We No Longer Worship There or There, But…

To continue a few posts related to and surrounding the fast approaching Easter holiday, or otherwise known as, the celebration of the resurrection from the dead, Jesus of Nazareth, I wanted to talk about the nature of worship of the biblical God, according to Jesus, the founder and author of what would become known as Christianity.

Many Christians with whom I come into contact do not have much awareness why they ‘go to’ church (it is nearly ‘automated’). Many go because it is a practice or routine they inherited from previous family generations. Many prefer to maintain attendance traditions even though they no longer live close to their original homes.

For many worshipers, no matter their worship attendance tradition, they likely feel a sense of the importance of a journey down the road or across town to attend a church gathering in a building of some kind. I am aware that a lot simply go to a specific building to worship due to the aesthetic appeal and beauty of the building and/or the music, or even the sermon.

Perhaps, friends, family or acquaintances recommend a church to ‘go to.’

Many churches have long caught on to this preference or, worship ‘demand’ (should I call it, ‘consumer demand?’). So, they have built a fabulous building, worked hard at installing an organ possibly, accompanied by a choir (the better choirs practice very hard to be ‘good’) or developed a worship music band on a stage that could rival any America’s Got Talent music performance). And if they are real savy and hip, they have installed a fabulously gifted preacher or story teller who may deliver inspirational sermons for 30, 40 or 50 minutes.

It literally takes millions of dollars to build, staff and sustain these worship centers. It is usually only about 20 percent of congregants that fund and pay for the costs of them.

Developing awesome and fabulous worship buildings, centers, complexes or even cities is nothing new to humanity.

For many centuries, Europe was an epicenter for Christianity and many beautiful church buildings, but they have been closing down at an increasing rate during the last 100 years. The same phenomenon has been occurring in the US during the last 40 years.

In America, Christian foreigners are reaping benefits from some of these dying churches by working out small lease or nearly free deals to use the facilities to “worship.”

I personally love and admire the various attention to detail on worship buildings that can be seen throughout the entire world.

The ancient city known as, Babylon, was a city built for worshipers of the ancient Babylonian gods. The name Babylon, literally, means “gate of God,” or, “God’s gate.” Perhaps, the major indictment from the biblical God of this city entails, among other things, that humans are presuming who gets to enter or exit the presence of God, particularly in their geopolitical and religious efforts (hence, the pride and arrogance indictment found in Genesis against this city).

I can only imagine all the human inventions on city entrance requirements, expulsion policies, advancement protocol to better placement within the city (and to God!), who gets demoted and “why,” leadership politics (who gets to be the power and the authority here to govern everyone), not to mention which priests have the best access, and most knowledge of the various gods to help ensure the worshipers the greatest return (blessing, or curse especially for your enemies).

Obviously, to reap the benefits of the gods of Babylon and, therefore, the city of their presence, one would have to obey all the protocol and authorities including all the pay or fees that these gods would “require” or at least the king/priests (often times the same people held the dual roles).

From Genesis through Revelation, the Bible speaks antagonistically of this human made city and doorway to the presence of the divine and it portrays Heaven rejoicing at its destruction – which is strange, why would a God reject so many people, an entire city for their acts or lifestyle of worship?

It is not human nature to assume God would reject their worship act or attitude but the Bible is filled with story after story of God taking great offense at “prideful” human assumption about God and their worship practices. 

Nevertheless, finding and creating a “worship space” has been and still is a very important human value.

The health club, or gym, I currently workout at has all these different televisions you can watch while you work out. They are all over the place. They are set mostly to news and day-time talk shows channels. They have one dedicated to music. Usually, it’s a variant of top 40 pop music with a country song or two. This music channel has tailored made commercials or infomercials for the club. Since this channel is the only one that is broadcasted aloud throughout the gym, everyone is going to hear not only the music but the infomercials.

Well, they currently have an infomercial that talks about an older lady who seems “spiritual.” The entire infomercial is set in a nature environment, probably out in New Mexico or Arizona somewhere. The lady talks about how that wide-open area, without hardly another human soul present, with all that beautiful and raw nature, is a prime spot to be at to pray.

It does seem lovely and enticing for anyone wanting to connect to God and get away from the routine and noise of life for a bit.

Yet, whether it’s in a nature preserve area or designated worship location, after it is all said and done, the worshippers journey back home and have to go back to the routine of their daily lives.

For many, and not just Christians, worshiping and connecting with God, or the gods, is a matter of tapping into life, life giving power, strength, strength to face challenges, strength to combat illness, strength to face the “now” or the future. So finding that special place, whether it is “here” or “there” dominates the human understanding of worshiping God.

Perhaps it is just a matter of tapping into a blessing or a burst of knowledge in the midst of life’s mysteries.

It is this very understanding which the biblical God challenges.

In John Chapter 4 in the New Testament, Jesus does something that most Jews, particularly Rabbis, of that time would never do.

To travel northward to Galilee, from Jerusalem/Judea, most would veer out eastwardly. They would not go through Samaria, the more logically direct route. 

In one of his journeys to go from the southern part of Israel, known as Judea, to the northern area of Galilee, Jesus went directly through the area called, Samaria.

Samaritans were “corrupted,” “impure,” “half-breed” Jewish-Gentiles to be avoided by Jews. 

It is just outside an ancient city called Sychar (currently, in the West Bank of Israel) that Jesus encounters a woman at the biblically significant water well known as “Jacob’s Well.”

That well is still there today and now there is a Geek Orthodox church building over it.

But at the time of this story, it was a place for Jews, the covenant people of YHWH, to avoid. They had the glorious temple in Jerusalem anyway – the place of God’s special presence on earth, so as an act of worship, that is what “really” mattered.

Worship was not a matter beyond that special location of the temple in Jerusalem.

John 4 reveals some of the significance of this in his account of Jesus when Jesus encounters a Samaritan woman at Jacob’s Well. In terms of aesthetics, one couldn’t compare the well to the temple. 

It is a very interesting account. This woman is someone who had “burned through” (figuratively speaking) five different husbands and the man she was currently reporting to be with was not her husband. She had gone through many “lovers.” Who knows, maybe she “ignorantly” kept repeating the mistakes of the past, maybe she had a toxic love addiction. Lovers would come and go, all to her detriment, diminshed respect, and credibility in Sychar.

This account incorporates human yearnings of thirst for life, love, inclusion in the face of exclusion, and the true nature of worship that God desires, and then, human, specifically, female empowerment, to lead an entire city to God!

Nothing seen as “offensive” by the people or culture surrounding her would disqualify her of worship and service of the Father God.

According to Jesus, worship is no longer to be held in one “special place” either. Adoration and reverence for this God would be esteemed differently by this God. Here’s what he says to this Samaritan woman with 6 different lovers in her lifetime – consider how this challenges your current understanding of worshiping God:

“The time is coming when we will no longer worship the Father on ‘this’ mountain (the one that is home to “Jacob’s’ well”) or in Jerusalem (the home of the temple of YHWH).

You worship what you do not know, we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now already here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him.

God is spirit and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”

Think about how this is often distorted or ignored, especially by those who claim to be Christian – those that follow Jesus.

Consider how this challenges any religion’s view of worshiping or serving a deity.

What is this different view of worshiping God worth to you? 

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