sermons, songs, etceteras
This meditation was first preached on March 23, 2022 at Oak Grove Lutheran Church in Richfield, MN during our weekly mid-week Lent services. The livestreamed recording of the song and meditation may be viewed here.
Song lyrics to "Lay Down My Head" are below the meditation.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil, and my cup overflows.
I come to you tonight, a bundle of nerves and anxiety. My thoughts are heavy, and dense, as I ponder what it is to be honored, to feast on goodness, in the presence of enemies.
I’m thinking a lot about the Honorable Ketanji Brown Jackson, the first Black woman nominated to the US Supreme Court. I’m thinking about the number of senators, all of them white, most of them men, who have both directly and indirectly, overtly and implicitly challenged her credentials and fitness despite having confirmed her to federal courts three times already, and despite that both her experience and expertise far exceed that of the last three justices they confirmed. I am thinking about the traps that have been laid for her, the many attempts over these three days, to bait her to react in such a way that they might categorize and dismiss her as an “angry Black woman.” I am thinking of the stark differences between how she has been treated and spoken to, compared to her immediate predecessor, Justice Amy Coney Barrett. I am lingering on what so many of my Black teachers and friends, and some of my favorite Black authors, have long been saying: that Black people in the USA must work twice as hard, for twice as long, and be thrice as perfect and unimpeachable as their white peers in order to be taken half as seriously. My thoughts are with her, in the presence of her enemies.
This meditation was originally given on Wednesday, March 9th, at Oak Grove Lutheran Church in Richfield, MN for the second week of Lent. The video of the midweek service may be viewed here.
MEDITATION TEXT // Psalm 23:2-3
God, my Shepherd, leads me to rest in green pastures,
and along quiet waters. She restores my soul.
She guides me along righteous paths for Her Name's sake.
A few years ago, a friend invited me to a yoga and singing retreat in Chacala Mexico. She is an Obstetrician, and after hearing my traumatic birth story, which resulted in an emergency hysterectomy, the loss of the future I’d dreamed for myself, and a broken relationship with my very own body, she decided I needed -- or rather, that I deserved -- the restoration of a place like Mar de Jade. And so she paid my way to join her and about 15 other women at a retreat center on the Pacific that caters not to tourists, but rather cares for those who seeking healing. That week I was taught how to find and use my full voice, from grounded mama to tender listener; I was shown the way simple movements can open my body to healing I didn’t know I needed. And I feasted on meals full of fruits and vegetables grown by people who love and are in communion with the land, which were turned into nourishment by a kitchen staff whose aim was not merely to stuff us but to heal us with food.
On my second or third day, our yoga instructor taught me some breathing exercises that remind the body to release tension, anger, fear, and grief, and invited me to listen to my body and try to reconnect with it. She understood that my hysterectomy had cut me off from my life-giving self; that I felt like a living death. And to heal, I would need to open up and meet myself with love and tenderness in those empty spaces that mourn. Not much later, my singing teacher invited me to play. “Music?” I asked? I thought maybe she wanted me to play one of my songs for the group. But she said, “No. I want you to run….frolic on the beach…play in the water like a little kid. Connect with 5 year old Amy. Jump, spin, get in that water and see how it cradles you and tosses you and tackles you and holds you. Play!”
I felt like an absolute fool of course, even contemplating the invitation -- I am after all, a grown woman; I am very serious; my work is very important! My grief is heavy and I do not have time or energy or space for silliness! But I did it. And by the fourth day, I spent an entire afternoon running up and down the beach doing cartwheels until I got dizzy and fell over, and I did not care who saw me. I was a little girl, playing.
My fourth day was the day I got down to business.
(c) 5/29/20 Tony Webster (flickr) // Minnesota State Patrol troopers stand in formation, wearing riot gear and holding wooden batons, at Minnehaha Avenue and 27th Avenue South near the Minneapolis Police Department's 3rd Precinct, as the Minneapolis Fire Department battles blazes at Lake Street businesses, following the publication of a video showing a white Minneapolis police officer kneeling on the neck of George Floyd, a handcuffed and unarmed Black man, killing him.
This sermon was originally preached on 2/20/2022 at Oak Grove Lutheran Church in Richfield, MN. The service may be viewed here.
