Welcome to my blog. I hope my thoughts touch a part of your story.
|Posted by jeffdoucette on June 15, 2018 at 8:10 AM|
4 23 Jesus[c] went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news[d] of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people. 24 So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought to him all the sick, those who were afflicted with various diseases and pains, and he cured them. 25 And great crowds followed him from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and from beyond the Jordan.
When Jesus[a] saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2 Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
5 “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely[b] on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
How does one even begin to prepare to preach at the funeral of a 24 year old who lived in the world of drugs and jail and was murdered? For me, like any other funeral…I begin by meeting the family at their home and ask them two questions: (1) What name did your loved one go by the most? (2) Can you tell me some stories about them? So let’s look at those two questions…
(1) What name did your loved one go by the most?
Names are important…they were thought out at a young age by parents who had hopes and dreams for this child before birth. With that came lots of worries and questions. But finally a name was settled upon. There is always a reason as to why the name was important.
(2) Can you tell me some stories about them?
This can be hard to begin for some…grief catches up in our throats, relationships come into play, the moment surrounding their death can be a little too fresh. But eventually they begin to share some stories…some good, some that make them laugh, some that bring tears, some that bring anger, some that bring about a longing for years ago.
So for me these two questions were important. Because I wanted in the midst of their son being murdered to remember his name…the name of their boy they loved into life with hopes and dreams. I wanted them to remember in the midst of the names he might have had tagged on him because of his life circumstances, that he was first and foremost their son whom they loved…despite what he lived and how he died. And this was evident in their words as I met them both.
The stories were important because as well as acknowledging the pain, I wanted them to remember Kyle in those moments of light and love. But grief and the questions of “What could I have done more or differently?” can often take over. I want them to remember that their son was first and foremost “their son…birthed with love into life”.
This gathering at the funeral home was biblical, was touching and gut wrenching. As one described the funeral who knew the dad said “It was filled with sex workers, street people and addicts… When you urged people not to give up on themselves, to believe that they are loved by God—well, I’m sure there were a few there who did not want to hear anything like that, but I personally think you planted some amazing seeds that will bear fruit some day.”
In my closing remarks I did say to them…Never let anyone tell you that you are anything less than Children of God. I implored them that if they found themselves in a hole desperately trying to get out…to keep reaching out. There were groups and people willing to be there for them.
We allowed a chance for people to share stories of Kyle and share they did. Some stories brought out laughter and some tears. It was full of raw emotion and some had self medicated to be there to try and mask their pain. And we all walk through the fog of grief the best we can. I told them that we can never reduce people’s lives to how they died…but those moments of light and love in their lives.
Afterwards many young people gathered outside the funeral home and brought a car up on the sidewalk and listened to music and wrote messages on a painted piece of plywood and opened a bottle of something and sprayed it over the messages saying “this is how WE mourn, not like that in there…” and that was as sacred as what we did inside. This was their church and I am not the least bit insulted. I am grateful that the funeral home allowed them their space to do this. I heard two of the people from the funeral home mentioning it going up the stairs…I quickly responded “They are grieving together”. This might have let them leave the young people be and I am glad they did.
I preached on the Beatitudes…I did not do an altar call, or a come to Jesus moment or shake my finger and tell them this is what happens when you live that life. I actually choked up a couple of times. I could feel the raw pain in that room. Kyle had frequented the youth homeless shelter where I worked before I went back into church ministry. So I have heard the stories of youth who have been kicked out, or into drugs, or had been molested, or lived with mental illness, or were coming out of jail.
And at no time did I judge them…instead like at the funeral yesterday I simply reminded them to never let anyone tell them they were anything less than children of God. At the shelter I did not use these words…but I did so in my actions. I tried to help them find housing and financial support and medical treatment or mental health help. Most of all I wanted them to know they were safe at the shelter.
Yesterday I wanted them to know that God had a place for those who lived with great pain, who could not find a way out, who struggled so horribly with life. I reminded them of the disciples who grieved their own friend Jesus who was murdered at 33. I reminded them as the disciples did to gather together, to look out for one another, to tell Kyle’s story and find hope and believe in their goodness.
Most of all I prayed hard for the right words at the right time in preparation and the actions to back them up. I went early and talked with people, I hung around and talked with people and I shed tears. Ministers are not robots…we hurt too…we grieve deeply. Yesterday was one of those moments where it was almost like an out of body experience and I could imagine so vividly what Jesus saw when he moved through the towns being with people. Jesus saw the forgotten, the marginalized, those who feel lost and unloved. I did also…I did also. I continue to pray for Kyle’s family and friends who gathered yesterday.
Until next time…
|Posted by jeffdoucette on June 13, 2018 at 6:50 AM|
For they are a rebellious people,
children who will not hear
the instruction of the LORD;
10 who say to the seers, “Do not see”;
and to the prophets, “Do not prophesy to us what is right;
speak to us smooth things,
11 leave the way, turn aside from the path,
let us hear no more about the Holy One of Israel.”
“Speak to us of smooth things…” was the line I remember most about my week in Washington at the Festival of Homiletics (fancy word for preaching). It was spoken by Rev. Dr. Ginger Gaines-Cirelli who became the first female preacher at Foundry Methodist church in its 200 yr history in Washington.
