Our dear Lord Jesus here gives to you a most beautiful explanation and example of true worship. He catechizes you to understand that such worship is first of all a matter of hearing, receiving, and trusting what God says and does in Christ, and not what you would do for Him or give to Him.
The Samaritans were convinced that the people of God should worship on Mount Gerizim, where Noah built his altar following the Flood, and where Abraham also offered sacrifice. The temple which the Samaritans established on Mount Gerizim was a rival to the Temple in Jerusalem — a rival without any Word or Promise of God, and thus devoid of His gracious presence. It was one of those “alternative worship sites” which the Prophets condemn throughout the Old Testament. For God had given His Word concerning the Temple in Jerusalem, where He caused His Name and His Glory to dwell in peace, and where He made Himself available and accessible to His people.
That much, at least, the Jews knew and understood — even if many of them had misconstrued worship as though it were their own work, and as though it were a means of bargaining with God.
But now, with the coming of Christ Jesus in the flesh, by His Cross and in His Resurrection, His own Body has superceded and replaced the Temple in Jerusalem. Indeed, His crucified and risen Body is the fulfillment of everything that old Temple was about. Henceforth, God the Lord is found, and He is worshiped, wherever Christ is present in the flesh with His Word and Spirit.
Wherever Christ is preached, wherever His Body and Blood are administered, there is the true Temple of God: His Holy Church. There the one true God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, dwells and abides among His baptized people with His Holy Name and with the Glory of His Cross, with forgiveness of sins and the free gift of life. There He is worshiped in the Spirit and the Truth, as the Father speaks to you by His Incarnate Son and pours out His Spirit upon His Body, the Church.
To worship the Father in this way, as He desires and seeks to be worshiped, is to hear what He says and to receive what He gives to you in Christ Jesus. When you know this Gift of God in Christ, and by His grace you know the Father in His Son, then you seek Him in the place where His grace and glory are found, and you ask of Him in faith, and He freely gives to you the Water of Life.
To be sure, there are many who interpret the worship of God “in spirit and truth” quite differently. They have their own Mount Gerizim in place of the Body of Christ. There are those, for example, who view worship as a private affair of the head and the heart, to be determined and offered to God according to their intellect and emotions. They equate the work of the Holy Spirit with their own thoughts and intuitions, separated from the preaching of the Gospel and the Sacraments of Christ in His Church. To worship “in spirit,” they suppose, is to worship “in a way that feels good and right to them.” To worship “in truth” they interpret “in a way they can understand and agree with.”
The question I would put to you is this: Where are you looking for the Lord your God, and how are you seeking to worship Him? You are in the right place this morning, but with what intentions and expectations have you come? And as you go through the days of your week from Sunday to Sunday, in what respect do you render your body and life as a sacrifice of thanksgiving to God? Or, instead of giving thanks, do you bargain and barter with God? Or do you worship Him at all?
To worship the Lord your God “in the Spirit and the Truth” is, again, to worship the Father through Jesus Christ, His Son, and through faith in the Gospel by the Holy Spirit. It means exercising trust in the Word and promises of God in your Baptism, instead of caving in to your doubts and fears and shame. It means seeking out the Word of Holy Absolution that Christ speaks by the mouth of your pastor, instead of assuaging your guilt and excusing your sins by way of rationalization or comparison with others. And it means that, in the fear and faith of God, you gladly give attention to the preaching of His Word, and you live according to it in love for Him and for your neighbor.
To worship the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ “in the Spirit and the Truth” means that you hunger and thirst for the Body and Blood of Christ, His Son, the way an infant yearns for and demands his mother’s milk; that you more highly prize the Supper of your Lord than any other food or drink on earth; and that you likewise take to heart and trust the Words with which Christ gives to you His Body and pours out for you His Blood for the forgiveness of all your sins.
These are the ways and means which God has provided, by which He desires to be worshiped in faith and with thanksgiving. So simple, yet profound, because they are so full of Jesus, who comes to serve you by His grace and with Himself. He comes in mercy to love you, to forgive you, to heal and cleanse you, and to give you His own Life with the Father in the Spirit, now and forever.
It is true that God has not spelled out every “jot and tittle” of the Liturgy, as He did for His people in the Old Testament. The worship of the Father in the Spirit and the Truth is not of the Law, but of the Gospel. So, there is much that is free; and even your frailties and weaknesses do not undo the blessing of the Lord’s Divine Service, which is and remains His good work and gracious gift.
But freedom does not mean anarchy, nor does it allow for anything goes. For your sake, there is that which is given by God’s Word, which is to be administered according to His Word. Because the Lord desires that you receive His Gifts, and not some false alternative devoid of His Word, His Gifts are given for you to receive in His way — through the preaching and Sacraments of Christ.
Everything else we do and say, as Christians and as the Church, bows before these Gifts of God. For life with God and true worship in His Name depend entirely upon the Ministry of His Gospel. Whatever would compete with that Gospel, whatever would contradict it or distract from it, must be removed and set aside, as Moses had to remove his sandals in the presence of the Lord God.
There is a time and place for trivial pursuits, light-hearted humor, and good fun in our life on earth, of course. But the Liturgy of the Gospel is neither the time nor the place for such frivolities.
