One Song [OR A Sermon for Ascension Sunday – An Odd Festival Indeed] Luke 24:44-53, Acts 1:1-11, and Ephesians 1:15-23


**sermon art: Fabric Banner by Ken Phillips, Textile and Liturgical Artist in residence, Regis University, Denver, Colorado

Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on May 12, 2024

[sermon begins after two Bible readings]

Luke 24:44-53 [Jesus said to the eleven and those with them,] “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.”45Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 46and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48You are witnesses of these things. 49And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”
50Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. 51While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. 52And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; 53and they were continually in the temple blessing God.

Ephesians 1:15-23 I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason 16I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. 17I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, 18so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, 19and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. 20God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. 22And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, 23which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

The Acts reading is at the end of the sermon…

[sermon begins]

You may not yet know, but Augustana has a new senior pastor… … As your new Senior Pastor, working with you as people of the gospel, dear sinner-saints of Augustana in this time and place, is an honor and fills me with joy. Between last year and this year, my head is spinning, and my heart is full.

One of the funny wrinkles last week was identifying my start date as Senior Pastor. Having been here for eleven years as one of your pastors makes a start date sound absurd. Nonetheless, due diligence determined that last Sunday, May 5th, the day that you voted as a congregation to affirm my call, and my acceptance of that call, is the most accurate, memorable, and auspicious as it WAS Orthodox Easter 2024 AND Cinco de Mayo! Bishop Jim will be with us on Saturday June 8th for my formal Installation. I hope that you can be here with Rob, me, and even my mom to be a part of that blessing over this new season in Augustana’s life together.

While that story of the moment may be interesting, it will surprise no one here when I say that I find the gospel of Jesus THE most compelling story of all time. Who doesn’t love a good story? I know I do. And the best ones made their way into the Hebrew and Christian scriptures. Way back in the day, stories told over and over by the best story tellers in the land, and handed down through the generations, would have made my heart sing while laughing and crying with the rest of the village who came out to hear them. In these modern times, novels and movies are also my jam. My favorites are re-read and re-watched both for comfort and to mine them anew for layered meanings and clever turns of phrase.

Imagine with me a movie scene set in a 1950s recording studio.[1] White walls, sparse furnishings, basic tech, and a small band made up of three quiet, clean cut men playing stringed instruments – an acoustic guitar, upright bass, and electric guitar. They were nervous. Eyes low. Voices quiet.

They were auditioning for music producer Sam Philips of Sun Studios. They started singing and strumming a well-known gospel song and had hardly sung a few lines before Sam stopped them and asked if that was all they had. Did they have any other songs besides a tired, worn-out gospel tune that said nothing new. A young Johnny Cash got angry and asked what was wrong with it. Sam said he didn’t believe it, didn’t believe them, and challenged Johnny to sing one song. One song that you would sing if you had only one chance to sing a song that told God and everyone what your existence means on earth. One song that would sum you up. A song that was different, real…a song you felt. A song that saves people.[2]

That scene is one of my favorites of all times. It mashes up themes of God, belief, meaning, gifts, and gospel and distills them down to essentials. Most of us know what it feels like to freeze or not know what to say when we’re backed into a corner to defend why we believe what we believe. It’s hard to know what we’d say, much less what we actually believe, unless the situation is dire. Within our Augustana community though, we can get our heads around the idea of the song. We’re a singing church in more ways than one, and our one song is Jesus.

  • This means that while we prioritize reaching out to new people, we are not a social club.[3]
  • This means that while we prioritize ancient-future liturgical worship and transcendent music, we are not a performing arts organization.
  • This means that while we prioritize generosity of time, property, and finances we are not a philanthropic organization.
  • And this means that while we prioritize robust community partnerships, advocacy, and antiracism, we are neither a community organizing nor a social service organization.

There may be times when we prioritize those things because we are led by the gospel AND the gifts we’ve been given to proclaim the gospel in thought, word, and deed, loving our neighbors, ourselves, and our enemies.[4] But WE are a gospel people. A Jesus people singing a song of good news of great joy for ALL people.[5]

The Ascension stories about Jesus that we heard today in the Luke and Acts readings are outlandish. The book of Acts picks up the story from the end of the Gospel of Luke. No surprise there. Like any good book series author, Luke reminds Theophilus where he left off the last book. Luke ends with Jesus “carried up to heaven” and Acts begins with Jesus “lifted up” into the clouds. An odd story indeed and, if we’re not careful, the mystery of Jesus’ withdrawal from resurrected life on earth can be twisted into triumphalism – a victory fraught with false positivity in which wounds no longer matter.[6] But Jesus’ ascension does not undo or minimize the experience of suffering on the cross. Suffering leaves its mark and will not be reduced or domesticated. His resurrected body reveals wounds on his hands and his feet. [7] We witness to his wounds as much as we witness to the wonder of the mystery. We are a “both/and” people. It’s part of the Jesus song.

