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RSS By: Bishop Robert Alan Rimbo

Finding Faith in an Age of Terror


This time of year, in a culture facing terror of all sorts, many people are wanting to find faith. I think a better way to approach this is to be in places where faith can find us. I’m not simply writing to invite you to a mosque or synagogue or church – although it would be great to see you there. I’m inviting you to places where people of faith gather. And, just to be clear, those are by no means restricted to houses of worship.


To be sure, there are plenty of those places available. On Christmas Eve I expect churches to be full. And I expect many who will sing "Oh, Come, All Ye Faithful" will be those who are simply wanting to be faithful, if only for an hour…or wanting to be more faithful because of what they are fearing. And that will be true not only of the Lutherans I represent.


The faith we seek to make available to people, the faithful community we will enter, are gifts from God. This faith and these people are marked by certain characteristics we need for the common good.


You may know that Lutherans are completing a year of grand celebrations surrounding the 500th Anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation. What I am hoping is that in the coming years we will move from that historic grounding we have commemorated toward greater cooperation with people of faith in ecumenical and inter-religious movements.


There is a great commitment among leaders of various communities of faith to engage progressive advances at the grassroots level, to promote tolerance, and to encourage people to flourish in a new and needed age of community. The amazing strides between Lutherans and Roman Catholics point to this.


There is a strong desire and willingness to work on welcoming all people in a spirit of generous hospitality. As a Lutheran I can say that many of my tribe are engaged in ministry with the LGBTQ communities. In our own Synod here in Metropolitan New York, we are working to address the systemic racism which is America’s original sin. We are strongly speaking out in opposition to the anti-Semitism and Islamophobia all around us. We are engaged with faithful people in our own country and around the world in addressing the abuses of power we see every day.


There are remarkable efforts at offering God’s welcome to immigrants and asylum-seekers and refugees, though we certainly look for more such opportunities in the face of governmental resistance. We will work actively to participate in inclusive welcome, as our Lord Jesus was himself a refugee.


There are local congregations in which people of faith are welcoming people of all races and nations, one of the great gifts of the amazing communities in which we live. We are striving to welcome the stranger without fear but with the same kind of faith that our ancestors experienced when they reached these shores and were welcomed by the first nations people.


There is a commitment to practicing a faith that is intimately connected with "peace on earth," the gift of wholeness that is truly the meaning of shalom.       


There is, in our churches and in many other religious communities, a welcome to the open table of God’s Reign where all can gather together.


And while we do not have all the answers, of course, we are faithful in responding to the terror all around, knowing that God is with us and guiding us into a new day of faith when war and hardship and suffering and oppression will be no more.


This is pious language. True words. What I am calling the synod I serve as bishop to do is to put these words into action for such a time as this. And I invite you to join me as faith discovers us together again and again.



Bishop Robert Alan Rimbo

Metropolitan New York Synod




Learning from Mary

May 13, 2017
Bishop Rimbo preached this sermon during our 2017 Synod Assembly in Tarrytown, NY on May 13, 2017.

Luke 1:46-55

Mary said,
"My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever."

Alleluia! Christ is risen!

Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!


Theologians call the paradoxes "coincidences of opposites." And Mary’s Magnificat is filled with them.


And for good cause, apparently, according to Martin Luther who was the champion of coincidences of opposites, the prince of paradoxes.


Martin Luther’s amazing Commentary on the Magnificat was composed amid the stormy days of the spring and summer of 1521. The writing and the publishing were interrupted when Luther was summoned to the Diet of Worms. It’s a "deet of vorms, by the way, which has nothing to do with food. At the Diet, you’ll recall, Luther gave his famous "Here I stand" speech and really got himself in hot water which led to his forced exile at the Wartburg Castle. Eventually, while he was dealing with his own demons, the turbulence which he caused with those infamous 95 Theses, the less-than- successful meeting in Worms, and the depression brought on

by being stuck in the Wartburg Castle, he finished the devotional commentary on the Magnificat.


It is an exegetical commentary and a devotional classic. But frankly, it is also a guideline, even a manifesto, on how the person to whom it is dedicated, Prince John Frederick, Duke of Saxony and a whole lot of other places in Germany, should behave as a ruler.


It is largely about how to be a political leader. Last Friday we had a group of diaconal leaders from Germany visit us in our office. It was the day after the "triumph" in the House of Representatives of what appears to be an ill-fated health care plan. The Germans asked: "What kind of influence do you Lutherans have on your government?" I hemmed and hawed for a bit. I should have told them I’m sending multiple copies of Luther’s Commentary on the Magnificat to Washington and Albany and City Hall.


See, in his cover memo to Prince John Frederick, Luther says, "when power, riches, and honor come to a human being, these form so strong an incentive to presumption and smugness, that the leader forgets God and does not care about the people. Being able to do wrong with impunity, the leader lets himself go and becomes a beast…and is a ruler in name, but a monster in deed…"


I know some of you are mad at me for saying this, but I’m just quoting Luther directly. You can disagree with him.


To counter this human tendency he feared would be the case for Prince John Frederick, Martin Luther points to Mary and "this sacred hymn of the most blessed Mother of God, which ought indeed to be learned and kept in mind by all who would rule well and be helpful…In it she really sings sweetly about the fear of God, what sort of Lord God is, and especially what God’s dealings are with those of low and high degree…this pure Virgin Mary deserves to be heard by a prince and lord as she sings her sacred, chaste, and salutary song."


As we come near the end of this Assembly and as we engage in this new thing of working together to help people in need in a hands-on experience today, we can learn from Mary how to sing and live to God’s glory and praise.


It strikes me as strange that Mary did not receive from God’s messenger any help prior to her visit to Elizabeth when she first sang this song. She did not receive any script, any kind of scenario for her life as a mother. I suspect Gabriel knew that Mary lived in Faith Not Fear. But consider this: Gabriel did not tell her any of the facts, alternate or otherwise: "Now, Mary, before you say anything, you should know what a ‘yes’ entails. Joseph will think you’ve been unfaithful and will plan to separate from you. There are no Lamaze classes in Nazareth or Bethlehem. Your baby will be born far from your home and family, and have as his first crib a feed trough for animals. To escape the rage of a mad ruler, you will have to flee with your infant to far-off Egypt. Then you will return to live in this backwater town of Nazareth and no one will give a hoot about who your son really is. You will watch your neighbors try to throw him from a cliff. Your relatives will claim he is crazy. The authorities will accuse him of blasphemy. And, on top of all that, he will not outlive you, not die of natural causes. He will breathe his last executed like a common criminal on a bloody cross, between two bandits. But don’t worry, Mary: three days later you will see him again."


None of this was given to the singer of Mary’s Song. If it had been, she might have responded, "Are you crazy?" The only thing given was a promise. The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you, and with that alone, Mary spoke her faith-filled once-for-all yes: "Here am I, servant of the Lord. Let it be to me as you say."


The Magnificat is a song, a prayer, filled with memory and with hope…and an over-arching sociopolitical manifesto. Listen to this again:


God has shown strength with his arm;

scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;

brought down the powerful from their thrones;

lifted up the lowly;

filled the hungry with good things;

sent the rich away empty;

and helped his servant Israel.


No wonder Luther sent this to his Prince!


This is the Mary whose sights are set beyond little Nazareth, who proclaims biblical justice, not the justice of men and women or constitutions or bills of rights, but the justice of God. Mary, in this single song, takes us back to God’s mercy in the selection of a band of enslaved tribes, their exodus from Egypt, the prophetic witness. And Mary takes us forward to the hope that stems from Jesus who fulfills all justice, whose reign is a reign that will make all things new; forward to the Jesus of judgement who will separate the sheep from the goats on the basis of what we do for the least of these, and will create the ideal community envisioned in the post-Pentecost power of the book of Acts.


Mary’s Song pushes us beyond our comfort zones, beyond our boundaries, beyond what we think the Church is supposed to do, to where God wants us to be. It causes us to work together for issues right in front of us that are killing people. We live in a country that is discouragingly deaf to the cries of the enslaved poor, its abused women and homeless men, its sick who have no access to health-care and must choose between food and medicine, its millions of youngsters sleeping on its streets each night, its elderly rummaging for food in dumpsters, its prisoners on death row. Mary’s Song opens our eyes to see thousands of infants living in poverty who will not see their first birthday, and opens our ears to the prophetic witness of Micah calling us ‘to do justice, to love mercy, to walk humbly with God.’


Mary calls us to live the mission of her Son, Jesus: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor, has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free."


Now, this afternoon, we will engage in fairly simple activities of caring. We will also, I hope, put our names on the line to work for God’s justice. And in the next months, it is my hope and intent that our synod will continue to bear witness in efforts at advocacy and bold service for the life of the world, all of us together.


Martin Luther’s friend Mary appears also in a single sentence in the Book of Acts where it declares "The apostles were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the Mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers."  (Acts 1:14) One word sums this up: community. We cannot be Christians alone. Mary is seen sharing food and conversation, prayer and memories with Jesus’ closest friends, with women and men who had shared his hopes and his fears, his travel and his travail, his agonies and his ecstasies, his life and his love. 


Sisters and Brothers, we are called to that same community now, as we come to this Holy Communion where we will be nourished so we may bring Faith, not Fear, to our world.


For, Alleluia! Christ is risen!

Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!


In the Name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.



Bishop Robert Alan Rimbo

Metropolitan New York Synod

Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

Mary, Martin, and Us: Bearing God to the World

May 12, 2017
Bishop Rimbo prepared this Bible Study for our 2017 Synod Assembly.

IMG_3095"Intersectionality" is an important word these days. We seem to be looking at and for connections.


Today, in this time of some theological meditation on a particular passage from Galatians, I want to focus on the coming of Christ among us, what we call The Incarnation.


I want to look at a specific passage from Galatians as a place of intersection between the Song of Mary – The Magnificat and this year of commemorating the 500th Anniversary of the posting of the 95 Theses of Martin Luther and our shared ministry as bearers of God to the world for such a time as this.


It’s a specific passage with which I have spent hardly any time until preparing for this time with you. So the intersection now is between Luther’s Commentary on Galatians (a masterpiece of biblical exegesis blended with devotional commentary) that reflects his devotion to Mary, the Theotokos – "God-Bearer" – and what that could mean for us.


So look with me now at this single, loaded passage from Galatians, 4:


But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children.


First, I’ll tell you what I know about Galatians.


It’s called the Magna Charta of Christian liberty. It deals, primarily, with whether Gentiles must become Jews before they can become Christians. Certain Judaizing teachers had infiltrated the churches of Galatia in central Asia Minor, which Paul had previously founded (Acts 16:6), declaring that in addition to having faith in Jesus Christ a Christian was obligated the keep the Mosaic Law which in the case of about half of the people meant a surgical procedure which I don’t want to get into.


Paul, on the contrary, insists that a person becomes right with God only by faith in Christ and not by the performance of good works, ritual observances, and the like (2:16; 3:24-25; 5:16:12-15).


At the very beginning of the Letter, Paul asserts the authority of his teaching. He asserts his gospel against James in Jerusalem and even against Peter.


The central part of the Letter is an exposition of the doctrine of justification by faith alone (3:1-4:31) – the part of the Letter on which Luther commented most extensively, of course – but Paul also concludes with certain practical applications of his teaching (5:1-6, 18) because he wanted to be clear that Christians do have obligations to behave according to the moral code. Such behavior does not justify but is a product of our being justified.


The importance of this letter is hard to overestimate. Written around A. D.55, it sets forth the true function of the Mosaic Law and its relation to God’s grace manifested in Christ.


Which brings us to why I chose to focus on this passage.


It’s a simple assertion, really. The Son of God was "born of a woman" which can be said of all of us, I guess.


"Thick Words."

There are words and phrases in the Christian theological tradition that are so "thick," so full of meaning, that we can meditate on them in great depth and they can yield a whole range of meanings.


Think of this word: grace. Or let’s try this word: cross. Or how about this one: disciple.


These are words from which spring up: power, resonance, thickness, and depth - words that will never find their full meaning in terms of a dictionary definition. They contain a surplus of meaning.


Which leads me to a word about Mary that is an ancient name for her, and, I propose, is a name for each one of us: THEOTOKOS. 


It means, simply "God-Bearer," the one who bore God into the world.


Note: it doesn’t say "Christ-Bearer". That’s because our ancestors in the faith understood clearly that words have consequences. There were enough heretics in the early Church to make even us blush. So our ancestors wanted to be clear that Mary brought forth God, a person who possessed both a human and a divine nature.


I remember talking with Confirmation kids about this, especially one young mathematician who wanted percentages – "was it a fifty-fifty split between human and divine" to which I answered "Nope" – "it was a hundred percent each." An adolescent mathematician had difficulty with that.


It’s called a coincidence of opposites that asserts that Jesus Christ was fully human and fully divine. It’s a wonderfully Luther-an kind of understanding. We love those tensions, don’t we: catholic / protestant; saint / sinner. Luther was the prince of paradox.


And in this paradox, this coincidence of opposites, is a whole compressed theology relative to the person of Jesus Christ.


As Robert Farrar Capon says in The Fingerprints of God, the term Mother of God – or more properly, God-Bearer, "isn’t a definition that gives us answers to our questions; it’s a sudden illumination of the fact that in Mary, the images of Son, Word, God, Man, and Womb all come together in a coincidence of opposites. And if you take that paradoxical picture as a seamless whole, you absolve yourself from having to water down any of the images."


The fullness of time

The sending of the Son of God did not occur at any old time; it certainly did not occur "once upon a time"; it happened in time that could be measured and, more precisely, at a proper moment in time as part of the unfolding plan of God, the fullness of time, according to Paul.


God sent his Son

Just in case you are wondering, Paul is here reminding us that this is all about Jesus Christ, even when he is talking about Mary bearing God. A mini-paradoxical confession.


Born of a woman

which, of course, can be said about all of us, unless Paul understood Jesus to be someone distinguished from all other humans. This person, the 100% divine and 100% human, was born of a woman.


Born under the law

That is, after the giving of the law at Mount Sinai and under its reality. Christ is located in historical time generally and in the time of the revelation of God to the children of Israel in particular to see the Anointed One come from his own people.


The Son of God was a human with a specific history and a specific pedigree, if you will. Christ was not an angel or some kind of "power" or even a bodiless soul, like some claim, but a human being who came from a woman who was a child of Israel. He was, bluntly, a Jewish male with all that that assertion implies.


What are some of those implications? This is the stuff of Call the Midwife. This is real birth in real flesh at a certain time in history.


Paul’s assertion is the earliest reference to Mary in the Scriptures. Remember: Galatians was written around 55 so as far as we know all the other writings in the New Testament came after it.


Augustine uses this text from Galatians at least ten times in The Trinity for the precise reason of demonstrating the coincidence of opposites.


He says in Book I, "In the form of God, all things were made by him (John 1:3); in the form of a servant, he himself was "born of a woman, born under the law (Gal. 4:4)."


Jesus was born of a woman, Mary, the Theotokos, the God-Bearer. So Mary is the intersection between the hopes of Israel and their realization in the person of Jesus. The story of salvation is rooted in an almost outrageous particularity. While there has been some tension between Catholic and Orthodox theology, on the one hand, and Protestant theology, on the other, about whether Mary actively cooperated in salvation or merely was the passive instrument of God’s will (as opposed to Mary’s reaction, her saying OK to the angel), the one thing all traditions agree on is that Mary was the location of the historical event of the Word made flesh.


Martin Luther was devoted to her. She is the one person chosen from all of humanity that made real the Incarnation. I will talk about that more tomorrow, when I preach at the Eucharist, but for now let me quote Lutheran theologian Robert Jenson who puts it correctly and unapologetically: "The Son of God has a mother; there exists a theotokos. Mary became pregnant, gestated, and gave birth and the one whom she gestated and gave birth to was the sole and solitary person of the Son of God."2


A coincidence of opposites.


Annnnnd……So, What? This multi-layered, stunning passage from Galatians says it clearly:


in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children.


There is a very real sense in which we, too, bear God in our lives, our ministry, our witness for this time and this place.


Where does that happen in your life as a Christian? Where do you bear God?


You are a theotokos We are, together, theotokoi. And here is a point of intersection with Luther.


I could read extensively from Luther’s Commentary on Galatians, it is two volumes in the American Edition of Luther’s Works. Luther summarizes this new life we now have and can help us to think how we might bear God:


God has also sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, as Paul says here. Now Christ is completely certain that in his spirit he is pleasing to God. Since we have the same Spirit of Christ, we, too, should be certain that we are in a state of grace, on account of Christ who is certain… The external signs…are these: to enjoy hearing about Christ; to teach, give thanks, praise, and confess Christ, even at the cost of property and life; to do one’s duty according to one’s calling, in faith and joy; not to take delight in sin; not to invade someone else’s calling but to serve one’s own; to help the needy, comfort the sorrowful, etc. By these signs we are assured and confirmed… that we are in a state of grace.



Or, in short, to bear God’s life and light ourselves.


Each of us a theotokos, all of us, together, bearing God.


We rejoice that…when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children.


1 Robert Farrar Capon, The Fingerprints of God (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000), page 101.
2 Robert Jenson, "For Us…He was Made Man" in Nicene Christianity, ed. Christopher Seitz (Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2002), p. 83

Falling into temptation

Apr 12, 2017

Bishop Rimbo preached this sermon during the annual Chrism Mass at Holy Trinity, Manhattan on April 12, 2017.



Dear Sisters and Brothers, I’m sure you remember every word of the sermon at last year’s Chrism Mass. I went into extensive detail about the pain and torture of physical therapy with Pyramus. I’m not going to repeat that except to say that the pain and torture continues and it’s OK, even getting better most days.


Today I want to talk about some of the realities we face as the baptized people of God and especially as rostered ministers as we gather to renew vows, receive absolution, and bless oils. And I want to do this in terms of Judas. We could use other characters from the Passion as portals to this but I think that our common tendancy to fall into temptation might offer a place for us to connect with him.


Poor Judas.


Chrism2017.003I have always had mixed feelings about him and how he apparently caved in to whatever tempted him. So, prompted by Judas, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the difference between the version of the Lord’s Prayer I learned as a child and the version I much prefer now, the so-called contemporary version. Today I’m thinking particularly about the difference between "lead us not into temptation," which always troubled me as a kid and as an adult, because I wondered why God would do that, why would God lead us into temptation… and the vastly different "save us from the time of trial" which relates to an eschatological time of testing, I understand. That translation makes so much more sense for me, especially these days which some see as times of trial, these days right now, this Holy Week. "Save us from the time of trial" is what I need to pray. It’s what I do pray…a lot.


But it makes me think about temptation, which we honestly don’t think about too much.


Chrism2017.004I have a friend who speaks fluent Malagasy. A colleague in the Conference of Bishops. I will not attempt to say "temptation" in the Malagasy language because it remainds me of words my mother would not like to hear from my lips. I understand the term comes from two words literally meaning "to take" and "spirit". So, like Jesus, who was troubled in spirit, temptation is the taking of the spirit. Talk about a time of trial!


One could understand this taking of the spirit, this time of trial, in several ways. Temptation as something that takes one’s spirit from where it belongs. Or temptation as that which takes over one’s spirit – spirit possession. Either way, temptation and trial is always a matter of the spirit.


As I think about this life of ours within the church, and particularly this life as leaders within the church, I find myself asking: what is it that takes my spirit – that entices my spirit from where it belongs? What is it that takes over my spirit in a way that distracts me from what is true? That leads me at times to be troubled in spirit and to go in the direction Judas went, the way of treason and betrayal. We could spend the rest of the day answering that question.


But I want to bear witness to three ways this works in my life, and perhaps in yours.



One temptation in my life, one thing that "takes my spirit", is the lure of confusing my identity with my role, mixing up who I am with the ministry to which I am called, exchanging my being for my doing. I know some traditions hold that pastors undergo an ontological change at ordination. But I think that exchange of being and doing happens very easily in this work of ours. And given the way many of us are wired, this is a daily taking of the spirit. My spirit is taken from me when I begin to act as though "bishop" is who I am. It’s pretty evident when that happens because my sense of well-being is then determined by the whims of how people respond to "the bishop". Somebody’s happy with the bishop, the bishop’s happy. Somebody’s unhappy with the bishop, the bishop is unhappy and the person who is unhappy with the bishop is ––– well, let’s just leave it there. It’s rather simplistic I know, but tell me that the seductive lure of this identity confusion is unique to me – I don’t think so. It has happened too often, for you, too… Nine out of ten people walk out of worship and compliment you on the sermon.The one who complains about it is the one who gets all your energy, robbing you of your post-liturgy nap. Dozens of emails come across your screen but the one negative message especially when received late in the evening causes anger, defensiveness, loss of sleep. We want people to like us, and "us" is defined by the role we play. And so we who are leaders live in this constant state of tension around how people will react to what we do – because the spirit of who we really are has been taken from us, taken over by this false notion.


I know of no other way to respond to this than to allow myself to be plunged back into the waters of the font, where my spirit is renewed and restored, where my true identity is assured and proclaimed: Child of God. Beloved. Sealed by the Holy Spirit. Marked with the cross of Christ forever. When this is my identity, I can do the work to which I’m called with my spirit in tact.


Chrism2017.006Another temptation that takes my spirit is what one of my spiritual directors described as attachment to the outcome. He said it this way: Attaching yourself to the outcome, any outcome, will kill you. This will surely sntach your spirit.


And it’s a hard one to avoid. Let’s be honest: when we in the church start putting our hopes in successful outcomes, our spirits are easily lured into that place where we think we are the actors rather than remembering that we are but the broken but blessed vessels with which God acts.


I know this sounds like I am bad-mouthing amazing work like our Synod’s Strategic Plan. I’m not.


Yet we live in a culture that values "success" as the ultimate measure of meaning, which traps us in outcome attachment. I know of nothing that can free me from this prison of my own making other than a Lord who consistenly and persistently promises only one thing. Not a successful outcome, but God’s faithfulness, divine faithfulness that takes the shape of a cross, divine faithfulness placed into my open, outcome-empty hands in the form of bread and wine.


And when that promise of divine faithfulness lands within me again, my displaced spirit comes home. And I can engage in strategies and plans of all kinds, knowing the truth: the outcome was never mine to own. What is mine is a grace that is more than sufficient, what is mine is the assurance of a power made perfect in weakness. What is mine is an invitation to take the next faithful step.


Chrism2017.007A third spirit-dislocating temptation I experience is evidenced in the weariness I feel when I lament how our people –whether our rostered ministers, synodical deacons, or congregational members – "just don’t get it". The temptation here in this time of trial is the notion that somehow I get it, and that "getting it" is the most important criteria for relationship. Such a sentiment sets me up for "us versus them" and assumes that people who I think don’t get it are evil or at best intentionally ignorant, and that my job is to "get them on board". In this, my spirit is taken from that cradle of Christ’s love planted within me by the Holy Spirit, and placed into the slingshot of my own cynical judgment. And the result is a sense that the ministry to which I’m called seems enduringly thankless. You know what I’m talking about.


The only thing I know to help my wandering spirit return to its home of love from this wilderness of judgement is gratitude. Call it, Making Eucharist. Gratitude for the God who loves us when we get it and when we don’t, gratitude for the Holy Spirit who calls us into community not to judge but to learn and grow, gratitude for our Lord who binds "us" and "them" together into a holy "we," anointing us with the oil of gladness. Gratitude – giving thanks.


I’m convinced that all those things we typically describe as tempations are simply symptoms of a life in which your spirit or mine has been taken – taken away or taken over by attitudes, mindsets and habits we think are "normal" but in fact are signs of our captivity to sin itself.


The good news is that while spirit-taking, temptation itself, call it sin, is unavoidable, it is not and never can be the final word. This week reminds us, sisters and brothers, that at the end of the day, your spirit and mine can never be taken beyond the reach of the one whose nail scarred hands embrace us in a love that simply will not let us go. A love that will not let you go. Ever. Ever.



To be continued...

Apr 11, 2017

Easter_Bp_MessageWatch Bishop Rimbo's message here


At a recent meeting of our team leaders for the strategic plan, we were discussing the rock opera, Jesus Christ Super Star. One person remarked about how, "way back then," Christian people were upset that this rock opera did not contain a resurrection scene. I remembered such conversations, even with a pastor-professor of religion in which I reminded him that none of the choral passions of the great masters contained a resurrection scene. It was one of the rare times this professor was quiet.


One of our favorite family stories involves a Palm/Passion Sunday in which the story was proclaimed (without a resurrection scene, of course.) At the end of the reading of the passion, our son, Justin, urgently tugged on Lois’s sleeve to get her attention, and then said, "Mom, Mom, this is to be continued, right?"


As we come to this Holy Week, these Three Holy Days, and the Easter Season to follow, I grieve for the state of our world: Syria comes to mind immediately – China, Korea, Russia – and there are countless others including our internal relationships in church and state. All need to hear and believe the message of Christ.


I pray you will remember that this story is to be continued in our lives. Baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection, we have the joy of proclaiming that Christ is risen. 


I pray you will be blessed in your proclamation as you continue the story.


Bishop Robert Alan Rimbo

Come in out of the dark

Mar 13, 2017

Bishop Rimbo preached this sermon during the annual Ministerium at Gloria Dei, Huntington Station on March 13, 2017.


The readings just heard are all about relationships. God and Abram and Sarai; Paul and the people of Rome and the Disciples and Jesus… and us, here, today as we gather for Ministerium, and all year long as we serve together, as we live our relationship with Jesus.


Last week, as the Conference of Bishops met in Chicago, we each were invited to do very brief comments on video in answer to the basic question "What do you look for in leaders?" My comment was "I look for people in love with Jesus." People like you. Like us.


Educated and deeply religious, Nicodemus has come to have a conversation with Jesus. Much like I hope our time here today will be. And he’s full of questions.


"I’ve heard some amazing things about you, Rabbi," he says. "How can someone be born when he is old? Can you enter into the womb a second time and be born? How can this be?"


And through all these questions, Nicodemus is asking another: "Who are you, anyway?" Isn’t that the question, when it comes down to it? For us, too. Right? Who is Jesus? We, like Nicodemus, have heard some rumors about some of the amazing things that he has done. We have heard some of his teaching, just enough to be confused by much of it.


Who are you, Jesus? That’s the most important question of life. Why are people in love with you? Who are you, Jesus?


At the end of our Conference of Bishops meeting, bishops of our region had conversations with soon-to-be graduates of our seminaries, four of the five we received in the assignment, via Skype. It’s good to have those talks, more or less face to face.


People go to seminary for a variety of reasons: Recovery after divorce, psychotherapy, learning the basics of Lutheranism…or not, responding to a stirring or a nudging in the heart. What I want to know from people who are moving toward ordination is in response to that simple question I had asked early in our meeting: How are things with you and Jesus? Oh, dear, soon-to-be-graduate, it seems sometimes we have heard just enough about Jesus to be confused by him. Can you really believe that the reports we’ve heard about Jesus are true?


