Because we believe that worship is an environment in which we experience God, worship is a priority in the Vineyard. From the very beginning of our history, which traces back to the late 1970’s, worship has been important in our movement. For example, Lester Ruth of Duke University writes:
Before “contemporary worship” was known by that name, what was it? For at least one congregation, meeting in a high school gymnasium in Southern California around 1980, it was simply worship: heart-felt, life-changing, intimacy-creating, can’t-wait-until-the-service-starts worship. Many of these worshipers – even (perhaps especially) the long-time church attenders – felt they truly were worshiping God for the first time in their lives. They arrived early for worship by an hour or more, eager to see how they would encounter God and poised to pour out their live to him. They did so with songs sung lovingly to God, not just about God… The historical significance of what this congregation was doing probably went unnoticed by all… But they… were making history.”– Lester Ruth, Worshiping with the Anaheim Vineyard
For the past few weeks, I’ve been teaching at the Red Bluff Vineyard on the subject of worship, a series I’ve called, “What is Worship?” Thus far we’ve discussed the implications of Revelation 4 and Psalm 84. In the most recent sermon, which I cover below, we looked at John 4.
The Woman @ the Well.
Before we jump into John 4:1-42, let’s set up the context for what we are about to see. First, we find in the beginning of John 4 that Jesus’ fame was spreading so he decided to leave Judea and to travel to Galilee but in order to do so, he’d have to travel through a region known as “Samaria.” This posed a problem because the relationship between the Jews and the Samaritans was… well… complicated.
You see, in 722-21 BC, the Assyrians captured and defeated Israel, and all of the substantial Jews were deported out of the land, leaving the remaining Jews as the poor and outcasts who ended up intermarrying with the foreigners. After the exile, when Jews began returning to their homeland, they found these “Samaritans” in their land.
The Jews viewed the Samaritans not only as the children of political rebels but as ethnic half-breeds whose religion was tainted by various problems that they believed dishonored God. This led to some significant division between the two people groups. In fact, around 400 BC, the Samaritans built a rival temple, which was later destroyed by a Jewish leader (John Hyrcanus) and the relationship between the Jews and Samaritans became worse, fueled by political, religious and theological animosity. After all, Samaritans rejected Jerusalem as the center of Jewish religious life, rejected the Temple worship in Jerusalem, and only accepted the first five books of the Hebrew Bible, rejecting the rest. So saying that the Jews and Samaritans had a complicated relationship is the nice way of saying that they basically hated each other. Side note: a number of Samaritans exist today.
So Jesus found himself traveling through Samaria… and he came to the city of Sychar and around noon, sat at a water well while his disciples went into the city to buy some food.
Take a few minutes and read through John 4:1-42. I think it’ll help us as we engage understanding worship in this passage.
Developing a Theology of Worship at the Samaritan Well.
There are lot of things we can learn from this passage as it relates to worship. After all, who hasn’t heard about the importance of worshipping in “Spirit and truth”? It’s likely that there isn’t a single charismatic leader who hasn’t appealed to Jesus’ words in John 4:23-24. But for the sake of time, here are four things that I think are easy to flesh out from John 4.
(1) Worship is an experiential act where we encounter God’s presence and receive “living water,” which “becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within [us], giving [us] eternal life.”
This is why we see our music as more than just singing songs. As we noted last week, when we draw near to God, he draws near to us; when we delight in him, he delights in us; when we rejoice over him with songs, he rejoices over us. It would seem fitting to see worship as a circle where we give and yet, because of God’s gracious goodness, we also receive.
This is why I have absolutely no problem suggesting that worship is a sacramental act, something I’ve addressed in both a dissertation but also in several papers I’ve written for the Society of Vineyard Scholars.
(2) We worship the One who truly knows us.
In the history of biblical interpretation, the Samaritan woman is often interpreted as being a prostitute or very promiscuous. I’ve literally heard dozens of sermons that have suggested this. But in a culture where women had no power, it’s important to know that the woman’s previous husbands had either all died or had divorced her. As a female, she had no power or authority to initiate divorce in her cultural setting. So her current living situation, which Jesus acknowledged, was likely out of economic necessity. And I think it’s safe to say that the woman’s past and current living situation was a source of pain and shame…
And yet Jesus is looking to give her “living water.” This is how it is for all of us. God loves us, despite our past or present… and wants to restore us, heal us, redeem us, refresh us… and this all happens in the context of worship.
(3) Jesus makes it clear that God desires and is looking for people to worship him in Spirit and truth because worship must be done in Spirit and truth.
True worship goes beyond just saying the right things or singing the right songs. Worship must be done in a certain way to please God. Since worship is a posture of the heart, that posture matters.
Throughout the Old Testament, we read story after story where God does an amazing work for Israel and then, shortly after, they forget about that work and go worship idols, created by their own hands (or the hands of the people that surround them. So much of the Hebrew Bible contains reminders about who God is and what God has done, over and over again. The reason being, I think, is that without a proper understanding of who and what God has done, the people of God couldn’t properly worship him. Without the truth, worship would just be mundane words with no meaning, a concept that deeply troubled God. After all, consider the prophet Isaiah’s words:
And so the Lord says, “These people say they are mine. They honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. And their worship of me is nothing but man-made rules learned by rote.– Isaiah 29:13 NLT
This is why we need the Holy Spirit, for without the Spirit’s presence and work, we can’t worship:
True worship is directed not to the finite but to the infinite, who nevertheless meets us in the finite—in the spoken word and in the sacramental ritual. Worship that glorifies God is animated by his Spirit and informed by the truth of his revelation in Jesus Christ. True worship is grounded in the paradoxical unity of logos and pneuma.”– Donald G. Bloesch, The Church: Sacraments, Worship, Ministry, & Mission.
This is to say that we desperately need the presence and power of the Spirit to both fuel our worship and empower our worship!
(4) Encountering Jesus leads to a sense of urgency toward sharing Jesus with others.
There’s something interesting that happens in verse 28. John notes that ‘the woman left her jar.’ Now we don’t know if the woman left her jar because she simply forgot about it or if she was just trying to be kind to Jesus so that he could finally get a drink of water. What we do know is that John includes this detail in his Gospel and I think that he was trying to illustrate something important for us to know. Rather than retaining the old jar, the woman left that jar in order to embrace the new jar by worshiping Jesus in “Spirit and truth.” She chooses to drink deeply from the well that never runs dry and to share that water with everyone she knows!
By the way, have you ever stopped to ask how much Jesus do you need to know in order to share him with others? Apparently not very much! The woman at the well had a very brief encounter with Jesus and went and told her whole entire village about him. Why? Because encountering Jesus just one time is so transformative that one can hardly contain that experience and everyone needs Jesus.
Moreover, in the flow of John’s Gospel, it would seem that we need to read John 4 in light of it’s relationship to John 3, which D.A. Carson powerfully notes:
“John may intend a contrast between the woman of this narrative and Nicodemus of ch. 3. He was learned, powerful, respected, orthodox, theologically trained; she was unschooled, without influence, despised, capable only of folk religion. He was a man, a Jew, a ruler; she was a woman, a Samaritan, a moral outcast. And both needed Jesus.”– D.A. Carson, The Gospel According to John.
All in all… John 4 has a lot to offer us.
You can actually listen to this sermon by clicking here or here:
Luke is a pastor-theologian living in northern California, serving as a co-lead pastor with his life, Dawn, at the Red Bluff Vineyard. Father of five amazing kids, when Luke isn’t hanging with his family, reading or writing theology, he moonlights as a fly fishing guide for Confluence Outfitters. He blogs regularly at LukeGeraty.com and regularly contributes to his YouTube channel.