our Heavenly Father.
As we know, it is his “work and glory to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39) and the Savior desires our assistance in His work and glory. He instructs us that each of us needs to become perfect, “even as [he] or [our] Father who is in heaven is perfect” (3 Nephi 12:48).
As Christ is the ultimate “repairer of the breach” between man and God, so Christ asks us to assist Him in repairing that breach by bringing others to Him so that they may be healed. The words of Isaiah are so beautiful to me. I can easily see why Handel in the Messiah chose so many of Isaiah’s words. Isaiah’s language and metaphors seem to speak to our hearts as well as our minds. Perhaps the language of poetry he employs is closer to the language that God taught Adam.
I have pondered about this phrase and how it relates to the true law of the fast, which seems to be Isaiah’s focal point in the 58th chapter. Last fast Sunday, I seemed to get some clarification about how we increase our devotion to the Savior. I know through my reading and my own experience that merely abstaining from food does not “constitute a true fast.” The Pharisees were among the best at abstaining from food, but it did not help them to recognize the Son of God even when He was among them.
Beginning in verse 5 of Isaiah 58, Isaiah uses a series of rhetorical questions that we must answer in determining what is a true fast. In verse 5 he instructs Israel that fasting is not to be seen of men: “Is it such a fast that I have chosen? a day for a man to afflict his soul? is it to bow down his head as a bulrush, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? wilt thou call this a fast, and an acceptable day to the Lord?”
We are not to outwardly to “bow down our heads like a bulrush.” We are not to “spread sackcloth and ashes.” Rather we are “…to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke…” We are to “…deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him; and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh…”
All of us have been taught to give offerings as part of our fast to assist the poor, but how do we calculate those offerings? Do you fast to check it off your obedience list and then as an afterthought calculate with an exceedingly sharp pencil the amount you have saved from not eating? Do you determine the number of ounces in a box of Honey Nut Cheerios, the cost of the box, the number of ounces in one bowl and the fraction of the entire cost of the box you saved by not eating? Do you determine the cost of a half-gallon of milk, the value of the cup you didn’t use compared to the entire half gallon? While this may be a good exercise in mathematics, it is certainly not what is expected by the true law of the fast.
Perhaps I could relate an experience that helped me. January 1, 2012, was Fast Sunday for the missionaries in the Missionary Training Center in Provo, and as a branch president, I fasted with them. Rather than stay up on New Year’s Eve, I went to bed at 10:00 p.m. (At my age, one often looks for reasons to go to bed at 10:00 on New Year’s Eve.) I awakened early on New Year’s Day, hoping that in addition to enjoying the fast, I would be inspired in the preparation of this devotional address. I was determined that I would not bow down my head as a bulrush that I would approach the missionaries with good cheer. I succeeded in that, and it was a beautiful Sabbath.
During the day, I read from President Monson’s book, Pathways to Perfection, in addition to many of his conference talks. I was hoping to strengthen my testimony of his divine appointment. “It is not alone sufficient for us as Latter-day Saints to follow our leaders and to accept their counsel, but we have the greater obligation to gain for ourselves the unshakable testimony of the divine appointment of these men and the witness that what they have told us is the will of our Heavenly Father” (Harold B. Lee, Conference Report, Oct. 1950, 130).
Fasting and reading from President Monson’s addresses helped me to become even more convinced of the prophet’s divine appointment. However, I was still unsure what I should say in this address. I was beginning to be concerned thinking about thousands of you and taking 25 minutes of your time. Individually, it would be bad enough, but collectively, I determined that it would be approximately 400 hours for every 1,000 people in attendance.
That evening, we received a call from my brother-in-law in another state regarding a woman in his ward who was concerned about her son who lived in Provo. He had a debilitating mental condition and she was very worried that he was not eating. She had his address but wanted to get in touch with the bishop. My brother-in-law asked me to get the bishop’s address and I agreed. The next day was a legal holiday, but I went into my office early to work on this talk. I felt I was finally making some progress when Sister Cameron called and reminded me that I needed to find the young man’s bishop. I drove to the address I had been given, but the house was empty. I had a telephone number, and I called asking if I could speak to the young man. I was told he was not home. I asked if I could leave a message and the person said something strange: “He can hear you.” I said who I was and that I had a message from his mother. He gave me another address and said I could stop by.
