Fifth Sunday of Pascha
Sermon on the Gospel lesson from John 4:5-42
In the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen.
Christ is risen!
We are worshipping creatures. We never worship nothing; we always worship Someone or something. If we do not worship the One True God, then we will worship anything.
We are worshipping creatures, whether we like it or not, whether we realize it or not. And we are worshipping creatures because that’s the way God made us to be; that’s our mode of interaction with Him. In fact, all of creation interacts with God through worship, even the angels.
And when we turn away or refuse to worship the One True God, we worship someone or something else because we can’t help ourselves, because worship is part of our DNA. It’s who we are.
There are many interesting aspects to today’s interaction between Jesus and the Samaritan Woman. Too many to cover in one sermon; but, God willing, we will get through them all year by year.
Today I would like to focus on the question of worship that the Samaritan Woman brings up, and in particular on Christ’s reply to her, “The hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and Truth, for the Father seeks such to worship Him.”
There is a specific way God wants us to worship Him. We are not free to choose how and when we worship or make an offering to Him. Our worship and sacrifice must be something that He wishes to receive from us.
God has organized the whole universe out of nothing, out of chaos; He has put an order to it. Everything in God’s creation has a purpose. So why wouldn’t He care how we worship Him? Why wouldn’t our worship of Him also be organized and ordered?
And that’s exactly what we see from the beginning in the Old Testament; and that’s exactly what the New Testament Church continues to do.
For instance, one of the first accounts in the Bible of a sacrifice made to God is that of Cain and Abel, one of which is accepted and the other is rejected. And it’s not just because one offered the best of what he had and the other did not. It’s also because one offered his worship and sacrifice the correct way and the other did not.
Or as another example take the extremely detailed instructions, in the more “boring” chapters of the Bible, God gave to Israel for the design of the place of worship, and for the structure and patterns of worship itself.
If God did not care about where and how we worship Him, He would’ve just said, “Do whatever you want or can, as long as you love Me.” But nowhere in the Bible do we see this. God is very specific what He wants us to do and where He wants us to do it because how and where we worship Him matters.
And so the Samaritan Woman asks Jesus, “Explain to me why our ancestors worshiped God on this mountain (Mount Gerizim in Samaria), but you, the Jews, say that the place where people must worship God is in Jerusalem.”
There was a lot of bad blood between the Samaritans and the Jews. Samaritans were a schismatic and heretical tribe that broke away from Judaism, and established their own temple and religious practices to rival the Temple and religious practices in Jerusalem.
By the time the Lord had His conversation with the Samaritan Woman, the Samaritan temple was already destroyed, and the Temple in Jerusalem would soon be destroyed in about 40 years.
In response to the woman’s question, Christ says, “The hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and Truth, for the Father seeks such to worship Him.”
A lot of different Christian groups, in the last, say, 500 years, have taken these words and said, “Ha! See! Jesus says that we do not have to worship God in temples any longer! We worship Him in spirit and truth – anywhere, at any time, and by any person.”
From such misinterpretation of Biblical texts, we get individualized religion, where “in spirit and truth” is understood as worshipping God in your heart, the way you feel like doing it, and wherever you want to do it.
But that is not what Christ is saying here, at all.
While there is nothing wrong with worshipping God in our hearts, that’s just part of our worship. And it neither begins in our hearts, nor does it end there.
So what exactly is going on here? How are we supposed to worship God?
We need to pay attention to the details of the conversation. The Samaritan Woman asked about worshipping God in general. And how does Christ answer? “The hour is coming when you will worship the Father…”
Right away Jesus corrects her understanding – we are not talking about worshipping a general God, we are talking about worshipping specifically God the Father.
And then He says, “The true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and Truth.” So what does this phrase “in Spirit and Truth” mean here?
First, in the New Testament, when the word “spirit” or “spiritual” is used, it almost always refers to the Holy Spirit. So, we are to worship God the Father in Spirit; meaning, in the Holy Spirit that we receive at baptism.
And second, in the Gospel of Saint John, Christ identifies Himself as “the Truth” – “I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life” (John 14:6).
Connecting all the dots now – in Christ we receive the true and full revelation of God’s identity. We do not know God just in our hearts, we do not get to experience Him through some sort of meditation or getting high on drugs (something that people have been trying to do, unsuccessfully, for a very long time). We come to know God through Jesus Christ.
Through Him we know God as the Holy Trinity, fully come into the world. Before Christ’s incarnation, there were glimpses of the revelation of the Trinity, but with Him the Trinity is revealed fully, or at least as fully as we can comprehend it.
So that, when we worship the Father, we worship Him in Spirit and the Truth, in the Holy Spirit and Jesus Christ, in the Holy Trinity. Pay attention to all the prayers we say in the Liturgy. Basically, all of them are addressed to the Father through the Son, in the Holy Spirit. God cannot be worshipped in any other way because that’s what He Himself has revealed to us.
Notice that Christ did not say anything about not worshipping the Father in church buildings. The Samaritan Woman asked Him about buildings, and He directed her attention to the proper way of worship.
The Lord did not intend to abolish places of worship. We can see this in the way His disciples attended the services in the Temple in Jerusalem, before it was destroyed, and the synagogues. It was only after the Jews started kicking Christians out of the synagogues that Christians started building their own churches.
Neither did Jesus abolish how we structure our liturgical year. Just like the Israelites structured their year around the Passover, so we structure our year around Pascha and the cycle of the feasts. Our worship is the continuation of the Old Testament worship because both come from the same God, and both worship the same God.
But so what?
So what that we know how to properly worship God the Father? So what that we may be doing it the right way, while others may not?
Everything I said today is not meant as some sort of “pat on the back” for doing a good job in worshipping the Father as He wishes us to worship. Neither is it a criticism of other Christian groups.
This is, rather, a reminder that as Christians, as the disciples of Jesus Christ, as (hopefully) the true worshipers of the Father we have a job to do.
As Jesus says in today’s Gospel lesson, “The Father seeks true worshipers to worship Him” We know how God wishes to be worshipped, so make sure to do it ourselves. Knowing the correct way does not mean that we go around and tell others what to do. It means that we do it ourselves.
We are in a battle because the fallen gods, the demons, also desire our worship. But their worship is chaos and destruction. So in a way it’s easier to worship these gods. The worship of God the Father, however, requires discipline and structure and attention.
We are made to worship, and if refuse to worship God the Father, we will worship anything, including the demons.
Like the Samaritan Woman, we now know the way God wishes to receive our worship. Let us do it properly and in a pleasing way to God, so that we may glorify the Father in Spirit and Truth, in the Holy Spirit that dwells in us and in His Son Jesus Christ Who saves us, always, now and ever and unto ages of ages.
Christ is risen!
The inspiration for this sermon came from an article by Fr Stephen De Young "Worship in Spirit and Truth"