The Heart of Worship – March 1, 2020, the First Sunday in Lent
March 1, 2020
Today we’re leaving Mark’s Gospel. We’ve been reading from that book for a while now. But for Lent, we’re going to be looking at several stories as told by John. In fact, several of these stories are told only by John.
As I’ve said before, John’s Gospel is different. The others, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, are often referred to as the “Synoptic Gospels.” That’s a fancy word that simply means, “they look like each other.” But John always gives us a different perspective on things. He gives us more of the drama, more of the dialogue, and I think more of the feeling and emotion in these stories.
In our story for today, Jesus has come into Samaria. That’s right, he’s in the land of the Samaritans! (Oooh!) And he’s passing through the city of Sychar. And we’re told that’s near the field that Jacob gave to his son Joseph. That’s right, we’re back to that whole “Joseph and the coat of many colors” thing! And we find Jesus sitting by Jacob’s well, where this woman now comes to draw water.
I hope this is a familiar story. We’ve talked before about how a man in that culture would not speak to an unknown woman in public, lest people would “talk.” It’s also been said that this woman was somewhat of an “outcast,” and that’s why she had come to the well later in the day, rather than earlier, when all the others would have come. We find out in this conversation why she possibly was an outcast. She had a “questionable” social life. (It probably wouldn’t be a big deal in our day, but in that day, it was!) So, in that culture, a man would definitely be cautious about being seen speaking with such a woman. Then, add to that the fact that this woman was a Samaritan. No Jew would speak to one of those at all – man or woman!
So, we can say here that Jesus broke with a number of the social conventions of the day. We know he did that. We talked about that a few weeks ago, and we said how that got him into trouble. And no, this may not have been on the order of him “dining with the tax collectors,” but it’s somewhere on that scale. It was enough that his disciples were “amazed” to find him talking with her!
But he did talk with her! And at one point in the conversation, this woman changes the subject. It was an abrupt change! Because Jesus has gotten a little too personal in his questioning, and she was feeling more and more uncomfortable.
Jesus says to her, “Go and call your husband.” And she answers, “I have no husband.” And Jesus says, “No, you have had five husbands, and the man you have now is not your husband.” And after what I’m betting was a stunned silence, she says awkwardly, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet.” Then, after maybe another awkward pause, she says, “Let’s talk about worship!” It was an abrupt change of subject! But it was a subject that I think was very important.
What the woman brings up is one of the controversies between the Jews and the Samaritans. She says, “Our fathers worshipped here on this mountain, but you Jews say that in Jerusalem is where men ought to worship.” Now, it was just a simple statement, but Jesus goes with it. And what he says is something that I think is very important about worship.
He says, “The hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. The hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for such the Father seeks to worship him.”
I hope you see how important this is! If you think about it, worship is a big part of what we do in the Church. In fact, it can easily be seen as being central to all we do in the Church! And it has been the central focus of what the Church has done down through the ages. And I think Jesus is saying something very important about it here!
He says, “True worshippers will worship the father in spirit and in truth.” Jesus is saying, the place of worship doesn’t matter. He might even have said that the form of worship doesn’t matter. “The important thing,” he says, “is the spirit of worship!” Do you remember what he said about the Pharisees? He said they kept “the letter of the law,” but they had forsaken, (what?) the spirit of the law!
Well, now he’s talking about the spirit of worship. And he’s telling us that the place, the procedures, and the form of worship – all of those things are secondary. “Worship,” he says, “is spiritual!” It is about being in connection with God. The purpose of all those other things – the place, the form, the music, etc… is to help us in our connection with God. I try to say that here before we begin worship each week. As we begin, I often ask you to concentrate on the presence of God here in this place.
I hope you do that. Because, like the Pharisees and their Law, it’s too easy to concentrate only on the forms of worship. It’s too easy to think about and accept what we “like” in worship. In fact, some would say that we are always in danger of worshipping our “form of worship” itself!
Listen to this quote a friend of mine sent me early in January. He said, “When ministry becomes performance, then the sanctuary becomes a theater, the congregation becomes an audience, worship becomes entertainment, and people’s applause and approval become the measure of success. But when ministry is for the glory of God, his presence moves into the sanctuary. And everyone, even the visitor, will fall down on their faces, and confess that God is among us.”
I think that’s wonderful! That’s the “spirit of worship.” Ministry is not about performance! That reminds me of the thoughts of Soren Kierkegaard who once said this about worship. “In worship, we often see the minister and choir as the performers, we see God as the prompter, and we see the people as the audience. But what we should be seeing is the people as the performers, the minister and choir as the prompters, and God as the audience.” I don’t think we can ever hear that enough!
I hope you see the perspective on worship that Jesus was trying to give us here. Worship is not about performance. Worship is about the connection with God. And the last words of what Jesus said are so important! He said, “True worshippers will worship the Father in Spirit and in truth, for such the father seeks to worship him!” In other words, that’s what God wants!!! He wants that connection with us! That’s why he made us!!
There’s a song we do at first service, called “The Heart of Worship.” And yes, that’s where I got the title for this sermon! Here are some of the words of that song:
“I’ll bring you more than a song
For a song in itself is now what you have required
You search much deeper within, than the way things appear
You’re looking into my heart”
Then the chorus:
“I’m coming back to the heart of worship
And it’s all about you, it’s all about you,
I’m sorry, Lord, for the thing I made it
When it’s all about you, it’s all about you, Jesus.”
So then, this is about worship. This is about ”the heart of worship.” And so, I ask you, this Lenten season, is our worship about that connection with God? Is your personal worship about that connection with God? Is our worship all about Jesus? Do we worship God “in spirit and in truth?” For such the father seeks to worship him!
Eternal God, we seek your presence as we gather in your name. Help us to feel your spirit surrounding us, filling us, inspiring us, and giving us your peace. May we go from this place knowing that you have been with us. May we seek a vision of your kingdom today, and every day. For these things we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.