School of Psychology professor preaches about “something new”
Special guests William K. and Delores S. Brehm, founding sponsors of the Brehm Center for Worship, Theology, and the Arts, were in attendance at All-Seminary Chapel on Wednesday, May 12, where Professor of Psychology Alexis Abernethy delivered a talk entitled “Worship in Spirit and Truth” based on John 4:19-24, Jesus’s conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well.
The subtitle of her sermon could be “Something New,” Abernethy remarked, and proceeded to recount the plot of a film by the same name. Kenya, a single African-American woman, decides to give up her set criteria for a potential mate and instead “let go and let flow.” Soon she is presented with an opportunity to practice her new openness in a relationship with a Caucasian man, in which more of her preconceived notions are painfully revealed. Eventually, Kenya embraces this “something new” and experiences unexpected joy.
Pointing out that we, too, have preconceived notions, whether based in knowledge or in ignorance, Abernethy asked, “What are our non-negotiables?” And further questioned, “If God presented something new to us, would we listen, attend, and be able to follow?” She noted several preconceived notions in the selected text, including racial, gender, and religious barriers.
However, the Samaritan woman was open to finding a new way of worshiping, and realizes in her conversation with Jesus that he has something new to say when he proclaims, “An hour is coming, and now is” when there is a new location for true worship, Abernethy observed, in the position of spirit and truth. “The criteria for worship is no longer found in bloodline, gender, religious heritage, and personal preferences,” she stated. “If you want to worship God, here’s the non-negotiable: you must take a position in spirit and in truth that is fixed.”
Abernethy offers the passage in John 4 as a mirror so that her listeners can reflect on their own levels of openness to the new things God might be saying or leading them into. “What are you not willing to let go of?” she asked. “God may bring it back to you, but on his terms…and that’s scary!” A few minutes were provided for quiet meditation on these questions.
“Let’s be willing to respond to others despite our preconceived notions,” encouraged Abernethy near the end of her talk. “Let’s ask questions of one another that include being honest about ourselves.”