In the presence of God, everything we do and say must be true, that is to say, according to His Word: His Word is Truth. It is by His Word that the Spirit calls you and brings you to Christ in His Supper, at His Altar, that you should there know the Gift of God and the One who speaks to you in love; that you should there be fed from His hand and drink freely of His Living Water; and that His Word and Spirit should thus well up in you as a fountain of Living Water for others.
It may well be that, like that Samaritan woman at the well, and like the disciples at that time, you do not always comprehend the Word that Christ the Lord is speaking, nor understand the things that He is doing. His Word and work of the Cross are daunting and confusing to your mortal mind and fallen flesh, and your fickle emotions are often at odds and out of sync with the Wisdom of the Lord, especially when He brings to light your sins and calls you to repentance. Nevertheless, He speaks and acts in love for you, that you might know the Father and worship Him in Christ.
Christ be praised that, with or without your understanding, the Liturgy of His Gospel conveys to you His Word and Holy Spirit, His Body and His Blood. He forgives your sins, strengthens your faith, catechizes your heart and mind, and gives you new life with Himself in both body and soul.
It is in the hearing and receiving of these good Gifts of God in Christ that you worship the Father in the Spirit and the Truth. And as you thus live both to and from this Liturgy of the Gospel, so do you also bear those Gifts of God in Christ to your neighbors by the confession of His Name.
As you worship the Lord by faith in the Gospel, so do you bear witness to the Lord and evangelize your neighbors in the world by confessing what Christ has spoken to you and done for you.
Consider, for example, that it is not the disciples, nor Christ Jesus, but the adulterous Samaritan woman who first of all speaks the Gospel to her neighbors and fellow citizens and so brings them to Christ. It is likewise the case, to this day, that people will typically hear the Gospel for the first time and begin to learn something about Christ, not from a pastor, but from ordinary Christian men, women, and children who simply speak what they have heard and received in the Liturgy.
To be sure, the initiative belongs entirely to the Lord Jesus. He is the One who makes His way to where the woman is. He seeks her out, He speaks to her, He engages her in conversation, He preaches the Law and the Gospel, and He addresses her sins with the gift of His forgiveness and the promise of eternal life in Him. So does He do all of these same things for you, right here in His Church, as He calls you by His Word and Spirit to and from the waters of your Holy Baptism.
In the case of that Samaritan woman, having heard the Word of the Lord, and having tasted His Water of Life, she left her burdens there at the well with Jesus, and she returned to her city and the daily commerce of her life. It is there, in that familiar context, that she bore witness to what she had heard and received from Jesus. She confessed all those things that He had spoken to her, and she wondered out loud among her neighbors whether He might be the Christ. She urged them to come and check it out, to hear Jesus for themselves, and to receive the Gifts of God from Him.
As you, then, go on your way from this Font and from this Altar, where week-by-week you leave your burdens with Jesus, and as you return to the place in life where God has stationed you in love, bear witness to what you have heard and received from the Lord in this place. Do not be afraid or ashamed to share with your neighbors that Jesus the Christ is here at Emmaus speaking His Word, giving Living Water to those who thirst, and feeding His people with His own Body and Blood.
Do you know the Gift of God and who it is that speaks to you and gives to you that gracious Gift? If not, then listen up, and hear and heed this Word of Christ. And if you do know, give thanks to God, and by all means continue to hear and receive what He speaks and gives to you in Christ. Then speak what you hear, and share what you receive, by His grace and to the glory of His Name.
That is what the Samaritans at Sychar did. Piqued in their curiosity, moved by the woman’s word, they went to Jesus at the well. They listened, they heard, they asked of Him, and they received the Living Water of His Word and Holy Spirit. In Him, they began to worship the Father in the Spirit and the Truth. No longer did they believe because of the woman’s word, but at the Word of Christ they bowed down in the worship of true faith before the Lord, who is the Savior of the world.
So it goes, and so it works. The Lord serves you here in the preaching of His Gospel and in the Gifts of His Body and Blood. And as He thus lives in you, and you in Him, so do you now speak and live in love for your neighbors, who hear and see the echoes of His Liturgy in your life. His fountain of Living Water springs up and overflows in you; and where and when it pleases God, those who thus encounter the Gospel of Christ in you will follow your lead to His Pulpit, His Font, and His Altar, in order to hear the Voice of Jesus from His servants of the Word; to be cleansed and refreshed by the water He gives with His Word and Spirit; to be forgiven all their sins, no matter how many or how great; and, with pastoral care, to be fed with His own flesh and blood.
Because Salvation did come “from the Jews,” and it was in Jerusalem that God caused His Name and His Glory to dwell, where He desired to be worshiped, so it was in Jerusalem upon the Cross — at the sixth hour of another day — when Jesus was again weary from His journey, and again He was thirsty — it was there and then that He finished His work of Salvation, handed over His Spirit, and poured out the water and the blood from His side. Thus, from His Cross, He fills the Font of Holy Baptism with the Living Water of His Word and Spirit, and He fills the Chalice of Salvation with His Blood of the New Testament, which quenches your thirst unto life everlasting.
These are the Gifts of God in Christ, with which He comes to you today — neither in Jerusalem, nor on Mount Gerizim, but right here at Emmaus in South Bend — where He abides with you in the Truth and Spirit of His gracious and forgiving Word and His Life-giving Body and Blood.
In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.