Feast and Famine and a sacrament meeting talk

March 12, 2016    By: Matt W. @ 9:55 pm   Category: Life

I am speaking in church tomorrow. Special thanks to Joe Spencer for many of the ideas here.

I have been asked to speak about “feasting upon the words of Christ”. This snippet of scripture comes from 2 Nephi 31 verse 20. Since we are discussing “feasting upon the words of Christ”, here are some of my favorite words of Christ.

“the”, “fox”, “business”

And I say these words in the name of…

Just like it doesn’t make much sense to cherry pick a single word from the scriptures out of context, We cannot appreciate the imperative to “Feast upon the words of Christ” without context.

2 Nephi 31 comes at the very close of the writings of Nephi. He has gone through the entire story of the creation of the Nephite people as they moved from Jerusalem, their fall into two rival factions, the sermons he gave on the eventual redemption of his people, and has arrived here at the end, where he concludes his work by presenting us with the Doctrine of Christ. Here he foretells of the baptism of Christ and establishes the doctrinal position that today we would call the 4th Article of Faith. Faith leading to repentance leading to baptism leading to the Gift of the Holy Ghost. And this is where he sets up the scripture we have as our mutual theme this year.

2 Nephi 31 vs 20 is actually the second half of an ancient Jewish Literary form called a Chiasmus. This is a structure which uses parallels between two statements to either draw attention to a central idea or to draw comparison between the two concepts. In this case, we can profitably draw a direct comparison between vs. 19 and 20. While it has been discouraged for the speaker in sacrament to ask the congregation to follow along in the scriptures, if you happened to check your smart phone right now and it happened to be open to second Nephi 31:19-20, I wouldn’t mind. For all you people like me who are perpetually looking for an excuse to look at your phone during church without others judging you, you’re welcome. Anyway, let’s read those verses and look for the Chiasmus (2 Nephi 31:19-20):

And now… after that ye have got into this straight and narrow path, I would ask if all is done. Behold, I say unto you: Nay. For ye have not come thus far, save it were by the word of Christ, with unshaken faith in him, relying wholly upon the merits of him who is mighty to save. Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father, ye shall have eternal life.

So the set up here is “You’ve been baptized, now what?” and there are three parallels worth noting. First, the inner parallel, you came to be baptized relying wholly on the merits of Jesus Christ who is mighty to save, Now you must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ. Now the middle parallel- You came to be baptized with unshaken faith in Christ, now you go forward with a perfect brightness of hope and a love of God and of all men. Finally, the outer parallel, you came this far by the word of Christ, Now you must feast upon the word of Christ.

After establishing these Parallels, Nephi concludes the paragraph saying “this is the doctrine of Christ, the only true doctrine”. So that’s it. That’s the core of everything. No more doctrine needed. Interestingly, but unsurprisingly, the parallels the doctrine of Christ taught in 3 Nephi 11, where he admonishes us 3 times in a row using the same language to repent, be baptized, and become as little children and to be receptive when you are visited “with Fire and with the Holy Ghost.” This is the full central doctrine of Christ, or as Christ says in 3 Nephi 11. “whoso declareth more or less than this…the same cometh of evil and is not built upon my rock”. That’s why the theme for mutual this year is so compelling. So let’s get back to examining those parallels between 2 Ne 31 vs 19 and 20.

These are powerful parallels- As we partook the Sacrament today and renewed our baptism once again, and this scripture is all about what we do after we make that covenant, let us reflect a moment here. We come to the covenant relying on Christ, and leave called to take action of our own, steadfastly pressing forward, moving from his work justifying us to our work together with him to be sanctified. We come with faith, and leave with hope and charity. And finally, we come by the words of Christ, and leave feasting upon those words.

So what is the difference between coming by the words and feasting upon the words? Luckily for us, Nephi perceived that this could require some clarification.  We get this clarification in 2 Nephi 32. This chapter is interesting. Nephi says, “I suppose” you are still wondering what you should do after you make the covenant. “I perceive” you don’t understand and, he says, “It grieveth me I must speak concerning this thing”. He sees we’ve been baptized and he’s disappointed we’re standing here like “now what”. I believe he uses this language of impatience to emphasize to us the way forward.

