The Woman at
I'm sure you've heard it perhaps as often as I have. You're trying to convince somebody that they should join you in church on Sunday morning only to hear the response, ''I can worship God at home just as well as I can at church.'' Or perhaps you hear this one, ''I'm not going to go to a church, they're nothing but hypocrites." These are people that have got the idea somewhere that the church is filled with false believers and liars and there is no reason to go and be there at that so called worship place. Somehow, they have come up with the opinion that being Christian entails some form of perfection, and since no one in the church is living in that perfection than why bother. You canít really argue with some of that logic: going to church doesn't necessarily mean that you are a Christian, or as the quote from the book of Russalonians (thatís Russ Wimerís Bible study sayings if you didnít know) says, ďGoing to church doesnít anymore make you a Christian then going to a garage makes you a car.Ē.. You see we now that going to church doesnít make us good Christians. And yes as a Christian, we know that we are to strive towards perfection in Christ, yet we are sinful beings and we know that we can never achieve that perfection here on earth. But we continue to try to be a good Christian anyway. So we are back at that question, what makes a believer a good Christian . . . what is it that God wants of us.
Let's take a look at our Gospel for this morning to find the answers to these and a few more questions. Because today we get a gospel reading that both answers a lot of questions but just as importantly causes a lot of questions to be asked. We have the woman at the well, a woman that is a Samaritan. Now I know I have mentioned at least a few times before the hatred between the Jews and the Samaritans of Jesusí day, but lets just stop for a moment and look at some of the reasons for this so called ''bad blood".
Historically speaking, some of the differences that ensued between these two groups of people went back to a time after the Babylonian exile. You see Israel the northern Kingdom had fallen and then Judah the Southern Kingdom had fallen to their enemy. Many Jews, lots of Jews were taken as slaves into captivity and marched off to Babylon. And so they lived in exile from their homeland. After many years away a king of Babylon came to the throne that freed them from their enslavement and allowed them to return home to Israel. Now as these exiled Jews returned home, they began to come across some of the Jews who were never captured. Perhaps they had fled when the conquerors came. Whatever the reason there is the group of Jews who remained behind and as time passed, they intermarried with some of the local populations and started to adopt some of the local customs and beliefs. Remember the temple of Jerusalem was destroyed and their capital was burnt. So they began to live intermingled with these other groups. Now to these returning Jews, who had suffered for their faith and been enslaved keeping themselves pure in the eyes of God, these remaining Jews in the region of Samaria were unclean and impure.
So when these returning Jews started to rebuild Jerusalem and more importantly the Holy Temple of God, these turncoats, these people that intermingled with the non-Jewish populations in the region of Samaria were not permitted at the temple's reconstruction or even in Jerusalem. As a result of this shunning which they received, they constructed their own place of worship on Mount Gerizim, North of Jerusalem, closer to their territory. This only served to deepen the animosity that existed between the two groups, and each felt that they were superior than the other, in part simply because of their place of worship. And so over the years that followed their rift become bigger and bigger as they were separated from each other by worship, families, business and any other form of human relationship. By Jesusí day there was out and out hatred for each other. A Jew and a Samaritan just did not have any relationship, no talking, no touching, no asking each other for favors, nothing.
In addition to these differing places of worship, there were other items that separated the two groups. On the one hand, the Samaritans only accepted the Torah, the first five books of the Old Testament. Most Jews, the ones of Jerusalem and Israel, accepted the Torah but also the writings of the prophets, like Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel as part of scripture. This caused further division between the two groups.
And into this societal mix, Jesus walks down through Samaria and sits down by a well that is a Samaritan well. Sitting alone since he disciples have left him to look for food, Jesus speaks to this woman that is at the well in mid day, the sixth hour from sunrise. (thatís 12 noon). Jesus breaks a hold peck of taboos. He speaks to this Samaritan, He speaks to this woman that he has no relations to. A woman that is obviously not well respected in her town, since she is at the well at mid day instead of in the coolness of the morning when all the normal woman went to the well. He then asks her for a favor, a drink of water, which establishes a relationship that a Jewish rabbi like Jesus and a bad reputational woman of Samaria should never have according to the society of the time. But what is the most interesting is that Jesus goes on to tell the Samaritan woman that the old rivalries between Mount Zion, the temple in Jerusalem and Mount Gerizim, the Samaritans temple were on the way out, and that the day was coming when this entire argument will be irrelevant. He says the day is coming when those who truly seek God will find him anywhere, in Spirit. So do you have to go to church to be a Christian? Ah Jesus however does end the discussion there. He adds that even though that day is coming, when you will worship God the spirit in spirit, salvation is still from the Jews.
