McKenna asked us to post her farewell talk for a few people who had requested it. The subject is the Atonement and many of her thoughts relate to the April 2012 talk by Elder Holland, titled "Laborers in the Vineyard".
I want to thank all of you for coming, for your support not only today, but throughout the years you’ve blessed my life. I am so excited to speak to you today about the Atonement of Jesus Christ. The Atonement is a powerful message of love and sacrifice. It is a topic we have been blessed to have learned about in various talks and lessons throughout this month. It is a subject I’m not sure we will ever completely understand, and it is my prayer that something I say today will be of worth to you.
There are many facets of this subject, and I’d like to focus my message today on accepting this gift as infinite. When we understand that it is infinite, we then realize that we are not too late to apply it in our lives—and to change our lives as guided by our Father in Heaven.
In his General Conference talk nearly one year ago, Elder Holland shared a story about the “Laborers in the Vineyard”. The parable is as follows; “A householder went out early in the morning to hire laborers. After employing the first group at 6:00 in the morning, he returned at 9:00 a.m., at 12:00 noon, and at 3:00 in the afternoon, hiring more workers as the urgency of the harvest increased. He came back a final time, “about the eleventh hour” (approximately 5:00 p.m.), and hired a concluding number. Then just an hour later, all the workers gathered to receive their day’s wage. Surprisingly, all received the same wage in spite of the different hours of labor.” You can imagine the surprise of those hired in the eleventh hour, for though they certainly were grateful, I also believe they felt unworthy of their payment.
This parable teaches many lessons, but I wish to focus on what it teaches of the Atonement of Jesus Christ today. Elder Holland remarked, “This parable… is a story about God’s goodness, His patience and forgiveness, and the Atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is a story about generosity and compassion. It is a story about grace. It underscores the thought.. that surely the thing God enjoys most about being God is the thrill of being merciful, especially to those who don’t expect it and often feel they don’t deserve it.”
At times, I’m sure we have all felt like the laborers of the eleventh hour. We feel like we don’t deserve this - the greatest gift ever given - because we don’t understand that kind of unconditional love. We see ourselves as we were yesterday. Today. But our Father in Heaven sees us as who we can be tomorrow, and who we will be forever. We see ourselves as mistakes full of shame, but He sees us in potential, with love. And thus I echo Elder Holland’s words when he said, “I do not know who in this vast audience today may need to hear the message of forgiveness inherent in this parable, but however late you think you are, however many chances you think you have missed, however many mistakes you feel you have made or talents you think you don’t have, or however far from home and family and God you feel you have traveled, I testify that you have not traveled beyond the reach of divine love. It is not possible for you to sink lower than the infinite light that Christ’s Atonement shines. Whether you are not yet of our faith or were with us once and have not remained, there is nothing in either case that you have done that cannot be undone. There is no problem which you cannot overcome… Even if you feel you are the lost and last laborer of the eleventh hour, the Lord of the vineyard still stands beckoning.”
I’ve realized that no sin has the ability to keep you from Heavenly Father. Rather, it is only YOUR INABILITY to accept what Jesus Christ has done for you. Jesus Christ has already paid the price. EVERY SIN you have committed has already been paid for. The only thing standing in your way is you. It is not that you're unworthy to be forgiven, but that you're unwilling to forgive yourself. So here is my charge: take whatever steps you need to take. Start today. Start now. Open your heart to Christ and He will change you inside and out. You will then find peace and comfort knowing you have been forgiven. Life isn't about what you've done, but what's been done for you. With Elder Holland I plead for you to, “Do it for your sake. Do it for the sake of those who love you and are praying that you will respond. Do it for the sake of the Lord Jesus Christ, who paid an unfathomable price for the future He wants you to have.. To each of you, one and all, I testify of the renewing power of God’s love and the miracle of His grace. His concern is for the faith at which you finally arrive, not the hour of the day in which you got there…Please listen to the prompting of the Holy Spirit telling you right now, this very moment, that you should accept the atoning gift of the Lord Jesus Christ” (Elder Holland).
We all understand that the Atonement frees us from addiction and sin. But I believe it is as important to understand its power to free us from anguish and heartache. I stand with Chieko Okazaki when she said, “The gospel is the good news that can free us from guilt. We know that Jesus experienced the totality of mortal existence in Gethsemane. It's our faith that He experienced everything - absolutely everything. Sometimes we don't think through the implications of that belief. We talk in great generalities about the sins of all humankind, about the suffering of the entire human family. But we don't experience pain in generalities. We experience it individually. That means He knows what it felt like when your mother died of cancer - how it was for your mother, how it still is for you. He knows what it felt like to lose the student body election. He knows that moment when the brakes locked and the car started to skid. He knows about drug addiction and alcoholism. Let me go further. There is nothing you have experienced that He does not also know and recognize.
