These three posts are taken from a sermon I preached in October 2016.
Part One noted that most of us learn about worship by imitating others, and pick up some cultural idiosyncrasies along the way. (By culture I mean the ways we make sense of life in order to make decision about how to act.) Although we all believe in the same gospel, "worship wars" happen when cultures clash. Part Two looks at a well-known story from the gospels, John 4; 7 - 26 - and finds evidence of a clash of worship cultures, and the gospel perspective on honouring God.
Jesus is introducing the woman to two realities. A free gift that she just needs to ask for, and a personal encounter with the Messiah, the one she is meeting in person by the well.
“If you only knew the free gift of God, and who it is who is talking to you…”
He describes these two interconnected realities of the good news as Spirit and Truth, upper case, twin features of the DNA of authentic worship. (But wait there's more....)
1. Let’s take the encounter first. The one who is talking to you is Jesus. Not a great idea or even a great teacher, but a Saviour, and a Friend. Samaritans have never had the whole Truth, because their Bible was too small. But the Jewish law was too big, with hundreds of extra rules and details that made obedience an impossible burden. Now Jesus has come, the word became a human being and settled into the neighbourhood (John 1: 14). That’s good news! This new historical reality brings about a radical new kind of religion, a new revelation, a new truth. Bruner says this is not truth, lower case, a sort of philosophical idea, but The Truth, alethea, the same word John uses in chapter 14 when he describes the Way the Truth and the Life. Here Jesus introduces himself with his first 'I am', with many more to come. “I am he”. The Samaritan woman with a sad story has discovered Truth in a person.
2. The free gift is Living Water – not a reward for good behaviour, but a truly free present, unearned and undeserved. One that is there for the asking, not a prize at the end of a spiritual marathon. It’s a priceless gift because its price has already been paid. And it results in its drinkers becoming fountains of life for others. “Whoever drinks the water that I give will never ever thirst again….that water …will become in that person a Fountain of Water gushing up into deep, lasting Life.” The woman does ask, and then she does in fact gush up and spill over, as she shares the good news of Jesus with her neighbours that very day. frederick Dale Bruner, whose commentary on John I have used for this sermon, says this gift is not spirit, lower case, but The Spirit, pneuma, the word John always uses for the Holy Spirit. Notice this is not a subsequent experience or second blessing, it is part of the deal from the start. God is always ready to slake our spiritual thirst; that’s why Paul calls us to keep on being filled with the Spirit (Eph 5: 18).
3. But notice there’s a third reality in this encounter, one it’s easy to miss. Jesus says that all this worship is initiated by the great God, the Father, the one who seeks worshippers who are filled with his Spirit and his Truth. The Father - this is the Abba Jesus spoke about every day, the one he taught us about in parables, and addressed in his pattern prayer. Abba is an astonishing word that was never used in the Hebrew religion but the notion is found 160 times in the gospels. The transcendent loving approachable father who longs for a relationship with worshippers who seek to honour him. Hebrews 12: 28 says “Do you see how thankful we must be? Not only thankful, but brimming with worship, deeply reverent before God. For God is not an indifferent bystander. He’s a cleansing fire.” He is great, terrifyingly great – yet he invites us to call him Abba – Daddy.
Have you noticed that here we are being introduced to what later worshipers will call the Trinity? Jesus has proclaimed peace to (Gentiles and Jews) for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father (Eph 2: 18)
The woman and every worshipper to follow, is learning that it is not mountains or temples or organs or guitars that make worship authentic, it is the presence of the Christ-revealing Holy Spirit, the truthful Son who calls us to follow him, and the seeking Father who makes worship possible in the first place. The conversation by the well contains profound and spiritual truths about worship and mission. God has lifted us up, dusted us off and started us over again. This is good news for the woman, and good news for us. It’s the DNA of Christian faith. DNA present in every act of worship whatever its style or culture.
What does the three-stranded DNA (there is such a thing!) mean for us as worshippers?
First that God is both the initiator and recipient of our worship. He is the audience – that what Kierkegaard’s illustration is about. We come with a sense of awe and wonder, not taking God’s majesty for granted, but with assurance of a welcome and grace. What an astounding privilege. To come to God as sons and daughters alongside Jesus himself, and call the Creator of the universe Father. Adopted into his family, and granted freedom and responsibility of heirs of the kingdom. Praise God for the privilege of being Abba worshipers. The assurance of our place in the family of God underlies all our worship, all our prayer and confession, all our thanksgiving and offerings. Nothing in life or death can ever separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8: 28).
Second that worship is intended to form us in to the likeness of Christ. And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image. (2 Cor 3:18) It is character building, that what being a follower of Jesus means. Although we can’t overlook the formative power of the songs we sing, our main worship resource for this will be teaching, and preaching, learning from the narratives of Scripture what a truly Christian lifestyle looks like, so that we respond with the grace of Christ even in our unthinking moments. Worship both reveals and forms our identity, and shared worship nurtures in us a specific kind of character. That's why we must be continually alert to the creeping consumerism that makes us the audience – or even worse the spectators. Our heart prayer to Christ the Truth at the centre of our worship should be “I want my life to be the evidence of you.”
Thirdly that worship is continually building community and sponsoring mission. Our individualistic culture works against this, worship together with our church family is just one option along with myriad competing weekend possibilities, in a society that enshrines choice, autonomy and subjectivism. But the Holy Spirit's gifts are best exercised in community, and real intimacy can be found here at the foot of the cross. But because we don’t share real hurts, own up to doubts, or ask for help and support, we often look for false intimacy in the words of the songs, and go home feeling just as empty as when we came. And mission, well that’s in the too hard basket. One writer says instead of debating doctrine or morality, we should just do it. Practise loving a difficult person. Give away some money. Say I’m sorry. Tell someone you appreciate them. Encourage a friend. Bless an enemy. Gush up and spill over. Worship God and love people. That’s what Jesus said were the most important things. That why he came. That’s why he stays. That’s why we worship.
That's the gospel.
That's the gospel.
To Think About: Which one of these three has struck a chord with you?