Great Sermons

March 3, 2004 | 53 comments
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In our casting about essential Mormon texts and our questing for Mormon literary achievement, I think that we frequently foget on of the great Mormon mediums and one that we have produced in huge quanties, with occasional examples of great quality. I am talking about sermons.

What sermons would everyone put on their list of “essential mormon texts”? Here are some possiblities:

Joseph Smith, “The King Follett Discourse”

Bruce R. McConkie, “The Purifying Power of Gethsemane”

Gordon B. Hinckley, “Our Mission of Saving”

Ezra Taft Benson, “Beware of Pride”

Spencer W. Kimball, “The False Gods that We Worship” (not quite a sermon — it was published as a First Presidency Message in the Ensign — but still within the genre, I think.)

B.H. Roberts, “The Mormon Doctrine of Diety” (Chapter 1 was first delivered as a sermon)

Just a start and in no particular order. Further suggestions?

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53 Responses to Great Sermons

  1. Adam Greenwood on March 3, 2004 at 2:11 pm

    Mormon discussions of the Arts usually mention

    Pte. Kimball, “The Gospel Vision of the Arts,” Ensign, July 1977, 3

  2. Brent on March 3, 2004 at 2:15 pm

    Souls, Symbols and Sacraments by Elder Holland (at http://speeches.byu.edu/devo/87-88/holland88.html)

    and

    What Manner of Men Ought Ye to Be by Howard W. Hunter from April 1994 Conference

    Those are the first two that come to mind other than the ones you mentioned.

  3. Greg Call on March 3, 2004 at 2:42 pm

    I have tapes of classic old sermons which I cherish. My favorites are “God’s the Gardener” by Hugh B. Brown (with the wonderful currant bush parable) and “Miracles” by Matthew Cowley. They are much better to hear than to read. Also, two influential recent talks that haven’t yet been mentioned are Benson’s “Book of Mormon: Keystone of our Religion” and Packer’s “Candle of the Lord.”

  4. Gary Cooper on March 3, 2004 at 2:48 pm

    Here are some of my favorites:

    Marion G. Romney’s “Is Socialism the United Order?” (which every year seems more and more right on target)

    Bruce R. McConkie’s “The Seven Deadly Heresies”

  5. Aaron Brown on March 3, 2004 at 3:34 pm

    McConkie’s “Seven Deadly Heresies” is certainly one of the most interesting LDS sermons ever given, but mainly because it’s so problematic. Has there ever been any other sermon by an LDS leader that has presented so much questionable material all in one place? I can’t think of one.

    Aaron B

  6. Fred Astaire on March 3, 2004 at 3:36 pm

    Anyone for Paul H. Dunn’s Collected Sermons?

  7. Russell Arben Fox on March 3, 2004 at 3:58 pm

    J. Reuben Clark’s “To Them of the Last Wagon”
    Neal A. Maxwell’s “Patience”
    Ezra Taft Benson’s “Flooding the Earth with the Book of Mormon”

  8. Adam Greenwood on March 3, 2004 at 4:08 pm

    At the risk of being torn to pieces by bears, I have to say that I’ve always found ‘To Them of the Last Wagon’ to be very dull. I’m normally one who thrives on conference talks and so forth, but in this case I think the lyricism of the title raises expectations that the text brings crashing down.

  9. Kaimi on March 3, 2004 at 4:22 pm

    I’ve always thought that Gene R. Cook’s talk on faith was particularly strong.

    A copy is at http://library.lds.org/nxt/gateway.dll/Magazines/Liahona/1983.htm/tambuli%20april%201983.htm/faith%20in%20the%20lord%20jesus%20christ%20.htm

    However, I’ve seen a more detailed, fuller, and longer version of that talk (which I have a copy of, laying around somewhere) and which I like even better.

  10. Russell Arben Fox on March 3, 2004 at 5:10 pm

    Adam,

    To be sure, Clark wasn’t a great rhetoritician. The sermon, if I remember it correctly, was really just an extended historical pageant of suffering on the trail, wagon wheels breaking, etc., etc. But his message to the lowly, average, unheralded saint, even if he only got around to delivering it at the very end of the sermon, was I think a powerful one–all the more so when it’s read in historical context. I like the fact that throughout the sermon Clark kept referring to great Mormon pioneers (Brigham Young, Jacob Hamblin, etc.) by their first names, which reminds us that not only was Clark old enough to have known or known of them more or less directly, but that he could with confidence assume the same for a good part of his audience. In the 1940s the church was still a very, very young church indeed.

