Imagine that you are living in the first century, before the advent of Jesus Christ. You are a Jew, or a Samaritan, and you have the Old Testament and you believe it is the oracle of God. And so you understand that God has promised a Messiah, as even the Samaritan woman at the well understood. This Messiah was supposed to be the royal Son of David who would bring victory and prosperity to the nation of Israel and rule from Jerusalem. As such, the Messiah was to be a man.
As a first-century Old Covenant believer, you would also understand that God had revealed Himself to Israel as I AM at the time of Moses. I AM is no one less than YHWH, G-d Himself. He is the Creator in the book of Genesis and the Deliverer in the book of Exodus. As such, of course, I AM was God, and not a man at all.
And so you would have had these two parallel truths before you, one for each eye, if you will.
But what if the Messiah and I AM were brought together, what truth might emerge? More miraculously, what if the Messiah turned out to be I AM? What if God became man?!
This is exactly the truth that Jesus teaches the Samaritan woman and the entire ancient world – and it’s an astonishing, incredible truth, for it is nothing less than The Truth Himself that stood before this woman. These 2 apparently different titles, concepts, and people are shown to be one and the same in the person of Jesus Christ.
As Christians, we often take the deepest mysteries of the faith as truths we hold to be self-evident. But they aren’t self-evident, or all men would have discovered them long ago. And even the Jews couldn’t penetrate these mysteries until Christ came.
But He did come, and as He speaks with the woman at the well, the Messiah and I AM stand before this woman, each proclaiming to be one and the same person.
This person at the well, a woman, a Samaritan, and a sinner, knows that when the Messiah comes he will tell us all things. And so He does. He tells her, not necessarily in the manner we might wish, that He is both the Messiah and I AM.
It’s easy to hear His claim to be the Messiah: after the woman says that when the Messiah comes he will tell us all things, Jesus says, “I who speak to you am he.” In other words, I am the Messiah.
But if we look more closely at what Jesus actually says, remembering that John’s Gospel is in koine Greek, we hear Him say in response to the woman’s statement about the Messiah: “I AM.”
How ironic (and how like God) that while Jesus practically shouts “I am the Messiah,” He seems to whisper “I AM.”
Here, in one sentence, Jesus brings Messiah and I AM together into focus. The two Old Covenant persons are revealed in the New Covenant to be one and the same.
More than this, He reveals that the God Who Is One is also the God Who Is Three. For the Father is not only the God who sent the Messiah, the Father is the God who is the Messiah. And the Spirit who reveals the truth doesn’t just reveal the truth: He is The Truth, for the Spirit is not a lower case “spirit” but the Holy Spirit, who is also one with the Messiah-Son and one with the Father. God is a spirit, but He is also now man.
Quite a theological education for a woman who only thought she had come to the well for a drink of water!
But here we are, and as I intimately share my reflections on this passage with you, I don’t know about you but it all seems a little abstract to me. Reading the Bible is a continuous feast in which we never eat the same thing twice. When I was a child, I needed to hear the most elementary lessons about the Messiah and I AM, about the Incarnation and the Trinity.
But you may have noticed that Give Us This Day is not written primarily for the unbeliever or new believer: I assume you already understand certain things. And so I often ask the question, “What do I and my readers need to eat today from God and His Word so we may be filled with wonder and awe, and so that we may delight again in the Lord by tasting and seeing that He is good?”
And so here is another truth for us today, from He Who Is The Truth. Worshiping God in spirit and truth is not some vague, abstract, invisible worship: it is an incarnated worship that involves both body and spirit, both Spirit (as in Holy Spirit) and Truth (as in the incarnated Son.) Understanding this helps me to understand not only the phrase “to worship in spirit and in truth,” but also worship in general, and how I might be fed by this passage today.
And so today, the Incarnation (or, more properly, the Incarnated One) teaches us, that worshiping in Spirit is not some mystical, invisible thing: it means worshiping by, in, via, the Holy Spirit who comes to use incarnated in the things of this world. God has never worked in man through a purely “spiritual” way, if by “spiritual” we mean disembodied. For the One who created us body, mind, and soul created us that way before the Fall. He has always come to man through men: Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, and especially Jesus.
