sermons, songs, etceteras
HUNGER | Matthew 21:18-22
May we be met today as the blind men were on the road to Jerusalem, and our eyes opened; May we be filled today with food that nourishes and satisfies the hunger of our bodies, our minds, our spirits, through Jesus Christ who is all and is in all, Amen.
Good morning, Redeemer. It’s good to be with you again, last minute as it is while Pastor Jen is resting and recovering at home. I come to you frazzled and harried as my family navigates all kinds of potential changes to our lives in this first call journey. We often find ourselves with frayed nerves, doing our best to stay in the moment, but often failing.
So this story about a cursed fig tree hits close to home. Which is funny, because on first read, it just seems weird, random, and out of place. In fact, when I saw this was today’s text I audibly sighed and sent an “oh no” text to Pastor Jen. It is -- no lie -- a passage that we joked about in Seminary. No one wants to preach about it because it’s like squeezing blood from a stone -- or like pulling figs from a tree that’s not yet in season to produce fruit.
Not only that, but when I searched for wisdom from my go-to preacher's, like Dr Wil Gafney, Rev. Otis Moss, and Rev Traci Blackmon, they were quiet. It seems none of the progressive, womanist, or liberationist voices I follow find this passage particularly remarkable.
Old conservative white men, on the other hand, have lots to say, mostly about judgment and performance and how we can tell “real” christians from fake ones who “bear leaves” but not fruit and whom, therefore, God will doom to everlasting withering, and while that’s all very interesting, it’s actually not. Not to me, anyway, and not today.
How Long | Matthew 22:1-14
This sermon was originally preached on March 8, 2023 at Augsburg University.
Scripture Texts: Jeremiah 6:13-20; 7:3-11 | Matthew 22:1-14
Good morning, Beloveds. Thank you, Pastors Hannah and Babette, for inviting me to be here today, and for your lovely introduction. I am honored to be with you all, and to explore together what it looks like to be God's people: that is, how to be people of Peace in an active, deliberate, and just way. I paired today's gospel lesson in Matthew 22 with the prophecy and Temple sermon to the people of Judah in Jeremiah 6 and 7. The two narratives may seem incongruous or mismatched, but I have come to see then as mirror images of each other, and mirrors for readers, cautioning us about the ways God's people are prone to behave when circumstances or Spirit challenge our assumptions and practices, and each offering a different, better way. So let's dive in.
In Jeremiah 6, we see the people of God on the verge of invasion and being warned by the prophet that for all their keeping of certain rules and regulations regarding Temple worship, they've utterly missed the mark and are on the verge of disaster: The oppressed have themselves become oppressive toward the vulnerable and careless with the wounded, declaring "peace peace when there is no peace!" They follow Laws of the Temple while defying the Law of Love toward others, and so their sacrifices and offerings turn to rot in God's nose.
So Jeremiah gives them clear directions in the Temple Sermon of chapter 7, on how to avoid their own doom: Amend your ways! Do justice! Welcome foreigners! Take care of orphans and single mothers! And put an end to the violence --
THEN, he says, God will inhabit both God's people and God's place, and be blessed. But so long as they sow injustice and oppress the vulnerable, declaring peace when there is none, the destruction awaiting them will be the fruit of their own schemes.â
Hold on to that as we move over into Matthewâs Parable of the Wedding Feast.
The Asbury Revival?
Firstly, many Disabled, Queer, Black, and other Non-Black People of Color and marginalized identities have already underscored the oddities of a “revival” or “awakening” that excludes bodies and experiences like theirs from the physical and spiritual location of the event. Alicia Crosby Mack said on Twitter, “A mass unmasked event in a pandemic that’s racially & culturally homogenous is not a revival. …We cannot speak about an event being a revival when the most vulnerable among us are excluded & at minimum the lack of covid safety precautions render this place unsafe. The Scriptures teach that where the Spirit of God is, there is freedom. If we hold that to be true, how can a revival in which this Spirit is present take place when disabled & medically vulnerable people are not free to engage without significant risk of harm? …If their Imago Dei is excluded what exactly is being revived?”
