“Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.”
I wouldn’t have expected Jesus to say that! I thought he would have said “Either!”, not “Neither!”
The woman at the well had asked him where the better place to worship God was. “Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshipped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.” (John 4:19-20)
“Should I attend the worship services on the sacred mountain in Samaria? Or do you think it is better to worship at the temple down in Jerusalem?”
This remains a common question today. “Where is the better place for worship: your church or mine?” Jesus replies in verse 21. “Neither!” “Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.” (John 4:21)
Neither? Surely Jesus means “Either!”
Surely he means that true worship must and can be offered anywhere rather than defined or confined to any particular location, whether at a sanctuary on the mountain top, or the church in the city centres. In other words, any location or either location is fine.
But why then does Jesus say “Neither” rather than “Either”?
Perhaps by saying “Neither”, he invites us to think more carefully about the way “worship services” are conducted at our special or sacred Sunday locations. Our beautiful church sanctuaries are particularly conducive locations for worship. But if people experience worship in our sanctuaries in a way that makes them feel that they cannot worship God as beautifully or as meaningfully until they return the following Sunday, then we are unwittingly promoting a type of worship that is closely linked to our holy Sunday sanctuaries. And that is precisely the kind of worship that Jesus says we should not be overly concerned about.
Instead, the kind of worship that the Father really desires is the kind of worship that can and should be offered anywhere.
So if we are asking the question: “How can our Sunday services be more conducive or attractive for worship?”, then perhaps we are asking the wrong question. Our question should be: How can our Sunday services help us worship God when we are neither in a sanctuary nor at a sacred mountain location?
Sunday services should help people worship the Father, not only on Sundays, but every day; not only in sanctuaries, but everywhere, in spirit and truth.
Picture by barsik/Bigstock.com
The Rev Dr Gordon Wong was elected President of Trinity Annual Conference (TRAC) in 2012 for the quadrennium. At our request, he has kindly summarised his sermon at last year’s Closing and Ordination Service of TRAC’s 39th Session, for his Message this month.