Sacrament Meeting Talk: Pioneers

Today, I gave a talk in Sacrament Meeting for Pioneer Day.  Here is the text…


When I was growing up, I never loved pioneers.  My parents are both converts, so all that stuff with bonnets and wagons seemed boring and outdated and not at all applicable to me.

But one day about six years ago, I happened upon a story of two women on the plains who had such a terrible feud they refused to continue traveling to Zion in the same company together.  I was shocked.  Pioneers FEUDED?  They gossiped and complained?  Perhaps this reveals too much about my psyche, but I suddenly liked them a whole lot more.  I saw that they were human beings, just like me.

From there, my interest in them grew.  The more human they became, the more I identified with them.  No longer were they mythological figures performing superhuman acts of faith and devotion; they were human beings performing quite human acts of faith and devotion, imperfectly, and THAT made their extraordinary accomplishments all the more impressive.  It reminded me of the scripture in Alma 37:6: “by small and simple things are great things come to pass.”

The fact that we are sitting here, in this meetinghouse, in the very valley founded by these flawed and faithful human beings, is a tremendous testimony not only to their efforts, but to the power and goodness and grace of God, because He uses people like us to do amazing things.

Then a very interesting thing happened.  As I began to identify with the pioneers, to internalize their experiences and sacrifices, I realized something else.

If the pioneers are like me, perhaps I am like them.

I began to see the story of their migration west toward Zion as a beautiful allegory for what a life of faith is all about.

First, the idea of Zion. What I see in scripture is that Zion is a command to extend Heaven to earth.  It a faith-driven, charity-governed community of compassion and love. It is PRECISELY what Jesus spoke about over and over and over again, more than anything else, during His mortal ministry — though Jesus used a different term for it: the Kingdom of Heaven.  The Kingdom of Heaven — or Zion — is not some distant, far-off place.  It is here.  It is now.  It is a way of being.  “The Kingdom of Heaven is within you,” Jesus said.  The Doctrine and Covenants has a similar message: “Zion is the pure in heart.”

The trek west is a symbol for the profound transformation that must occur within each of our hearts in order to live in a Zion way, or in a Kingdom community.  This is the core of all of Jesus’ teachings.  The gospel is not about rules and checklists; it is about finding the Strait and Narrow Way that leads directly to a Zion Heart.  And where IS that way?  Jesus said it simply: “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.”  It is the process of becoming like Christ.

That is what the pioneer spirit is all about.  That is why we journey.  As I’ve examined the lives and stories of the pioneers, I believe there are three things in particular that we can take from them on our own treks toward Zion.  They are…

  1. Seeking
  2. Sacrifice
  3. Solidarity

First, seeking. Our religion was founded because a young boy was seeking and was willing to go into some woods to pray and ask for guidance.  All the great revelations of our dispensation — from the Doctrine and Covenants to the 1978 Revelation on the Priesthood — have come because prophets have inquired of the Lord.  All the great revelations *I* have ever received for *my* life and in my own trek toward Zion have come because *I* have inquired of the Lord.

We are a heritage of seekers.  Since Mormonism is relatively new, all of us have pioneer ancestors close enough to know about.  Maybe they crossed the  plains.  Maybe they converted much later.  Maybe YOU are a pioneer.  In my family, it was my grandmother who wasn’t completely satisfied with the answers she received from her local Protestant congregation in suburban New Jersey in 1968.  She was always pestering the pastor with questions: “Why are you baptizing infants?  Why aren’t you baptizing by immersion?  Why doesn’t God give us more information?”  Her seeking and openness led her to listen when Mormon missionaries showed up at the door.  She and my grandpa and uncles and father accepted this obscure faith from the western United States against the wishes of their family and friends.  And to the day she died, my grandmother was still seeking — searching out questions that didn’t make sense.  Adjusting her worldview when more information came to light. Disagreeing at times with the way things were taught.  Going to God with faith and courage.  She was a pioneer, and one of the most magnificent people I have never known.

Second, sacrifice.   When Adam and Eve were cast out of the garden of Eden, they were promised that this life would be a life of sorrow and toil.  And indeed it is.  In our walk west, we are called to bear crosses.  Sacrifice, struggle, sorrow — this is, to a great extent, what a life of faith looks like.  We have all heard the stories of pioneers crossing thousands of miles with poor supplies and thin shoes.  Mothers, fathers, children, and loved ones being buried along the way.  Who knows why life must hurt so much?  There are no easy answers, but I believe we can look to the scriptures for clues:

In Isaiah, Jesus is described as a man of sorrow, and acquainted with grief. This is not to say that we should SEEK OUT suffering, but when we are called to pass through it, let’s remember that there is something so holy about it, that Jesus Himself was not immune; in fact, He descended below all our deepest sorrows and took them upon Himself so that we may be One with Him.  Just as the pioneers became the people of God through all that they endured, our sacrifice and trials, in a very real way, make us Christ’s people, and He Our Savior and Lord.

Finally, solidarity.  If there is one thing we understand very well as Mormons, it’s that we are not saved alone.  Salvation is a community affair.  What would Zion be without our cherished family members, friends, and loved ones?  It wouldn’t be Zion be if we didn’t stand together, in love and acceptance, but lived fractured, distant lives.  Every member is needed in Zion.  The mothers and fathers.  The children.  The childless.  The stalwart.  The struggling.  As Paul said, “The body of Christ has many parts.”  Each is needed.  That’s what led the Mormon pioneers to march across the plains, to gather by boat and land.  Togetherness.  Community.  Solidarity.  We can’t ceate the Kingdom without each other.

In conclusion, I’d like to read a poem by Carol Lynn Pearson, a cultural treasure to Mormons, and a pioneer in her own right.  It is called, appropriately enough, “Pioneers.”

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About Katie L

Thirtysomething wife, mother, writer, runner, believer, and lover of good food and bad movies.

Posted on July 22, 2012, in Mormonism, Thoughts on God and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. morningside girl

    What I love about this talk is that I can relate to it! As a convert, I actually had some animosity about pioneer stories…and their descendents. That is, until I realized we are all pioneers. If only we could realize that about each Zion if we could be less about seeking worldliness as a people. We say we are, but sadly the allure to the Saints is soooo powerful. I liked the 3 elements you discussed and will thiink more on that. Thank you for sharing the talk.

  2. You’re very welcome, morningside girl. Thanks for reading. :)

  3. Katie, as always, awesome stuff. Can I forward this site to my Dad? I think he would really appreciate it; he’s another seeker and questioner who loves to discuss doctrine.

  4. Of course you may, my friend! I have another blog set to launch in the next few weeks that might interested you both, too. I’ll keep you posted. :)

  5. The Kingdom of Heaven — or Zion — is not some distant, far-off place. It is here. It is now. It is a way of being. “The Kingdom of Heaven is within you,” Jesus said. The Doctrine and Covenants has a similar message: “Zion is the pure in heart.”

    Love it.

  6. Boston H. Manwaring

    Very nicely said. My ancestors were pioneers on the Oregon Trail. They went to Oregon, built a homestead and then returned because of a promise to Missouri where they stayed. I’ve always sort of felt negatively toward the Mormon pioneers because of the assumption that their suffering was somehow greater or more valid because they went west for religious reasons, and I’m trying to overcome that feeling and value my pioneer ancestors as well for their sacrifices and losses. Your talk was helpful for me. I especially enjoyed CLP’s poem. She is a great lady and very good poet. Thanks for sharing.

  7. I love how well this talk just flows. I myself am giving a talk in a couple weeks on pioneers. I would like to quote your talk if that is alright with you. Thank you

  8. You’re welcome to!

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