Mercy, kindness, and caring – a Sunday Sermon

At one point in his ministry, “an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus.” He wanted to see what Jesus would answer, asking him: “Teacher … what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

To this, Jesus responded with a question of his own: “What is written in the law? What do you read there?”

As an expert in the Law of Moses, the lawyer quoted from Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18, saying: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind and your neighbor as yourself.”

To this, Jesus responded: “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”

The lawyer wasn’t fully satisfied with the answer, however, and “wanting to vindicate himself, he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’”

Rather than responding with a question, this time Jesus responded with a parable:

“A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and took off, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while traveling came upon him, and when he saw him he was moved with compassion.  He went to him and bandaged his wounds, treating them with oil and wine. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him, and when I come back I will repay you whatever more you spend.’  Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.” (Luke 10:25-37, NRSVUE.)

Mercy, kindness, and caring for the less fortunate are all central to Jesus’s teachings, as demonstrated in this story. Every human being is a child of God, our spiritual siblings. To gain eternal life, we need to “love your neighbor as yourself,” as the Law of Moses states (Leviticus 19:18), and treat all of our siblings as our neighbors.

As far as I am aware from the records I have searched through, Joseph Smith only used the term “fundamental principle” to describe aspects of our religion on three occasions.  The first was in 1838, when he wrote that the “the fundamental principles of our religion” were focused on the Atonement of Jesus Christ and “all other things are only appendages to these, which pertain to our religion.”[1] The second occasion was in 1843, when he declared that, “the grand fundamental principles of Mormonism is to recieve thruth let it come from where it may.”[2] The third occasion was also in 1843, when the Prophet stated that “friendship is the grand fundamental principle of Mormonism.”[3] Together, these three fundamental principles form the heart of Joseph Smith’s message. If you hadn’t guessed from the parable of the Good Samaritan, out of these, today I would like to focus on friendship, or positive relationships.

This fundamental principle comes out in Joseph Smith’s teaching on several levels. First, Joseph Smith prized true friendship in this life and felt that friendship could “revolutionize and civilize the world, and cause wars and contentions to cease and men to become friends and brothers. … It unites the human family with its happy influence.”[4]  Joseph Smith also expressed that relationships could even persist after death, continuing their “happy influence” in the afterlife. As he stated on one occasion: “That same sociality which exists among us here will exist among us there, only it will be coupled with eternal glory, which glory we do not now enjoy” (D&C 130:2).  With this in mind, the Prophet joked that: “Let me be resurrected with the saints whether to heaven or hell or any other good place—[where they are is] good society. what do we care [about where we are] if the society is good?”[5] Put another way by another writer, “If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.”[6] Friendships and relationships in this life and the next were important to Joseph Smith.

On another level, the Prophet’s revelations tied our relationships with other human beings to our salvation. Baptism not only involves taking the name of Christ upon us to enter into a relationship with Him as His daughter or son but also the covenant to “bear one another’s burdens… mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort” (Mosiah 18:8-9). Further, Joseph linked our responsibility to God to our responsibility to other humans. He told the Relief Society that, “it grieves me that there is no fuller fellowship—if one member suffer all feel it[.] by union of feeling we obtain pow’r with God.”[7] He also added: “If you would have God have mercy on you, have mercy on one another.”[8]  Joseph Smith believed that to be reconciled with God, the Saints must be reconciled with each other.