We are in the “endure to the end” phase and we don’t know what to do. So Nephi spells it out for us. He says (in 2 Nephi 32:1-3)

But behold, why do ye ponder these things in your hearts? Do ye not remember that I said unto you that, after ye had received the Holy Ghost, ye could speak with the tongue of angels? And now, how could ye speak with the tongue of angels, save it were by the Holy Ghost? Angels speak by the power of the Holy Ghost; wherefore, they speak the words of Christ. Wherefore, I said unto you, feast upon the words of Christ; for behold, the words of Christ will tell you all things what ye should do.

The Words of Christ we are to feast upon, which will tell us all things we should do are those words which are spoken by the Holy Ghost. Going back to the parallel discussed, we came to baptism “by the words of Christ” but they were external to us, from others telling us. We leave with the Gift of the Holy Ghost, the words of Christ fully within us, and we can feast upon the words of Christ we have received within us.

Nephi pushes this further, saying if we still don’t get what he is saying, it’s because we “ask not, neither do [we] knock, [so we are not] brought into the light.” Finally, Nephi spells it out even more plainly (2 Ne 32:8-9)

For if ye would hearken unto the Spirit which teacheth a man to pray, ye would know that ye must pray. For the evil spirit teacheth not a man to pray, but teacheth him that he must not pray. But behold, I say unto you that ye must pray always and not faint—that ye must not perform any thing unto the Lord save in the first place ye shall pray unto the Father in the name of Christ that he will consecrate thy performance unto thee, that thy performance may be for the welfare of thy soul.

Prayer is the central religious action we can take. It is the only religious action we can take completely on our own, with no church, no book, no external source to guide us. It is also the core of every action we take as a religious community. We partake of and perform ordinances like blessings, baptism and the sacrament in the form of prayer, we give talks in Sacrament meeting and lessons in Sunday School ending in the name of Christ in the form of Prayer, the Songs we sing are “Prayers unto God.” We are counselled to ponder and pray as we read the scriptures, which brings our scripture study into the form of Prayer. Again, Prayer is the central religious action we can take, and Nephi here promising us that as we perform any rite or ordinance unto the Lord, it will be consecrated and for our welfare.

That is feasting on the Word of Christ. Feasting is not gluttony. Feasting is not feeling more righteous because we read the entire book of Mormon in one sitting. In fact, feasting is not competitive eating in any form. Have you seen those people shoving hotdogs into their mouth as fast as they can? That’s not feasting. When we think of an ideal feast, we think of something like thanksgiving or Christmas dinner, being together with the ones we love and trust, in celebration of something greater than ourselves. When we feast we aren’t eating because we have to survive, we are eating because we want to, enjoying the abundance of what we have. Do your prayers feel that way to you? Does your Scripture study? Does Church? It’s supposed to. So why doesn’t it?

I believe the #1 reason people leave the church is unmet expectations or needs. Let’s go to Amos 8 vs 10 and explore this a little further. It says:

And I will turn your feasts into mourning, and all your songs into lamentation; and I will bring up sackcloth …and baldness upon every head; and I will make it as the mourning of an only son, and the end thereof as a bitter day

Have you felt this way? Maybe there was something you’ve read in church history that unsettled you? Maybe there are current policies of the church that you cannot see how they align with the call to “love one another?” Maybe you’ve reached out to another member in need and only been told to “be more believing” or to “not worry about it”.

On this, Elder Ballard addressed all seminary teacher’s last week.

He said:

“It was only a generation ago that our young people’s access to information about our history, doctrine and practices was basically limited to materials printed by the church… Our curriculum at that time, though well-meaning, did not prepare students for today, a day when students have instant access to virtually everything about the church from every possible point of view.”

That needs to change, Ballard said.

