Call to Worship

Spirit of God, that moved of old

upon the waters’ darkened face,

Come, when our faithless hearts are cold,

and stir them with an inward grace.

Prayer

Great God, our loving heavenly Father, we come to worship you with longing and with gratitude.

For all your wonderful creation, we praise and worship you.

For your redeeming love in Christ Jesus our Lord, we praise and worship you.

For the gift of the Spirit, to guide, prompt and correct us, we praise and worship you.

We give you humble thanks for all your kindness to us.

Holy God, we long to love you more, and to serve you better.

We long for peace in our souls and in our lives.

Grant us, we pray, the aid of your Spirit as we confess our sins before you…….. Pause

Grant us, we pray, the aid of your Spirit in our daily living, that we may follow more closely the example of our Lord Jesus Christ, in loving obedience to you.

The Lord’s Prayer Our Father

Hymn CH3 361

Let all the world in every corner sing,

‘My God and King!’

The heavens are not too high,

His praise may thither fly;

The earth is not too low,

His praises there may grow.

Let all the world in every corner sing,

‘My God and King!’

Let all the world in every corner sing,

‘My God and King!’

The Church with psalms must shout,

No door can keep them out;

But, above all, the heart,

Must bear the longest part.

Let all the world in every corner sing,

‘My God and King!’

Reading: St John 4: 19-26

(You may find it helpful, if you have a Bible at home, to read the chapter from the beginning.)

The Samaritan woman said to Jesus: ‘Sir, I see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshipped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.’

Jesus said to her: ‘Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 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 worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks 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 proclaim all things to us.’

Jesus said to her: ‘I am he, the one who is speaking to you.’

Hymn CH3 40

Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness;

bow down before him, his glory proclaim;

gold of obedience and incense of lowliness

bring, and adore him, the Lord is his Name!

Low at his feet lay thy burden of carefulness;

High on his heart he will bear it for thee;

Comfort thy sorrows and answer thy prayerfulness,

Guiding thy steps as may best for thee be.

Fear not to enter his courts, in the slenderness

Of the poor wealth thou canst reckon as thine;

Truth in its beauty and love in its tenderness,

These are the offerings to lay on his shrine.

Reflection

‘God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.’ This is a well-known text; but what exactly might it mean, to ‘worship God in spirit and truth?’ To consider this, we should first examine the circumstances in which Jesus said these words, and then the setting in which they were first written down and read. They are found in John’s Gospel, where they are part of the long discussion between Jesus and the woman of Samaria, of whom he had asked a drink, when she came to the well at which he was resting.

In the society of the time this was an extraordinary conversation, for Jews and Samaritans did not willingly associate with each other, and Jewish rabbis did not speak to strange women – let alone to Samaritan women, even less to women of ill reputation, as this woman appears to have been. The woman’s reaction is at first surprised, as well it might be: then perhaps slightly humorous, as she chaffs Jesus about his lack of a bucket to draw the ‘living water’ of which he speaks at first, and then about his claim that this water will satisfy her thirst for ever.

But Jesus is not chaffing her: he turns the conversation back to her personal affairs and spiritual needs. It is then that she raises the point about where worship should take place – on Mount Gerizim, as her people taught, or in Jerusalem, as the Jews claimed. The background of this question was several hundred years of political and religious enmity between these two neighbouring communities.

Her motives in raising this thorny topic are not clear. She may perhaps still be fencing with Jesus, trying to divert him from focussing on her, apparently, immoral lifestyle.

But on the other hand, rather than diverting Jesus from difficult topics, she may have been seizing the only opportunity which she had ever had of questioning someone with religious authority, about matters which troubled her. Where and how was it right to worship? And if sacrificing on Mount Gerizim was not the correct way to approach God for forgiveness and blessing, what was she, a Samaritan woman, to do?

Jesus tells her that a time is coming when neither mount Gerizim nor the Jerusalem Temple will be the site of worship. For John’s readers, seventy years later, that prophecy had come true; for this Gospel was written near the end of the first century, 30 years after Jerusalem, its Temple, and the neighbouring lands had been laid waste by the Romans. And with the end of the Temple came the end of the centuries – old Jewish tradition of worship through animal sacrifice.