And for us, too, these are good questions: You know them: Who is he? How can he be both a human being and God at the same time? Was he really raised from the dead? Did he really raise others from the dead? Was he a great moral teacher or a prophet or God? One gets the impression that Nicodemus didn’t get much help with his questions. Jesus’ answers appear to be more mysterious and incomprehensible than ever.


Nicodemus begins the nocturnal conversation but, by the time our passage ends, it’s Jesus who is doing most of the talking. Nicodemus appears to be just sitting there in dumbfounded silence. He thought he could get a fix on Jesus, define him once and for all, pigeonhole him and label him. After all, that’s how we handle that which we don’t understand.


So while it starts wondering about whether I love Jesus, the key insight and gift is that God loves the world. I don’t think Nicodemus got much understanding or definition for all of his questions. What Nicodemus got was Jesus. Nicodemus came out of the darkness,--Susan Briehl calls him Nick at Night--seeking, questioning, and in so doing he engaged Jesus in one of the longest, most theologically revealing conversations in all of Scripture. He experienced God’s love for the world. 


That’s why I like Nicodemus. That’s why I want to claim him as my patron saint, at least for today. And you can join me, if you like. Those of you who may be confused by Jesus or full of questions about who Jesus is or those of you who have all the answers, but relate to people who are confused and wondering: take Nicodemus as your model. Say to people, invite people: Come in out of the dark. Ask Jesus whatever is on your mind. Use all of your God-given mental capacities to try to think about Jesus. Listen to him. And then simply enjoy being with him. Give thanks that God wants to be with us, to share truth with us, even if we can’t fully comprehend the wholeness of that truth, even if we can’t define this God, know that God loves us, the world.


Some people think that Christians are those who have figured it all out, have satisfactorily defined Jesus for themselves, who believe it all with no further questions. No. Jesus is that illusive, free, sovereign and living God who makes sense out of us, rather than our making sense out of him.


We’ve got to risk coming to him even when we don’t always grasp what he’s talking about.


Jesus speaks to Nicodemus of wind and birth, two of the most mysterious, uncontrollable earthly phenomena. In meeting Jesus, we are coming face-to-face with the living God.


We can’t define God. God defines us, meets us, talks with us, loves us, invites us to follow even when we don’t always understand God.


That’s what Nicodemus did. We meet him again later. When Jesus was horribly crucified, when most of his disciples had deserted him, Nicodemus was one of the few people who were there to lovingly bury our Lord. How could it be that this Jesus, so full of life, this Savior of the world, this love, would be killed like that? There, Nicodemus does not ask questions. He simply does what is right. He risks being associated with Jesus. He is a disciple.


And you don’t have to have completely figured Jesus out in order to be a disciple.


In my last parish call, I met often with a young man who was discerning a call into ministry, and which kind of ministry it might be. He grew up in the Lutheran church, the child of two professional churchworkers, and prided himself in having memorized the Small Catechism. He was taught all of the right answers to all those big questions.


As an adult he grew away from the church. In a way, he lost his faith. But he, obviously, had come back…sorta. He is now a Presbyterian. In one of our conversations he said to me, "I wish that my church had asked me about my questions when I was a kid. All they gave me was a list of answers. So I got all the right answers, but I never got the reason for the answers. But now I have Jesus, and that’s a lot better than the Catechism."


And I heard Nicodemus say, "Yep. Now you’ve got it!"


In our time today, in our conversations today and each day, let us all have Jesus. 


Jesus is praying for us

Jan 18, 2017

Bishop Rimbo preached this homily during the Ecumenical Prayer Service for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity at Holy Trinity, Central Park West on January 18, 2017.


John 17:15-23

"I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth. I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me."


wpcu17004In the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


I am so grateful to you for joining us for this Service of Prayer, and especially for Pastor Jonathan Linman’s work at bringing this about.


I am thankful for the ever-growing bonds of affection and community we share as Christians here in New York. Our progress has been amazing, truly. And other Lutherans, I know, are watching us. I am grateful for the strides because I am the product of rather practical, grass-roots, ground-level ecumenism: my mother was raised in the Reformed church and my father was raised in the Roman Catholic church and they compromised and became utherans after a neighbor told them they should "get those kids to Sunday School." I have no idea what my siblings and I had done to inspire that neighbor, but there it is.


I cling to these opportunities to pray with you.


So, here we are together, sisters and brothers, praying for the unity of the Christian Church. But the Gospel just read points us in a different direction. Recall the words of the speaker in this Gospel and you will realize that Jesus prays for you, for us, dear ones.


Jesus prays for us.


What more could we ask for?


Jesus prays for us.


We are the disciples, the ones called, chosen, set apart, sanctified in the truth.


Jesus prays for us.


What more could we ask for? A voice from heaven saying, "You are my beloved child in whom I am well pleased?" The disappearance of all our financial debts? Peace of mind? The desire and skill to be an unfailingly faithful witness to Jesus? Reconciliation in the church, among all religions, among all the nations?


What more do we need? It’s all there in the pure and simple fact that Jesus prays for us. Thank God for that.


And I am clinging to it this evening.


In the days and months and years ahead, how will you pray? For what will you pray? I confess that I do not know how to pray these days so I fall into the calming, familiar words of the liturgy. I do not know how to pray for a country where lies are considered truth and truth, lies. I do not know how to pray…and neither do you. Except to cry, Lord, have mercy.


It is too easy for us to listen to Jesus praying for us, too easy, because the world is what needs Jesus’ prayer and our prayer. Yet Jesus says he is not praying for the world, but only for the disciples, for us. St. John knew exactly what he was saying, harsh as it may seem. You and I are the ones who are left to pray for each other and for the world.


Although we do not know how to pray, Jesus does, and so does the Spirit which he sends to pray in us with sighs too deep for words.


The whole of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection are his prayer. So also for us. Count on it. The whole of our life, our suffering and our death, and our resurrection make our prayer. When in Jesus’ name we teach one another how to live, we teach one another how to pray.


One day, while I was the pastor of this church, I took a walk up Central Park West just to clear my mind or perhaps to go to Starbuck’s. (Or as I like to call it St. Arbuck’s.) It was one of those remarkable evenings in the fall and I was looking across Central Park West toward the magnificent Park.


There, I saw a middle-aged man and woman wheeling a young man in a wheelchair. They had strapped him into the seat.


I never saw him move any part of his body by his own power, but his parents – I assume they were his parents – had wheeled him up to a large hill, near the street, somewhere in the 80s, and turned his chair to face the sunset and the glowing sky, filled with red and orange and yellow.


And his mother carefully, gently, slowly lifted the boy’s head, held it straight, so that he could watch the sunset.


I do not know how to pray for a world and a country so crippled it cannot lift its head. But every question I have ever had about God, every doubt I have entertained, every theological sentence I have ever read or written or heard, all are somehow embraced, swallowed up by that one, simple moment in Central Park.


Beauty was there. Creation. Wonder. Pain was there, too, and helplessness, and tears. Love and compassion and self-giving. My world, their world, God’s world all wrapped up together.


In all our theological musings, in all the amazing work toward Christian unity in which we have been engaged and, pray God, will be engaged, moments like this service focus the truth for us because Jesus is praying for us.


Moments as simple as a kiss or touch exchanged. Moments like a simple meal of bread and wine. Moments like LGBTQ people who are barred from the fullness of ministry. Moments like attempts to bring peace in the Middle East. Moments like any of you can name where God has chosen and called us to be awakened and sanctified in the truth by recognizing life for what it is: simply, revelations of Jesus praying for us.

Moments like this when we are together, praying that we may be together even more. These times are like lifting one another’s heads to look at the sunset and to rejoice in one another’s friendship and companionship, and, together, bearing witness to the love and life of God.


In the Name of the + Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.



Where Do We Go from Here?

Jan 15, 2017

Bishop Rimbo preached this sermon at the ADLA Commemoration of Martin Luther King, Jr. at St. Paul's, Parkchester, Bronx on January 15. The theme was "Where Do We Go from Here? Chaos or Community?"


I am so grateful to the leaders of the African Descent Lutheran Association, Metropolitan New York Synod Chapter, for the invitation to preach today. For a number of years, I have not been able to be at this commemoration of The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., because it always conflicted with a gathering of the Conference of Bishops. I am thankful that leaders of ADLA put this event on the Sunday of the national commemoration and that Lois and I can be with you. Thank you.


I greet all of you, sisters and brothers, in the Name of Jesus and in that Name I now preach.


Nine days ago, on January 6, 2017, Lois and I were privileged to stand with other bishops and various leaders of our Evangelical Lutheran Church in America in the sanctuary of Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. There were plenty of tears there. We were on holy ground. We were welcomed with gracious, godly hospitality. All of us in our delegation were silent with awe in the presence of God at the site where the Nine Martyrs of Mother Emanuel were killed.


I keep thinking of the people there. Especially today as I gather with you to commemorate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and to address the persistent systemic racism which continues to weigh us down and against which our Synod is committed to struggle.


The long list of racist horrors in the past few years is always present, on our streets, in our schools, at our jobs and in our churches, mosques and synagogues, I could speak of so many atrocities, but I am most moved by that experience I had at Mother Emanuel. Imagine nine of your fellow church members murdered by a stranger whom they welcomed in for Bible Study. What a wound. Those scars will mark us forever.


Over a hundred and fifty years have passed since this nation’s bloodiest war. Despite all the efforts and accomplishments of both black and white Americans, despite all of our worthy civil rights legislation, and despite the Church’s fierce stand against the sin of racism, it continues to raise its ugly head, it continues to have a stranglehold. The Ku Klux Klan still marches not only in white sheets, but in pin-striped suits and off-the-rack dresses and preachers’ robes. The Civil War may have ended at Appomattox, but remnants of its cause still linger.


Racism persists in the jokes we tell, In campaign speeches, in the choices we make, the friends we keep, the places where we live, the candidates we vote for or against, the reality of our lives. Many of you know that better than I. Many of us are outraged at the dismissive attitudes and downright lies we’ve heard or seen tweeted regard a hero, Congressman John Lewis. We’re outraged because it’s outrageous. Racism is like the common cold: It’s in the systems of our society. Everyone – those in the church and those out of the church, those who identify as red or blue or orange, those who are rich as well as those who are poor – everyone is susceptible to the virus.


We have just experienced the grace of eight years of the most even, balanced, wise, compassionate presidency – you choose the words as well as I do – now coming to an end, and, ask Lois, I have been weeping every day and every night, partly out of a great sense of loss, partly out of a great sense of fear.


Racism brings misery to all. And as shocking and embarrassing as it is, we must have the courage to look at racism in light of God’s truth, in light of God’s Word, and to ask "Where Do We Go From Here?"


"Where Do We Go from Here? Chaos or Community?" is the title of Dr. King’s last book. Those questions, and thousands of other questions, surround us today. Where do we go from here? Chaos or Community? What can we offer? The fact that this assassin, this young man, Dylan Roof, grew up Lutheran makes the grief more painful for me, not because I think Lutherans should be free from such evil, but because I keep asking, "Where did we go wrong with this young person?" Especially knowing that he declares that he has no remorse. And even though the trial has now moved to sentencing him to death, the fact is there is no bringing back these nine faithful people: Cynthia Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lance, Depayne Middleton Doctor, Pastor Clementa Pinckney, Tywanza Sanders, Pastor Daniel Simmons, Pastor Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Myra Thompson.


When we were in Charleston we heard the story of the impact as victims’ family members and friends shared their pain on the news.


We can certainly pray for all who mourn but we must also offer to transform this broken reality of our world.


We can offer our courageous challenges to prejudicial words and racist behavior.


We can offer our words, our actions, our willingness to suffer when our concerns are not welcome.


We can offer our honest love to people who need to know that, as with our Lord Jesus Christ, God can raise the dead and heal the broken.


We can continue to teach the ministry of reconciliation.


We can strive for the justice to which Dr. King committed his life, the justice which the Prophet Amos proclaimed.


You heard one verse from Amos moments ago. Did you notice it began with the rod "but"? That means something came before it, right? So let’s hear more:

I hate, I despise your festivals,

and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.

Though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings,

I will not accept them,

and the peace offerings of your fatted animals

I will not look upon.

Take away from me the noise of your songs;

I will not listen to the melody of your harps.

But let justice roll down like waters,

and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

(Amos 5:21-24)


We gather here this afternoon to worship, and Amos tells us graphically, pungently, how intimately worship and justice are conjoined in God’s covenant with God’s people.


Don’t just take my word for it. Read the book of Amos and you will find that he is a pessimist, the least hopeful of the classical prophets. He lived in a pessimistic, paradoxical period: on the one hand, great material prosperity; on the other hand, social and religious corruption. (Sound familiar?) His is a raw message of judgment – God’s judgment on Israel. Particularly against its leaders – rulers, priests, upper classes; but a judgment that would affect all the people. Why? Because the nation was understood as a unity, with a common destiny. Israel, Amos storms, will be destroyed; destruction is certain, inescapable, total. Because they had disregarded their covenant with God. They went through the motions of worshiping; merchants were careful not to do business on forbidden days but when the prophets reproached them they turned a deaf ear. 


But the ultimate reason the Lord would execute judgment? Because so many of the people compartmentalized their lives, separated worship of God from concern for their neighbor, even though worship of God and justice to the neighbor were intimately connected. The merchants did no business on the proscribed days, but they were impatient for the holy days to pass so they could resume their fraudulent business. Wealthy landowners oppressed the less fortunate; they simply took over the landholdings of impoverished people. No wonder Amos, speaking the Word of the Lord, railed against them. But look out, watch it here: First, this justice is not Constitutional Law – there was no such thing at the time, of course. This justice is God’s own sense of righteousness, of mercy.


And, also, this was not an out-and-out rejection of Israelite worship or religion. It was a rhetorical device which you can add to your collection of unusable phrases: it’s called "dialectic negation." Like any good preacher, Amos strongly negates, denies, nullifies one facet of religion (worship) so as to emphasize another facet (justice). Read the writings of great preachers like Dr. King and you will see this device used masterfully. Hosea likewise proclaimed this word of the Lord: "I desire steadfast love, not sacrifice" but remember that, of course, the Lord wanted sacrifice, too – just not when it was offered as a substitute for the demands of the covenant, not when love of God was supposed to replace love of neighbor.


"Where Do We Go From Here? Chaos or Community?" is an intriguing, amazing, challenging read. And I particularly appreciate the subtitle: "Where Do We Go From Here? Chaos Or Community?" Reading this book while visiting Charleston was deeply moving. Reading this book in preparing to preach for this commemoration with the words of Amos ringing in my ears is profoundly challenging.


Because – stay with me here – now we must move from Amos and Israel to you and me, now we must move from Chaos to Community, our community, the Beloved Community of which Dr. King spoke, that Community of which we are all part.


I am not as pessimistic as was Amos. For all our failings, I do not believe God has passed a definitive judgment

on the People of God known as the Church. I do not believe we are destined for destruction – certain, inescapable, total. Still, my experience and our work in our Synod on the immense and intense racism which we continue to face, says that we have strong parallels with that which caused Amos to predict disaster. There remains a great gulf between worship and justice, a gulf bridged in places like Mother Emanuel, in places like the churches and people of our synod working on addressing racism powerfully and prayerfully – trying to bridge the divides that separate us.


We, too, enjoy a covenant with God – a covenant that was sealed not with the blood of bulls, but with the blood of God’s Son. That covenant is shaped by faithfulness: God ceaselessly faithful to us despite our infidelities; We, bound by the two commandments that sum up the law and the prophets and express our faithfulness: "you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind" and "you shall love your neighbor at least as much as you love yourself."


One of the great heresies of the church today is believing that the only commandment that really matters for eternity, for eternal life, is the first: Love God but let humans fend for themselves. The First Letter of John summarizes this in a single uncompromising sentence: "If anyone has the world’s goods and sees their sister or brother in need yet closes their heart, how does God’s love abide in that person?" For a Christian, giving to those in need is not a secular handout, a simple act of constitutional justice, a lovely virtue, giving others what they can legitimately claim because it can be proven from philosophy or has been written into the Constitution of the United States. No. This is essential Christianity, my sisters and brothers. Without it I am not genuinely a Christian. Unless I love all of God’s images on earth at least as much as I love myself, I do not really love God.


The strong word of the Lord on Amos’s lips, "I will not accept your burnt offerings," did not fade away when Christ was born. Remember what he said to the Pharisees, "Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice’" – good old dialectic negation. Of course, God desires sacrifice, but it’s the sacrifice of which St. Paul speaks: "I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters – to you, Christians, to you, followers of the Way – I appeal to you by the mercies of God to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship."


Where Do We Go From Here?


We go to action linked to mercy, to practical love, to compassion, to justice, from chaos to community.


This is action growing from the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Martyr, Renewer of Society, Renewer of the Church. This is action flowing from the holy ground of Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church and the Nine Holy Martyrs of Charleston. This is action seen as we link worship and justice, as we move from the church to the world, from the pulpit to the people, from the Christ we meet in the Holy Communion to the countless images of God who are crucified still today by poverty, classism, ageism, and racism. This is action with which we confront racism in our Church and in our world. "Where Do We Go From Here? Chaos or Community?" Community, the Beloved Community, is Dr. King's answer. Let it be our answer as well. We go from chaos to community, a good direction, given our current state of affairs in the church and in our society. We go, together, into and as the Beloved Community of Christ Jesus our Savior and Lord. Amen.

With great hope

Dec 14, 2016

You might think I’m crazy to admit this, but sometimes the first thing I do in the morning, right before praying, is look at Facebook. This morning when I checked in I was met with three things that gave me so much to pray for.


First I saw the fourth anniversary of the Newtown Elementary School Shooting.


Second I saw the destruction and killing in Aleppo.


Third I saw that Dylann Roof’s confession of the Charleston church shooting.


Zechariah 8:1-17

The word of the LORD of hosts came to me, saying: Thus says the LORD of hosts: I am jealous for Zion with great jealousy, and I am jealous for her with great wrath. Thus says the LORD: I will return to Zion, and will dwell in the midst of Jerusalem; Jerusalem shall be called the faithful city, and the mountain of the LORD of hosts shall be called the holy mountain. Thus says the LORD of hosts: Old men and old women shall again sit in the streets of Jerusalem, each with staff in hand because of their great age. And the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in its streets. Thus says the LORD of hosts: Even though it seems impossible to the remnant of this people in these days, should it also seem impossible to me, says the LORD of hosts? Thus says the LORD of hosts: I will save my people from the east country and from the west country; and I will bring them to live in Jerusalem. They shall be my people and I will be their God, in faithfulness and in righteousness.
Thus says the LORD of hosts: Let your hands be strong — you that have recently been hearing these words from the mouths of the prophets who were present when the foundation was laid for the rebuilding of the temple, the house of the LORD of hosts. For before those days there were no wages for people or for animals, nor was there any safety from the foe for those who went out or came in, and I set them all against one other. But now I will not deal with the remnant of this people as in the former days, says the LORD of hosts. For there shall be a sowing of peace; the vine shall yield its fruit, the ground shall give its produce, and the skies shall give their dew; and I will cause the remnant of this people to possess all these things. Just as you have been a cursing among the nations, O house of Judah and house of Israel, so I will save you and you shall be a blessing. Do not be afraid, but let your hands be strong.
For thus says the LORD of hosts: Just as I purposed to bring disaster upon you, when your ancestors provoked me to wrath, and I did not relent, says the LORD of hosts, so again I have purposed in these days to do good to Jerusalem and to the house of Judah; do not be afraid. These are the things that you shall do: Speak the truth to one another, render in your gates judgments that are true and make for peace, do not devise evil in your hearts against one another, and love no false oath; for all these are things that I hate, says the LORD.

Having taken in the law, I looked for the Gospel by reading Zachariah 8. Take a moment to read it, looking for words of hope.


This text follows a series of visions from Zechariah and is during a period after the exile and destruction of the temple in Jerusalem. Now this is how God responds to the prophet’s visions. As you can see, this is a passage filled with great promise to people who are yearning for restoration. There is great hope for the world.


Even though we are quicker to see jealously lead to anger and rage, God’s jealousy is leading to a deep passion for the people of Zion. There is hope in God being so jealous and passionate towards restoration, justice, and bonds of community.


In the news we see images from Aleppo of people standing in the streets in the midst of utter destruction and rubble. The images all look soft from the dust that clouds the air. It is a stark contrast to the prophet’s vision of a faithful city with men and women in the streets and children playing. It truly seems impossible.


Our world is full of vulnerable people and places. Children whose future will be unseen. Refugees who are seeking peace. And the faithful who seek sanctuary in the word of the Lord. We are constantly finding ourselves needing this message of hope and restoration in a broken world.


And here is my hope in this season: that we as a church and as individuals can find ourselves in the remnant people of Zion. I hope for the sowing of peace and the fruits that can be yielded for generations to come. I hope for us to not be afraid, but to have strong hands in working to build God’s vision here and now. We are the remnants that must bring a message of hope and peace to a world yearning to be restored. We must speak truths. Make peace. Love one another. And love the truth.


I hope for all of these things as we enter into a time unlike any other. Our hope seems impossible and bearing fruit seems improbable.


When we developed our theme for 2017, "Faith Not Fear", we didn’t know what lay ahead. But it is in our most vulnerable places that we need God’s word to not be afraid repeated over and over again.


"Faith not fear" is a sentiment that is full of challenge. We act very differently when acting out of fear versus faith. And it is out of faith that I hope we will all act. I hope that we can act with a clear passion for welcoming Christ into our lives and communities.


In this Advent and Christmas season I wish abundant blessings upon you and your family.


Rev. Dr. Robert Alan Rimbo



Looking ahead

Dec 09, 2016

"For such a time as this" has been a part of our strategic planning process from the beginning.


Some people want me, as bishop, to issue opinions on everything that happens in the city, the nation and the world. Some people want no opinions from me at all. So this is the approach I have taken:


When an event happens in a specific synod, I leave it to the local bishop to respond. Or not. I issued a statement when there was a controversy several years ago about the potential building of an Islamic center in the neighborhood of Ground Zero. I counted on Bishop Schaefer of the Florida Bahamas Synod to offer a statement on the Pulse Shootings; however, at the invitation of one of our congregations, I preached about that event at St. John’s, Christopher Street.


When it is a national situation in need of a comment, I leave it to the Presiding Bishop or the Advocacy Office in D. C. to respond. Or not. Sometimes the Presiding Bishop will seek advice from Synod Bishops, myself included. When we say "Don’t touch that issue" Bishop Eaton follows our advice; when we say "We need your voice" she responds accordingly and wisely. And sometimes the perspective of the Presiding Bishop does not agree totally with the perspective of the local Bishop – for example, there is a bit of a nuanced difference between what Bishop Eaton and the local Bishop Mark Narum have said about Standing Rock.


I also recommend contact with what might be called "parachurch organizations" such as Lutheran World Relief, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services, Lutheran Services New York Alliance, African Descent Lutheran Association, and so forth; but these opinions will be owned and promoted by these associations, not by me or our Synod unless we are directed to do so by the Synod Assembly or the Synod Council. I believe this kind of approach to addressing situations is part of our interdependent character in the ELCA, though I’m sure some think it is a cop out on my part. So be it.


As far as I know, no synod bishop has said anything in response to the recent elections. But many of us have preached timely sermons following the elections. I believe it would be both unwise and illegal to tell people how to vote in an election. But, see, for example, what I preached on "Christ the King" at the installation of Pastor Wilbert Miller at Holy Trinity, Manhattan, after the elections, which can be found on the synod website. I knew that congregation well. It was a long-planned sermon. It was in consultation with the pastor being installed. And it followed the lectionary text, which, as so often happens, was timely and pertinent.


There has been a history of bishops making all sorts of comments. I will not do that. Nor will I prevent any pastor from saying whatever she or he has on their heart. What I prefer to do is to offer information on ELCA social statements and on the work of our office for governmental affairs in Washington, DC. All of that information is readily available to all of us on the ELCA website. We have consistently pointed to these resources in our e-letter. Leaders of the church, all of you included, need to be familiar with these statements and positions. It might be of value for our Strategic Plan Committees to devote some time to looking at these, too. They inform our life together and our witness in the world for such a time as this.


I tell you all of this because I expect there will be times in the days and years ahead when I will be "tempted" to say something. It will always be informed by what the larger church is doing and saying, and will be in keeping with our churchwide or synodical policies and statements.


Together in hope

Dec 05, 2016
Bishop Rimbo preached this sermon at the an interreligous advent prayer service at St. Martin de Porres Roman Catholic Church, Poughkeepsie on Novemeber 28. The text was John 15:1-5. 

togetherinhopePOKDear Sisters and Brothers in Christ, I am delighted to be with you for this Common Prayer marking the amazing friendship and communion we enjoy as Lutherans and Catholics on the way together. It is a sign of the ever-growing movement toward the full, visible unity of the church for which our Lord prayed in his High Priestly Prayer.


I greet you on behalf of my wife, Lois, who is with us this evening. We have already enjoyed dinner with your ecumenical committee and with Monsignor Sullivan and Bishop Byrne, Fr. McWeeney, Fr. D’Albro, Fr. Bancroft, Fr. George and Pastor Deborah DeWinter from First Evangelical Lutheran Church. I am also glad to see friends from St. John’s Lutheran Church and I greet all of you on behalf of the community of 186 congregations, the pastors and deacons I serve as bishop of the Metropolitan New York Synod, and on behalf of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and our Presiding Bishop, Elizabeth Eaton.


Some of you have already heard me tell the story of my grandfather’s funeral. He was a devout Roman Catholic who went to Mass every day. I was sixteen when he died and was very jealous of the altar-boys at his funeral. I was already in a pre-seminary track in high school and wanted to put on a cassock and cotta and be up there with them. Thinking of this reminds me of a Lutheran-Catholic Service when I was bishop in Detroit. Adam Cardinal Maida and I were vesting and he said, "You know, Bob, clothes make the man."

I confess to you that I often snuck off to Roman Catholic Mass, escaping the rather drab services of the Missouri Synod school I was attending. But more than the vestments - and seeing the sanctus bells which Monsignor place close to this ambo - if I were to be an altar-boy I would want to ring those bells. But I tell you this story because above all, I wanted to commune at that altar at my grandpa’s funeral and I continue to pray for that.


For me, the amazing events in Lund, Sweden, at the end of October and this wonderful gathering for prayer, are great signs of hope as we Roman Catholics and Lutherans move from Conflict to Communion.


See: It is all about relationships.


In this reading from St. John’s Gospel, Jesus is very clear about who we are and what is expected of us. We are the branches. God is the vine-grower. Jesus is the vine, the means for us to be in relationship with God forever. It’s very clear what our Lord is talking about. We are to live in relationship in order to accomplish God’s purposes for the world.


