The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has an unpaid clergy; the following is a sermon (or “talk”) I presented in my local congregation on Father’s Day 2022.
While we don’t know for certain if the bricklayer in the following story was a father, I’m confident we can all catch glimpses of our own dad.
A hurricane had hit the West Indies, and a bricklayer was sent to repair the damage. He wrote to the home office as follows:
When I got to the building, I found the hurricane had knocked some bricks off the top, so I rigged up a beam with a pulley at the top of the building and hoisted up a couple of barrels full of bricks. When I had fixed the building, there were a lot of bricks left over.
I hoisted the barrel back up again and secured the line at the bottom, and then went up and filled the barrel with the extra bricks. Then I went to the bottom and cast off the line.
Unfortunately, the barrel of bricks was heavier than I was, and before I knew what was happening, the barrel started down, jerking me off the ground. I decided to hang on, and halfway up I met the barrel coming down and received a severe blow on the shoulder. I then continued to the top, banging my head against the beam and getting my finger jammed in the pulley.
When the barrel hit the ground, it bursted its bottom, allowing all the bricks to spill out. I was now heavier than the barrel and so started down again at high speed. Halfway down, I met the barrel coming up and received severe injuries to my shins.
When I hit the ground, I landed on the bricks, getting several painful cuts from the sharp edges. At this point, I must have lost my presence of mind, because I let go of the line. The barrel then came down, giving me another heavy blow on the head and putting me in the hospital.
I respectfully request sick leave.Gerard Hoffnung, Oxford Union, 4-Dec-1958; Manchester, England, Guardian
One of my deceased father’s favorite artists was Norman Percevel Rockwell.
Rockwell was born in New York City in 1894 and had painted his first commission before his sixteenth birthday.
While still in his teens, he was hired as art director of Boys’ Life, the official publication of the Boy Scouts of America.
In 1916, the 22-year-old Rockwell painted his first cover for The Saturday Evening Post and during the next 47 years, another 321 Rockwell covers would appear on the cover of the Post.†
One of my personal favorites — The Discovery — was the last Rockwell to appear on the cover of the Post’s Christmas edition; I’ll leave it to you parents to “discover” why.
I can recall, as a pre-teen, sitting on the blue shag carpet of my parent’s living room in Northern Indiana, not so carefully turning the pages of a Norman Rockwell coffee table book.
While I appreciated most of the illustrations, it wasn’t until I saw Rockwell’s 1960 Triple Self Portrait for the first time that I recognized both the artist’s humor and brilliance.
I’d like to use this “triple self-portrait” lens as we each consider the importance of fathers in our Heavenly Father’s Plan.
I recently met a young father, whom I’ll call John.
John has a five-year-old son who had celebrated a birthday just the day before.
When I first met John, he was headed to work; after he first stopped by a drug screening clinic.
I’m ashamed to admit that my first reaction was to judge John, and then I thought to myself: “Well, at least he’s taking steps to get his life in order.”
The Spirit then asked me this question:
“Do you think you’d be in a different situation than John if you had had the exact same environment and experiences as John?”
I quietly answered “No” to myself.
This was a “triple self-portrait” moment for me (and perhaps a good reminder for all of us when we remember our earthly fathers who, of course, are not perfect).
“Old Book of Mormon”
For my daily, personal scripture study the morning after my father passed away, I felt inspired to read from the 1920 edition of the “old Book of Mormon” I had received from my parent’s estate (instead of using the Gospel Library app on my 21st century iPhone).
The 14th chapter of the book of Helaman takes place about six years before the birth of Christ and Samuel the Lamanite predicts a new star at the birth of Jesus Christ.
Verse eight struck me in a way it hadn’t before:
And it shall come to pass that whosoever shall believe on the Son of God, the same shall have everlasting life.Hel. 14:8
I thought to myself: Dad believed on the Son of God; Dad will have everlasting life.
I continued reading and verses 12 and 13 also stood out to me:
And also that ye might know of the coming of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Father of heaven and of earth, the Creator of all things from the beginning; and that ye might know of the signs of his coming, to the intent that ye might believe on his name.
And if ye believe on his name ye will repent of all your sins, that thereby ye may have a remission of them through his merits.Hel. 14:12–13
Dad believed in the merits of Jesus Christ.
And while Samuel the Lamanite was speaking of our Savior Jesus Christ in the following verses, the words took on a double-meaning for me: I was thinking about the power of Jesus Christ to reunite families while also thinking about my recently departed father.