My experience in 20 years of ministry is that many people want to hear “smooth things”. In other words…don’t rile us up, don’t tell us what we are doing wrong, don’t challenge us. Exactly what the people of Israel were telling the writers of Isaiah 30. “Do not see, do not prophesy, speak to us of smooth things, prophecy illusions, let us hear no more about the holy one of Israel.
Rev. Dr. Otis Moss III told us point blank that it was easy for ministers to cave in…and using a star wars analogy reminded us that by times we have sold our soul to the Empire”. He also mentioned that for so many people who were living “Stormy Monday” preachers resorted to “Happy Sunday”. But when people are dying in streets it can no longer be business as usual for preachers.
Ginger challenged us that we near to hear the rough words, name the pain, the lament to participate in God’s world. Smooth words mean “tell us a syropy story that warms our hearts but does not challenge it to change.”
Some will say but preaching and politics have no place together…they must be separated. They said the same thing to Jesus. It is what got him killed but he did not back away. His words of love were not syropy, but ones that called the authorities and people of the day to real concrete heart change.
What touched and disturbed me so deeply in the US during this week was the powerful love and care for those most marginalized by the 1800+ ministers who came. It was a plea to come back to the gospel words…to the prophet’s words and hear the cries of the “Anawhim” or the most vulnerable of society who were trampled upon. These were preachers who risked their lives to speak rough thinks to the status quo, to the white supremacist, to the steps of power, to those who would step on the backs of God’s most vulnerable and leave a footprint.
And this week it felt like it seeped into Ontario with the election of Doug Ford. Most will know that I love politics and that I hate politics…because as a preacher I need to have my foot in the earthly world while bringing heaven to earth as Jesus did.
I am not against one political party or another having shifted my vote in many ways. But this past Tuesday to see Doug Ford elected when his language and actions have suggested he will not be one for “friends” as he kept calling people…but risks putting his foot on the backs of the most vulnerable and leaving his footprint on their backs with them unable to get back up. We are only as good as how we treat the most vulnerable in our society…Jesus understood this. I could have easily accepted a PC government under the leadership of a Christine Elliott or Caroline Mulroney.
I say this because Doug Ford has had shown on occasion how he might be open to the vulnerable. When a group home for young people living with autism he spoke out against it saying “I didn’t know they were going to go outside”. He has also refused to commit to be present for the Pride parade. And these are but a few cases.
I have always tried to use my voice for justice, for the ones who have no voice and to help them find a voice and find dignity. And often this can be political. And often this means saying rough things, not smooth things. Because to stay silent is to stay complicit and it is to give voice to the bullies of the world.
This is one of the reasons the Affirming process that one of the members of Session at our church brought forward asking the congregation to embrace was so important. It addressed the most vulnerable in society in the LGBTQ+ community. It was not always accepted and not always pretty and there was some pretty mean stuff said. And I tried my best to call out those who would use a bully pulpit to try and intimidate. This was and always will be wrong. Not only in our own congregation but also in our families, our community and among our politicians.
I understand that for some balanced budgets are so important…but when it is done on the backs of the most vulnerable…we as church…me as minister, you as congregant must be willing to risk and use your voice even when it is not popular and speak out.
Speak to me of smooth things…don’t make me shift in my seat, don’t tell us what I am doing wrong. Sorry, that is not of the gospel. And in these coming four years, among the many things I will do in ministry I have chosen also the LGBTQ+ community to advocate for, to walk with, to listen to and to learn from.
What will you do over the next four years?
|Posted by jeffdoucette on April 24, 2018 at 7:45 AM|
I'm Starting With The Man In The Mirror
I'm Asking Him To Change His Ways
And No Message Could Have Been Any Clearer
If You Wanna Make The World A Better Place
Take A Look At Yourself, And Then Make A Change.
Michael Jackson: Man in the Mirror
Another day…a spring day filled with long awaited sunshine. People out walking, shopping, soaking in the sunshine. And then a van out of no where changed the day for ever for families. At the time of this writing 10 dead, 16 injured. Soon First responders would begin to make the dreaded phone call contacting families. News reports would come out and some would sit in shock and take to social media to try and verbalize the emotions.
But in the midst of all of this something always happens that sickens me. In the unfolding of these tragedies hatred pours out of human hearts. People begin to say things and use memes and hateful stereotypes pour out. And it continues to flow out in hatred against many different groups.
People begin to blame all refugees, all people with mental illness. Self righteous artists paint all groups with the same brush…and among these are people who proclaim to be people of faith. Despite people professing to be Christian, some call for an end to welcoming people fleeing from dire situations in other countries. Some stigmatize people living with mental illness which pushes people further into the shadows living with this disease afraid to talk about it. Some decide to say God was sending a message when innocent members of the LGBTQ community are murdered in night clubs. Some begin to claim white privilege when torches are lit calling for pure race countries. Some claim God given rights to own guns rather than seek sensible legislation to protect senseless deaths of children and teenagers. Some rather than seek justice for missing and murdered Indigenous women instead continue to perpetuate stereotypes. And then people post horrible memes attacking people living on welfare or false memes saying refugees make more than others in our country. I could go on and on.
