“Keep Some Experiences To Yourselves”

Sermon Delivered By Rev. Dick Stetler – February 19, 2017

Centenary United Methodist Church

Exodus 24:12-18; Matthew 17:1-9


    In our lesson this morning, Jesus and his inner circle of disciples climbed Mt. Herman where they encountered an experience that provided evidence that life on earth continues.  Peter, James and John watched Jesus communicate with men that had been dead for hundreds of years.  The apparitions of Elijah and Moses appeared.

    Presumably, these two men made their presence known in much the same way that Jesus would appear during his various resurrection appearances.  After witnessing this visitation, Jesus and the disciples experienced a bright cloud that descended on them.  They heard a voice that caused the disciples to throw themselves on the ground, utterly terrified as they hid their faces. 

    Two curious observations emerge from this episode that are given no further clarification or explanation in the Scriptures.  Why was Jesus the only one that remained unafraid during this experience, and why was it that he told the others to keep what happened to themselves?

    During my ministry, numerous people have visited me after encountering moments similar to the experience of the disciples on Mt. Herman.  In previous sermons, a number of these experiences have been described in some detail.  Men and women have confided that they communicated with a parent or spouse following their loved one's death, or they found themselves floating above a surgical procedure that was being performed on their body where they could see and hear everything that was taking place.

    The people that related their personal experiences to me had many questions. "Were these episodes authentic?  Is this what we look like when we die?"  Further, they were afraid to tell anyone else for fear that others might rush to a judgment that they were on the verge of an emotional meltdown.

    I reminded them of the Gospel account where a half dozen women came to the disciples and told them of their encounter with two spirit-beings that communicated that Jesus was still alive. The disciples thought that their testimony was utter nonsense and they refused to believe them.  (Luke 24:11)

    Any time we experience a mystery that takes us beyond what we consider normal, we are drawn to possibilities that we had not considered. A number of responses are quite common among people who have had such unique encounters. No one can take these personal experiences away from them, nor can anyone quench the fire within them to want more understanding about what happened. They often devour books on the subject that describe similar experiences. 

    After a similar experience at his baptism, Jesus' understanding about such events had greatly expanded.  This would explain his lack of fear on Mt. Herman. However, why would Jesus tell his disciples to keep this experience to themselves?  

    Before we answer this question, let us review what may have been going on inside of Jesus' mind prior to his baptism.  Let us first consider where Jesus' caution came from about giving people more information than they can emotionally handle. (John 16:12)

    Jesus' keen mind was already thinking about troubling issues within his own faith-tradition.  Many of the ideas that he would later share during his ministry germinated during the solitude of his carpentry shop.  No one could preach ideas that were so foreign to the practice of Judaism without a lot of prior thought. 

    Jesus was not willing to teach that his people were the chosen people of God.  He reasoned that God would not have abandoned and labeled all other people as infidels.  Slowly, Jesus began to connect the dots as he developed a completely different understanding of God as well as a more energizing way for people to relate to God other than by their obedience to the Laws of Moses. 

    Jesus' message during his ministry grew from questioning and doubting ideas in his inherited faith that were no longer useful to him. (Matthew 5:38)  Perhaps our own spiritual journeys have grown as a result of doubting what we have inherited.  

    Once I was asked a question by an astute junior high school student.  He was in a class of people his age that I was teaching during Lent.  He said,

Let me see if I have this correct.  God allowed His Son to be savagely murdered by people who were offended by Jesus' teachings.  Because Jesus died from being crucified on the cross, God forgave us of our sins. What does it mean that Jesus died for our sins? Didn't he die because of our sins?


This does not make a bit of sense to me. The world has not changed one bit. Explain this to me because this is the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard!

    Rick's comments and questions took up residence in my mind. The thought came to me that adults might have equally valid questions about what they believed.  A decision was made to offer a course on Spirituality during July and August, a time when Sunday school ended for the summer.  It was surprising to find the number of people that wanted to push beyond the boundaries established by traditional Christianity.

    There is always a risk when a pastor begins to depart from the classical interpretation of numerous scriptures.  During Jesus' ministry, he quickly learned that the seasoned orthodox professionals were frequently listening to him as he taught. They tested Jesus. (Luke 20:22)  They challenged the practices of his disciples. (Matthew 15:2)  These guardians of the truth were always monitoring Jesus' teachings. 

    This surveillance got to the point where he warned his disciples:

There may come a time when you will have to consider the level of understanding of your listeners. If you give them more than they are capable of understanding, they could turn on you in very threatening and aggressive ways. Some things are best left unsaid.  (Matthew 7:6)

    During my ministry, I had a number of encounters with people who accused me of not being saved.  They told me that I was preaching error.  They cringed in disbelief when I told them that I had little interest in my salvation. (Matthew 16:25)  I told them that what I care about were people who had become stuck with beliefs that no longer energized their lives.  "Some people," I said, "want to rise above the tyranny of fear-based beliefs."

