Wednesday, June 29, 2011

July 12 to 18, 2011

Weekly Calendar

Monday July 11th, 2011

Tim’s day off

Office is closed

Thursday July 14th, 2011

Jen is in the Office

Sunday 17th, 2011 Pentecost 5

9:00am Holy Communion

10:30am Holy Communion

August Roster

August 7th Morning Worship/ Lay reader/ Pentecost 8

Coffee between services

Greeter/Sidespeople: T. Willacy/B. Cavey

Counter: B. Cavey/B. Rice

Reader: R. Goss

(Readings: Genesis 37: 1-4, 12-28, Psalm 105: 1-6,16-22, Romans 9:1-5)

Intercessor: M. Rys

Lay Reader: B. Popp (Matthew 14:22-33)

Altar Guild (green) MW

Nursery Supervisor: T. Laffin

Kitchen: - 9:45 am: B&M Woytkiw

Music: W. Pyra

August 14th Holy Communion Pentecost 9

Greeter/Sidespeople: A. Shutt/ T. Cromarty

Counter: A. Shutt/ T. Cromarty

Reader: T. Wittkopf

(Readings: Genesis 45: 1-15, Psalm 133, Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32)

Lay Administrants: E. Gerber/ M. Rys

Intercessor: C. Aasen

Lay Reader: D. MacNeill (Matthew 15: 21-28)

Altar Guild: (green) M. Woytkiw/L. Schindel

Prayer Team: K. Hughes/S. Jayakaran

Nursery Supervisor: S. Chesterton

Kitchen: D. Molloy

Music: M. Chesterton

August 21st Holy Communion Pentecost 10

Greeter/Sidespeople: The Aasens

Counter: C. Aasen/D. Sanderson

Reader: S. Watson

(Readings: Exodus 1:8 – 2:10, Psalm 124, Romans 12: 1-8)

Lay Administrants: D. MacNeill/ G. Hughes

Intercessor: T. Chesterton

Lay Reader: E. Gerber (Matthew 16: 13-20)

Altar Guild (green) J. Mill/T. Wittkopf

Prayer Team: L. Sanderson/S. Jayakaran

Nursery: K. Hughes

Kitchen: M. Chesterton

Music: M. Eriksen

August 28th Morning Worship Pentecost 11

Greeter/Sidespeople: The Hughes

Counter: G. Hughes/L. Rice

Reader: S. Doyle

(Readings: Exodus 3: 1-15, Psalm 105: 1-6, 23-26, Romans 12: 9-21)

Intercessor: M. Rys

Lay Reader: D. MacNeill (Matthew 16: 21-28)

Altar Guild (green): M. Woytkiw/MW

Nursery: M. Aasen

Kitchen: K. Goddard

Music: M. Chesterton

July Roster

July 3rd HC Penecost 3

Coffee between services

Greeter/Sidespeople: The Aasens

Counter: C. Aasen/D. Sanderson

Reader: V. Haase

(Readings: Gen 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67, Psalm 45:11-18, Romans7:15-25a)

Lay Administrants L. Thompson/D. MacNeill

Intercessor: L. Thompson

Lay Reader: E. Gerber

Altar Guild (White): M.Lobreau/K. Hughes

Prayer Team: L. Sanderson/M. Chesterton

Nursery Supervisor: S. Chesterton

Kitchen: M. Woytkiw

Music: W. Pyra

July 10th HC Pentecost 4

Greeter/Sidespeople: A. Shutt/T. Willacy

Counter: T. Willacy/ B. Rice

Reader: S. Watson

(Readings: Gen. 25:19-34, Psalm:119:105-112, Romans 8:1-11)

Lay Administrants: C. Aasen/M. Rys

Intercessor: T. Chesterton

Lay Reader: L. Thompson

Altar Guild (White): M. Woytkiw

Prayer Team: M. Rys/ E. Gerber

Nursery Supervisor: M. Aasen

Kitchen M. Chesterton

Music: E. Thompson

July 17th HC Pentecost 5

Greeter/Sidespeople: B. Cavey/T. Cromarty

Counter: B. Cavey/ T. Cromarty

Reader: T. Wittkopf

(Readings: Gen 28:10-19a, Psalm 139:1-11,22-23,Romans: 8: 12-25)