But animal sacrifice was not confined to Judaism – its use was widespread in the Roman world, as is evident from the problems caused by meat offered to idols, mentioned in St Paul’s correspondence. So the question of how one ought to worship God would be a live one also for potential Gentile converts to Christianity in St John’s day. St John here relates to his readers Jesus’ word, that neither animal sacrifice nor Temple worship is required – what God desires is worship ‘in spirit and in truth.’

This is also a word for our day. Who would have dreamed that in our denomination, in this twenty-first century, we would be urgently faced with the question: how, in practical terms, do we worship God?

For all our life-times there has been the Presbyterian tradition of community worship in the Parish church, including a presiding and preaching Minister, public reading of Scripture, Prayer, and congregational hymn-singing – the latter originally the gift of Martin Luther to the Protestant churches in the Reformation.

But for the last few months the churches have been closed, and all worship has taken place within the family home, in family groups or in isolation, with such input as has been available on the internet or other technological source. And even though the state now permits churches to open for public worship, the conditions dictated by the epidemic are so stringent that worship services will be very different. Social distancing will transform familiar spaces, and we shall not be permitted to sing the Lord’s songs.

So perhaps this is a good time to consider what the Gospel tells us are the essentials for Christian worship. We are to worship ‘in spirit and truth’. In John’s Gospel spirit and truth are very closely connected – Jesus claims to be the truth (14: 6), and it is The Spirit of Truth whom he will send to his disciples from the Father (15:26) to guide them after he has left them(16: 13). So we truly worship when we worship in spirit, through the Spirit of Christ.

And for worship to be true worship, it must be worship directed to the Father, the one true God. There is a reason that the ban on idolatry is the first of the Ten commandments – idolatry can be a very subtle temptation. An idol does not have to be a solid image: an idol is anything which takes that place in our hearts or minds or lives which should belong to God alone. Things, or activities, or social or religious structures, which are good in themselves, can become idolatrous, if they take the place of God in our worship.

True worship must be honest worship. We can never deceive God, but we can, and often do, deceive ourselves. To avail ourselves of the forgiveness and help offered by God we must recognise and acknowledge our failings, and our spiritual needs – and in this task the Spirit will help us, as St Paul assures us when he writes: the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes for us….(Romans 8: 26).

Finally, what offerings can we make in our worship of this wonderful God, creator of all that is? In spiritual worship these must be offerings of the spirit, such as love, loyalty, obedience.

Such worship in spirit and truth is open to all, whether to a lone Samaritan woman, or to St John’s congregation under the Roman Empire, or to puzzled Presbyterians faced with planning public worship in the time of coronavirus. Perhaps during lock-down we may have felt some solidarity with those Christians in many parts of the world who have to worship in secret, and perhaps we will now remember to pray for them more regularly. Meantime let us rejoice that there is nothing in all creation that can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Prayer

In the power of the Spirit and in union with Christ, let us pray to the Father.

Great God, we bring before you our deep concerns for your world, asking the guidance of your Spirit in all the problems faced by our human race.

Remembering the end of World War 11 in the Far East, and the cost of that war to civilians and fighters, we pray for all who suffer from the effects of war.

We pray for all peacemakers, and for all who carry the responsibility for peaceful co-existence between nations.

We pray for the people of Lebanon as they try to deal with the tragic explosion in Beirut, and with all the other problems which plague their small country.

We pray for all who suffer from the effects of the pandemic, and for those who care for them. Bless the work of the scientists who seek treatments and vaccines, we pray.

We pray for your Church worldwide, asking for your strength where she is weak, your protection where she is persecuted, your forgiveness and guiding Spirit where she is inadequate.

We give thanks for all your faithful servants who have fought the good fight and are now at rest in you. Keep us, we pray, ever in fellowship with your whole Church seen and unseen; and bring us in your time to rejoice with them in your nearer presence.

Merciful Father, accept these prayers for the sake of your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Hymn CH3 293

The Saviour died, but rose again

Triumphant from the grave;

And pleads our cause at God’s right hand,

Omnipotent to save.

Let troubles rise, and terrors frown,

And days of darkness fall;

Through him all dangers we’ll defy,

And more than conquer all.

Each future period that will bless,

As it has blest the past;

He loved us from the first of time,

He loves us to the last.

Benediction

May grace, mercy and peace, from God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, rest and remain on each one of us, and on all for whom we pray, now and always. Amen.