“Gone are the days when a student asked an honest question and the teacher responded, ‘Don’t worry about it.’ Gone are the days when a student raised a sincere concern and a teacher bore his or her testimony as a response intended to avoid the issue.” (As recorded in the SL Tribune)

For those who haven’t felt this crisis of faith, or who are thinking the root of these faith crises is the sin or fault of the individual in question, who has chosen to turn their back on God, let’s return to Amos. You are partly right of course, as the set up to this feasting turned to mourning is that Israel has turned its back upon the poor, justifying themselves as it says in verse 4 to “make the poor of the land to fail.” And I think we all could repent a little more and find more ways to give more to the poor and needy. But Amos talks about this famine all receive, including the poor and needy, the humble and seeking. This is the famine of hearing the words of the Lord. It says of the people in this famine that they still “wander from sea to sea, and from the north even to the east, they shall run to and from to seek the word of the Lord and shall not find it.” So these are seekers, desperate to reclaim their feast, mourning that they have lost, as it said in vs 10, their only son. The Son Jesus Christ. They have lost him and they are lost.

It recalls to me one of my own personal heroes, Mother Teresa. After she received her initial call by vision to serve the poorest of the poor, we can read in her journals her perpetual seeking for a second confirmation of that initial vision. Her diaries never note that one came. Instead they note that once she began her service, all she felt was a perpetual absence of Christ. She wrote: “Darkness is such that I really do not see—neither with my mind nor with my reason—the place of God in my soul is blank—There is no God in me—when the pain of longing is so great—I just long & long for God. … The torture and pain I can’t explain.” Her unwavering faith in God despite feeling his absence in her life is amazing to me. In my moments when I feel lost, I lean on her strength and faith to carry on.

The Words of Christ tell us what we should do for the lost. We have the parable of the Sheep. We have the story of Job and his 3 friends. We know what we are supposed to do, but we are afraid. We fear crises of faith because we are afraid we will catch the crisis like a disease and so we quarantine those who are struggling from ourselves to protect ours and our own. This is the opposite of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This is the opposite of the words of Christ. Matthew 9 says:

Why eateth your Master with publicans and sinners? But when Jesus heard that, he said unto them, they that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick. But go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance

So what does Amos, as an exemplar of Christ do to comfort those coming into this Famine? He reminds them of the past experiences they have had where they have recognized the power of God in their lives. I am personally grateful for the council I was given when I was first baptized to write down my spiritual experiences. When I struggle or doubt or come across the little cockroaches in the bowl of ice cream that is the church, I can look back to those writings and read them and relive the spiritual confirmation I have that this is where I am supposed to be and that I must press forward with steadfastness to build up the kingdom of God, because we are still building it, one soul at a time. I remember the experiences I have had, and like Amos in the conclusion to his book, look forward to the day when there is hope

“Be sure of this, the time is coming,” says the Lord, “when the plowman will catch up to the reaper and the one who stomps the grapes will overtake the planter. Juice will run down the slopes, it will flow down all the hillsides. I will bring back my people, Israel; they will rebuild the cities lying in rubble and settle down. They will plant vineyards and drink the wine they produce; they will grow orchards and eat the fruit they produce. I will plant them on their land and they will never again be uprooted from the land I have given them,”

That is the promise of the Gospel to those who have been in a famine of the word of the Lord. You have experienced the mighty change of heart. You have felt to sing the song of redeeming love in the past. You may be in darkness now, but the moon has been full before, with the stars twinkling all about it, and the clouds will clear and the moon will be full again. Have Faith, Renew your covenant, press forward steadfastly, with hope and love, and feast again upon the words of Jesus Christ. I say these things…

Post Script- If other speakers finish early, make reference to next week being palm Sunday and how the three gospels have in one Christ riding in on an ass, the next the foal of an ass, and in a third attempting to harmonize the other two, Christ riding in on both an ass and the foal of an ass. While we do not know which is correct, we do know that Christ did get off his ass and get to work. Go and do though likewise.


  1. Always a pleasure to hear from you, Matt W.

    Comment by Bryan H. — March 13, 2016 @ 7:32 pm

  2. Lovely talk.

    Comment by Patti — March 13, 2016 @ 10:44 pm