Peace in the Midst of Storms


Peace. According to Webster’s Dictionary, peace is a state of tranquility or quiet, a state in which there is no war or fighting, where there is freedom from civil disturbance, and harmony in personal relations. Peace is a wonderful word, a wonderful concept, isn’t it?

We want peace because we live in a chaotic world. There’s on-going war, threats of terrorism, and disease. And then there’s the weather. There are storms . . . like the crazy flooding in Houston just over a week ago.

Here are a picture of the flooding that occurred.

Houston flooding

Last weekend, I was in Houston visiting my former college roommate, and I flew out within hours of the big storm that unloaded 17 inches of rain in 24 hours. It’s pretty awful, isn’t it?

Storms like that can shatter any sense of peace, any sense of tranquility that we might have. But it’s not just rain and floods. There are other “storms” in our lives that can wreak havoc.

There are storms in school. Why is that teacher so mean? How come my BFF is now my WFF (Worst Former Friend)? Hey, how come I wasn’t invited to that party that others are posting on Facebook?

There are storms at work. How come no one told me that the project is due at the end of today?!  Why is my boss such a nightmare?  Oh no, they’re downsizing, and my job might be cut.

There are storms at home. Siblings get into fights. Mom & Dad don’t see eye to eye. It seems like there aren’t enough hours during the day to get everything done. How are we going to make ends meet?

There are storms at church. Our attendance and offerings aren’t what they used to be. There aren’t enough volunteers to fill all the positions. When will we call our next minister?

There are storms in politics. Need I say more? I don’t know about you, but I’m ready for some peace and quiet from ALL of the presidential candidates!

It seems like everywhere we look, the storms of life are just swirling around us. But we’re not the only ones facing these storms. The disciples of Jesus also faced similar challenges when a storm came. How did they respond?  Let me read the story found in the Gospel of Mark, Chapter 4, verses 35-41.

(Mark 4:35-41 NIV)  35 That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.”  36 Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him.  37 A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped.  38 Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”  39 He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.  40 He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”  41 They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”

This is a familiar story. It is such a familiar story that it is depicted in many, many paintings. The most famous of them was painted by Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn.

The picture on the right is his self-portrait.

Rembrandt self-portrait

He was such a famous artist, like “Prince” or “Beyonce” or “Bono,” that he’s known to us by just one name: Rembrandt. He was a Dutch painter and etcher, generally considered one of the greatest painters and printmakers in European art and the most important in Dutch history.[1]

The picture below shows Rembrandt’s painting of “The Storm in the Sea of Galilee.”

4-rembrandt_1-christ_in_the_storm_on_the_lake_of_galileeIt is such a vivid, dramatic painting. You can almost imagine yourself right there just as the waves were crashing into the boat, threatening to capsize it. You see the twelve disciples of Jesus and what they are doing in the midst of the raging storm.

The next slide is a close-up of the painting.

Close up 01

Three of the disciples are at the front of the boat grabbing on to the sails even as it is being ripped apart. They are trying to hold things together. When facing the storms of life, and peace is threatened, there may be those who frantically try to hold things together and make things “right.”  I think of Thanksgiving dinner with the extended family. There’s usually one person who is frantically trying to do everything to make sure dinner is perfect. For that person, thanksgiving comes when everyone leaves after dinner!

The fourth disciple is holding on to the mast, and the fifth disciple is grabbing on to the rigging.  When facing the storms of life, and peace is threatened, there may be those who just dig in and hold on to whatever that seems to bring control, while others will grab on to anything that will prevent them from being swept aside.

Do you see yourself in any of these disciples? In the storms of life, some are tempted to work harder, to do more, which often only exhausts them. Some are tempted to be more controlling and hold on to positions of power for fear of being swept aside. If you don’t see yourself in these disciples, there are others in another part of the painting. Let’s look at them.

In the next slide, we see another close-up of the painting.

Close Up 02

We see the seventh disciples, with hands up, imploring Jesus: “Jesus, don’t you care if we drown?” When the storms of life come, there may be those who ask: Jesus, don’t you care that I’m without a job?  Don’t you care that my spouse has cancer?  Don’t you care that I’m really lonely?  Jesus, don’t you care we are sinking?

Next to him, we see the sixth disciples grabbing on to Jesus after waking him up. When the storms of life come, there may be those who wonder: Get up, Jesus, and do something! Where is God in all this?

