Worship Anywhere, but not Anyhow
At the Ordination, Retirement & Closing Service of the 45th Session of the Chinese Annual Conference, Rev Dr Gordon began his sermon with a word of congratulations for the evening’s ordinands, and highlighted that one of the stated duties of ordained Deacons and Elders is “to conduct divine worship”. He proceeded to elaborate on 2 things that Jesus teach us about worship. The following is an abridged version of his sermon.
John 4:19-24 (NIV 1984)
“Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”
Jesus declared, “Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews.
Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.”
WORSHIP CAN AND SHOULD BE OFFERED ANYWHERE
In verses 19-20, the woman from Samaria asked whether the better place to worship God was on the sacred mountain in Samaria or in the temple down in Jerusalem. Today, we ask a similar question. Where is the best place to worship God? Your church or mine? And in this Covid-19 year: is online worship at home just as good as worship in the church sanctuary?
In verse 21, Jesus replies: Neither. Neither on the mountain in Samaria nor in the temple in Jerusalem. Jesus teaches us that true worship is not defined or confined to any particular place. It can and should be offered to God “anywhere”, and everywhere.
Our worship should not be conducted in such a way that makes people think they can only truly worship God when they return to the church sanctuary the next weekend.
If you are asking: “How can our Sunday services be more conducive or more attractive for worship?”, then you are asking the wrong question. Your question should be: “How can our Sunday services inspire us to worship our Father anywhere and everywhere?”
If you are asking: “How can our Sunday services be more conducive or more attractive for worship?”, then you are asking the wrong question.
TRUE WORSHIP SHOULD BE OFFERED ANYWHERE, BUT NOT ANYHOW!
In verse 23, Jesus says that “true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth. (These) are the kinds of worshipers the Father seeks.” (NIV 1984)
Scholars debate whether Jesus is referring to The Holy Spirit (capital “S”; NIV 2011) or to our human spirits (small “s”; NIV 1984). While I think the majority view is correct, that Jesus here is referring to our human spirit or feelings, the 2 translations are not contradictory but complementary.
True worship must indeed be offered in harmony with the Holy Spirit (capital “S”), but on top of that, it should also be offered with our human spirits. It should come from our inner spirit; it cannot only be a matter of our external actions such as singing with our lips, raising of our hands, or the bending of our knees. The worship which God desires must come from our inner spirit and soul.
Verse 24 states that “God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and truth.”
I’m not sure why Jesus only said “God is spirit” instead of “God is spirit and truth”. While both statements are true: God is Spirit and also Truth, perhaps Jesus wanted to emphasise the “spirit” component a little more because He knew the woman was too caught up arguing doctrinal truth that she had lost touch with “spiritual” truth.
In any case, to all pastors who have been ordained to preach the Word, do not preach only the truth of God’s Word; preach the spiritual truth of God’s Word, the truth that speaks to the human spirit.
… the kind of worship which God our Father desires … is more than just cold and clinically accurate statements or professions of truth.
In sign language, “Methodist” is signed by the rubbing together of our hands. The most famous Methodist phrase we have is Wesley saying “my heart was strangely warmed”, and the rubbing of hands symbolises the idea of being warmed by a fire, the fire of the Holy Spirit.
This is one of the hallmarks of our Methodist Heritage and it is a major part of the kind of worship which God our Father desires. He wants worship that is more than just cold and clinically accurate statements or professions of truth. He seeks worshippers who worship with their heart, hearts that are strangely warmed.
May our services help us worship the Father not only on Sundays, but every day; not only in sanctuaries, but everywhere and anywhere. Finally, anywhere, but not anyhow. Let’s worship in spirit and truth.
… worship the Father not only on Sundays, but every day; not only in sanctuaries, but everywhere and anywhere. Finally, anywhere, but not anyhow. Let’s worship in spirit and in truth.
Rev Dr Gordon Wong
Bishop of The Methodist Church in Singapore