You do not hear as much about it today, but the story of the experience that John Wesley had at Aldersgate is a foundational Methodist memory. Mr. Wesley said that as he listened to someone read from Martin Luther’s preface to the Book of Romans, he felt his “heart strangely warmed,” and he felt that what Christ Jesus did for the whole world was for him and for his sin. Not to compare myself in any way with John Wesley, I had such an experience on Sunday, January 1, at Pleasant Grove United Methodist Church. Jay Minnick had an excellent sermon, but it was the singing of the closing hymn that warmed my heart in a unique way. The hymn was number 179,”O Sing a Song of Bethlehem.” In all my years of planning worship, I do not remember selecting this hymn. Well, on Sunday I could not sing because I was overcome by the words and the music. For me, the whole story of the Christ event became real and present in my mind and heart. You could say the “Good News” that came to the shepherds was a message to me. Without much conversation about it, Beverly looked up the use of the tune “Kingsfold” in other hymns. It is used in two other good hymns: “To Mock Your Reign, O Dearest Lord” (285) and ”Come, Let Us Use the Grace Divine” (606). The words in this last one are by Charles Wesley, the brother of John. This old English tune, in all three cases, is arranged by the great Ralph Vaughan Williams. This trio lifts up three important parts of the Jesus Event: The Birth (Incarnation), The Sacrifice, and the heart of the message which is the Grace of God. Go to the United Methodist Hymnal and read all the words of these great hymns. I hope they will speak to your heart as they did to mine.
John Wesley spoke of a Quadrilateral of Scripture, Tradition, Reason, and Experience. None of these should stand alone. Together they stand, alone they are given to excess. Today, I am speaking about only one: Experience…about a personal contact with the ultimate Being we call God, whom we are told to call “Father.” The hiddenness of God is a part of who God is. God is transcendent. Contact with God is far removed from the casual experience that many speak about. However, there are “burning bushes” and words from the “stone silence,” and readings from Luther at a place called Aldersgate, or perhaps, on a Sunday morning in the singing of hymns. Come, and sing “A Song of Bethlehem.” A number of years ago when I was serving Holy Communion every Tuesday afternoon at Wofford College, a student who was playing piano for the service, introduced me to a hymn (“Sometimes the Light Surprises”) which is not in the current United Methodist Hymnal, but was in the previous edition. The first verse begins, “Sometimes a light surprises the Christian while he sings; it is the Lord, who rises with healing in his wings. . . .” God can speak to us in any setting, even in church.
Talmage Boyd Skinner