June 12, 2016
This story is an important encounter for Jesus in his ministry. And, it’s a great story! And it’s one in which we often miss the shock. Jesus spoke with this woman at the well, and when his disciples came back they “marveled” that he was speaking to her.
Well, “Marveled” is a weak word. The disciples were astonished! They were shocked! They were horrified! What if someone else saw Jesus
speaking to this woman? What a scandal that would be! You see, a man in that culture would not speak to a woman in public who was not his wife. And certainly not in any kind of personal way. That went against the “social” customs of the day. Then, of course, there was the cultural and religious “convention” of the time. Jesus went against that, too! A Jew would not speak to a Samaritan. They looked down on them. They even had a number of derogatory names for them!
Now, we’ve talked about that before. (In February of 2014, to be exact!) We shouldn’t miss that part of this story. Jesus crossed social, religious, and cultural lines to reach out to this woman. That’s part of what he did throughout his ministry. Jesus “broke through” those walls that people had created. I don’t want us to miss that, especially when part of what it means to be his followers is to be like him! So we can’t forget that stuff! But I’d like to focus in on one part of this story today.
In this conversation, there were awkward personal moments for this woman. “Go call your husband.” Jesus said. That was awkward for her! Well, in one of those awkward moments, she turned the conversation. And she talked about the animosity between the Jews and the Samaritans. She asked Jesus to comment about where was the proper place to worship. Was it in Jerusalem or Samaria. That was a big question! But instead of answering her, instead of picking one place over the other, Jesus used that as a chance to make a unifying statement – and I believe an important statement about worship. “The time is coming” he said “when it won’t be here or in Jerusalem. But it will be wherever people worship God ‘in spirit and in truth.’”
That’s what I want us to think about today. “True worshippers worship the Father in spirit and in truth.” I suspect part of that was a comment on the “less than perfect” way they worshipped. It was a statement about how they worshipped God, while still looking down on each other.
Think about that. Because I believe that’s at least part of what it means to worship God “in truth.” Do we seek to worship God, while things “stand between us?” What does it mean to us when that happens? And what other kinds of things might there be that “get in the way” of our worship?
Remember that Jesus said, “If you are bringing your offering – your sacrifice, to God – and right at the time of sacrifice, right there at the altar, you remember that your brother has something against you, leave! Go be reconciled to your brother, then come and offer your gift.”
This one is so important. Worship is about being in God’s presence. It’s about setting aside our burdens – or laying them before God! And if our burdens have to do with each other, it’s about resolving those things that stand between us. It’s about forgiving each other, so we can stand in God’s presence without those things in our hearts. Remember also that Jesus once asked, “How can you love God who you can’t see, if you can’t love your brother who you can see?” And he was serious about that!
That’s a little bit about the “truth” part of this. Then, there’s the “Spirit” part of this. “True worshippers worship the father in spirit and in truth!” And this has to do with the spiritual state of mind we seek, as we come into God’s presence. And I believe that’s also very important! That’s something we all should be seeking when we’re here. And I try to say that every week.
As we think about that, I have to emphasize the word “all.” We are all “part of” worship! I’ve often said that too often people think that “worship is something you go to, to watch someone else do.” It’s hard to get out of that mode sometimes. Just our setup makes us think that. Our sanctuaries are set up in a “performer/audience” arrangement. This could easily be a theater, or a classroom. Because I’m up here talking and you’re there listening. But worship is different.
Soren Kierkegaard had it right. And I’ll say this again. Kierkegaard said that people think in worship, that the minister is the performer, God is the prompter, and the people are the audience. But “true worship” – and that’s what we’re talking about today! True worship, is when the minister is the prompter, the people are the performers, and God is the audience!
It’s all of us! It’s all of us here who do the worshipping! We are to reach out with our spirits, and seek to touch the spirit of God. And not just here! This is where we do “corporate worship.” But one of the reasons we worship together is so that we can practice worshipping every day! Besides this gathering, we are also to practice “personal worship.” We are to praise God all the time! That reaching out with our spirit is worship. Paul even told the people that their “spiritual worship” is about everything they do!
Recently someone told me that they worshipped God pumping gas. They said they took that time to look around at nature, and the hand of God in the world around them, and to praise him for his creation. That’s the idea!
That’s true worship. And the other thing we need to say about “true worship” is that worship like that changes us. It changes our outlook. It changes our mood. It even changes our behavior! It changes us here, and it changes us at the gas pump! If we leave here the same way we came in, then maybe we’ve missed something. “True worship” is worshipping God “in spirit and in truth!”
I’d like to end with a couple of “practical” things. The first is a little “subtle point” about worship. But it’s important. And it’s about the idea of “praising God.” There’s a difference between saying “God is great.” and saying to God, “You are great!” The second one is worship. It’s the direct talking to God, rather than about God. That’s true worship. And that’s an important part of “spiritual worship.” So, as you think about that, make that “direct interaction” a part of the “practice” of your personal worship. Tell God how you feel about him! Don’t just think or talk about how you feel about him. Tell him directly.
The last thing I’d like to talk about is music. Music is part of worship. And music is indicative of how we worship. During Lent, when we had one of our services over at the Bensalem Methodist Church, I was talking to Pastor Bob. (Love pastor Bob!) And we were talking about worship and singing. And he said, “Do you know we Methodists have singing instructions?” I said, “What? Where?” He said, “Right in our hymnals!” This I had to see! And I cracked up as I read them. (In your bulletins!)
Read these when you get a chance. They’re hilarious! For instance, “Let not a slight degree of weakness or weariness hinder you. If it [singing] is a ‘cross’ to you, take it up! And you will find it a blessing.” How about this one? “Beware of singing as if you were half dead, or half asleep. Lift up your voice with strength. Be no more afraid of your voice now, nor more ashamed of it being heard, than when you sung the songs of Satan!” Ah, you gotta love the Wesley brothers!
Well, as funny as some of these sound, though, look at the last one! Yes, there is some humor in the old language. But what is said is essentially good! (as with all of them, I suppose.) This is the “Worshipping in Spirit” part.
“Have an eye to God in every word you sing. Aim at pleasing him more than yourself, or any other creature…” That’s it, isn’t it? That’s worship in spirit and in truth. And then it ends with this. “So shall your singing be such as the Lord will approve here, and reward you when he cometh in the clouds of heaven!”
Jesus told the woman at the well, that “True worshippers worship the father in spirit and in truth, for such the father seeks to worship him.” May that be said of us, as we gather here, and as we worship every day of our lives!
Eternal God, we praise you, we worship you, we adore you! We lay our lives before you and seek your presence, your joy, and your strength. May we grow in our ability to be worshipping people, people who seek your presence every day! And may we abide in you and you in us. For we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.