Lay Administrants: E. Gerber/ V. Haase

Intercessor: L. Thompson

Lay Reader: D. MacNeill

Altar Guild (Green) J. Mill/T. Wittkopf

Prayer Team: L. Sanderson/ S. Jayakaran

Nursery: T. Laffin

Kitchen: K. Goddard

Music: M. Chesterton

July 24th MW Pentecost 6 B. Popp/D. MacNeill

Greeter/Sidespeople: The Hughes

Counter: G. Hughes/ V. Haase

Reader: S. Doyle

(Readings: Gen 29: 15-28, Psalm 105: 1-11 or 128, Romans8: 26-39)

Intercessor: D. MacNeill

Lay Reader: B. Popp

Altar Guild (Green) MW

Nursery: K. Hughes

Kitchen: D. Molloy

Music: M. Eriksen

July 31st HC Pentecost 7 (S. Oliver)

Greeter/Sidespeople: A. Shutt/T. Willacy

Counter: A. Shutt/ T. Cromarty

Reader: S. Jayakaran

(Readings: Gen 32:22-31, Psalm 17:1-17, Romans 9:1-5)

Lay Administrants: E. Gerber/ D. MacNeill

Intercessor: M. Rys

Lay Reader: E. Gerber

Altar Guild (Green): M. Lobreau/ P. Major/ A. Shutt

Prayer Team: M. Rys/ S. Jayakaran

Nursery Supervisor: S. Chesterton

Kitchen:B. Cavey

Music: J. Chesterton

July 5 - 11

Weekly Calendar

Jen is on holidays until July 13th, 2011

Erin McDougall will be in July 6th, 2011

Monday July 4th, 2011

Tim’s day off

Office is closed

Sunday 10th, 2011 Pentecost 4

9:00am Holy Communion

10:30am Holy Communion

Friday, June 24, 2011

June 28 - July 4

Weekly Calendar

Jen’s office hours for this week: Tuesday, June 28th &

Wednesday June 29th, 2011, 9:00 am – noon.

Monday June 27th, 2011

Tim’s day off

Office is closed

Tuesday June 28th, 2011

7:00 pm Sunday School Teacher’s Gathering

Thursday June 30th, 2011

7:00 am Men’s and Women’s

Bible Study at Bogani Café.

Friday July 1st, 2011

Canada Day Office Closed

Sunday July 3rd, 2011 Pentecost 3

9:00am Holy Communion

9:45 am Coffee between Services

10:30am Holy Communion

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Sermon for June 19th: Matthew 28:16-20

Inviting others to follow Jesus

I want to start with some short stories that have been around in churchland for years. Forgive me if you’ve already heard them!

The first is the story of the elderly lady who was shaking hands with her minister after church. He had just preached a sermon about evangelism, and she said to him, “I don’t understand what all the fuss is about evangelism; surely everyone in this town who ought to be an Anglican already is!”

The second is not a story so much as a couple of sayings that Anglicans and mainline church people in general like to take refuge in. You know them by heart already; in fact, you’ve probably used them yourself. The first one goes like this: “Some people talk about their faith; I just live it”. The second is, “What’s so important about getting more bums on pews?”

Finally, there’s the cartoon I saw years ago in a church leadership magazine. It showed a simply enormous church with a small group of worshippers down in a holy huddle in front of the preacher, and vast numbers of empty pews all around. The preacher was saying, “The Bible says we should spread the gospel to other people; the bank that owns our mortgage thinks it’s a good idea too!”

So here’s the unpleasant reality that these stories and cartoons point to. Mainline churches are shrinking at a frightening rate, and many are struggling financially and being shut down. In those mainline churches, there are some long time members who can’t understand why people who call themselves Anglicans or Roman Catholics or Lutherans just don’t show up like they used to. These good people would desperately like their churches to grow, but their motives might just be a little suspect: after all, “Will you please fill our pews, join our duty roster and share our deficits?” is hardly a joyful announcement of the message of Jesus, is it? And they would also like this church growth to happen magically, without them ever having to actually talk to their non-Christian friends about Jesus.