  11. Brent on March 3, 2004 at 5:11 pm

    Elder Cook gave a great talk on Grace sometime in the early 1990′s.

  12. Kristine on March 3, 2004 at 9:32 pm

    I am eagerly awaiting the day when one of you will beat me to referencing books/essays/sermons, etc. by women. In the meantime, how about

    “The Summer of the Lambs,” Jayne Malan, October 1989

    “Spit and Mud and Kigatsuku,” Chieko Okazaki, October 1992

    “We Are Not Alone,” Sheri Dew, October 1999

    just for starters. Actually, I think Chieko Okazaki’s sermons were consistently among the best the Church has had–her rhetoric was so fluid, her sense of the perfect metaphor nearly impeccable, and her delivery unfailingly warm, inviting, and powerful.

  13. Greg Call on March 3, 2004 at 10:00 pm

    I agree on Okazaki. I think “Strength in the Savior” (Oct 1993) and “Rowing Your Boat” (Oct 1994) were both important and timely sermons.

  14. Paul on March 3, 2004 at 11:06 pm

    This seems like the perfect time to ask this: There was a talk that circulated around my mission by Elder Skousen (I believe). The talk was essentially about the essence of God, but the controversial/intersting aspect is that he discusses plants, animals and even rocks, if I recall, and their role in the plan of salvation. I think the reason why I haven’t been able to find it may be because the church has tried to burn every copy. I know everyone has been posting classics, but this is a classic of a different kind…so I apologize if I’ve ruined the atmosphere. Anyway, if anyone can help I’d be much obliged.

  15. Steve C. on March 3, 2004 at 11:37 pm

    The talk by Cleon Skousen (who, as far as I know was never a General Authority) is called “A Personal Search for the Meaning of the Atonement.” It is available on Skousen’s website (www.skousen2000.com) and at Deseret Book.

  16. Paul on March 4, 2004 at 12:00 am

    Steve,

    Thanks for the link and the clarification…unfortunately the relative who’s running the site is trying to make a buck and charges for his talks. Oh well.

  17. Brent on March 4, 2004 at 9:31 am

    A couple more good sermons:

    Weightier Matters by Elder Oaks ( at http://speeches.byu.edu/devo/98-99/OaksW99.html)

    and

    Neal A. Maxwell, “Deny Yourselves of All Ungodliness,” Ensign, May 1995, 66

  18. lyle on March 4, 2004 at 2:14 pm

    I am eagerly awaiting the day when NO one of US will feel like they have to reference gender when discussing any topic whatsoever that doesn’t biologically require it.

  19. Kristine on March 4, 2004 at 5:11 pm

    lyle,
    Are you trying to say something, or just being snarky?

  20. Steve Evans on March 4, 2004 at 5:26 pm

    Perhaps Lyle was expressing the ultimate feminist goal of a society that doesn’t discriminate on the basis of gender?

    More likely, it was snarky…

    But when it comes to sermons, it seems like the most popular, hard-edged sermons haven’t been made by women. That may be the result of a patriarchal system that undervalues women, it may be the result of gender-specific modes of communication. But the things that make a sermon by say, Sr. Okazaki great aren’t the same things that make Hugh B. Brown’s “Profile of a Prophet” great.

    What is keeping the women of the church back from dominating the list of great sermons? Is it purely a function of pulpit time?

  21. Kristine on March 4, 2004 at 5:33 pm

    Partly pulpit time, partly “first lady syndrome.” There are certain tacitly approved topics for women–straying from the list, and especially expressing a strong opinion about a topic not on the list results in strong censure (including, but not limited to never being called to a position which might give one pulpit time). Women aren’t allowed to be hard-edged.

  22. Brent on March 4, 2004 at 5:40 pm

    Sheri Dew gave some great talks when she was in the RS presidency. As a matter of fact, your comments reminded me about a couple of talks she gave which I remember thinking were some of my favorites.

    Sheri L. Dew, “It Is Not Good for Man or Woman to Be Alone,” Ensign, Nov. 2001, 12

    Sheri L. Dew, “Our Only Chance,” Ensign, May 1999, 66

  23. Bob Caswell on March 4, 2004 at 5:59 pm

    My wife is continually annoyed with many women who talk in General Conference. She thinks it looks more like a courtesy from the brethren to give women a chance rather than women speaking because they have some good insight. It’s as if they talk like sweet grandmothers that only have enough time to talk because their cookies aren’t ready to be taken out of the oven.

    So Kristine, when are you going to do my wife the favor and become the woman behind the pulpit during General Conference? I’d love to hear what you’d say.