This amazing celebration of Catholic and Lutheran relationship, reflecting the international celebration in Sweden, and our own work together here in New York reminds us that, as Pope Francis has repeatedly taught us, we are to bear fruit. The vinegrower, the vine, and the branches are intended to be in relationship that we might bear fruit.


And that relationship is what we celebrate as this new church year begins and our ever-increasing new walking together and serving together is coming to bear fruit.


I have more-often-than-not thought of Jesus’ words here as words of judgment. I think as a Lutheran I’ve been trying to convince myself that I’ve always been part of the "in" crowd. As if Jesus had only us Lutherans in mind when he talked about bearing fruit. We are quite accomplished when it comes to judging. We are quick to determine who is "in" and who is "out." And we seem to get better at it all the time.


Some branches produce fruit and are pruned, cared for and nurtured. Some branches do not produce fruit and are removed, thrown away and burned. You’re in or you’re out, except in communities like Poughkeepsie where relationships between our churches are strong. We are a people of productivity. It is, for the most part, the standard by how we live and the measure of our success. It is built into our lives everywhere. Productivity is the basis of our economy, the primary measure of success. Those who produce are rewarded and get more. Those who do not produce are thrown out.


But the problem with this is: We are not the point. The fact is, the community for which St. John’s Gospel was written was already thrown away, thrown out by the time they could hear this word from God. That’s why, already in chapter three, Jesus made it clear that he did not come to condemn, but to save. The vine needs the vine-grower for its optimal growth and production, even its abundance. It will make abundance possible for sustenance and life. So Jesus is here giving us, not words of condemnation or judgment

but words of comfort and hope for our troubled hearts and worried souls. And we need that.


We are people waiting in darkness during this Advent. So this Gospel Reading points to our profound dependence on God and on one another. This Gospel is the most quoted passage of the Bible in Lutheran confessional writings. The bottom line is Jesus teaching us that "apart from him" we can do nothing. Profound reliance because life is nothing without belonging, without relationship. The Holy Father, Pope Francis, has taught us that repeatedly: bearing fruit depends on dependence. It depends on connection. It depends on belonging. As soon as you think you can produce anything from the basis of your own sovereignty, from your own efforts, from your own sense of independence...well, think about it: what kind of fruit will that be?


Bearing fruit has everything to do with whom you are with in relationship. I think this is the greatest gift of our steps toward greater Christian unity. The manifestations of our faith are not individual expressions of our theological commitment and conviction. They are deeply lodged in and arise from the communities of our lives. That is why I rejoice at this opportunity to be with you to mark the ecumenical community here in Poughkeepsie. The bearing of the fruit of our faith is based on dependence.


I fear there is a fear of bearing fruit. And that fear has many levels that have prevented our working together more. Because once we bear fruit, we lose control. We chance exposure. Others will be able to see on what or on whom we rely; in what and in whom we locate and lodge our strength. Once that is known, it’s awfully hard to take it back. Impossible, actually. And others are then free to pick and choose the fruit they prefer. Like perusing the options at a farmer’s market or in the produce section in the grocery store.


Bearing the fruit of the ecumenical movement is risky business. It will reveal who we are and on whom and what we depend. It will expose our lack of self-sufficiency. It will show others that there is no other way to be but to be dependent. Many will think weakness – I know that other Protestant churches are wondering what the Lutherans are all about – selling out to Rome or something like that. And I suspect that there are more than a few people in the Roman Catholic Church who suspect Pope Francis is becoming too friendly

with us Lutherans because, well, because he is friendly with us. Rumor has it that some accuse the Holy Father of Protestant tendencies. Many will think the ties we have established should be broken. Many will think that being cut off from each other is beneficial.


But we know different, my friends. Thank God we know different. Ecumenism is risky business, indeed. But there is no better way to live.



Where church meets world

Nov 20, 2016
Bishop Rimbo preached this Sermon at the Installation of Pastor Wilbert Miller at Holy Trinity, Manhattan on Christ the King Sunday (Year A). 


15171171_964150457024572_8515933914641410525_nIn the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


Last Sunday, on the way into this sanctuary for an amazing and timely Bach Vespers, Lois and I turned the corner at 65th and Central Park West and were met by a team of what seemed to be 20 police officers. (Perhaps I overstate the number a bit; there were probably 8.) My first thought?? "What has Wilk done now?" Then I realized it probably had something to do with the protests going on around our city. I said to one of the officers, "Thanks for your service," and, seeing the collar, he replied, "My pleasure, father. The other priest said that, too." Then I knew what Wilk had done: he had already been out there making a connection on the corner.


Today, the Feast of Christ the King, is a day for making such connections on the corner, where church meets world, if you will. Holy Trinity is in a position to make ever-increasing, visible, powerful connections in witness to Christ right here and throughout our synod and our city and our world.


My expectations might seem a bit high, but they are not unrealistic. We serve the Ruler of the Universe, so I have great expectations and enthusiasm for this next chapter in the story of this beloved congregation as we install its 14th pastor. (Remember: I was number 12. Like the disciples.)


Welcome, dear Wilk and dear Dagmar. And thank you for this opportunity to preach as we celebrate the reign of Christ together.


On his ninetieth birthday, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., was asked by a reporter, "What has been the secret of your success?" The illustrious justice solemnly responded: "The secret of my success is that at an early age I discovered that I was not God."


Not bad advice, not bad at all. There is one who reigns, even though Wilk tried to borrow a crown from the Metropolitan Museum of Art for me to wear and Dagmar had to return the dress with the ostrich feathers. (Ask me later; I’ll tell you what that’s all about. Or, better, ask Dagmar or Wilk.)


It’s good to realize that you – each of you and all of us – are not God. Thank God, that job is already taken.


History would have been eminently more peaceful and productive if only its leaders would have discovered the same lesson. Throughout history, rulers were considered divine because, like God, they held the power of life and death over their subjects. Rome’s emperors proclaimed that indeed they were living gods. Europe’s queens and kings lorded over their subjects by "divine right" – I’ve been binge-watching The Crown on Netflix and highly recommend it, especially the stunning portrayal of the enthronement of Queen Elizabeth II which pointed to this kind of understanding of rule by divine right.


In 1925, Pope Pius XI realized that Europe’s royal reigns would soon become the stuff of fairy tales. But the Pope was convinced that the new rulers of such kingdoms as socialism, communism, and fascism eventually would not save people because these modern "isms" would also lord it over their subjects and rob them of their freedom as children of God.


Because the Feast of Christ the King emerged from such a particular political scene, at the corner of church and state, it is a rather relevant feast to celebrate for us, even though we are Americans. While Lutherans did not really begin to mark the Feast of Christ the King until 1978 there were vile rumors that the Pope saw Lutherans having such a blast with Reformation Day at the end of October each year with tympani and trumpet that he decided to one-up us Lutherans and celebrate this last Sunday in the church year with a whole lot of hoopla. I don’t think that’s true. I think it’s the product of Lutheran inferiority complexes.


What is actually more accurate is that the Holy Father saw the fascist Benito Mussolini coming to power in Italy and decided to set the record straight: Christ is the King of the Universe, no politician, no ruler. Only Christ.


Hmmmm…that’s a good message for all of us who meet at this corner this evening. The Church is declaring to all: You are not God.


Today I see our nation and our world shaking in its boots. This morning I was with one of our Arabic pastors who reported great fear among people who are here in the United States – legally or illegally – fear that they will be deported. Hideous graffiti is on the increase, apparently. There is deeply troubling anti-Semitism. Bullying is everywhere. Punch them in the face. Get them out of here. There are increased police numbers on our streets. There is fear about the Thanksgiving Day Parade that will soon course its way toward and beyond this corner. And we are here to worship Christ the King who died naked on a cross between two criminals?!?!


I think we are at the point in our society when ordinary citizens will realize that their God-given rights make them able to move rulers and "isms" by a voice of human solidarity. I hope we in the church and all faith communities will soon say, without tanks or guns but with a loud voice, "You are not God."


I don’t want to make trouble for you, dear Pastor Miller – all of you pastors – but I have to say that we surrender our souls whenever we fail to speak to those in authority – to our leaders – whether they are communists or congresspersons, parents or teachers, bosses or bishops (!) or, yes, pastors. We surrender our souls whenever we remain silent when those who have authority over us forget that they are not God.


My dear brother, Wilk, has already made it very clear that his ministry here at my beloved Holy Trinity is not about power. You, dear Wilk, have made it clear that you know what real leadership is all about. You proclaim Christ crucified and risen. And you have been reminding us – I read the facebook postings of your sermons faithfully, even when I am not in town – you are reminding us that the reason Christ reigns from a cross is that Christ never failed to tell the political and religious rulers of his time that they were not gods. So they killed him. Christ the King calls us to this kind of witness here in the midst of this world, on this corner.


Our ancestors called the powers around us "gods" and named them Mars, Jupiter, and Venus and told wonderful stories about them. We call them hormones or economics or politics or narcissism, and we have theories about how these forces may be manipulated and managed, but I’m not sure that we know much more about how to deal with these powers than our ancestors did.


We’ve got problems with the powers, don’t we? We feel so power-less ourselves over forces we cannot control.


So in Colossians St. Paul gives thanks that there is a church in the first place because we need each other to deal with life. And then the Apostle urges them – and us – to be a song of thanksgiving to God – a motet, a cantata, a hymn that sings "whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him."


Here is the basic affirmation on which everything else depends: "All things were made through Christ and for Christ." And by "all things" St. Paul means all things – including the powers, everything at every corner.


And that is why I dare to say to Pastor Miller, and to Dagmar, and to the members of Holy Trinity, and to the community that gathers for Bach Vespers so faithfully, and to all of you who are here at this corner right now: "May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from Christ’s glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father …God has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of the beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins." (Colossians 111-14)


We don’t need anything else as we live and give our witness at this corner.


In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.    


There are scars

Sep 05, 2016


April22002Bishop Rimbo, representing the Conference of Bishops, preached at the opening service on Saturday, April 6, 2002 at Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church in New York City. This worship service brought all the visitors from across the ELCA and members of the Metropolitan New York Synod together. At the time, Bishop Rimbo was bishop of the Southeast Michigan Synod. This and many other sermons and letters appeared in The Cross at Ground Zero: Lutheran reflections in response to 9/11.


Propers for Easter 2A:

Acts 2:14a, 22-32

Psalm 16

1 Peter 1:3-9

John 20:19-31


In the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


Dear Sisters and Brothers, Friends in Christ, for six years Lois and I and our children lived and served in this great metropolitan community. We lived in New Jersey and Long Island and worked in New York. We have family and friends in New York and Connecticut. So the events of September 11 were close to home and heart. We grew to love this City, a love rekindled every time we are here. Our love for New York now is shared with Detroit, though not diminished. And from your sisters and brothers in the Southeast Michigan Synod and throughout the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America I bring you greetings and invite your Easter acclamation:

Alleluia! Christ is risen!

The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!


Easter is the confirmation of hope, the mightiest act of God in history, beyond our common experience, inscrutable to scientific inquiry, and astonishing to non-believer and believer alike. Jesus lives, and moves, and speaks again. But how do we recognize him, gathered here in this holy place on this most remarkable day for this grace-filled Eucharist? Even here, how do we recognize him in this more than skeptical age?


Sentimental assurances from poems by Helen Steiner Rice are less and less comfort to us. Happy endings seem to be absent, even absurd. So how do we know that this risen Christ is Christ indeed? How do we know that the disciples did not steal his body as the authorities preferred to believe, as such authorities will always prefer to believe?


We could waste time and effort trying to prove that the Resurrection actually took place. But the Gospel writers could have done a better, more convincing job if that’s what they wanted to do. They could have spun a story about a Messiah risen in overwhelming triumph. A Cecil B. DeMille epic tale with Steven Spielberg special effects would tell the kind of story we could all use at this point in our lives. I can see it now: It would have the Star of Bethlehem miraculously reappearing, with choirs of angels singing like the Mormons, and Christ the King perfectly restored, shining with such radiance that no mortal could gaze upon him and live.


In my vision the disciples would even have big hair like some of his TV preachers.


But no. The resurrection was quiet. Uncrowded. And strangest of all, the body of this Risen Christ is not perfectly restored.


He healed many others of deforming diseases and physical flaws. He made many broken bodies whole. But on this transformed, risen body of the Son of God, there were scars. The holes in his hands and feet. The wound in his side. And it was by these scars that doubting, realistic, post-September 11th disciple Thomas my Twin, was convinced. By these scars, we who have seen Hiroshima and Auschwitz and Vietnam and Palestine and Israel and towers falling to dust and thus creating a great scar on this City may be convinced, too. We give in to the miracle of Easter at the sight of these risen scars, for they say much about the permanence of wounds inflicted on this earth and on our lives.

Alleluia! Christ is risen!

The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!


Christ is risen with his scars.


The Christ who could not come down from the cross to save himself, God could not raise up without the marks of that death. The marks convict us still for by the authority of those marks, he speaks a message of hope, of triumph: "Do not be afraid. I am the first and the last and the living one: for I was dead and now I am alive forevermore."

Alleluia! Christ is risen!

The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!


But now, having said these glorious and lofty truths in your hearing, I must say other things, things about the half-humorous, half-insane mentality of our world. Saul Bellow says this about our time: "This generation thinks–it is its thought of thoughts–that nothing faithful, nothing vulnerable or fragile can be durable or have any true power. Death waits for these things as a cement floor waits for the dropping light bulb."


Is he right? Living in this era of calamities, of concentration camps and atomic bombs and suicide bombings and disproportionate military might and terrorist attacks, who can believe in the power of God to resist such things or redeem such losses? While we rummage through our Easter baskets for the choicest jelly beans, thousands of children will die today. As Robert Schuller pushes a button in his pulpit that activates a multi-million dollar system of water fountains, millions suffer from stunted bodies and damaged brains and walk for miles to get a single bucket of half-clean water. While we trip the light fantastic on the sidewalks of New York - we bishops and pastors and rostered leaders from across the country who are investing in the economy of this great city which I dearly love–we can smell Ground Zero, the Ground Zero of New York, of our world, of our lives, the Ground Zero of our scars.


But are greed and inhumanity and conflict exclusive to our day? Are we so exceptionally sophisticated in our evil? Do the cynics of our times know the darkness of this world any better than the writers of the Gospels? Satan knew what hunger could do to people’s wills when he tempted Jesus in the wilderness. Pilate knew what the fear of physical pain could do to courage when he threatened Jesus with crucifixion. Peter knew what the threat of death could do to one’s commitment to one’s Lord. Judas knew, perhaps best of all, what a failure of nerve could do to one’s love of a teacher and master. Caesar knew what the fear of terrorist power could do to a nation. Herod did not hesitate to run his sword through the bodies of those children of Bethlehem. All any of them lacked was the sophisticated technology that can send planes careening into buildings. I imagine the councils then, at the time of Jesus, saying: "Let them see the fate of one who presumes to forgive sins, to defy the religious and political establishment, to stop the stoning of adulterers. Then they will be demoralized as human sheep are always demoralized; their little movement will fall apart and fade away into oblivion." And so they saw Jesus die. And so also that little movement should have fallen apart.


The piece that does not fit into the historical puzzle of the first century, nor into ours, is Easter. Here it is, nearly two thousand years later and people are gathered to proclaim:

Alleluia! Christ is risen!

The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!


Against all reason and natural law, Jesus rose from the tomb, scars and all, by the power of God.


And we believe it.


Blest more than many with education, we affirm that never has the world stood in greater need of Easter. Its comforts are not sentimental. Its implications are overwhelming. Cynics argue that, even if there were such a thing as rising from the dead, the scars on many of us would be so numerous there would be nothing left to rise. And so, they fiercely resist the temptation to hope. They shake their heads at our Easter lilies and alleluias and are sure that they are right as they say "Who believes in resurrection anymore?"


Well, we do.


We do.


Here is the heart of the Christian mystery: "By God’s great mercy we have been born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead." Make no mistake. If Jesus did not really come back to life, go home, turn on ESPN or HBO, revel in whatever it is that excites you. But don’t waste your time on a Christ who simply lives in your memories, simply in your hearts, simply in a picture frame. That Christ deserves to stay dead.


Jesus is alive. Alive now. More alive than you and I have ever been. Alive for us, for you and me with amazing new life. Alive, scars and all. You can believe what passes proof. You can take God’s word for it that God loves you and lives in you, that God died for you and rose for you, that life does not end in a hospital bed or a crumbling tower. That death is a prelude to life without end. For "without having seen Jesus, you love him; though you do not now see him, you believe in him." This is what hope is. It is not wishful thinking, say, that Brooklyn will not be humid this summer. It is not a stiff upper lip, whatever that means. It is the confident expectation that the God who is ceaselessly faithful despite my infidelities will always be there for us, in the here-and-now and in the hereafter. Such is the hope that marks a follower of Christ.


Jesus, too, was afraid, did not want to die, begged that the cup would pass from him. They covered his back with the scars of the whip, his head and hands and side and feet with the scars of thorns and spear and nails. And yet in hope, through parched lips to the God who seemed to have abandoned him, Jesus commended himself into loving hands. The fragile light bulb, that great light that should have smashed on the cement floor, did not. He rose from the dead with his scars showing, proclaiming the love of God who cares for us, even for us.



Alleluia! Christ is risen!

The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!


In the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


A Pastoral Letter for the Anniversary of 9/11

Aug 11, 2016

Share opportunities to gather here. We will keep an updated list of services and observances here


Dear Sisters and Brothers:


On September 11, 2016, we will mark the fifteenth anniversary of the horrid destruction of the World Trade Center and we will again confront the raw wounds that will never be completely healed this side of heaven. I hope that you will have opportunity to gather in your congregations that day, perhaps with neighboring communities of various traditions, and mark this painful date.


We have much for which we need to pray and act. The reality of our world has not changed for the better since 9/11. In fact it is worse on the global scale. Add to this the political climate in our own nation today and I find myself driven more deeply into prayerful lament.


As often happens, this leads me to hymns, and one in particular by Jim Strathdee we sang in our chapel here after yet another tragedy in our world. It offers the theology of the cross on which we depend. You can find it at hymn 704 in Evangelical Lutheran Worship. Let me share the sad yet hopeful text:

When pain of the world surrounds us with darkness and despair,

When searching just confounds us with false hopes everywhere,

When lives are starved for meaning and destiny is bare,

We are called to follow Jesus and let God’s healing flow through us.


We see with fear and trembling our aching world in need,

Confessing to each other our wastefulness and greed.

May we with steadfast caring the hungry children feed.

We are called to follow Jesus and let God’s justice flow through us.


The church is a holy vessel the living waters fill

To nourish all the people, God’s purpose to fulfill.

May we with humble courage be open to God’s will.

We are called to follow Jesus and let God’s Spirit flow through us.


We praise you for our journey and your abundant grace,

Your saving word that guided a struggling human race.

O God, with all creation, your future we embrace.

We are called to follow Jesus and let God’s changes flow through us.


While there will not be a synod-wide commemoration, I invite you to pray with all of our churches these intercessions. They were written by Pastor Jonathan Linman, based on the appointed psalm for that Sunday, Psalm 51, and designed to use in the intercessions in our congregations.


Fifteen years to the day after the attacks of September 11, 2001, still our hearts cry out with the psalmist, "Have mercy on us, O God, according to your steadfast love." Heal the wounds that persist and those which are reopened on this day of remembrance and with each new terrorist attack at home or abroad. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.


Create in the human family a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit with us, that we may nurture the conditions within and among the nations that will one day put an end to terrorist violence. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.


Keep us hopeful that the day of justice is coming when the whole human family will again hear of joy and gladness, and that bones that have been crushed by acts of violence and weighed down by grief may again rejoice. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.


I pray that God will surround us on this anniversary even as I know it will be so. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you and with our world, not only on this anniversary but always.


Sincerely in Christ,


The Rev. Dr. Robert Alan Rimbo


Prayer for Orlando

Jun 24, 2016

Bishop Rimbo preached this Homily at the Prayer Service for Orlando at St. John's, Christopher Street. The texts were Isaiah 40:6-11 and John 14:27.



Bishop Rimbo preaching at the June 24 Prayer Service.

There are so many words that come to mind, prompted by these days since the murders at Pulse, prompted by the amazing recognition of the Stonewall Inn, prompted by these readings from Isaiah and John, prompted by these prayers. But I think Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Tony sonnet says it best: "And Love is Love is Love is Love is Love is Love is Love is Love is Love cannot be killed or swept aside…" It’s about love and for me that means it’s about Jesus.


See: the Orlando tragedy, horrific, is an old, old story. We grow weary of it. And the rage, frustration, pain we feel pulsing in us can only be healed by Love. It’s about Jesus.


Love comes into the world like a little child, fresh from God. When Love grows up, Love feeds people, Love heals people, Love turns things upside down, Love loves. Which doesn’t sit well with the people who think they are in charge. They warn love to leave well enough alone. Love meets hate, meets politics, meets fear. Love goes on loving, which gets Love killed – by people like us: clergy, God-fearing folk. What brought them together in Jesus’s case and in the case of the innocents of Orlando was rage, not far from the rage of the current presidential campaign. It’s the rage that rises when someone is not what you want them to be, or maybe more than you want them to be, or, maybe, too much like yourself. In any case, they kill for it: Matthew Shepard, the Newtown 26, the Charleston 9, the Orlando 49. Baltimore, Staten Island, Aurora and San Bernadino.


49 candles were lit and as the names of lives lost were read, they were blessed with incense. 

They were killed because they were not who someone wanted them to be, or maybe because they were.


Love came to us in Jesus Christ who was a good man – complete, whole – that sense of good. He resisted the temptation to be more than a man, although it was clearly within his power to do so. On the whole, he limited himself to what anyone made out of flesh and blood could do, obeying the laws of gravity and mortality just like the rest of us so we could not discount our kinship with him. He did not come to put us to shame with his divinity. He came to call us into the fullness of our humanity, which was divine enough for him.


He was survived by his mother. There was no one else in the family, though some people said there were brothers and sisters, but they weren’t around. He was survived by John, the disciple whom he loved. He had no children, although he showed a real fondness for them. He called his friends "children" more than once, although he was about their same age, I imagine. They seemed to know what he meant. He never wrote anything, except with his finger in the sand, but many of his words were remembered. You can find them easily today, on all sorts of things: t-shirts, coffee mugs, bumper stickers.


Music was offered by friends and members of St. John's, Christopher Street.

It is more difficult to find people who have some idea of what they mean. Witness what people who claim to follow this Love, people in the Church, have done to the Queer Community.


He was a good man, but he was not such a good god, if being a god means being big and strong and out of reach, in control of the violence, the rage. He was a suffering god, which no one had ever heard of before. He meant to transform the world by love, not by control, and that made his life hell a lot of the time.


Compared to the founders of other religions, he had a rough time. Jesus was not very lucky. But if Jesus were luckier, what would he have had to offer all those who die too soon, who suffer for who they are, who are punished for the capital offense of loving too much? His hard luck, so to speak, his suffering, makes him our best company today, when we run into our own suffering and horror and pain. He knows. He has been there. He was there at Pulse. There is nothing that hurts us that he does not know about. His love was the fierce kind of love, love that would not put up with any kind of tyranny, that would not stand by and watch a leper shunned or a widow hungry, love that turned over the tables of those whose entire purpose in living was to make money so they could live in marble palaces with gold doorknobs. His love would not allow God to be made into another commodity. His love embraced those on the margins.


He was a ruler, but his reign was not of this world. It broke into this world from time to time – it still does – and this world could use a whole lot more of it. But we are also afraid of it, even we who call ourselves Christian, who claim to live following him. Our world is built on who is up and who is down, who is brown and who is white, who is gay and who is straight, who is in and who is out, who is last and who is first. His world turns all that upside down, and we simply cannot function like that. So we run this world our way and we make noise about wanting it God’s way, but we do not really mean it or we would. If we ran the world God’s way there would be no guns of any caliber, any description. In America, we are still trying to build a world in which the tragic is passe’, only the tragic will not lie down and die. It keeps popping up again, and all our efforts to avoid it simply make it worse.


The light from candles spread as we neared the end of the service.

Orlando calls us to another way. Call it the way of the cross. It is the way of those who understand that suffering is part of life – some of it to be fought and some of it to be endured but none of it to be run from, as if running ever changed a thing.


It is time for us in the Church to take on the suffering of the Queer Community, of the Latino/Latina Community, to take on the suffering of all whose lives matter, to take it on in the name of Love, in the Name of Jesus. We cannot curl up into some fetal position in the wake of this great tragedy among so many other tragedies. We must, rather, see Orlando as the means by which we discover the shape of our humanity, including our relationship with God and one another. And that shape is the shape of a cross, the shape of Love.


That is where we learn the truth that saves our lives: suffering will not destroy, killing will not destroy. Our fear and our evasion destroys. Suffering puts us in league with Jesus, the Crucified One, Crucified Love, whose own heart battered the heart of God and caused God’s heart to pulse with abundant life. That is the promise. The cross points the way.


We Christians allegedly have committed ourselves to a life of repentance and return that will not give up on ourselves or the world. No matter how many times we have to repeat the process. We will keep telling the truth and turning around, every day. We will never say never – I’ll never recover, I’ll never get it, Congress will never act courageously, the gun lobby will never stop, people will never learn – we will never say never. Why? Because we look, not in a mirror that reminds us that we are all miserable sinners – a revolting sight to say the least; rather we keep looking at Love, crucified and risen from the dead. We believe in Love. We believe in God’s goodness more than we believe in human badness. We believe in God’s power to make new. Love is Love is Love is Love is Love is Love is Love . . . . . .


Bishop Robert Alan Rimbo

Metropolitan New York Synod

Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


Find resources for advocacy and change in the Lutheran church here


Be the Change

Jun 24, 2016

Printed with the liturgy for the Prayer Service for in the wake of the Orlando shooting, here are resources for you to become a catalyst for change. 


Be the change you wish to see in the world.

We are a publicly engaged church that rolls up our sleeves and gets to work. We do God’s work in the world, the work of restoring and reconciling communities. We pursue justice and seek peace no matter how long the journey or wide the chasm. Because we are grounded in God’s love and forgiveness, we are well equipped to live and serve here and now, in the world, with all its complexities, tensions and ambiguities.

  • Lament. Our churches seek to create safe space for naming, praying, grieving, caring for one another, and sharing the hope in God’s promise of faithfulness. There is a place for you here.
  • Learn. ELCA social statements and messages are teaching and policy documents that provide broad frameworks to assist us in thinking about and discussing social issues in the context of faith and life. They are meant to help communities and individuals with moral formation, deliberation and thoughtful engagement with current social issues as we participate in God’s work in the world. Learn more at bit.ly/faithandsociety
  • Take Action. Lutherans understand that governments are a means through which God can work to preserve creation and build a more peaceful and just society. As a public church, we have a responsibility to address issues that affect our neighbors in communities throughout the world. Through advocacy efforts, ELCA members and other Christians can work through governmental channels on behalf of biblical values. Find more at elca.org/advocacy
  • Write. Writing a letter is an effective way to communicate with your elected official. Capitol Hill offices employ staffers whose responsibility is to read and respond to constituent mail, and many of these offices start issue files after receiving merely seven letters on a topic. Find tips and samples for writting to your representative at bit.ly/writetoyourrepresentatives
  • Be Social. Tweet your political leaders. Look for calls to action. Share opportunities to lift our collaborative voices and be a catalyst for change. 