Plenty of disabled people have underscored similar issues with this hyper-located “revival” that will undoubtedly act as much as a superspreader event as anything else. So it is hard (okay, impossible) to affirm the idea that this is a true movement of the Holy Spirit when it is at best excluding oppressed people and at worst placing them at increased risk of illness and death.
Secondly, I’m moved by what Zach Hunt noted yesterday: “Why is [it] that ‘revival’ and a ‘sudden outpouring of the Holy Spirit’ are only ever used for worship services and never to describe things like fighting injustice and caring for the poor?” To me it is rather curious that the 2020 Global Uprising for Black Lives -- which began in the streets and was marked by the literal fire of the Spirit against the powers of oppression and injustice and was led by (masked) people fighting for the Life and Liberation that flows from the outpouring of the Spirit -- was never called a “revival” or an “awakening.”
Hagar & The God Who Sees
This sermon was originally preached on February 5, 2023 at Redeemer Lutheran Church in North Minneapolis.
The service may be viewed here beginning around the 27:00 mark.
Morning Texts: Psalm 110:1-10 | Sermon Text: Genesis 16
**I am indebted to womanist scholars, in particular Rev. Dr. Wil Gaffney, Renita J. Weems, and Monica A. Coleman, whose explorations of the Hagar-Sarai narrative have so profoundly guided and shaped my own understanding of these texts. For further reading: Making a Way Out of No Way (Monica A. Coleman), Womanist Midrash (Rev. Dr. Wilda C. Gafney), and Just a Sister Away (Renita j. Weems) **
May the God who Sees, who Is, and who is Love + go before, hover over, root our feet, and have our back as we consider the message of Their first prophet, who spoke truth to the one who is Truth and gave to God Their first personal name. Amen.
Good morning, Redeemer! It is a joy to be back with you today. In every real way it is a coming-home, and I am honored to return in this capacity, leading worship with Pastor Babette, a prophet in her own right, and exploring the God Who Sees with people who see me in ways I didn’t fully understand and still cannot fully appreciate, much as I may try. I am grateful.
Today I want to talk about my favorite prophet. But first I think it’s important to establish how I understand “prophecy.” It is not future- or fortune-telling but rather, Truth telling -- specifically, prophecy is speaking Truth to Power. For a long time, I heard “speaking truth to power” as “speaking truth in a powerful way.” But I now understand that Prophecy is speaking Truth to those who have power, and challenging how they use it in relation to those without. It is always subversive to the status quo, and it is always creative in its challenge to those who are so comfortable with what is that they have no need to imagine what could or should be.
And so it is crucial that when we encounter the Biblical prophets or explore their modern expressions we locate ourselves rightly in the social, cultural, religious, economic, and ecological power structures that form and inform the world around us.
So with that said, I want to talk about a prophet who isn't usually called one but definitely is.
Unfixing Chasms & Creating Connections
This sermon was originally preached on September 25, 2022 at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Brooklyn Park, MN..
The service may be viewed here. The sermon may be viewed here.
Lectionary Texts: Amos 6:1a, 4-7 | Psalm 146 | 1 Timothy 6:6-19
Gospel Text: Luke 16:19-31
Beloved of God, it has been a week, capital A, capital W.
It began with the Queen of England’s fantastically opulent funeral, which dominated global headlines even as massive natural disasters hit both Puerto Rico and the western coast of Mexico, leaving millions traumatized, and without running water or electricity.
Then 48 Minnesotans were indicted in the largest-to-date COVID-19 fraud scheme, in which they are alleged to have stolen upwards of $250 MILLION dollars of federal aid that was meant to feed hungry families during the pandemic.