What I am trying to say…is before we continue to spout hateful facts…maybe we need to look in a mirror and ask ourselves what words we use when we talk about people. What is my attitude about people? Who is the God I love and who does God love? We might be surprised to find some discrepancies and be even more surprised to hear God respond…”ahem…not so fast there buddy!!!”
Our children around us learn from us. No one is born hating people…we learn words and actions from those around us. So maybe if we are shocked to hear language that divides and hates around us…we need to ask what we say and do. Do we speak love and diversity or do we simply stay silent or continue to not care and make sure everyone is perfect like us?
Jesus looked around his disciples as he was bent over a basin and a bowl and said “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.” (John 13:14-16). And in that basin of water…was the reflection of Jesus and each disciple challenged to see Jesus not only in him but in the face of all they would see.
But if we are not ready to look in the mirror and see how our own face becomes contorted when we spew hate towards another…the world will never change. We must start there with ourselves…
|Posted by jeffdoucette on April 10, 2018 at 9:50 AM|
When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the authorities, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”
A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.
(John chapter 20: verses 19-31)
So I need to ask us a question to start out my sermon today. Does this Easter story matter any more? If we just stopped telling it would it matter? If we just stopped coming to church, would that matter? If we just went on with our lives, would the Easter story fade into our book cases and become another book to be filled with dust? Words the disciples might have asked themselves I am sure after the events of the story from last week…words I ask myself by times to be honest.
Who could blame the disciples if they had walked away and let the story fade away? Who could blame them for not being entirely sure what to believe, who to believe, who to trust. The time of Jesus was not pretty or safe. It was dominated by cruel rulers who made the lives of people a living hell…physically, mentally, spiritually. Could the body have been stolen? Who could blame Thomas in the gospel, for showing up to be with those gathered, only to hear a wild story and told he had to believe. It was only when he saw Jesus and could physically touch him that he believed.
But what about us, some 2000 years later? With the state of our world, with some of its leaders, with what is going on…does this Easter story have any relevance? Does it matter if we believe anymore? Does it make a difference? What is our level of belief in the Easter story? What do we hold dear about this Easter story? Does it matter in our lives anymore? Is it the story only of our parents and grandparents? Or have we made room for it in our lives and made it our own? Or have we just moved on saying “Eh! Easter is done…what’s next on the church calendar? Now what have you got to show us?”
So often over the past nearly seven years I have heard, “Our church is hidden and do people know that we are here? If there was more ways to become known, to become more visible…it would help.” But does that mean putting a 20 foot lit cross on the building? A fancy electronic sign outside the church? A billboard out at Kingston Road with out name and street address or a catchy glitzy slogan?”
Have we reduced our faith to how full our church is? How balanced our budget is? Or is it more than that? What does the gospel story have to say to us today and our faith life some two thousand years later after the resurrection?
There is a huge difference between the gospel story of two thousand years ago and today I agree. The disciples were scared, frightened, disoriented, emotionally drained and confused. The week’s events had taken the wind out their sail and then all of a sudden they had to make sense of what was essentially for them a ghost in their midst in the form of Jesus. But what about us? Who does not get scared, frightened, disoriented, emotionally drained and confused with what we live by times. The question then for the disciples and for us today is how as followers of the Risen one, do we respond.
The gospel says the disciples gathered the first day of the week. Could you imagine being in that room? Can you hear the conversations? Can you hear the excited breathless recounting of the morning and the stories of Mary, Peter and John and the other disciple at the tomb? Or the story of the two on the road to Emmaus. Everyone talking at the same time over one another trying to be heard. Everyone except Thomas who for some reason got delayed. We could say “How could he not believe the other disciples saying they had seen Jesus?” But easy for us some 2000 years later…but if we are honest…we do not always get it, or buy into it any more than Thomas did. Or maybe Thomas was just too exhausted emotionally and struggled in the fog of his own grief.
But something changed in that room when Jesus entered. The words “Peace be with you” can do that to change the climate in a room. That peace we share as we begin our service…because as we gather, we are all those disciples in that room. That “Peace be with you!” was a divine embrace or “Shalom” around each of the disciples breathing into them and around them, this Spirit of Resurrection, this taste of God’s life over death. This gathering that makes sense when life throws us a curve and tries to rob of us what we know, deep in our faith…that God has never and will never abandon us. And the story that has followed our ancestors for two thousand years has never and will never abandon us. In the midst of our grieving in the fog, we will catch glimpses of resurrection, of that Peace of Christ, of that promise of God. I know this deep in my heart because I have seen those glimpses of resurrection in the midst of us as church when we gather and respond to our faith. I have seen those glimpses of resurrection in the faith filled actions you have been part of.
I have seen it in the little child from Footprints on a Saturday running excitedly with great joy the length of our hallway and the parents who have benefited from a bit of respite to look after themselves.
I have seen it when we welcomed a transgendered woman during the Affirming process and listened to her story of pain and isolation from her Anglican church.
I have seen it as we hugged the Muslim moms of Durham when they came to thank us for supporting them with love by giving us roses after church.