We are drawn into every corner of life, society and its institutions to bring the good news of Jesus Christ and to work for lasting, positive change that upholds human dignity.

The Lord of hosts is with us

Jun 14, 2016

pride_candleA pastoral letter to the Metropolitan New York Synod.


My Dear Sisters and Brothers:


Grace, mercy, and peace to all of you in the Name of Jesus, our Savior and Lord.


There is enough evidence for me to realize that not everyone reacted in the same way I did to the horrid violence and evil we saw in Orlando early last Sunday. I was simply, overwhelmingly stunned. My initial reaction was utter silence. I still lean in that direction.


When chaos surrounds us and terror is profound, I fall back into the words of Psalm 46: "Be still, then, and know that I am God." At first, on Sunday, I wondered about where God was in the tragedy which could have happened anywhere to anyone. In the listening stillness, we are reminded that "the Lord of hosts is with us." And the Lord of hosts was with those people slaughtered: people named Juan, Anthony, Brenda, Kimberly, Drew. And the Lord of hosts was with that city, Orlando, just as God was with Sandy Hook, San Bernardino and Aurora. And the Lord of hosts is with us.


Can we gather faithfully and enter into that stillness? Can we come together to pray "in the midst of the city" as the Psalm declares?


I want you to know…you, our LGBTQ+ sisters and brothers, who are hurting from the deep pain…you our Latino/Latina sisters and brothers, who are suffering such loss…you, all of you, I want you to know that the Lord of hosts is with us.


I hope you have read the letter from Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton. I hope you have read the letter from Bishop Robert Schaefer of the Florida-Bahamas Synod. They speak from the depths to all of us. And I hope that this experience will prompt all of us not only to speak against gun violence but to come together and work to legislate, to at least attempt to prevent this from happening again.


And I hope you will join us on Friday, June 24, 2016, at 6 p.m. for a Prayer Service at St. John’s Lutheran Church, 81 Christopher Street, in Manhattan. We need to be still, together, and know that God is God. We need to come together to be reminded that the Lord of hosts is with us, even when it seems otherwise. We need to commend one another and our world to this God who is mercy and peace and love.


The Lord of hosts is with us.


The Rev. Dr. Robert Alan Rimbo




The tension between grace and works

Apr 25, 2016

Ministerium Gathering

Matthew 11:25-30


Alleluia! Christ is risen!

Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!


Pastors gathered for a Synod-Wide Ministerium. See the pictures here and the prayers of intercession offered here.

I hear that there is a bit of a betting pool among members of our synod staff when it comes time for an ordination. The wager revolves around the question: "When, in the rite of ordination, will the Bishop begin to choke up?" Most often it is at the time when the stole is placed on the ordinand’s shoulders and I say: Receive this stole as a sign of your work, and live in obedience to the Lord Jesus, serving his people and remembering his promise:

Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.


It’s a wonderful promise, a comforting promise to which many of us turn when our burdens seem impossible to bear, when our best efforts to cope with them have failed and we are close to collapse. It is a promise that offers hope of help, hope of a God who will lift the sweaty loads off our backs and replaced them with a lighter yoke, lighter because it yokes us with One who is greater than we are, and with whose strong help we can bear any burden.


That’s what the passage means to many people. But it meant something very different when Jesus first said it.


Our Lord had just finished a preaching mission to several Galilean cities, where his welcome had been less than warm. The people in those cities were smart and capable. In spite of Roman occupation, both their local economies and their religious institutions were still working. They were not looking for help from Jesus or anyone else, and whatever gifts he had hoped to give to them, they declined to take. This Galilean mission was a failure, in other words, and in the passage at hand we hear Jesus’ response to that failure. After heaping some powerful reproaches on those who did not welcome him, he thanks God for showing things to simple people that wise and understanding people cannot see. At least one reason why this is God’s will, apparently, is so that no one gets human wisdom and understanding confused with divine revelation. Those who know God do not arrive at such knowledge by their own natural intelligence or capable efforts. They know God because God has chosen to be known.


By the time Matthew wrote his account, some believers were proposing fairly weighty requirements on new prospects. And if you pay any attention, you know that such requirements were not unique to that time, long ago in a land far away; such requiring happens right now, wherever religious people meet to decide what it means to know God. I think the case can be made that Matthew’s Gospel is not about a struggle between two different religious traditions. It is about the struggle within one religious tradition over the requirements of faith. A struggle of which we are well aware.


We Lutherans need to be careful here.


In traditional telling, when Jesus offered his heavy-laden listeners a lighter load, he was offering them a religion of grace to replace the religion of works under which they were laboring. I confess that I have actually preached that sermon myself, offering the gathered assembly the high Lutheran ground while denigrating the competition. In hindsight, my offering was not true on many levels. It was not historically true. It was not theologically true. It was not even humanly true.


As best I can tell, the truth is that every human being who longs to know God lives with the tension between grace and works. On one hand, we long to believe that God comes to us as we are, utterly unimpressed by the tricks we do for love. On the other hand we live in a world there those tricks often work really well, so that it is next to impossible to give up believing in them too. Follow us around for a day or two and you may discover what we believe most by how we act.


I may believe that I live by God’s grace, but I act like a scout collecting merit badges. I have a list of things to do that is a mile long, and while there are a number of things on the list that I genuinely want to do, they easily become things I should do, I had better do or God will not love me anymore. I may believe that my life depends on God’s grace, but I act like it depends on me and how many good deeds I can perform, as if every day were a talent show and God had nothing better to do than keep up with my score.


Honestly, now, do you know what I mean? Human beings, even Lutheran human beings, have a perverse way of turning Jesus’ easy yoke back into a hard one again, driving ourselves to do, do, do more and whipping ourselves to be, be, be more when all God has ever asked is that we belong to God.

That comes first. Everything else follows that, but we so often get the order reversed. We think there are all kinds of requirements to be met first, all kinds of rules to follow, all kinds of burdens to bear, so that we are not yet free to belong to God. We are still loaded down, by our ministry and our families and all our other responsibilities but really by something deeper down in us, something that keeps telling us we must do more, be better, try harder, prove ourselves worthy or we will never earn God’s love. It is the most tiring work in the world. And it is never done.


We live under the illusion that our yokes are single ones, that we have got to go it alone, that the only way to please God is to load ourselves down with heavy requirements – good deeds, pure thoughts, blameless lives, perfect obedience – all those rules we make and brake and make and break, while all the time Jesus is standing right there in front of us, half of a shared yoke across his own shoulders, the other half wide open and waiting for us, a yoke that requires no more than that we step into it and become part of a team.


"Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." No wonder those words have weathered the centuries so well; no wonder they are still music to our ears. They assure us that those who please God are not those who can carry the heaviest loads alone but those who are willing to share their loads, who are willing to share their yokes, by entering into relationship with the One whose invitation is a standing one. "Take my yoke upon you and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."


Alleluia! Christ is risen!

Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!


Bishop Robert Alan Rimbo


Can we mention the name?

Mar 22, 2016

Sermon for the Chrism Mass

Tuesday in Holy Week



God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God…the source of your life in Christ Jesus…

(1 Corinthians 1)


Well, I come to you today healthier, more hopeful, than I have been for some time.


I’ve been afflicted with a thorn in the flesh, an inflamed piriformis muscle in my left hip. My physical therapist, Pyramus, is helping me get through this crisis. Six months ago I limped like Jacob into his office after a visit to a sports medicine doctor. The only thing I can do for it is long-term physical therapy. I basically have had to learn how to walk again, this time more carefully.


My physical therapist, Pyramus – a name that makes me think of a Mall in New Jersey -- always asks and I always respond with the following liturgical dialog:


"So, Robert, how are you doing."


"Pretty good."


"How is your hip?"


"Pretty good, better."


"Well, Robert, we have to keep working at the base of your condition, that muscle located in your hip, running laterally, it’s the foundation of how we walk, and you need that foundation. we have to work at your piriformis muscle to get you walking right."


I did not know I had such a muscle – actually two of them – and now I know I need it to walk.


Pyramus, my physical therapist who at one time was a seminarian in the Philippines, and loves to talk about politics and religion with me while he engages in pain and torture – that’s what p. t. really stands for, not physical therapy, pain and torture – he says things like "We’re gonna make a plan for greater movement, strengthening your core, making you able to push off from a strong foundation, restore function. You know, Robert, to be able to walk, you have to lean forward while pushing off backward."


He has some issues with the fact that I walk like my father, with my left foot flaying out a bit. He thinks that might contribute to the inflammation. But the newest thing is teaching me to get over my flat-footedness and learn to walk correctly.


He is about one third my size but throws me around ruthlessly. He twists my leg, pushes into my hip with his elbow, makes me do things I have never done and makes me say things, well, think things I hadn't said in years....out loud. Stretching my quads, I believe my knee was behind my back, over my head. He has me leaning on my left leg, trying to squat on it. And for that hour two times a week, my left hip and everything about it is front and center. My brain is working, heart is working, sweat is pouring all for what is the focus: my inflamed piriformis muscle in my left hip.


It’s a matter of working at the foundation of how I walk.


Let me tell you why I’ve given this recital to you:


It may be foolishness to some, perhaps even some of you, dear friends: I believe Jesus Christ, Son of Mary and Son of God, is my Lord. At great cost he has rescued me from real powers of sin, evil and death, not with silver and gold, but with his holy and precious blood, his innocent suffering and death in order that I may be his and serve him. That is what Holy Week is about, this Chrism Mass is about, these vows we renew are about. We are getting at the foundation in order to learn how to walk. In God's love, Jesus Christ died for me in order that I may be his.


Sisters and brothers, we are founded on this foundation. We walk following him. In Holy Week you come to the rock-solid foundation of our faith; all other ground is sinking sand.


Do you remember the funeral for Pastor Pinckney of Mother Emmanuel A. M. E. Church in North Charleston? I remember seeing our Presiding Bishop on that stage, right behind the preacher. I was proud to see her there. But what I remember most is what the preacher, Bishop Battle, the head bishop of the A. M. E., said. First, a few slow words of soft introduction, and then he paused and before thousands in that arena and knowing he was before a nation and world, he said, "Aaaaahhhh.....Can I Mention the Name?"


And the arena erupted in praise ‘cause he named the firm foundation, Jesus. And, ohhhhhh, the clouds....the heavy cloud of death, the heavy cloud of evil speaking deep in hearts and powerfully alive in this world, the heavy cloud of our sin and our societal sin that would avoid and hide and play down and seek to move past racism like a Levite on the Jericho Road, and the heavy cloud of cultural correctness that would suffocate the name of Jesus under the generic pillow of Deism-at-best all suddenly dissipated, and the clouds gave way, gave way to the murdered and risen Son of God whose light broke through radiantly.


Can I mention the name?


Can we?


This week we center on Christ the center. But that’s the case every week…right? This week we come back again to the firm foundation that we walk on: God's Word announced to us, outside of us, announced in the life-story, death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus who reveals the heart of God to us. That’s the foolish foundation on which I walk.


It’s much better than what Pyramus and I are discovering and developing. The only foundation. The rescuing Son of God and Mary who emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being found in human form. (Phil 2); the God who chose to be seen in the likeness of sinful humanity, in order that we might be his!


This God-human who took our sin, death, and bound-will, and gave us his faithfulness, life, and ability to see the love of God in a happy exchange; his death for our life, his resurrection for our resurrection.


As we gather on this Tuesday in Holy Week to set apart these oils, renew our vows and continue together to work on our racism and our mutual conversation and consolation and our reconciliation, let’s remember the rock solid foundation of it all and let us always be ready to make our defense to anyone who demands from us an accounting of the hope that is in us.


My physical therapist is working on my foundation. Can we work together on our foundation? Can we work together on – how does Ephesians say it? – Can we talk about and bear witness to Christ Jesus the cornerstone…can we talk about the saints and apostles whose foundation we are built upon so that we might be built up together into a spiritual temple…can we worship together, today, aware of the hope to which we have been called, all the riches of our inheritance, the power that is at work in us?


At this annual Chrism Mass I assume we have a common foundation. It is, after all, Holy Week. Today I want to mention it, to name the name of our foundation in your hearing, Jesus Christ, crucified and risen for the sake of the world. I'm not talking about judging one another's faith. I am talking about building upon one another's faith in the living Christ we love, as we walk together in him as the church.


Pyramus, my physical therapist, talked to me about walking. He keeps saying, "Every time we make a step forward we actually have to push backward too. The firmer the foundation we are on, the better we are able to move forward." I never thought about walking in quite that way before, but it’s true. Every step should have us leaning forward but also pushing backward from the firm foundation under us. This is how we actually walk. The firmer the foundation, the better.


Luther leaned forward upon a rescuing Christ because he pushed off the scriptures, early church leaders like Athanasius and Augustine, the creeds. He pushed solidly backwards so he had a foundation to step forward. He mentioned the name. He leaned into an external word, and a boundless God who fills the finite with infinite grace, grace seen in manger, cross, tomb, water, oil, bread, wine, you, me, Tanzanian, Japanese, Brazilian, in Ferguson and Flint, in Staten Island and in North Charleston, there are so many places to name – wherever the word about him is proclaimed.


All we need is here. The living Christ, scripture, creeds, confessions to push off backwards from. A firm foundation. Christ is here, ever with, ever ahead. We need to lean into Christ even as we push off from Christ. What’s an Alpha and Omega for if we can’t do that?


Pyramus keeps saying, "We have to have a firm foundation. We have to know the truth about our condition. We need a plan for greater movement, stengthening, able to push off from a strong foundation to restore function. For us to be able to walk together, we have to lean forward while pushing off backward." We have to, always, joyfully thankfully and prayerfully, ahhh....we have to mention the name, Jesus!


Bishop Robert Alan Rimbo


Throwing everything out of kilter

Mar 22, 2016
Easter_CrossAlleluia! Christ is risen!


In Flannery O’Connor’s short story, "A Good Man Is Hard to Find," on a trip that detours into the Georgia woods, a family encounters a murderous criminal known only as "the Misfit." As he cold-heartedly and systematically shoots to death each member of the family, the Misfit keeps talking about Jesus. He tells the frightened grandmother, "If Jesus has been raised from the dead, he shouldn’t have. He done thrown everything out of kilter. He should have stayed dead."


In rising from the dead, Jesus has indeed "done thrown everything out of kilter."


A Christian is someone who believes that God raised Jesus from the dead. And it’s a belief that has always been in contention. Thomas is by no means unusual but a reminder of the patent absurdity of such a thing happening. First century people may not have been scientists, but they all knew that dead people don’t rise from the dead.


And in every age, belief in the Resurrection of Jesus must overcome a strong prior prejudice against the possibility of such a thing happening, because it runs counter to our expectation based on everyday experience. The resurrection is a jolt.


So today I want to assert before you a few core, central things. We believe, against our natural tendencies to disbelieve, in the bodily resurrection of Jesus. The entire structure of the Christian faith stands or falls upon the fact of Jesus being raised by God from the dead. "Who is God? What is God up to in the world? Who are we as children of God? What are we supposed to be up to?" All these questions are answered through the resurrection: God is the one who raised Jesus from the dead, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence things that do not exist. And Christians have no other God

than the one who creates new life from the dead.


Without the resurrection, we are without hope. With the resurrection, through all the difficulties of life, we can go on because we know the end of the story. The end is in the strong hands of God who raised Jesus from the dead. Without the resurrection we have nothing to say to a hurting, unsteady world.


With the Resurrection we have truly good news.


Christianity is founded on a fact, an astounding, unexpected, but nevertheless real event: the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.


All human history, all human destiny, is seen in the light of this event, the core, founding, irreducible event upon which our faith rests.


"He done thrown everything out of kilter."


Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Transformative conversations

Feb 29, 2016

In his newest book, Sharing God’s Blessing: How to renew the local church, Robin Greenwood immediately hits on a point that we know well in our synod: if we are truly eager to do God’s work, "Chaos will be routine; stability a luxury." The transitions our congregations face range from issues of leadership, worship styles, and financial matters, to community engagement and social justice. We can all identify urgent concerns and growing questions for how we are a church in today’s society.


What Robin Greenwood pushes churches to in this book in order to engage in these transitions, we must first start with a deeper sense of hospitality with ourselves and others. We must be honest with our own feelings, even becoming vulnerable. It is in understanding God’s blessing on each of us that we are able to become a blessing to others. We are then opened up for deep and intimate conversations with each other. The type of conversation that asks us not to think and analyze, but to be present and relate.


We have been practicing such themes for a while in our synod. In 2014, we began an intentional focus on Mutual Conversation and Consolation. We used meetings, retreats, and our assembly as times for us to gather for grace-filled conversations with each other. If we learned anything in that year of intentional conversation, we learned that we can’t stop here. We need to find more and more ways to talk and relate to each other. It is critical to who we are as a church and as a synod.


I encourage you to seek conversations with each other and to be open to the Holy Spirit’s presence in those moments. Chaos may be our routine, but we still need to routinely gather, worship, and be together for conversation. I hope you will seek out times to be together, to talk about what is weighing on your hearts and minds in relation to our life together.



Upcoming events with opportunities for deeper conversation:

March 22: Chrism Mass

April 22: Synodwide Ministerium

May 19-21: Synod Assembly



A season of enduring hope and growing light

Dec 11, 2015

Advent_2015Dear brothers and sisters,


As I began to think about what to write during this Advent and Christmas season, I did what many of us do when looking for the words to say: I went back into the files. I noted that in the past few years, all was not calm. Last December I wrote of the need for reconciliation in the wake of the murder of two New York City Police Officers. Three years prior, I wrote of the sadness and lament we faced after the Newtown school shootings. Again, my heart feels heavy with so many names and places.


This year especially, it is hard to think of Mary and Joseph traveling without imagining also the Syrian refugees. I can’t think of Joseph protecting Jesus from Herod’s massacre without wondering how many parents feel hopeless in protecting their children from gun violence. Suddenly, the shepherds in the pastures, quaking at the sight of messengers from God, seem much more relatable. Not a day seems to go by without a news story that sends shivers down my spine. This December is no different. We are shaken by the violence, public bigotry, and fear mongering that seems rampant in both church and society.


In many ways, this year does not feel any different. We wait with deep and heavy anticipation for God to break into our world, to dispel the darkness, and allow us to sing glad tidings with confidence. But in this time of waiting, we are given signs. We see the radiant beams of God’s presence among us. We do see Jesus in the face of the stranger. We know Christ’s presence at Eucharistic and family meals. And we are reminded as we gather for worship that we are a part of God’s mission for the life of the world.


My hope for each of us this Advent and Christmas is that we remain aware of our active participation in God’s mission that seeks to dispel the darkness. By doing so, we provide the light of God’s presence to others.


Blessings in this season of enduring hope of growing light.


Sincerely in Christ,


Bishop Robert Alan Rimbo


Learning from the Parable of the Prodigal Son

Oct 09, 2015

Sermon for Day of Penitence

Deans’ Retreat 2015


We have just heard the greatest short-short-story of all time

from the lips of the greatest storyteller of all time.

At least that’s one preacher’s opinion,

and you may disagree with that assessment.

But think of this story’s impact.


Rembrandt has painted it,

Prokofiev set it to music,

Nietzsche philosophized about it.

I’m guessing Freud had a field day with it.

But it’s not just a great story,

a superb piece of fiction,

of which Faulkner or Salinger might well be envious.

It is the gospel of Jesus Christ;

this is what God’s Son took flesh to do;

here is your Christian hope.


Here is a lad just out of his teens.

His father is not a Donald Trump,

but he does own a farm or at least a lot of land.

But the youngster is restless,

unhappy at home.

He craves action, a few fleshpots.

So he asks and gets his share of the property

which he converts into cash

and gets as far over the border as he can.

He squanders his money in lewd living;

his older brother complains that he spent a good bit

at the best little whorehouse outside Palestine.

Down to his last shekel, he is hit by a famine

and in desperation hires out to a Gentile

who sets him to the ultimate in degradation:

a Jew feeding pigs.

He sinks so low that he longs to fill his belly with what the swine are swilling

until he comes to his senses.


Back he goes.

Back home.

And his father spies his son while the lad is a good way off.

"Well, well, well.

I always knew if he got hungry enough he’d come crawlin’ back.

Let him squirm a bit."


That’s not what dad does.

Compassion fills his heart;

he runs to meet his wayward son

as fast as his varicose veins will let him,

and the son can hardly get his apology out.

His father hugs him,

kisses him, not just in welcome but in tearful forgiveness.

Treat him like a hired hand?

Not on your life!

Treat him like an honored guest!

Dress him in the finest you have.

Call the neighbors and get a party started.


Out in the fields, sweating with a vengeance, is son number one.

Coming to the house,

he cannot believe his ears.

He summons a servant:

"What in God’s name is going on?"

And when the servant tells him, the son is outraged.

A party for the prodigal,

the lazy lout who washed his hands of the estate,

who treated his dad like dirt,

the sexed-up neurotic

who fornicated a third of the family’s fortune?

His father comes out,

pleads with him to join the party.

"No, sir.

Not on your life.

Frankly, I’m mad as hell.

Here I’ve been slaving for you ever since I grew muscles,

never disregarded a single command of yours.

Have you ever thrown a party for me?

What kind of father are you?"

His father gently chides him:

"Son, you are always with me.

All that I have is yours.

But your brother –

yes, he’s been stupid, he’s sinned against God and against me;

he’s been as good as dead.

But, son, your brother has come alive again;

he’s changed;

he’s new.

Why shouldn’t we have a party?"


Of course, we all know the main character in this story is the father.

Before all else, the parable preaches a striking set of truths about God.

Our God is not a God of vengeance,

waiting to pounce on you

as soon as you stray from the straight and narrow.

Our God exemplifies to the nth degree

what you would expect of a loving parent.

"Can a woman forget her sucking child,

that she should have no compassion on the child of her womb?

Even these may forget,

yet I will not forget you.

Behold, I have graven you

on the palms of my hands." (Isaiah 49:14-16)

Do you imagine that God’s own Son took your flesh

in order to wreak vengeance on it?

Can you conceive that he was joking

when from the cross he murmured, "Forgive them"?

The primary principle of this parable is a message we have to share:

God loves the sinner while she or he is still a sinner!

God loves us all the time.

God loves us anyway.


And not only does God love and forgive;

God takes the initiative, the first step, in forgiveness.

God doesn’t wait, aloof and aloft in solitary splendor,

stroking a gray beard like a shrewd shrink

until you come to your senses.

God runs to meet you.


Before you can actually say "I’ve really screwed up,"

God, who knows your heart,

kisses you in forgiveness,

dresses you in new garments,

throws a party for you among the angels.


And, here’s a truth as consoling as it is frightening:

Unless God took the initiative,

the first step in forgiveness,

you could never come to God.

You cannot decide all by yourself,

"This life of sin is for the pigs;

I’m hurrying home."

What makes it possible for us to crawl out of the pigpen,

to eat the Bread of Life and to drink the cup of salvation,

is God’s love.

Without that we’re dead,

and we would stay dead.

We did not ask the Son of God to hide his glory in our feeble flesh.

We did not ask the earthly Christ to wean us from sin by a bloody cross.

We did not ask the risen Christ to keep interceding for us

till time is no more.

It’s all God’s own wild idea.

But unless Christ had done all this,

if he did not continue to draw us by his love,

you and I would still be lusting for the carob pods of pigs.


I can only tell you what I have learned about this story from my own life.

Your best bet is to listen to God and learn for yourself.


First, I have learned, slowly,

to relate to God more as a loving Mother.

My God is not the God of the Deists,

a cold Creator who shaped the world and then let us go our merry way, uncaring, unheeding, unhelpful,

waiting for us to appear before the throne for our just judgment.

God is like a Mother to me

and in God’s sight I am unique and wonderful and beloved.


Somehow God lets things happen that are unexpected of a loving Mother:

devastating earthquakes,

fires and floods;

two world wars, a Holocaust that gassed six million Jews,

schizophrenia and bipolar disorder and Alzheimer’s and AIDS.

I can’t explain that stuff.

But neither can I explain why God sent Jesus to die for me

and still cares for me when I repeatedly say "no"

and wants me to share the divine life forever.


My basic belief is: God is love.

Without that, the whole Christian edifice crumbles.

I begin not with a question but with an act of trust –

the same trust the God-forsaken Jesus forced through parched lips:

"Into your hands I commend my spirit."

The movement is not from knowledge to love;

the movement is from love to knowledge.

The more I love God, the better will I know God.


Second, I have learned,

through years of experience,

not to play the elder sibling,

even though I fully expect his renewed family

eventually threw a party for him, too.

It’s called mercy.

I have learned not to turn up my nose at "foxhole Christians"

who cry to God in final desperation,

and I am working at not judging born-again Pentecostals

except when they try to impose their religion on everybody else.


Because I know from my own life that God’s mercy is limitless,

not bounded by my myopia.


And third,

I identify best with the prodigal because I recognize in him,

far more than in his brother or his dad,

our human condition, my condition.

For all our apparent strength,

of ourselves we are frail creatures.

We chafe under restrictions,

rebel against authority,

sulk when slighted,

go off into our own far countries.

Even we who are professional Christians

take God all too lightly,

give God the time left over from more important events,

leave God’s family and house, the Church,

spiritually, emotionally and sometimes physically

when we don’t like what’s going on.

We toy with temptations.

We can be awfully small,



At times we come slinking back, embarrassed,

"I have sinned against heaven, against you…"

If you’ve never experienced any of this

please take your pulse to see if you’re alive.


But this I have learned above all:

The prodigal’s "I have sinned" is not just an admission of guilt,

it is an act of love.

The prodigal could just as effectively have said,

"Father, I love you."

If sin is rejection,

repentance is acceptance.

I have received God’s love

and I return that love to God.

This is what we do today,



A Witness to Peace

Sep 28, 2015

911multifaithserviceThe visit of Pope Francis to Cuba and the United States was itself a witness to peace. And on Friday, September 25, it was my honor to represent the Metropolitan New York Synod and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America at a service of solemn grace and power. I know many from our synod watched as this multi-religious gathering with the Holy Father was live-streamed. It was a remarkably moving event and a symbol of the wonderful religious diversity of our metropolitan community. Hindu, Christian, Buddhist, Sikh, Muslim, Jewish and a host of other religious leaders participated.


The six-day visit to the United States was a holy time. This was even more strongly felt as we gathered in a holy place, the National September 11 Memorial and Museum at the World Trade Center. There was a solemn spirit made more palpable by his presence. I did not have opportunity to greet Pope Francis personally, though he passed five feet from me as he exited the museum, smiled and raised his hand in greeting.


