Accessible Worship - Encountering Jesus
“Leaving her water jar behind…” John 4:14
She was a broken woman in search for something to quench that unrelenting thirst. Like a person who is always thirsty, there just isn’t enough to fully satisfy or to last much more than a day. Coming during the heat of the day, when others might not ridicule her, she made her way to a well to get what she needed to quench her thirst. Except that on this occasion she would meet a man, one she shouldn’t talk to and one who really shouldn’t talk with her. All he asked her for was a drink. At first glance this has the feel of a bar story and yet this is an encounter that would change this woman’s life forever. Married 5 times and living with a man, she had come in shame to get water during the heat of the day out from under the scorn that comes from a scarlet letter that this woman carried. The man talked about a “living water”, one that would satisfy her thirst and unlike the empty jar she carried, this water would never run dry and never run out. She was hooked. Awareness had driven a discontent within her and she wanted to know more. The man’s reply? “Go call your husband”.
It’s such a strange request. Jesus talking to a Samaritan woman who had a tabloid reputation as a woman who couldn’t keep a man or perhaps find the right one. She was “that girl” and Jesus was talking to her. Note the water jar that she comes to fill up and Jesus seizes on this example. Water could quench her thirst but only for a day. Fill up that empty jar and in a short time it will be empty and need to be filled again. He was promising an end to thirst. This empty water jar is a big deal. What are the wells that you and I run off to in order to quench a momentary thirst, both sinful and clean, yet temporary. A man or woman’s love, fame, power, sex, the right job, a family, money, need of compliments etc… What is THAT thing for us? Make it personal… what is it for you? Jesus put his finger right on that thing for her when he said “Go call your husband”. As you read John chapter 4, you will come across an amazing story of a woman who unknowingly runs into Jesus. He talks about living water. She’s wanting what he has to offer, but doesn’t yet understand. He puts his finger right on a sin problem that is leaving her empty. She confesses (sort of) and Jesus simply acknowledges her lack of a husband. She tries to change the subject by asking a “religious” question (where should we worship). Jesus gives her a seminary answer. She clues in that this guy is a prophet and says that she knows a Messiah is coming and will explain everything to them. And THEN? He reveals that he is in fact that Messiah – Jesus.
“Then leaving her water jar behind” I have always been struck by why this historic detail was important to note. Was it simply because she was excited or overwhelmed about this encounter that she forgot about it? It seems to be a pretty trivial detail to be left in and yet we know that every word of God is useful (2 Timothy 3:16-17). I see this image of her coming with an empty water jar looking to fill it with what can't satisfy. Meeting Jesus and then leaving that water jar that can't satisfy, behind. Yes it's historic, but it is also a picture of what happens when Jesus becomes the water of true life and it is what Jesus is patiently working usu through - that we would leave behind the empty unfulfilling sinful life. After leaving the water jar behind the woman runs to her town exclaiming “Come see a man who told me everything I ever did, could he be the Christ?” And the bible says people put their faith in Jesus to saving faith because of this simple testimony. Furthermore the people come out to see Jesus for themselves and Jesus stays two more days after which the people exclaim – now we don’t only believe because of your testimony, but because we have heard it for ourselves. The woman encounters Jesus and she can’t help but tell people and in turn, people believe and come to faith and then grow in faith as they dig in for themselves.
Why is this important to Accessible Worship? I share this story because it is what all professional ministry/Christian people are hoping for in our worship settings. That people would see so clearly the emptiness of sinful choices and that they would see so clearly the grace and mercy of Jesus whose forgiveness brings new and eternal life. That our proclamation and communication of this law and Gospel in worship would have the same effect that it had on this woman. That people would encounter Jesus in such a way as to respond with a message to the world “Come see a man! Could he be the Christ?” I certainly hope that in our music, in our art, in our stories and scriptures, in our hugs before and after church and in the word and sacraments, people would encounter Jesus and not just shrug it off as if they need to get their Jesus fix for the week, but that the encounter with their Savior would be so powerful as to kindle that same flame as it did in the woman at the well. To leave the empty jar, our empty choices and cracings behind and go tell the world “Come and see!”
Praising Jesus and proclaiming Christ is what our worship is all about and one of the hopes we have is that through our worship, people may hear and know the joy and peace of the full Gospel message. This is the essence of what I mean by Accessible Worship, that through our content and the various languages or styles of worship, people may hear and know the peace and joy of this Gospel of Jesus. If it is one of the hopes we have, then we bear some responsibility to do everything we can to communicate that Gospel message so clearly that the people hearing it have access to the peace and joy that comes when we move from dead in sin, to alive in Christ. Yes, it is only the Holy Spirit who works faith through the hearing of the word and God gave us the opportunity to be one of the agents that his faithfulness would be made known. Doing our best to understand and to grow in how we communicate is a key part of this idea - "Accessible Worship"!