I have seen it in the numerous car loads of clothing taken to the backdoor mission or car loads of food to the local food bank.
I have seen it in the times of sock it to me Sunday when you generously whipped socks at me to give comfort to the weary feet of those with no home to go to at Joanne’s house this past December.
I have seen it as we have collected coats, school supplies and miscellaneous items and have sent them to Kasabonika First Nations or raised funds for Pikangikum first nation to refit water in houses.
I have seen it as we have listened to the story of a residential school survivor speak in our midst, or my Tobique first nation cousin Trent as he spoke about his Maliseet culture and worries and concerns.
I have seen it in the faces of people like the Muslim Welfare home or Durham Rape Crisis center or the Special Olympics or the many Gifts with vision or other charities as we have donated to our Advent or Lenten boxes.
I have seen Resurrection in how we have done the backpacks for the young people of the Durham Family Court Clinic.
I have seen it in the faces of Judy from Affirm United as she presented us with our Affirming Congregation certificate.
I have seen it in the stories of the many people who have received prayer shawls or sock monkeys or superhero blankets or teddy bears from us as we passed them around our worship praying with them.
I have seen it in the faces of those at Fred Victor or Massey Center or Horizon House or Denise House when items have been delivered by our UCW ladies.
I have seen it in the stories of people living with addictions who use our space for Alcoholics Anonymous twice a week.
I have seen resurrection in how many here have cared for creation through 10,000 trees for the Rouge, or the annual clean up at the Lake.
I have seen it in the voices and excited young people as they share their faith with us and race off to church school.
I have seen it the faces of family members who have gathered here to bury their loved ones and how we have ministered to them.
I have seen it last Sunday in the voices of our young people who were confirmed and have taken their place as full members of our church family.
I have seen it in the musical voices of our music ministry helping us to sing the songs which nurture our faith, which make us wipe tears, which make us want to stomp our feet and clap our hands.
I have seen it in the giftedness of our artists who share their love of painting for our Sunday celebrations throughout the year.
I have seen it in our welcome of people who come through our doors for our annual Bazaar.
I have seen it in the faces of Rev. Roberta and the Roman Catholic Women Priest movement as we have given them space to begin a new church community which embraces women’s ordination.
I have seen Resurrection in the shocked faces of members of the LGBTQ community when we have brought our Confirmation group to listen to their stories on Coffee night.
I have seen it when we have made space for Elizabeth and other members of our congregation who live with developmental disabilities.
I have seen it when we have welcomed The Spirit movers dance troupe or Tom Krysiak from L’Arche Daybreak who made our communion vessels putting a big “S” for Superman on Jesus’ chest.
I have seen it on the shocked then thankful faces of members of the LGBTQ community when we have helped put on a church service on Pride grounds and then marched in the Pride parade as allies along side them.
I have seen it in our own faces as we welcomed guests and visitors who have come to worship with us, maybe to check us out looking for a new faith family.
I saw it in the faces of Presbytery gathering here with members of the Muslim community to dialogue in friendship and support and have some claim it was the best Presbytery meeting ever.
I have seen it as we have gathered each Sunday as disciples on this common faith journey, to be nourished and strengthened. I have seen it especially when we quietly encouraged one another in those after church conversations when things were rough in our lives.
I have seen these resurrection moments of the Risen One among you and so much more.
Resurrection is all around us, the Risen one walks among us and through us. There are those Thomas’ in our midst who doubt but the Risen One walks with us and quietly whispers our name (N.) like he did the name Mary that first Easter morning. We might not use the word Resurrection, or the Risen one, or faith…but it is there. It runs through us, and around us and back out of us. It reminds us that “We are not alone”. This is the meaning of the words “Peace Be With You”, that God’s Spirit is with this church family and always will be in the story of Jesus, Risen and walking along side us. You are never alone, trust the Spirit of the Risen One will guide you and this congregation when things get tough. For remember…”We are not alone, we live in God’s world…” and that is not the world of death…but but that sweet Spirit of resurrection and those tangible moments of the Risen One in our midst. May it always blow through us!
|Posted by jeffdoucette on April 7, 2018 at 7:50 AM|
Each year I love to write a fictional monologue for the Easter Sunrise service loosely based on the Easter Sunday scripture passage but rooted in my faithful imagination. While there is no evidence that Nicodemus was the “Other disciple”…well there was no evidence he was not. So having preached on him this Lent…I decided to play with his story as if he might have been there that Easter morning. (Rev. Jeff)
Nicodemus, the “Other Disciple”
A Witness to the Resurrection
(An Easter sunrise monologue by Rev. Jeff Doucette)
John 20 Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. 2 So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” 3 Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. 4 The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, 7 and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. 8 Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9 for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10 Then the disciples returned to their homes.
The road from darkness to light can be long and scary. But if you stay on the journey, your heart will thank you and you will never live the same way. It has been many years but I love to tell my grandchildren the story every time they ask.
My name is Nicodemus and my story has been told because I was with Peter on that first day of the week when Jesus rose from the dead. But my story and my journey begins before that.
I was a member of the Pharisees, a leader of the Jewish people and a member of the Sanhedrin which was the high court of Jerusalem. I was part of the privileged and entitled class. I had access to power, all the right people, all the best and influential meals. I had status, I had class. I had everything one could want.