“He understands your mother-pain when your five-year-old leaves for kindergarten, when a bully picks on your fifth-grader, when your daughter calls to say that the new baby has Down Syndrome. He knows the pain you live with when the only children are visitors, when you hear that your former husband and his new wife were sealed in the temple last week, when your fiftieth wedding anniversary rolls around and your husband has been dead for two years. He knows all that. He's been there. He's been lower than all that. He's not waiting for us to be perfect. Perfect people don't need a Savior. He came to save His people in their imperfections. He is the Lord of the living, and the living make mistakes. He's not embarrassed by us, angry at us, or shocked. He wants us in our brokenness, in our unhappiness, in our guilt and our grief. Jesus is the light of the world. We need Him, and He is ready to come to us, if we'll open the door and let Him.”
The message I have to share with you today, here, approaching Easter Sunday is that because Jesus Christ suffered the pains and afflictions of this world, alone, we do not have to! We never have to be alone. I know that when we turn to Christ, He will ease the burdens we bear so much so that we will not feel them. But it is a choice, one we each must make. May we hear the plea of Elder Holland when he said, “These scenes of Christ’s lonely sacrifice, laced with moments of denial and abandonment and outright betrayal, must never be reenacted by us. He has walked alone once. Now, may I ask that never again will He find only unresponsive onlookers when He sees you and me… As we approach this holy week, may we declare ourselves to be more fully disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, not in word only and not only in comfortable times but, including when the path is lonely and when our cross is difficult to bear.. for surely that is how He stood by us when it was unto death and when He had to stand entirely and utterly alone."
I bear my testimony to you now, and wish I could but share it with the whole world: This is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The Book of Mormon is the Word of God. Joseph Smith was called to restore this church upon the earth. Jesus Christ suffered for us, died for us. I know that this is true, EVEN when we don’t always feel that we were ever really worth dying for. It nearly breaks my heart to realize that there is no way I will ever be able to repay Him. But I take comfort in hymn 112, which reads, "never can I repay thee Lord, but I can love thee". My prayer is that we turn our lives over to Heavenly Father. For He can make so much more of them than we ever could, but remember that He cannot steer a parked car. May we show our Savior our love for Him, by every day finding new ways to follow Him. I know that this life is difficult, and that it was never meant to be easy. We are tried and tested beyond that which WE BELIEVE OURSELVES capable to bear… but we are capable, not in our strength, but in the Lord, who stands continually at our side. What keeps me going is this thought, which I wish to leave with you today: I ask you this question, what if Christ had given up? Are you going to give up on your way back to Him? For surely He never gave up, despite the near impossibility of His circumstances on His way to us. I love my Savior, Jesus Christ. I recognize the pain I cause Him and my Father in Heaven, regularly, because I can be so foolish.
Deeply in my heart I feel the words of the song, Come Thou Fount, “Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, prone to leave the God I love; here's my heart, O take and seal it, seal it for thy courts above.” I wander from the God I love more often than I care to admit. But I find peace in the knowledge that perfection was never the requirement--for me, neither was it for you. Oh how merciful is our God. For, as long as we are continually pressing forward on way back to Him, I promise you that through His grace we will make it. These last few months, while preparing for my mission, I have found more peace, joy, and love, through coming to better know my Savior, than I’ve ever known before. I’ve learned that feeling of His love and spirit isn’t something we need only hope for, thinking Oh, Maybe I’ll feel the spirit in sacrament meeting next week... maybe I’ll hear something that might change my life. In these last few months I’ve spent preparing for my mission, not one day has passed where I have not felt His love and peace to an extent that can be quite overwhelming. But that says nothing of me. It only says that our Father WANTS us to feel His presence in our lives—regularly! Not just on Sundays… or in seminary, or when we visit the temple, though these are all wonderful things. I challenge you to look for His hand in your life, every day, even in the small things—because I testify that even in the smallest of things—He is there, mindful of you. I leave this testimony with you, that I do not know any of this by some miracle/ angel/ or sign from Heaven. But I know these things because I have felt the Spirit testify them to my heart and mind so deeply that it has become impossible for me to deny. And perhaps that alone is a miracle, made possible by my Savior, Jesus Christ. It is His message of love, peace, and immeasurable joy, the message of His atoning sacrifice that has motivated my decision to serve a mission. I declare that there is nothing in this world I’d rather be doing.
Brothers and Sisters, I testify that even if we feel we are the lost and last laborers of the eleventh hour, that we are unworthy or too late for the power of the atonement of Jesus Christ, that it is NOT true, and it will NEVER be true. This life isn’t a test of perfection, it is a test of will. Jesus Christ pleads with you to “Come Follow Him”. Are you willing to do so? My final thought to leave with you as we ponder the sacrifice, life, and love of our Savior with Easter next week is one I hope we ponder now and forever: It is that Jesus Christ died for us. It's time we live for Him.
In His sacred name, even the name of our beloved Savior, Brother, and Redeemer, Jesus Christ.