Joseph Smith also declared that: “Righteousness is not that which men esteem holiness. That which the world call righteousness I have not any regard for. To be righteous is to be just and merciful. If a man fails in kindness justice and mercy he will be dam[n]ed.”[9] Justice, mercy, and kindness, then, are among the most important attributes to have woven into the fiber of our lives.  Iit would seem that one of Joseph Smith’s greatest goals in life was to establish a Zion society, where the Saints could be called “Zion, because they were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness; and there was no poor among them” (Moses 7:18). As Fiona and Terryl Givens wrote: “Zion-building is not preparation for heaven.  It is heaven, in embryo.  The process of sanctifying disciples of Christ, constituting them into a community of love and harmony, does not qualify individuals for heaven; sanctification and celestial relationality are the essence of heaven.  Zion, in this conception, is both an ideal and a transitional stage into the salvation toward which all Christians strive.”[10]

The most obvious place to work on developing friendships is within our families. As President Russell M. Nelson taught: “The home is the great laboratory of love. There the raw chemicals of selfishness and greed are melded in the crucible of cooperation to yield compassionate concern and love one for another.”[11] We are in close contact with those we live with and also often have ongoing relationships with our family outside of the home. They know us well—both our good sides and our bad sides—and are the people we have opened our hearts to the most thoroughly. This provides a great opportunity for working on developing friendship and positive relationships. At times, however, it can also be a challenging place to maintain friendships at home. It is, however, essential to strive towards friendship and healthy relationships. While directed towards men in his remarks, President Howard W. Hunter’s teaching applies to all:

Tenderness and respect—never selfishness—must be the guiding principles in the intimate relationship between husband and wife. Each partner must be considerate and sensitive to the other’s needs and desires. Any domineering, indecent, or uncontrolled behavior in the . . . relationship between husband and wife is condemned by the Lord.

Any man who abuses or demeans his wife physically or spiritually is guilty of grievous sin and in need of sincere and serious repentance. Differences should be worked out in love and kindness and with a spirit of mutual reconciliation. A man should always speak to his wife lovingly and kindly, treating her with the utmost respect. Marriage is like a tender flower, brethren, and must be nourished constantly with expressions of love and affection.[12]

This is why one of my favorite statements in The Family Proclamation is that: “Happiness in family life is most likely to be achieved when founded upon the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ. Successful marriages and families are established and maintained on principles of faith, prayer, repentance, forgiveness, respect, love, compassion, work, and wholesome recreational activities.”[13]

Of course, moving beyond our homes and families, we are all situated in communities—the neighborhoods in which we live, our ward, work environment, etc. The need for treating people with respect, caring for each other, and developing friendships are very real in those settings as well. Sister Margaret C. Pickering once said that: “It does not do much good to talk about such big things as ‘humanity,’ ‘democracy,’ and the ‘brotherhood of man’ unless we can bring them down and apply them to our next-door neighbor, as that is where international amity and the brotherhood of man begins.” [14] Friendship within our communities is fundamental to the wellbeing of society.

This also extends to those who live and believe in ways that are different than our own, whether they live geographically close to us or we are in contact with them online. As President Dallin H. Oaks taught:

On the subject of public discourse, we should all follow the gospel teachings to love our neighbor and avoid contention. Followers of Christ should be examples of civility. We should love all people, be good listeners, and show concern for their sincere beliefs. Though we may disagree, we should not be disagreeable. Our stands and communications on controversial topics should not be contentious. We should be wise in explaining and pursuing our positions and in exercising our influence. In doing so, we ask that others not be offended by our sincere religious beliefs and the free exercise of our religion. We encourage all of us to practice the Savior’s Golden Rule: “Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them” (Matthew 7:12).

When our positions do not prevail, we should accept unfavorable results graciously and practice civility with our adversaries. In any event, we should be persons of goodwill toward all, rejecting persecution of any kind, including persecution based on race, ethnicity, religious belief or nonbelief, and differences in sexual orientation.[15]

Even if we occasionally have our differences and disagreements, serving, forgiving and loving each other provides a strong basis for ongoing friendship. President Thomas S. Monson shared the following story about two families from Midway:

Long years ago, Roy Kohler and Grant Remund served together in Church capacities. They were the best of friends. They were tillers of the soil and dairymen. Then a misunderstanding arose which became somewhat of a rift between them.

