“The Father is Seeking Such People to Worship Him"

Lent 3
March 19, 2017
John 4:5-26

It started out as a rather uneasy conversation; for, as St. John makes us aware, under normal circumstances, “Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.”  But here was this Jewish Rabbi engaging this Samaritan woman in dialogue as they encountered each other at Jacob’s well. 

The talk started out innocently enough.  Jesus said He was thirsty.  She had come there to draw water from the well.  But then, the conversation became a little cryptic as the Lord told her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”  She didn’t know quite what to make of the statement.  She was still thinking about completing her errand and returning home.  So, she replied, “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep.  Where do you get that living water?”

And when Jesus explained, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty forever. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life,” the Samaritan woman, acting as if she had grown tired of all this banter, off-handedly remarks, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.”

And that’s when the conversation takes an unexpected turn.  Jesus tells her to go get her husband and come back to the well.  She says, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.”

She is caught dead in her tracks.  Would that we could have seen the expression on her face—the sudden recognition, the overwhelming guilt.  And now, all of us sudden, all of this seemingly innocuous talk about thirst and living water made more sense.  This was spiritual talk.  This was God-talk.  And it didn’t take but a moment for her to realize that she had been set up and had been caught red-handed.  And, now, she is panicking.  She is scrambling.  Her entire sordid life is flashing before her eyes and she knows that she must do something, and do it quickly, in order to avoid any kind of divine retribution.

“Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet.  Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” 

How typical.  This is how the reasonable, guilty mind works.  If your life is suddenly at stake—perhaps, even your eternal fate—the rationale soul looks for a way to make things right.  “I’ll go worship!  That’s what I’ll do!  I know I have neglected it, but you’ll see!  I’ll make amends.  I’ll grovel before God.  I’ll make all sorts of promises and assurances.  Just tell me where to go…”

Perhaps you experienced those kinds of thoughts yourself.  They’re generally accompanied by a sudden, unexpected tribulation that’s cropped up in your life—or the urgent desire to have a particular prayer answered—or, the overwhelming guilt of being caught in the shame of your sin—or, whenever we are faced with the imminent threat of death that we thought was still a long way off.  “I’ll go worship.”  “I’ll get back to God’s House.”  “I’ll open up my Bible again.”  “I promise that I’ll be more devoted in my spiritual life than I have been.”  “Just tell me where, what, and how, Lord… and I’ll do it.”

But at those moments, we—and the woman at the well—have things all turned around.  For, true worship, is not about what we promise to God or pledge to do for Him; rather, it is about what our heavenly Father is ready, willing, and able to do for us.

Therefore, our Lord said to her, “Woman, believe me…” (and this is not a cautionary warning that Jesus is speaking, but a sincere invitation to trust in Him)… believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”

Here is the truth—you can’t bargain with God.  You can’t make deals with the Lord.  Because God’s love for you isn’t conditional; rather he deals with us by His grace—by a love that is undeserved.  And to worship in Spirit means that Christ’s own Spirit urges us to trust in this grace and to receive freely all of the blessings that our Lord earned for us on another mountain.

And, no, that mountain is not Mt. Gerazim, where the Samaritans traditionally worshipped.  It was not even the mountain of Jerusalem, where the Jewish temple was built.  Rather, you’d have to look outside the holy city to a hilltop called Mt. Calvary.  For, it was there the Jesus purchased, through His blood, our redemption.  He shed His blood to cleanse us of all our sins—even those sins by which we have chalked up infidelity upon infidelity, as was exemplified by the woman at the well.

Yes, we have broken the sixth commandment, the seventh, eight, and all of them.  We have shattered God’s mandate to be holy even as He is holy.  And if the reality hasn’t dawned us yet, be assured that we will come face to face with the Lord one day for a reckoning—and it won’t be at a well in Samaria.  As St. Paul writes, in 2 Corinthians, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil,” (1 Cor. 5:10).

But in that moment, there will be no more opportunities to make things right or to offer promises that we’ll get our act together.  There only will be the pronouncement of everlasting life or eternal death.  And that verdict will be based upon the faith in which we lived while here on earth—faith, not in our own ability to make things right.  In fact, if you approach that moment based upon what you did in the body, whether good or evil, you will be condemned.  No, our only hope is to cling to that perfect life that Jesus lived for us.  For there is only one verdict for relying upon our own deeds, good or evil; what we are due is damnation.

But “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  Therefore, the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ, our Lord.

And how do we receive that gift?  Through worship—worship in its true and spiritual sense.

Our Lutheran Confessions put it this way: “Faith is that worship which receives God’s offered blessings; the righteousness of the law [on the other hand] is that worship which offers to God our own merits. (and that kind of worship will get you nowhere but hell)  It is by faith that God wants to be worshipped, namely, that we receive from him what he promises and offers.”  (Apology IV, 49).  “Thus the service and worship of the Gospel is to receive good things from God, while the worship of the law is to offer and present our goods to God.  We cannot offer anything to God unless we have first been reconciled and reborn.  [Thus,] the greatest possible comfort that comes from this doctrine is that the highest worship in the Gospel is the desire to receive forgiveness of sins, grace, and righteousness.”  (Apology IV, p. 310).

Dearly beloved, you are in the presence of God right now.  And God, Who sees deep into your heart and mind, has caught you, red-handed.  He says, “go and bring back every indiscretion, every fault, every sin that you ever have committed—and yes, you are right, you have more than you possibly can number; and, even now, you are living with a nature that is sinful and unclean.”

“But I am here to offer you the living water that can soothe your parched soul.  It comes in the promise that the Christ has come.  I have come to take away all your iniquity and to grant to you my pure and holy life to take the place of your sinful identity.  Living water, poured upon you in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  You are reconciled.  You are reborn.”

“And the best part is, that I, who speak to you, am He Who is here for you right now, and always will be here.  You don’t have to postpone this matter of getting things right with my Father, because, even now you are justified by faith. Therefore, you have peace with God through Me.  And for My sake, you have obtained access by faith into this grace in which you now stand, even as you are able to depart from this well of life today, rejoicing in hope of the glory of God.”  

Oh, come, let us worship Him!   

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