I have been captivated by his humility, humor, and humanity. His love for all people of all religions (and no religion) is clear. His affection for the young, the differently-abled, the variety of human beings, the creation, the victims of abuse in many forms, and his courage to speak truth to power was amazing. The simple act of his entrance into the museum was moving in itself and his words to the assembly offered a call to move beyond mere tolerance to respect for one another. It made me grateful for the honor of serving as your bishop in this remarkable time and place.


The Holy Father offered a prayer remembering those who died on September 11 here in New York, at the Pentagon and in Shanksville. He prayed for those who continue to suffer from injuries and illness, grief and mourning. And he prayed for all of us: for comfort, strength, hope, courage, peace, and love. To say it was a moving service is an understatement.


My prayer is that the Pope’s will give us the will to work more closely together for the common good of all people and all creation.    

How far do we go to help?

Jul 17, 2015

During the ELCA Youth Gathering, members of our synod joined together for a day of story sharing and worship. Bishop Rimbo preached this sermon on Mark 2:1-10, where Jesus heals a man that was lowered through the roof by his friends.


RARgatheiring15I'm so glad you are all here in Detroit. I'm so glad this great city is being raised up, and especially by your presence and witness and service. We sang it: Jesus lifted me, and we'll sing it again. And the people of Detroit have sensed that Jesus is lifting them because of you. Do not sell yourselves short. Our presence here is significant, important.


I know a lot of people here in Detroit. Lois and I and our family lived in this metropolitan area for 23 years. Lois taught a lot of kids here. I was pastor in two congregations and bishop here. So we've seen a lot of friends these days and they are so energized, so encouraged, so lifted up by you. There have been times when Detroit has been labeled "God-forsaken." But we're proving that label wrong. Thank you! You are the church!


This story from Mark tells us just how far people have been willing to go to help others. Four people helped their friend to get close enough to Jesus to allow Jesus to heal him.


I'm guessing these people tried other things before they tried to see what Jesus could do for him. Just like the people in this city have tried all kinds of things.


I imagine them saying stuff like...


"You should just get used to this paralysis thing, friend. It's awful, but there's not much you can do abut it. Life goes on. At least for us it goes on."    




"You have to try harder to get better. Maybe if you work harder at your physical therapy, or pay more attention to your diet, or see a different doctor, or have a better attitude, things will improve.




They might even have asked him: "why do you think God is punishing you? Something you did, something you're responsible for? Did you ever think of that? Maybe you did this to yourself."


Or...I bet they even remembered stories from the past about healings and raising the dead, even. There were more than a few of those in the Old Testament. Maybe they remembered those and were ready to do whatever Jesus told them to do. We don't know.


What we DO know is that, according to Mark, Jesus had just come to Capernaum after a wild tour of Galilee, calling his disciples, preaching in synagogues, casting out demons and healing a man with leprosy.


And maybe that was enough. Maybe the news that there was this guy who knew about God in town at that moment who could help bring healing, maybe that word was enough to energize them, to encourage them, to push them into taking steps they might otherwise not have taken.


And so they gathered around their paralyzed friend. And they hoped. And they lifted. And they went to Jesus.


I bet you have felt that your life and your witness doesn't make a difference. Have you? Do you know someone who feels that way?


Let's learn from these people. Don't give up. Somebody you know - like the people here in Detroit and the people in New York whom you have represented - someone has to see Jesus, get close to Jesus, despite the risks, despite the obstacles.


But you have faith, my sisters and brothers, you have hope, you know this Jesus. And right now we are gathered at his feet. We know how the story turns out. There is faith. There is forgiveness. There is healing. There is life. And most of all, there is Jesus. For the paralyzed man and his friends and the people of Detroit and Each one of us.


Rise up together, sisters and brothers. Jesus is with us now.

2015 Synod Assembly Bible Study: "The Power of the Lamb"

Jun 01, 2015

A small group of us was discussing images that come together in these days in worship and in actions at our Synod Assembly. It was a pile-up of pictures, mostly from the Book of Revelation, the New Testament Apocalypse, one of the most scary and, frankly, most misunderstood pieces of literature ever written. I’m no biblical scholar but I do know some things about worship and about the church, so I thought I would learn more about this book, correct some of the misguided thinking on it, and help all of us grow into the koinonia, the communion, God desires for us.

So, we were talking about the river that flows from the throne of God…about the powers and principalities that war against the Church…the City … heaven…a seven-headed beast…a dragon…the Tree of Life…leaves for the healing of the nations…lampstands…singing angels…a bride adorned for her husband…God’s dwelling…tears…mourning…Alpha and Omega…

That conversation was just the start.

And, of course, running through my musical/liturgical mind was "This is the Feast." Let’s sing it together now.

I want to talk with you about the Power of the Lamb who is the true central figure, the real main theme in the Book of Revelation, a book which many Roman Catholics and mainline Protestants like us tend to avoid and have given over to the Fundamentalists. They tend to love it because they can use it, presumably, to predict the end of the world, even though Jesus himself could not predict it and even though that is not what this book if about. The Book of Revelation is about hope. It is about the Power of the Lamb.

Many of the images in the Book of Revelation are scary, alarming, and seemingly incomprehensible. Bloody battles, judgment and destruction. But I want to suggest that the book is really about Hope and Power. And not just any kind of power: the Power of the Lamb.

I’ll just give you a quick overview, so you’ll have to take my word for it. But I invite you to consider looking at two books that helped me think about this. First, Barbara Rossing’s The Rapture Exposed: the Message of Hope in the Book of Revelation, a book I read when it first was published, and Ward Ewing’s The Power of the Lamb: Revelation’s Theology of Liberation for You, a new one for my library. Both are intelligent contributions to understanding a book that is mysterious and has scared a lot of people. But it really should not scare because it offers ultimate hope for our own time and situation and the future.

First, we’ll talk about powerlessness. Then, the Power of the Lamb.

There are letters to seven churches. You can read the letters in Chapters 1 and 2. I think they capture much of what continues in our churches today. They are small, poor, struggling to survive, suffering from discrimination, divided by internal squabbles, abused by local magistrates, treated badly by other religions, surrounded by pagan corruption. These seven churches have a tendency to drift into complacency –laziness – to tolerate and even follow false teachers, and generally to lose their commitment to Jesus and their hope for the future.

Turn to a neighbor and ask yourselves: Does this sound familiar? Do you know of any churches like this? You need not name them. Just say whether you are aware of them.

Interestingly, at least to me: the shining stars among John’s seven churches are Philadelphia and Smyrna. These bright spots are two poor, harassed and not-very influential congregations which, despite their weakness, hold steadfastly to the faith in Jesus. And that’s why St. John the Divine likes them, commends them, holds them up as examples. Again, turn to a neighbor: do you know any congregation like this? No names. Just Yes or No.

St. John writes to Ephesus, Pergamum and Thyatira about his concerns regarding false teaching, calling for purity in belief and in practice. On the other hand, the church at Ephesus heard John’s first letter to them and became so rigid that the spirit of love was lost. He reminds them that their works of love, faith, service and patient endurance must be neither so tolerant of pagan practices that the uniqueness of the Christian life be lost, nor so intolerant of pagan faiths as to become a persecution. A delicate balance still for us.

And for St. John the Divine, the most important announcement is that Jesus was and is God’s Anointed – God’s Messiah – that’s the most important message and that means that all the gloom and doom of approaching destruction has to be reinterpreted.

Not only did the Messiah come, but he was crucified! And not only did he die, he was raised! It was incomprehensible to the audiences for which John and all of the New Testament writers wrote that the Messiah would be crucified by the powers of the world; the Messiah was supposed to overcome them. So the Book of Revelation announces that the crucial battle between the power of God and the oppressive powers of this world has been won, and God’s rule has begun.

This is why I think this book, interpreted in the light of history and the rest of the Bible, has a great message of hope for us, power for the powerless. John’s churches do not seem very different from us. Our congregations seem weaker than in ages past, are concerned with internal issues, we have little clout in our political structures.

The issue we face is power and specifically whether the Power of the Lamb can work for us today.

Here is a visual way to contrast, to capture the paradox of the Book of Revelation and the times in which we live: The Beast is a symbol of brutal force. The Lamb is a symbol of unprotected vulnerability. The Beast coerces through fear and might, the Lamb has no such power. The followers of the Lamb are not manipulated, cajoled, or constrained to follow; they freely choose the Lamb as their leader. By his love and his sacrifice, the Lamb transforms the heart and inspires devotion. Love compels the followers of the Lamb, not force. The Beast controls people by fear and death; the Lamb liberates people from bondage and heals people and brings life. The Beast uses people for its own glory and in the process people get hurt. The Beast kills people and drinks their blood, but the purpose of the Lamb is to free people from destructive enslavement, even at the cost of its own life. Through his own blood the Lamb liberates his people and raises them to new life. Those who follow the Lamb know eternal life now and will live with the Lamb forever.

Ward Ewing puts it this way, contrasting what the world teaches with what Jesus teaches:

Blessed are the rich for they shall rule the world.

Blessed are the poor for there is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are the calm and collected, for little can touch them.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.


Blessed are the aggressive, for they shall be promoted.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.


Blessed are those with finesse, for in avoiding controversy they shall come out ahead.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.


Blessed are the cool and callous, for they shall emerge untroubled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.


Blessed are the manipulators, for they shall achieve power.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.


Blessed are the nice, for all will speak well of them.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.

The issue we face is power and specifically whether the Power of the Lamb can work for us today. So, now, what about this Lamb of God, of which we sing rather complacently?

Jesus is the main character in Revelation. Let’s read Revelation 1:1-3 together aloud.

The revelation of Jesus Christ,
which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place;
he made it known by sending his angel to his servant John,
who testified to the word of God
and to the testimony of Jesus Christ,
even to all that he saw.
Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of the prophecy,
and blessed are those who hear and who keep what is written in it;
for the time is near.

Revelation’s primary purpose is to tell us the story of Jesus, not to predict end-times events in Europe or the Middle East.

And who is Jesus? Jesus is first presented as a majestic, human-like figure with a sword in his mouth.

But this depiction is quickly eclipsed by the portrayal of Jesus as the Lamb. It is the Lamb who gathers 144,000 holy warriors on Mt. Zion (Rev. 14:1). It is the Lamb on whom the armies of evil make war (Rev. 17:14). It is the Lamb who even marries and rules after the war (Rev. 19:7; 22:3).

The Lamb is an amazing and yet wonderfully disarming vision. In place of overwhelming military strength, we are given the image of the Lamb’s non-violent power. In place of Rome’s image of inflicting slaughter on the world, Revelation tells the story of the Lamb who has been slaughtered – and who still bears the scars of that slaughter. Revelation undertakes to reveal what true power and true victory is: At the heart of the power of the universe stands Jesus, God’s slain Lamb.

We first meet Jesus as the Lamb in chapter 5 in the heavenly vision that follows the seven letters to the churches. We go on a journey behind the veil into heaven itself where we see God seated on a beautiful throne.

All creation is singing praise to God. Singing and worship are central to Revelation, a fact often overlooked by people who see the book only as a system of end-times predictions and timetables. In Revelation we sing our way into God’s new vision for our world.

God holds a scroll sealed shut with seven shields that must be opened. But who is worthy to open this scroll? The Lion of Judah? The Root of David?

No. Rather: a Lamb. A rather peculiar Lamb, but still a Lamb.

Let’s read Revelation 5:6 together:

Then I saw between the throne and the four living creatures
and among the elders
a Lamb standing as if it had been slaughtered,
having seven horns and seven eyes,
which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth.

This is a complete reversal. But note this, the portrait of the Lamb develops and is even more interesting. The Greek word is not just "lamb," but a diminutive: a word like "lambkin," "little lamb." Dan Erlander, for many years a leader at Holden Village, calls him "fluffy." The only other place in the New Testament where this version of the word for lamb (lambkin, fluffy) is used, is when Jesus says he is sending his disciples out into the world as lambs among wolves in Luke 10. That’s the only place! The divine hero is a baby lamb. Jesus is shown in the most vulnerable way possible, as a victim who is slaughtered but standing – that is, crucified, but risen to life.

And here’s the point for us: The Lamb – dare I say it, "Fluffy" – became the victor not by militaristic power but by being slaughtered. From beginning to end, Revelation’s vision of the Lamb teaches a theology of the cross, of God’s power made manifest in weakness. This is the whole message of Revelation and it gives us hope. The victim becomes the victor.

Let’s sing about this: ELW 847, Come, Let Us Join Our Cheerful Songs

We are followers of the Lamb on whom the title "conqueror" is bestowed and so we are conquerors as well. This is one of the many amazing features of this Book. Much of Revelation can sound so violent, but we have to look at the subversive heart of the book – the redefinition of victory and conquering – to understand how Revelation subverts violence itself. Just like the Lamb, we, God’s people, are called to conquer not by fighting but by remaining faithful, by testifying to God’s victory in our self-giving love.

The Christian community is portrayed as those who follow the Lamb. Our calling as Christians is simply to be followers, standing with the Lamb, going where the Lamb leads.

"Lamb Power" is what Ward Ewing identifies in a most compelling way as Revelation’s new way of life, Revelation’s theology of liberation for us all, a lifestyle oriented around Jesus’ self-giving love, a mode of operation in church and world for us to live.

Lamb Power is the power of vulnerable but strong love to change the world, and it is ours.

It is the power of nonviolent resistance and courage in opposition to injustice, and it is ours.

It is the power of unity, and it is ours.

It is the power of forgiveness, of mercy, and it is ours.

It is the power of healing for the nations, and it is ours.

It seems to me that this Power of the Lamb can characterize our life together as a synod, especially as we tackle difficult issues, raise tough questions, struggle with what appears to some to be a hopeless future, long for health and wholeness.

When I think of the Power of the Lamb which is ours, I think of congregations in this Synod who have decided to cooperate or even close in order to move into new formations for ministry. I think of the Lutheran Parish of Northern Duchess; I think of Augustana, Elmhurst and Grace, Astoria; I think of Christ, Ozone Park, St. Philip’s, Brooklyn, Saint Luke’s and San Lucas, Woodhaven, who are moving together to form All Saints/Todos Los Santos. I think of you, faithful to your calling and to your God while facing challenges never anticipated by your ancestors who founded your congregations. I think of you, who have been with victims of disease and death and helped them face the future with hope.

Turn now to a neighbor and share a time or a situation in which God has given you courage, grace, hope, power for a challenge.

Friends, we constantly choose between the Power of the Lamb and the Way of the Beast. Living by the Power of the Lamb means we accept the Cross as the ultimate expression of love. And because we are following the Lamb, we cannot remain safe and secure. Vulnerability – the primary characteristic of the Power of the Lamb – includes by definition the possibility of suffering. The Power of the Lamb is the power of our acts of hope and resistance, our songs and our solidarity, to overcome the terror of the Beast, the terror we see every day all around our world.

This is the Power of the Lamb. It is the Power of the Vulnerable. It is the Power of the Blessed. It is the Power we have as Christians who follow Jesus.

Let us pray. Into your hands, almighty God, we place ourselves: our minds to know you, our hearts to love you, our wills to serve you, for we are yours. Into yours hands, incarnate Jesus, Lamb of God, we place ourselves: receive us and draw us after you, that we may follow your steps; abide in us and enliven us by the power of your indwelling. Into you hands, O hovering Spirit, we place ourselves: take us and fashion us after your image; let your comfort strengthen, your grace renew, and your fire cleanse us, soul and body, in life and in death, in this world and in your changeless world of light eternal, now and forever. Amen.


Eucharist Sermon from 2015 Synod Assembly

May 30, 2015

Isaiah 5:15-24


That reading from Isaiah is something, right?


Not the friendliest word from God

as we draw near to the end of assembly.

The Prophet Isaiah says there are some

"who call evil good and good evil,

who put darkness for light and light for darkness,

bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter."

Not the friendliest word.


One of the most amazing things about the Bible is that it’s honest.

Nothing is hidden.

Nothing is covered over.

Nothing is too embarrassing to report.

Just like it has been here among us at this assembly.

Our mutual conversation and consolation,

our indaba,

has been at times difficult,

at times joyful,

because there is nothing romantic,


or overly sentimental in the call to genuine community.

The Bible tells it like it is

and sometimes we do it very well

and sometimes very badly.


But I like being here.

I like Synod Assembly.

I like the indaba we have had.

I like the tough questions we have asked each other.

I like our commitment to tell one another

all that God has done for us, and with us.


Still, I look at you and I realize that

I really don’t know much about any of you,

and you don’t know much about me,

at least not what I think about things,

what’s important to me,

what makes me laugh,

what hurts me,

what makes me cry other than ordinations

and when Ellen gives things to people

out of the blue.

You don’t know much of importance about me

and I don’t know much about you.

So, I wonder about how determined you are

about continuing these holy conversations,

about the causes we have spoken of and acted on,

what sorts of things will make you take a stand.

I wonder where your courage lies,

and where your vulnerability.

I even wonder, looking back at our time together,

what are the things at which you take offense.


Jesus clearly was an offense to many.

The real offense was the threat Jesus posed.

The threat he still opposes.

The question for us is,

at what points in our lives does Jesus cause offense,

cause us problems.

I suggest those points may be

where we are closest to finding what it really means

to be followers of Christ.


We tend to think exactly the opposite.


We engage in our searches for an appropriate "spirituality,"

whatever that may be,

by thinking we need to find ways to discover our true selves,

to call up love, peace, and goodwill within us.

Yet, it is often at the point of greatest offense

where who this Jesus is,

is made known to us.


The issue for us is:

what are we willing to do with the offense,

how willing are we to hear our Lord Jesus in it,

this powerful Lamb of God.

If Jesus’ admonition to love one another means anything at all,

it must surely mean that

we are called to embrace those with whom we most disagree.

That is what our holy conversations have been about.

That is what mutual conversation and consolation is about.

That is why we move forward

to a deeper, richer understanding of reconciliation.


The Holy Spirit – the paraclete promised by Jesus –

the advocate, counselor, comforter we know as the Holy Spirit,

is what we need for walking together as a synod.

The Advocate will come to complete Christ’s mission,

witness to Christ’s resurrection,

give glory to Christ.


It is an empty victory

if one wins a cause by defeating a person.


The key for people of the Lamb is to win both.


A rabbi once asked his pupils,

"How can you tell when night has ended

and day is about to begin?"

The pupils pondered for a while,


and finally one of them said,

"Could it be when you look off in the distance and see two trees,

and you are able to tell that one is a fig tree

and one a palm tree?"

The rabbi answered, "No."


So the pupils argued a bit longer,

until another brave student offered an answer,

"Could it be when you look off in the distance,

and seeing two animals,

are able to distinguish that one is a dog and one a sheep?"

Again, the rabbi answered, "No."

Finally, exasperated by their arguing, the students said,

"All right then, Rabbi,

tell us, how do you know when night has ended

and the day is about to begin?"

The rabbi slowly looked each of them in the eye and said,

"When you look on the face of any woman or any man

and see there a sister or brother.

Because if you cannot do that,

then no matter what the time of day is,

it is still night."


We thank God for letting us see the light

          in one another,

sisters and brothers.


Bishop Robert Alan Rimbo



Festival Eucharist Sermon from 2015 Synod Assembly

May 29, 2015

St. John 13:1-17, 31b-35 


There is a lot of "knowing" in this Gospel.


Jesus knows. Jesus knows the end is near.

The time has come to leave those he has loved so well. 

He knows one he has loved will betray him

to those who will destroy him. 

He knows he has come from God. 

He knows he is to suffer, be denounced and die.

He knows he is to glorify God 

and return to the One whom he calls Abba. 

He knows his Abba has put into his hands the blessed task

of revealing God’s own heart

and accomplishing God’s desire

to save a world that soon will crush him.


Jesus knows.


Jesus knows.

We come together now for a Festival Eucharist, 

a celebration of our life together, as a Synod,

as the church in this place.

We come after an already long day of parliamentary activity,

introductions to the busyness of being the church,

getting-to-know-you activities,

images from the Book of Revelation

and from our life as church,

intense indaba questions and conversations

and the prospect of another day tomorrow.


Jesus knows.


Knowing this… 

he takes a towel, ties it about his waist,

pours water in a basin

and washes the feet of those he loves and loves to the end.

I don’t wonder why he does that; 

I know. 

I see him, kneeling at the feet of those he has known and loved. 

Much is said of this act of humility, 

but we tend to focus on it during the Three Days, 

on Maundy Thursday, 

not at a festival Eucharist at the Synod Assembly.   

It’s the kind of thing that a Jewish slave 

would not be compelled to do; 

only the Gentile slaves were forced in their slavery to wash feet. 


So what moves my heart – 

and I think the heart of the cynical world who knows this story – 

and I hope the heart of all of you – 

is Jesus’ desire to serve in humility and love, 

to mark the reconciliation God has created with all of us.


He knows he will soon leave them. 

He knows he soon will no longer be able to touch them, 

to see their smiles 

or witness their dense, uncomprehending brows.

He knows they will turn from him, 

every last one of them,

running from him in shame. 

And knowing all this… 

he wants to touch them, 

to love them, 

to wipe the dust from between their toes, 

to feel his hand on the leathery soles of their worn feet. 

He wants to look them in the eye one more time.


So he kneels before each, 

one after the other, 

revealing to each the love in which they are held, 

showing all that he is, 

all he has done and all he is about to do is for them, 

for each one, personally. 

Watching the water roll from each foot,

Jesus dries them with the towel,


attentive to the task.




Because he wants to.

Because he loves them to the end, 

the love magnified by an eternal constant,

the relentless desire and the central identity of Jesus.

That love is the Power of the Lamb.

He loves them – and he loves you – to the end.

There are many things I don’t understand.

Just ask Lois.

Just ask our children or even our grandchildren.

Just ask my therapist.

Just ask any member of our Synod Council or our synod staff.

But this is the biggest thing I don’t really understand:

the desire of God to love us to the end.


Jesus kneels at the disciples’ feet, 

and we see all the way from Tarrytown 

to the impenetrable depths of eternity 

and into the very heart of God. 

We see past our fears 

and our despair 

and our bigotry 

and our racism 

and our pain

and our exhaustion to the one truth that is more true

than all that troubles our lives:

We see the length and breadth,

the height and depth of the heart of God, 

the One who has loved us since the birth of time 

when all the morning stars sang together for joy 

at the delight in which God has always held you… 

and you… 

and you…  


The desire of God is to give

the fullness of divine life and love to you. 

Such is clear as Jesus washes feet, 

an act carried fully forth on the cross of his suffering and death, 

when the holy intention of God’s self-giving 

is unmistakable for those with faith to see and receive.


You share this love and life of God. 

Otherwise you would not be here. 

You long to have him touch you and wash you. 

You hunger to be possessed fully

by a love as powerfully tangible

as the hands of another disciple holding your feet,

the hands of Jesus’s own body.

We are flesh and blood,

craving to be carried off by the experience of God’s own heart.


So, Jesus says,

"Blessed are you if you do these things,"

referring to his loving service and ours.

Blessed are you,

not once upon a time or somewhere in the future

but right here and right now.

In the messiness of crowded lives,

ragged nerves,

complicated relationships,

challenging conversations.

Blessed are you when you share forgiveness,

when you share the Peace of Christ, with the touch of a hand,

when you enact reconciliation

in washing one another’s feet

or watching, singing, praying as others do so.

Blessed are you when you open empty hands and mouths

to receive the flesh and blood of God’s self-giving.

Blessed are you when you touch another

with the joyous grace you have received

through all the ways the living Jesus touches you.

Blessed are you, when, like Jesus, you love to the end.


Bishop Robert Alan Rimbo


Call for ‘Blue’ Sunday to honor fallen NYPD Officer Brian Moore

May 06, 2015

For Officer Brian Moore, his family and friends we pray. We offer heartfelt gratitude to a family whose tradition is to put their lives on the line for the safety of others.


The Moore family is a shining example of selflessness and compassion in the service of others; I pray we all follow their lead. As long as New York City is comprised of families like the Moores, evil will never win.


As a show of solidarity against this senseless act of violence, I am asking that Sunday worship participants wear blue this weekend. Let us show the world a sea of blue. Let us show Officer Moore and his family the ‘good’ that he died to protect.


Bishop Robert Alan Rimbo


Statement in response to recent unrest in Baltimore

May 03, 2015

Today we pray for the residents and leaders of Baltimore and all those impacted by this week’s events. For them we offer prayers of peace, understanding, justice, and safety for all.


Let us not shrink from mutual conversation about social justice, peace, and race relations in our country. Let us grow in it and from it. Let us bring our best selves forward. Let us find a path together in justice and reconciliation.


As a church we will continue to host interfaith gatherings to discuss means of reconciliation in and around our congregations and communities.


Bishop Robert Alan Rimbo


Recovering a sense of community

Mar 31, 2015

Preached at the 2015 Chrism Mass

John 17:1-11

In the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

I have preached at Chrism Mass more than a dozen times, here in New York City and there in Detroit, and as far as I can recall, never once faced the challenge of the texts for Maundy Thursday, just proclaimed even though Maundy Thursday is the traditional day for this liturgy. They are filled with images: servant, like Jesus kneeling to wash feet; body, like the dead lamb, cooked and eaten in haste, like the crucified Christ, shared in the bread; blood that reminds God not to nail the Israelites, and like the blood Paul proclaims is the wine in the cup of the new covenant; a meal which is a kind of indicator of God’s community. And in this wondrous mix, we gather to renew our covenant with God, that which God made in water and the Word. And that which we have expanded in some sense with various vows made in various settings. There is enough, much richness here.

This is a week to immerse ourselves in that richness, in the paschal mystery, which is difficult to do if you are wondering about that missing acolyte or unprepared singer. So today, dear friends, I invite you to immerse your whole selves – mind and imagination, heart and senses. To see and listen, to touch and taste, to savor the presence of our Lord. This week a breath-taking event is taking place: we enter into the paschal mystery. Jesus Christ, hiding all that is divine in him, comes to us this week, here, and on the tongue of a Ukrainian miner and in the palm of the Salvadoran cook; on the stone altar of a cathedral in St. Petersburg and in the crude cement blocks of a Tanzanian chapel; in a hospital bed in Phoenix and in the splendor of this church today.

But, as always for us, it is much more than simply his coming to us in this meal but it is at least that. If that were all he did it would be enough. But this is the paschal meal. This is the meal that by God’s command each Jewish family celebrates each year to commemorate the exodus from Egypt, the passage through the Sea, the escape from Pharaoh. Jesus and the disciples did what faithful communities had done for centuries and still do today.

And that would be enough, but there is more. This is the meal of the new covenant, a pact not restricted to any one tribe or nation, a relationship open to all who will believe in him, a covenant of flesh and blood.

