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  • Sonya Leigh Anderson

Church as Water

Luke in Vancouver 2019 (Photo by Kiana Grant Photography)

Yippee! For the next ten days I’m on summer break! Lol. Just as the college kids are heading back for another school year, and my granddaughter is prepping her backpack for the start of KINDERGARTEN next week… I am on a ten day break between my summer and fall seminary classes. And it feels like freedom!

In the spirit of vacation, I’m taking a shortcut for this week’s blog post, and pulling a bit of content from a recent theology paper. Hopefully you’ll enjoy pondering with me as I combine my studies of “pneumatology and ecclesiology” for some reflection on the intersection between Holy Spirit and Church. Here it is…

I spent close to a decade reading and rereading the story of the Bible looking for an explanation of my personal experience with God. What I found was a New Testament full of fulfilled prophecies related to new life in the Spirit. I began to see the Bible as the story of unfaithful people, and a faithful God who never gives up on his human creation. Through his death and resurrection, Jesus made something possible that had never been possible before. By sending the Spirit, Jesus made a way for humans to live new creation life. Through the biblical story I found language to describe my personal experience. I was a new creation filled to overflowing with the love of God through the Holy Spirit.

It has only been lately that I’ve shifted from thinking about the Holy Spirit’s role in personal experience, to focusing instead on the connection between Spirit and Church. Increasingly I have become aware of the communal aspect of faith, being fully convinced that the miracle I’ve experienced on a personal level is just a taste of what Jesus intended for his church.

The Old Testament is full of images connecting the life of God to the people of God. The tree of life. Living water. Flourishing gardens. Abundant fruit. The Psalms are full of such images.

From Psalm 36:

How precious is your steadfast love, O God!

The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings.

They feast on the abundance of your house,

and you give them drink from the river of your delights.

For with you is the fountain of life;

in your light do we see light.

Psalm 36:7-9 ESV

From Psalm 84:

Happy are the people whose strength is in you, whose hearts are set on pilgrimage. As they pass through the Valley of Baca, they make it a source of spring water; even the autumn rain will cover it with blessings. They go from strength to strength; each appears before God in Zion.

Psalm 84:5-7, CSB

It occurs to me that these images might be the best way to describe a Spirit-filled church. We are the people of God who bring life, refreshment, and nourishment wherever we go. We go into dry places as the “source of spring water.” This water is the Spirit’s presence (John 7:38-39). We bring eternal life into places of death—the actual life of God poured out from his church to nourish a desperate world.

So how do we make this practical? I am becoming increasingly aware of followers of Jesus who are embracing this “new creation” mindset, seeing it as the church’s primary mission. First and foremost I believe this happens when the church is actually bearing the fruit of the Holy Spirit. We are people known by love, joy, peace, kindness, goodness and the rest (Galatians 5:22-23). This might look different in each “body” and for each member. It will vary with our gifts. It will vary with our context, from one community to the next. The important thing is it is the Spirit’s fruit we are bearing, and not our own. It is not our own effort. Not our own opinions about what constitutes fruit. No. We are actually living from the source of living water. We are living as Jesus would live, through the life of the Spirit.

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