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Is there cognitive dissonance in our worship? A story from Sychar.

We in this country take drinking water for granted.  Only with the recent drought in western states does water become a daily concern.  What if we never had to worry about being thirsty again?  Would that be worth something to us?
We in this country take drinking water for granted. Only with the recent drought in western states does water become a daily concern. What if we never had to worry about being thirsty again? Would that be worth something to us?
Photo by David McNew/Getty Images

Read John 4:1-42

The 4th chapter of John’s gospel has so many perspectives.

The 4th verse reads in most translations that he had to pass through Samaria. He “had to.”

Really, Jesus was bounded by his choice of routes? He had to go through Samaria. Any Jew worth his salt would have trod the extra mileage across the Jordan and skipped this despicable country altogether.

And then we see that when he got to Sychar he sat down at the well because he was tired. Jesus was living fully as a man, and a man gets tired when he has walked a long ways.

This wasn’t just any well. It was on a plot of ground that Jacob gave to his son Joseph. So we see that Samaria wasn’t always a terrible place. If you can trace your roots back to Jacob, that ought to count for something.

His disciples may have been tired but they were also hungry so they ventured into the town to find something to eat.

It was the middle of the day, high noon if you will. Jesus is probably hot, tired, and thirsty; and along comes a woman. She has a jar to carry water away from the well.

No one else is at the well. Most of the women probably drew water in the early morning or in the evening.

Perhaps it was time for spring cleaning and she needed more water.

Maybe she didn’t like to stand in line.

Or maybe she just didn’t want to see any of the other women. Surely, that couldn’t be it. She would miss out on all of the gossip.

Unless, of course, she didn’t want to be there because she was the topic of all of the gossip. At this point in the story we don’t know.; except that we do know because we have read this story so many times.

This is a woman who has gone through 5 husbands and the man she is shacked up with now is not her husband. Now it could be that all of her previous husbands died. She might have the nickname of the black widow. Maybe the man she is with now is afraid he will die too if he marries her.

We don’t know, but we suspect that this woman has played the field, tarnished her reputation, and is at the point that she has been rejected by the community so she doesn’t even pretend to want the civility, much less the sanctity, of marriage.

And so we have Jesus, the Christ, the Messiah, a teacher, a rabbi, and above all else a Jew who is sitting at this well as this woman of less than laudable virtues comes to draw water.

In this society it would be perfectly acceptable for the man to just ignore the woman. Surely a Jewish man would ignore a Samaritan woman.

But no, Jesus asks her for a drink of water.

The woman is a little taken back. A Jew would never ask a Samaritan, especially a Samaritan woman for a drink.

Today the woman would have said, “Really? You can’t be serious,”

As we learned from his conversation with Nicodemus, Jesus doesn’t always follow the customary format for a dialogue. For Jesus answers as Jesus answers:

“If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”

In her next sentence we see a little cognitive dissonance. Obviously this man is not equipped for the job of bringing up any sort of water, much less living water; but she won’t just dismiss his claim outright. She asks two questions.

“Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?”

Jesus answers:

“Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

For what started out as just another day of avoiding all of the gossiping women in the town, this stranger—this Jew, makes an attractive offer. Wouldn’t her life be so much easier if she never had to come out in public to get water again?

“Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”

Just when things seem to be looking up, Jesus flips the script on her.

“Go, call your husband and come back.”

Well that dog don’t hunt. She has no husband to retrieve.

“You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.”

The woman has what today would be an OMG moment. She came to get water, got caught up in this promise of never having to draw water again, and now has been confronted with what can only be described as an unsavory lifestyle.

This isn’t what she was expecting when she headed out to the well. It is surely not a line of questioning she wants to own up to.

What can she do? She could change the subject. This man was obviously a prophet so she could engage him in some safe religious conversation. Surely there was some hot topic that would get the focus off of her life.

“Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”

So much for getting a casual answer from Jesus.

“Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, 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 the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”

Well that didn’t work. There has to be something to talk about that is a little less intense.

“I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”

That should throw this Jew off his game. Everybody thinks they know when the Messiah is coming and none of them have been right yet. She can just let him pontificate upon his theories and she might just slip away quietly.

No such luck…

Then Jesus declared, “I, the one speaking to you—I am he.”

People talked about the Messiah coming like Cubs fans talk about pennants. There is a lot of talk early in the season and then about June people start chanting, “Wait ‘til next year.”

The Messiah was something safe to talk about. It was a long shot that anyone would actually see him in their lifetime. It’s not like he was going to show up to speak for himself any time soon.

Don’t you wish they had Facebook back in the day? I would have loved to have seen a picture of this woman’s jaw after Jesus told her, “You are talking to the Messiah.” Her jaw had to be hanging down by her knees.

It would have gone viral, even though it was from Samaria.