Jesus says on the one hand that this old rivalary between Jews and Samaritans is ending and God is worshipped everywhere in spirit, but at the same time he says that they worship is ignorance and that salvation will come by way of the Jews. What is all that mean?
The Samaritans worshipped in ignorance. There is a sense in which this was true as I have already mentioned. The Samaritans accepted only the Pentateuch. They rejected the rest of the of the Old Testament and therefore rejected all the great messages of the prophets and all the supreme devotion of the Psalms. They had in fact an incomplete religion because they had an incomplete Bible; they had rejected the knowledge that was open to them and that they might have had. Further, the Jewish rabbis had always charged the Samaritans with a merely superstitious worship of the true God. They always said that the Samaritan worship was not founded on love and knowledge, but on ignorance and fear. For the Torah is Law, And they didnít read the prophesies of the coming Messiah who would be grace and love. Jesus is saying that to be a true worshipper you must worship rightly, in spirit. It is important to worship, but not as you chose or by your desire or whim, but by Godís full Word. One the one hand Jesus is saying that worship can happen everywhere, but it must be true worship, and not false teachings or misplaced understandings.
Jesus basically is implying that there are many people who worship falsely. A false worship is a selective worship: It chooses what it wishes to know about God and omits the rest. The Samaritans took as much of scripture as they wished and paid no attention to the rest. One of the most dangerous things in the world is a one sided religion. It is to easy for a person to accept and hold certain parts of Godís truth as right and perfect and disregard the parts that doesnít suit us. Picking faith and scripture to believe and not believe is false worship. We know although no man will ever grasp the whole concept of truth, it is total truth, Jesus Christ that we should aim at, not the snatching of fragments which happen to suit ourselves and our own position.
Another form of false worship is an ignorant worship. Worship ought to be the approach to God of the whole person. A person has a mind and has the duty to exercise it. Religion may begin with emotional response; but the time comes when that emotional response as to be thought out. To fail to think things out is in itself a sin. A religious person is not someone who sits passively by allowing things to impact them, but to think things out, to actually think what they know and what they are still learning. Religion is never safe until a person can tell, not only what they believe, but why they believe it. Religion is hope, but it should be hope with reason behind it (1 Peter 3:15).
Thirdly a false worship is a superstitious worship. It is worship given, not out of a sense of need, nor out of any real desire, but basically because a person feels that it might be dangerous not to give it. There is many people whose religion is founded on a kind of vague fear of what might happen if they leave God out of the reckoning. They purchase religion as one might purchase an insurance policy ''just in case", God's real then maybe I should have that paper that says I have a claim in it.
Jesus pointed to the true worship. God he said, is spirit. If God is spirit, God is not confined to things; and therefore idol worship is not only an irrelevancy, it is an insult to the very nature of God. If God is a spirit, God is not confined to places; and therefore to limit the worship of God to Jerusalem or to any other spot is to set a limit to that which by its nature overpasses all limits. If God is a spirit, a man's gift to God must be gifts of the spirit, when we open our heart and hands and offer everything with full joy and understanding. Did you notice that is the actual thing this woman gives back to Jesus' love. She is not rich, she can't offer him money. She can't offer him any shelter. For that matter she doesn't even give him the drink that he asked for in the first place. All she does is respond with spirit and love. She is so excited by this experience, she leaves her water bucket and goes to tell anyone that she meets in the city, remember a town that doesnít respect her since she obviously is sleeping around and has had lots of men in her life. And then those people of that town experience the spiritual change that occurred in her and they begin to feel that same spiritual change in them as they come to see it in Jesus. True worship is when the spirit, the immortal and invisible part of a person, speaks to and meets with God, himself immortal and invisible.
Why then is church so important. Why then does a good Christian go to church when they could stay home and watch the races today? Why come even when we know that going to church does not make them a good Christian? Look back at those statements about false worship. False worship is a selective worship, it chooses to worship apart from believers of like faith that can nourish each other. A false worship is an ignorant worship. How can we better learn from the scripture than by studying together. A false worship is a superstitious worship that takes God as an insurance policy. They say they believe in God and have faith even when that faith may be little or non-existent. Churches may be filled with imperfections, but it is the place we come to be in relationship with perfection, to worship in spirit, to learn from each other and from God, to walk in his light. Furthermore we go to church to find strength to tell others that the Christ has come and that he is indeed the savior of the world. And we invite them like the women at the well, so that they may come on their own and see and believe.
May the peace and grace of god be with you this day and throughout the week to come.