Take Down the Curtain

One of the great preachers of our time was a man by the name of Fred Craddock (1928-2015). He taught homiletics at the Chandler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta. No one has influenced my preaching more than him. The reason is simple. No one can tell a story like Fred Craddock. Let me give you one example.

Craddock tells the story about going back to his hometown in rural north Georgia. He decided to eat breakfast at a café run by one of the members of his church. It was a restaurant in what’s called a “shotgun house” – a long slender room with a door at each end. In this case one door opened onto the front street. The other door, the back door, opened onto the alley. The owner of the restaurant was a man by the name of George. When Fred walked in George looked at Fred and said, “Let’s go for a cup of coffee.” Craddock was surprised. “You don’t have coffee?” But George insisted. They went to a nearby fast-food restaurant and sat down. “You know the curtain?” George asked. “Yes,” said Craddock. The curtain George referred to was stretched out across the middle of his café, between the two doors of the shotgun house. It was there to segregate. White folks entered the restaurant by the front door from the main street. Black folks entered from the alley. “The curtain’s got to come down,” George said. “Then take it down,” replied Craddock. “But if I take it down there’s a lot of folks who won’t like it,” said George. “Then leave it up,” said Craddock. “If I take it down, I may lose my business,” said George. “But if I leave it up, I lose my soul.” Sometimes the world can be an ugly place.

What would you do? Would you take the curtain down or would you leave the curtain up? It is not just a story about a restaurant owner in north Georgia. It is our story. Daily, each one of us must decide. Are we going to stand up against the things that are wrong and lose something in this world. Or are we going to ignore those issues and lose your part of our soul? That is a question each one of us must answer. Do you take the curtain down or do you leave it up?

It even happens when you read the scriptures. We ignore and accept certain things. For example, look at the text for today, Matthew 2:1-12. The main characters in the story are the Magi. You know them because you know the hymn, We Three Kings. Sometimes they are called Wise Men. The truth is the song has taught us more about them then the Bible. I am only interested in what the Bible says.

What does the Bible say? Prior to our reading the Bible says they came from the east during the time of King Herod. They came because they had seen a star that signaled the birth of the King of the Jews. They went to the palace because they assumed a king would be born in a palace. However, their assumption was wrong. While their astrological skills were excellent; their Biblical knowledge is limited. The only thing they really accomplished that day was exciting the insecure King Herod. This is Bible. Jesus was two years old when they finally saw Jesus. They left him some expensive gifts, odd gifts for a baby. By then Joseph and Mary had left the manger and were living in a house. In a dream the Magi were told to return home by another route, by passing Herod in Jerusalem. In a dream Joseph was told to move his tiny family to Egypt, keeping Jesus safe. King Herod’s opportunity to kill this new born King of the Jews was gone and he reacts in a violent way. Verse 16 says, “When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi.”  I find that to be one of the most disturbing verses in the Bible. What started out as such a good thing, worshiping Jesus; Ended in a horrible way, the death of baby boys.

That is why we keep the curtain up? We try to avoid tension; We try to avoid conflict. We try to avoid anything that is ugly because those things are upsetting. We want every situation to be a win-win situation. However, sometimes people lose. The Magi fit nicely into your nativity set but there is never any room for dead baby boys. Could it be we have edited the Bible to make it agreeable to our senses? That is one of the things that disturbs me about our generation’s relationship with the Bible. We have distilled the Bible stories down to cartoon characters and have sucked the life out of each scene. The Bible was written by adults, for adults.

Could it be we have edited the world to make it agreeable to our senses? We keep the curtain up, so to speak, because it hides the truth. Every situation in our world is not a win-win situation. Sometimes people lose and the church is called upon to renounce such behavior. The church has been called, “the conscious of society.” It is those things I really wants to talk about today so don ‘t expect this blog to be easy. What are you hiding behind the curtain? If you keep the curtain up, you will make everyone happy! But if you keep the curtain up you will lose part of your soul. This is my advice for you today: TAKE THE CURTAIN DOWN! You are a disciple of Jesus Christ and God expects you to stand for what is right!

