The Watering Hole - Conversations on 21st. Century religion.
True Worship Sermon
Copyright © 2021 Dorian S. Cole
True Worship Sermon
What did Jesus come to change? He came to clarify what it meant to worship God so that people might have an abundant and eternal life, with less burden on them.
My Scripture reference, John 4: 7-26, I believe, is one of the most pivotal passages in Jesus’ ministry. It’s when he momentarily diverted his attention from the Jews, his first objective, and went to people who weren’t Jews. Christianity – that is, those who follow Christ – heard a different message than the Jews.
For Jews, Jesus’ message was about how what you attained by following the law was like trying to shove a camel through the eye of a needle. The Law doesn’t save you, or even get you into the Kingdom. For Christians the message was about love, that is helping others. Following the ways of Jesus, principally love above all else, gets you in the Kingdom and gets you a better life.
The Jews were burdened with following 613 Laws from the Hebrew Bible (our Old Testament). Jesus’ message to non-Jews was a much simpler message: A much lighter burden, he called it – follow me, my burden is light. No laws, except Love others – that is, treat others well. Loving others doesn’t have the daily ceremonial and sacrificial requirements that the Law has.
In my scripture reference, Jesus entered the land of Samaria and talked to a woman at a famous religious historical site, Jacob’s well. Jesus and his ensemble of followers were Jews, and it was highly unusual at that time for a Jew to enter Samaria. Samaria was and is an area within Israel, of people who were different. People don’t like differences. If you’re different they try to get rid of you.
For chickens, pecking is a normal behavior. They peck for food, and they use pecking to investigate their environment. When new chickens are introduced to the flock it causes stress. Stressed chickens sometimes peck the new chickens to death. We do the same thing. We aren’t much better than chickens when we’re under stress. We’re sometimes even worse. Under stress we peck at each other, not just the people who are different. Today we have a lot of financial worries, societal differences, and resulting stress.
The Samaritans, like the Jews and Christians, believed the first five books of the Bible. Their version is considered by some to be a little more like the versions found in the Dead Sea Scroll caves. But unlike the Jews, the Samaritans didn’t believe in the Prophets of Israel, and they were more permissive about divorce. But they strictly followed the Law.
The Samaritans were likely a faction of the political split of the Hebrew nation into Judah to the South, and Israel to the North. Politics is vicious, not that religion isn’t.
Many Samaritans also looked different. While they cited coming from the tribes of Abraham, many were taller and had blond hair and blue eyes, reflecting an Aryan Amorite and other heritage that was distinctly different from Jews, who consistently had dark hair and more brown skin tone. Just like today, if people look different, they should be hated and despised. So they were despised by the Jews.
Jesus poked the Jews in the eye over this with his Parable of the Good Samaritan, using a Samaritan as the person who loved the stranger, which was a moral height the Jews of that time, not even the priests, couldn’t rise to. Hate stood in their way.
The Samaritans viewed themselves as keepers of the true, unaltered religion, while Judah considered itself the true religion. A long-standing disagreement was just where people should worship God. Jews not only didn’t associate with Samaritans; they tore down their Temple to God. There could only be one, and the Southern Kingdom of Judah, where Jerusalem was, would be that one no matter what, as the symbol of pure religion. Purity was in the eyes of the beholder.
Another very unusual thing about Jesus’ journey into Samaria: In that day, and for most of history, males did not converse with females, particularly married ones. It was taboo.
When Jesus went to the woman at Jacob’s Well, and talked to her, he was doing something that was culturally and religiously “not the done thing.” At minimum he would have received a lot of criticism in religious circles, and a lot of animosity from men.
John told us about this encounter in John 4: 7-26 (NIV). “When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?”
The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)
Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”
“Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?”
Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”
“Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”
“Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, 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 is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”
The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.” Then Jesus declared, “I, the one speaking to you—I am he.””
What does this mean: True worshippers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth.
I’ve always been a seeker of truth. It hides well. In my attempts to understand the Bible, I’m all about context. What influence was the language and religion of the time. What do the words mean? How does this fit with the overall theme and message of the Bible? How is this topic handled elsewhere in the Bible? What else is said in the passage we’re reading that frames the discussion? What do others say? I give little attention to church doctrines because each denomination has its own, and they can’t all be right … or wrong.
