The Text: John 4:19-26 (NRSV)
19 The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. 20 Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you[b] say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” 21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” 25 The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.” 26 Jesus said to her, “I am he,[c] the one who is speaking to you.”
Today’s text is part of our Gospel reading from John chapter 4 where Jesus is talking with a Samaritan woman at the well.
I read again from verse 19:
‘Sir’, the woman said , ‘I can see that you are a prophet. Our Father’s worshipped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.’
Jesus declared, ‘Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation comes from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when true worshippers will worship the Father in Spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshippers the Father seeks.
God is Spirit, and his worshippers must worship in Spirit and in truth.
Let us pray. Lord Sanctify us by the truth, Your word is truth. Amen.
If a strange man asked you for a drink of water and then started talking to you about water that would quench your thirst forever, what would you do?
Would you ask for a drink of his thirst-quenching water?
If this foreigner, whom you do not know, then revealed your deepest darkest secrets, cutting your conscience to the bone, exposing your guilt, what would you do?
Would you recognize that this foreigner is someone special who has been sent from God?
Would you try to steer the direction of the conversation to something lighter and less threatening?
Maybe you would prefer to talk sport or politics or dare I say it even religion?
Well, this is what our Samaritan woman does.
She decides to talk religion.
At first she didn’t recognize that this man was Jesus – the Messiah! She saw him simply as a Jewish prophet. But in their discussion Jesus did something that only a God who knows each of us personally could do. He cut to the bone of her secret problems and revealed her broken relationships, her promiscuity and all that troubled her conscience.
To have our hurts and weaknesses revealed is one of the most humbling experiences that any human can face. We would all prefer to put on a brave face and pretend nothing was wrong by changing the subject. We may be able to hide the truth we don’t want others to know, but nothing is hidden from God.
Yet to try and turn the subject away from her deep dark sins, the Samaritan woman starts a conversation about religious matters. She highlighted one of the big issues that separated the Samaritans and the Jews.
The issue concerned the correct place of worship. You see, the Samaritans believed the only correct place to worship was on Mt Gerazim. (Gera-Zim) The Jews believed the only correct place of worship was at Jerusalem on Mt Zion. So the Jews and Samaritans lived as two separate nations.
The Samaritan woman was looking for an answer to this long standing division. But the answer which she got was radically different to what she may have expected. It cut deeper into her problem.
Jesus revealed that the key issue was not where we worship
but who it is that we worship, and how!
In the coming of Jesus, the time had come when true worshippers would worship God as their Father. Jesus said: They will worship the Father in Spirit and Truth.
But what does this mean? What does it mean to worship the Father in Spirit and in truth?
Created as God’s chosen children we are called to worship God as our Father. He provides for us, he cares for us, he guides us.
We are to fear him, love him, serve and obey him just like we are to fear love, serve and obey our earthly parents. Just as we trust our earthly parents to provide for us in our childhood so we are to trust God to provide for us as we journey to the promised land, for he is our creator and he has made us his children.
Today we have come together to worship God our Father in Spirit and in Truth. We called on the name of our God – the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
When we call on the name of our Triune God we acknowledge that we belong to the eternal body of Jesus Christ.
In the body of Christ we are joined with all saints of ages past, present and future and all saints on earth. We are joined with the saints in our neighbouring churches and the churches all over the world.
Most importantly, the Holy Spirit joins us with Christ Jesus.
It is only through Jesus that we can come to our Father.
Jesus is the Truth. He is the word of God in the flesh. The Holy Spirit gathers us together in Christ Jesus – and together we worship our Father. Together we receive our Father’s goodness, and we give thanks to him for his great love for us.
Then, having received our Father’s blessing, he sends us out as his restored people to be a blessing to others in our community, to serve him by serving one another.
We first entered the true place of worship when we were baptized. At our baptism the name of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit was spoken over us and we were welcomed into the body of Christ. At Baptism we received God’s Spirit and the Spirit continues to build faith in us and continues to bring us back to Jesus’ body where we worship our Father in Spirit and truth together with all God’s people.
Now imagine for a moment that you were the Samaritan woman, and you wanted to change the topic of discussion away from the guilt that has been revealed in you; what religious question would you ask Jesus?
In the church on earth there are many issues that threaten to divide or trouble the church. Maybe you would ask Jesus about the styles of music that often divide people in worship. You may say, we prefer organ music in our worship, and others prefer guitar music.
Maybe you would make a comment about the many different forms of worship and orders of service in the church. You may say, I prefer the order of service straight from the hymnal, while another person might say, I prefer the more casual family service, or charismatic , or a reflective service.
Maybe you would talk about the different ways we praise God. You may say, Some people praise God by singing beautiful hymns. Others praise God by singing sacred songs. Some praise God with movement, others praise God with a sturdy stance.
The Samaritan woman steered the conversation away from herself by asking Jesus about the right place of worship. Today we might do that similar. You might say I think it is better to worship in a small congregation, another person might say, I prefer to worship in a big congregation.
We can so easily think that it is the forms, the music and the place that makes true worship. But these things are only instruments that are useless on their own. It is when the Spirit works through and beyond these instruments that there is true worship!
So often we concern ourselves with issues that are actually irrelevant – as if our salvation depended on them.
The real danger is that the music, or the forms, or the people and the building become the focus of our worship time. It is possible that these things can become barriers that stop people from starting or maintaining a relationship with God as their father. These matters can also distract us away from God our Father who is to be the true focus of our worship.
So often we lose sight of who it is that we are worshipping and how many different ways we can truly worship him. We get caught up in petty issues, and personal hobby horses and lose sight of who it is that we are worshipping.
But Jesus clears away our agenda. He reveals that he wants to restore our relationship with God our Father through our worship experience!
Just like the Samaritan woman, we are sinners with a history. When we come into the presence of God our masks are cut away and God exposes us for who we really are. Naturally we will want to hide our shortfalls and our broken relationships behind pious words. But we can hide nothing from God. He sees everything.
But in a show of eternal love the one true Jesus comes to us, he shows us that he has died for us and introduces us to our Heavenly Father just as he did to the Samaritan woman.
Jesus makes it possible for people like us and the Samaritan woman, – people who are abused and condemned to be able to worship God the gracious Father.
God the Father has sent his Son to walk with sinners to overturn the practices, the forms, the music and the temples that demand us to sacrifice ourselves in order to be saved. And Jesus paid the price for this radical action. He offended many who worked to try and gain their own salvation. Finally, Jesus was put to death on the cross.
And there on the cross, Jesus shed his blood to wash us clean so that we can stand before God as our Father and worship him forever!
At our Baptism God gave us his Holy Spirit to transform us who were unholy and unclean sinful beings into holy spiritual beings. Now the Holy Spirit empowers us to gather together to worship God the Father through Jesus Christ – in Spirit and truth.
Because of Christ, worshipping God the Father is not a matter of forms, sacrifices or styles. Worship is about our relationship to God our Father.
Through the Spirit we are brought into fellowship with Jesus Christ who is the truth. And through Jesus we can stand before God our Father and worship him.
Like the Samaritan woman, we can rejoice that Jesus is the Saviour who restores our relationship with God the Father. Amen
And the peace of God which passes all understanding keep our hearts and mind safe in Jesus Christ to life everlasting. Amen.