Now, contrast this with the confident, outward-looking vision we see at the end of the gospels and the beginning of Acts, where Jesus commissions his disciples to go out and continue his work, doing the Father’s will, sharing the good news that they had experienced, and inviting people who are not yet Christians to turn to Christ and follow him – all with the help of the Holy Spirit’s power. There’s a version of this commission in each of the four gospels and in the book of Acts, but let me remind you this morning of how it’s worded in our reading from Matthew. Jesus says, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (18a-20).

What is the vision of the Church that Jesus is holding up before us here? The vision is actually a very simple one: the Church is a community of disciples who go out to make new disciples under the authority of Jesus.

This is not just an issue of getting more bums on pews. Bigger congregations are not necessarily more desirable to God than smaller congregations. Jesus doesn’t just want us to make more churchgoers – he wants us to make more disciples. People who are just churchgoers go to church on Sundays, for whatever reason, but their lives are not impacted by it. Disciples are apprentices of Jesus: they have put their trust in him, decided to follow him as their master, and are learning each day how to put his teaching and example into practice in their daily lives.

This is important because this is the way God changes the world. The world will not necessarily be changed just by more people showing up in church on Sunday. But if more people live as Jesus taught us – putting God at the centre of their lives, loving God and their neighbours and even their enemies, living simple and generous lives, forgiving seventy times seven, caring for the poor and needy and working for peace and justice – then the world will be changed for sure. And the best way for this to happen is person to person –followers of Jesus talking with their friends and neighbours and coworkers and relatives and so on – and spreading the good news like a good infection.

Actually, it seems as if the first followers of Jesus had already been doing that before Jesus gave them this Great Commission. Many of us are familiar with the stories of Peter, the fisherman who became a great apostle and leader of the early church. But we often forget that Peter would never have become a follower of Jesus if it had not been for his brother Andrew. Andrew met Jesus before Peter did; he spent a day with Jesus and was obviously very impressed with what he saw and heard. John’s Gospel tells us that after he left Jesus, the first thing he did was to go and find his brother Simon Peter; he took him to meet Jesus, and the rest, as they say, is history.

The same chapter of John’s Gospel tells the story of Philip, who became a follower of Jesus and then went and told his friend Nathanael about him.

‘He said, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth”. Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see”’. (John 1:45-46).

So Nathanael went along with Philip, and ended up staying and becoming a disciple of Jesus too.

This story has been repeated over and over again in the history of Christianity. There have been many famous evangelists who have travelled thousands of miles and preached impressive sermons to enormous crowds, but the most successful method by far of making new disciples for Jesus is person to person: the invitation of a friend who says, ‘Come and see’. Some of you in this church today are churchgoers because someone invited you. Some of you have become followers of Jesus as a result of a process that began when someone said to you, ‘Would you like to come to church with me?’ And, like Peter, some people who have responded to this simple invitation have gone on to become influential Christian leaders. Archbishop Michael Peers, who was the leader of our Canadian Anglican Church until a few years ago, often told the story of how his Christian life began when he was a student in Ottawa, when a fellow-student invited him to go to church with him.

And that’s what ‘Back to Church Sunday’ is all about. ‘Back to Church Sunday’ is an initiative that began in one corner of the Church of England less than ten years ago. It is based on a very simple concept: one Christian inviting a friend who is not a churchgoer to come to church with them. There’s no big media campaign and no bells and whistles. None of the advertising is aimed at bringing strangers into church; it’s all aimed at convincing nervous Christians to be brave, step out in faith and make the invitation. In just a few years Back to Church Sunday, on the last Sunday of September each year, has become a regular part of the life of the Church of England, and now it has come to Canada. Our Diocese of Edmonton tried it last year, and we participated here at St. Margaret’s. Our vestry has agreed that we will do it again, and so on Sunday September 25th, we will join with many other churches in our diocese in celebrating ‘Back to Church Sunday’.

