In Spirit and in Truth

I would have had the assignment this morning to speak in one of the branches in my area, but for the suspension of church meetings. So the branch president asked me to share an email message with the members of the branch. This post is based on that message.

The Woman of Samaria, image from churchofjesuschrist.org

As we enter our third month of having our church meetings suspended due to the pandemic, my thoughts keep coming back to what Jesus says to the woman at the well of Samaria in John 4: “The hour cometh, and now is,” says Jesus, “when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth, for the Father seeketh such to worship him” (John 4:23). 

Confession: I often find church boring, and I don’t think I imagined myself saying that I miss going to church, but here we are: I miss it. But while church meetings serve an important function, church meetings and church buildings are not the church; we are the church, you and I. We are called to be the body of Christ (1 Corinthinans 12:27), to carry out his mission in the world. Our public meetings have been suspended, but that mission has not been suspended. And what is that mission? That mission, as Jesus said, quoting Isaiah, is to ” to preach the gospel to the poor[,]…to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised,” and “to preach the acceptable year of the Lord” (Luke 4:19-20, quoting Isaiah 61:1-2).

It is hard to carry out that mission in the time of a pandemic, because the ways we’re most used to carrying out that mission usually involve personal contact and gathering together, and we can’t responsibly do that right now. But we need to be finding other ways to minister to those around us, both those in the church that we have an assigned responsibility to minister to, and to those both in and out of the church that the Lord will inspire us to minister to. 

I am reminded of Alma and Amulek, who fulfilled that mission by preaching good news to the poor among the Zoramites who were not permitted to worship on church meetings, not because of a pandemic, but because of their poverty, and the pride of the church leaders in that place. Alma taught that it was error to suppose that they could worship God only in their church buildings (Alma 32:10), and went on to explain that they could learn humility and faith from the experience (Alma 32:12-13).

And that takes me back to Jesus and the woman at the well. God doesn’t want us to go to church and give him the empty form of worship that the Zoramites engaged in, he wants us to worship him, and Jesus said, “in spirit and in truth.” What does it mean to worship God in spirit and in truth? I believe that it means to repent and exercise faith in Christ as Alma taught, so that we receive the Holy Ghost, and then follow the promptings of the Holy Ghost to carry out the church’s messianic mission to preach the good news of faith and repentance, lift up the poor, heal the sick, liberate the captive, and set free the oppressed. I believe that if we will ask in faith and humility, God will tell each of us how he would have us carry out our part of that mission now.

Lots of people struggle with feelings that they aren’t worthy to represent Christ. I feel that too. But I know from my own personal experience that Jesus’s promise that he will send the Holy Ghost when we repent and exercise faith in him, is true. I am trying and failing all the time to obey the commandments, but I know that God is merciful and forgives me when I repent. I believe that Jesus has already carried my burdens and I am hopeful because I put my faith in him, not in my own righteousness.

Let’s each do our part to worship God in spirit and in truth by caring for those around us. Not by going through the motions of old worn-out habits of church activity, but by using our creativity and following the inspiration of the Holy Ghost to offer real, meaningful ministering.

Comments

  1. Very thought provoking words. Something we can all embrace. The only thing that is missing, in my opinion (not that it matters really) is the sense of community. I, like you, struggled with going to church when we held meetings in our meeting houses. After I wasn’t allowed to any more, I realized that the sense of community was something I took for granted. Christ and sincere worship of Christ isn’t in a building. It’s in our hearts, as you pointed out. Still I wonder if Christ intended us to gather together for the reason of community and fellowship in that context. I’ll look forward to the day I can partake of the spirit with my fellow church members. I’ll try not to take that privilege for granted ever again.

  2. Michael Austin says:

    Thank you for this, Jared. It is a challenge to do Church without doing Church the way we have always done Church. But there is compassion and grace in changing the way we do things to show our love for each other. It helps to have a really good High Council talk to read while we are staying home.