Scripture, Tradition, Reason and Experience

February 26, 2017
by Rev. Melanie Homan

      LHUMC 2-26-2017 Sermon

View, print or save PDF: Sermon.02.26.17.Scripture Tradition Reason Experience

(Re) Discovering Grace Sermon Series

“The Wesleyan Quadrilateral: Scripture, Tradition, Reason and Experience”

February 26, 2017

Rev. Melanie Homan


Romans 15:1-13 The Message (MSG)

Those of us who are strong and able in the faith need to step in and lend a hand to those who falter, and not just do what is most convenient for us. Strength is for service, not status. Each one of us needs to look after the good of the people around us, asking ourselves, “How can I help?”

That’s exactly what Jesus did. He didn’t make it easy for himself by avoiding people’s troubles, but waded right in and helped out. “I took on the troubles of the troubled,” is the way Scripture puts it. Even if it was written in Scripture long ago, you can be sure it’s written for us. God wants the combination of God’s steady, constant calling and warm, personal counsel in Scripture to come to characterize us, keeping us alert for whatever God will do next. May our dependably steady and warmly personal God develop maturity in you so that you get along with each other as well as Jesus gets along with us all. Then we’ll be a choir—not our voices only, but our very lives singing in harmony in a stunning anthem to the God of our Master Jesus!

So reach out and welcome one another to God’s glory. Jesus did it; now you do it! Jesus, staying true to God’s purposes, reached out in a special way to the Jewish insiders so that the old ancestral promises would come true for them. As a result, the non-Jewish outsiders have been able to experience mercy and to show appreciation to God. Just think of all the Scriptures that will come true in what we do! For instance:

Then I’ll join outsiders in a hymn-sing;
I’ll sing to your name!

And this one:

Outsiders and insiders, rejoice together!

And again:

People of all nations, celebrate God! All colors and races, give hearty praise!

And Isaiah’s word:

There’s the root of our ancestor Jesse,     breaking through the earth and growing tree tall, Tall enough for everyone everywhere to see and take hope!

Oh! May the God of green hope fill you up with joy, fill you up with peace, so that your believing lives, filled with the life-giving energy of the Holy Spirit, will brim over with hope!

My parents watched Rylee and Dylan last weekend so Brennon and I could go to the couples retreat in Red Wing.  When we went to pick the kids up, I asked my parents how they were and if they had behaved themselves…you know – the typical questions you ask when you pick up your kids, and you hope and pray that there’s nothing too bad to report.  The kids were good, they had a great weekend.  They were all talking at the same time and telling Brennon and I about all of the fun things that they’d done.  My mom shared that they had played lots of Uno with the kids, and that Rylee kept winning.  When my mom had asked out loud, “How come you keep winning all of the card games?!?” Rylee stated, rather matter of factly, “It’s God’s will.”

My mom shared this with us because she thought it was so funny. I was having a fit.

The worst possible answer to any question that starts with “why” or “how” is “God’s will”! What have I done?!?  What have I said to give my kids the impression that God “wills” something as simple as who wins a game?!?  I was almost in a panic.  “Brennon – what are we going to do?!?  Rylee thinks God is willing her to win UNO!!!”

I very specifically remember during my interview with the staff parish relations team, before I started here at Lake Harriet, that I said that my pet peeve was professional sports players who attributed their Super Bowl win or World Series win to God. I do not believe that God “WILLS” the result of an Uno game or sporting event…or elections, for that matter!

So, I asked my mom how she responded to the whole “God’s will” thing, and her response was that she didn’t say anything because she didn’t know WHAT to say about God’s will. “Mom!  You didn’t say anything?!?  Now she’s going to think you agree with her!”  Surely, she didn’t get the idea that God wills her to win Uno from ME!

I facilitate a small group discussion on Wednesday nights with Julie Konrardy

and Julie also teaches Godly Play to the kids on Sunday mornings. At the end of class last week, I said, “Julie, what are you teaching the kids in Godly Play about God’s will?!?”  I told her what happened with Rylee and she laughed and insisted that God’s will was not one of the story topics they had recently covered.

Every Sunday afternoon, Brennon and I have the kids retell us the story they learned in Godly Play, so last week they were trying to retell the parable of the leaven. It’s one of the shortest parables in all of scripture.  Jesus said, “To what should I compare the kingdom of God? It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.”

After they finished their re-telling of the story, I asked them, “So what did you wonder about when you heard this story?” Rylee answered right away, “Well, I was wondering why the woman didn’t have a name.  She should have a name.”  That’s a great question, Rylee.  Keep wondering about that!  Julie and the other teachers are pretty amazing, as they encourage the kids to wonder and ask questions.

But, back to this question of God’s will. Rylee’s response hooked me, because it’s something that a lot of us struggle with.  How do we understand or interpret God’s active presence and participation in the world?  How do we decide if something is completely random or from God?

When things are going really well for us, it is so easy to fall into the “God’s will” camp. The new job, the pay raise, hitting every green light on your drive from point A to point B, meeting and falling in love and marrying your soul mate, anytime we succeed at something or life is just going really well, when you win all of the Uno games…God has willed it.

But, there is a flip side to this. If we look to scripture, Job has a whole lot to say about it.  The shadow side is that, when everything that could possibly go wrong goes wrong, the same holds true.  God must have willed it.  When cancer, or alzheimers, or car accidents strike, or death or job loss, or divorce comes – when we think God wills the things that happen to us on a daily basis – where does that leave us?   And, where does it leave us if we think God has NOTHING to do with ANYTHING that happens?  It’s a sticky wicket, but that’s what theology is for.  That’s what people across time have struggled with trying to understand and make sense of.