As we think about Back to Church Sunday and our part in it, two questions come to my mind: ‘Do you have a faith worth sharing?’ and ‘Do you have a friend worth sharing it with?’ Many of us have dear friends who we love very much but who do not share our Christian faith. Perhaps we’ve seen them going through crises in their lives, and wondered how on earth they manage to get through them without having God as their rock. Perhaps from time to time we’ve had conversations with them about Christian faith. Well, here’s an opportunity for those conversations to move to the next step: invitation. As Philip said to Nathanael, “Come and see!”

But we might get a little nervous about inviting people to ‘come and see’; maybe we’re not altogether sure they’ll like what they see! And so as we prepare for ‘Back to Church Sunday’, we’ll need to think together about whether our church is really as welcoming and accessible as we think it is.

For instance, most churches are really good at making it difficult for strangers to find a place to sit. Most of us sit close to the back, so the back pews fill up first, and visitors who come late have to walk to the front in full view of everyone else. Also, many of us take the aisle seats, so that people who come after us have to climb over us to find a seat. What is that saying to our guests?

And what about the coffee hour: who do we talk to? Do we just talk to our friends, or do we intentionally seek out people we don’t know, so that we can get to know them? Would strangers find our coffee hour welcoming?

So as we go through the summer I’ll be putting little ‘welcome notes’ in the bulletin; things for us to think about so that we can improve the quality of our welcome. They all involve a change in mindset for some of us. We’re used to thinking of ourselves as the guests in this church, but Back to Church Sunday challenges us to think of ourselves as the hosts instead, and to do our best to welcome the guests that Jesus will bring our way on that day.

But how should we go about this? What’s the process by which we decide who we should invite, and then go on to actually make the invitation? Let me suggest this simple process, which you’ll find on the insert in your bulletin today:

First, ask yourself the question, “What do I value about my church that would motivate me to want to invite others to join it?” After all, people are enormously talented about creating new and excruciating forms of misery for themselves; they don’t need our help, and if church is a miserable experience for you, you really shouldn’t try to inflict it on anyone else! So what is it that keeps you coming? How does it enrich your life? How does it help you connect with God and other people? How does it motivate you to live a different sort of life? If you can identify what it is that you value about St. Margaret’s, you’ll be more confident in inviting someone else to join you.

Second, ask yourself another question: Who in my life might God have been preparing for me to invite to Back to Church Sunday? Reflect on this – pray about it and ask God to guide you. As names come to mind over a few weeks, consider which of them might be the one you invite. You see, there’s an assumption here that God is already at work in people’s lives. It’s not our business to do all the work ourselves. It’s our business to try to be obedient to God and to follow his leading. So who might be the one we might invite? Ask God to guide you about this.

Third, pray for the person you invite – long before you invite them! And not just that: pray also for everyone else in our church as they invite their friends too. Pray for the services on that day, that they will be really helpful for people who are new to churchgoing and new to Christian faith. Pray for those who will lead the services, and for everyone else in the congregation who joins in welcoming our guests. This is God’s work, and it won’t go anywhere unless we pray.

Fourth – and this is the simple, crucial step: make the invitation to your friend. You can practice it if you like: it’s only about thirteen words long. It goes like this: ‘Would you like to come to church with me on September 25th?’ I know that some of you here have asked much more threatening questions than that – “Will you vote for me in the upcoming civic election?’ for instance, or even “Will you marry me?” So why not break the sound barrier and give this simple question a try?

Fifth, if your friend says yes, offer to pick them up and drive them to church on September 25th. That way there’s none of that anxious waiting at the door, wondering if they’ve forgotten or if they’ve backed out at the last minute. Also, that way you can introduce them to the greeters on the way in, and they’ll already have made one or two new acquaintances before the service has even started. And you can sit with them during the service, help them find their way around the bulletin, and help them with any other books they might need for the service.

Sixth, after the service, introduce them to your friends over coffee and include them in the conversation. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen new people come down to coffee hour after church and watched about three quarters of the regular churchgoers totally ignoring them! It’s true that there are a few people in our church who are very good at welcoming newcomers, but many of us could stand to learn a little more hospitality toward the guests of Jesus! But once again, it will be so much easier for your friend if you bring them down to coffee hour yourself and introduce them to a few people.

