First Baptist Church Laurens
September 17, 2017
Our hosts during my recent trip to Alaska were a fascinating couple by the name of Duncan and Leslie Fields. The Fields spend May through late September of each year on Harvester Island off the coast of the town of Kodiak. There, on Harvester, the Fields live a life that requires great faith at virtually every twist and turn.
First and foremost, faith is required of them in their chosen occupation as commercial salmon fisherman. Yes, they know the best places to set their nets in the water in order to catch fish. And, after years and years of this work that has been handed down by previous generations in their family, they also know most of the tricks of their trade. But, there is still no guarantee that they will catch anything. As a result, they have had several seasons where they have lost money because the catch for that year was so small. Once they have set the nets, they must patiently wait. Fishing is an act of faith.
Second, faith is also required on Harvester Island when it comes to the well being of the Fields family. Along with their crew, they are the only inhabitants of the island. If there is an accident, a fire, or some other type of emergency, help can be hours if not days away. In fact, years ago, Mr. Fields’ mother, died during the fishing season on a nearby island when a fire started while she slept. With no one to help her, she perished in the flames. In turn, with her memory still heavy on their minds all of these years later, the Fields know that island life, lived far from civilization in the Pacific Ocean, is a dangerous life. There are no guarantees that when danger comes their way that they will be able to overcome or survive. Again, theirs is a life of faith, trust and belief even when there are many good reasons to feel and behave otherwise.
We may not live in the middle of the Pacific, but, the daily affairs of our own lives are also acts of faith. We trust our automobiles to get us from this place to that place even though most of us don’t know exactly how our cars work or what to do if they stop working. We have faith in our doctors when they diagnose our latest illness and make suggestions to us as to the right medicines to take or behaviors to change even though we ourselves barely got through ninth grade biology. And, we believe in our financial advisors when they suggest changes in our investment strategies though we personally struggle to keep our check book balanced.
Faith is indeed a part of every day life. Yet, the Abraham story, which we begin today and which we will focus on in worship over the next several weeks, also reminds us from the very beginning that faith should also be at heart the heart of our every days relationships with God too.
Abraham’s story reminds us to think of faith as a verb not as a noun. Faith as a noun is a way of talking about belief in God and having a relationship with God through Jesus. Faith as a verb reminds us that God often calls us to do things, to go places, to behave in ways that we would have never imagined. These steps of faith seem risky are outside our comfort zone and occur when we sense that God through the Holy Spirit is asking something of us .
Faith as a verb is the faith of Abraham that we first encounter in Genesis 12. Faith as a verb is the theme of almost every sentence of the nine verses that we read just a few moments ago. Abraham’s story begins with the call of God – to leave his family, to go to a new land that was currently occupied by other people. Further, Abraham is invited by God to buy into the crazy notion that he, at the age of 75, is going to be the father of a great nation even though he and his wife had no children and were well beyond the age when being a first time parent should be expected.
Let’s be honest. None of what God says here makes any rational sense. The people of the Old Testament era found their identity and their security in family. So, why on earth would God call Abraham to leave his extended family and start all over in a new place where he knew no one. Likewise, as I have already mentioned, the place that God called Abraham to go, this land that God claimed would be given to Abraham was already occupied. The Canaanites were not going to hand over their land, pat Abraham on the back and wish him luck. Yet, God said it would be his. Finally, Abraham is told he will father a nation, though again, as has been said, he was in his seventies with no children and no prospects of any on the horizon.
God’s calling could not have been more unexpected. In fact, you could make a compelling argument that the only thing more unexpected than God’s invitation was the fact that Abraham said yes. Again, Abraham lived out faith as a verb. He believed, trusted and went when God called.
Chuck Poole is a name that I have mentioned to you before. There are two quotes from Poole that roll around in my mind on a regular basis. One of them I have offered to you several times in the past and I am sure it is a statement that I will offer in the future. Nonetheless, I think of it when I think of Abraham. Poole said, “you can wait to make up your mind but you can’t wait to make up your life.”
At least in part, Poole’s statement gets at our tendency to bog down in our questions, concerns, worries and fears when it comes to following God. Unlike Abraham, we wrestle with God’s calling to the point that we rarely actually follow. We worry over all that could go wrong while remaining unmoved. Thus our faith stays a noun and rarely becomes a verb. We become Christians who are believers in God and in Jesus as God’s son while struggling mightily with being Christians who are putting faith into practice in our lives.
Faith, as a verb, however, is the very heartbeat of the Abraham story. In fact, without faith in action, there is no story here to be moved, challenged or inspired by.
I began today by sharing about Duncan and Leslie Fields and their life on Harvester Island as salmon fisherman. Beyond our retreat time at their lovely home, there was plenty of time to learn about their trade since it was the backdrop of our week. Every day, we learned more about what it is like to fish for a living in Alaska.
About midweek, Mr. Fields invited five of us to learn about salmon fishing in a different way – he took us out in the boat. In the boat, on the waves, helping set one net and actually checking another net for fish was a completely different way of experiencing his life than by sitting in their cozy living room with a picturesque view and looking out the window. Rather than talk about being a fishermen, we went fishing.
This is what God wants from us. He wants us to get out into the waters of life. He wants us to get out into the boat. To feel the waves, experience the wind and live out this grand life of faith by following where he leads even when it doesn’t make sense.
We’ll only learn so much by talking about faith in here. Yet, like Abraham, if we are willing to say yes, to go, to do, to leave shore and get into the boat, faith will become real and take on a completely different dimension. Amen.