Or…at least I thought I did…
It all began at what I would have thought was a simple wedding…but I soon learned that it was not to be so simple… For you see there was this man named Jesus, a simple man, a carpenter’s son from Nazareth. I had never been to Nazareth…and why would I have reason. I knew no one from there and really what good could come from Nazareth. I travelled to Cana to be at this wedding as a favor to the father of the groom whom I knew. This man Jesus was a cousin of the bride and mixed and mingled along with his mother Mary. The wedding meal was like every other wedding meal with cheap wine that flowed fast and quickly and ran out. But I noticed a small commotion not far from me. This woman was berating her son to do something about the wine situation…there was laughter then a slap and a look from her that made him say “ok ok…go and tell them to check the barrels again.
Well my eyes curled with intrigue and out came more servants with flasks and filled our cups with the richest full bodied flavored wine I had ever tasted. I thought they had hidden the good stuff…but found out it was this Jesus that made this wine appear from no where. Was he a magician? A charlatan? No they would have commanded an audience, but he did this quietly. I leaned into my servant who stood behind me and asked him to find out where this wine had come from really. He returned with the story that it was this Jesus of Nazareth and it was not the first time he had done incredible things like this. So I made my way over and sat with them and listened to him talk. His message was simple in how he talked about God and God’s love.
Something in me stirred at that moment and I can’t explain it. Why would a woman with no status or importance matter to me? But at that moment it did… Maybe it was because I was feeling tired and burdened by what I did. Each day I could see the faces of people who were being beaten further down in life. They could not seem to get up. Yet I was hearing stories of people who did.
So I made some enquiries as to how to find him. And so in the dark of night I found him and we talked by the light of a candle of matters of the heart. I did so because it would not have been good for me to be caught talking to him and risk everything at this point. He called me on my privilege and entitlement and asked me why my heart was struggling with it now. He talked about God’s love for the world…and how it might not be the world I expected. I left with such a full heart and still many questions. I knew going in that he was of God…but coming out I was sure of it.
So who was this world God so loved? Well I began to hear stories. I was shocked to hear that Jesus travelled to Sychar in Samaria and actually sat with a woman at mid day…ALONE…by the well and drank from their water ladel at the well of Jacob. He even engaged this woman in discussion. This woman travelled back to her village and began to tell everyone of this man who knew her entire life and her heart and offered her a new living water. Her life changed from that moment on…and the world God so loved was making itself clearer to me.
So I decided to try and get closer to Jesus and follow him. I could do that easily as a member of the Pharisees. We were the keepers of everything that was liturgical and ritual and we made sure people followed these laws. I had my spies and I also kept my eyes open and watched and followed people and groups. So there would be no suspicions raised if I volunteered to gather evidence on Jesus. It was not for them but for me and my own questions.
I was close by when he healed the dying son of the royal official. That struck me as he was of important status. Maybe Jesus was telling me that all are equal in God’s eyes. I was shocked at the time he healed the man ill for 38 years next to the pool of Siloam because no one would help him in when the waters got stirred. I would not have risked being impure by touching this man…but Jesus did with such gentleness and compassion. I heard about the time when he took the five loaves and two fish of a young boy and multiplied them and fed 5000 people. I began to look for unexpected gifts in the children who ran through the neighborhoods if given the chance to share them. I stood in the shadows the time when he offered forgiveness to the woman caught in adultery. It was when Jesus asked who among us had not sinned…we could cast the first stone. He just kept writing in the sand and I imagined he was writing mine calling me out. He sent her home free and forgiven and teary eyed.
Around this time my fellow members of the Sanhedrin were gathered looking for ways to arrest Jesus then and there. I spoke up saying “Our law does not judge people without first giving them a hearing to find out what they are doing, does it?” But they would not listen to me.
Then there was the time when Jesus cured the man born blind even though it was thought he was blind because of the sins of his parents. It was what we were taught but again he was the world God loved. It was the time when he raised Lazarus from the dead, not like the local magicians, but because of God. He called out to the heavens saying: “I know God you hear me…” and then called Lazarus out of the tomb. To the others it was the line in the sand you do not cross…pretending to speak for God?” But it sent a chill down my spine and a tear in my eye as Lazarus came out fully bound and then unbound. I wanted to run and help them unbind him feeling as if it was my own bandages unwrapping the darkness from me and allowing the light to fully shine. This was when it all unravelled for Jesus.
I heard rumblings that they were going to try to arrest him and put this to a stop but I was not in on where and when. It was Passover and I was with my family and we were celebrating like other homes in our neighborhood. A knock came to my door that made my heart sink. During Passover…it was happening now. I was right!
The next few hours were crazy. They arrested him and threw him in prison. Some tried to reason and bargain with the high priests but to no end. The crowd was forming and they wanted Jesus dealt with…or maybe they were simply egged on by Caiaphas and Annas. Hatred can poison a heart and travel fast.
And before I knew it, Pilate who was trying to climb his way back into a position of power took control of Jesus. I could see it in his eyes that this was not going to go well. He was more interested in power than the truth of the situation. But rather than listen to the truth, he gave into the crowds who had become a mob. And awaiting Jesus was the cross…the most painful way to die. It was also the way to stop a movement, its leader and its followers and send a message.
