Fourth Sunday after Epiphany January 30, 2000
The woman said to Him, ‘Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst, nor come here to draw.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Go, call your husband, and come here.’ The woman answered and said, ‘I have no husband.’ Jesus said to her, ‘You have well said, “I have no husband,” for you have had five husbands, and the one whom you now have is not your husband; in that you spoke truly.’ The woman said to Him, ‘Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and you Jews say that in Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews. But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.’ The woman said to Him, ‘I know that Messiah is coming’ who is called Christ. ‘When He comes, He will tell us all things.’ Jesus said to her, ‘I who speak to you am He.’ Thus far our text.
In the Name of Jesus, the Messiah who has come, Dear Fellow Redeemed,
How do you get ready for church? In some families, especially those who live far away, it’s a long drawn-out process. They start getting ready way ahead of time. Everything is organized: the family is fed, the children are dressed, and the car is warmed up—all in plenty of time so they can arrive a few minutes early. With others it’s different. I came from a big family, where getting ready for church was always something of a controlled disaster. One kid couldn’t find his socks, and another had only one shoe. Somebody lost the offering check, and somebody wasn’t finished with breakfast. When we finally did get the whole crew together and on the road, it seemed like we never arrived at church with more than 30 seconds to spare.
Our text for today is about getting ready for church. No, not about these mundane aspects of physically preparing for Sunday services. Rather, today we hear Jesus’ tell the Samaritan woman how a person can be spiritually prepared for meaningful, God-pleasing worship. This is a lesson you and I need to hear, as well. Only our Lord can tell us what true worship is, and only He can make us truly worthy and well-prepared to take part in it. This morning’s theme is:
Why do we worship? Why do we come before the Lord here in His house every week? Mainly, it’s because we have a need that only our God can fulfill—the need of forgiveness. Obviously, there are a lot of people who don’t feel that need, or else this church and every other would be packed to overflowing. The Samaritan woman was one of these. She didn’t understand what Jesus was trying to tell her. His words about “living waters” went right over her head, because her conscience wasn’t working right. So Jesus gave her conscience a jab, by applying the Law to her life in a way she couldn’t possibly ignore. “Jesus said to her, ‘Go, call your husband, and come here.’ The woman answered and said, ‘I have no husband.’ Jesus said to her, ‘You have well said, “I have no husband,” for you have had five husbands, and the one whom you now have is not your husband; in that you spoke truly.’ The woman said to Him, ‘Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet.’” Jesus confronts her gently, but firmly, with the Law. This woman had divorced five husbands, and was currently living in sin with a man to whom she was not married. Anyway, that got her attention. Now she had to face her sin. Now she wanted to hear what Jesus had to say.
There’s the old joke about the man who borrowed his neighbor’s mule to plow a field. He took him to the field, hitched him up and said, “Giddap,” but the mule wouldn’t move. He screamed and yelled—nothing. Finally the owner came over, picked up a 2x4, whacked the mule between the eyes and said, “Giddap.” The mule obediently began to pull the plow. “You see,” he explained, “first you have to get his attention…” God uses His Law to get the attention of the sinner. It’s not a pleasant experience, as the Samaritan woman found out. But recognizing our sinfulness and our need for a Savior is a necessary step. Until we’ve seen our sin and cried out with Paul, “O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from this body of death?” we won’t be ready to receive Jesus into our hearts. Only when God has gotten our attention with the Law are we ready to hear the sweetness of the Gospel.
God gets us ready for church by showing us WHY we worship. There’s no question about that—we simply have to! We’re sinful creatures in need of forgiveness, and our Lord is the only one we can turn to to supply that forgiveness. The Samaritan woman felt that, and so do we. But we’re not ready for church yet. There’s another dimension of worship we need to understand, and Jesus reveals that, too—by showing us HOW to worship.
This simple woman didn’t have a degree in theology, and she didn’t need one. She knew that her sin was the problem, and that church was the place to go to find an answer for the problem. The only question was—which church? “The woman said to Him, ‘Sir… our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and you Jews say that in Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship.’”
“Which church should I go to?” was her question; “Where is the right place to worship?” The Samaritans believed that the only place to worship was their temple on Mount Gerazim. The Jews taught that true worship could take place only at the Temple in Jerusalem. But Jesus had news for her. The question isn’t where, he said, but how. “Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father. …The hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.’”
It makes sense, doesn’t it?—If God were a physical person, you’d have to go where He was to worship Him, whether it be Jerusalem or Mount Gerazim or Dallas or Pittsburgh. But God is spirit. He can hear your confession, receive your prayers and forgive your sins no matter where you are!
Not long ago I was talking to a person who was interested in our church, and she gave us a very nice compliment. I think you deserve to hear it. She said, “One thing I like about these people is that they’re not here just because of some fancy building. Even if the worship was held in somebody’s living room, I know everybody would come just the same!” That shows we know what’s not necessary for true worship—not a particular building, or a particular town, or even a particular country. But do we know what is necessary? Our Lord is the One who gets us truly ready for church by showing us HOW to worship; namely, “in spirit and in truth.”
