August 21, 2015

We All Hunger For The Fellowship of the Holy Spirit (Proper 21)

For the past three weeks churches using the Common Lectionary have been studying the same passage in John’s Gospel (6.25-69) which is about Jesus as the “bread of life” that feeds our eternal spiritual life. Jesus is using the historical experience of the Hebrews in depending on God to keep them physically alive with mana; to explain how Christians must depend on Jesus gto keep them spiritually alive both in this life and after physical death. The key is our dependence on the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and our fellowship with the Holy Spirit. This is the opposite from the (false) hope many people in our time have in “self-salvation” through good works or good moral behaviour. Self-salvation is the greatest lie of our time.

 For over twenty years I have been working with generally declining Anglican churches to help them find the key to stopping the decline, thrive, grow and be more spiritually nourishing. Last week I had an epiphany moment after a particularly nourishing and uplifting experience WITH the tiny (14 people) congregation in Sundre, Alberta. I asked myself why was this experience so spiritually nourishing? What is so different about this congregation?

 1. These people regularly depend on the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ
This goes beyond preaching and knowing about grace. We live on a dangerous and evil infested planet. This is why the Apostle Paul urges us to pray on the spiritual armour of God daily – and I do. These people are different because they have all gone on a three-day Cursillo Weekend and many continue to attend a midweek “Grouping fellowship” with others every two weeks to be accountable for their piety (prayer life), Christian study and apostolic actions.

  • Accountability is critical in examining our lives on a regular basis to ensure we face our failures, seek grace and move on
  • They share about how their daily prayer life is going
  • They support each other in times of crisis or decision making
  • They share what they are doing to tell others about Jesus and overcome personal obstacles to grace
  • They experience the love and fellowship of deep friendships
2. These people have personal experience of the love of God
The thing they have in common is a three-day experience of being bathed in love and 24 hour a day prayer. When they were on their Cursillo (Spanish for short course) Weekend, for 24 hours a day their names were being lifted up by a team on-site and others off-site all around the world. Most people never experience this intense love and have a hard time believing God could love them.

  • Love of God energizes and opens us up to healing
  • Cursillo experience includes a Healing Service
  • I am shocked that many churches do not have a Healing Ministry – or people are uncomfortable with asking for prayer
  • Jesus ministry was based on dramatic healing experiences illustrating and authenticating His teaching – we just teach
  • Experience draws us deeper into a personal love of God
3. These people regularly experience and value the “fellowship of the Holy Spirit”
The contrast with the week before when I Celebrated and preached for another same-size congregation was dramatic - no real praise music and no coffee fellowship. We left feeling quite empty. In contrast, the following week at Sundre we had wonderful praise music that lifted our souls – followed by a pot-luck lunch and a time of real fellowship. These people enjoy each others’ company and just love to be together and talk about what God is doing. The take away was the discovery or re-discovery of what many churches need to do to develop a nourishing, spiritual life-giving fellowship of the Holy Spirit:

  • Ensure all worship services include spiritually uplifting praise songs
  • Encourage everyone to have some kind of deep personal retreat experience such as Alpha or Cursillo – our Bishop is extremely supportive of Cursillo as spiritual formation
  • Encourage everyone to regularly attend church, have coffee fellowship and also some form of mid-week fellowship – Choir, Bible Study, Cursillo Grouping
May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you, always!

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