I was not far away when I saw Jesus take his last breath. To watch his mother grieving, watching her son die before her eyes cut me to the heart. The few disciples who had not run away stood helplessly by at a distance. When he breathed his last it was like the wind came out of my sails. It turned so dark…I felt like I was back in the darkness on my way to meet Jesus for the first time.
I had made friends with some of the disciples and they trusted me not to be like the others. They saw I looked at Jesus as they did…with love. We were crushed and it felt like hope had been taken from us…which is what the authorities wanted.
I was friends with Joseph of Arimathea and was there when he pleaded for the body of Jesus so that he could bury him. I went along with him and the others thought I was going to make sure everything was done properly according to Jewish law. But I went because I wanted to say my goodbyes to Jesus, to thank him for helping me into the light, yet trying to figure out how to stay in that light.
When we placed Jesus in the tomb after the women had loving prayed over him anointing him with spices…we rolled the stone over the tomb opening and thought it was all over. But no….
I was out wandering the street early in the morning trying to figure out what to do and where to go next with all that happened. My head was spinning and my heart still in disbelief.
Then I saw a figure running toward me and he approached I saw that it was Peter…he grabbed me and looked me in the eyes and said “Nicodemus…the tomb is empty…the tomb is empty!!! Mary just told me. My heart began to race and we took off running as fast as we could. I almost forgot Peter was beside me as I ran ahead of him slightly and arrived at the tomb ahead of him. I peered in and it was empty with only the burial cloth lying where we had placed him. Could it be true? Did he rise from the dead? Surely if someone stole his body, they would have not unwrapped him. And Mary said she saw him or did she. I was paralyzed and could not move my feet, staying outside the tomb.
Then Peter arrived breathing heavy from the run and his beating heart and he did not stop but ran inside. I watched as he looked around the tomb and began to laugh. My feet unfroze and I entered the tomb. I picked up the burial cloths and could still smell the anointment. But my hands tingled and an energy ran through me and I knew Mary was right. I believed! Jesus was no longer dead!
Peter and I embraced and laughed in the midst of our tears and we ran back out to find the others and share our stories. And share our stories we did. We gathered again and again and ate together and told stories of Jesus and knew we would never be the same and that this was not the end but the beginning.
We would see Jesus a couple more times before he bid us farewell and went home to God. But he was not gone, he lived in our stories and in our eating and in our witnessing to people.
And me? I left the Pharisees and the Sanhedrin. I joined the disciples and shared my stories of Jesus. I helped to spread the Good News that people were loved no matter what they lived, what their status was. In God’s eyes they were simply his children. I used my wealth to help others, sharing it with the disciples and using it for God’s kingdom.
Once you know the story, you can never go back. So stay on the road my friends. Go to the lost and forsaken, go to the margins, go even if it scares you or challenges you…you are not alone. Jesus has risen and is with you and me on the road. And always will be!
|Posted by jeffdoucette on March 31, 2018 at 8:20 AM|
I remember when I was first ordained and working with a priest back in New Brunswick in a French parish. He asked me to do Good Friday. It was the only celebration of the Three Days I got to lead. I was a bit bitter…I did not want to just sit in a seat…I wanted to throw myself in to the services as a young priest. I wanted to taste the symbols and story of that sacred movement from Maundy Thursday to Easter Sunday. But I would never be ready for what I expected…a flood of emotion tied to the cross.
I have always struggled with some of the theology this day. I struggle with the fact that some want to portray Jesus as a lamb being led to the slaughter…like a victim who was helpless and had no choice. But this has never been the way I have viewed this day or Jesus. I could never picture Jesus as just giving up after the life he led for three years. Much interpretations have been put into those gaps and spaces of this part of the story that led to the crucifixion.
For me…the cross has always been about the journey of love. It has always been about Jesus’ journey and the culmination of that journey that was always wrapped in righting injustice, ending marginalization, restoring people in God’s love. It was an intentional journey by Jesus and nothing could ever stop him on that path of love. But the end of the journey was not giving up…because with his final breath he was still forgiving and still inviting.
The Good Friday celebration for me has always been about journeying with people with love following Jesus as best as I could. And this movement of the story is a pain filled look at what happens when we cannot love…when we are blinded by power, or insecurity, or fear. The words of scripture, the melodies and words and the bare cross which is both pain filled and hope filled to look at.
The words of this day from Scripture are tough to listen to…they are emotional. I can’t begin to imagine the feelings Jesus went through with a parade, a sacred meal, of foot washing which turned into isolation, trumped up charges, insult, lies, betrayal, indifference, invites and a final breath. It was surrounded by deep emotional moments of disciples who lived fear, remorse, flight and hiding. I can’t say I blame them. It is easy for me to look at the Scriptures and think I would have been any different.
Our celebration started masterfully as written by Dawn. She has us picking up where we left off on Maundy Thursday by singing “Go to Dark Gesthemane” as we started the Scripture stories. It was also our closing hymn on Maundy Thursday. I have mentioned that these services are not separate services but one long service that invites us on three days to hear parts of the story, to leave to go to our homes to reflect on that part of the story we heard. Thursday left us in chaos and Friday picked up where that story left us seamlessly.