There are a lot of things that can be misunderstood in this passage. Quickly to get these difficulties out of the way first:
- “Salvation comes from the Jews.” Jesus provided a way, already seen in Judaism (through the history of the Ancient Hebrews), that would bring a fulfilling and eternal life. Those who followed in his word (his ways, his testimony) were those who were receptive because they were already on the right path.
- Where is the proper place to worship? Jesus settled the argument about where by saying “Worship in spirit and in truth.” He doesn’t say in the Temple or at a historically famous religious shrine or altar. He doesn’t give any physical place.
- “Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
This is reminiscent of Jewish Eschatology in Isaiah’s future Temple from which springs forth an ever-widening stream that nourishes all the land. Water, in Bible symbology, represents giving life, and a growing abundance of life.
- Worshiping in Spirit. The word “spirit” in the Bible generally refers to the rational soul, vital principle, mental disposition. I like to call the spiritual a land of ideas, some very good, some not so good, but ideas that compel us to do things. Compelling, that is, setting us in motion with an intent to do something specific.
The spirit is that intangible, untouchable thing within us that guides our actions. It is what we are about as people. It defines who we are in a most basic way.
Spirit, as used in today’s world, as in the spirit of the law, more closely means intent. Intent more or less sums up the same idea as mental disposition – something that guides our actions, it’s about what we intend to do.
So to worship in spirit literally means that we are guided by our basic intent influenced by what we know. The question Jesus asks is, is our intent to follow God with our mind and feet as best we can, or is it to follow our own ways?
- In this same chapter, Jesus talks about his authority given by God. He doesn’t offer proof, such as the Prophets of Israel offered – that is being called to do God’s work in some dream like state with a specific message. The Jews believed that the age of prophecy had ended. (Zechariah 13, Malachi 4.) Instead, Jesus shows his authority through the miracles he does. Only God could do those things.
Jesus also said, “Truly, truly I say to you, he who hears my word and believes in him who sent me, has eternal life; he does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.”
He says in the same chapter, “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God rests upon him.”
In this, Jesus tells people that he represents the way to God and to follow him (believe in him). In all of these things Jesus talks about getting on the right path. Those on the right path will not be judged. The true path has always been here for all those who follow God. It is not exclusive.
We understand that worshiping in spirit is about what guides us and compels us to do things.
What does it mean to worship in truth?
What is truth? Is it different for every person what their truth is? We have a great debate today about what is true? Some think there is an alternative set of facts that are in their alternate universe. Others assert that there is only one truth supported by facts.
It’s been a great debate all through history about what truth is. Pilate, who questioned Jesus, no doubt was familiar with the great philosophers. When Jesus was before Pilate, Jesus said, “… I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth ... “Pilate asked, “What is truth?” Pilate was probably familiar with the famous Greek philosophers.
Jesus was not referring to using logic and the ideas of Plato, Aristotle, and Socrates, great though they were, to push statements to their logical extremes so their validity could be discounted by some small flaw. For the philosophers, truth was about fact.
There are also those for whom a sincere belief might be regarded as fact. Those “facts” might be explained in another way. Or Socrates might question them to death so that they could have no credence to the person. “Reductio ad absurdum.” Sounds like today: believe what works for you, what you want to believe for your convenience.
Yet life is not lived at the extreme and absurd edges. Life is sloppy. What we believe must be more firmly rooted in things that are dependable. Jesus idea of truth was different than the philosophers. It was more about what is dependable.
Truth in religion and spirituality is all about following the intent (spirit) of religion and the law, not glossing things over to make yourself look good while continuing to mistreat others and doing wrong, basically ignoring the intent of religion. The intent of religion is to act out of love.
When Jesus spoke of truth, I believe that he basically meant, “You can believe this. You can count on it. You can take it to the bank. Straight up. Straight talk.” He often preceded his statement with, “this is very, very true.” The word “verily” was used in some translations: “Verily, verily, I say to you …” Verily means truly. Or true.
Jesus the Christ laid religious truth out very plainly. Summarized: If you think following a bunch of laws is all that’s required, then you have about the same chance of being in God’s kingdom in the here and now as someone trying to shove a camel through the eye of a needle. Paul reminded us that if we depend on following the law to be in the Kingdom, we will fail and will be judged by the law.
Do good to others (love) - this is what the Law and the prophets were about. Beware of those people who tell you things that sound good, but are just there to enrich themselves. People who speak the truth do good things for others. Those who are about hating others don’t have the truth in them. People are known by their fruit.