This would have been enough: the blood of God’s Son poured out for everyone. But there is more. Here is the new Paschal Lamb, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. And, by his own telling, those who eat of this flesh and drink of this blood will be raised up on the last day and live forever.

That would have been enough, but there is more. We are reminded that all humanity is called to live in this covenant, to follow as disciples. Which could have been announced by simply saying so. But no – love is never content with simple words. He adds the final touch, the last stroke: Do this in remembrance of me. Until the end of time, all over the earth, take into your quivering, trembling hands the bread and body, the cup and blood of this Lord. For as often as we do this we proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. By this death Jesus gave us life, and this Jesus is our Lord.

All of this would have been enough. But there is more. A meal with friends, family, community…Passover meal…a new covenant in the blood of God’s Son…a new Lamb…a Eucharist: and more, because all this takes us from Jesus to ourselves – each of us lay and rostered alike – and our calling to share this with the world God loves.

This Meal of Christ’s love reminds us that every meal has something of the sacred about it. Witness the simple luncheon we just enjoyed. I fear we’ve lost the age-old sense of that. Over the centuries, in myriad cultures, to break bread together was a privilege. To be a guest at table was to be invited into a community. To share bread was to share love.

We do as Christ did, in remembrance of him. We eat and drink his body and blood. But we do it as a community. The new and everlasting covenant Christ created was not a private pact with individuals. Yes, each of us is embraced in this covenant, but only because we are embraced with a people, the people God has chosen.

That is why, when we come together to share this covenant meal and to remember our Lord, we do so in community. There is no such thing as a private mass. We eat and drink together even across the tiny table in the hospital room.

This new community in Christ was always true, I think, but not always obvious.

As I grew up, the stress was indeed on communion – but primarily on my individual communion with Christ, a sort of me-and-Jesus spirituality. I was surrounded, of course, by others – sometimes ten, sometimes five hundred. And at the best times I actually was aware of them, even prayed for them. But nothing, no one, was to come between Jesus and me.

But there is more, isn’t there? Today, I think we are more aware of others. This is one of the reasons it is so important for us to have conversations in our congregations about the relationship between font and table, between Baptism and Communion, if for no other reason than to talk about this faith we share, this communion of which we are a part. We come to know one another, we come to know God in the mystery itself. We try to break down barriers. But it’s not the first time Christians have been called to work on things in community; read the Corinthian correspondence and you’ll be inspired. In the early Church there is evidence of some attempt to cool off the kiss of peace which apparently some people engaged a bit too lustily. Fact is, you may, without sin, find hugging another member of the community repulsive or even contagious. But the significant thing is what the Church, the community, is trying to do: help a covenant people live the covenant, recover the sense of community. The Church is the "we" of Christians. Christ gave his body and blood at the Supper and on the Cross, to fashion one body – the Body of Christ – linked in unique love. If that love is ever to break out like the love of Christ, it should begin here, in this community and in the communities you represent, the communities you serve.

You, members of communities of faith, the baptized and in some sense the great unwashed, pastors and deacons, diaconal ministers and associates in ministry, you too are claimed, chosen, blessed, broken, given for the life of the world as Jesus was. You – we – do not belong to yourselves. You – we – are given to others for their life. God changes us into Christ again and again – the body of Christ for the life of the world.

That’s why we gather here today, near the beginning of Holy Week, a time when you could use more time at your desk, even some preparatory resting at home, gearing up, anticipating the rigors and the sorrows and the joy of the Three Days… we gather here because we need to respond again and again to God’s promises to us and our promises to God. This meal, this ministry, this community makes sense only if it is linked to a passion, to redemption – our own and others’. It will bear the fruit for which Christ was lifted up when we become really present, when we are given for the life of the world, when our lives are so filled with Christ’s life that the eyes of the desperate light up with hope, the bellies of the starving are fed with bread, the hearts of the loveless beat with love, if someone who has no reason for living discovers it in Christ through you, taken and blessed, broken and given, living the Paschal Mystery for the life of the world.

In the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Bishop Robert Alan Rimbo

Reclaiming our call as servant leaders

Mar 23, 2015

We in the church have used the phrase "servant-leadership" so often that it seems to have lost its impact. So let’s reclaim it. Let’s look to Jesus as a model for the kind of leader I want to be and want you to be.

I’m writing during Lent, while the story of our Lord’s temptation is fresh in my mind and heart. That story shows us some of the great temptations to leaders, like false pride and fear. These things make it easy to rely on ourselves and block God. Instead, Jesus points to God as the focus of our worship, the source of our security and self-worth, and the "audience" of our lives and our service.

Even if you do not view yourself as a "leader," God as our focus is essential for every believer’s life. You interact with others, you constantly make choices and decisions. With God as our focus and guide, we can be at our best and stay the course. ("Trust in the Lord and do not rely on your own insight…" Proverbs 3:5-8). This applies to every one of us, in all of our lives, and all of our decision-making.

I’m assuming that you who are reading this are Christian, and as a Christians, are seeking to keep Jesus as the central focus of your life. I’m assuming that we want to stop blocking God in our lives, and that all of us want to follow Jesus as our true leader.

Yet there are many things that prevent this following from truly happening. Chief among them are pride and fear, the two great temptations and distractions for servant leaders. They separate us from God. They keep us distant from other people. They even prevent us from truly knowing ourselves. Giving in to pride and fear prevents leadership from happening because they are breeding grounds for cloudy thinking and misdirected actions. Pride and fear always generate unhealthy judgments because they lead us to base our own lives on the successes or failures of others. Pride and fear always distort the truth into either a false sense of security or a lack of confidence and diminished self-worth.

Whenever anything becomes more important to you than God, you are in effect bowing to it, adoring it, giving yourself to it. In short, you worship that thing. It may be an object, such as money, a house, a business, or even a new job. It may be a desire for power, recognition, or even appreciation. It may be a habit, an obsession, or an addiction. The story of the temptation, among many things, reminds me that I have to choose what is most important to me: that thing, or a right relationship with God.

We are called to worship God above all, and to rely on God as the source of everything including our own self-esteem and security. Our Lord Jesus is the supreme example of this kind of servant-leadership.

Leadership begins with us on our knees before the God of all creation. In that place, pride and fear disappear and we realize again and again that we are called to serve. Then we can be true leaders.

Bishop Robert Alan Rimbo


This article originally appeared in the spring 2015 issue of The Lutheran New Yorker.


Safety during the storm

Jan 26, 2015

Dear Sisters and Brothers:


Walking with you in the light of Christ during these Epiphany days, I write with regard to the terrible weather we are projected to experience. I realize that I am not writing anything you don’t already know, but I want to encourage you in your ministry.


If projected snowfall totals and weather conditions are anywhere near being accurate, the level of disruption will be difficult for the typical family who is prepared and ready to hunker down. For the elderly, those living alone, or those without a place to even call home, this weather has the potential to be an insurmountable and deadly catastrophe. We must do all we can to help our neighbors who may be literally trapped in their homes or worse.


I invite you--pastors and lay leaders--to use social media, phone outreach, and any other means to engage the elderly, frail, and other neighbors in our communities who might be isolated. Please make sure that they are safe during the storm. 


We are committed to serving the community and doing God's work with our hands. Key to meeting that commitment is being a good neighbor and helping those who are in need. This unprecedented storm is set to place many in a position of vulnerability.


I hope we can provide help at this time, making it clear to those in need that they are not alone, that our pastors, lay leaders and concerned members are standing by to provide the assistance they need.


I pray for you and your ministry, especially in this time of crisis.


Bishop Robert Alan Rimbo


A call for reconciliation

Dec 22, 2014

"The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it." John 1:5

That statement is sometimes difficult for us to believe, yet it stands as the truth central to this holy season. I write to you, the congregations and leaders of the Metropolitan New York Synod with deep sorrow and with the request for your prayers.

On behalf of Lutherans in the New York City area, I extend sympathy and condolences to the families of Officer Liu and Officer Ramos who were murdered in Bedford-Stuyvesant this past Saturday. These tragic deaths weigh on my heart and soul. I ask all of you to pray for their families and their colleagues in the Police Department. I ask you, also, to pray for our civic leaders.

I pray the ancient words of hope for these two public servants: may they both rest in peace and may light perpetual shine upon them.  

This unprovoked, evil, irrational act on the part of Mr. Brinsley is beyond understanding. It points to the need for reason, compassion, love and wisdom in our dealing with all people. It calls us to work for reconciliation in our communities. It reminds us of our need for hope and light in our world.

Speaking on behalf of the Metropolitan New York Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, I offer the assurance of our prayers that peace and justice will prevail and the light will continue to shine in the darkness.




"La luz alumbra en la oscuridad, ¡y nada puede destruirla!" Juan 1:5


Esta declaración es en ocasiones difícil de creer, y sin embargo, prevalece como la verdad central de este temporada santa. Me dirijo a ti, a las congregaciones y a los líderes del Sínodo Metropolitano de Nueva York embargado por un profundo dolor y pidiendo por sus oraciones.


En nombre de los luteranos del área de Nueva York, quiero extender mis condolencias y simpatía a los familiares de los Oficiales Liu y Ramos, quienes fueron asesinados en Bedford-Stuyvesant este pasado sábado. Estas trágicas muertes pesan en mi corazón y alma. Les pido a todos ustedes que oren por sus familias y colegas del Departamento de Policía. Les pido, también, orar por nuestros líderes cívicos.


Rezo con las palabras antiguas de esperanza para estos dos funcionarios públicos: que ambos descansen en paz y que la luz perpetua brille sobre ellos.


Este acto irracional, malvado y sin provocación alguna por parte del señor Brinsley va más allá de nuestra comprensión. Apunta a la necesidad de razón, compasión, amor y sabiduría en nuestra forma de tratar con la gente. Nos llama a trabajar por una reconciliación entre nuestras comunidades. Nos recuerda de nuestra necesidad por esperanza y luz en nuestro mundo.


Hablando en nombre del Sínodo Metropolitano de Nueva York, miembro de la Iglesia Evangélica Luterana en América, les ofrezco el testimonio de nuestras oraciones de que la paz y la justicia prevalecerán y la luz continuará alumbrando en la obscuridad. 


Bishop Robert Alan Rimbo


Greeting shared at Misa – Our Lady of Guadalupe

Dec 11, 2014

Sion Iglesia Luterana
Saint Peter’s Church, Manhattan

Dear Sisters and Brothers,

I am very pleased to be with you this evening and to greet you on behalf of the congregations, pastors and leaders, and various ministries of the Metropolitan New York Synod.

It is always a pleasure to be welcome by the congregation here at Sion.

This is also a great opportunity fro me to recognize the Tenth Anniversary of Ordination of Padre Eduardo Fabian Arias.

These are very difficult days for all of us. I am, of course, aware of and troubled by the events in Ferguson and Staten Island, and I am deeply troubled by the deaths of students and the possible captivity of the 43 missing persons in Mexico.

With you, I join in saying "Ya Me Cansé –This Stops Today. I am tired of it."

The death of any person–especially when it is caused by agents of the state or the government–is very painful, whether in Mexico or in Palestine and Israel or in Missouri or in New York.

But you and I know that we follow Jesus Christ who faced such a death himself, and we know that his death ultimately led to resurrection and new life.

Jesus Christ promises the same new life to us, in the midst of our brokenness and our sorrow.

Tonight as we build this altar to remember victims of these tragedies, let us, above all, remember that Christ, the Son of God and the Son of the Blessed Virgin Mary, bring us life.

As we gather to celebrate this Misa, we will remember him and his great and never-failing love for us.

The peace of the Lord be with you always.



Queridas hermanas y hermanos,

Estoy muy contento de estar aquí entre ustedes y de saludarlos en nombre de las congregaciones, sus líderes y sus pastores, así como de varios ministros del Sínodo Metropolitano de Nueva York.

Cómo siempre, es un placer ser tan bien recibido por la comunidad de Sion.

Está es también una gran oportunidad para recordar el 10º Aniversario de Ordenación Pastoral del Padre Eduardo Fabián Arias.

Estos son tiempos muy difíciles para todos nosotros. Yo estoy, por supuesto, al tanto de los eventos sucedidos en Ferguson y Staten Island, y estoy especialmente consternado por las muertes de los estudiantes –o posible cautiverio– de los 43 desaparecidos en México.

Junto con ustedes, yo me uno al decir "Ya me cansé – This stops today. I am tired of it".

La muerte de cualquier persona –especialmente cuando ésta, es causada por agentes del estado o del gobierno– es en extremo dolorosa, ya sea en México o en Palestina e Israel, o en Missouri, o en Nueva York.

Pero ustedes y yo sabemos que nosotros seguimos a Cristo quién en sí mismo sufrió una muerte verdaderamente trágica, y sabemos que ultimadamente su muerte nos guía a la resurrección y a la vida nueva.

Jesús Cristo nos promete esa misma vida nueva a nosotros, en medio de todas nuestras tristezas y dolor.

Esta noche, al momento de construir este altar en memoria de las víctimas de estas tragedias, permitámonos sobre todo recordar que Cristo, el hijo de Dios y el hijo de la Santa Virgen María, nos brinda vida.

Al reunirnos ahora a celebrar esta misa, nosotros lo recordamos, así como al infalible gran amor que él nos tiene.

La paz del Seños esté siempre con ustedes.

Bishop Robert Alan Rimbo

A pastoral letter regarding racism

Dec 08, 2014

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ:


"A voice says, ‘Cry out!’


And I said, ‘What shall I cry?’"


Isaiah, in chapter 40, wasn’t the last person to ask that question. It’s a haunting, even troubling question in these particular Advent days. It’s hard to cry out when you can’t breathe.  


The events of these last days have come especially close to home. The decision surrounding the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, was one thing. I left the response to that sadness to our presiding bishop. But this decision, about the homicide of Eric Garner, was local, made by a grand jury on Staten Island, close to home, so close it is hard to breathe.   


What shall we cry?


"Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God," to be sure. But no matter whether we all agree on the question of justice in these cases, I think it is time for us to stand up, breathe deeply together, and stop simply talking about the racism that is profoundly present in our lives, our cities, our world, our church. It is time for us to lift up our voice with strength, as Isaiah says, but to do more than just talk about it. It is time to do more than simply cry.


This past Saturday, December 6, the Sent Committee of our strategic plan was in conversation with me about how that action in our synod might start. Next Tuesday, December 16, I will encourage our Synod Council to consider what next steps we should take. It is clear that the first step will be a Service for Justice the afternoon of January 17, 2015. The place is yet to be determined but we will announce that as soon as possible. This will be the first of a series of events designed to gather any and all members of our synod to take bold, new steps to address the horror of racism.


In the meantime, as your bishop and on behalf of our synod, I will participate in public forums to act and speak for racial justice. I invite you to let me know when such opportunities for public witness are scheduled. I realize that not everyone will agree with my stance; I believe I must act now.  


The closing verses of the first reading for the Second Sunday in Advent (Isaiah 40:1-11), encourage action: get up, lift up your voice, do not fear, say, see, feed, gather, carry, gently lead. That’s what we will do. I hope you will join me.


Bishop Robert Alan Rimbo


ELCA bishops’ statement on immigration announcement

Nov 21, 2014

As people of faith and leaders of the church, we support public policy that protects children, reunites families, and cares for the most vulnerable, regardless of their place of birth. 
The treatment of immigrants is a core religious value. To welcome the stranger is to welcome a child of God. In the New Testament, Jesus tells us to welcome the stranger, for "just as you did it to one of the least of these…you did it to me.’" (Matthew 25:40)


Each day in our congregations and in our service to the community, we see the consequences of this broken immigration system: separated families, children returning home to find their parents have been deported, and the exploitation of undocumented workers.
By removing the threat of deportation for many people, we are showing compassion for people who have been here for years, working hard to provide for their families, obeying the law, and contributing to the fabric of our community. 
While today’s action addresses a pressing need, it does not provide a path to citizenship, establish policies that prioritize family unity, or create more efficient channels for entry of new migrant workers. Our hope is that Congress will address these and related issues, including the practice of family detention, which undermines our values as a people of faith and a nation of welcome.
The Scriptures consistently show a significant concern for immigrants:

When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God. (Leviticus 19:33-34)

The positive role of immigrants in our history, economy and our community is unmistakable. We support this compassionate first step toward reforming an immigration system that is flawed and requires many of our neighbors to live in the shadows in fear. 
Conference of Bishops
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
November 20, 2014



Believe in God more than you believe in your fear

Nov 11, 2014

To follow Jesus is to encounter change. Call it repentance, the ancient word metanoia. It’s all about change, which is at the center of the challenging and hope-filled new ministries (as well as our long-standing ones) in which the Metropolitan New York Synod is engaged. But, truth be told, change causes the bile to increase, the acid reflux to be omnipresent. There are times when I think I should invest in antacid manufacturers. Change causes fear. And, in his typical fashion, at first glance Jesus is less than helpful.


He had and still has this vision to share with us, inviting us to follow him. In Matthew 16:24-25, Jesus tells us that if we are not afraid to lose our lives, we might be surprised to find them. And the cross of which he spoke was not a piece of jewelry; it was a means of execution and a form of intimidation. It reinforced the idea that death was the most awful thing in the world and that people with any sense at all should do everything in their power to avoid it.


Rather than running from them, our Lord Jesus tells us to pick up our crosses. There are worse things than death in the world and living in fear, including fear of change, is at the top of the list. If you are going to let fear rule your life, fear will become your god and the only standard for your behavior will be how much something scares you.


I am convinced that fear of change is the biggest obstacle we face in the church today.


Fear was not the only choice the disciples had, according to Jesus. And it’s not our only option either. Instead of surrendering themselves to their fear, they could surrender to God. They could deny the panic-stricken voice inside – the same one that keeps ordering us to play it safe and take no risks – and listen instead to the voice that says, "Do not fear. Follow me." That voice has never promised safety; it has always promised life. It has never offered freedom from pain; it has only offered freedom from fear.


And here are some of those challenges and changes which cause fear to well up in me and you.


Division within the church. Right? The days of the Corinthian correspondence, for example, are still present. We should not be surprised at dissension 20 centuries later--dissension, difference, disputes within the supremely human body of Christ. I have seen Christian people claw one another like cats in a sack. The email and letters I have received from good Christians would make your flesh crawl. Passion is great, folks; hate never is.


Division between religion and justice. There are still two great commandments: love God and love your neighbor. In a paradoxical country of wondrous wealth and unlimited promise, where one out of every five children grows up below the poverty line, where untold thousands of young people are incestuously abused, where our elders rummage for food in garbage cans, where crack and coke stunt minds and massacre bodies, where black and white continue to live in smoldering mistrust, God asks us again, "Where is your sister, your brother?"


Division, driven by fear, is pressing hard on us as we continue to move into the mission God has for us in our synod and people gnaw and gnarl rather than converse and console. The Christ who died for you, dear brother, dear sister, lives in you and in the man or woman next to you. Even when change makes little sense to you and causes great fear, let it not destroy the shalom in you and among us.


Our own crosses – and you know what they are, don’t you? – do not have much to do with standing up to the Roman government. But fear is timeless, and my guess is that each of us has something of which we are deathly afraid. Maybe it’s the fear of admitting an addiction of one kind or another that is eating away at your life. Maybe it’s the fear of tackling a memory that still has the power to suck the breath right out of you. Maybe it’s the fear of standing up for something you believe in, or telling the truth about who you are to people who are going to condemn you for it, or challenging others to walk together into the future. Maybe it’s the fear of discovering you have an illness that no medicine can cure, or that your child does, or your friend: whatever it is that scares you to death, so that you start offering to do anything, anything at all, if it will just go away – that’s your cross, and if you leave it lying there, it will kill you. If you turn away from it with the excuse that this should never have happened to you and you deserve better, then you deny God the chance to show you that there, right there in the dark night of your soul, there that cross is the door to life.


Jesus tells us to stop running from it. Start believing in God more than you believe in your fear. And follow.


Bishop Robert Alan Rimbo



Continuing to be part of the great mission of God

Jun 24, 2014

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ:

Grace and peace to you in the Name of the Lord of the Church. I pray that this summer is providing restful, thoughtful time for all of you as it is for me.

Since our Synod Assembly at the end of May, I have been praying and thinking about its impact on our life together. I am grateful that the assembly renewed the call to me and, because I trust in the work of the Holy Spirit, I know that we have great days and years ahead. We are all claimed, gathered, and sent for such a time as this and will continue to be part of the great mission of God.

I will be meeting for private conversations with the other candidates for bishop. We have been able to arrange those times and I look forward to learning from each of them. They are all gifts to the church and to our synod so I anticipate insight and guidance on how we can proceed and address their visions and concerns.

A post-assembly survey has been sent to all of you and I hope that you will respond to it and give guidance for our work and witness.

Implementation of the strategic plan continues. The response to the various initiatives introduced at the assembly has been very strong and gratifying.

The newly-elected members of the Synod Council meet for orientation this afternoon. This evening the entire Synod Council meets for their first post-assembly gathering. I am grateful for the new members and for all who remain.

Our synod staff continues to be active in our assistance to you. I am grateful that they are all able to remain and continue their service.

Today is the day the church commemorates the Birth of John the Baptist. The biblical passage which stands out for me today is not the one appointed in the lectionary, but one from John 3. In that passage, John refers to Jesus with the declaration "He must increase; I must decrease." That is our goal, too, to keep "increasing" Jesus Christ, crucified and risen. I am grateful that you join in that mission.

Sincerely in Christ,

Bishop Robert Alan Rimbo


Love governs all our relationships

Jun 09, 2014


Luke 1:39-57; Romans 12:9-16b

Preached at Synod Assembly

May 31, 2014

In one of the many wonders of the church’s calendar,

today, just a couple of days after we marked our Lord’s Ascension

and a week before we mark the Day of Pentecost,

we go back to the beginning in a sense

as we celebrate the Visit of Mary to Elizabeth,

the story that recounts how the pregnant Mary

went to visit her cousin Elizabeth

who was pregnant with John the Baptist,

which says that we also have tones of Advent

in our worship this afternoon.

We don’t often hear this story told,

but now, for two years running,

it has been the Gospel for one of our Assembly celebrations


of the Holy Communion.  

I’m glad for that.

Exactly one year ago today,

at the Opening Eucharist of our Synod Assembly,

I preached about how Mary and Elizabeth

demonstrate that we need each other.

That has not changed.

We still need each other.



Especially as God the Holy Spirit calls us

to ever-new ventures,

ever-new opportunities

to love.


I have always loved this story.

There is something so intimate, sacred, and profound about it.

In their mothers’ wombs,

babies are declaring that Jesus is the promised One…

Elizabeth utters words that will be recited over and over again

in the "Hail, Mary"

which we Lutherans don’t use so much

even though Martin Luther was devoted to the Mother of Our Lord…

and then, at the end of the Reading,

Mary sings a song that has been sung in thousands of ways

by thousands of communities

over thousands of years, the Magnificat.

As we will soon sing ourselves,

it’s unexpected and mysterious…

to say the least.


Because, see, all of this happens in the most unlikely context:

between two women who had little power,

one woman who is pregnant and unwed,

and another who is too old to be having children.


In these unlikely characters,

something revolutionary is taking place.


I have often wondered how much we miss about God

because we look in the wrong places.

We look in safe places.

We seek truth and intimacy with God

by consulting scholars or religious leaders.

We are so accustomed to experiencing God

in particular ways and places

that we can miss God speaking to us

or the Holy Spirit circling around us and stirring within us.


We are quick to label a kicking child as just a kicking kid –

not the Spirit speaking truth.


To encourage us to live in ways that access God

in unexpected and mysterious ways,

we get Paul’s words to the Romans.

It’s quite a list.

Paul knows that we often experience God in encounters with others,

in what Luther calls that mutual conversation and consolation

of brothers and sisters

to which we will be giving attention as a synod

over the next twelve months,


but also with those not valued by society or even by us,

those whom we would not necessarily name as brothers and sisters.


That reading from Romans

seems to be an unconnected series of commands,

a "rag bag" of miscellaneous exhortations,

things the Paul thought up on the spur of the moment.

But a closer examination

reveals how our need for one another

takes on flesh and blood and bone

as these verses declare what love looks like in the Christian life

with the central message that love governs all our relationships.


Let love be genuine;


hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good;


love one another with mutual affection;


outdo one another in showing honor.


Do not lag in zeal,


be ardent in spirit,


serve the Lord.


Rejoice in hope,


be patient in suffering,


persevere in prayer.


Contribute to the needs of the saints;


extend hospitality to strangers.




Bless those who persecute you;


bless and do not curse them.


Rejoice with those who rejoice,


weep with those who weep.


Live in harmony with one another;


do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly.


With Mary, the Mother of Our Lord and Elizabeth her cousin,

with Paul and Luke and Luther,

with you gathered in this Assembly,

with all who have been and will be engaged

with our synod’s Strategic Plan for God’s mission –


you knew I would get there eventually, right? –

we know that it’s all about relationships

and the love of God that governs and guides them.


The most powerful characteristic of any congregation

and, by extension,

the most powerful characteristic of any synod,

of the whole church is this:

that we love one another!

The world pines for this.

People are drawn to this.

When visitors and strangers are asked

what they are looking for in a church home,

the answer is nearly always the same:


Not just a friendly bunch of people,

not just a relevant church

or a church with plenty of programs,

not even a church that takes the Bible seriously

or is faithfully Lutheran,

and, I can’t believe I’m saying this,

not even a congregation

that celebrates the Eucharist every Sunday.

As good and essential as those things are,

they don’t touch the deepest desire of people:

they want to be loved, truly and deeply,

and they’ll do the darnedest things to get that,

like join a congregation.

When people find such a place,

one filled with love,

they stand in line to get in.



God helps us grow in this love

by putting us in situations that force us to practice it.

God calls us to love by dealing with unlovely people.

I have seen it happen between spouses and partners,

parents and children,

between co-workers, neighbors, colleagues,

and students and relatives.

I have seen it happen between congregation members

who couldn’t stand each other.

I have seen people who start out disliking each other

end up as dearest friends.

Because it’s God’s love that binds us together,


not our own. 


Knowing what we know about how God works –

revealing truth in unexpected ways

and through unexpected people –

our invitation today is to be a people actively seeking God

in those unexpected and mysterious places.  

We will risk scary encounters.

We will cast seed where it’s unlikely to grow.

We will step out of comfort zones.

We will be attentive always.

Because when we do,

the reality of God’s revelation is an awesome ride.

When that happens,

along with Mary,

we will see the world differently


and we will declare the Mighty One has done great things,


shown strength,


scattered the proud,


brought down the powerful,


lifted up the lowly,


filled the hungry with good things,


sent the rich away empty,


helped us and all the world in mercy.


Let’s practice this love

for such a time as this.



Bishop Robert Alan Rimbo


Let us pray

Jun 01, 2014

Dear friends in Christ, 


Thanks be to God for our time together at Synod Assembly, a vital occasion in the life and mission we share as a synod. Our assembly affirmed both particular key initiatives for implementing our strategic plan, as well as the team that has been assembled to carry out that work of implementation. Our assembly also revealed that the great gift of diversity in our synod comes with differences of opinion and strong feelings about those differences.