Seventh Sunday after Epiphany Lectionary Texts:
Genesis 45:3-11, 15 | Psalm 37:1-11, 39-40 | 1 Corinthians 15:35-38, 42-50
Gospel Text read from the Native American Translation of the New Testament (included below sermon): Luke 6:27-28
Good morning, beloved of God. The Image of God in me delights in the Image of God in you. The humanity in me honors the humanity in you. The Christ in me calls out to Christ in you, that we may love one another.
I offer this sacred greeting because we have occasion to ponder what Jesus meant when he taught his listeners to Love our enemies and bless our oppressors, not only because it happens to be today’s text, but because it is also today’s reality. We, like Jesus, live in an era of stark, often violent division, increasing disparities between the rich and poor, Black and white, urban and rural, Republican and Democrat, and so on. There is no lack of hatred for the Other, and humanity’s capacity for inhumanity seems boundless.
Just this week, multiple friends of mine were attacked for their race, their gender, or their sexual orientation. My own call to ministry was mocked by a stranger on the internet -- again. I don’t think it’s lost on any of us that we in the Twin Cities, in the USA, in the world continue to grapple with what it means to care for one another in an increasingly polarized world. And we as a society and individuals are still figuring out how to grieve so many deaths and move on with life amidst a pandemic we’re all sick of.
I don’t start with all this heavy to be a Debbie Downer but to tell you this from the jump: I hate preaching about love. To me it often feels fickle, weak, mushy. Like a bypass around real pain and grief and rage. But today I have no choice, because it’s what Jesus preached. So I greet you from the fertile soil of our shared humanity, trusting -- hoping, anyway -- that Love Wins.
To set the stage for what I think is the essence of this part of Jesus’s sermon on the plain, I want to start with a few presuppositions that have grounded and guided my exploration this week:
First, in Jesus’s view and experience, having and being enemies is inevitable AND it is wrapped up in Power with a capital P.
This sermon and accompanying song were originally preached on January 16, 2022 at Oak Grove Lutheran Church in Richfield, MN. The live recording may be viewed here.
Song Lyrics are included at the end of the sermon
Scripture Texts for the Second Sunday in Epiphany are:
Isaiah 62:1-5 | Psalm 36:5-10 | 1 Corinthians 12:1-11 | John 2:1-11
You probably noticed that I’m dressed a bit differently today, and that’s because I will be playing piano in a bit. But first, I want to tell you about a message God has been speaking to me for literal decades and stirred itself into a song this week.
As far back as I can remember, the scriptures that have pierced straight to my deepest self were the ones that said I mattered, that my gifts were important, that while there is no-THING new under the sun, there are new souls born every day, with new particularities blooming all the time to shed new light and cast new shadows on our understanding of ancient things. I held tight to signs throughout scripture telling me that I couldn’t ask for too much or BE too much — but that my imagination was probably too safe and too small for a God who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine according to Christ’s power at work within us, and whose plans for those God loves and calls are well beyond anything our eyes have seen, ears have heard, or our minds conceived.
These promises were important, because I grew up in the deep end of scarcity where i learned to be satisfied with crumbs, and never ask for more. And because I long believed, and to a degree still do if I’m honest, that there would never be enough space or breath for me to exist in my fullness, when I already bring so much muchness wherever I go. I believed what I was told, which was that I had to choose: motherhood OR career. school OR work. Music OR pastoral vocation. Queerness OR God. There wasn’t enough to say yes to both or all. So I learned to be satisfied with what fell at my feet, and to fear Want.
So it is quite something that in today’s gospel, the invitation to Go Big or Go Home blossoms again, and for no other reason than joy.
For Here we see God, in God’s first God-act of john’s gospel, giving excessively good abundance to people who didn’t ask for anything.
This sermon was originally preached on December 19, 2021 at Oak Grove Lutheran Church in Richfield, MN. The live recording may be viewed here.
