Central Presbyterian Church

Massillon, Ohio

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"Where Must We Worship"

John 4:19b-24

Psalm 29

I recently came across an article which listed some of the newer words which have become a

part of our lexicon, along with older words which have changed meaning.  An example of the lat-

ter is the word “guy.”  I remember when guy meant, well, guy; a person of the male gender.  The

New Oxford Dictionary of the English Language has now revised that to mean any person, male or

female.  So our waitress – oops, I mean server – asks my wife and I, “What can I get you guys?” 

Tablet, once upon a time, was defined as a bunch of lined pages of blank paper bound at the top

that people would write on, then tear off.  Now, tablet is more often defined as a hand-held device

one can use for reading, viewing, and researching; a mini-computer of sorts.  Remember when the

word bad used to mean, well, bad?  When Michael Jackson sang “I’m bad, I’m bad,” it meant and

now means “good,” or “hip,” or “cool.”  For that matter, cool used to mean “chilly.”  Now it means

“bad,” or is that “good?”  I’m confused.

      Then there are those new words, like “bling” which means flashy and sparkly.  Frankenfood

means stuff we eat that’s been genetically-modified.  Unfriend means removing someone’s name

from our list of Facebook contacts.  Bromance means a non-sexual closeness between two guys…….

I mean between two males.  At a recent wedding I officiated, we had groomsmen, bridesmaids, and

a “brosmaid,” which is a brother of the bride who stands with the bridesmaids.  I don’t know if that

one’s made it into the New Oxford Dictionary yet.  There’s another new word you may have heard:

repurpose -- which means to modify the use of an object or a place from one purpose to another. 

There is, for example, a closed Roman Catholic Church in the Pittsburgh area which has been

repurposed.  The ornate sanctuary is now the location of The Church Brew House; an upscale

restaurant, pub, and microbrewery.  You may know of a movie theater in Waynesburg – not far

from here – which was repurposed years ago into an Italian Restaurant called “Cibos.”  They have

the biggest meatballs I’ve ever eaten.  And here we sit this morning in a movie theater which, for

the next ten weeks or so, is repurposed to be the worship venue for Central Presbyterian Church. 

      While I appreciate the use of this space, I, myself, don’t feel real comfortable meeting here. 

The stage is too big.  I miss the organ.  There are far too many seats for our worshiping congrega-

tion.  And I’m imagining that I’m smelling popcorn.  Yet, at the same time, what difference does it

make where people come together to offer worship to Almighty God?  For God is not, CAN not, be

contained in any earthly location or in any worldly structure.  We can worship God virtually any-

where, anytime, be it in a local theater, or in an ornate church sanctuary, or at home, or in our car,

or in a field or forest, or even in a brew house. 

      There’s a story in John’s Gospel many of us are familiar with.  As the story goes, Jesus was on

His way from Judea to Galilee.  The route took Jesus and His disciples through Samaria, which was

enemy territory for Jews.  They stopped in a city called “Sychar” to rest their bones and get a little

refreshment.  Jesus was left alone for a spell as His disciples presumably went into town for food

or supplies.  He sat by a well – specifically known as “Jacob’s well” -- where He encountered a

woman of Samaria who had come to draw water. After a surprising, nay shocking, conversation

between Jesus and this woman [shocking because a Jewish man would never associate with a

Samaritan woman], the woman says this:

(Read John 4:19b-24)

      I believe her error in thinking about worship is an error many of us share.  And that error is that

God must be worshiped in the right place, as well as at the right time and in the right manner.  For

the woman – and for every Samaritan -- that right place was what she referred to as  “this moun

tain.”  That mountain was Mount Gerizim, long-considered by the Samaritans to be a sacred space

overriding the sacredness of the temple mount in Jerusalem, which the Jews considered the place

where God was most present.  In fact, the Samaritans maintain that the pinnacle of Mount Gerizim

is the place where Abraham was going to sacrifice his son Isaac. 

      At any rate, the woman observed that while she and her people had long considered Mount

Gerizim to be the proper place to offer worship to God, Jesus’ people esteemed Jerusalem as “the

place where people must worship.”  While this was a present reality, Jesus looked beyond to a time

when neither Mount Gerizim nor the temple mount in Jerusalem would be the right place to wor-

ship.  In fact, Jesus made it clear that at the end of the day, worship was not about any specific

physical location.  Instead, Jesus clarified that “….the hour is coming, and is now here, when the

true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth.” 

      So you see, as far as Jesus was concerned, genuine worship had nothing to do with place, and

by extension, with time, or with style.  True worship is ultimately of the heart; a heart seeking

God’s Spirit; a heart seeking God’s truth.  And God’s Spirit and God’s truth can be found virtually

anywhere, anytime, in whatever style or manner.  This is what God the Father desires.  And why? 

Jesus adds, “God is spirit and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”  In saying

this, not only was Jesus stating a fact about the foundation of true worship, He was also breaking

down the walls of division and hostility between two groups which bitterly disagreed on right

places, right times, and right styles.  There is – according to Jesus -- only one way; place, time, or

style notwithstanding.  God desires worship to be in the hearts and spirits of God’s people.  It is

significant that after this conversation, the woman rushed back to tell her fellow villagers that she

believed she’d encountered the one they had all been waiting for, Samaritans and Jews alike.  She

asked, “He cannot be the Messiah, can he?”

      We Christians tend to be so tribal and so territorial, much like the ancient Jews and Samaritans.

We have our ornate worship spaces.  We have our scheduled and proper times of gathering.  We

have our styles and manners of offering worship; the liturgies; the prayers; the music; the order of

these things.  And fundamentally, there’s nothing wrong with any of this.  It reflects diversity.  The

problem is when these things become sacred; when we begin to worship our spaces; our schedules;

our styles, and manners, and orders of worship. We run the risk of making our very worship a subtle

albeit potent form of idolatry.  Beyond that, we risk deepening divisions with other believers who

don’t happen to share our spaces, times, and styles.  All the while, we are claiming to worship the

one same God.  Jesus has the same word for us as He had for the Samaritan woman and her peeps: 

“God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”  That is the great

common denominator which keeps in proper perspective lesser matters of space, time and style. 

      So too is there a message for me, and maybe for others of us.  So what if the stage is too big.  So

what if we have to do without an organ. So what if there are more seats than we can fill.  So what if

we imagine the smell of popcorn.  In this place – repurposed as it is for the next several Sundays; at

this time; in this manner – our worship is about where our spiritual hearts are; not where our phy-

sical bodies are.  Beyond that, the message is also that we worship One; Almighty God through our

Lord Jesus Christ.  While our places, times and styles may be different from other Christian folk,

these should never be points of division and hostility.  Rather, these points should be occasions to

respect our diversity while concurrently celebrating our oneness in Christ.  Then, and only then, are

we in the right posture to offer genuine worship; worshiping the Father “in spirit and truth.” Amen.

Central Presbyterian Church

47 Second Street NE
Massillon, Ohio 44646

Telephone: 330-832-7455
Fax: 330-832-7102