With all of this in mind as we embark on new initiatives for mission, I urge each and every one of you to join in common prayer during the coming weekend of Pentecost by using or creatively adapting the resources for worship and prayer available at www.mnys.org/growinginfaith.


Recalling Jesus' own prayer for his disciples in the Gospel for Easter 7--"Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one" (John 17:11b)--I, too, pray that the Holy Spirit will bring us more deeply together in shared mission for such a time as this.


Sincerely in Christ,


Bishop Robert Alan Rimbo



God's faithfulness

Apr 15, 2014

Preached at the 2014 Chrism Mass

Genesis 12:1-4a


In the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


The Sermon for Chrism Mass is always a highlight for my preaching life. This year is no different.


So at the outset I want to tell you that I hope to preach about our call to ministry, first, as the baptized, and then as pastors, synodically-authorized deacons, musicians, associates in ministry, deaconesses and diaconal ministers.


This theme has been wandering around in my soul since I heard the first reading on the Second Sunday in Lent, Genesis 12:1-4a, which has just been read again. I’ve been thinking quite a bit about Abram/Abraham and Sarai/Sarah lately. It might be because of my developing friendship with leaders in the Jewish and Muslim communities, or maybe the conference I just hosted and attended that had to do with the problem of anti-Semitic readings in our lectionary, or maybe because I have recently engaged in some heavy-duty personal discernment about God’s call. You do the same kind of discernment periodically. I know it.


In one way or another, perhaps dramatic, more likely, simple, God has said to each of us "Go" – from places you have called home, from loving relationships, from a particular community of faith, to only God knows where, finally. And you have done it, and will likely do it again.


You go in faith as Abram goes where he is called, trusting that God will open the future for him. The journey – his own Lent, if you will – was not easy. It was filled with setbacks, obstacles, mistakes, disobedience to the promise, and sin – yet there were still good outcomes and faithfulness. Or, better, God was always faithful to him. Abraham trusted that God would keep God’s promises. And God did just that. If he had been able to see the future clearly with the kind of clear outcomes we all crave then it would not have been faith – because faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen [Hebrews 11:1].


You are leaders in the church because you trust that God uses the church for God’s good purposes. Like Abraham we go from our comfort zones to a world of many cultures and religions, evidenced so strongly in this synod. And like Abraham we worship the God of Israel whom we know through the revelation of Jesus.

Our context, as with Abraham, is also filled with challenges and obstacles – a world that is distrustful of institutions and the church; a world that is racing to find economic equilibrium beset with profound economic inequities; a world that is racist and a church that is racist. God sends Abraham and Sarah – and us – on a journey in this world – not away from it – a world of tribes in conflict, division within families, a world of idols.


"Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness" it says later in Genesis [15:6]. He responded to God’s promises in trust and faith.


This is a remarkable reading, a remarkable story for us as we move forward in this Holy Week. Having been called to this ministry beginning with our baptism, some of us stopped by in seminary or diakonia classes or divinity school or Sunday school or Bible class, like Abraham in Haran, to prepare for where God was going to call us. God prepared us for this ministry in rather ordinary ways and invited us to trust that we would be accompanied and comforted by the presence of God in extraordinary ways. As God was revealed to Abraham, God also is revealed to us in the means of grace. That’s a message which we in public leadership in the church need to hear again and again and our strategic plan is focusing on those means of grace in the years to come.


You know that world God loves already. And I fully expect that you will discover it again this week for the first time. Just as Abraham regularly returned to Haran, so we return, this week, to those central things we know as the paschal mystery, that God loves you and the world so much that God gave the only begotten son.


With the burden of this ministry which we share, Abraham can be an example to us. He hung around the Oaks of Mamre, sure, but he also built altars to Yahweh everywhere and learned – better: trusted – that God would be there for him wherever he pitched his tent.


That trust God reckoned to him as righteousness. In the Abrahamic stories one sees a regular pattern of engagement with others as a businessperson managing possessions, as the leader of an extended family, and in relationships with power centers all around him. But then he withdraws to worship.


Isn’t that so for us, too? God sends you out into this world that God loves and has redeemed – to the faithful and the unfaithful, the nones, those disenchanted with the church or harmed by the church; to those who are confused and affluent like Abraham and Sarah; those who are in the struggling middle classes; those in the growing ranks of people living in poverty. It is to this world that we are called.


As Paul says, God even justifies the ungodly as a way to drive us beyond our church buildings and our congregations, beyond our offices and computers, to those whom we would never want to serve and save, those to whom God offers and gives rebirth. Paul himself knew what it was like to be called to take the Gospel beyond safety. This week and throughout our ministry we are reminded that God gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. This God, in Christ, is the One who, this week, is lifted up – lifted up by you, dear friends – lifted up on the cross with the ungodly and draws all things together through the ministry which you offer. Consider that.


I was reflecting on this when Sarah Gioe led our synod staff worship on the day of commemoration for Oscar Romero, Archbishop of San Salvador, who was brutally murdered while saying mass on March 24, 1980. Sarah shared with us a piece written by the late Roman Catholic bishop of Sagniaw, Michigan, Kenneth Untener, another remarkable leader like you. Bishop Untener wrote in memory of Archbishop Romero words that had an impact on me and I trust will also have an impact on you.


It helps now and then to step back and take a long view.

The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts,

it is beyond our vision.


We accomplish in our liftetime only a fraction

of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work.

Nothing we do is complete, which is another way of

saying that the kingdom always lies beyond us.

No statement says all that could be said.

No prayer fully expresses our faith. No confession

brings perfection, no pastoral visit brings wholeness.

No program accomplishes the Church’s mission.

No goals and objectives include everything.


This is what we are about. We plant the seeds that one

day will grow. We water the seeds already planted

knowing that they hold future promise.

We lay foundations that will need further development.

We provide yeast that produces effects

far beyond our capabilities.


We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of

liberation in realizing this.

This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.

It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning,

a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord’s

grace to enter and do the rest.

We may never see the end results, but that is the

difference between the master builder and the worker.


We are workers, not master builders, ministers,

Not messiahs. We are prophets of a future not our own.


God who was faithful to someone as complex and irascible as Abraham, this God who raised Jesus from the dead, will be faithful to you – continuing to call you to serve and promising to be present to you wherever you will pitch your tent. Continuing to call you in ordinary ways but for an extraordinary calling. Coming to you now in this Holy Eucharist to refresh and renew you in faith and to remind you that this God is faithful.


Bishop Robert Alan Rimbo

What is good and right and true

Apr 06, 2014

On Sunday, March 30, the Fourth Sunday in Lent, I heard startling words in worship: "Once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light – for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true" (Ephesians 5:8). They were startling for two reasons in particular: they were read in the midst of Lent when I have often felt burdened and not enlightened, and I heard them in worship in Washington, D.C., where I was working for what is good and right and true with other leaders of the ELCA and with elected leaders and their colleagues.

Lent is at least partly about getting us to focus our vision in the right direction. As one of the antiphons prayed in Lent says, "Turn my eyes from watching what is worthless; give me life in your ways" (Psalm 119:37). I spend a lot of time thinking about, attending to, the wrong things. I’m often looking in the opposite direction of where I should be looking.

How do I stop that? How do we stop that?

The gospel reading I heard last Sunday, immediately after hearing the Ephesians encouragement, was the story of how Jesus gave sight to a blind man and how that became the occasion of the Pharisees becoming morally and spiritually sightless themselves. The blind man knows is limitations. The Pharisees are blissfully unaware of their own. For St. John, Jesus is the light of the world and the tragic part of the story centers on the increasing inability of the religious and secular authorities to perceive the truth he represents, the truth he is. The Pharisees and the Romans think they see quite clearly. But they judge with human criteria; they do not see as God sees. They are trapped in their own self-congratulatory narrative. They are not open to what God is doing now in the world around them.

What might it look like for us to have life in God’s ways, to see clearly what God wants us to see? If we shift our attention to Jesus, we become both joyous and free. If we keep our eyes on Jesus, we might just become like him. And that is the goal of the Christian life. Jesus shows us the good life which we will never see if we are "watching what is worthless." Jesus is just and loving and compassionate. He cares about the poor. He is a healer. His table fellowship gathers everyone – even the outcast and the disreputable – into a community of wholeness and blessing and love. Jesus lives an abundant life in the midst of scarcity. He knows who he is, what he needs, and how to live creatively with other people in God’s world. What we want to be, when we’re honest with ourselves, is like Jesus – joyously alive in the life God offers and intends for us all. And the best way to be like Jesus is to direct our attention toward him – as he is revealed in the means of grace. Over a lifetime of looking at and listening to Jesus, we will be made into the people God intends us to be.

That’s what Lent is about.

Bishop Robert Alan Rimbo

Pope Francis and public relations

Mar 24, 2014

I’ve been thinking quite a bit about Pope Francis on the first anniversary of his election and as I have been part of a CNBC panel regarding his influence. I’m guessing I’m not alone in this: for those of us in the clergy--regardless of the communion--it has been a wonder to watch Pope Francis seize the attention of hundreds of millions of people, both within the Roman Catholic Church and far beyond. Without changing so much as a single word of centuries-old Roman Catholic dogma, he has altered the perception of the church; he has leveraged much of the imagery of the papacy, traditional news outlets, 21st-century social media and his own charismatic personality to launch a public relations campaign that I believe is unprecedented in history.

Pope Francis has, in the words of media consultants, "stayed on message" when speaking of how the church needs to minister to its faithful today and has side-stepped implacable issues that include same-sex marriage, birth control, celibacy, and the continuing sex scandal that has roiled so many. Apparently borrowing from political campaign managers, the pope has even introduced polling to get a better idea of what the faithful are thinking and believing. For a hierarchy that has historically dictated the tenets of the faith this is, frankly, breathtaking.


Pope Francis is not the first to embrace emerging forms of communication to connect with the faithful. It is easy to make the case that Martin Luther successfully used moveable type and the new-fangled printing press. Various Christian denominations in the United States took advantage of radio during the 1920s. Pope Pius XI inaugurated Vatican Radio on February 13, 1931 although his address was in Latin (which may have reduced its impact on his global audience).


What is unique and instructive about Pope Francis is his integrated approach to theological messaging, a strategy that appeals to an audience sophisticated in the ways of our Information Age.

There are lessons and questions for many of us. Years ago, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America addressed many of the issues that continue to create schism among our Roman Catholic sisters and brothers. We launched a task force which, over the course of a years-long process, crafted a Social Statement on Human Sexuality. Most of the document is a non-controversial, comprehensive, Biblically-based understanding of human sexuality. However the task force was also given the charge to bring forward possible changes in policies on what we call "rostered ministry" – our professional church-workers, ordained and lay. We have worked with and continue to work with a direct question, "Can persons with homosexual orientation who are in publically-committed relationships serve in the rostered leadership of our church?"

Members of the ELCA examined the issues and after much spirited debate agreed that the answer was yes. Our church, while recognizing a wide variety of opinions and not forcing any congregation or pastor to do so, now officially welcomes the opportunity for same-gender marriages in our churches and by our pastors. We believe we are all part of God’s unfolding plan. All of this historic activity occurred without a public relations initiative designed to promote, project, or publicize this progressive shift in the world of evangelical Lutherans.  I wonder, though, if in a global society that consumes information, and where the Pope’s "PR offensive" can shift opinions even if canon law remains unchanged, we may have missed an opportunity and done ourselves a disservice by merely issuing the document as a matter of course and passing resolutions. Put more positively, I wonder if this might be a matter of ongoing work for us in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

What Pope Francis's actions may be suggesting is that substance has now become just part of the equation for those 21st century religions seeking to connect with congregants who can text while waiting for communion or Instagram a baptism or a preacher. By altering not the substance but the perception, Pope Francis has demonstrated the skills, tools, and "messaging" that can erode one of the reasons for the Reformation. For me, and I think for many within the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Rome’s very impressive PR campaign may be opening the door to ongoing, continual reform and may write another chapter in the history of Reformation, one that compels us to turn away from manufactured imagery to embrace yet again a church that is willing to rely on God’s Spirit and God’s grace to take it forward together. Some additional friends on various social networks wouldn't hurt either.


Bishop Robert Alan Rimbo


Sermon for Reformation/Reconciliation Mass

Oct 24, 2013

Sermon for the Reformation/Reconciliation Mass at The General Theological Seminary, New York City

Sisters and Brothers in Christ: I am so grateful to Dean Dunkle, friends here at General Theological Seminary, those who have been planning this liturgy especially Pastor Jared Stahler of our synod’s Worship Committee, Dr. Tom Schmidt and the lovely group of musicians, and all who are leading this assembly in worship today. It is good to be with you and I look forward to ever-increasing partnerships between this community and the Metropolitan New York Synod. I preach in the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Lutherans have a well-founded reputation for making a big deal about Reformation Day. So we seized the opportunity to gather here at General for a Lutheran High Mass for Reformation Day. Most people call it Halloween, but not us. We even have provision for it to be transferred to the Sunday before—this coming Sunday—just to be sure we get it in every year. And, even more troubling to me, we have a worldwide reputation for this. Several years ago, Lois and I had occasion to worship on October 31 at Evensong at Salisbury Cathedral. We were actually there to pay homage to Susan Howatch—one of our favorite authors—but loved worshiping with Anglican sisters and brothers on Reformation Day. The dean preached a fine homily, and after the Office, I greeted him, told him I was a Lutheran bishop, and that I found his sermon compelling. "You should have preached," he said, to which I quickly responded, "No, thank you."

Frankly, I don’t like Reformation Day. I much prefer re-focusing on Reconciliation. The danger Lutherans face in marking Reformation without Reconciliation is we so often pat ourselves on the back that we come dangerously close to dislocating our shoulders. Since it was decided to mark Reformation/Reconciliation today, I’ve thought back over listening to Reformation Day sermons for over 60 years and preaching nearly 40 years of them. I find them, often—including when I’ve preached them—to be exercises in self-aggrandizement.

Let me give a few examples of the type of sermons I have heard and preached.

One type is the psychological-existential-biographical sermon. The content of this type of Reformation sermon often focuses on Martin Luther and explores the various aspects of his personality and many of his personal issues, such as: his rather strained relationship with his father; his existential angst focusing on his fear of God the angry judge; his fear of death; his guilty conscience; his struggles with depression; his battles with the demonic; and so on. This type of sermon can be rather entertaining. Luther was certainly a colorful person. The most obvious problem is that it is too Luther-centered and often not enough Christ-centered.

The second type is the historical-sociological-ecclesiological sermon. It usually focuses on the events and trends of the Reformation age: the corruption of the Roman Catholic Church with its teaching and preaching and selling of indulgences, using the catchy sales pitch ditty, "When the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs." They often focus on superstitions and lack of literacy among many church-folk, including the parish priests of that day. Or they might look at the implications of the invention of the printing press and moveable type or the growing nationalism in Germany as key factors in shaping the Reformation, which they were. Or, they explore the increasing antagonism towards Rome and the elaborate building of St. Peter’s Basilica. Honest preachers might focus on the darker, more crotchety and embarrassing side of Luther, speaking of his anti-Semitism; in his less enlightened moments, he advocated the burning of Jewish synagogues and books, and the expulsion of Jews from Germany. This kind of preaching can also explore Luther’s alliances with the nobility and his counsel to them during the Peasants’ Revolt to kill and destroy the peasants.

That provides the historical, sociological and ecclesiological setting of the Reformation, and it can be informative, sometimes fun and on occasion even helpful. But one of the problems is that we become so preoccupied with analyzing the archives that the sermon no longer is a sermon but an academic lecture.

The third type is the theological-biblical-practical sermon. This type points to Luther’s most significant contribution to Christianity, that created a Copernican revolution in the world of theology, a contribution to which I am personally committed to claiming and reclaiming. It’s called The Theology of the Cross and I commend it to you.

The predominant scholastic theology of the day was what Luther called the "Theology of Glory." And it was by no means restricted to his day. The basic premise is what you can hear in all kinds of TV commercials, political campaigns speeches, and much of the rhetoric of the evangelical right: God rewards human beings but only when they deserve it by doing their very best, by working their hardest, by achieving their greatest goals—only then would God stoop down and reward them with grace.

Luther turned that on its head proclaiming a "Theology of the Cross." Since this is a seminary, I commend to you two books by Canadian Reformed theologian, Douglas John Hall: The Cross in Our Context and a recent collection of essays, Waiting for Gospel. Perhaps we can talk more about these recommendations later, but suffice it to say that Luther’s premise was this: we can do nothing to deserve God’s grace. But, at our very lowest, when we’ve failed, sinned, doubted, and struggled, and feel farthest away from God, God in the incarnate and crucified Christ is with us to forgive, love and accept us unconditionally. God in Christ removed and still removes the burden of our sins from us and takes them on by dying on the cross. Luther’s theological discovery was, and still is, a refreshing way of reading Scripture. He felt oppressed by the condemning, law-oriented words of the Bible because, as he said, lex semper accusat, "the Law always accuses." Then he began to read Scriptures in such a way as to awaken him to all of God’s promises, to realize the powerful message of Gospel: that God’s lavish love for us in Christ is unconditional, immeasurable, eternal. I suspect that, once you find this compelling theology of the cross to be true, you will discover that you are a closet Lutheran and you’re not very deep in the closet. It all comes down to one word: Gospel. That’s what I continue to be waiting for, what I believe all of you are waiting for, what the world is waiting for:

It’s what St. Paul was writing about in today’s reading from Romans. No one can ever be made right with God simply by meeting criteria or doing good things. The more we know about what God wants of us, the clearer it becomes that we aren’t able to achieve that. We try and try to be what we think God wants us to be, but we sink more deeply in failure and frustration. And when we do that, God in Christ reaches out to us, and lifts us up. God says to us, "I accept you and declare you ‘Not Guilty’ for the sake of Jesus Christ."

I know what you’re thinking because I think it, too, every day. It’s too easy. There’s got to be more to it than that. There has to be more. But there isn’t. God’s gift is wonderful: Your sins—all of them—are forgiven. You already are OK in God’s sight. And be sure to note this and note it well: It’s no-strings-attached-radical gospel. Since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, all are justified by God’s grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus.

That’s breathtaking. God justifies all who cannot justify themselves, which means everyone, because that’s what God does. We remember not how much we have sinned but rather how much God has forgiven us.

Let me say it one more time, dear ones, sisters and brothers: My deepest sorrow is that we so easily forget the new life that is ours, we so readily lose touch with God’s grace. So I am grateful for this day, this community, this celebration. It summons to the surface of my soul once again awareness of the grace of God’s love for the one Church, for the whole world, and for each of us. God is our God and we are God’s people, gifted with grace and love.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Bishop Robert Alan Rimbo


Always being made new

Aug 22, 2013

I love assemblies, even those I have the privilege of chairing! And I loved being in Pittsburgh for the 2013 Churchwide Assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. A major part of the reason I love synod and churchwide assemblies is the palpable presence of the Holy Spirit I feel in those gatherings. Truly.

We were served by the presence of these voting members – among the 952 total voting members – from our Metropolitan New York Synod: Pr. William Baum; Pr. Perucy Butiku; Ms. Christine Connell, Diaconal Minister; Ms. Maria Del Toro, Synod Vice-President (who had to leave early and was replaced by Ms. Lois Rimbo); Dcn. Meg Fielding; Mr. John Heidgerd; Ms. Elizabeth Hoffmann; Pr. Brenda Irving; Pr. Kathleen Koran; Dcn. Paul Lumpkin; Dcn. John Malone; Pr. Craig Miller; Ms. Marie Plaisir; Dcn. John Prosen; Mr. Marc Stutzel; Dcn. Anita Williams; and Bishop Robert Rimbo.

I always remind voting members before the assembly that they are there to vote according to their consciences; they are not "representatives" of their home congregations, their families, or their synod. With that kind of openness, very interesting things happen. And it was so in Pittsburgh.

I know that you have already seen reports from our Churchwide Assembly in our synod e-letter and through other sources, but I want to offer some reflections from my point of view.

The Rev. Elizabeth A. Eaton, bishop of the Northeastern Ohio Synod, was elected presiding bishop. This was a surprise to many, including me, because I expected that Bp. Mark Hanson would be re-elected to a third term. I want to tell you that I did not sense, nor do I sense now, that it was a vote against Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson. I believe the assembly was simply doing its work, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and in prayerful deliberation. I count Bp. Eaton among my friends (as I count Bp. Hanson); I am personally pleased with this election.   

Pr. Wm. Chris Boerger, former bishop in Seattle who completed that ministry (after twelve years) because of term limits in that synod, was elected secretary of this church. I have known Chris for years and believe he will serve us well, filling the shoes of David Swartling who will, in an interesting turn of events, move back to Seattle.

We adopted a social statement on criminal justice, The Church and Criminal Justice: Hearing the Cries. I am pleased with the statement and especially pleased that the assembly amended it to include specific material with regard to gun violence. It calls us to ministry to those affected in every way by criminal activity – offender and victim, law enforcement officers and court officials – and recommits us to working at correcting our flawed criminal justice system.

We enthusiastically supported the continuation of the Book of Faith initiative which encourages us to continue to become "fluent" in the language of Scripture and engage in Bible study in every possible way.

The assembly also adopted a proposal for the ELCA’s first major fundraising campaign, approved the churchwide budget for fiscal years 2014-2016, and elected people to serve on a great variety of committees.

I have often said that the true "business" of any assembly is done in the hallways, at the tables of shared meals, and in one-to-one conversations. That was clearly the case for this wonderful assembly. But what was more clear to me than at any previous Churchwide Assembly was the centrality of our daily worship and our frequent praying. There was a sense of being "settled" and pleased to be together, gathered at the Lord’s Table and at our various tables. I return from this church assembly with a great sense of well-being for our Evangelical Lutheran Church in America which is always being made new.

Bishop Robert Alan Rimbo

Pastoral letter on race in the wake of the Trayvon Martin murder trial

Aug 12, 2013


Sisters and Brothers in Christ:


As you know, I have made an effort to be transparent in my communications with you and my leadership as your bishop. Sometimes it is easier to do than other times. This letter is coming to you at a time when it is difficult.


I was personally shocked by the results of the trial of George Zimmerman, murderer of young Trayvon Martin. I know many of you shared that shock. Yet I was slow in responding to it in any public way because the justice system seemed to work legally. (Remember: this is the opinion of one person with which many would disagree.)


Two things about this case particularly trouble me.


First, the "sign" it is of what I know to be abuse of power. I am not accusing the judge or jury of this abuse. I am saying that the murder of any person is, ultimately, a matter of misuse of power.


Second, and most important for us as the church, is the ongoing racism that infects our society and our various communities, including the church. So I invite you into a conversation about this set of issues.


I point you to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s social statement, Freed in Christ: Race, Ethnicity, and Culture which was adopted by the Churchwide Assembly in 1993. But more than simply directing you toward that statement, I would invite you to use it as a guide for continuing conversation in your congregations and your homes.


I am also asking the Synod Council to give thought to how we might, together, address the reality of racism in our own synod in a more direct way. This is in keeping with our Strategic Plan, especially the Sent Committee. I expect that we will also work with our synod’s Multicultural Commission, our synod’s Working Group for Racial, Ethnic and Cultural Sensitivity and Awareness, and our ethnic ministry groups toward this goal of greater understanding of the wonderful gift of diversity.


I also realize that one of the "charges" brought against the Lutheran church is that we over-study and do not act. So I am hoping that the Synod Council and these other leaders will help me and all of us toward a more active response to the racism that surrounds us.


This does not help undo what I see as a terrible tragedy, the death of Trayvon Martin. It does not address what I consider to be an injustice of a broken legal system. But I hope that, in some small way, we as the church can help address the unrest it has rightly caused and work toward the common good of all people.


Bishop Robert Alan Rimbo



We need each other.

May 31, 2013

Luke 1:39-57

Tarrytown, New York 


Dear Friends, Sisters and Brothers in Christ, I am so happy to see all of you as we gather for our Synod Assembly. And to prove that, I am going to tell you the point of this sermon in one statement so you can feel free to be distracted, even this early in the assembly, and maybe even take a little nap, even this early in the day, as we anticipate the work ahead of us. Here is what I am going to say to you: We need each other. That’s it. That’s the message at the beginning of our time together. That’s the message of this Gospel on this Day commemorating the Visit of Mary and Elizabeth. We need each other.


I imagine Elizabeth felt that way when Mary showed up. After years of unanswered prayers and living with the pain of infertility, suddenly, in her old age – I’m picturing a Palestinian Dame Maggie Smith here – suddenly Elizabeth was pregnant! Nobody but her husband Zechariah knew it, however. Nobody knew that this child, John the Baptist, was to herald the coming of the Messiah, the Christ. 


In fact, for five months, Elizabeth had been in seclusion; if you want to check out my sources, read all of Luke, Chapter 1. It’s quite a story. But, in spite of the wonder of her news, and the fact that her husband, Zechariah, who was a member of the clergy unable to speak – what a curse, huh? – Elizabeth was pretty-much alone. See, Zechariah was speechless ever since he received word of the pending birth because he had been reluctant to trust in the promise and the angel Gabriel was a little ticked off about that. So for five months, Elizabeth seldom heard the sound of a human voice. Imagine that! 


Imagine how welcome Mary’s visit was! How joyous her arrival! And Elizabeth was a welcome sight to her relative Mary, too. Mary was in the early stages of her unexpected pregnancy, and it wasn’t problem-free either (to say the least). Things were not happening in the order in which things were supposed to happen for a young woman. She was a teenager, promised in marriage to a man named Joseph, but they were not married. So Mary (again, to say the least) was perplexed at the angel’s announcement. There must have been some wind storms with all those angel-wings flying around the country! 


"How can this pregnancy be?" she asked. "It’s a God thing," the angel answered! "OK" was pretty much Mary’s response. 


But many unanswered questions remained. What will Joseph think? What will the neighbors say? How will I handle morning sickness? Imagine the gossip that will go around when the baby-bump shows? How will she, a young mother, help raise this child who will be called "Son of God"? What did she need to do to help him with his strategic plan, help him get ready for his mission? If her own calling was big, her child’s calling was awesome! This makes Will and Kate’s pregnancy look insignificant. 


But Mary did not go into seclusion like her cousin. She didn’t stay home reading, like many Medieval paintings show. She packed a bag and left on a journey of many miles from Galilee to Judea to visit her older, wiser relative, Elizabeth.


How good it was to lay eyes on Elizabeth who was kin not only physically but spiritually. Of all people, Elizabeth would understand what was happening to Mary. Elizabeth understood this business of being called by God – and the promises and the problems that come with God’s call.  What a gift it was for Mary and for Elizabeth to have each other!