So, how do we answer the question of God’s will??? As United Methodists, we have the Wesleyan Quadrilateral.  It’s our theological process for “discerning God’s ‘heart and mind’ and putting our Christian beliefs into practice as circumstances change over time”.  How do we discern God’s “heart and mind”?  We believe that “the living core of the Christian faith is revealed in scripture, illumined by Tradition, vivified in personal Experience, and confirmed by Reason”.[1]

Whenever we are trying to make sense of God, we first look to scripture, but we don’t end our exploration there. We take into account tradition, our personal experience, and our rational mind.  No need to throw reason out the window in order to have faith in God!

With all of the big questions of faith – we look at it through the lens of scripture, tradition, experience, and reason, and because of those different lenses, we can ask the same question and come up with different answers. Which, is not only okay… it’s great!  It’s refreshing!  It’s a good thing that we can explore questions about things like God’s will and come up with different responses.

There are lots of scripture passages and stories that give us sometimes conflicting,

if not varying, perspectives on God’s will. In Matthew, Jesus says, “God makes the sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.”  The sun comes, the rain comes, and sometimes the flooding comes on both the good and the bad.  God doesn’t will it to only fall on some!

Tradition is an interesting thing. Tradition gives us the wisdom of the past.

Sometimes, what we learn from tradition is what not to do. In the same way, Jesus critiqued the religious tradition of his heritage, even as he remained steeped in its teachings and practices.  The same was true for John Wesley, and it remains true for us today.[2]  During the Crusades, Christians went into war under the sign of the cross,

and they believed that they would “conquer” the enemy because God was on their side. They did terribly violent and horrible things, all under the auspices of the cross…God’s will.  And, we critique it.  The wisdom of our tradition says, in the words of Helen Keller, “Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it.”

That’s tradition. Experience – well, for now, Rylee’s experience tells her that God is willing her to win in Uno because she keeps winning in Uno.  But, she won’t always win.  When she loses, repeatedly, it will challenge her to rethink her understanding of God’s will.  If she doesn’t want to embrace God willing her to lose, she will need to find something that allows for both winning and losing, just like the rain falls on both those who win and lose card games.

Experience is an important part of how we come to understand the heart and mind of God. It’s the thing that most changes over time and keeps us forming and re-forming our beliefs.

Then, there is reason. “Reason is that God-given gift that enables us to interpret

Scripture, Tradition and Experience in the light of the world we find ourselves.”[3]  Reason allows us to study and grow in knowledge as we look at the world around us.

How do you use scripture, tradition, reason, and experience to make sense of the world and God’s role in it? Each of us is a theologian.  We’re each trying to understand God.

The other night, as I was getting the kids ready for bed, Rylee said, “Talk to me, mom.” “Okay.  About what?”  “Does God love Donald Trump?”  “WHAT?!?”  “Does God love Donald Trump?”  I was trying to figure out where this was coming from.

We’ve tried to keep a lot of the news from our kids, but apparently from what news we have had on, Rylee has picked up on this idea that Donald Trump is always yelling…and, it bothers her.   Janet has been using a theme with the kids for the past month here, with the mantra, “God loves you, no matter what”.  God loves you, no matter what!  This is foundational Christian teaching.  It’s important for our kids, and for us, to really “get”.  God loves you no matter what – even when you don’t love yourself.  God loves you no matter what – even when you mess up and hurt someone’s feelings.  God loves you no matter what – whether you win or lose in life.

So, this idea that she’s been mulling over in her head, doing the work of theology and trying to make sense of God, was getting her stuck….which many of us get stuck on.  IF God loves me no matter what, then that must mean God loves other people no matter what, too.  Hmmmm….that doesn’t always feel good.

So, I answered Rylee – “Yes, I believe God loves Donald Trump – just like God loves you and me. BUT, I think that sometimes we do things that God doesn’t like.  You, me, Donald Trump – we can do things that God doesn’t like and that makes God sad.

But, God still loves all of us.” She didn’t like that answer!  A lot of us don’t like that answer.  Sometimes, we want God to not like certain people.  She then said, “So, maybe it’s like this?” – as she flip-flopped her hand back and forth.  “So-so?”  “Rylee, I don’t think God’s love is so-so.”  “Are you sure it isn’t?”  “I don’t think so.”

That’s what grace is. That thing we’ve been talking about the past month – the unearned love of God.  It’s for all of us.  And yet, we don’t stop there.  We respond to that love, by extending that love out into the world…through acts of piety – like prayer, communion, worship, and fasting, and by responding with acts of mercy –

like caring for the least, the lost, and the left out – as we grow in love of God.

In the same passage where Jesus talks about the rain falling on both the righteous and unrighteous, he also says this: (and this is another example of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral) We start with scripture.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,

so that you may be children of God in heaven; for God makes the sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.  For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have?  And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others?”

We have to wrestle with these words of Jesus about love. When we look to the wisdom of our tradition, the words of Dorothy Day, founder of the Catholic Worker Movement, strike me.  She said, “I really only love God, as much as I love the person I love the least.” Our experience tells us that it is really hard to love when our hearts are filled with hate or anger.  So, we have to figure out how we are going to extend more of God’s love and justice into the world, when the world seems to be feeding on fear, disgust, and hate.

Thank God for scripture, tradition, reason, and experience. These are the tools we need as we try to figure out how to live faithfully in this world, and to understand the heart and mind of God for this time.  Amen.

[1] Elaine Robinson, Assistant Professor of Theology and Methodist Studies at Brite Divinity School, Texas Christian University, Forth Worth, TX.

[2] Elaine Robinson.

[3] Elaine Robinson.