Jesus referenced a long, rich history of separating truth from falsehood.
Psalm 119, from early in Israel's Ancient history, begins with, "Blessed are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the Lord!" The entire chapter is about keeping the commandments of God, and treasuring them. Verses 118 and 119 tell us that the cunning of the wicked is useless, and they accomplish nothing of value. But (v. 121) I have done what is just and right. (Verses 163-165) I hate and abhor falsehood, but I love your law... great peace have those who love your law. (Verse 160) The sum of your word is truth, and every one of your righteous ordinances endures forever.
In Psalm 119 we have the true thing - God's word and laws, which experience says bring good things, juxtaposed against the untrue thing: the wicked and their deeds, which bring about bad things. Note that the statements about truth end by talking about the results that they bring - truth proves itself.
Worship: Ancient Hebrew: To bow down to (prostrate); to defer to; do reverence (awe, respect).
The Prophets of Ancient Israel give us a very good idea about what God wants from us in the way of worship. It isn’t going to a place to pray and sing and eat. It’s very much about what we do that is good, and avoiding what harms others.
Worship of God is not just bowing to God. This was a message which had been delivered to the ancient Israelites many times by the prophets. The Prophet Amos came when Ancient Israel was at the height of its prosperity and military power. Those were heady days when the people considered themselves the chosen ones for all eternity, and seeing no end in sight they never considered that the future of their election might be conditional. Life was good and people appeased God through religious symbols: they bountifully supported religious shrines, had frequent religious feasts, and religious ceremonies abounded.
But outside the Temple in their daily lives, their conduct was atrocious. Amos looked at this picture and accused Israel and her neighbors, saying, (paraphrased) "You go to one holy city and do wrong, and then you go to another and do ten times worse. You rely solely on your military power, your dealings with others are full of corruption, you ignore the poor while you sit in opulence, you are horribly immoral, you're totally shallow, and your religious feasts and ceremonies are meaningless. God hates... no, he despises your religious feasts and meetings! He doesn't want to hear your songs. What he wants is for justice to roll from you like an ever-flowing stream."
They didn't listen and a hundred years later the Prophet Jeremiah stepped into the scene. He tried to make them realize that their "election" was conditional. He asked (paraphrased), "Would you steal, murder, commit adultery, lie against others, worship false gods, and then come to God's House and say, "We are cleansed," and then go back out and do the same horrible things all over again? Is this Temple a den of thieves? I don't think so. God doesn't think so. Don't trust in these deceptive words, 'This is the Temple of the Lord, the Temple of the Lord, the Temple of the Lord.'" Once again they were symbolically bowing to God, pretending to do what He wanted, and then doing the opposite.
They didn't listen to Jeremiah either, so when the Prophet Ezekiel arrived on the scene about a hundred years later, the worst was already on its way. Ezekiel said to them (paraphrased), "God is tired of talking to a bunch of rebels who won't see and won't hear anything but their own voices. You have perverted everything - the house of God has now become a symbol of your horrible crimes. You go to the Temple but you can't find God there because your crimes are blinding you and you aren't listening anyway. Well guess what, God is booting you out and leaving the Temple."
Of course, they didn't listen. Ezekiel saw the glory (literally splendor or honor) of God leave the Temple (literally or symbolically), and the Assyrian Empire conquered them and deported most of the people in the northern half of Ancient Israel to Assyria. Later a new agreement was made with "the chosen" that emphasized individual responsibility. Chosen didn't mean pampering and protecting wickedness, it meant chosen as an example and to deliver a message.
"The multitude of your sacrifices-- what are they to me?" says the Lord. "I have more than enough of burnt offerings, of rams and the fat of fattened animals; I have no pleasure in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats. When you come to appear before me, who has asked this of you, this trampling of my courts? Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me. New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations-- I cannot bear your evil assemblies. Your New Moon festivals and your appointed feasts my soul hates. They have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them. When you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide my eyes from you; even if you offer many prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are full of blood; wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight! Stop doing wrong, learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.
"Come now, let us reason together," says the Lord. "Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool." - The Prophet Isaiah (NIV Isaiah portions of verses 1:4 - 18) In the 8th chapter of John, Christ spoke about himself and belief. Verse 14, about himself, "My testimony is true." Verse 26, "...he who sent me is true, and I declare to the world what I have heard from him. And then he said about them, verse 31, "If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free."