    During these courses on spirituality, no topic was off limits.  People were really hungry for the freedom that the class gave them to express their thinking without the fear of being misunderstood by Christians whose values and beliefs were based in centuries-old traditions.  People felt liberated from having to park their brains at the door before entering the church.

    We discussed how Jesus offered a different understanding of God's nature from the one described by Old Testament authors.  We discussed if the Bible really was the Word of God or was it the words of writers that were passing on what their teachers had taught them.  We discussed if the loving energy of God would ever create a hell for lost souls or a devil that, for whatever reason, had gotten into a competition with our Creator for the spirits of people.

    These and other topics created fresh thinking that became like a laxative that flushed away skeletons of beliefs that no longer worked for them. This class gave people the opportunity to build on their doubts a deeper understanding of the mysteries of life.  This path was identical to the path Jesus took on his moving beyond the web that had confined his people from growing spiritually. 

    Jesus was crucified because he dared to suggest that, "The Father and I are one."  (John 10:30).  That statement was like committing treason against the Jewish Covenant of remaining obedient to God.  To the ears of the religious authorities, Jesus was engaging in blasphemy.  Jesus went on to teach that the Kingdom of God was not a parcel of high-end real estate somewhere in the cosmos; it was inside each of them.  In other words, "God was also one with each of Jesus' listeners." 

    That teaching pushed Jesus over the edge in the minds of those who held the truth.  He had to die in order to end what had the potential to pollute their heritage.  By killing his body, however, his spirit became liberated to go everywhere to set fire in the hearts and minds of men and women who would realize in the future that the institutional church did not have any more correct answers to life's mysteries than those being taught by Judaism.  What does not change dies as the world's people move on without a lot of spiritual guidance. (John 15:2)

    The answers that we need for guidance rise from within us just as they did for Jesus. Nothing has any meaning until we assign one to whatever comes up for us.  Regardless of what anyone believes, we are the ones that decide the rock upon which we build our lives. No one can do this for us.  Discovering our own truth from our life-experiences is far more energizing and powerful than what comes to us from religious traditions and beliefs developed in another day.

    When extending loving energy is the cornerstone, the linchpin and the foundation of our lives, we are free from the grip of dogma, doctrines, demons and devils.  We have learned from Jesus that our Creator is our eternal friend, a presence that is far more creative and compassionate than the deity that was understood by Biblical authors and personalities.

    Centuries ago, the Sufis developed an understanding that described a very unique way of living among the orthodox keepers of truth. They taught each other to:

Put on and display the outer garment that reflects the well-rehearsed life-styles and beliefs of the society in which you find yourselves. Live in peace within your culture by wearing the inner garment that knows how to reflect the mystical qualities of God. 

    Interestingly enough, the Sufi's represent the mystical side of Islam.  They seek direct connection with God through their imaginations, intuition and emotions, human assets they use to live lovingly and creatively wherever they find  themselves.

    Jesus could not have said it any better himself.  Rather than using words to point to our level of spiritual understanding, we have been given the mission to demonstrate what we know by how we live.  This was The Way of Jesus.



     Loving God, how often our spirits can lose their focus from the array of distractions that impact our lives.  For thousands of years, the story-line of human history has varied little.  Jesus invited us to view our circumstances as opportunities to demonstrate who God created us to be.  We confess, however, that we often yield to the temptation to take sides during power struggles.  Empower us with the wisdom to realize what strength there is in patience and what depth of spirit there is in embracing others in spite of our differences.  Inspire us to enable others to become the people you created them to be.   Amen.    



Loving, faithful God, our lives often reflect our being on a seesaw.  Guide us to stop thinking about our lives in terms of "good days" and "bad days."  When we take time to study our experiences, all of them contain a message of guidance for us.

Thank you for helping us to discover our confidence to step into our life's experiences prepared to offer peace instead of war, compassion instead of animosity and friendship over our need to always be right.  Thank you for teaching us why it is crucial to let go of concerns that we cannot solve.  Help us to open our eyes to see the symbols around us that acknowledge your presence.  You know what it is we need to learn.  And you know how blind and resistant we are to seeing and understanding your guidance when a more wholesome path is staring us in the face.

Help us to move beyond judging others.  Help us to remember that our judgments say more about us than about anything we are scrutinizing under our emotional microscope.  Help us to study what we do not understand with attitudes that communicate how best to serve, how best to make a difference, and how best to express our discipleship.  May our lives represent more of your presence and less of our own.  Inspire us to practice stillness and silence.  Enable us to realize that the answers we seek to brighten our glow must arise from within us rather than from some external authority.  We pray these thoughts through the spirit of Jesus, who taught us to say when we pray . . .