Continuing with verse 14:
And behold, again, another sign I give unto you, yea, a sign of his death.
For behold, he surely must die that salvation may come; yea, it behooveth him and becometh expedient that he dieth, to bring to pass the resurrection of the dead, that thereby men may be brought into the presence of the Lord.
Yea, behold, this death bringeth to pass the resurrection, and redeemeth all mankind from the first death — that spiritual death; for all mankind, by the fall of Adam being cut off from the presence of the Lord, are considered as dead, both as to things temporal and to things spiritual.
But behold, the resurrection of Christ redeemeth mankind, yea, even all mankind, and bringeth them back into the presence of the Lord.Hel. 14:14–17
I know I can be with my family forever because I have been sealed to them in a temple of God by the authority of His Holy Priesthood.
Reading from my father’s copy of The Book of Mormon that morning helped me to see my dad’s “triple self-portrait” as I am now also a son, father and grandfather.
Elder Neil L. Andersen, of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, said:
In this increasing spiritual commotion, the restored gospel will continue to carry the standard, the ideal, the pattern of the Lord.
We will continue to teach the Lord’s pattern for families, but now with millions of members and the diversity we have in … the Church, we need to be even more thoughtful and sensitive.
Our Church culture and vernacular are at times quite unique. The Primary children are not going to stop singing “Families Can Be Together Forever,” but when they sing, “I’m so glad when daddy comes home” or ”with father and mother leading the way,” not all children will be singing about their own family.“Whoso Receiveth Them, Receiveth Me,” Elder Neil L. Andersen
God, our Heavenly Father, has a plan for each of us. He created this earth and sent us here so we could have faith and find joy. Our challenges help us grow and prepare us to live with Him again.†
An anonymous poet’s lines may help as we view our current situation through the lens of a “triple self-portrait:”
My life is but a weaving
Between my Lord and me;
I cannot choose the colors
He worketh steadily.
Ofttimes He weaveth sorrow
And I, in foolish pride,
Forget that He seeth the upper,
And I, the under side.
Not till the loom is silent
And the shuttles cease to fly,
Shall God unroll the canvas
And explain the reason why.
The dark threads are as needfulSourcebook of Poetry, comp. Al Bryant, Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan Publishing House, 1968, p. 664.
In the Weaver’s skillful hand,
As the threads of gold and silver
In the pattern He has planned.
The Family: A Proclamation to the World
In 1995, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints released an official statement about the importance of families.
The document outlines the responsibilities of fathers and mothers and addresses key topics such as marriage and parenting:
By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. …
In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners.
Disability, death, or other circumstances may necessitate individual adaptation. Extended families should lend support when needed.The Family: A Proclamation to the World
Less Saul; More Samuel
One of my favorite Old Testament stories is contained in 1 Samuel 15; certainly Saul could have benefited from seeing himself through a “triple self-portrait” lens.
The chapter heading of 1 Samuel 15 reads: “Saul is commanded to smite and destroy the Amalekites and all that they have — He saves some animals to sacrifice — Saul is told that to obey is better than sacrifice.”
… Saul said unto [Samuel], Blessed be thou of the Lord: I have performed the commandment of the Lord.
And Samuel said, What meaneth then this bleating of the sheep in mine ears, and the lowing of the oxen which I hear?
And Samuel said, Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams.1 Samuel 15:13–14, 22
I can’t help but ask myself: “How am I sometimes more like Saul and less like Samuel?”
Perhaps a “triple self-portrait” self-inventory is in order.
Now it’s time for your favorite part of my talk: its conclusion.
As we consider the importance of fathers in Heavenly Father’s Plan, let’s remember Normal Rockwell’s 1960 Triple Self Portrait as a lens through which to view ourselves and others, including our fathers.
I know God, our Heavenly Father lives and the we — each of us and all of us — are His children.
Jesus Christ is our Lord and Savior and the only way through which we can return to live with God again.
I also know that God and Jesus Christ appeared to Joseph Smith in the early 1800s and that Joseph Smith was the prophet of God through whom the authority and doctrine of Christ’s ancient Church was reestablished, including the Book of Mormon, which Joseph translated by the gift and power of God.
A succession of prophets has continued since Joseph Smith and the Lord’s prophet on the earth today is Russell M. Nelson.
In the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.