The words cut close to my heart…”Could you not last one hour?” How alone Jesus must have felt. “I do not know him…” Had Peter not heard anything over the past three years? And then those powerful songs by the choir “What have they done?” and “Didn’t I deny him?” oh my goodness. I could feel those melodies and words cut through me and again wonder how strong I would have been then and how strong I am now in those moments I need to stand up for what is right.
And our readers masterfully proclaimed their passages with such conviction…I felt I was there. I cringed and flinched and shifted in my seat. I could feel the emotion of the fear of those who tried to make up things against Jesus. I could feel the mocking tone of the crowd… the “crucify him” always stings. And the last breath…the last breath seems so final and empty.
I was looking forward to singing “Were you there” which I only get to sing once a year…I was not ready for the tears and lump in my throat. But the beauty of community is that there is always someone around to pick up and support you in those moments hopefully and everyone sang together. I always love as parts of the choir echo “were you there…”.
Then we came to the end of the story….and tried to convince ourselves that we could not finish with only pain and despair. So at the beginning of the service I came up with an idea for a gesture to lead us towards the empty tomb. As the cross sat alone in front…we gave everyone a flower. As so often when we are at the grave of loved ones, we feel helpless and emotional and unsure of the path ahead. We often bring flowers as a final gesture of love before the casket or urn is lowered into the ground. We place those flowers with our loved ones as a gesture of love. So I invited everyone to leave in silence and come forward and place their flower at the foot of the cross.
I began and then returned to my seat and just watched in silence as people came forward. It was emotional to watch and I flashed back to my days of seminary to prepare for ministry. Our priest Richard Cote who was in charge of our 3rd year guys said this to us: “Guys when you go into your churches, fall in love with your people”. And I did…and these were the people I love in our church congregation. I was aware that Jesus did the same…he fell in love with his people. People who lived with death and persecution and isolation and living on the margins.
As people walked towards the cross this day I was aware of so many of their stories of what they lived and I loved them all. I could sit there as tears streamed down my face. It was a holy sacred moment of love. As I left the service and walked out into our narthex, one of the members came over to me and gave me a hug. It was soothing and healing and comforting. It was freely offered and gratefully accepted by me.
So for me Good Friday has always been a journey of love, intentional and unwavering. And some twenty years later from that first good Friday…I never cease to be amazed at the power of words and music and ritual. And it will carry me this day as the world awaits the Resurrection tomorrow. Sunday’s coming!
|Posted by jeffdoucette on March 30, 2018 at 7:40 AM|
Last night we entered into the sacred Three Days from Maundy Thursday to Easter Night. It was the next movement in the Jesus story that began on Palm Sunday with the entrance into Jerusalem.
At sunset the world entered into a different space and time at the invitation of the church. To come together in three separate moments to share the story that shapes us as Christians, as disciples, as followers of Christ.
I get lost in these celebrations, these words, these melodies, these ritual moments and I love it. And I do not because I am a minister…I do because I allow myself to let go and be captured by it, to let it rinse through me and embrace me as I embrace back.
Last night our worship space was transformed into the shape of a cross and we sat around it and listened to scripture passages, sang hymns, told stories of favorite meals where loved ones were no longer with us and we washed feet.
I love foot washing. I also realize not everyone shares my love for this ritual. But it is the church’s ritual, not mine. It is a core gospel passage for this night. The meal cannot be celebrated in isolation of the foot washing. We have tried to cheapen this ritual moment by shying away and moving to hand washing and I can never understand why.
Why do we shy away from bare feet? Why do we shy away from their shape, their curves, crooked toes, calloused skin? Why do we shy away from bending before another and staring into their eyes and their story? My feet are not perfect. My toes are crooked and bent. But Scripture reminds us we cannot tell the foot we do not need them. Our feet are part of our body and our story, our faith journey. Bending on knee, puts us in a vulnerable situation. Sitting as someone washes our feet, despite our inner Peter objections of “Not my feet” makes us vulnerable. It is like someone might see the imperfection within us, love us less.
Foot washing for me is about bending as with the knees of Jesus, seeing with eyes of Jesus, loving with the heart of Jesus, washing with the hands of Jesus. It is about saying “I am all in to love you and your story.”
Last night I got to wash feet. I washed the feet of a teenager, a dancer. I could see the marks the straps of her dance shoes on her feet. I am reminded of when she danced for us at church when she was younger, how she was carried into her own world and went where her feet invited her. I thanked her for how she made my heart dance with joy with her Sunday morning greeting as she arrived, how she was present to young people in the nursery and especially how she asked questions about her faith and shared her thoughts about her faith as freely as she danced.
I washed the feet of a grandmother who has suffered loss in her life…a deep loss that took her out into the desert. I washed her feet and said “These feet have travelled much…and have gone out into the desert. But you have not stopped walking, you have kept going in your faith as you walked these difficult moments and you have shown me how to continue on in the midst of life’s difficult moment. I kissed her feet in gratitude of her teaching me. And then she asked to wash my feet. And with the love of a grandmother she soothed my tired weary feet and in silence I could feel the love through her hands transfer to my feet.