Above those two disciples, is the eighth disciple who is hunched over, looking toward the left of the painting, fearfully watching the waves hitting the boat.  He’s the worry-wort, always thinking about the worse-case scenario. When I was a college freshman, I had a bump on the side of my neck. My college roommate immediately said, “Oh no! You have cancer!” That wasn’t what I needed to hear, and it turned out to be a benign cyst. Interestingly, my roommate is now an ear, nose and throat surgeon. I hope his bedside manner is better now!

There’s the ninth disciple who is holding on to the rudder with every ounce of his strength, trying to keep the boat going in the right direction. When the storms of life come, there may be those who are tempted to take over to steer their own lives . . . and everyone else’s.

There’s the tenth disciple who’s holding his forehead while he’s about to throw up over the side of the boat. He’s just sick about the whole situation, and he’s about to create a mess!

And then there’s the eleventh disciple who is on his knees at the feet of Jesus, head bowed, hands together, praying to Jesus. Notice that while there is drama everywhere, while everyone around him is frantically doing something, he is still and calm and worshipful.  Even peaceful.

How come that disciple is not caught up in the drama of the storm? How come he’s not caught up in the anxiety, in the fear, in all the frantic doing of everyone else?

In the book of Philippians, the apostle Paul wrote to the church at Philippi: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”

That eleventh disciple was living out the truth of this verse. He was at the feet of Christ, praying to God during a very anxious time.

The apostle Paul continued: “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Peace, you see, is not just the absence of conflict. Peace, as Christians understand it, is the presence of Christ who brings wholeness and completeness to our lives. Peace comes, first and foremost, not out of anything that we do. Peace comes from our being, when our hearts and minds are centered in Christ.

In that storm on the Sea of Galilee, Jesus finally says, “Quiet! Be still!” Jesus spoke to the wind and the waves and they obeyed him and became calm. What a miracle! But the real miracle, the bigger miracle, in my book, is whether we will obey Jesus, when he calls us to be quiet and still.

Eckhard Tolle once said: “You find peace not by rearranging the circumstances of your life, but by realizing who you are at the deepest level.”Eckhart Tolle

According to Scripture, who you are, who I am at the deepest level, is a child of God – fully, wholly and completely loved, forgiven and accepted.

Yes, it hurts deeply when someone we love rejects us. But at our deepest level, we are whole because it is Christ’s love that completes us, and not anyone else.

Yes, it is embarrassing to fail. But at our deepest level, we are whole because our worth comes from Christ and what He’s done for us on the cross, and not from our accomplishments.
Yes, it is scary to lose control and feel like we are going to pieces. But at our deepest level, we are whole because God’s hands hold us together.

People find it hard to understand this kind of wholeness. Heck, sometimes I find it hard to comprehend this peace that transcends all understanding. That’s where faith and trust in God comes in.

Therefore, when we are anxious about whether we are loveable, Jesus says, “Quiet! Be still. Have faith that you are wholly and completely loved by God.”

When we are impatient at the grocery check-out line, Jesus says, “Quiet! Be still. Have faith that God makes all things beautiful in God’s time.”

When we are fearful about the coming days, Jesus says, “Quiet! Be still. Have faith that your future, no matter what happens, is in my Father’s hands.”

When we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, Jesus says, “Quiet! Be still. Have faith that I will guide and comfort you like a good shepherd.”

How I need to hear these words! What can I do to move toward such peace?

Paul gives us a clue in these final words from Philippians 4.

8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable– if anything is excellent or praiseworthy– think on such things.

As I end my sermon, I want to return to Rembrandt’s painting. If you’ve been paying attention, and counting along with me, you’ll realize that we’ve only talked about 11 disciples in Rembrandt’s painting.

The next picture is another self-portrait of Rembrandt.

8-rembrandt_wide_eyed

The last picture shows one final close-up of the painting.

Close Up 03

Who do you see?

Yes, it’s Rembrandt! He painted himself into this scene! And he’s looking right out of the painting!  Is he looking at us, or looking for us?

You’ll also notice that there’s one more disciple, the twelfth disciple, right behind Rembrandt.  We don’t see his face… only the back of the head. I don’t know why Rembrandt did this. Perhaps, he’s inviting us to find ourselves in this painting in the form of this faceless disciple.

In the storms that you’re facing in your life, where you are . . . who are you . . . in the boat?

Are you frantically trying to save the boat? Trying to save yourself?  Trying to get Jesus’ attention?

How can you be still and be quiet, and let peace find you?

May the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”  Amen.

I preached this sermon at Spring Hill Baptist this April 28, 2016.

Taken from Mark 4:35-41.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rembrandt.

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