Scripture Texts (full texts as translated by Dr. Wilda Gafney in Women’s Lectionary for the Whole Church, Year W are included at the end of the sermon):
Judges 13:2-7, Psalm 115:9-15, Luke 1:39-56
Blessed be the Lord most high who comes to us this day in spirit and fire -- not from upon a throne of glory, nor even from the mouths of righteous and practiced men, but from within the belly of a scared, unmarried teenager who’s seen some things, survived some things, and run to the cousin she knows will welcome, recognize, and celebrate the coming of God through her. Indeed, the world is about to turn on its head, just as the baby does on its way through the birth canal, to bring New Life in bloody placenta and primal pain. Oh God, Make us into ready doulas. Amen.
Today marks the fourth and final week of Advent, the last hours of the Great Waiting for God’s Arrival, when we light the fourth candle — the Candle of Peace — which is a fact I find rather funny given both our own current context of 2021 and all this time holds, as well as the scriptural and historical contexts in which Mary’s Magnificat is re-cast into the world.
I say re-cast because while it is most certainly rebellious, even dangerously so, to proclaim the toppling of empires and the humiliation of the proud, Mary’s song is not new. It is an old hymn her people have been singing for centuries, a song sung by Miriam as Israel fled the oppression of Egypt, then by Deborah and Hannah and Samson’s mother from today’s old testament reading. It is the song first sung by Abraham’s womb-slave Hagar to her God, the God who Sees, and it is the song sung again and again by Israel’s mothers to that very same God who continues to See and do justice for God’s people.(1) Indeed the gravity of Mary’s song in her particular moment in time, and ours as well, must not be missed.
But before the song, let us hear the prelude.
Good morning, church. Today is the Feast of Christ the King. The end of the church year, the culmination of Ordinary Time. Unlike many of our other feasts and holy days, today’s celebration was established less than a century ago, in 1925, by Pope Pius XI as a direct response to the rise in fascism and Christian nationalism throughout the world. We come to the Table today reminded that our belonging, belovedness, and allegiance are in the Crucified and risen Christ whose kin-dom is entirely other than those of this earth.
I've had days to ponder and pray, and I am still largely at a loss for what to say to you. Because I come to this day of celebration rejoicing that two Black men who were unjustly held on death row for decades were freed, one just hours before his execution, praise God! But I also come grieving that white supremacy was once more granted favor and permission to continue unabated, unaccountable, in one of the most publicized trials in recent history. I come in solidarity with my Black siblings who who’ve expressed tremendous fear as white nationalist groups - many of whom claim roots in Christianity - call for “stacking up Bodies like cord wood” in the wake of Friday’s verdict.
And I come deeply aware that the individuals in these stories could be swapped with any number of other individuals and we’d see similar results, not because we’re all the same but because that is how systems work. Individuals are props that keep us fighting one another about the veracity of each other’s claims rather than asking what’s wrong with this system that looks like it’s broken but is actually working as designed.
All this to say, I come to you this morning, the day we celebrate the upside-down UNkingdom of Christ, with deep awareness of how profoundly unjust the kingdoms of this earth are.
But I come with hope too, because Jesus knew injustice.
This song was recorded in the sanctuary at Oak Grove Lutheran Church on November 4, 2021. The original facebook post may be viewed and shared here.
It’s so rare that I write songs anymore. They don’t come like they used to. But sometimes they do, and when they do I am grateful.
This week is All Saints Sunday. The day in the year when we remember and light candles for the dead. Grieve our losses together. The texts for the day are Isaiah 25:6-9 (“On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow…Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken.”). The Gospel is the story of Lazarus raised from the dead, but for whom Jesus first wept.
Some other pastors and I lamented the collective grief we all have yet to feel. Over Covid, climate chaos, political and police violence… so much hurt and unspeakable pain. How to pastor in that?
Anyway, this is the song that started in my head as we talked, and came to fruition over about 20 minutes. Sometimes songs rise like that.
Welcome to the feast of all Saints
The table is set, the wine is well aged
And the God of the grieving, your tears will redeem
They await with a ribbon of peace
To welcome you to the feast
Oh come to the great lamenting
Here the Spirit of wisdom is interceding
She will take to the father
In groanings deep all the pain
That you cannot speak
When you come to great lamenting
Oh Christ have mercy
Lord have mercy
O Come to the grave and receive
The full count of your tears, the name of your griefs
And our Mother, O Giver of Life, She’ll weep
with you when you come to the grave
She will carry onward you in grace
Oh Christ have mercy
Lord have mercy
Christ have mercy
Oh, come to the Feast of All Saints
The table is set, the wine is well aged
The God of the Rising is still Raising us up today
Oh come now and celebrate
At the feast of all saints
Feast of All Saints (c) Amy Courts 2021
This sermon was originally preached on October 24, 2021 at Oak Grove Lutheran Church in Richfield, MN. The live recording may be viewed here.
