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Place vs. Space

In the fourth chapter of the Gospel according to John, Jesus has an intriguing and very casual conversation with a woman. This was no ordinary woman. She was apparently pretty messed up. Jesus, very lovingly, engages her in a conversation that ultimately led her to proclaim His praises to the people who knew her reputation. Jesus never seemed embarrassed or offended by this woman’s presence. He did not approach her with an arrogant religious attitude. His mercy and grace are once again on full display.
Many things could be pointed out and discussed in this conversation, but I want to focus in one one particular question the woman asked, and Jesus’ response to that question.

“Sir,” the woman said, “you must be a prophet. So tell me, why is it that you Jews insist that Jerusalem is the only place of worship, while we Samaritans claim it is here at Mount Gerizim, where our ancestors worshiped?”

(John 4:19-20, NLT)

Jesus’ answer was quite scandalous, especially for a Jew. All good Jews understood that God was to be worshiped in Jerusalem at the Holy Temple. It was there that sacrifices were offered, prayers were uttered, and sins were forgiven. It was this place that money was given in the treasury boxes. It was this place that pilgrimages from afar found their culmination. This was the place where God met His people.

But that is not what Jesus says. Maybe He missed the facts in Hebrew Sunday School. Maybe He was just trying to be nice and not offend this nice young lady. Maybe He just wanted to be inclusive of other religious faiths. Maybe the hot sun was causing Him to hallucinate. Or, perhaps, the statement Jesus was about to make was an explosion of revelation that would ultimately change the trajectory of how and when every human being on earth could approach a Holy and Just God.

Jesus replied, “Believe me, dear woman, the time is coming when it will no longer matter whether you worship the Father on this mountain or in Jerusalem. You Samaritans know very little about the one you worship, while we Jews know all about him, for salvation comes through the Jews. But the time is coming – indeed it’s here now – when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. The Father is looking for those who will worship him that way. For God is Spirit, so those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth.

(John 4:21-24, NLT)

Obviously Jesus had no idea of what would come some 250 to 300 years later. He must not have known that good Christians would start building structures to contain God. He must not have known of their plans, programs, budgets, rules, and organizational charts that would confine God to a place.

What does Jesus think about what we have done with His freedom? Have we made the same mistake this woman and millions of others made? Have we, at least in principle, shut God inside our sanctuaries and programs? Have we hoarded God to ourselves, and forgotten those who don’t know anything about Him? Have we forgotten that the authority of Jesus and His Kingdom don’t belong to Christianity, but instead to Jesus alone?

I know that God has never been shut up inside an earthly box, but it seems that we have tried desperately to do so. However, I think He’s bustin’ out. I think He is scaling the walls and digging tunnels. I think in some instances He’s blowing the doors right off the hinges. God is tired of our places and is looking for spaces to inhabit with His power. These are spaces of conversation, dialog, questions, and journeys in process. These spaces are not bound by legalistic rules derived from the fear of those who don’t understand the freedom Jesus Christ offers. These are spaces unwelcomed by those “Christians” who think they have it all figured out. These are spaces that make the satisfied and complacent wiggle and squirm with intense discomfort.

Do you know of such a space? How can you be used of God to create such a space? What would do if you got there?


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