Ken Phillips Banner Art Rise and Sing Again.

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.”