In the creeds of the church, we say that “Jesus ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father,” while scripture also claims in the letter to the Ephesians that all things are under the Jesus’ feet and that he is the head over all the church who is his body. How’s that for a mystical mind bender? Jesus is resurrected in the body of Christ called the church. And it is the church, the resurrected body of Christ, that is equipped by the Holy Spirit for suffering and soaring, solace and Spirit, sinners and saints. Our witness to these things through repentance and forgiveness of sins signals a change of heart wrung from us by the grace of God. We sing a song of transformation.

Everyone loves a redemption story when it happens to someone else, inspiring us in TED talks and on TikTok. Our own redemption stories are harder to stomach. It’s more than saying we’re not perfect. It’s the offensive claim that we’re sinners in need of redemption and we cannot save ourselves. Nobody has a problem in sermons when other people’s sins are challenged. The going gets tough when our own sin is on the preaching page. But Jesus’ song in the church is gracious enough to meet our self-absorption in the shadow of the cross. The same cross from which love and forgiveness flow like blood and water from a wounded side. The song of the crucified One.

My friends in Christ, we help each other sing the song of Jesus. One song. It’s as simple and as complicated as that. The Spirit joins our voices whether we’re tone deaf, tongue-tied, or trilling like the angels. We’re here to sing for others who can’t find their voice or are in too much pain to use it. We sing the song of our own sin when we hurt others and are desperate for grace because we’ve failed again but are too proud to admit to it. We exist to witness to the wonders of Jesus and to welcome new voices to the song. A song that tells God and everyone what our existence means on earth. One song that sums us up. A song that is different, real…a song we feel deep in our souls. A song that saves people. May it be so. Amen.


Hymn of the Day:

Lord Jesus You Shall be My Song – ELW Hymn #808



[1] Sam Philips’ scene in Walk the Line (2005): Walk The Line – Sam Philips Scene (

[2] Ibid., Walk the Line. This is my paraphrase of the scene.

[3] These four bullets are paraphrased from Augustana’s Vision Statement (2019).

[4] Luke 10:27 and Luke 6:27-28

[5] Luke 2:10 – The angel announced to the shepherds that a baby was born.

[6] Matt Skinner, Professor of New Testament, Lutheran Seminary, St. Paul, MN. Sermon Brainwave podcast #356 for Readings on Ascension Sunday, 2014.

[7] Luke 24:39-40


Acts 1:1-11 [Luke writes:] 1In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning 2until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. 3After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. 4While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. “This,” he said, “is what you have heard from me; 5for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”
6So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. 8But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” 9When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. 11They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”

Holy Friendship – John 15:9-17

**sermon art: Crucifixion in Yellow by Abraham Rattner (1953)

Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on May 5, 2024

[sermon begins after the Bible reading]

John 15:9-17 [Jesus said to his disciples:] 9“As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 10If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.
12“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. 16You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. 17I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.”

[sermon begins]

Friends make life fun, and challenging, and good, and funny, and frustrating, and great. Friends can be around for the long haul or sometimes only for a particular season of life. Some people are inclined to talk about close friends as besties. Others simply let each friend defy description and hierarchy. Most people would say that friends are essential. We could argue that Jesus thought that friends were essential, too. Jesus said to his disciples, “I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father; you did not choose me, but I chose you.”[1] No longer servants. Friends. That’s astounding for Jesus to say. And it’s a particular friendship. Jesus defines it. The disciples are Jesus’ friends because they’re in the know about God.

Jesus shared with them what he heard from God the Father. Bam. Friends! Friendship connected with God means something. It means something holy because God is the source of holiness and when we say something is holy, we mean it is something touched by God – whether that’s a person, thing, time, or place.[2] Holiness is not limited to the church. Of course, God is not restricted by such feeble constraints. Bible story after Bible story remind us that God acts where God will and with who God wills, not only in the places or people we think God should be acting. But when Jesus connected friendship and God, he was talking about holy friendship of a particular kind. It’s a good day to talk about what that means for being church because Jesus taught what it means in our reading today.

His teaching is part of what’s called the Farewell Discourse in the Gospel of John, chapters 14-17. Jesus talked about what holy friendship means as he said farewell to his friends. He knew they would need that connection to sustain their witness as their day-to-day world became more challenging after his death. As they longed to have Jesus back with them, they would need to turn towards each other in the love of holy friendship with the deep conviction that their lives belonged first to God and by extension they belonged to each other.

