Seward United Methodist Church
Sunday, May 20, 2018
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The Power of Experience

Matthew 17:1-9 and 2nd Peter 1:16-21

Today is Transfiguration Sunday. The story of the transfiguration begins with Jesus taking his disciples away on something of a retreat to Caesarea Philippi. He asks them, “Who do you say I am?” And Peter answers, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” Jesus tells his disciples at that time that some of them would not die before seeing him in his glory. Seven days later, Jesus takes Peter, James, and John up onto a mountain, and there they experience his transfiguration into glory.

After this experience, Jesus tells his disciples not to speak of it until after his resurrection. That part of the story always seemed a little odd to me. But I think that Peter, here in his letter, helps us to understand why they were not yet to speak of it. The transfiguration is a glimpse of the Second Coming, the return of Christ. And the second coming of Christ is something that wouldn’t make sense while he was still with them. It would really only make sense to them after his resurrection and ascension.

In verse 19, Peter writes about the day dawning and the morning star rising. I’m not entirely happy with how this translation of the Bible renders that verse, but that’s the essence of it: Day dawning and morning star rising. I think the meaning of that is that we are now living in the light of the Morning Star, while we are still waiting for the day to dawn.

The morning star is not really a star. It’s Venus, the 2nd planet from the sun. It’s called the morning star, or the evening star, because it is only visible just before sunrise or just after sunset. So if it is nighttime, but you see Venus, the morning star, then you know that dawn is at hand.

That is applied to Jesus. Numbers 24:17 speaks of a star rising out of Israel, which is understood to be a prophecy about Jesus. In Revelation 22, Jesus calls himself the bright Morning Star. Dawn is used to refer to the Day of the Lord, as in Malachi 4, that speaks of the Day of Judgment and the Sun of Righteousness rising. We Christians understand that the Day of the Lord or the Day of Judgment is the day of Christ’s second coming.

We live in the confident hope of Christ’s return because of the Transfiguration. The transfiguration is like the morning star, it gives us a sign of the day dawning. It reveals the glory of Jesus in a small way that will be made obvious to all of creation on the day of his return. So we live in the light of the Morning Star, while we wait for the Day to dawn. We live in the light of the first coming of Jesus, waiting for his second coming.

Now of course, many people would say that we are foolish to believe such nonsense. Jesus lived and died 2000 years ago, and he hasn’t returned. It’s been 2000 years, if he hasn’t come back yet, then he isn’t coming back. It’s just a myth, like all of that walking on water and rising from the dead stuff!

Well, it shouldn’t surprise us if people doubt the return of Christ or call it a myth. After all, if there were some people who called it a myth in the first century, then why shouldn’t they call it a myth in the 21st century?

And that’s exactly what some called it in the time of Peter, a myth. The Greek word used in verse 16 is MYTHOS. MYTHOS was frequently used to describe fables and stories about the gods. In the New Testament, it was always used in a negative way, comparing the myths of the Greek and Roman gods to the truth of the gospel.

Peter insists, “This is no myth. We didn’t make it up. We have seen it with our own eyes. We heard God speak to us with our own ears. This is no myth.” Peter speaks with the confidence that comes from personal experience.

It’s hard to argue against experience. If someone says, “I know this is true because I saw it with my own eyes.” That’s hard to argue with. It’s not impossible. Someone can say, “You’re lying,” or “You must be mistaken about what you saw,” or even, “You’re delusional.” That very thing has happened to me. I was talking one time with someone who described himself as an avowed atheist. And he was trying to convince me that there is no God. And I said, “You can’t convince me of that. I’ve seen God at work. I’ve experienced God.” And he came back with, “People who say they’ve seen God are either lying or delusional.” And I said, “Well, I’m not lying so I guess you’d better call the asylum and lock me up and give me some crayons.”

But we should remember this: While others cannot deny your experience, they can deny your interpretation of your experience. You see, experience by itself doesn’t mean anything. We interpret our experiences to mean something. And we can interpret wrongly.

For example, let’s talk about global warming. I’m not here to say one way or another if global warming is real. But I do find it interesting when people say things like, “There can’t be global warming. Look how cold it is outside.” Today. Right here. Or they say, “I always remember there being more snow when I was a kid, so I really think there’s something to this global warming stuff.” It’s all being seen through the lens of one’s own experience and their interpretation of that experience.

We need something to help us understand our experience. In Wesleyan theology, we often talk about the Quadrilateral. The Quadrilateral is Scripture, tradition, reason, and experience. And we say that each of these has a part to play in helping us to know the truth.

But they’re not equal parts. Scripture is first. Scripture is our most important tool for knowing the truth because Scripture is inspired by God. The Holy Spirit moved the prophets to speak from God. Scripture has dual authorship. God spoke through the prophets. As 2nd Samuel 23 says, “The Spirit of the Lord speaks through me; his words are on my tongue.”

If Scripture is our most important tool, then tradition is our second most important tool. Tradition is the collective experience and thoughtful reflection of God’s people down through the centuries, aided by the Holy Spirit. It’s kind of arrogant of us to say, “The truth is ________ because of my experience or my reasoning.” It’s much better to find truth in the light of what God reveals through his Word, aided by his Holy Spirit, and aided by the collective wisdom of other Christians, past and present.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t always happen. The false teachers that Peter is confronting in this letter rejected the wisdom of others and the words of Scripture in favor of their own interpretation. And we live in a society today where many people take their own experience to be the arbiter of truth. That’s dangerous. It’s dangerous to think, “I can find the truth all my own.”

But it also gives us an opportunity. If experience is so important, then our experiences as believers must mean something. Can you speak about your faith with the confidence that comes from your own experience? Have you seen the glory of Christ with your own eyes? Have you seen the difference that Christ can make in your life and in the lives of others?

For me, it was the way Christ has brought peace and joy and purpose to my life. I didn’t have those things before I met him. No one can tell me that Christ is not real because he’s done those things in my life. That gives me confidence when I speak about the gospel. What experiences of God give you confidence when you speak about him?

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