A Sermon by the Rev. David S. Heald
St. Nicholas Episcopal Church, Scarborough
February 26, 2017
Last Sunday after the Epiphany: Year A
Exodus 24:12-18; Ps. 99; 2 Peter 1:16-21; Matthew 17:1-9
While [Peter] was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!”
So we come again in the liturgical year to a turning of the tide, to the story of the transfiguration. What are we to make of it?
For Matthew, it’s a turning point, the time when Jesus, acknowledged by Peter as the Messiah, the son of the living God, and then revealed in glory on the mountain, turns toward Jerusalem. It foreshadows his death and rising again.
And we are left with one deceptively simple admonition: Listen to him. Listen to what he says, watch what he does, follow him where he leads.
Discipleship, says Rowan Williams, is a state of awareness, of paying attention. It’s about ourselves being changed, even as Jesus was himself changed on the holy mountain, revealing the divine presence.
Awareness, Williams says, is inseparable from a sort of expectancy, that there is always something that Jesus, our Master and Teacher, is going to say or show us, a new light on the landscape.
He says that this expectant awareness is a little bit like that of a birdwatcher. The experienced birdwatcher, sitting still, poised, alert…knows that this is a kind of place where something extraordinary suddenly bursts into view…sometimes of course it means a long day sitting in the rain with nothing very much happening.
Always listening and watching, expecting the world-changing flash of grace, of reality opening up and showing God’s presence.
I had an experience something like that Friday evening, watching the news.
The PBS Newshour featured the story of a good man on a quiet and heartbreaking mission, one that most people would never consider undertaking. He is sixty-two and lives in Los Angeles, the only foster parent in that city of four million who cares solely for terminally ill children.
Over almost three decades he and his wife cared for scores of children. Ten have died in his care. Most of the children he’s taken recently are born with terminal illnesses. A widower since 2015, he yet continues the work.
Today, he lives with a six-year old foster daughter born with microcephaly, a rare disorder in which a baby’s brain doesn’t fully develop. She cannot see or hear. She only responds to touch.
He knows that taking in critically ill children is a painful process, that at the start their time together will be short.
Last November, the caregiver became the patient. He was diagnosed with colon cancer and had surgery in December. He continues treatment yet his foster care is ongoing. A nurses’ aide now helps him out several days a week. Other than his hospitalization, he hasn’t had a day off since 2010.
Much of his dedication, he says, derives from his faith, a faith that guided him through many heartbreaks. Mohamed Bzeek is a Muslim, having emigrated from Libya in 1978. He became a US citizen in 1997.
Bzeek says he sees the negative stereotypes out there. But he is not deterred. I don’t hate nobody, he said. I love everybody. I respect everybody.
The interviewer commented that there’s so much heartbreak in caring for the children, yet he continues to do it.
Yes, he said, even though my heart is breaking. To me, death is a part of life. And I’m glad I help those kids go through this period of time, you know?
I help him. I be with him. I comfort him. I love him or her. And until he pass away, I am with him and make him feel like he has a family and he has somebody who cares about him and loves him…they’re not alone.
This humble Muslim man inadvertently teaches us what it means to be Christian. The road down the mountain leads through Jerusalem, where Christ’s risen glory will transfigure even death itself; even there, on that dark road, there is the world-changing flash of light and grace, love transfiguring all.
Listen to him, said the voice from the holy mountain; listen to what he says, watch what he does, follow him where he leads. AMEN