I want us to begin our time today coming to recognize that in our short lives we have been given an opportunity to come to know a very big picture. Pictures, paintings, and the like draw us and help us to understand how things work together. God, in his grace as the ultimate artist, has given us an opportunity to see a big picture of peacefulness and calmness, if we are willing to see it.
An artist seeking to present to us the big picture, working with paints, has at his or her disposal a canvas upon which to create. The artist has paints of differing colors and thicknesses and brushes of differing widths that can be used to apply the paint to the canvas. The artist engages in a creative process to bring forward the desired image using those canvas, paints, and brushes. Those watching an artist create may struggle to see the image that artist desires to shape. In the beginning, the artist’s work may seem a bit chaotic or choppy. But to the artist, every brush stroke is as important and necessary. The artist has a goal, an objective, to bring forward something of lasting value to those who would take the time to see it. If those watching the artist do so for only a moment or two, they never fully appreciate the vision the artist is creating. They only see fragmented segments of the vision.
Sometimes, I think we shape our view of God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit in a similar manner. We take in a bit of Scripture, a touch or two of music, and mix it together with a few moments from a sermon and then we are on our way believing we have the picture in hand. Then when in our living when we feel an urgent need-to-know God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, we have only the fragments we picked up here and there. We do not have clear picture or the big picture. When this occurs, we become anxious, unsettled, irritated, jealous, disappointed in others, and fearful. Though we claim to be people of faith, we become indistinguishable from the world full of people who have no faith, who have no vision of God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. We become disappointed in what faith we do have. I have encountered many people who are disappointed in their faith. They continually want to know why the fragments of they possess do not give them a proper picture. Some, in their disappointment, have even chosen to walk away from their faith.
God wants our faith to have meaning and that our faith has the capacity to see us through life. God wants us to spend time in his presence so that we can see the bigger picture and have a faith that sustains us.
It is for this reason, that we have spoken the last few weeks about worship of God. We have explored the goals and consequences of worship. We talked a bit about the elements of worship, the tools that help us see the bigger picture only made possible to see through the lens of worship. When we consistently gather for worship and engage in it, we will come to see the picture God wants us to see and have the peace and calm he desires for us. We just need to spend enough time with God, the ultimate artist, to see the picture of peace and calmness that He is revealing to us. Seeing God’s masterpiece of calmness requires time in worship.
I think it is fair to say that calmness is lacking these days. If you do not believe me, pick the cable news network of your choice, and see if you can find calmness. I doubt you will. Instead, you will find angry people yelling at one another or smaller and smaller grievances, political leaders threatening one another, and growing violence in many cities. In many ways the world has become stormy with everyone doing what was right in his own eyes. I believe the lack of calmness is a reflection of the lack of worship of God through Jesus Christ.
Jesus, God’s masterpiece of calmness, understood the storminess of this world and the tension between living in this world and not being part of this world. Jesus repeatedly demonstrated to his disciples the calmness found in God necessary to navigating that storminess and tension.
Consider the scene painted by our Scripture reading today. One time, “23 Jesus got into the boat and his disciples followed him. 24 Suddenly a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping” (Matthew 8:23-24). Let’s pause there just for a moment and consider the overall canvas before we look at any pieces within it. Jesus and his disciples were in one boat travelling across the Sea of Galilee. A violent wind whipped up churning the waves ever larger. So large were these waves that wave after wave came over the gunnels of the boat causing the boat to take on water. The disciples were awake and working hard to manage the ship in the storm sweeping over them. Meanwhile, Jesus was curled up comfortably sleeping completely unaffected by the winds and waves. The contrast in this scene could not be starker and it was not accidental. The account of this scene is found in the Gospel of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Each account drew a sharp contrast between the disciples struggling against the violent storm and Jesus portrayed as though he was sleeping peacefully in green pastures and beside still waters.
At this moment of contrast, the artistry of God’s Word shows Jesus’ disciples in the world and Jesus apart from it. The artistry of this contrast is found elsewhere in the Gospels. One time Jesus came to village. There a woman named Martha opened her home to Jesus and his disciples. Martha had a sister Mary. Mary chose to sit at Jesus feet listening to him speak and enjoying the calmness of Jesus’ presence. Meanwhile, Martha was distracted by all the preparations she felt were necessary for the meal. Martha in her distractedness, in her labors, and perhaps in a full sweat from cooking became upset with Mary and her calmness. Martha approached Jesus demanding that Jesus order Mary to join Martha. Martha wanted Jesus to end Mary’s calmness and join Martha in her distractedness. Jesus told Martha that Mary had chosen calmness with him over the distractedness of the world and that Mary’s calmness at the feet of Jesus would not be taken from her. Jesus made it clear that invitations to move from the calmness of his presence into the storms of the world are to be declined.