Lastly, assume they’ll be coming back. Ask them afterwards, “Shall I pick you up again next week? Would you like to go to lunch together afterwards?” Don’t assume that they hated the whole experience! Over the past few years I’ve invited friends to come to church with me for ‘Bring a Friend’ services on a number of occasions, and they’ve always told me afterwards that they enjoyed the experience.

So – this is our simple plan of outreach for September 25th. We’ll be joining with millions of Christians in different parts of the world in this effort to share the gospel with people. I myself plan to invite a friend to join me on that day, and I’m already thinking and praying about who that friend might be. Mind you, it might be a little more difficult for me to sit with my friend during the service and help them find their way – I might have to ask for your help in that!

Let’s remember what we said at the beginning: this is not just about getting more bums on pews. If all we do is get more people to come to church – even if they like it and keep coming back – we haven’t necessarily fulfilled Jesus’ Great Commission to make more disciples. So we can’t stop with Back to Church Sunday; we have to keep having conversations with our friends, discussing faith issues with them, and praying that the Holy Spirit will lead them. We’re going to do our part at St. Margaret’s, too; we’re going to schedule a Christian Basics course immediately following Back to Church Sunday in case there are people who come who are attracted and want to find out more about faith in Christ.

So – over to you! Does this excite you? Scare you? Challenge you? I don’t know about you, but I’ve been excited, scared, and challenged by many of the positive experiences I’ve had in my life! Why not step out in faith and participate in this outreach project? Do you have a faith worth sharing? Do you have a friend worth sharing it with? Well, here’s a simple way to share your faith with your friend. Why not give it a try?

Friday, June 17, 2011

June 21-27

Monday June 20th, 2011

Tim’s day off

Office is closed

Tuesday June 21stthrough Thursday June23rd,2011

Clergy Conference

Thursday June 23rd, 2011

7:00 am Men’s and Women’s

Bible Study at Bogani Café.

Saturday, June 25th, 2011

3:30 pm BBQ @ L & B Rices Home

Sunday 26th, 2011 Pentecost 2

9:00am Holy Communion

10:30am Morning Worship

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

June 14 - 20

Tuesday June 14th, 2011

11:15 am Holy Communion at St. Joseph’s.

Wednesday, June 15th, 2011

7:15 pm Vestry Meeting

Thursday June 16th, 2011

7:00 am Men’s and Women’s

Bible Study at Bogani Café.

Sunday 19th, 2011 Trinity

9:00am Holy Communion

10:30am Holy Communion

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Sermon for June 12th: John 7:37-39

Thirsty For God

In September of 1967, as a boy of almost nine, I crossed the Atlantic Ocean from England to Canada by boat. Nowadays it’s a trip of only a few hours by plane, but then it took five days from Liverpool to Montreal. When I think back on that, I realise again how vast that Atlantic Ocean is. That’s a huge amount of water!

Of course, centuries ago those sorts of trips took even longer. In the days of sail, ships were totally dependant on the prevailing winds. Sometimes, in calmer climates than the north Atlantic, ships would lie still for weeks on end because there was no wind. And sometimes, tragically, they ran out of drinking water during those times, and people began to die of thirst. It was this kind of situation that gave birth to the famous proverb ‘Water, water everywhere, and not a drop to drink’. Some people were so crazy with thirst that they did attempt to drink salt water to assuage it; of course, this only made their thirst worse, and they died even sooner because of it.

Psalm 42:1-3 says:

‘As a deer longs for flowing streams,

so my soul longs for you, O God.

My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.

When shall I come and behold the face of God?

My tears have been my food day and night,

while people say to me continually,

“Where is your God?”’.

In this passage of scripture, ‘thirst’ is used as a powerful metaphor of our deep human longing for God. This longing isn’t satisfied by ideas about God, talk about God, or membership in organisations that work for God. It’s a longing for God himself, and for personal contact with God. When we have this longing, we realise that all the God-substitutes we so desperately embrace amount to nothing but salt-water; they only increase our deep inner thirst for the true and living God.

