Guest Blogger Tanya Riches on Worship and Social Boundaries

As a member of Hillsong Church Tanya Riches served in the worship team for many years, and was instrumental in the foundation of one of the most successful worship bands in history, Hillsong United. She published a number of well-known songs through Hillsong Music Australia, including ‘Jesus What A Beautiful Name,’ which reached #6 on Australia’s CCLI worship charts. She went on to become lead singer of the band ‘Speaking of Sarah’ performing weekly across Australia for many years - including mainstage at Australia largest Christian music festivals. Having recently pursued theological and musical studies, Tanya is now not only now a respected academic in areas such as Worship, Missiology, and Ethnomusicology, but also one of the world’s premiere academics on the phenomenon of Hillsong Church.

Guest post by Tanya Riches

I was reading John 4 the other day and realized something new about this chapter. I love how God does that, brings us to the Word with new eyes to see. This is considered one of the most important biblical chapters on worship.

Here Jesus finds himself with a group of haters. I guess these were like professional modern-day Internet trolls… they had found out He had more followers than John. And, in the chapter, He ends up by a well, on a piece of land significant in the biblical story, as land Jacob had given Joseph (verse 5). I'm sure Jesus, as God, had understanding of the significance of this place, but in the chapter, He just stopped by it on the way to somewhere else (verse 6). It was a halfway place, used by both Samaritans and Jews.

And here, a random encounter occurred with a woman. This is one of the special moments in the bible, where Jesus turns to a Samaritan woman and asks for a drink.

You see, worship had, until that point, been focused around rules. How you worshiped was detailed, but mainly through animal sacrifice. And the question of where worship took place was answered by tradition - the Jews and Samaritans had different answer, and so the Jews hated the Samaritans, and excluded them from the people of God. Jesus had come to change all that, and show God's arms as radically open wide to all.

So wide in fact, that the Son of God asked for water drawn from the well by the hand of this Samaritan woman. This shocked her (verse 9). Then, after her shock, He says to her that perhaps she should be asking Him for something: living water. Here's where Jesus paints the picture of all her greatest hopes and dreams:

Those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.

It's like the end of the world as she knows it. Ancient everyday life was built around thirst, the need for water - and obtaining water. Water was the most precious of commodities, and it structured women's day. Imagine if you had some water that would quench your thirst forever. This, she thought, couldn't be real. Her conversation reveals a woman of her day and time… How could you get water like that? And if you could get water like that, does that mean you're not human? Are you greater than our ancestor, who with all his greatness still needed water??? Then finally, she caves.

Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.

But here Jesus does something so strange. He turns the conversation… to reveal that it's her spiritual thirst that he is talking about. She's been trying to fulfill it with husbands, and it's not working. And, in a number of sentences he shows that he knows her, truly knows her. She realize he's a prophet, and asks a question that goes right to the heart of her identity. She asks him to adjudicate between the social groups of the Jews and the Samaritans. Jesus refuses to do this, and instead he changes the whole game.

Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.

With this, she gets it! HE IS THE MESSIAH!!

I guess this goes back to my revelation - I thought about all the times that I, like this Samaritan woman actually "got it". And I realized that it is in Jesus' engagement with acompletely marginalized woman that we find the greatest revelation about worship.

But this is true for me as well. Every time I engage people who are forgotten by society, those left-out, abandoned, refused entry, and disliked, I find revelation about who Jesus is, and what worship is all about. And I really believe it will be true for you as well.

So, can I encourage you today to think about who that person is for in your world? Is it a Samaritan woman? Is it an urban indigenous person, like it is for me, growing up in Sydney Australia? Is it a homeless woman? Is it a super wealthy man?

Because, as you go empowered by the Spirit to engage and value that person, the revelation you walk away with is often greater than the things you offer them, and I've come to realize that it is these conversations and interactions that reveal Jesus, the Truth. We might think that we are giving clean water, or mosquito nets, or a hot cup of coffee. But the bible shows us that we don't always see the reality.

And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these, you did it to me." (Matt 25:40)

Worshippers cross social boundaries. They are in pursuit of Jesus. This is worship in Spirit and in Truth. And sometimes, it involves music. Maybe we need to get a deeper understanding of what God is really saying about worship and life before we pick up the guitar or hop on the piano. Because I believe if we truly understand this, we can play music that brings heaven to earth.