What’s Behind the Curtain?

Hello Church Family, this is Pastor Phil!

Our reading today is from Mark 8:

And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. And he said this plainly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”

Last week, during the midweek luncheon, I had my phone plugged in to the sound system in the fellowship hall so I could play some laid-back Christian music for our dinner. We have a big whiteboard in our fellowship hall that we use for classroom instruction and it was covering up the sound system. A couple times before dinner my phone went off and I went behind the whiteboard to pause the music and answer it. Apparently, I do have a really loud voice, because when I was talking, unbeknownst to me, everyone was looking around the room wondering where my voice was coming from and if I was broadcasting over the radio! When I was done with the call and turned the music back on, I came out from behind the whiteboard and everybody was like, “there you are, we couldn’t figure out where your voice was coming from!” This happened to me three times on Wednesday! 

The whole experience reminded of the classic the Wizard of Oz, when little Toto opens the curtain where the “wizard” is hiding behind with his animatronics and the wizard says, “don’t pay any attention to the man behind the curtain!” 

Have you ever gotten into an argument, whether you were the one who initiated it or the object of the argument, and wondered, where did that come from or what was that all about? For, our meditation this week I want to examine together what is going on behind the curtain in our own lives, especially in the difficult and hurtful situations we find ourselves in so we can realize that ultimately every human argument is an argument with God. Or every situation we find ourselves in ultimately says something about how we see our relationship with God. 

I want to do a little Bible Study on this to see what God’s Word says on this topic and how it can ultimately encourage us to live more peaceful lives. 

James 4: What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore, whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.

I love how clear this passage is from the Bible when addressing this topic. This passage pulls back the curtain of what we see in front of us, the anger or hurt or red faces, and shows us what is happening underneath. Why are there arguments? Because our sinful nature underneath wants and desires something that it can’t have or shouldn’t have, so it tries to take it or make it happen through anger or even hurting someone else. 

I Corinthians 3: But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way?

This passage shows the same thought. Whenever there are the behaviors that we call jealousy and strife happening among people, it is never actually the surface issue that is happening, but the people are acting fleshy, more concerned with the temporal things that will not last than the spiritual eternal things that will. For example, caring more about what happens on a plot of land than the emotional and spiritual welfare of the person we are berating. 

Then we have our Gospel reading today from Mark 8, where in which Jesus literally calls Peter the devil. It seems innocent at first, Peter looking out for his teacher’s best interest but Jesus’ calls him on it. From a human standpoint Jesus’ sacrifice looks like the worst choice in the world, but from a spiritual standpoint it is the most important and obvious choice ever. That is why the world does not understand altruism. It confuses the fleshy world that is only ever concerned about getting ahead and getting more that many would freely give of their time, money, and selves to benefits others more than themselves. 

Underlying every argument is a spiritual illness we call sin, that ultimately puts self more important than others, and makes self more important than God and as this goes into motion through a day or through a life, ultimately that person tries to become a god and force the world around them to bend to their will. So, as odd as it may sound, that the answer to arguments and fights among us and in the world even, is not found first in the surface issues that we get all caught up about, but we must pull back the curtain and see what this argument is actually saying about our own heart and our relationship with our God. 

Let’s take a simple example. I was not involved in this church argument, but it still breaks my heart for the pastor and congregation that I knew that were. It’s about a church family that literally split because of the color of the carpet in the sanctuary. They were renovating and putting new floors and carpet down. It started with the two people in charge of the renovation, one liked one color, the other a different color. This simple argument, led to what we do naturally, get other people on our side. Pretty soon, it wasn’t about the two guys and which color to pick, but it became which of the two guys you got along with better, what ways the other person might have slighted you along the way, then who got along better with the people in the group that had chosen sides, then about who was in charge of the church family and what legacy they were leaving behind, to pretty soon each group thought the other was close to the devil incarnate and they couldn’t even bring themselves to take communion together, to splitting and starting two new churches, all over the color of the carpet. 

Now the color of the carpet in a sanctuary matters as does the church building itself. These buildings are special places that are gifts from God for us to receive God’s gifts and care for each other freely within. So, what color you make the carpet is an important decision. But you can see pretty clearly, this argument had nothing to do with the color of the carpet at all. It had everything to do with pride, hurt feelings, jealousy, trying to leave your mark in a way that will never last how you want it to, and ultimately sin. 

Martin Luther in the explanation to the First Commandment, “You shall have no other gods before me” explains it this way. Whatever you fear, love and trust, that is your god. In our example, what did you hear were some of the things that they feared, loved, and trusted in that caused their argument? 

You might say some things like: a fear of losing control, love of being right, and trust in temporal mortal things to maintain their own sense of self-worth. Who knows and often those involved in arguments don’t know either because they are too caught up in the heat of the moment. You take that one step farther behind the curtain and you begin to see that all of that, ultimately stems from both a fear of not having what we need and a lack of trust in our God to provide for our needs. 

But all of those concerns are met and given freely in a loving and saving relationship with our God through our Savior Jesus. Every need that we have is met in a loving relationship with our God and provided by our God for us. When we find our worth, meaning, and hope in our God first and in faith, trust that our God will provide for all of our needs, both now in this life and eternally, what is it that we actually have to argue about? 

Romans 5:11- Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.

I Corinthians 3:21ff- For all things are yours… the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.

As Christians, because we already have peace with God, we already have all things needful in this life and in the next. When we argue and fight, are jealous or afraid, or any of those other emotions, it is an opportunity for us to pull back the curtain of our own heart and to take a look at what is going on inside there. To take a moment and realize that this argument is not about what we think it is, but ultimately it is about sin and a brokenness in my own life where I am not trusting my God in this situation. 

We can ask, what does this argument say about my own faith life and what I am putting my trust in? 

Finally, any argument or any fear becomes a chance for confession. To confess to our God our sins and lack of trust in Him and to receive His forgiveness once again and see how good our God is and how we can give to our God all of our fear, love, and trust. Amen. 

Published by philipmcclelland.org

​I am a recovering burned out workaholic​ who forgot I couldn't change the world. From the ashes of that not only have I found a peace from God that I never knew but a focus on what matters, God, family and loving my neighbor as God has loved me. My burning out experiences really drive my writing and how much I want to share all of the good God has worked through the hurt I've experienced. Currently I serve a great little parish in Northern Ohio with my wonderful family and our furry farm of five dogs, four cats and the oddball handful of fish. You can find me at www.philipmcclelland.org.

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