There’s more to this story. This woman abandons her water jar at the well and heads into town to tell everyone what happened. She may not have been the most credible person in town but she came with incredible news.

Jesus stayed in Sychar for a couple of days and many came to believe that Jesus was the Christ.

Some obviously wanted to make the point that they believed because they saw and heard Jesus themselves and not because of that despicable woman.

In parallel to the story taking place in town between the woman and the townspeople, the story at the well also continued. The disciples returned and asked Jesus if he was hungry. He told them that he had food they didn’t know anything about.

Jesus had dumbfounded the woman at the well and next he did the same to his disciples. They are wondering who brought him some food.

“My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.”

From a human anatomy standpoint, Jesus should still be hungry and thirsty. He never got a drink at the well and didn’t take any food from his disciples.

There are so many aspects of this short story.

We see Jesus whom the gospel writers made sure we knew was a Jew through-in-through choosing to go through Samaria.

Jesus shows us his humanity by being tired and thirsty; yet we see his divinity in his revelation to the woman at the well.

We see a woman who was surely ostracized in her own community become a messenger of good news, and then her efforts minimized by those who wanted to make sure others knew they believed because of Jesus and not this woman.

What a story, but what does it have for us?

I would like to consider the statement that Jesus made to this singular Samaritan woman.

You worship what you do not know.

Jesus tells this woman that salvation would come from the Jews and only moments later said and you are looking at him.

Jesus said one day people will worship the Father in Spirit and in Truth. The location is less significant that what is going on with those who worship.

Do we know what we worship?

What do we worship?

Do we truly come in Spirit and in Truth to the hour each week we call worship?

Do we worship the fellowship we enjoy so much?

Is it the sermon?

Is it the music?

Is it our tithes and offerings?

Is it the children’s church?

Is it that high we get from being around God’s people?

Do we hope to be entertained?

Do we expect to be educated?

Is our worship confined to that one or two hours spent in the sanctuary?

Paul would say that we should offer our very lives as a sacrifice and that would be a reasonable act of worship.

There was plenty of worship going on when Jesus trekked across Samaria. There was plenty of worship going on when the Reformation took hold. There is plenty of worship going on today.

But what do we worship?

People say that we worship God.

People say that we follow Jesus and worship God the Father.

People say that when we say we worship God we are talking about Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

But do we really know what we worship?

If the high school football team gels next fall and goes to the state championship game, the thoughts of the whole town will be on that game for the whole week before it. If they win, people will talk about it and relive the big plays for years.

If there is a Sonic Drive In coming to town soon, everyone you meet will be talking about it.

If the lottery is up to 700 million dollars, people will be talking about what they could do with that kind of money. Some might even be able to pay off their student loans.

Do we get that excited about worshiping the God who loves us so much?

Do we get that wrapped around the love of God that we know in Christ Jesus?

Is loving God and seeking his kingdom as exciting as going to the State Finals?

How do we know what we worship?

Check your calendars.

Check your checkbook or in 2014 your online debit card statement.

Check your conversation.

Check your internet history.

Wouldn’t it be great if we loved and worshiped God as much as we love Google and Facebook?

Check your prayer life. Do the requests outnumber the thank-you’s?

Check your definitions. Is the church the building or the times that we gather?

Have we truly wrapped ourselves around the fact that we are the church?

Do we feel like we “have to come” or that we are “expected to come” to worship services?

Are we compelled by God’s Spirit living within us to gather together and worship our Creator, our Father, our Redeemer, our Rescuer, the Love and the Spirit that has always loved us and will never stop loving us?

Are you compelled to just break into song or psalm or just joyful sounds because the Spirit of God cannot be contained within your body?

Do the words “Thanks be to God” just come out of you responsively because you have eyes to see and ears to hear and what you see and hear shouts the majesty of a holy, righteous, loving, and just God so loudly that you have to answer.

Or do we conduct a sanity check first to make sure that this Spirit living inside of us fits into our comfort zone.

We don’t want to be stepping out there too far, do we?

We all have some status in the world. We don’t want to give that up do we?

We have grown comfortable with who we are. We are not giving that up too easily, are we?

The woman at the well had grown comfortable with who she was. She didn’t want to talk about it but if she could get some living water and not have to come back to that well every day and be talked about by everyone in town, probably even by the last five guys she shacked up with—and keep on living the way she was living, that would be all the better.

If she could have this incredible gift and still be the person that she was, wow that would be fantastic. If she could have this divine gift and not have to give up living by her own rules, that would be just perfect.

If she could talk about things of God and not have to present her life before God, that would be the ticket.

Jesus told her that the Samaritans worshiped what they did not know. The Message says it this way.

You worship guessing in the dark; we Jews worship in the clear light of day. God’s way of salvation is made available through the Jews.

