The Pyramid of Faith - Four Ways God Speaks To Us, Part
E is for Experience
May 29, 2011
The Rev. Dr. Anthony J. Godlefski, Pastor
Montgomery United Methodist Church
14 "And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth." _______________________________________________________________________________
We're exploring the fourth aspect of something I'd like to call the "Pyramid of Faith" - it's a way of looking at something John Wesley, Methodism's founder, first pioneered. He called it the "Methodist Quadrilateral." Wesley sought to give his Methodist followers a "method" by which they could test ideas, a way to balance out their thinking about Scripture, and we're fortunate to have it. Let's look at the fourth side of the pyramid today, the fourth part of the Methodist Quadrilateral.
By now, you remember the first three letters: “S” stands for Scripture; “T” stands for the Tradition of the Church; “R” stands for Reason. Today we are studying the letter “E”. “E” stands for Experience.
John Wesley believed strongly that personal experience was an important way that God gets in touch with us. Yes, the Bible is foundational. Yes, the Tradition of the church, that helps us. Yes, our Reasoning, that is good. But John Wesley said, “Don’t be afraid of your experiences with God.”
Have you had experiences with God? Maybe amazing experiences in your life helped draw you close to God. Maybe some of these experiences can be shared with friends or maybe they are so personal or so amazing that you are hesitant to share. Is your mind open to the possibility of an encounter with God? A close encounter of the sacred kind? Something that transcends the usual or the expected? I can not tell you how many times people have come up to me and said, “Pastor, do you really believe in coincidence, or is it "God incidence?"” God does amazing things for us. God intersects our lives in the realm of experience.
I had such an experience recently. Not too long ago, I pulled my car into the parking space of a convenience store. I was in a hurry. I got out and walked towards the back of the car. Just then, however, something told me to check my cell phone, to check to see if I got a text message. I paused briefly and checked. There wasn’t a message so I flipped my phone closed and put it back in my pocket. This all happened in the space of a second. Just before I stepped into the area behind the car, another car came full speed, backing up, right across the back of my car, towards the other end of the parking lot. I was just inches from the back of my car, and whoosh - the other car flies past! I was so shaken up that I had to stand there for awhile. If I had not paused to look for the phone message, I wouldn’t be standing here today. The car was coming at such ferocious speed. It took me awhile to calm down. Coincidence, that angel voice within delaying me, telling me to check the phone? I don’t think so.
Have you had experiences like that? Have you had times that were unexplainable, that were blessings from God? John Wesley says don’t ignore that experience, keep it in your heart. My friends, above all, don’t forget it. Write it down, because those are very special blessings of experience that come our way.
I often have the joy of talking to folks in our church who said, “Pastor, when my child was born, I witnessed the overwhelming sense of the presence of God.” That is God coming to us in the realm of experience. Have you had the “aha” moments when God has visited you and blessed you? When you witnessed something so breathtakingly beautiful, so awesomely created, so incredibly profound that you knew you were in the intense presence of God? Cherish those moments, my friends, cherish them. God's Holy Spirit was speaking to your own Spirit.
On May 24, 1738, it was a foggy and rainy night in London. A man was sitting in St. Paul’s Cathedral. He was totally depressed. He had been a missionary to America and failed completely and miserably. He felt like a total failure in teaching Christian doctrine to the Colonists and to the Indians. The choir sang a mournful hymn, "Out of the Depths Have I Cried Unto Thee." How completely appropriate for that man's dejected state of mind.
He walked out of the great Cathedral into the rainy night, and decided to go to another service. He went into a little chapel on London's Aldersgate Street. There, he found a layman delivering a message about the love of God for each one of us. As he walked out of the Chapel that night, back into the rainy, foggy streets of London, he had an “aha” experience. “Could it be? Could it be?" he thought to himself. "Could it be that God loves even me? Even a failure like me? Yes, it is so. God loves me, God loves even me!” He knew it in his heart with a power and a sense of total amazement. John Wesley wrote in his journal, “My heart felt strangely warmed that God could love even John Wesley.” Today we call that moment The Aldgersgate experience, when John Wesley came to his personal knowledge of the love of God. It was experience, the Christian experience. Experience is an important way that God gets in touch with us.
I have an experience of the love of God every morning when I look outside and see the sun rise each morning and realize that God is telling me that He hasn’t given up on me. He wants me to stay on this earth and accomplish some more. That’s the experience I have of God in nature. In the TV commercials, Folgers says, “the best part of waking up, is Folger’s in your cup”. I say the best part of waking up, is waking up! (Congregation laughs). Our experience tells us of the love and the power and the mercy and forgiveness of God. Experience is an important way in which God speaks to us.
Now, my Friend, please stay with me for one more moment. I know that quadrilateral means four sides, and we have talked about Wesley's four aspects, and our pyramid has four visible sides.
As I planned this series for us to study, something kept nudging at my heart. Scripture, Tradition, Reason, and Experience are indeed four important ways in which God speaks to us. No question about it. However, there is one more way. One more way that is really too big to be encompassed in any one of the four sides, and yet encompasses all four sides. One more way that is so powerful, so unique, and so important, that it deserves its own place.
And so, let's go one more week with this series, and talk about the very top, the very apex, the "Pinnacle of the Pyramid." That's our topic for next time. Join me, won't you, for the conclusion to our series on the Pyramid of Faith. Till then, please remember that
God loves you; I do, too. Have a wonderful week.
© 2011 Anthony J. Godlefski