Relief Society Lesson 23: Strengthen Thy Stakes
I would begin this lesson by reading this quote from Ezra Taft Benson.[box] “The stakes and districts of Zion are symbolic of the holy places spoken of by the Lord where His Saints are to gather in the last days as a refuge from the storm.”[/box]
I would draw a picture of a storm and a tent that is staked down on the board and begin a discussion about the purpose of stakes. What is the storm that Ezra Taft Benson is talking about? What is the tent and how do we hold it down with our stakes?
The storm is illustrated for us in D&C 45: 26-27:[box] “And in that day shall be heard of wars and rumors of wars, and the whole earth shall be in commotion, and men’s hearts shall fail them, and they shall say that Christ delayeth his coming until the end of the earth. And the love of men shall wax cold, and iniquity shall abound.”[/box]
This image has been repeated many times over the last year, in Beirut, Syria, Kenya, Egypt, Paris, Oregon, on social media, and in our own governments and communities. The world is aching because of this storm of judgment, hate, unconsciousness, misunderstanding, and anything that causes people’s hearts to grow cold. A beautiful poem that expresses the anguish over this hate that riddles the earth was written by a woman named Warsan Shire:
later that night
i held an atlas in my lap
ran my fingers across the whole world
where does it hurt?
The recent violence has caused me to reflect on the beautiful image of a tent that covers and protects the earth from this hate filled storm.[box] “Picture in your mind a great tent held up by cords extended to many stakes that are firmly secured in the ground. The prophets likened latter-day Zion to a great tent encompassing the earth [see Isaiah 54:2;3 Nephi 22:2].” ETB Manual[/box]
What does the tent represent and how is it going to cover the whole earth and bring all of humanity together in protection from the storm?[box] “Yet another revelation from the Lord gives this explanation of the purpose of stakes: “Verily I say unto you all: Arise and shine forth, that thy light may be a standard for the nations; and that the gathering together upon the land of Zion, and upon her stakes, may be for a defense, and for a refuge from the storm, and from wrath when it shall be poured out without mixture upon the whole earth.” (Doctrine and Covenants 115:5–6.) In this revelation is a command to let our light so shine that it becomes a standard for the nations. A standard is a rule of measure by which one determines exactness or perfection. The Saints are to be a standard of holiness for the world to see. That is the beauty of Zion.”[/box]
How can we be this light to the world that this scripture and Ezra Taft Benson talk about?[box] “Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.” John 8:12[/box]
In this scripture Jesus is making a declaration to the world. He was the light of the world because he chose to be a flame that all people, including the sinners and the self-righteous were drawn to as a refuge for warmth. By being the light, he sent pure love into the world which deflected hate and misunderstanding, and built a tent or a place of refuge for protection. Then he asked us to also be the light of the world through our good works. When we all choose to be a light like Christ did, the tent that surrounds the world will be bigger and stronger than the storm of hate.[box] “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” Matthew 5:16[/box]
What can we do as individuals and as a faith community to be the light of the world?
The stakes are our small communities around the world in which we build this love, unity, and light to hold down the tent.[box] “As the church grows, it is very important that we build solidly and well, and that our prospective stakes have the basic ingredients that are necessary for success and that existing stakes work tirelessly for full stakehood in the sense of spiritual achievement. The stakes are to be the gathering spots for the Zion of today, and they need to be spiritual sanctuaries and to be self-sufficient in as many ways as possible.” ETB Manual[/box]
In what ways can we make our gathering places a sanctuary for spiritual edification?[box]” The stakes and disctricts of Zion are symbolic of the holy places spoken of by the Lord where His Saints are to gather in the last days as a refuge from the storm. You and your children will gather here to worship, to do sacred ordinances, to socialize, to learn, to perform in music, dance, drama, athletics, and to generally improve yourselves and one another. It is often thought significant that our chapels have on them a steeple, with spires toward the heavens symbolic of how our lives ought to be ever moving upward toward God.” ETB Manual[/box]
How does our communal worship, socialization, and enjoyment together of music, athletics, and dance help us to strengthen our stakes?
Unfortunately, even in our faith communities we are not immune from the fear and the cold hearts that plague the world. I love what Aileen H. Clyde said about this:[box] “Amidst the danger, our love waxes cold, and we may seek a defense in the very weapons that threaten us. Worse yet, we may be turned by fear to looking for protection from one another rather than keeping our promise to be a light and a protection for one another…He said, “If thy hand or thy foot offend thee, cut them off, and cast them from thee” (Matt. 18:8). He was not suggesting our mutilation, but rather showing his awareness of how painful clearing ourselves of such offenses could be.” Aileen H. Clyde, Relief Society Presidency “Covenant of Love,” Ensign, May 1995[/box]
This quote feels appropriate for what our world and our faith community has been experiencing lately. How are we doing in our effort to be a light and protection for each other? Are we turning from each other in fear, looking for protection from each other? How do we go about the painful process of clearing ourselves of this fear so that we can move forward in love? How will our individual efforts to do this in our stakes affect the rest of the world?[box] “Such a circle of support has no end, because there is no end to the good works of righteous men and women who respect each other and who thrust in their sickles and reap, side by side, in the Lord’s vineyard, if we are going to build the kingdom of God, we as men and women of God must build each other. There is no challenge—with activation, retention, families, or anything—that we can’t solve when we counsel together in councils and help each other lift the load.” Sheri L. Dew, Relief Society Presidency. “It is Not Good for Man or Woman to be Alone.” Ensign, November 2001[/box]