Sermons by Lori Leopold
Today is Ascension Sunday, a day that is not particularly recognized or highly anticipated in our culture at large. I doubt anyone woke up this morning saying, “Yay! It’s Ascension Sunday!” But, despite that fact, it’s a day that is special…significant in the life of the church. Luke writes about the ascension of Jesus into heaven, his return back to God, both at the end of the gospel of Luke and at the beginning of Acts. Curiously, these accounts are somewhat different.
Our scripture today continues in the Eastertide theme of life in relationship with God. Jesus talks about his love for the disciples and their love for one another using the language of friendship. And, even as we read his words, we might find ourselves asking, “How do we, frail, fallible human beings even come close to fulfilling this commandment?”
n today’s scripture passage from Acts, the Ethiopian eunuch was reading precisely these words from Isaiah when the Spirit instructed Philip to approach his chariot and engage him in conversation. The full name of this book is The Acts of the Apostles but it contains so much more than just that! In fact, the Philip in this story is not Philip the apostle, but rather Philip the evangelist, one of seven Greek speaking Jewish Christians who were appointed to tend to the needs of others, especially to the widows in the Greek speaking portion of the Christian community. This wonderful, Spirit-driven encounter reminds us of the ever-widening circle of inclusion that has always been at the heart of the gospel, way back when and all the way up to our here and now.
Our lectionary readings for today include Psalm 23 along with a portion of John’s gospel that reminds us that Jesus is the good shepherd. What does it mean for us to be sheep? What does it mean to have a shepherd?
Into the midst of angst and struggle, Jesus comes to the disciples with a word of greeting, “Peace be with you.” How often are we, just like those early disciples, a mix of joy and disbelief and wonder?
Despite anything and everything that has come before, despite hardship and struggle, despite pain and suffering, despite plagues and pandemics, despite any and all circumstances that have felt as if they were too much to bear, morning comes…day breaks…Easter arrives.
If we check in only on Palm Sunday and Easter, we go straight from “Hosanna” to “Hallelujah” and miss so much of the critical journey in between. For that reason, our service will be slightly different today as we celebrate Palm/Passion Sunday. We’ll begin with a Palm Sunday text and conclude with the reading of the Passion or the crucifixion.
Our lectionary readings today bring us two fairly complex and curious passages with which to wrestle. The first testament reading from Numbers may be totally unfamiliar. If you suffer from Ophidiophobia (fear of snakes), you might find it especially disturbing! Our Gospel reading, on the other hand, is likely to be familiar to all. It contains perhaps the best known and often repeated line of Christian scripture that’s out there…“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son…” What is the connection between these passages?
The account of Jesus “cleansing the temple” is told in all four Gospels but with several significant differences. Matthew, Mark and Luke place this account toward the end of Jesus’ life, while John places it much closer to the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. Jesus enters the temple during Passover – a very active, busy time – and turns everything, literally and figuratively, upside down
Our scripture reading from Genesis this week focuses on Abraham and Sarah, who started their journey as Abram and Sarai. But in their relationship with God and as a part of the covenant between them and God, they received new names. We’ll spend some time today thinking about what that meant for them and what our names and labels mean for us, as people of faith, today.