• Steven Marsh

Peace–To Worship God in Spirit and in Truth: a Reflection on Psalm 95

What do you expect today from being in this worship service…in God’s presence? In what state of mind did you enter the particular worship space?

Most likely, we come with a mixed bag of feelings and confidences to this worship service. That’s truthful and authentic. And we do not want to pretend. Without God, we would never have the opportunity to get it right or wrong.[1] Although the people of God stumbled at Meribah and Massah, the nugget gleaned from Exodus 17 is that God was with the people. Their question, like ours, was “Is the Lord among us or not?”[2] And we know, whether our behavior is good or bad; circumstances a blessing or curse, there is God in our midst. According to Bryan Stevenson the author of Just Mercy,

Walter grew up understanding how forbidden it was for a black man to be intimate with a white woman, but by the 1980’s he had allowed himself to imagine that such matters might be changing…Walter didn’t initially think much of the flirtations of Karen Kelly, a young white woman he’d met at the Waffle House where he ate breakfast…her scandalous involvement with a black man outraged Karen’s husband…He initiated legal proceedings to gain custody of their children…and became intent on publicly disgracing his wife by exposing her infidelity and revealing her relationship with a black man. [3]

Centuries earlier, circumstances just as scandalous, found a Samaritan woman and Jesus talking. Jesus went to a place that Jews were forbidden to go and spoke to a woman, a Samaritan woman, and an adulterer at that. Again, Stevenson writes, “Fears of interracial sex and marriage have deep roots in the United States.”[4] And those fears have their roots in the very beginning of humanity. And the Savior walked right into the messiness…no fear…just love…and reframed truth and authenticity. The Samaritan woman came to the well. She was just going about her daily business drawing water. It was noon. Noon was not the normal time to fetch the daily need of water. And there was Jesus, just sitting at the well. Jesus was on her turf. And she most likely had some attitude toward Jesus’ questions. And before the Samaritan woman knew it, Jesus invited her out of safe and not quite truthful answers into risky and authentic ones. For Jesus said to her,

Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water That I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them (the thirsty) a spring of water gushing up to eternal life. The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.”[5]

Oh, the Samaritan woman didn’t get it until Jesus revealed that she had been married five times and the current man she was with was not her husband. Jesus was in her space to give her peace; to know that she was loved regardless. The Samaritan woman received peace that day. And so can we.

Psalm 95 is a summons to praise God and a request to listen to God.[6] J. Clinton McCann Jr., the Evangelical Professor of Biblical Interpretation at Eden Theological Seminary, writes, “God’s claim on the entire cosmos is evident…”[7] God is sovereign. God claims us as God’s own. Nothing happens by accident. Everything has purpose. God has made a claim on all of life and that deserves our praise and a posture of listening. Thus, the importance of worship. The text in Psalm 95 makes two points for our consideration. First, we are to trust God. Because God brought us into existence through election and covenant, we can believe, have faith, and trust that God is a worthy shepherd. God will not lead us astray. And second, the past warns us about the present and future. We must learn from the past. When we test God, we discover the self-centeredness of our living. And with such a discovery, we can seize “…devotion of life, trust, and obedience to God and to God alone.”[8] Being born again, that is experiencing conversion, is never safe. C.S. Lewis in The Silver Chair describes an encounter between Jill and Aslan, who represents Jesus. Lewis writes,

“If I run away, it’ll be after me in a moment,” thought Jill. “And if I go on, I shall run straight into its mouth.” Anyway, she couldn’t have moved if she had tried, and she couldn’t take her eyes off it…the thirst became so bad that she almost felt she would not mind being eaten by the Lion if only she could be sure of getting a mouthful of water first… “Are you not thirsty?” said the Lion. “I’m dying of thirst,” said Jill.” “Then drink,” said the Lion. “May I..could I…would you mind going away while I do?” said Jill. The Lion answered this only by a look and a very low growl…The delicious rippling noise of the stream was driving her nearly frantic. “Will you promise not to do anything to me, if I do come?” said Jill. “I make no promise,” said the Lion. Jill was so thirsty now that, without noticing it, she had come a step nearer. “Do you eat girls?” she said. “I have swallowed up girls and boys, women and men, kings and emperors, cities and realms,” said the Lion. It didn’t say this as if it were boasting, nor as if it were sorry, nor as if it were angry. It just said it. “I daren’t come and drink,” said Jill. “Then you will die of thirst,” said the Lion. “Oh dear!” said Jill, coming another step nearer. “I suppose I must go and look for another stream then.” “There is no other stream,” said the Lion. It never occurred to Jill to disbelieve the Lion…no one who had seen his stern face could do that…and her mind suddenly made itself up. It was the worst thing she had ever had to do, but she went straight to the stream, knelt down, and began scooping up water in her hand. It was the coldest, most refreshing water she had ever tasted. You didn’t need to drink much of it, for it quenched your thirst at once.[9]

To worship God in spirit and in truth means to be honest and authentic before God. Come to worship anticipating comfort, guidance, inspiration, relief from your pain, and confidence that you belong to God. Come to worship expecting to be “saved” that is to be filled with joy, thanksgiving, and praise. All we need to do is come as we are. Being honest and authentic in worship brings peace. The Samaritan woman was fetching water and received living water…her salvation from the One who knew her the best and loved her the most. She moved from fear to freedom; unloved to loved. The Samaritan woman worshipped God in spirit and truth that is honestly and authentically and received peace. And so can we.

[1]This idea was gleaned from David M. Burns in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, Feasting on the Word, Year A, Volume 2 (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 81.

[2]Exodus 17:7

[3]Bryan Stevenson, Just Mercy (New York City, New York: Spiegel & Grau, 2014), 25-26.

[4]Ibid., 27.

[5]John 4:13-15

[6]Concepts gleaned from James Luther Mays, Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching: Psalms (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox press, 2011), 305-307.

[7]J. Clinton McCann Jr. in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, Feasting on the Word, Year A, Volume 2, 85.

[8]James Luther Mays, Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching: Psalms, 307.

[9]C.S. Lewis, The Silver Chair (New York City, New York: HarperCollins, 1981), 19-21.

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