As we return to contrast in painting of the storm on the boat from the Gospel of Matthew, we remember that “23 Jesus got into the boat and his disciples followed him. 24 Suddenly a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. 25 The disciples went and woke him [Jesus], saying, ‘Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!’” (Matthew 8:23-25).
The disciples, experienced upon the Sea of Galilee, saw that their situation was grave. The waves were overtaking the boat to such an extent that the boat would surely sink, and they would drown. There was certainly despair in the voices of the disciples as they believed the storm would overtake them but, and we might miss this, there was hopefulness in the voices as well because they said, “Lord, save us!” This expression, “Lord, save us!” expressed that the disciples believed that even though they were in a severe storm, that Jesus could nevertheless save their lives. The disciples were anxious, fearful, and feeling trapped in the storm and yet they were inviting Jesus to extend his calmness to them.
Jesus awoke to the cries of hope and disaster from his disciples. Jesus was able to hear them just fine over the sound of the furious storm. What was Jesus’ response? “26 Jesus said, ‘You of little faith, why are you so afraid?’” (Matthew 8:26a). Jesus did not join the disciples in their anxiousness and did not immediately extend his calmness to them. Instead, Jesus asked them about their little faith. The phrase “little faith” here was appropriate. If the disciples had strong faith, they would not have panicked. If the disciples had no faith, they would not have thought to say, “Lord, save us!” The disciples had a little faith, a faith consisting of a mixture of a hopeful confidence and doubt. I suspect many of us would describe ourselves as having a faith that at times is confident and at other times is marked by doubt.
In the scene being painted by Matthew, Mark, and Luke we would read that Jesus stood among his fearful disciples and Jesus “rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm” (Matthew 8:26b). The calmness of Jesus went out from him and quieted the nature and the people around him. The winds were quiet. The waves were gentle. The rain had stopped. The disciples stopped talking about dying and returned to thoughts about living. The perfect calmness of Jesus was present.
God, the artist, of this scene had painted a magnificent contrast between the storms of life that can drown us and the calmness of Jesus that saves us. But to see that magnificent painting, we had to wait and be with God long enough for him to complete it. God had painted this scene once before in the Book of Psalms, Psalm 107. God inspired the psalmist to write, “23 Some went out on the sea in ships; they were merchants on the mighty waters. 24 They saw the works of the Lord, his wonderful deeds in the deep. 25 For he spoke and stirred up a tempest that lifted high the waves. 26 They mounted up to the heavens and went down to the depths; in their peril their courage melted away. 27 They reeled and staggered like drunkards; they were at their wits’ end. 28 Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble, and he brought them out of their distress. 29 He stilled the storm to a whisper; the waves of the sea were hushed. 30 [And] They were glad when it grew calm” (Psalm 107:23-32). We all just had to wait for God’s timing to reveal that the bigger picture that peacefulness and calmness of the Psalm would be found in the person of Jesus Christ.
The artistry of God is unmistakable. In the storms of life, our courage will often melt away. We will find ourselves at our wits’ end. We will come to cry out and God will bring us out of our distress and into the calmness of his presence. But we need to be prepared in faith beforehand. We need to see the bigger picture. How are we to do that?
In Psalm 107, God inspired the psalmist to give us the appropriate response to living in the calmness of God. The psalmist wrote, “30 They were glad when it grew calm, and he [God] guided them to their desired haven. 31 Let them [who called out in faith] give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for mankind. 32 Let them [who called out in faith] exalt him [God] in the assembly of the people and praise him in the council of the elders” (Psalm 107:30-32). God was inviting those who expressed faith in him, however, fleeting, or small to be glad for the calmness that he extends and to come together in worship.
Friends, I do not need to tell you that we live in a world that is often fraught with storminess, messiness, chaos, and disappointment. At times it might even feel like the storms of life are winning and we may drown. The pictures painted today from the Old Testament psalm and the Gospel accounts of the storm upon the Sea of Galilee are very much the same. Storms exist but so too does peacefulness and calmness. The peacefulness and calmness of God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit is extended to us through and in worship. For in worship, we come to understand the bigger picture God is painting with both the bright and dark colors. It is in worship that see the artistry of God at work in our lives and in the lives of others. It is in worship that we can express with even a little faith that we need God to still the storms that surround us. It is in worship that we see Jesus as the savior who will keep us from drowning. It is in worship that we are repaired from the storms of life.
I am glad you are here for worship. I pray that the peacefulness and calmness of Christ has extended over each of us and that we, standing in stark contrast to a stormy world around us, can extend peace and calmness of Christ to others. Amen and Amen.