We know that salvation comes through the Jews. We know that salvation comes through Jesus, but do we know who and what we worship?

Are we guessing in the dark when it comes to worship?

The woman at the well said we worship here, you worship there and one day—a day that I’ll never live to see—the Messiah will tell us who is right.

Well she did live to see that day and the Messiah said one day—in fact that day has already begun—people who truly worship God will do so in Spirit and in Truth.

Do we worship in Spirit and in Truth?

The people who worship in Spirit are easy to see. They are the ones raising their hands and jumping up and down, right?


The Spirit is just hard to wrap our minds around. Jesus told Nicodemus that the Spirit is like the wind, sometimes the original words for Spirit and for wind were the same.

But the truth is a little more tangible.

How so?

Because the guy who is always talking behind your back, stabbing you in the back every chance he gets, and wouldn’t give you the time of day falls into a special category.

The person driving the car that passes you on the shoulder on the right side and zips back into traffic right in front of you a mile after the orange sign said “Merge Now” falls into a special category.

The person who buys $100 worth of cigarettes, pays $150 dollars for that new tattoo, takes the stuff they bought with food stamps at Walmart back for a store credit and then buys the designer jeans, and then asks to borrow $45 to pay his water bill falls into a special category.

That category might be labeled, “Unlovable.”

But because we worship God in Spirit and in Truth, we love them anyway.

We may not like them, but we will pray for them.

We will look at them with the eyes to see that God has given us and desire that they come to know God through Christ Jesus.

We will share the gospel with them.

And sometimes we will pay their water bill in spite of their own selfishness.

And sometimes we will sit down and help them understand a budget.

We will help them understand a better way to live.

We will help them, even walk with them and work with them as they struggle to break away from the hold of this “all about me” world.

These things are our reasonable acts of worship as Paul would later describe them.

Some will say, “I can’t do that.”

If that is you, I challenge you to spend this week in prayer and meditation seeking the answer to a simple question.

Do I truly worship God in Spirit and in Truth or do I worship my comfort zone?”

We might just be a little different from the Samaritans. Perhaps we worship what we do know and we like what we do know more than we like worshiping God in Spirit and in Truth.

I am not talking about your salvation. Please continue to sing Blessed Assurance to your heart’s content.

We are unworthy recipients of God’s love, forgiveness, favor, and his kingdom; but these things are most assuredly ours.

I am talking about how we respond to God’s immeasurable love.

For once we have received this gift and have let God’s Spirit reign in us, we cannot remain unchanged.

We are being made in the image of Christ Jesus.

That comes with a lot of peace but it also should be a little uncomfortable for us. There may be some growing pains.

We have been born anew and we are being made anew in the image of our Brother and Friend and Savior and Redeemer.

Or are we?

Are we fighting that transformation and holding on to our comfort zone—a comfort zone that conforms to the ways of the world, mind you, but one so precious to us that we worship it.

Is this what we seek?

Is it our comfort that we truly worship?

My prayer is that we are people who know a peace that goes beyond our human comprehension and a people a little uncomfortable with how we live.

My hope is that we are a people who can sing Blessed Assurance and Change My Heart, O God without any internal conflict.

My challenge is that we worship our God fully in Spirit and live out that worship in the Truth.

We all probably have some dissonance between what we believe in our hearts and minds and how we live out those beliefs.

Welcome to being a stranger—an alien—on your own planet.

The world wants you to keep on being its friend, but we sing I Am a Friend of God.

This week, I challenge you to know what you worship, know who you worship, and if you find that you do not worship God in Spirit and in Truth—that maybe in truth you worship your comfort zone and those things that comprise it more—then ask God to stir your spirit that you will not just worship God in Spirit but in Spirit and in Truth.

Perhaps we understand the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak too well. Perhaps it pervades our worship.

My prayer is that we are people who know a peace that goes beyond our human comprehension and a people who are a little uncomfortable with how we live.

My hope is that we are a people who can sing Blessed Assurance and Change My Heart, O God without any internal conflict.

My challenge is that we worship our God fully in Spirit and live out that worship in the Truth.

My encouragement comes in a song, one that we know so well.

We are one in the Spirit; we are one in the Lord.

We walk with each other.

We work with each other.

We praise Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

People know we follow Jesus by our love.

This is our reasonable act of worship.

If we can live what we sing then we just might find our worship to be very much in Spirit and Truth.

If you will take on the challenge I have offered and take this song with you, you will have a week in which you will be compelled to worship God in Spirit and in Truth.

We will know whom we worship and we will worship him in Spirit and in Truth.

God’s Spirit will be the true life force in us. The weak flesh will not rule.

There will be no dissonance between the Spirit within us and the Truth that we live.

We will worship our loving God in Spirit and in Truth.


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