St. John's, Centreville
October 21, 2018
Proper 24 B
Take my lips, O Lord, and speak through them; take our minds and think with them; take our hearts and set them on fire, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
"The children were going to die. As Hailey Branson-Potts writes in a Los Angeles Times article, Mohammed Bzeek knew that. But in more than two decades as a foster father, he took these children in anyway - the sickest of the sick in Los Angeles County's sprawling foster care system."
"By the time this article was written in February 2017, Bzeek had buried at least 10 children. Some had died in his arms. Branson-Potts writes of how Bzeek spent long days and sleepless nights caring for a bedridden six year old foster child, who was deaf and blind and had a rare brain defect. She had seizures every day and her arms and legs were paralyzed."
"Bzeek, a quiet, devout Libyan-born Muslim, just wants her to know that she is not alone in this life. "I know that she can't hear, can't see, but I always talk to her," he said. I'm always holding her, playing with her. She has feelings. She has a soul. She's a human being."
"Of the 35,000 children monitored by the Los Angeles County's Department of Children and Family Services, there are about 600 children at any given time who fall under the care of the department's Medical Case Management Services, which serves those with the most severe medical needs. There is a dire need for foster parents to care for such children, the article states."
"If anyone calls us and says, 'This foster child needs to go to a home on hospice care', there's only one name we think of - Mohammed Bzeek," said the intake coordinator who finds placements for sick children. "He's the only one that would take a child who may not survive. He's the only foster parent in the county who will take in terminally ill children."
"Bzeek, age 62, is a portly man with a long dark beard and a soft voice. The oldest of 10 children, he came to this country from Libya as a college student in 1978. Years later, through a mutual friend, he met a woman named Dawn, who would become his wife. She had become a foster parent in the early 1980's, before she met Bzeek. Her grandparents has been foster parents, and she had been inspired by their example. Before she met Bzeek, she opened her home as an emergency shelter for foster children who needed immediate placement or who were placed in protective custody."*
"Whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many."
Mohammed Bzeek knew how to serve the least, the last and the lost - children who would probably die. He didn't get any big awards, wasn't on the national news saying how great he was, he didn't get paid millions for what he was doing. He wasn't on Twitter proclaiming his greatness. He was a humble man who saw a need and responded. He lived as a servant.
In our gospel lesson, James and John want to sit next to Jesus in heaven. That's a pretty bold request to make - to think that their greatness was on par with Jesus. So Jesus asks them, "Are you able to drink the cup that I drink or be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?" Without giving it a second thought, they replied, "We are able." But what Jesus is referring to when he asks if they are able to drink the cup is his suffering and crucifixion. Are they willing to suffer and die for the sake of the gospel? His baptism refers to his self-emptying love. Can the disciples live that kind of life? Sharing in the triumph of Jesus includes participation in his sacrificial death. And as we know, when Jesus is arrested and crucified, James and John and the other disciples desert him, fearing they will be killed as well.
But Jesus goes on to tell James and John that Jesus is not the one who will decide who sits on his right or his left in glory. That is not his decision to make. And the other disciples are furious with them.
These disciples want to be honored. They want to be great and they want everyone to know it. They want a big name for themselves and be written up in the history books. But again, they are thinking in earthly terms. They want to be held in high esteem by other people. But that's not the way it will be in the kingdom of God. The first will be last and the last first, Jesus says.
Jesus calls us to be servants of all. What the world thinks of us does not matter. It doesn't matter if we are rich or famous. What matters is how we serve others, how we take care of those in need, how we proclaim the kingdom of God, how we show the love of God to others. That's what matters! That's what's important!
Being a disciple of Jesus Christ is not about success as the world sees it. It's whether or not one has faithfully followed the example of Jesus. Jesus came not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many. That is the example that we are following.
Why is it that night after night on the evening news, in the daily newpapers, and on social media, we don't usually hear about people like Mohammed Bzeek. We hear about murders and wars and terrorism and the inhumanity with which we treat each other. We hear about the rich and powerful people and how they live. We hear about the worst in us, not the best. But we don't hear a lot about regular people that are making a difference in the lives of others. Though I should note that now some of the major TV stations have a 1 minute segment at the end of the broadcast about people who inspire others.
We are so programmed in this earthly life to be captivated by the rich and famous, some of whom do great things, that we don't see those who are doing great things around us. They are the humble ones who are not showy about what they do, or they don't think that what they do is so great - taking a casserole to a sick neighbor, taking care of a child so the frazzled mother can have some time to herself, visiting a friend in the hospital.
Most of us are not able, or are not called, to take in terminally ill foster children, like Muhammed Bzeek. It takes a very special kind of person to do that. And we all can't be like Mother Teresa either. But we can take care of others and the needs they have that are right in front of us, day in and day out, if we keep our eyes open and our hearts focused on Jesus.
Jesus came to serve others and to die for us. May we follow in the footsteps of Jesus and give our lives in service to others. Amen.
`*"Synthesis", October 21, 2018 issue, PNMSI Publishing Company