  24. Kristine on March 4, 2004 at 6:09 pm

    One of the things I noticed in the last conference was that I could recognize all of the 12, and many of the 70 by their voices–they have distinctive timbres and rhetorical styles. But the token women speakers all sound the same. It’s a little creepy.

  25. lyle on March 4, 2004 at 6:21 pm

    Answer: Both; except I don’t understand what snarky is…so am guessing.

    IMO, we’ll get a race/gender/everything that truly matters “blind” society when we all start living in one…

    also IMO, complaining about General Conference isnt’ very productive. If I don’t like a talk…I look inside to figure out what I need to repent of rather than figuring that something must be wrong with the Church itself, or the message that is being given.

    :)

  26. Bob Caswell on March 4, 2004 at 6:25 pm

    “…complaining about General Conference isn’t very productive.”

    lyle, did you want a response to this? Blogging in general isn’t very productive (just ask my wife) but sometimes we feel better after we do it.

  27. Nate Oman on March 4, 2004 at 6:31 pm

    Lyle writes: “I am eagerly awaiting the day when NO one of US will feel like they have to reference gender when discussing any topic whatsoever that doesn’t biologically require it.”

    Nate responds: I don’t know. It sounds kinda boring to me. George Bernard Shaw once said that in polite society one should not discuss politics, sex, or religion. He went on to observe that without politics, sex, and religion there was very little of interest to talk about. Sex reduced entirely to biology would be dull and a bit creepy.

  28. Steve Evans on March 4, 2004 at 7:32 pm

    lyle: “If I don’t like a talk…I look inside to figure out what I need to repent of rather than figuring that something must be wrong with the Church itself, or the message that is being given.”

    If I don’t like a movie or a blog post, I look inside to figure out what the other person needs to repent of.

    It’s ridiculous to pretend that all the General Conference talks are great.

    p.s. courtesy of http://www.freesearch.co.uk/dictionary/snarky

    snarky: adjective INFORMAL

    criticizing someone in an annoyed way and trying to hurt their feelings:

    - There was some idiot at the back of the hall making snarky comments.

  29. Bloodthirsty Warmonger on March 4, 2004 at 8:11 pm

    Our reactions to Conference talks and other sermons are so subjective, and we cannot remind ourselves of that fact too many times. Remarks by a particular speaker may not affect the person next to me, but could have an impact on me because it addresses a question or problem I happen to have. Before I went into the military in 1980, I heard a speaker at General Conference (probably Elder Haight) who encouraged us to study foreign languages, and no doubt it influenced my decision to study Russian at the Defense Language Institute. Or take the speeches of N. Eldon Tanner, a counselor to President Kimball – often I didn’t fully appreciate them until they were published in the Ensign magazine; then it struck me how well-written they really were.

  30. Kaimi on March 4, 2004 at 10:09 pm

    The best definition of snarky is “in the style of Maureen Dowd.” Her picture should be in the dictionary next to the word snarky.

    Some people dislike her particular brand of snarkiness — a somewhat odd mix of sartorial critiques with politics-lite — but I don’t think it can be disputed that she produces the highest concentrations of snarkiness that any of us are likely to see in print.

  31. Greg Call on March 4, 2004 at 10:18 pm

    Don’t get me started on Maureen Dowd. She’s the worst out of generally terrible set of op-ed columnists at the NYT. Herbert, Brooks, and Krugman are all usually either out to lunch or annoyingly shrill. Thank goodness for Mr. Friedman.

  32. Greg Call on March 4, 2004 at 10:23 pm

    (calming down) In all fairness, Kristof and Safire are fine, too. (Customary apologies for highjacking the thread.)

  33. lyle on March 4, 2004 at 11:34 pm

    “Blogging in general isn’t very productive”
    -I don’t agree. It produces ideas, conversation, learning…i.e. I never knew what ‘snarky’ meant.

    Someone compared me to Maureen Dowd??? Ok, I’m going to take a vow of silence.

    I disavow any snarkiness. Only once today did I hope that someone’s feelings would be hurt by something I said (and that was a power-tripping police officer…so I probably failed).

    Do I make ascerbic comments? probably. Are they meant to hurt? Nope.

  34. Kristine on March 5, 2004 at 8:20 am

    lyle, for the record, I didn’t think you were intending to be hurtful, and I think of snarkiness as containing a certain element of wit…

  35. Melissa on March 5, 2004 at 10:26 am

    I’m still undecided about the productiveness of blogging. Elder Oaks gave a talk a couple of general conferences about the distraction that the internet can be. He reminded us that with all the good there is to do in the world lots of time can be wasted on the internet. I’m not sure if he mentioned chatting (seems like he did?) but isn’t this blog rather like a chatroom (I’ve never chatted so I don’t know)?