Several years ago, I found myself in the country of Belarus. It is located west of Russia and north of the Ukraine. Don’t worry if you don’t know Belarus’s location. It is one of those ugly places in the world. It is a country that really has no real future because of her past. The future of that country ended on April 26, 1986. You remember the event, Chernobyl! Today, Chernobyl is abandoned. In 1986, it was part of the Soviet Union, located in northern Ukraine. On April 26 of that year there was a nuclear accident of catastrophic proportions. Radiation poured out of the plant. On that day the wind was blowing from the south. The radiation clouds blew over Belarus and devastated a large portion of the country. One-third of her land was suddenly gone. By the time I arrived the Soviet Union was gone, and the country of Belarus was an independent state. It will be thousands of years before the radiation is gone. Until that happens Belarus has no real chance for progress. They are a poor neighbor in the world community. No one really helps her because no one really cares.

I will never forget the condition of the children when we arrived. They were pale, sick, and cold. The radiation had suppressed their immune systems. They had no heat in the orphanage because there was no money to fix the boiler. I was always taught that America was different. I was taught that America was good and cared about the poor in the world. When I asked the question how much money does America send to the country of Belarus? I was told nothing! Why? Because Belarus offers no political advantage to our country. Sick children were living in a 40-degree orphanage because they offered us no political advantage. That is just plain wrong. The story of Belarus does not stand alone. How many other world issues are were hiding behind the curtain? It is time to take the curtain down.

One of the finest people in my community is Kathleen Price (born 1950). She is an incredible person. She is the founder and director of the Mission of Love. This is the mission statement of her organization: You are not here to save the world but are to touch the hands that are within reach. She has touched many hands through the years in many locations. She has helped people in Belize, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Peru, and the Pine Ridge Reservation. I knew of her work in parts of the Spanish speaking world, but I didn’t know she helped Americans.

The Pine Ridge Reservation is in the southeastern corner of South Dakota on the Nebraska border. It is the eighth largest Indian reservation in America, measuring nearly 3,500 square miles. That makes it larger than the states of Delaware and Rhode Island combined. Nearly 29,000 Americans live on the reservation today. Over the past 200 years these people have lost nearly everything, including their language. The numbers are not pretty. Up to 85% of the people on the reservation live below the poverty level. Adolescent suicide is four times higher than the national average. If you are a man, then you can expect to live to the age of 47; if you are a woman you can expect to live until you are 52. Kathleen Price and the Mission of Love go to help these people. They go to Pine Ridge because their own government has basically turned their back on these Americans because they are native Americans. It is just easier to keep the curtain up. The story of the Pine Ridge Reservation does not stand alone. How many national issues are hiding behind the curtain?

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Years ago, I talked to a member of the clergy who was in an awkward spot. A retired couple came to him with a request. The had both been widowed and were tired of living alone. They wanted him to officiate at their marriage, but there would no marriage license. Why? The reason was simple. If she legally married the man, then she would lose her deceased husband’s generous pension. They wanted a pretend wedding so they wouldn’t lose income. Do you any of anyone who is living together so they won’t lose their deceased spouse’s pension check? It is not that uncommon. Do you know of senior citizens who live together unmarried for economic reasons? Do you know of anyone of any age that lives together? I don’t want to shock you, but sometimes young people live together too.

Living together has become part of the landscape of our society. Everyone says, “The times have changed.” I know times have changed. We are very high technique. We have cellular telephones, the internet and high-definition televisions. However, living together is one of those things that is hiding behind the curtain. It is one of those things that is socially accepted but it is still morally wrong. Marriage not only protects individuals but it protects society as well. Living together does not stand alone. How many other personal issues are hiding behind the curtain?

Do you remember what the Bible said? The Bible said the Magi came to worship the newborn king. Their hearts were in the right place, but they had two flaws in their plan. First, they came too late. According to verse 16 they came two years too late. Second, they went to the wrong place. The Magi went to the palace in Jerusalem. They should have gone to the house in Bethlehem. If you combine those two mistakes, then you discover one of the most disturbing verses in the Bible. The insecure King Herod ordered the killing of every two-year-old boy and younger. Does anyone’s nativity set include dead baby boys? Of course not! It is easier just to ignore it. It is easier to keep it hidden behind the curtain.

How many things do we hide behind the curtain? What world issues do we hide behind the curtain? What national issues to we hide behind the curtain? What personal issues do we hide behind the curtain? Don’t you think it is time to take the curtain down?

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