Skirting Around The Edges?
True worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth
John 4:5-42 or 4:4-15, 19-26, 39, 40-42
When a young woman attempted to take her own life, she left a short note explaining why she was doing it. She gave several reasons, but one sentence stands out. She said, “I don’t have the strength it takes to go on just existing.” Fortunately, she was discovered by one of her friends, rushed to the hospital, and her life was saved. Through a combination of good therapy and a deep religious experience, her life was turned around.
“I don’t have the strength it takes to go on just existing.” Many of us can understand what that girl was saying and identify with it. Somewhere deep within ourselves we know that life is more than “just existing”: more than mere survival; more than just making it through the night, only to discover there is another night, and another, for mere existing. There must be more to life than this!
The Gospel of John celebrates the way in which God’s Presence in Jesus Christ makes it possible for us to move from “just existing” into abundant life — “eternal” life. Jesus says, in today’s Lesson from John’s Gospel, “Anyone who drinks the water that I shall give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I give will turn into a spring inside him, welling up to eternal life” (John 4:14).
Throughout John’s Gospel, different figures are used to describe the way in which Jesus comes to us: He is the Bread of Life; He is the Light of the World; He is the Resurrection and the Life; He is the Way and the Truth; He is the Good Shepherd; He is the Beloved Son of God who guides us, the One who protects us. “I have come,” Jesus says, so that you may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10-10). Jesus has come to liberate us from the drudgery of “just existing” by offering us new life, in Spirit and Truth.” Jesus has come to enable us to celebrate the gift of life, to experience the throbbing vitality of life, deeply, every moment, every day, every night.
One September morning, a doting mother was preparing her two small children for the first day of school. She was still in her bathrobe. Her hair was disheveled. She was barking commands: “Comb your hair, brush your teeth, put on the new blouse I bought you, wipe the jam off your face; hurry up!” It was a real battle, and by the time the children were ready to go they were a wreck. As they went out the front door, the mother said, “Wait! I want to take your picture.” The children dutifully posed and as the mother looked through her camera’s view-finder, she barked, “Give me a smile!” But the children simply would not smile. The hassle of getting ready had been too much for them. Again she commanded, “Give me a smile!” Nobody smiled.
That is a good illustration of how not to get the fountain within us “leaping up to provide eternal life.” We cannot simply say, “Give me some of that abundant life” and expect a miracle to happen. It is a matter of receiving Jesus, The Christ. It is not just seeing Jesus as a Model of what “abundant life” is about but of embracing the living Christ Spirit and letting it well up within us.
There are two levels on which we see this happening. Both of them are reflected in the Bible itself. On one level are the times of suffering in our life — times of crisis. The Apostle Paul says of these times, “When I am weak, then I am strong” — one of the great paradoxes of the Christian Faith. When we are weak, when we are suffering, when we are hurting, then we are strong because we throw ourselves more fully on the Christ-Presence. And the abundant life is released within us.
In the day’s of the Roman persecution, one of the worst things that could happen to a Christian was to be sent to the mines of New Midea in Africa. The prisoners were brutally whipped, marched through rocky valleys, burned by the sun, branded on their brow with a hot iron, chained so that they were unable to stand erect, sent into the dark mines to work interminable hours: indescribable suffering. When those mines were opened up to visitors, it was discovered that those Christians had etched little words and slogans on the walls of the caves in which they were working. Of all the many words that appear there, two appear more than any others. One is the word “Christ” (Christos); the other is the word “life.” In that environment of terrible suffering, the two things they thought of most were Christ, and life. Jesus is the Christ who comes to make abundant life possible even in the midst of, and often because of, the suffering in our lives.
The second level on which we see the experience of abundant life unfolding is in our daily life; the daily routine of waking up, doing our work, making a living, going to sleep; getting up, doing our work, making a living, going to sleep. On this level, life often loses its taste. It becomes dull and meaningless. And we lose sight of the Christ-Presence. But what Jesus is saying in His promise of abundant life, is that it is possible for us to celebrate each moment of our daily life, in the simple things: The food we eat; the gift of sleep; the opportunity to work and to do something creative; the experience of finding joy in a simple tree or in the first spring flower or in the smile of a child or in a loving glance from a spouse or in the warm touch of a friendly hand.
In the Gospel of John, Jesus tells a Samaritan woman that “true worshippers will worship the Father in Spirit and Truth” (Jn. 4:23). And that is one of the reasons we have come here today: we want to become fulfilled persons; we want to be able to accept and appreciate the unique beauty of our individuality; we want to be able to love other people unselfishly without taking life from them; we want to be able to call forth their unique beauty and their unique gifts without feeling threatened when we see them coming into their fulfillment. We want to be people like that. And Jesus is telling us that in order to embrace this wonderfully abundant life we must first let the living God come into our lives. We must relate to ourselves and to others within this context — in the Spirit and in the Truth of His Gospel Message.
The story is told of an ancient holy man who sat down to worship in his hermitage every evening. Because the cat living in the hermitage disturbed his concentration, he ordered that the animal be tied up during the worship. After the holy man died, the practice of tying up the cat during evening worship continued. And after the cat died, another cat was brought to the hermitage so that the tying up ritual could be continued every evening. Centuries later, learned treatises were still being written on the “Liturgical Significance of Tying up a Cat During Worship Services.”
If you are here skirting around the edges, just going through the motions; if the rituals you carry out week-after-week are devoid of meaning; if you’re just “tying up the cat,” so to speak, then you’ve missed the whole point of what we are doing here.
There are many components that can help make the worship experience vivid and real for us: the history and tradition of the place we meet, its walls literally permeated with the prayers of those who have met here in the past; the music that can lift our spirits and help us focus on beautiful things — on harmony , on praise, on thanksgiving; the silence (which can be of the utmost importance when God speaks to us); the fact of our being together. And at the center is the act of communicating with Christ — as a congregation, as a People of God.
The “gathering” is an end in itself, but also it is a preparation for the “scattering” — for mission and ministry to others. The New Testament Christians scattered themselves into the world with amazing vitality. They were propelled by an intense desire to share Jesus Christ with the world. Of course, their love for Christ and their understanding of His Message led them to feed the hungry and identify with the downtrodden. But they did all these things as an outgrowth of their learning to know and to love Jesus through the gathering.
Not skirting around the edges but gathering and scattering. That is the beautiful rhythm in the lives of those who know and love the Savior best!
What are your thoughts? Please leave a comment below.