Later, when Roy Kohler became grievously ill with cancer and had but a limited time to live, my wife, Frances, and I visited Roy and his wife, and I gave him a blessing. As we talked afterward, Brother Kohler said, “Let me tell you about one of the sweetest experiences I have had during my life.” He then recounted to me his misunderstanding with Grant Remund and the ensuing estrangement. His comment was, “We were sort of on the outs with each other.”

“Then,” continued Roy, “I had just put up our hay for the winter to come, when one night, as a result of spontaneous combustion, the hay caught fire, burning the hay, the barn, and everything in it right to the ground. I was devastated,” said Roy. “I didn’t know what in the world I would do. The night was dark, except for the dying embers of the fire. Then I saw coming toward me from the road, in the direction of Grant Remund’s place, the lights of tractors and heavy equipment. As the ‘rescue party’ turned in our drive and met me amidst my tears, Grant said, ‘Roy, you’ve got quite a mess to clean up. My boys and I are here. Let’s get to it.’” Together they plunged to the task at hand. Gone forever was the hidden wedge which had separated them for a short time. They worked throughout the night and into the next day, with many others in the community joining in.

Roy Kohler has passed away, and Grant Remund is getting older. Their sons have served together in the same ward bishopric. I truly treasure the friendship of these two wonderful families.[16]

Seek to establish friendship as a fundamental principle, showing mercy and love to our neighbors. This is the way to inherit eternal life.



[1] Elder’s Journal, Vol.1, No.3 (July 1838): 42-44.

[2] Joseph Smith sermon, 9 July 1843, in Cook, Lyndon W. (2009-09-03). The Words of Joseph Smith (Kindle Locations 4598-4604). Deseret Book Company. Kindle Edition.

[3] Joseph Smith sermon, 23 July 1843, in Cook, Lyndon W. (2009-09-03). The Words of Joseph Smith (Kindle Locations 4714-4719). Deseret Book Company. Kindle Edition

[4] Smith Teachings of the Presidents, 463.

[5] Joseph Smith sermon, 23 July 1843, in Cook, Lyndon W. (2009-09-03). The Words of Joseph Smith (Kindle Locations 4714-4719). Deseret Book Company. Kindle Edition

[6] Thorin Oakenshield in J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit, or There and Back Again (London: George Allen & Unwin), 290.

[7] Joseph Smith remarks, 9 June 1842, in Cook, Lyndon W. (2009-09-03). The Words of Joseph Smith (Kindle Locations 2607-2608). Deseret Book Company. Kindle Edition

[8] Joseph Smith remarks, 9 June 1842, Cook, Lyndon W. (2009-09-03). The Words of Joseph Smith (Kindle Location 2621). Deseret Book Company. Kindle Edition

[9] Joseph Smith sermon, 21 May 1843, in Cook, Lyndon W.. The Words of Joseph Smith (Kindle Locations 4052-4053). Deseret Book Company. Kindle Edition.

[10] Fiona and Terryl Givens, The Christ Who Heals: How God Restored the Truth that Saves Us (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2017), 78

[11] Russell M. Nelson “Our Sacred Duty to Honor Women,” CR April 1999,

[12] Howard W. Hunter, “Being a Righteous Husband and Father”, General Conference October 1994,

[13] The Family Proclamation,

[14] Margaret C. Pickering, “Unto the Least of These,” in At the Pulpit: 185 Years of Discourses by Latter-day Saint Women, ed. Jennifer Reeder and Kate Holbrook (Salt Lake City: The Church Historian’s Press, 2017),

[15] Dallin H. Oaks, “Loving Others and Living With Differences,” Conference Report, October 2014,

[16] Cited in Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Thomas S. Monson (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2022),

3 comments for “Mercy, kindness, and caring – a Sunday Sermon

  1. This is how to incorporate original research on church history and a Tolkien quote into a sacrament meeting talk. Well done!

  2. I have this secret goal to incorporate Tolkien quotes in every sacrament meeting talk I give. I haven’t always lived up to it, but it’s fun to sneak in when I can.

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