I drove to the new location and rang the doorbell. A young man not fully dressed answered the door. While I spoke to him, he alternated between being coherent and incoherent. He would periodically hit his head violently with his hand as he spoke. I asked if he had eaten and he said no; he couldn’t remember how to open a can of soup. I asked if I could leave a blessing in his home and then get him some lunch. He agreed. I left and got some soup, a sandwich, and a fruit cup and returned to his home. He seemed to have calmed down. I was able to find out the ward he lived in and the name of the bishop so that his mother could contact him.
When I went back to preparing this talk, I read Isaiah 58:7-8 with new eyes: “Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him; and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh? Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thine health shall spring forth speedily: and thy righteousness shall go before thee; the glory of the Lord shall be thy reward.”
It was then that I gained a new understanding of Isaiah and the true law of the fast. I learned there is a prerequisite to gaining inspiration and that is “to bring bread to the hungry and bring the poor that are cast out into thy house, and thou seest the naked and cover him.” I had been in a fog with regard to what to say to you dear brothers and sisters, and then I felt the “light break forth as the morning.”
What if I had decided not to visit this young man and had tried to justify my failure by saying. “I’m working on a talk for several thousand BYU-Idaho students and I’m just getting into it. I can’t break up my day and look for someone in distress that I don’t know.” What if I had just called back and told my brother-in-law, “I’m sorry but the house was vacant at the address I had been given.”
So what was the light that broke forth as the morning? I learned that fasting and serving others is a prerequisite to obtaining help from heaven. Through fasting, I also saw the link with Ephesians 4:11 and why we are so blessed to have a prophet and apostles and evangelists and pastors and teachers so that we can become like the Savior: “repairers of the breach.”
In order that He can repair the breach in our own lives and then look to others to assist in the work of “repairing the breach” in their lives, Christ did the following for us: “And he [Jesus] gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ…” (Ephesians 4:11-12)
Let’s consider the offices that Jesus put in His church to assist us: apostles and prophets. President Monson is an example. As I read his biography and his talks, I realized a pattern in his talks. It is the pattern for how we become like the Savior and obtain revelation in our lives. His stories are for children and all those who humble themselves like a little child. What happens to your heart when you hear this story from President Monson’s biography, written by Heidi Swinton?
“…the home was buzzing with Thanksgiving preparations when Charlie Renshaw, a friend over the back fence, stood outside, as was the custom…and hollered, ‘Tom-my!’
“‘What are you eating?’”
“Tommy told him it was turkey, and Charlie asked what turkey tasted like.
“Tom responded, ‘Oh, about like chicken,’ to which Charlie asked, ‘What does chicken taste like?’
“Tom ran into the kitchen, snatched a piece of breast meat, and handed it to his friend. ‘That’s good!’
“When Tom asked what Charlie’s family was having for dinner the answer was, ‘I dunno. There’s nothing in the house.’
“Tom had no turkeys or chicken or money. But he did have two pet rabbits, a male and a female, the pride of his life. He motioned to his friend and headed for the specially constructed rabbit hutch...and reached in and grabbed his two pet rabbits, put them in a gunnysack, and handed the bag to Charlie.
“He said: ‘Rabbit meat tastes better than chicken.’"
Brothers and sisters, when one gives a love gift, all that one has, the meal will taste better than any dish prepared by a gourmet chef. President Monson’s stories are not just stories. They teach us how to become like the Savior. He tells us “that we should always” to obey the Spirit’s nudge to visit the sick even when it is inconvenient or seems to conflict with other Church duties. Through his stories I have realized that visiting those in need is even more important that conducting a church meeting. Inspiration and revelation come from serving others. I note that C.S. Lewis was an atheist until he was converted by the children’s stories of George MacDonald, a Presbyterian minister from Scotland.
