12 Pentecost C, 2019: Peace be with you

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I went to a laboratory school.
It was kindergarten-through-high school
in the same building, and,
while a public school,
it was also operated by the teacher’s college
of the local university.
I mention it, because we did not have letter grades
until high school.
All through the first nine years of classes,
we had written evaluation that emphasized “the positive”
while allowing for comments
that identified “problematic areas.”
So, the end of the first semester of ninth grade
was a time of reckoning
when, for the first time,
there was a single letter staring up from the page.

That individual letter was very loud,
and somehow it seemed to say more
than the longest evaluation ever written
by one of our previous elementary
or middle school teachers.

I can’t swear to how many A’s I had,
but I think I had all A’s, one B, and a C.
That C was in Algebra and an absolute success story.
The B was in Spanish,
and considering my goof-off and Smart Alec behavior,
it was probably a gift.

My mom looked at my report card,
said nothing about the A’s I had received,
and told me in no uncertain terms
that the B and the C were unacceptable.
At the end of the second semester,
I had all A’s a D and an F.

That says as much about my psychology at the time
as it does hers, and was just a hint
of the problems to come.

Any of us who had a hyper-critical parent
know and recognize the problems and behaviors
planted within the garden of such relationships.
One of them is the voice of that critical parent
traveling with us over time and space,
no matter how we grow and change and flourish.
Struggling to keep that critical parent inside our head
as a small voice instead of a dominant one,
can sometimes be exhausting.
Which is also why, I sometimes read the gospel story
appointed for a given Sunday,
and say, “Ugh.”

I love Jesus,
and with all honesty,
the wisdom of Jesus is my life’s blood.
Some would be surprised to hear me say that
because I do not talk about Jesus or quote Jesus
like some Christian bobble-head.
But Jesus, along with his prophetic pals –
Isaiah, Jeremiah, Micah, and Amos –
is my chosen primary lens
through which I decipher the world.

That said, sometimes I just sigh
because the negativity gets to be too much.
Or more accurately, when I am struggling
with that critical parent inside,
the hard medicine of Jesus
feels like too much.
That is the case today
with this reading from Luke.
I could easily go on and on about the prophetic witness
Jesus lets loose with this story from Luke –
or that Luke lets loose with this story of Jesus.
But not today.
You see, when I read the gospels
I understand that you and I
are the bad guys in the story.
I think there is a lot of Christianity around
that inserts Christians as the good guys,
which makes for a very different story.

But that is so strange to me, when we know
the good guys in these gospel stories,
especially in Luke,
are “the poor, the crippled, the lame,
and the Blind.”

That is Luke’s motto for “the good guys.”
The good guys are the marginalized
not the fat cats like us.

The poorest among us here
would be judged hugely wealthy in that society.
So, in these stories,
we should know that at best,
we are the Pharisee with the lavish banquet
that invited the wrong guests.
But at worst, and more likely,
we are the imperial citizens or senators back in Rome
whose agents are forcing peasants into bankruptcy
in order to amass wealth at the edges of the empire,
or worse, crucifying them.
It is a view of ourselves that is difficult to gaze at
for extended periods of time
if we take it seriously and want to know more.

Yet, like I said,
there is a majority of Christianity in this country,
that reads these scriptures very differently.

They see themselves,
even if middle class and quite wealthy,
as the marginalized and pure at heart
amongst a threatening horde of “secular atheists”
or the fearsome and alien “Muslims,”
or the strange and perplexing godless Buddhists
and polytheistic Hindus.
They domestic Jesus
in order to bring him into their polite company.

While it often doesn’t feel good,
I prefer to keep Jesus as the zealous
social and theological prophet that he was.
Even so, sometimes, like today, it is just too much.

Without going into it in detail today,
I would also say that part of our challenge
as Christians in the 21stcentury,
is that the context of Jesus and his society
is radically different than us and our society.

That change in context
creates change in the wisdom,
and when we do not seek to understand those changes
and hear his wisdom in OUR context –
or when we over-simplify that wisdom for our context –
then we are not doing any better
than the Christians who think that they are the good guys.

That is just a little tease for the weeks ahead this fall,
when the sermons will seek to examine
the wisdom of Jesus
and how it changes from his context to ours.
But today, I have a few words
about that critical parent inside.

It is important to note
that I am talking about the critical parent “inside”
and not the actual parent in our life,
whether living or dead.
You and I know that at some point
we cross a line
after which our parents are no longer the issue.
Rather, it is how we internalized our parents
and we have some control and responsibility with that.
I know it is no longer my  mom talking to me
when I beat myself up inside
for failing at something,
or when I am getting a C
and unwilling to recognize that in this case, a C is success.
Whether it is a critical parent
or critical boss
or teacher, friend, or grandparent,
their voice fades over time
and it becomes our own.

It is then the voice of OUR perfectionism
or OUR negativity
or OUR overly-critical judgments.
And we know all too well,
that if that voice becomes the dominant, lecturing voice
inside of us, it will ooze and bleed outside
and get all over those we care about and love.

So what would Jesus have to say
to a slave-driving,
haranguing voice of criticism
whose hot breath is on our neck
and leaning over our lives?
I think what Jesus would say is, “Peace.”
“Peace be with you,” he might coo into our ear.

While I doubt that Jesus
would have cared about us Romans and Pharisees
as much as he cared about “the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind,”

I do believe he cared about us.
If he is the personification of the love of God,
then no matter how many C’s and D’s and F’s we have
on the scorecard of life,
then we are cared for and loved.
I think the theory goes,
that if we ever finally come to realize we ARE loved,
then we will start doing better on the scorecard
when we are able.

But I do not think that Jesus
can take away the presence of that niggling voice of negativity
once it has gotten inside us.
I do not even think WE can exorcise it.
We can, however, moderate it.
We can quiet it
and make it just one of the many voices
we hear every day inside our busy heads.
“Peace” is how we do it.

That is why Jesus kept saying that
to his disciples, especially
when they were anxious and afraid.
“Peace be with you,” he would say.

Truly, when the dominating and the ugly
are loud in our hearts
and taking up too much room in our minds,
we need to stop and breathe in peace,
and to stop and exhale peace,
because it is the only thing I know that truly does the job.

When my own voice saying “peace” is not powerful enough
to quiet the big voices or sometimes the army of voices,
I can recruit Jesus in my imagination
to come along and add some strength.
I can recruit the memory of affirming elders
and I can recruit the wisdom of teachers.

There are a whole bunch of people you and I have known
that want nothing more
than to be the source of peace in our lives.
We need to let them.
We need to activate them.
We need to give them voice in our hearts and minds.

Peace be with you.