In today’s Gospel reading Jesus uses this metaphor of thirst. The seventh chapter of John’s Gospel is built around the annual Jewish Feast of Tabernacles. This was a very popular feast, a kind of harvest festival. Over the years it had also acquired overtones of longing for the end of this present evil age – the time when God will bring in the Kingdom and the new age of his righteousness will begin - the time when the Holy Spirit will be poured out on all people. During the Feast of Tabernacles, every day water was drawn from the Pool of Siloam and carried in procession to the Temple while the words of Isaiah 12:3 were sung: ‘With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation’. Also the prophecy of Zechariah 14:8 would be read: ‘On that day living waters shall flow out from Jerusalem, half of them to the eastern sea and half of them to the western sea; it shall continue in summer as in winter’. This verse is a summary of a longer prophecy in Ezekiel 47, in which the prophet sees a vision of a river springing up in the Temple and flowing out into the desert bringing new life and fruitfulness where before there was only dry and barren and thirsty ground.

In this context – surrounded by all this imagery of water – listen again to the words of our Gospel reading:

On the last day of the festival, the great day, while Jesus was standing there, he cried out, “Let everyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water’”. Now this he said about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive; for as yet there was no Spirit, because Jesus was not yet glorified.

It’s as if Jesus is saying to his hearers, “All week long you’ve been enacting symbols about God’s salvation coming like water onto a thirsty ground. Well, I am the reality those symbols point to. Come to me and drink deeply from those wells of salvation”.

Jesus says, “Let everyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink”. Listen to these words from the prophet Jeremiah:

‘Cross to the coasts of Cyprus and look,

send to Kedar and examine with care;

see if there has ever been such a thing.

Has a nation changed its gods,

even though they are no gods?

But my people have changed their glory

for something that does not profit…

for my people have committed two evils:

they have forsaken me,

the fountain of living water,

and dug out cisterns for themselves,

cracked cisterns that can hold no water’ (Jeremiah 2:10-11, 13).

God’s people turned from the true and living God who was like a stream of fresh water, and instead they made idols for themselves that were like cracked cisterns, unable to hold water. This was their version of the becalmed sailors drinking salt water – it couldn’t satisfy. And today people still turn to idols, false gods, God-substitutes that claim to be able to fulfil God’s role but cannot.

One of the most common, of course, is materialism. We spend years trying to accumulate more and more stuff, even though the ‘more and more stuff’ we’ve already acquired hasn’t satisfied us. The one who dies with the most toys does not win – they just die!

A second very common idol is youth and sexual pleasure. The media hold these up as the great secret of happiness – stay as young-looking as you can, and enjoy the best sex life you can, and you’re bound to be happy forever. We might, however, have a little twinge of doubt when we read the dark truths about the unhappiness of some of the most beautiful and desirable people on the planet. Rock stars sing about everlasting love, but how few of them actually achieve lasting marriages? No, this idol can’t deliver what it promises either.

Another very seductive modern idol is the self. Some of you may remember the old folk trio ‘Peter, Paul, and Mary’. In one of their concerts many years ago, Noel Paul Stookey told a hilarious story about what our magazines say about us. He said “In the 60’s we started a magazine called People. Now that’s a pretty wide-ranging title – there are a lot of ‘people’ in the world! Then in the 70’s a new magazine was started called Us. Now we’re getting a bit narrower. ‘Us’ is still ‘People’ but it isn’t all people, only ‘us’, not ‘them’. Then came the 1980’s when another magazine was started called Self. This has gotten a lot narrower, hasn’t it? When are we going to see a new magazine called Me?’ I haven’t kept track of the magazine racks since that concert, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there is such a magazine now, dedicated to the worship of the idol self.

Sad to say, the Church can also become an idol for some. The Church is meant to be a community of faith gathered around the living Lord Jesus Christ. However, some have never met the Risen Lord, and so they turn to the Church instead. It’s unfortunately possible to go through all the motions of Christianity – baptism, confirmation, Holy Communion – and stop there, without making a real commitment of one’s life to Christ. This may be the most insidious idol of all, and I’ll tell you why. People who worship it think they’ve tried Christianity and it hasn’t delivered what it promises, but in fact they’ve only tried ‘churchianity’. What they’ve had is the spiritual equivalent of a vaccination. You know how a vaccination works; you inject a tiny quantity of the disease into people’s bodies, and this awakens their immune system to protect them against the real thing when it comes their way. In the same way, people who worship the idol of ‘church’ have taken a tiny bit of Christianity to protect themselves against the real thing.

