So when Pastor Brian and Pastor Ramona asked me to give a senior chapel I was reluctant for a few reasons. 1, I don’t particularly love speaking in front of people and 2, at the time they asked me, I wasn’t sure I even believed in God, and I was thinking to myself, great, how am I supposed to share a message in the chapel with people about my faith, when I don’t even know where I stand myself. As I started writing my message however, I realized that the hardest part was not going to be finding something to talk about, but finding ONE thing, to talk about.
But I tried to narrow it down, and I want to start by talking about the idea of faith. Over winter break I went to family video to rent Wreck it Ralph, but it was all out, so I ended up leaving with a move called Salmon Fishing in the Yemen instead.
Briefly, the premise of involves a Yemeni salmon-fishing Sheikh (shake), which is an arab leader, with an weird dream. He wants to go salmon fishing in the Yemen which is, of course, pretty much desert. Dr. Jones is a fish scientist who is pulled into the sheikh’s scheme despite his insistence that it is impossible. There was one conversation in the movie that really struck me and so I want to share that.
The Sheikh starts by saying: It would be a miracle of God if it were to happen
And Dr. Jone replies: I’m more of a facts and figures man.
Sheikh: You aren’t a religious man, Dr. Jones?
Dr. Jones: No I’m not.
Sheikh: But you’re a fisherman Dr. Jones.
Dr. Jones: I’m sorry I don’t follow.
Sheikh: How many hours do you fish before you catch something?
Dr. Jones: Hundreds sometimes.
And the Sheikh says: Is that a good use of your time as a facts and figures man. But you persist, with such poor odds of success. Why? Because you’re a man of faith, Dr. Jones. In the end, you are rewarded for your faith and constancy.
Dr. Jones says: With due respect, fishing and religion are hardly the same thing your excellency.
And the Sheikh says: With equal respect, I have to disagree.
I like that quote because I at many times have been caught up in the facts and figures. Against the standards of our society, the foundation of the Christian faith is strange to say the least. I was at a music therapy conference in Evanston, IL this past fall and I attended a session about spirituality in end of life care. The leader of the session told a story about someone who they worked with in another country who had never heard of easter. They asked her what it was about, and after telling them the story of Christ’s death and resurrection the patient laughed and said, seriously?? People actually believe that?
In the past four years I have been in that place many times, that place where I felt crazy for believing some of the things I claimed to believe, and I have experienced my strongest faith as well as my greatest doubt. Pastor Brian asked me when preparing for my chapel if I believed that faith and doubt were separate from one another and I replied that I believe it is faith that carries me through doubt.
Regardless of my perceptions of God, however, I seem to have always believed in the principle of love and that life-love=zero. I think that it is safe to say that to live by this motto requires faith because by the standards of our society, where the self is glorified, and money is reigning supreme, we have to admit it is not practical.
When I think about it too hard, I am often depressed by the sort of system that our world has fallen into, but the life of Jesus inspires me to believe that maybe there is another way, that we have simply lost sight of. Jesus, one of my good friends said, was a man with a plan, and one of the things I have come to admire about his life over the past few year years is the way he lived so that he did not submit himself to any sort of system. He was who he was, and he was constantly suprising people and going against the norm. Even in his death, based on his track record of miracles he could have saved himself from the cross, but he didn’t. It was like his final blow to the system. He taught the opposite of societal norm, he said you cannot serve both God and money, and that we must die to ourselves in order to live. And he lead by example, Mark 10:45 says “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve”.
I think it is easy for me to get wrapped up in theology, but when I think about Jesus in this way, as the historical figure, who lived among us, and I read about who the bible says he was, and the things he did and said, everything kind of starts to fall into place in my mind, and that inspires me. I still have questions, but I’ve also learned during my time at Wartburg that God is not afraid of my questions and in fact encourages us to test what we consider to be truth in 1 thesselonians 5:20-22 “Do not treat prophecies with contempt but test them all; hold on to what is good, reject every kind of evil.” And in 1 John 4: 1 “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world”.
The scripture that Sarah read said, what does the kingdom of God look like? And Jesus said, it looks like a mustard seed. And my grandma gave me this necklace when I was a kid and it has a mustard seed in it. Mustard seeds are tiny but if you plant them they can grow to be like 8 or 10 feet tall. And so from this verse I understand that God doesn’t expect our faith to be huge and crystal clear all the time, but that he has promised us that if we plant the tiniest of seeds, if we have faith “this big”, he will gladly take it and nurture it and grow it until it becomes a place of shelter and rest, for ourselves, that we can then extend to those around us.
I’ve given my mustard seed of faith to God over and over again, and God hasn’t failed me yet. And I could tell you stories, but it isn’t something that I can prove to you by facts or figures, it’s something that can only be experienced through faith.
And so as we leave Wartburg and go out into the world I hope we will consider what it is that we put our faith in, and wherever we go I hope we will go with love, for God, for our neighbor and for ourselves, as God who IS love, has enabled us. I hope that we will strive to serve rather than to be served. And I hope that you will find inspiration in the reminder that even when our faith is the size of a mustard seed, even when we think we’ve abandoned God, his grace does not run out and he will never stop seeking after us.