When God revealed Himself to the people of Israel at Mount Sinai, He did not send waves of thought and feeling into the hearts of each individual believer so that they felt the Spirit and each man did what was right in his own body.
No, He had Moses come up as His ordained leader, and He made the mountain shake at His presence, He spoke as the voice of thunder, and His glory made Moses’ face too bright to look at.
I’m reminded of the time in the Old Covenant when the glory of God filled the Temple and all of the priests of God had to flee. Now God could have sent His Spirit into each trembling heart and had them flee, but instead He manifested Himself to them in a public, visible, tangible way.
When David rejoiced before the Lord, he could have kept quiescent about it. But he didn’t. Instead, he danced with all his might before the Lord, and to dance requires one to move the body in connection with the heart and with music. Now I’m not saying that when the Lord moves me to dance in the privacy of my own home when I hear certain kinds of music, whether it’s Yma Sumac, the Blues Magoos, or almost anything by Vivaldi, that I should inflict that on you all. But I am saying that our worship of God is meant to be a whole burnt offering in which we offer all that we have and are. And this means not only the spirit but also the heart and not only the heart but also the head and hands.
We are to use every one of our senses, we are to use music and words and singing and praying and silence (of which some Christians seem to be afraid). We worship in an earthly sanctuary, and we’d better realize that it’s intimately connected with the heavenly Body of Christ which is the true Temple.
This Body, this place of worship, this worship in Truth, the Truth, should seep, ooze, trickle, spill, run, flood, and explode into every pore of our lives. It should not, cannot, will not, be contained within our spatial or temporal or personal geographies but inhabits our every dimension and faculty.
It amazes me that the Father not only commands and demands that men worship Him: He’s seeking those who are willing to humbly and exuberantly surrender themselves to Him.
We all surrender ourselves to the joy that we experience in moments of what is called “flow.” But God is to be our Flow, the Other, the Ether, into and out of which our lives flow. He is to be the current that energizes us and which inhabits and vitalizes us. Sometimes when I write, I flow. When some of you make music or paint or plant vegetables and herbs or teach or read you experience the joy of flow, a joy so deep that you probably don’t even realize you were in a state of joy until something shocks you out of it.
If you love to flow (and who doesn’t), but flow to the One from whom all blessings flow, then God is looking for you and has been for some time.
There are many ways to worship. But if you are not worshiping the Father, in the Spirit, and in the Truth, then you need to reconsider who and how you’re worshiping.
Seek the One who is seeking you. Worship Him with all your might. Dance before Him, however you best dance, with all your might. Praise Him in His congregation, which is the Body of Christ.
The hour is coming and now is when the true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and in Truth.
Prayer: Father, I ask that I may be transformed by the renewal of my mind (Romans 12:2), renewed in knowledge after Your image (Colossians 3:10), and that I might have the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16); that I may take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5); that You may open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in Your Law (Psalm 119:18) and that as I partake of Your Body and Blood my eyes may be opened to recognize You (Luke 24:30-31); that I may smell the aroma of Christ on others (2 Corinthians 2:15); that You would open my lips that my tongue may show forth Thy praise (Psalm 51:15) and that the words of my mouth would be acceptable to You (Psalm 19:14); that my bones may be strong (Isaiah 58:11) and that You may lift my drooping hands and strengthen my weak knees (Hebrews 12:12) so that I might dance before You with all my heart (2 Samuel 6:14); that I might labor diligently in Your kingdom with my own hands (1 Corinthians 4:12), lift up my hands in prayer (1 Timothy 2:8), and handle the Word of Life (1 John 1:1); and that, falling down at Your feet and having my feet washed by You, Your Word would be a lamp unto my feet (Psalm 119:105) and my feet may be ready to spread the good news of Your Son (Ephesians 6:15). Amen.
Point for Meditation:
In what ways might you worship God better with your ears? your eyes? your heart? your mind? your hands? your feet? your voice?
Resolution: I resolve to find one way to worship God with my body today that I don’t normally exercise and to worship Him through that means with all my might.
© 2016 Fr. Charles Erlandson