Leading Us All on a Path to God
Beloveds, it was not long ago that many of us gathered in this space here today, were here to celebrate the life and ministry of Dee Doughty, the love of Bill’s life. In the days leading up to Dee’s death, I had the chance to sit with Bill and listen. I listened as he shared about the life he had lived and adored, and I listened as he shared about the family that he was so proud of, and I listened as he spoke about the bride who despite the effects of dementia, still captured his heart each and every day.
I listened to Bill speak in the same way that he read the mighty Old Testament lessons that he loved to read as a lector in this church. In his voice, one could feel his conviction and belief, and his ability to pull a listener in was captivating. This is perhaps why last year, I received a note from him that said, “Please only schedule me to read the Old Testament lessons.” Of course, it was an easy request to grant. Sitting in Dee’s room, I listened to Bill as he recalled the joys of his life. He spoke about the accomplishments of his three sons and their beautiful families. His pride for each member of the family came through in the broken voice that choked back tears when he spoke your names. Not only was he proud of his children and grandchildren’s lives, he was proud of the human beings they’ve become and the causes for which they stand. Bill went on about how all three of their sons adored their mother, and in return how much they both loved them. The joy all three sons and their families brought Bill and Dee life, vitality, and joy, and gave them incredible happiness.
Bill went on with stories of yesteryear about his own family of origin, as well as he shared more stories of when his own boys were growing up. Bill went on about all the many things both he and Dee were involved with that they hoped made a long lasting impression on their own children and grandchildren, alike. Bill went on at length about the love of his life that lay there, beside him, the one for whom he tenderly cared for right up until the end. At Dee’s service, just before we placed her ashes into the ground, I heard Bill say to her, “Honey, I’ll see you soon.” Little did we know just how soon.
On my way to the hospital after I heard that Bill had died, it occurred to me that the last time Bill had communion was at the funeral for his beloved Dee. That this meal—this spiritual food—that we shared with Bill and Dee for years around this altar—became the last meal Bill shared with all of us, too. For a couple so dedicated to food outreach and ministry, I couldn’t help but wonder about all the many simple meals they provided for hungry souls all throughout Chicagoland these last several decades, and the trail of crumbs that lay so beautifully in their wake.
In today’s gospel, we are seeing an exchange play out between Jesus and his disciples about the place where Jesus is going to next; a place that the disciples are also able to go—but not for some time to come. Jesus is taken back by the disciples’ confusion about where they think this place is—and their concern is that they wouldn’t know how to get there if Jesus were to leave them now after already having done so much together. They are anxious, uncomfortable, and sad that their leader might leave them and not take them with him. What Jesus tries to help them see is that where he is going, is a place clearly marked by their hearts and the work they have been doing. Jesus tries to help them see that they already know this place, that they already know the way to God, because they do the work of Jesus.
Jesus reiterates that preparing for the life that is to come, involves our living into this current one with all of our heart, and that the natural effect of our doing this work, is that we make a pathway to God. This gospel is a call to mission—it is a call to do the work of our God among all of God’s people. It is doing the work of loving people well, of feeding them when they are hungry, and it is capturing the image of God stamped throughout creation, the cosmos, and in one another, and celebrating it.
Beloveds, Bill Doughty lived a life that helped us all to better know our God. Through the ways in which he advocated for and sought out food and economic justice, Bill left us with a trail of breadcrumbs that lead us directly to the Holy. Through all the ways he captured beautiful moments of humanity and creation through watercolor, he painted for us another image of the Divine in every piece, giving us understanding about this God we know and love, who resides in each of us, and calls us beloved.
Bill scattered bread crumbs everywhere he went. With every person fed through his efforts, he left more crumbs in the trail he made toward God. He made for us a path that we recognize, a path that leads to our God, to that place where every injustice is made right—where humanity and creation are at peace—to that place where there is no sorrow, and where death cannot destroy.
Beloveds, Bill Doughty loved the Lord, and his life was proof that living in a way that made a difference was of the upmost importance to him.
When I first came to St. Augustine’s, one of the questions that many people asked me was: “Have you met with Bill and Dee?” People spoke to what kind and generous people they were, and how they have been the matriarch and patriarch of this church for such a long time. I soon learned that all the beautiful tings said about them, were entirely true. By the time that I met Bill and Dee, Bill was a fulltime caretaker for his bride; and mixed in with updates about how Dee was feeling, were stories about the many years they had as active ministry participants in our beloved church and throughout the North Shore.
One of the first things I was shown when I came to this church was the artwork that is on the front of your bulletin today. This particular piece entitled, Holy Sep-ul-kr, was inspired by Bill and Dee’s 1999 trip to the Holy Land and a larger version of it hangs in our chapel. Of the piece, Bill said, “The feelings of ancientness and holiness, and the crying needs for reconciliation, all inspired me to seek deeper levels of meaning in my art.” His words and his art, they so captivated me, and I began to ask around about other paintings of Bill’s that I could take in.
One of those paintings, was one that Bill did in the summer of 2016 following the PULSE Nightclub shootings in Orlando, FL. This piece moved me in a way I was not anticipating. The intricate details of expression on all the faces represented in the scape, the way in which the colors bleed, and the inspiration it invites, is striking. Of the piece, Bill said: “I knew I needed to respond to the Orlando tragedy in some way. It was deep inside me. So on Tuesday June 14, two days afterward, I did this painting. I named it "Darkness Shall Not Overcome". It means that, not just LGBT people, but all of us together will assure that the promises of the Rainbow will prevail.”
What brings me nearly to tears upon hearing Bill’s words time and time again, is that Bill believed that it was up to all of us doing everything in our power, to make our world a place where everyone is safe, a place where everyone is fed, and a place everyone knows they are beloved of God. That’s certainly the world Bill worked towards, and it’s the church he prayed for.
Within these walls, Bill worked tirelessly for outreach missions, and helping find resources for local agencies doing amazing work. He sought tangible ways that the people of this church could engage the world in ways that produced outcomes for them, improved life, and optimism. Bill cared about everything he put his hand to, and he has left mighty dreams to fulfill.
Crumb by crumb, Bill, your life, and your actions in this world, have led us to God.
Meal after meal, painting after painting, the pathways you’ve made to the God who holds us all, leaves us a changed people.
Where you have gone, we know one day that we shall see you again, and so until then, we thank you. We thank you for coloring our lives with the love of God, and for allowing the holy to work through you in this community, and in our hearts.