I washed the feet of a 90 year old woman. I told her that her smile lit up the room and her gentle voice greeting me and her smile have been there at moments I quietly lived my own struggles. I told her that as I accompanied her to bury her husband, she has accompanied me and strengthened me in my own faith journey and for that I was thankful.
And then another tapped me on the shoulder and asked to take my place and he washed the feet of a young person. I went back to my seat with tears running down my face and a lump in my throat. I took a deep breath as our scripture passage invited us to go into the garden with Jesus.
Even though foot washing may be new or foreign to some…the wisdom of the church says this is what we do this night. Jesus said “You cannot be my disciple if you do not do as I have done”. This call to service, this invitation to enter into the story of another…as painful as it might be and simply love is as easy and as difficult a thing to do.
I will never stop washing feet or challenging my church family to let go, to embrace this gesture and to live it out…
I left the church, empty of energy, but not in a bad way. This story this night is powerful and draining. I cannot even imagine what Jesus or the disciples experienced but for 2000 years we have been doing this. And we must continue because the world needs foot washers, story listeners and disciples embodying both.
|Posted by jeffdoucette on February 22, 2018 at 7:40 AM|
Yesterday morning a young 18 year old named Rebecca was sent home to God surrounded by 700+ people in Riverview, NB which was my old parish when I was a priest. But she was better known as Becca of the #BeccaToldMeTo movement that has swept around the world. Three years ago Becca entered a hospital not feeling well expecting to receive antibiotics and then leave. She left with a diagnosis of a brain tumour with not much time to live.
She was asked what she wanted as a bucket list before she died. She replied nothing but for people to do random acts of kindness to make the world which was in a mess a better place by filling it with kindness.
This caught the imagination and the hearts of people in her local community and people began to respond. She began a web page called Becca's battle with Butterscotch. https://www.facebook.com/groups/892307520858849/?ref=bookmarks" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">http://https://www.facebook.com/groups/892307520858849/?ref=bookmarks She named her cancer butterscotch because who could hate something that sounded so good. This young girl had no idea what was about to happen and how she would inspire stories from every age group of people doing random acts and simply replying "Because #BeccaToldMeTo".
We are in the season of Lent and my former Catholic faith was good at telling Lent was about sacrifice and giving up...but not me. It was about taking on the story of discipleship and loving as Jesus loved. It does not take much to love, to be generous, to make a difference in someone's life. We can spend our energy hating, plotting revenge, condemning or we can love and be generous. This sounds so simplistic it can border on the ridiculous. And it is true.
The heart when bound up by anger and hatred and revenge and condemnation has no room for love. But when we love and look for opportunities to do simple acts of random love...then there is no more room for anger and hatred and revenge and condemnation. Why? Because we look at people differently like Jesus did. This was why he did not waste his time on revenge against the authorities who made his life Hell. He loved and loved and loved some more. Not only spectacular acts of healing...but simple gestures of eating and forgiving and welcoming. There was then only room for love.
Try it today...bit by bit let random acts of generosity and love take over our hearts and we will look at others differently. And so we send you home to God Becca, but your #BeccaToldMeToo movement will become a part of us as we move forward in love.
Until next time,
|Posted by jeffdoucette on February 16, 2018 at 8:20 AM|
|Posted by jeffdoucette on January 23, 2018 at 7:30 AM|
Part of my writing and personal growth is leading a morning prayer and evening prayer reflection online for CASA : An Experiment in Doing Church Online (a FaceBook page anyone can join). I offer you what I shared yesterday morning with my CASA friends:
Monday Jan 22nd Morning Prayer
In 2007 I left church ministry as a priest. I had to make a decision if continuing in priesthood was for me. It was not a decision I took lightly. I decided to do an 8 day silent retreat which for those who know me would laugh. But it was an incredible experience. I went to the Jesuit Retreat House in Guelph, ON. This was done while I was on sabbatical with L'Arche Daybreak in Richmond Hill, ON.
Each day I would sit (not the only thing I did by the way) in a common area that overlooked the gardens and this incredible sculpture of St. Ignatius of Loyola. It captivated me, it spoke to me, it disturbed me, it comforted me, it tugged at me. The sculpture was there through all types of weather, leaning forward, clutching its outer robes. It seemed to be in the midst of stormy weather but the look of determination on the face of Ignatius drew my head from side to side like a puppy looking curiously at you when you speak to it. I kept discovering different aspects each day of this work of art. It seemed like nothing could hold him back, no storm of life at that moment, he pressed on.
There was a sense of being sure, of pressing on, of not giving up. I noticed also that where it seemed he was clutching his robe…it looked like it was right over his heart. Maybe he was feeling the beat of the Holy One, the relationship of faith, and feeling he was not alone but accompanied and this strengthened him.
Often when I have lived difficult moments I have thought of this sculpture and this retreat. It has sustained me and carried me forward as I touch the heartbeat of both mine and the Holy One that has become one.
May you not feel alone in those moments where you might be struggling this morning. The Holy One walks with you and so does this wonderful CASA group who hold each other.
Until next time....