    At any rate, reading your humorous, insightful, witty, sarcastic, and thoughtful blogs is entertaining and instructive but certainly takes me away from my work. Since I always still get my work done I wonder what it is that I do sacrifice? Service and sleep seem to come jumping to mind, both of which I need to do more of.

  36. Steve Evans on March 5, 2004 at 10:39 am

    Greg, I’ll second your comments on Friedman. I don’t enjoy his books very much but his op-eds are tough to beat.

    Man oh man, if only they’d bring op-eds into the Ensign!!!

  37. lyle on March 5, 2004 at 11:29 am

    Thanks Kristine…

    the definition cited stated the hurtful as a defining part of snark…i like wit a bit better.

    i hope that we all believe/hear/take others comments, esp. mine, on face value…without injecting hypothetical intentions by others into them. we have 8 months of pre-electioneering to go…and it is going to be a mean season it looks like. i’d like to drop the partisan trash and just be nice here…if full of different opinions :)

    melissa: chatting is like blogging…except instantaneous. of course, so is the telephone. blogging is more like email…but email that the senders choose to make public, for all to see. hence…it is a community-bldg email/instant letter.

  38. Melissa on March 5, 2004 at 11:46 am

    Lyle,

    Thanks. I get the *actual* distinctions. My question was whether there is some distinction of significance (i.e. if chatting is a waste of time then maybe blogging is too?)

  39. lyle on March 5, 2004 at 12:24 pm

    Righto…and I’m suggesting that if chatting and blogging are a waste of time, then so are: writing snail mail, writing email, talking on the phone, instant messaging, text messaging, and every other form of communication that is more technologically leveraged than olde methods.

    sum: Perhaps Elder Oaks/Pres. Hinckley’s comments re: chatting being a waste of time have alot more to do with going into “random” chat rooms to meet total strangers…or something to that effect. Or any of another 100 possible explanations that make more sense than techna-phobia…which I don’t think would emmanate from either tech savy personage.

  40. Steve Evans on March 5, 2004 at 12:27 pm

    Lyle: “we have 8 months of pre-electioneering to go…and it is going to be a mean season it looks like. i’d like to drop the partisan trash and just be nice here…if full of different opinions :)”

    What the…?

    What partisanship are you referring to? Snarky vs. non-snarky? Man vs. woman? Smiley faces vs. frownies?

    I don’t want to inject “hypothetical intentions by others” into your post but it seems like all of a sudden you’ve interpreted a dialogue (at least partially) about women and their sermons to be about political partisanship? Very strange.

  41. Brent on March 5, 2004 at 12:38 pm

    Steve, knowing generally what lyle is referring to in terms of his extracurricular political activities, I do not believe he was implying any partisanship or politics in the dialogue here. I think he was merely saying that because he is going to be involved in politics and partisanship in this election cycle, he is happy to avoid contention here.

  42. lyle on March 5, 2004 at 12:43 pm

    :)

  43. Bob Caswell on March 5, 2004 at 1:19 pm

    “if chatting and blogging are a waste of time, then so are: writing snail mail, writing email, talking on the phone, instant messaging, text messaging…”

    Lyle, your extrapolation here is a bit much. Melissa has a valid concern. I wouldn’t mind talking about the implications of spending time blogging. Don’t just assume that since you’ve approved of blogging in your own mind, that nothing wasteful and/or counterproductive ever comes from it.

    “chatting being a waste of time have alot more to do with going into “random” chat rooms to meet total strangers…”

    Since we all know each other personally here… :-)

  44. lyle on March 5, 2004 at 2:14 pm

    Bob:

    I’m not dismissing Melissa’s concern. That is one possible inference. Also, “personal knowledge of each individual” is also an inference in what I wrote; although not required. To be more explicit then, perhaps chat rooms whose only purpose is to facilitate the emeeting of people who know nothing of each other, have almost no common interests, don’t know each others values/beliefs at all, etc…the list goes on.

    Maybe my extrapolation is much…but address it rather than dismissing it as such. I made the comparisons…are there better ones? I am over or under inclusive?

  45. Melissa on March 5, 2004 at 2:23 pm

    Thanks Bob!

    I think I just feel the preciousnness of time lately. Writing a long, personal letter to my grandmother feels infinitely different than blogging into cyberspace to an unidentified 20,000.