I love President Monson’s stories because they educate my heart and help me understand Matthew 25:40: “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” When I followed President Monson’s example and Isaiah’s promptings, when serving someone was more important than talking about service, I realized there is a causal connection between loving others and receiving inspiration as stated in Isaiah 58:7-9. If you deal your bread to the hungry and assist the poor, and cover the naked: “Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thine health shall spring forth speedily: and thy righteousness shall go before thee; the glory of the Lord shall be thy reward. Then shalt thou call, and the Lord shall answer; thou shalt cry, and he shall say, Here I am.”
After reading President Thomas S. Monson’s words, pondering them, and praying about them, I have a testimony of his divine appointment. I have that same testimony of President Henry B. Eyring and President Dieter F. Uchtdorf and the Twelve Apostles. I believe that as we follow them and listen to them, we will be able to “call, and the Lord shall answer…”
I would like to speak of some other special people the Savior established to assist us to increase our devotion to him. Paul mentioned evangelists and pastors and teachers. An evangelist is a patriarch, as Elder Russell M. Nelson taught us in October conference: “His Church provides patriarchal blessings to give each recipient a vision for his or her future as well as a connection with the past, even a declaration of lineage back to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob” (Ensign, Nov. 2011, 88).
I would encourage each of you to get your patriarchal blessing so that you understand why the Savior has called them to help you. Paul says that the Savior also gave pastors to assist us. A pastor is a bishop. There is something important about the mantle of the bishop and about the keys he holds. I don’t know how to tell you except that when I was ordained a bishop, I saw people differently. As a counselor in the bishopric, I had sat on the stand every week for several years. I knew which pew was occupied by each family. They always sat in the same place and so it was easy to determine who was missing. The week after I was ordained a bishop, I sat on the stand as usual, but I saw people in a new way. It was most noticeable with the widows who sat together on the left side about half of the way back. Usually I just noted who had been at the hairdressers by the tint in their white hair. This week it was as if I saw their years of caring for their families and serving others and they were radiant.
I believe my bishops have had special insights into my heart, and I thank them for helping me understand the atonement, repent of my sins, and prepare for the blessings of the temple. May I suggest that the bishops of your Young Single Adult wards are called of God and as good as they are on their own, they are better when the mantle of a bishop rests on their shoulders. You young men and young women who plan to serve missions, let them help you prepare and repent and become fully worthy to serve; to assist the Savior in repairing the breach. If you try to serve while still feeling the effects of a breach in your life, it will hurt and until you go back and allow the Savior’s atonement to heal that breach, you will not be able to serve. You may feel the Holy Ghost on occasion, but the Holy Ghost will not be able to be the constant companion you will need as an emissary of Jesus Christ.
Now you may not think the teachers that Paul mentions are your teachers here at BYU-Idaho, but I would like to venture that they are. In Mormon 17, we read that in addition to King Benjamin, who was given to lead the people, “…there were many holy men in the land, and they did speak the word of God with power and with authority.”
From my own experience, the men and women who teach you are not only brilliant and accomplished; they are good. They want what is best for you. They want you to be prepared in your chosen academic and professional fields. They know that once you begin work the time for preparation is over, if you have not been properly trained you will suffer the embarrassment of not being able to do what you should have learned. They occasionally ask for a lot because they want you to apply yourselves and be competent.
These teachers want you to learn the scriptures and feel the power of music; they want you to discover for yourself the feeling of satisfaction that comes from applying your mind diligently to understand a formula or an equation, or how the branches of government work and how can you work within the laws of man. They want you to have happy and productive lives. Isaiah prophecies of the results in your lives if you live the true law of the fast and follow those who have been chosen to lead you: “And the Lord shall guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in drought, and make fat thy bones: and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not. And they that shall be of thee shall build the old waste places: thou shalt raise up the foundations of many generations; and thou shalt be called, The repairer of the breach, The restorer of paths to dwell in.”
I began my devotional address by saying that here at BYU-Idaho I found myself among the “peaceable followers of Christ.” May I suggest this is a blessed place to repair any breach that you may find in your life through the Savior’s love. You have the opportunity to be instructed by apostles and prophets, you have wonderful bishops to help you, and teachers who not only care about your happiness in mortality but also in eternity. The year 2012 is a great year to prepare to fill your role in your families as well as in the kingdom by following the Savior and becoming a “repairer of the breach, [a] restorer of paths to dwell in.”