All these God-substitutes are nothing but salt water. In the end, they will only increase our spiritual thirst. Maybe you’re feeling that thirst today. Maybe you’re thinking “I know nothing can take God’s place – I’m really thirsty for him”. Good! Let’s think now about drinking!

Jesus says, ‘“Let everyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water’”. Now this he said about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive’. So the way to quench our thirst for God is to come to Jesus and drink. When we believe in Jesus – that is, when we put our faith, our trust, in him – he gives us the Holy Spirit who becomes to us like a river of living water in our hearts.

You might ask “How does this happen? How do I come to Jesus and drink?” First, we need to know that all followers of Jesus have the Holy Spirit living in them. Paul says, ‘For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body – Jews or Greeks, slaves or free – and we were all made to drink of one Spirit’ (1 Corinthians 12:13). If you aren’t sure whether this verse applies to you, you can be sure. Simply pray, committing yourself to Christ in faith, and asking him to live in you by his Holy Spirit. A good way to do this is in the words of the baptismal promises, which we will use in a few minutes. As the parents and godparents make the promises out loud, you might want to make them for yourself, silently, in your heart, turning to Jesus Christ, accepting him as your Saviour and Lord, putting your trust in his grace and love, committing yourself to living in obedience to him.

But there’s more to come. We’re also told in Scripture to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Nicky Gumbel gives a helpful illustration. A gas furnace has a little pilot light burning inside, and that’s vital. That’s like the gift of the Holy Spirit we were each given when we became followers of Jesus. But that won’t be enough to heat the whole house! We need to turn up the thermostat so that the pilot light fires the burners. And in the same way, we need the Holy Spirit to fill us to overflowing.

In the New Testament this is called being ‘filled’ with the Spirit, or having the Spirit ‘fall’ on you. Sometimes it seems to have happened spontaneously, as on the Day of Pentecost where people were praying together and the Spirit surprised them! At other times Christians gather together, lay hands on someone and pray for them, and that person is filled with the Holy Spirit. Sometimes the experience is very dramatic, with a powerful sense of God’s presence and love, perhaps accompanied by supernatural gifts such as speaking in tongues. At other times it seems to be a quieter experience, evidenced by the change in the person’s life as they become more Christlike and as they grow in the exercise of the spiritual gifts God has given them – this was the case when Paul was filled with the Holy Spirit in Acts chapter nine, for instance.

This is not just something that happens in the pages of the Bible; down through the centuries Christians have continued to have experiences of the Holy Spirit filling them, some dramatic, some not so dramatic. Let me share with you a personal story I recounted in my book Starting at the Beginning, the story of my Dad’s experience of this. He says,

On Shrove Tuesday 1971, I was part of an ecumenical prayer group and all the members knew that I was waiting, in obedience to the Lord, to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Two of the group asked me if I would like them to pray with me. I agreed and they prayed but nothing happened. I was trying to will myself into the experience but that isn't how it happens. So, in my heart I prayed, "Well, Lord, I've waited twelve years, I can wait longer, if that's what you want". And that was what the Lord was waiting for… And so it happened. My heart was bursting with a joy and peace and love I had never known before.

The way I would describe it is that it's like standing under a great waterfall but the water not only cleanses the outside but pours through the whole body, soaking and enriching every cell. It's realizing that every drop of that water is the Spirit's power filling me to overflowing with the love of Jesus.

I haven’t had a single, overwhelming experience like my Dad. However, many times over the years I’ve prayed that the Holy Spirit would fill me, and sometimes others have prayed that for me too. Often I’ve had a real sense of God answering that prayer – a deep sense of quiet, of joy, of serenity and power, of the Holy Spirit assuring me that I am God’s child - as Paul says in Romans, it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God’ (Romans 8:16).

Life in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit is not meant to be unusual; it’s simply normal New Testament Christian experience. If we’re thirsty for God and for a deeper sense of connection with God, then this is what we need. So let’s come to Jesus in faith, ask for this gift, and keep on asking until we too experience this river of living water flowing out from us.