    The larger question for me is how best to divide our time. We’ve talked about how best to divide our resources, but since I don’t really have *resources* the issue for me is time. . . how to best build relationships, my talents, Zion. I think this is a complicated question.

    Of course, having implied that blogging is waste of time, I am sure that it has escaped no one that I continue to do so (even often against my better judgment). I’ve already explained some of the reasons why. But, the other reason I continue is the reason that actually worries me. Do we seek for community, for conversation, for comfort even, “out there” somewhere instead of engaging the real faces and voices that call to us in our homes, our classrooms, our neighborhoods and wards? Maybe I’m the only one.

  46. lyle on March 5, 2004 at 2:28 pm

    Bob: p.s. I actually am not writing to any un-identified masses out there. I have known several of the T&S “Justices” for years; and since they are all brilliant/nice people…I try to learn/polish my poor discussion skills. I’ve also met several other folks who blog here…so, at least for me, this isn’t informal…but rather personal.

  47. Steve Cannon on March 6, 2004 at 10:46 pm

    I want to take Lyle’s comment on GC talks a bit more seriously. I think that the kind of self-blaming that he describes can be extremely destructive. If I ever listened to General Conference any more I believe that if I encountered something disturbing I would consider at least three options.

    1. The language used means something different to someone else. Religious communication, particularly when it touches on thoughts (faith, hope, love, etc.) is not universal.

    2. The speaker is intellectually immature, having an emotional reaction to something specific that he’s not mentioning, or even just off base. Hey, people make mistakes.

    3. Lyle’s option. Maybe I’m feeling resentment due to psychological resistance to something absolutely pertinent to me but unpleasant. It’s worth giving this some thought, but it’s certainly not my default assumption. In addition, I’m looking for something very specific rather than generally doubting my own righteousness.

    Note that none of these options involve the speaker having gone astry from God. I assume he is well-meaning. To be honest, though, on principle I think it’s worth keeping that option on the table.

  48. Brent on March 8, 2004 at 9:57 am

    Driving into work today, I was listening to Elder Holland’s talk from April 2003 conference entitled “Prayer for the Children.” It is a “Great Sermon” and well worth review and contemplation, especially for all those with children or responsibilities for children.

  49. Bob Caswell on March 9, 2004 at 1:34 am

    Melissa (or whoever may be interested), I just posted over at bobandlogan.com on the topic, “Why do we blog?” I’d love your feedback.

  50. cooper on March 9, 2004 at 2:39 pm

    Okay Bob has now led me here. Great sermons, well there are so many that have already been mentioned. A couple that come to mind though are:

    “Things to wonderful for me” by by Vaughn Featherstone. It isn’t so much the whole talk but what he says at the very beginning. It very good.

    Also a Women’s Conference talk by Wendy Watson (one of my personal hero) “Personal Purity and Intimacy”

    There are so many from Women’s Conference. Sis Barlow, Heidi SwintonVirginia Pearce and Michael Wilcox. Truman Madsens talk The Savior, the sacrament and self-worth is excellent. One year there was a poem read by a sister in the church that was so moving. It was one of the poetry submissions chosen to be read before the group. It was entitled “Envying Ruth”. I wish I had gotten her name or spoken to her so I could request a copy of her poem. The committee decided not to print the essays or poems that year and so I have been longing for a copy of it since.

    I remember hearing Sis Dew speak for the first time after she was called to the presidency. She was very frank and not yet to guarding her words over the pulpit. She gave us an insight to her personal tradgedies over the years. When the transcript came out it had been edited. I was disappointed with the editing. Sometimes the very best of things are lost to the editors.

  51. Aron on June 30, 2004 at 6:04 pm

    I don’t know if people still come here, but I enjoy a lot of good talks! I started to have a web site with some of the ones I enjoy that aren’t easy to find. I am thinking of updating it some.

    http://www.mindlessfun.com/LDS/tubaloth/talks.html

    I actually found this site because I’m trying to find the talk “A Personal Search for the
    Meaning of the Atonement” by W. Cleon Skousen. I see you can buy a tape version, but no text? Just wondering if anybody has seen it?

  52. cj on July 14, 2004 at 8:55 pm

    Check the appendix of The First 2000 years, by Skousen starting at @ page 252.

  53. Peggy on September 20, 2004 at 3:37 pm

    I would add President Spencer W. Kimball’s “Absolute Truth” and Boyd K. Packer’s “Spiritual Crocodiles” to the list of classic sermons.