True worship versus false worship
True worship has little to do with going to church. True religion isn’t about assembling in churches and having feasts. If you are doing wrong, then God hates and despises those things.
True worship is not thinking we are our own standard, without considering any outside thought. For example, Jesus asked us to love our neighbors (Good Samaritan is an example), and our enemies (meaning to want the best for them and not wish them harm). God is about love, and love is greater than our desires and even our imagination.
True worship is not leaving everything up to God in a dependence that becomes learned helplessness. We are responsible for how we treat others, both for what we do to others, and what we neglect doing for them. We aren’t helpless, we were given hands, brains, and friends.
We are responsible for the care and protection of our families: “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat” (2 Thessalonians 3:10). Men are to take responsibility for providing for their households (1 Timothy 5:8).
We can’t live life shouting, “God’s will” when we fail to do our part. Even Jesus refused to do stupid things. When Satan suggested he fall off a cliff because the angels would catch him, he said, “You should not tempt God,” and refused to do it.
True worship is not uniting religion with politics. Jesus steadfastly refused to be part of the political system. He said to give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to give to God what is God’s. He refused to lead a revolt to throw out the Romans. Jesus was about changing people, not political entities. People who have been changed will change the world so that it is fairer.
True worship is not worshiping God to gain favor with God for wealth and material gain. Jesus said that he didn’t come to judge anyone, but he came so that people would have life, and have it more abundantly. He told these things to those who were poor. They had very little in material possessions. When Jesus left, they still had very little in material possessions.
Jesus’ showed the people a new way of behavior that would bring them abundant life. But not in material terms. It didn’t exclude material things, but this wasn’t what it was about. It was about relationships with others.
For many people, hurting others drove a wedge between them, and the longer it was there, it festered like a boil and got worse. Forgiveness changed that. A new attitude toward others changed that. Many were even motivated to share everything they had with others.
True worship is not about looking for signs that the world is going to end, and judging all people as going to hell, then turning away from them and avoiding our responsibility to be kind to them. These things are against God and what he wants for people.
True worship is not about secret or exclusive beliefs or following certain practices or even trying to follow all of the rules. It isn’t about what you know. True religion is not about proclaiming Christ as our savior, then doing as we damn well please.
True worship is not about the color of our skin, our social circle, our particular church or Bible translation, or our culture. Jesus can be in all of these. As the Prophet Jeremiah warned, “Don't trust in these deceptive words, ‘This is the Temple of the Lord, the Temple of the Lord, the Temple of the Lord.’" (Jeremiah 7:4) God looked at how people had failed to follow him, and the glory of God left the Temple. Do you think the glory of God is synonymous with hate? They can’t exist together. Hate and love can’t coexist. It’s a false religion.
True worship is not about power. It isn’t about politics and types of government, nor economic systems, nor overthrowing the government. Jesus never endorsed any of these; in fact, he opposed being part of politics for himself.
Has the Glory of God left the Body of Christ in this world? Has it become a perverted symbol of hatred? Do we hate and despise others and call it good, in direct contrast to what is expected of us: To love the “Samaritans” in our lives?
True worship is a path of love that is proven, consistent, credible, and stands out as a clear choice that is worth following. It’s about what we do, simply framed and compelled by what we, in spirit, believe. True means you can count on it. It isn't as flashy as end of the world images and screaming about economic and political systems, but you can have faith that the way Jesus showed us works.
Regardless of our political and economic system, true worship is about treating others with love, with kindness toward the poor, the sick, the downtrodden, the immigrant, and the widows and orphans. Regardless of the mechanism we choose to see to these needs, it’s up to us to make certain this is done.
The truth is, each of us have to decide what kind of a person we will be. Will we follow in Jesus’ footsteps; follow the way he has shown us? Or just go our own way and lie to ourselves and others that we are followers of Christ, while hating others?
"If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free."
This is the age of the lie and self-deception. You choose.
Or click a Page selection on the top menu.
1 2 3
Or click a Page selection on the top menu.
2 3 4
Or click a Page selection on the top menu.
3 4 5
Copyright © 2011 Dorian Scott Cole
4 5 6
Or click a Page selection on the top menu.
5 6 7
Or click a Page selection on the top menu.
Or click a Page selection on the top menu.