Jesus made holy friendship simple. Not easy. Simple. Lives shared in the witness of Jesus’ good news means the love of God is at its core. Jesus revealed God’s love in his life, ministry, death, and resurrection. Holy friendship includes sharing Jesus’ ways with each other, being Jesus to each other. We preach Christ crucified and we are the resurrected body of Christ in the world. This means that suffering doesn’t have the last word. Love does.

In the simplest of terms, Jesus showed up for milestones like a wedding and a funeral.[3] Pausing to observe life’s moments with holy friends recognizes God’s promise of presence with us in every situation, good or ill. Last Sunday in worship, we celebrated with our young holy friends graduating from high school. Lifting them in prayer during their time of transition. This coming Wednesday, 60+ Ministry will worship together and eat lunch afterwards. In one day last week, I met with three sets of holy friends – parents planning a baptism, another family planning a funeral, and a couple planning their wedding. (My first hat trick as a pastor.[4]) What do these things have in common? God is in the middle of these events with God’s promises of faith, hope, and love through celebration and suffering. Showing up for each other’s milestones builds community through the bonds of holy friendship, belonging to each other in the name of Jesus.

Right after the wedding of Cana in John chapter 2, where Jesus performed his miracle of turning water into wine, we’re invited into a different story. Jesus cleared the temple of bad business practices that hurt people and worked against the community.[5] The story of Jesus’ anger and how we think about the church helps us tend to the business of the church without turning the church solely into a business. Fiscal responsibility and attending to the business of the church is worthy, it’s just not the only or last word. Jesus’ teaching about holy friendship adds to that nuance. Stewarding our resources for both the good of this faith community and the wider community forms a tension from which we witness to Christ’s love for us and for the world. Our holy friendship as stewards isn’t easy. We have different ideas about how best to use the money, time, and talents that God first gave us.

Last week, Pastor Gail preached about Peter’s redemption and transformation after the resurrection in John, chapter 21.[6] In his fear during Jesus’ trial, Peter denied knowing Jesus three times. After the resurrection, Jesus asked Peter three times if he loved him. Each time, Peter said, “Yes, Lord, I love you.” That scripture, Peter’s longing for Jesus to hear him, wrecks me every time. Three denials. Three affirmations of love and a way to make amends as Jesus told Peter to feed his sheep, to tend to the beloved people who belong to God and each other. Grace upon grace was bestowed on Peter in those moments. If Peter’s example is too lofty, let’s visit the woman caught in adultery in John, chapter 8.[7] She was a dead woman walking, about to be legally executed by stoning.  Jesus wielded reckless grace on her behalf while inviting the men around her into self-examination of their own sin. He said to them, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” With that grace-filled challenge, is any wonder that Jesus ended up executed himself?

We follow the example of Jesus in our life together. In our best moments, we love each other across healthy boundaries for our common good. Do we sometimes hurt each other by the things we do and the things we leave undone? You bet. Directly addressing hurt and shame with the people who hurt us is what holy friendship looks like. We as the church get to practice Jesus’ teaching over and over again. Holy conversations follow the example of Jesus’ conversations with Nicodemus in John chapter 3 and the woman at the well in John chapter 4. Holy conversations that name both how we are hurt and how we hurt others are a call to grace. Grace upon grace to know ourselves, too. To laugh at ourselves, shake our heads at ourselves, and open ourselves to something inside of us shifting by way of that grace so that we can better love each other, including loving our very own selves. That’s holy friendship, figuring out how to extend grace to each other because we are holy friends, yoked to Jesus by Jesus for each other.

We belong to each other through no work of our own as we do the work of belonging to each other. Jesus said, “…you did not choose me, but I chose you.” Through our baptisms by water, into Christ’s death and resurrection, the Holy Spirit works the wonders of transformation, giving us spiritual gifts for building up the body of Christ as a place of reckless belonging, a place of imperfect, holy friendship for God’s sake, for our sake, and for the sake of the world. Amen.


[1] John 15:15-16a

[2] Frederick Buechner, “Holy” in Wishful Thinking (New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 1973, 1993), 45.

[3] John 2: Jesus first miracle of turning water into wine at the Wedding of Cana; John 11: The raising of Lazarus.

[4] A hat trick is a sports term that applies to achievements that happen in groups of three like a hockey player who scores three points in one game.

[5] John 2:13-25

[6] John 21:15-19

[7] John 8:1-11