Pastor Dale Lloyd - September 30,2012 Scripture Reading: John 4: 4 – 30
Last Sunday and again today I want to look at the influence of consumerism upon the exercise of worship in the culture of the North American church. I intended to look at the three basic components of corporate worship: content, structure and style. I will get to that next Sunday, the Lord willing. I found myself snooping around in John 4, and some considerations began to speak deeply into my spirit. I have decided to go with those considerations.
Let me begin with this; see if you can relate. On one hand we have high-brow worshipers with highly classical preferences. On another hand we have worshipers who have yet to learn one hymn of the church but have never met a contemporary worship chorus they did not love. And then we may have a stringed quartet in a Gothic cathedral, while across town we have a guitar-driven garage band pounding it out in some rented store front.
To walk into any one of those settings and conclude that you cannot worship God because of the style – I have to tell you, that is a problem. It’s a problem because it indicates that our worship is determined by a style rather than the story of God.Mature worshipers know that true worship centres in the story of God and not particular preferences regarding styles or structures of expressions.
One of the most important conversations on the subject of worship took place between Jesus and a highly religious woman. I read that story to you at the head of this service. (John 4) Very early in that conversation some issues became obvious, and in my view they need to be understood in relation to the core point of the whole story – that point being the worship of God. I say that because all these years later those same issues still show up in the exercise of worship.
In verse 27 we are told that – ‘His disciples were amazed that he had been speaking with a woman.’ Let’s call that the ‘gender card.’ At verse 9 we discover what I call the ‘race card’: “How is it that you, being a Jew, ask me for a drink since I am a Samaritan woman?” In that question we also see the gender issue – why would she feel the need to tell Jesus she was a woman? Would that not have been obvious? Then she played what I call the ‘ancestry card’: “You are not greater than our father Jacob...” And finally at verse 20 she plays the race card again in these two phrases – “our fathers”& “you people.”She then drew a distinction between “this mountain” and “in Jerusalem.” This is what I will call (for lack of a better term) the “geography card.” By that I mean relegating worship to certain physical locations – holy or sacred places.
It is vital to note that despite all these issues regarding her concept of worship there was a core positive reality: verse 25 – “I know that Messiah is coming (He who is called Christ); when that One comes, He will declare all things to us.”
The good news is that, despite our many issues and hang-ups regarding the practice of worship, God looks into the heart and responds to that deepest point of faith concerning His Son. And we need to exercise that same grace. Before we judge this Samaritan woman we need to assess our own hearts.
Notice how Jesus responded to all these “worship issues” in this story: the gender card, the race card, the ancestry card, the geography card. “But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”
There are two words that define true worship – spirit and truth. The better word for truth is reality. Put the two words together and we have spirit reality. With a single statement Christ establishes that true worship is not defined by or dependent upon external, physical or material realties. True worship is a matter of the state or reality of my spirit. Here is the incredible news in this: spirit – your spirit and mine – transcend gender, race, ancestry, geography and all things external, physical and material. That’s why it is so tragic when we try to reduce worship to structures that are physical or material in nature. I am limiting my spirit – my experience of spiritual reality – to the narrowness of the physical realm.
This brings us back to consumerism. Consumerism is about product in relation to perceived need. So how do we reduce worship to a product? We do that by making it a physical or material reality rather than a spiritual reality. And the reason we do this is because we want something that is measurable and something we can use for comparison.And again, that is the spirit of consumerism.
If I have to look at physical realities to know whether or not worship is taking place, I need to examine that with care. Many years ago when I left a particular denomination, there were others who left at the same time. I recall one person who later on returned to the denomination. Her reason for returning was this: “Unless I see certain demonstrations in worship I can’t tell if God is present or not.” That woman had taken what was intended to be spiritual reality and reduced it to physical reality.