3-16-17 - True Worship

When Jesus names some uncomfortable truth about her life, the woman he has met at a well does not comment. She changes the subject, bringing up the source of division between Jews and Samaritans: “Our ancestors worshipped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem."

I have always seen this as an evasive pivot away from the topic of her personal life. But I wonder – is she actually trying to deepen the conversation? “Okay, Mister, if we’re going to talk truth, let’s talk about why your people and mine don’t get along. Let’s talk about our relationship. Why do you say we all have to worship in Jerusalem?”

Jesus gives her a full and perhaps surprising answer, not condescending: “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” 

This truth Jesus offers should be emblazoned on our church buildings and service bulletins. How and where we worship can both lead us into divine presence, and keep us far away. It is human nature to seek connection with the holy – and when we find it, to attempt to recreate the circumstances we believe led to that moment. Thus we get ritual, and we repeat it and soon deem it sacred, and then all kinds of actions and objects and spaces and even clothing accrue – and before we know it, we may put our focus on all the apparatus and lose sight of the divine connection we were seeking in the first place.

Worship, as Jesus defines it, is not something we do. It is how we open ourselves to encounter with the Living God. It is a spiritual activity, engaging our spirits – and, because our spirits are embodied, also our senses, minds and bodies. And worship is truth-seeking. We don’t need to be in church to worship – church can help sometimes, and get in the way others. What we need is an open heart and humility.
  • When do you feel yourself most fully alive in worship? Is it during a service? If so, what elements draw you in? Music? Prayer? Proclamation? Teaching? Movement? Sacrament? It’s good to be aware of how you feel most connected to God.
  • Maybe you feel yourself most worshipful in silence or in solitude or in nature or doing something for someone else – it’s good to know that too, to honor that as worship.
  • If you don’t feel you connect to God in worship of any kind, you might ask the Spirit to show you a way for you.
Worship, above all else, is encounter – a profoundly cross-cultural encounter across boundaries of difference more pronounced even than the ethnic, religious and gender barriers Jesus and this woman were bridging. Worship is an encounter between a mere human, unique and ordinary, and the God who made all things, holy and transcendent. Yet this God invites us to meet, to break bread, even to dance.

The hour is coming – and is now here – when God is in our midst, in spirit and in truth. God has shown up. Will we?

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