Lectionary Text: Mark 10:46-52
(The Blind Bartimaeus)
May the Breath of God who filled the lungs of Jesus fill my own lungs here, that with Her anointing I might breathe out Her proclamation: The promise of abundance to the Poor, the emptying of cages to the incarcerated, the lifting of the heel from the back of the oppressed, and the restoration of sight to the blind -- Oh Christ, may my words today manifest God’s Favor to your people in this moment and in this place, Amen.
Friends, first I want to thank you. As I sat down to write this sermon, I was consumed and overwhelmed, as per usual, unsure of which thread to pull. And what lifted me out of that overwhelm and set me on the path I’m taking you down today was finding prayer shawls in my closet that were woven by women I don’t know with the promise that the wearer -- i -- would be wrapped in prayer. I took out a teal one -- my favorite color -- and wrapped it around my body, and instead of praying, I simply sat and let myself be prayed.
Wrapped in that covering, I considered this week’s gospel story about the restoration of Blind Bartimaeus, and I recalled Luke 4:18-19 where Jesus returned to his hometown of Nazareth after 40 Days in the Wilderness, went to Synagogue on Sabbath, and, in front of everyone who “mattered” declared that the Spirit had come upon him -- like a prayer shawl, a divine covering -- to proclaim Good News and God’s favor for everyone on society’s margins.
And that’s when I decided that in the interest of full disclosure, I ought to make my own proclamation here today, not as a christ but as a preacher and pastor, in order that y’all might know now rather than later what you’ve gotten yourselves into -- or, rather, what Tom has gotten you into! -- by welcoming me to Oak Grove this year.
To that end, I want you to know that I am an aspiring abolitionist. I look and work for the Day of God’s Favor when prisons and police are obsolete and disbanded; when the incarcerated are restored to full citizenship; the disabled enjoy full accommodations and access to public life; and all those who’ve been marginalized or criminalized by circumstance, social location, or personhood are welcomed back into full participation in church, life, and culture. And I march in the movements for Black Lives, Native Land Rights, Queer inclusion, Disability rights, and prison and police abolition in large part because of texts_ like_today’s. So let’s dive in.
This was the first sermon I preached as pastoral intern at Oak Grove Lutheran Church in Richfield, MN on September 19, 2021. Live video can be accessed here.
Mark 9:30-37 | James 3:13--4:3, 7-8
May the God who gathers Her children to Her breast and watches us sleep, nourish us now. Amen.
Good morning, Church, and thank you for welcoming me so warmly these past couple weeks as I’ve begun to settle in here. You may or may not know this, but writing sermons isn’t terribly easy until you’re like Pastor Tom or Brice, with years of practice, and even then I imagine it’s still work. For me, it always begins with a knot of ideas in my mind and heart, like a tangle of necklaces at the bottom of a jewelry box. It takes time and focus to find each string and pull gently enough to un-mess the mess without breaking it all.
This week, as I sat in my office to begin pulling at the threads, one of the daycare babies started screaming inconsolably. I turned my music up a bit, but it was useless. She was louder than both my music and my mind, which you’d know is a pretty incredible feat if you could hear my mind. And to be clear, I wasn’t mad about it; It wasn’t that she was bugging me; I genuinely love the sound of babies, so I was just distracted. Her cries were like a siren calling me. So I went into the gym, found her, and I crouched down, looked her in the eyes, and just said hi, how are ya. and she quieted. So with staff permission, I gave her some face time for a couple minutes while the daycare worker cleaned up some things. Then when she was done, the staff member picked her up again and I went back to work.
It’s funny how kids have a way of bringing us back to earth when we’re busy in the “very important work” of adulting and pontificating and theologizing in offices with closed doors and lots of academic books, where we hunker down to look for insight into the messes around us.