And over on Instagram, I stumbled on a luxury real estate gossip page that shares slideshows of the hundred-million-dollar mansions being purchased and sold, traded and swapped, between celebrities and billionaires in LA and Miami the way my cousins and I trade the same $15 dollars back and forth to whoever needs to buy gas or groceries with two days to go before payday.
And so as I read and studied today’s gospel, my claws were out, my hackles were raised, and I felt not a little bit of rage as I recognized the wildly different experiences of the Haves and the Have Nots here and now in the pages of this millennia-old parable.
Despite the hackles, some questions immediately came to mind:
Firstly, Who or what “fixed the chasm” between the Rich Man in Hades and Lazuarus in Abraham’s Bosom? And,
Secondly, Where or what is Hades, and what is the nature of the Rich Man’s “torment” there?
So I did some digging.
This sermon was originally preached on August 21, 2022 on my final Sunday as pastoral intern at Oak Grove Lutheran Church in Richfield, MN.
The service may be viewed here.
Lectionary Texts: Jeremiah 1:4-10 | Hebrews 12:18-29
Gospel Text (included below sermon): Luke 13:10-17
Beloved of God whom I’ve had the honor of calling family…
I am not sure where to begin on this, my last day with you, in my last sermon to you. Except, perhaps, to take you back to my first sermon which was also outside, on this very patio, last September. In that sermon, I talked about how we’re living in apocalyptic times -- that is, revelatory times -- that show us who we are at our core, and teach us how to be rooted in love in a way that yields to the needs of others when they arise, especially among the most vulnerable, regardless of how inconvenient it may be. I shared what I found to be the center of James’s point in the 3rd and 4th chapters of his letter, which is that wisdom and understanding come not from winning debates or proving ourselves better or smarter than others, but from a willingness to yield to their need to be known, to feel seen, heard, like they’re someone. He says a harvest of peace and justice awaits those who know in their deepest self that being in right relationship is always better than being right.
I think Maya Angelou encapsulated this thought well when she wrote, “People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel.”
So now we’re in Luke’s gospel, and I’m asking myself how Jesus is making these people feel. Now, it might be easy to chastise the leader of the synagogue where Jesus was teaching. To view him only from the vantage point of history, knowing who Jesus was and what he accomplished and how this healing fit into the larger story of his life and the 2000+ years since.
During my pastoral internship at Oak Grove Lutheran Church, I wrote a series of four songs reflecting on four liturgical holy days (lyrics below). At the end of my year there, on August 19, 2022, my spouse and I performed those four songs plus a few others of our favorites, both originals and cover songs, in a concert given at Oak Grove. The concert may be viewed above or on facebook. Individual songs are below for your viewing!
All songs (c) 2021-2022 Amy Courts Koopman
Solidarity on the Jericho Road
Good morning, Beloved Community of God.
A couple months ago, I confessed to you that I don’t really understand or know how to love in this world. Over the time that has passed since, I admit I have not learned much, despite ample opportunities. In fact, oftentimes I do not even know how to be in this world.
And so I am grateful for today’s gospel, which is a story rife with hope and promise and specific instructions for how to be love. It is one we all know really well, I’m sure. We have heard it a thousand times at least, and so its lessons may seem obvious. But it is one, I think, we can never hear enough.
In this story Jesus is asked by a legal expert -- a theologian -- “what do I have to do to gain eternal life?” Jesus returns the question, asking “what does the Law say?” and the expert recites what we know as the Greatest Commandment: to Love God with your entire being, and Love your neighbor as yourself. Jesus affirms his answer and encourages him to go do it.
But then, in a very legal move, the expert asks a second question: “Who, precisely, is my neighbor?” So Jesus tells a story.
This sermon was originally preached on June 19, 2022 at Oak Grove Lutheran Church in Richfield, MN. The service may be viewed here.