The first describes the attitude we bring with us to church. We don’t come here to God’s house in order to be seen by others—that’s the simple hypocrisy that was so common in Jesus’ day. Real worship has nothing to do with how you look to other people. Nor is attendance at worship a means of chalking up points with God. Real worship is a thing of the spirit. It has to do with the faith that lies in your heart. It’s a trusting response to our Savior’s invitation, “Come unto Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”—Mt 11:28. Jesus told the Samaritan woman that, starting from that moment, real worship would take place wherever sinners gathered to seek their Lord’s forgiveness together.
Real worship must be in spirit—and in truth. That means that the object of our worship must be the true God that is revealed to us in the Bible. Finally and most importantly, our Lord gets us ready for church—by showing us WHO to worship!
Your “spirit” may change from one Sunday to the next. One week you come to worship with your heart aching to hear the Gospel, and your ears eager to learn from God’s Word. The next week you’re tired, or maybe you’re distracted by something, or perhaps you have trouble applying the message to yourself. That can happen; that’s why we ask God every Sunday to “renew a steadfast spirit within us.” But though our spirit may change from Sunday to Sunday, God’s truth never changes. That’s one of the best things about our worship!
Oh yes, the skeptics of our day will continue to repeat the sneering question of Pontius Pilate, “What is truth?” They’ll deny that there really exists any objective truth that applies to everybody. “And even if there is such a thing as truth,” they’ll say, “what makes you tiny bunch of Lutherans think that YOU, out of all the worlds millions, know what it is?” Don’t be afraid of them. As it turns out, that’s a pretty easy question to answer—all you have to do is open your Bible to the 119th Psalm and read: “The entirety of Your word is truth, and every one of Your righteous judgments endures forever.”—Psa 119:160.
God is the One who truly gets us ready for church. He has revealed the truth to us in His Word. He has given us a reliable lamp to guide us in the Way. He has shown us everything we need to know to worship Him “in spirit and in truth.” That’s why Paul refused to be intimidated by the skeptics of his age; he said, “I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes.” Paul recognized that the very height of eternal truth is embodied in the person of our Savior, Jesus Christ!
But back to our text. I wonder how much that Samaritan woman had guessed about Jesus by this point. He obviously knew all about her past. He had the answers for all her questions. She knew He was at least a powerful Prophet. But was He perhaps more than a prophet? “The woman said to Him, ‘I know that Messiah is coming’ who is called Christ. ‘When He comes, He will tell us all things.’” Jesus didn’t keep her in suspense. She was grasping desperately for a way out of her sin and guilt, and He placed salvation squarely in her hands. “Jesus said to her, ‘I who speak to you am He.’”
I who speak to you am He! What a simple and wonderful revelation! Jesus is the Messiah—the promised Savior of the world. How the pieces must have fallen into place for the woman when Jesus said those simple words. No wonder He knew so much about her! Now it made sense what He said about giving her the water of eternal life. What wonderful Good News: she didn’t have to go to Gerazim or Jerusalem to find God, because God was standing right in front of her! Here was her Lord: the One who gently prompted her confession of sin, and the One who promised her free forgiveness for everything. Did she believe Jesus? Did she take advantage of His offer? Go home and read the rest of John chapter four; she not only received Jesus by faith herself, she went and told all her neighbors the wonderful news as well. Verse 39 tells us, “And many of the Samaritans of that city believed in Him because of the word of the woman who testified.”
Do you want to worship in spirit and in truth? Are you, like that woman, burdened with sin and seeking a way out? Look no further! Today Jesus says to you, “I who speak to you am He.” The Son of God is present with us right now in this building. It is His Word you are listening at this moment. Jesus Christ has fulfilled all the commandments for you. He has provided a cloak of righteousness for you, with which you can stand before God clean and pure. Put it on! By giving up His life on the cross, Jesus has made a way for you to escape the consequences of your sin. Take advantage of it—make your escape! Scripture promises, “The blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.” By defeating Satan and reclaiming His life on Easter morning, Jesus has secured everlasting life for you, as well. His promise stands sure: “Because I live, you will live also.”—Jn 14:19. Take Him at His word! Find comfort in the fact that nothing and no one can snatch you from the loving hands of your Good Shepherd.
There are some things you can do to improve the way you get ready for church. I sometimes wish people would start out a little sooner, or get a little better organized; then we could all begin together right on the stroke of the hour. But when you come right down to it, those things aren’t all that important. In fact the best preparation for worship doesn’t lie in our hands at all. Let us always remember: by showing us WHY we worship, by showing us HOW to worship, and by showing us WHO to worship—God is the One who gets us ready for church! In Jesus’ name, AMEN.
Ministry by Mail is a weekly publication of the Church of the Lutheran Confession. Subscription and staff information may be found online at www.clclutheran.org/ministrybymail.
All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the King James Version.