Second Sunday after Pentecost Lectionary Texts:
Isaiah 65:1-9 | Galatians 3:23-29
Gospel Text (included below sermon ): Luke 8:26-39
Oh Great God, Mothering Spirit, Liberator and Life-giver, greet us this morning with fresh ears and open eyes that we may love each other well. Amen.
In October 2009, after a few years of touring as a solo artist in nashville and partnering with a non profit doing humanitarian work throughout Africa, I traveled to Gulu Uganda with a group of 9 other artists where we painted murals at an orphanage and school, and met with about 100 women living openly with an ostracizing HIV positive status. While there, we also had the opportunity to attend a local church in a small village on the outskirts of Gulu proper. That Sunday’s worship was an incredible, spirit-filled service that lasted 4 hours but truly only felt like one, if you can believe it. The service was fluid and seamless, and it was easy to feel connected to Spirit and everyone gathered.
But there was one man in particular who captured our attention because at various points in the service, he fell to the ground in convulsions. I say “fell,” but that doesn’t quite describe the force with which he hit the dirt of this large straw-covered church: It was more like he was thrown to the ground, except that, to our eyes, it was just him, violently falling and then rising uninjured.
We were told this was common for him; that his demons were known and had been confronted many times, and that his pastors and community were working on his exorcism -- it was just taking some time. But they told us not to worry; it was all well under control.
Some of us were shocked to hear them speak so freely and confidently not only about this demon possession, but about their own efforts to keep on casting them out, week after week, while fearlessly welcoming him into the presence of God.
And as we thought about and discussed the whole thing throughout the rest of that day, we realized something profound, which altogether transformed what we'd witnessed. I know it will sound wild, and trust me when I say we went over and over it. But I n the end we all agreed to what our collective experience and memory confirmed: It was at the name of Jesus Christ that this beloved man fell, every time.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Deitrich Bonhoeffer, and Jesus: An Ethical Examination of The Parable of the Good Samaritan
The following essay was written for and submitted to the faculty of Luther Seminary for consideration for the The G.M. and Minnie Bruce Prize in New Testament .
While my submission was not chosen to receive the award, I remain proud of the research and work I've done to write and present this paper on The Parable of the Good Samaritan in conversation with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr and Deitrich Bonhoeffer. My hope is for some of the insights I gained through the study and writing may be as transformative for you as they have been for me. The full footnotes and bibliography are available on Scribd.
(c) 2022 Amy Courts Koopman
Luke 10:29-37 (NRSV)
But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”
The parable of The Good Samaritan stands throughout Christian history as one of the most compelling and convicting of Jesus’s ethical instructions to those who would claim to be his disciples. We are often like the famed lawyer in the story, inclined to reduce the definition of “neighbor” to ever-smaller meanings that ultimately require nothing of us. It is a story not primarily about a desperate man dying in the road, but about how those who might otherwise define themselves as fine upstanding faith leaders are forced to reckon with what the apostle James called a dead faith (James 2:14) when compared to the universally and dangerously altruistic compassion demonstrated here by “enemies.”
Among modern white American Christians for whom Christianity has become more an exclusive club of insiders than an expansive community of God’s beloved, and who desperately need a whole-person (heart, soul, mind, body) revival to draw us to acts of justice and mercy especially when such discipleship is costly, this story takes on profound importance. The Good Samaritan commands modern readers’ attention to both the systemic injustices that create “bloody ways” for our neighbors, and to the personal excuses that keep us from living our faith in risky, neighbor-loving ways. For those of us living at social locations of privilege and power, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s commentary speaks directly to our predicament: Most of us, when challenged to neighborly action, will naturally ask, “what will happen to me if I help this man?” But Jesus’s parable in Luke 10 declares that a good neighbor always reverses the question and instead asks, “If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?” In so doing, Jesus transforms the conversation from one of theological acrobatics performed by legal experts into a one about “concrete expression[s] of compassion on a dangerous road.” In doing so, Jesus makes concrete, whole-person demands of all who would claim to love God and be Christ’s disciples.
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