We come together in this assembly, and I look at all of you, and I wonder: How can people manage without a spiritual family, a family of faith? I know I couldn’t do it. Though I have never given birth, never been literally pregnant - though Lois can attest to the fact that I was pretty much a basket case during those months of waiting, I can understand what Mary was reaching out for. You and I know what it’s like to have a community backing us up, prayerfully, and in so many other ways. It’s good to celebrate our joys together. It’s comforting not to have to carry all that sad stuff alone. 


Mary’s voice was more than music to Elizabeth’s ears. Just then, before she even saw Mary, just at the sound of her greeting, her baby leaped and the Holy Spirit let loose, and Elizabeth cried out with joy. Something big is happening here! God is up to something! Mary’s eyes met Elizabeth’s eyes, and Elizabeth proclaimed "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb." You are blessed, Mary, because you trusted what God said, because you believed in God’s faithfulness, because you grabbed on to the promise. God is doing great things through you, girl! Not exactly what Elizabeth said, but close.


Talk about encouragement! Talk about a benediction from an elder, well along on life’s journey and on the journey of faith!


And then…then Mary broke out in song, one of the greatest songs of hope in the Scriptures. It comes out of the mouth not of a wealthy ruler but out of one most lowly, an unmarried teenage girl in a society that saw women as property, a song of hope from the mouth of a peasant from a tiny village overshadowed by the most wealthy and powerful empire the world had ever known to that time. 


"I magnify God. God has done great things for me. God is lifting up the lowly, the weak, the small, the sick, the hungry, the powerless. God is scattering the proud and the big and the wealthy. God is turning things around, turning my life around, turning the world around." 


Mary’s song is good news for us, for everybody who is on the underside, for everybody who is on the outside. 


How could she have such hope when the child hadn’t even been born yet, when there was still so much anxious pain around, when the rich and the powerful still seemed to lord it over everybody else? She sang it all in the present tense, as though everything is already fulfilled. How can she do that? I really think it’s pretty simple. 


Mary knows the theme of this sermon: We need each other. I don’t think it’s any accident that Mary’s outburst of hope comes right after she gets encouragement and benediction from Elizabeth. What we have here is the very first assembly of the church of Jesus Christ, the very first instance of two people gathering in his name, as he would later put it. Two of the weakest members of society helping one another grasp what God is doing and celebrate it. They are a community of praise. They are a community of hope. Christ is right smack dab in the midst of them, changing both of their lives as hope is born and community is created. 


Mary and Elizabeth knew what we know and what we will experience in this assembly: We need each other!


Sure, unanswered questions remained. Mary didn’t know all that lay ahead for herself or for her Son. There would be struggle, for sure. But she got a glimpse of where God was going with this plan and these promises. 


Sisters and Brothers, hope is born in a community gathered around the promises of God, encouraging and blessing one another. You know that! That’s why you’re here. 


Oh, I suspect that some of you got elected as voting members when you left the council meeting to go to the bathroom, but the fact is you know, or you soon will know, what it means to be part of this amazing community of God’s people, the church, seen today in this assembly. You know this! When one person’s hope slips, the others in the community hold on to the hope and they hold on to the person and we all share the power to help one another hang in there. We are a living, breathing benediction to one another and to the world. 


That’s why we need each other, why we need to get together again and again in assembly and in our weekly assemblies for worship. That’s why we visit one another and study the Bible together and talk and pray and work and play and sing and even argue with one another. We are waiting for God together. We are clinging to God’s promises together. 


We are pregnant, expecting God to act because we have heard the promise of salvation and healing and we have experienced it embodied in Jesus Christ. We need each other. We need help holding on to the promises. We are like Mary and Elizabeth, keeping hope alive by rejoicing with those who rejoice and weeping with those who weep and expecting the presence of the One who promises to be around whenever two or three are gathered in his name. We need each other, to remind each other that God’s love will never, ever, under any circumstances be taken away from us or from the world. Knowing that God’s heart aches for a better day even more than our hearts do, we gather here, meet one another, 

warm and empower one another, bless one another and go on. 


Mary hurried to Elizabeth’s side. Dear people of God, let’s do the same with one another: visit, strengthen, comfort, care for each other and hurry because God is waiting for us to sing: "My soul magnifies the Lord."


Bishop Robert Alan Rimbo



The cross everywhere, every day

Mar 27, 2013

Luke 9:18-24


Preached at our synod's Chrism Mass

The cross is the head of a procession leading to everywhere…birth to death, death to birth… from the moment gentle fingers trace a blessing on the forehead of the baby newborn and reborn…the cross etched in ashes and the cross traced in healing…from a child’s hand learning to begin praying by marking a pattern "in the Name" and wondering whether left to right or right to left makes a difference to the God who hears us even before we speak…

The cross is everywhere…solemnly leading Pope Francis to the edge of the balcony on the day of his election…guiding our footsteps as we have journeyed this Lent, for example, and throughout this life in general…it is everywhere as we look upon the One whom we have pierced, as Zechariah says, the many pierced…

The cross is everywhere. For who has not seen row upon row, cross upon cross, to tell of one death and many, whether named or unknown, as we pray for God’s angels to come and bring home a beloved to Abraham’s bosom. The cross, everywhere, from tenderness of young fingers to blisters from physical labor to wrinkles that reveal a life of many crosses.  

The message about the cross is what we proclaim, so it’s important for me to talk about the cross with you as we renew vows and enter this week. It’s important for us.

You’ve seen those optical illusions which seem at first to be one thing but then suddenly become something else. Remember the hodgepodge of sticks glued to a plaque of wood, popular in the 80s and 90s, which suddenly in the blanks spelled the word "Jesus"? Or the outline of a chalice turning into two faces? Or an old haggard woman becoming a lovely young girl? It depends largely on what you’ve experienced or what you expect to see, and sometimes, once you have seen one of the figures, it becomes nearly impossible to see the other. "Jesus" is clear among those sticks. What we believe to be there is what we tend to see there. Once we think we understand something, it’s difficult for us to go beyond that understanding.

That’s how it is in the realm of faith, too. There are things we think we understand. And this Holy Week that seems to be especially true.

It was that way for the disciples, too. When Jesus questioned them as to who the crowds believed he was Peter seemed to understand a good deal. Others may have thought that Jesus was John the Baptist or Elijah or one of the prophets, but Peter knew and declared him to be the Messiah of God. After all, Peter had seen him heal the sick, raise the dead, feed the hungry. It is not really surprising to hear Peter’s confession: "You are the Christ of God" – not really surprising. He had good reason to know and understand who Jesus was.

And yet, as Jesus then went on to talk about what it meant to be chosen by God and to follow God’s Anointed One, it is likely that Peter and the others really were surprised.

Suddenly, like an optical illusion that seems to change before our eyes, their perspectives were altered. Jesus spoke not of power and majesty and dominion in the way they might have expected from the Messiah, but of service and suffering and rejection and death. He spoke of taking up a cross daily – note that word, friends.

This must have been hard and confusing for them, because the words flew in the face of what they thought they understood. This was a view of discipleship that was new and difficult to absorb.

For us, of course, it is no longer new. We have heard these words of Jesus before, haven’t we? We’ve heard them so much that they no longer shock us. We have the advantage of knowing what lay ahead for Jesus and those who followed him. Two thousand years of history and tradition have taught us that those who name the name of Christ pay a high price. Peter may have been amazed at Jesus’ saying that he must take up his cross, but we know that Peter was indeed called to do just that, dying a martyr’s death, nailed head down to a cross. All of that fits our understanding of what it means to be a Christian. And so it is not likely to shock us as it did those first disciples.

There is, however, another reason these words are less likely to trouble us. The reality is: most of us will never see a cross. Martyrdom is not likely to be required of us, right? And so the call to take up our cross is less frightening. But what if our perspective were suddenly to change? What if we focused on that word "daily" – take up our cross daily? What if a different understanding came to light during all of that signing we tend to do, all of that placing of the cross on ourselves and on others? Might this call of Christ then take on a new meaning for us?

Jesus spoke of taking up the cross before his crucifixion when speaking to the Twelve about a cross would not necessarily have made them think of death. Rather, it might have brought to mind the cross-shaped mark branded on cattle as a mark of ownership. That cross was, in effect, a sign of slavery, a mark of being owned by someone else…and that is very different from martyrdom. In a way it is easy for us to talk about taking up the cross if it means dying a martyr’s death, because we know that it’s highly unlikely that we will be asked to make that sacrifice. But it is harder for us to talk of slavery, of service, of being owned by someone else, because that means giving up control of our lives, and we want to be in control. Acknowledging that we cannot provide for ourselves, that our every breath is dependent upon God, that all we have comes not of our own doing but as a gift from the Creator – this is the slavery we are called to, the cross we are summoned to take up every day. Following Christ then means offering whatever service we can, in gratitude for all that we have received.

We have all made vows about this serving that may not be grand or noble or earthshaking.

This serving may mean making a call on someone who is homebound rather than becoming a missionary…it may mean taking seriously the call toward preferential treatment for the poor, the call toward downward mobility…it may recognize that we are always being led from death to life, with the cross before us...every day…everywhere.

For God, who provides in love, who spreads the table before us, calls us to respond in humble service, which is a lot more difficult to do than merely to die. It is the life of those who have been marked, who daily take up and bear and follow the cross gladly, because, day after day, God does the leading, not we ourselves, led by the cross.  

Bishop Robert Alan Rimbo


A pastoral letter on violence

Mar 20, 2013

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ:


Peace be with you as we enter into this Holy Week and the Great Three Days! The suffering and death of our Lord Jesus Christ remind me of an earlier desire which escaped me for a bit.


I intended to share with you A Pastoral Letter on Violence which was adopted by the Conference of Bishops of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America in early March. Now as we approach this time together, I am reminded of my earlier intent.


I hope that you will read carefully and take to heart what we as a Conference said. I also hope that you will share this pastoral letter in whatever ways you see fit. And I invite you to contact me with questions or comments.


I am praying for you as we walk with our Lord especially in these next days.


Sincerely in Christ,


Bishop Robert Alan Rimbo


Justice, Not Just Us

Jan 23, 2013

Micah 6:8


Preached at The Interchurch Center, New York City  


In a wonderful coincidence, this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity has presented opportunities to think and pray about justice in various venues. The convergence of the Second Inauguration of President Barack Obama and the annual remembrance of Blessed Martin Luther King Jr., the promise held out with a new year of grace and the hope that at least some of us have that a new Congress will actually be able to accomplish something: all of this is about what Martin Luther identified as the Two Hands of God’s Reign, the Two Kingdoms. (I just had to at least mention Luther.)


The temporal order, the world in which we live, the government by which we are guided – all of that is part of God’s work and God’s will, designed to let us live in peace, to worship as we desire, to freely proclaim God’s Word to all people. But it’s not some vague, abstract idea. It is CBS and the CIA, the Pentagon and our public schools, board rooms and court rooms, media and medicine, Chase and Calvin Klein, the projects and the country club. It’s our world, this absurd little earth, where more than a billion human beings fall asleep hungry while the First Lady helps us take on the problem of obesity, where the guns in our streets take as many lives in a year as two world wars, where men and women die for one another and kill for one another, where more people of color languish in jails than attend college, where "equal justice for all" remains a dream.    


A small portion of the Micah reading says "What does God require of us?" and then reminds us that it’s really not just about us, but about God and what God expects of all of us: Justice. Micah reminds us that Justice is Not Just Us.


You see, the justice the prophets like Micah preached was not simply an ethical construct, did not mean merely giving to others what they deserved, what they could justifiably demand because it was clear from philosophy or written into some constitution. God’s people were expected to care for the orphan and the alien, to protect the powerless and comfort the stranger, not because the needy deserved it, but because this was the way God had acted toward them. In freeing the oppressed, God’s people were mirroring the God who had freed them from oppression. In loving the loveless and the unloved, God’s people were imaging the God who time and again wooed them back despite their unfaithfulness. For God’s people – and just to be clear: that means all of us – justice is not merely something we "have to do" to reflect the good will and kind hearts of women and men in a civil society, but something we "get to do" as we demonstrate the desire and intent of God.


Without that clear and fundamental understanding, we simply live in the temporal kingdom, trying desperately and without success, to obey the letter of the law. And human law, for all its value, cannot save, cannot make us one with God. Only God can do that, only love, loving God above all that is not love, loving our every sister and brother at least as much as we love ourselves. The equality we dispense on the basis of law is not enough to unite black and white, Israeli and Palestinian, the haves and the have-nots, the restless young and the rest-home aged, the crack pushers and the police who imprison them. Only God can do that, working through us.


The challenge before us as we seek to do what God wants us to do, as we seek to live the truth that justice is not just us, is to give to each what each deserves and to give to all more than they deserve. That’s how God works. And that’s how God wants us to work too.


Bishop Robert Alan Rimbo 


God loves you

Dec 23, 2012



What more do we need to know, what more do I need to say?


God loves you. Who you are, what you are: God knows and loves all that. God cherishes you, loves for your companionship, wants to build a relationship with you that lasts forever. You are the apple of God's eye. Put another way: God has this passionate love affair going on with you.


That's what Christmas tells us.


We have been created in the love of God and for the love of God. Love is the essence of who we are. When we find ourselves outside of love, it's a sign that there's something wrong. But that problem can be fixed, repaired, because love is the essence of who we have been created to be, in the image of God, who is love. We have been created to be rooted and grounded in life-giving love (Ephesians 3:17).


We can tell whether we are living in the love of God by asking ourselves what we worship. Worship is about ascribing ultimate worth and meaning to something. Will your worship last a lifetime and see you into eternity? Or will it have to go? If your life of faith is predicated on forever having good health and a sense of certainty that you will never have problems, you are giving ultimate meaning to something that won't last. If your life of faith is predicated on job security or career advancement, on your being held in high esteem, on your being in control, on your feeling safe and protected all the time, then your life of faith is not big enough.


Christmas tells us that life is on God's terms. God shares life with us as a gift, freely. If nothing else, in these recent weeks, many of us have learned that if our life of faith is no bigger than our things or our mortality or our success, it's too small and it won't last. We've had plenty of bad news. Our lives are incomplete, unmanageable. But in Christ there is good news: you have been rescued from that. God knows that you need to be saved. God knows you and loves you and offers you, this Christmas and always, the gift of love.


God loves you.


Bishop Robert Alan Rimbo


A pastoral message in the darkness

Dec 18, 2012

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ:


The great sadness surrounding us is overwhelming. The evil of the killings in Newtown on Friday is beyond words. But it is in the darkness that the light seems clearest. The increasing brightness of the candles on our Advent wreaths reminds us that the darkness will not overcome.


As often happens, hymns speak and sing the words for me. Poet Susan Palo Cherwien and composer Thomas Pavlechko put well the emotions I am feeling. You can find this treasure in the Lament section of Evangelical Lutheran Worship at number 699:


In deepest night, in darkest days, when harps are hung, no songs we raise,

when silence must suffice as praise, yet sounding in us quietly there is the song of God.

When friend was lost, when love deceived, dear Jesus wept, God was bereaved;

so with us in our grief God grieves, and round about us mournfully there are the tears of God.

When through the waters winds our path, around us pain, around us death:

deep calls to deep, a saving breath, and found beside us faithfully there is the love of God.


Come, Lord Jesus, come and save us. Give us peace. Console those whose lives are most intimately afflicted at this time. Strengthen families and caregivers and children who must now deal with overwhelming loss. Come, Lord Jesus, come. Amen.


Bishop Robert Alan Rimbo

The park bench

Dec 16, 2012

Sermon from the 2012 Bishop's Retreat
St. Mark 1:32-39

Years ago one of my great joys was going with our daughter Debbie to the park. Our little trips gave Lois a break from both of us and time to focus on Debbie's baby brother, Justin. And it gave us time together. It did not take her long to discover the pleasure of the hand-cranked-wood-and-pipe-merry-go-round. It did not take me long to convince her to try the swing set instead. Because, well, you know: while the meery-go-round was wonderful for the push-ee, it left much be desired for the push-er!

She loved the swing set, especially when she learned to pump! Up and down, her little legs swinging, the wind blowing her hair. And I loved it, too. I would go and sit on the nearby park bench, watching Debbie and the other children.

And it was there I learned the wisdom of going to a deserted place like Jesus did in this Gospel. Because Debbie's swinger-ecstasy would sometimes be swinger-agony as her concentration lagged, and her grip loosened, and she would fly from the swing to her knees. Now never was this tragedy as traumatic as it appeared. She would run -- but sometimes limp for dramatic effect -- over to the park bench to be consoled by the presence of a parent, by Daddy's embrace, by the amazingly curative power of a kiss even on knees that were not bleeding. Sometimes she sought my consolation when the pressing presence of other children threatened her and sometimes she just came over to make sure I was there.  

She would come to the park bench. It is to the park bench that we, sisters and brothers, come now. It was to the park bench that Jesus retreated.

In the middle of sentences loaded with action -- healing suffering people, casting out demons, responding to impatient disciples, preaching from town to town, in the midst of that we hear these quiet words: "In the morning, while it was still very dark, Jesus got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed."

In the center of breathless activity, we hear a restful, cleansing sigh. Surrounded by hours of movement we find a moment of quiet stillness. In the heart of great involvement there are words about withdrawal. After much togetherness there is solitude. In the midst of action there is prayer.

The more I hear this nearly silent sentence locked in between loud words of action, the more I have the sense that part of the secret of Jesus' ministry is in that deserted place, in that retreat to the park bench to be with his Abba.

There he is given the courage to follow God's will and not human will...to speak God's word and not human words...to do God's work and not the deeds of human devising...It is in that deserted place, at that park bench, where Jesus enters into intimacy with his Abba, that his ministry is shaped.

Dear sisters and brothers: without that deserted place with God, our lives are in danger.

Without silence, words lose their meaning. Without listening, speaking no longer heals. Without distance, closeness cannot cure. Without a deserted place, our actions, however kind and sacred, become empty gestures. The careful balance of speech and silence, withdrawal and involvement, distance and closeness, solitude and community...the balance forms the basis for ministry. That careful balance is the gift given at the park bench.

That's why it is so important that we are here. There's so much to do, especially in these times. In our culture we are expected by others and ourselves to accomplish something. And for more than a few of us, that something is akin to working for FEMA or the Red Cross. We think about ourselves in terms of our contribution to life, and we feel a call to that: to give advice, to comfort, to teach, to lead, to preach.

And while this commitment to our call can be healthy, it can also be a sign of how far we really are from the Shalom God desires for us. When we start being impressed by the results of our work or even the longing for results, we slowly come to the erroneous conviction that life is one large scoreboard where God is totaling up points to measure our worth. And soon we are selling our souls to the grade-givers...soon we are not only in the world but of it...soon we become what people make us. We're intelligent because of an A on that test. We're helpful because someone says Thank You. We're likable because someone likes us. We're indispensable because someone thinks we are important. We're worthy because we have successes.

And the more we allow accomplishments -- the results of our actions or even the hope for those results -- to become the criteria of our worth, the more we are going to walk on tip-toe with our radar on, never sure we'll be able to live up to the expectations.

For beneath the seemingly healthy stress on result-producing ministry, many of us walk around with the constant fear that we are not as smart or as good or as lovable or worthwhile as we want our congregations or our superiors or our families or our God to believe. This corroding fear that our human weaknesses might be discovered prevents community and creativity and, in fact, limits even our witness to the Gospel. When we have sold our identity to the judges of this world, the grass is always greener somewhere else, we become restless because what we need is affirmation and praise, we become isolated because friendship and love are impossible without a mutual vulnerability and we just can't take that chance.

Jesus went to a deserted place and there he prayed. There he was reminded that all he was and had was gift...that all the word he spoke came from his Abba...that all the works he did were the works of the One who had sent him. In that deserted place -- that park bench -- Jesus was made free even to fail...even to die.

A life without a deserted place, a life without a quiet center, easily becomes destructive. When we cling to the results of our action as our only way of self-identification, then we become possessive and defensive and tend to look at other people as enemies to be kept at a distance rather than friends with whom we share the gift of life.

But at the park bench, consoled by Abba's presence, held in God's arms, kissed by divine healing -- we slowly discover that we are not what we accomplished or conquer. We are what is given to us.

At the park bench we listen to the One who spoke to us before we could form a word, who healed us before we could make any gesture to help, who set us free long before we could free others, who loved us long before we could love anyone.

At the park bench we discover that we are worth far more than the sum total of our accomplishments.

At the park bench we recognize that the healing words we speak are not just our own but are given to us...that the love we haltingly express is in fact God's love...that the new life we share is not a property we cling to but a gift freely given which in turn is given again by us.

At the park bench we find that we are part of a community of faith in which there is no need to defend but much to share, a community in which we work hard but are not destroyed by the lack of results, a community in which we remind ourselves that to the eyes of the One to whom we flee for consolation, we are transparent, weak, needy...yet that One says: "It's OK. Don't be afraid. You're all right. You are mine."

"In the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up and went out to a deserted place and there he prayed."    

From that place Jesus went on to proclaim the message born in intimacy with his Abba...words of comfort and consolation, of hope and warning, of unity and division. And within a few years that messaged helped bring about his rejection and death. But the loving God who had spoken to him and held him and kissed him at the park bench raised him up as the sign and source of hope and new life, that sign which we celebrate now in this Holy Communion.

Oh, I know, this place is not so deserted as, perhaps, we would like or need. But I also know that you have been swinging on that scary swing set, haven't you? You are weary of the other children surrounding you, aren't you? You've fallen and scraped your knees once too often and you feel bruised, perhaps bloodied, don't you?

Here...now...and, I pray, over these hours we are together, there is a deserted place for you, a park bench where you can know and feel the presence and the embrace and the kiss which your Abba has for you.


Bishop Robert Alan Rimbo


A fresh awareness of Christ’s presence

Dec 10, 2012

Sermon from the ordination of Jonathan Recabarren, Emily Scott, and Rodney Smith

Saturday before Advent 2-C

Luke 3:1-6


Dear Friends in Christ, especially dear Jonathan, Emily and Rodney: I am honored to preside as you are ordained to the Holy Ministry of Word and Sacrament. I know it has been a long and sometimes tedious process, but we are here today – with thanks to St. Peter’s Church, to Candidacy Committees, to those friends and families who have supported and challenged and sustained you and to God. It is good to gather this morning in the Name of Jesus with ecumenical friends, members of congregations you will serve, and rostered leaders from throughout our synod. We rejoice today.


I grew up in the 1960s and 1970s, so when I think of John the Baptist I often have a kind of hippy-esque image in mind. A sort of Woody Allen vision, half-clothed in camel hair, with a leather girdle from Daffy’s or Target, munching locusts from heaven-knows where, standing with the Occupy folks outside the Stock Exchange. Amid furious, frustrated talk about euros and yens, he shouts like a mad man: "Repent!" Most of the buyers and sellers don’t hear him; the trading is deafening. Most don’t see him; their eyes glued to the screen watching numbers.


The few who do notice him ignore him or shrug their shoulders or summon security to tell him to get lost. It is, after all, New York City. We’re used to people acting out and we have the security personnel to deal with them. He screams: "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?"


Now they’re sure he’s nuts.


Then he pleads: "Prepare the way of the Lord" and they reply "The way of who? Get out of here!"


Bizarre? I say no. Call it anachronistic. Twenty some-centuries separate Wall Street from John. But not bizarre, as if it had no relation to reality. Through John –and through you, dear Emily, Rodney, and Jonathan – the Church is proclaiming "Prepare."


The church’s year, the season of Advent, and your years of anticipation and preparation for this day and the days to come,  leave no room for argument. The Lord is coming, and we are to prepare his way. But it doesn’t seem to make sense, does it? Nowhere near the sense it made for the prophets and for John. After all, for us the Lord has already come. First, in swaddling clothes, omnipotence wrapped up by his mother. And each day all over the world in, with and under bread and wine, Godhead here in hiding. And in your inmost being, friend, as long as you love. And in sisters and brothers, like those gathered this morning, like those you – we – are called to serve, people of God at St. Lydia’s, and Fordham, and New Hope, people in this synod,people who are his living images.


The Lord is here – in you, in front of you, all around you. Why all the shenanigans about preparing the way?


Because it comes to crucial questions for Christians: How aware am I of Christ’s presence? Is Jesus Christ the one person who gives ultimate meaning to my life? What we need in Advent, what we need from our pastors including the three of you soon to be ordained, is a fresh awareness of Christ’s presence, an awareness that works a ceaseless change in our lives. We need, from you, that rapturous feeling the Virgin Mary had as she felt the Word made-of-the-flesh-of- her grow within her. We need the emotions that swept over John the Baptist when he recognized the Savior he had been selected to precede.


Which is lovely rhetoric, Bishop.


But how? How do you put flesh and blood on this skeleton, especially we pastors, rostered leaders, you – Rodney and Jonathan and Emily – how?  Several suggestions that I hope will trigger your thoughts and prayers today and in the days and even years to come.


The magic word for Advent and for ministry is not "Awake" but "Aware." So I want to suggest a kind of examination of conscience, a year-end-and-beginning inventory: Where does Christ really rank in your life? In the Top Ten of your thoughts? And this is not only directed to the ordinands or the rostered leaders among us. I’m talking to all, everyone. Where does he rank? Not abstractly; very concretely. In shared time, in real interest, in reflection, contemplation, discussion. Where does Christ rank?


And, more: time is indeed your enemy and, dear pastors, it will continue to be so. I am not asking for extra time off from your congregation, but maybe something as corny as an occasional coffee break for Christ, a little break from the frantic pace of this life to ponder on the God who ought to be the center of your existence.


And more: worship is the center of our life as the Church and the Eucharist is the heart and soul of our spiritual life. There is no better way to welcome Christ within you. Each Eucharist, including this one, is an advent, a fresh coming of Christ into your inmost being, including yours as you preside at Christ’s Table.


And, you know, more: be aware, all of you and especially you three, be aware that Christ comes to you in others. When we feed others, clothe others, care for others, visit others  - we meet Christ and Advent is no longer four weeks long but every day.  For Christ can come to you, dear friends, wherever and whenever your eyes meet another person’s eyes;  for your eyes are meeting Christ’s eyes, if only you have the eyes to see.


More, still: the toughest one in many ways, let Christ come to you in your crosses. I doubt that any one of you beyond the age of two has not encountered some kind of crucifixion. The nails have countless forms, from the acne on an adolescent’s cheek, through the schizophrenia that severs the human spirit, to the terminal cancer, to the ruined houses and dashed hopes in the wake of Superstorm Sandy. I beg you – especially you who are pastors – do not try to carry your cross alone. I’m not saying you cannot; I am saying it’s a lousy idea. A cross makes Christian sense only if you meet Christ on it along with other Christians, other pastors, me, and only of on your cross you are transformed into Christ. I pray that, every day each one of you, will become more and more you, the unique person Christ died to shape.


You, dear Jonathan, Rodney and Emily, are gifts to us. Know that. Feel that. Remember that.

We are so thankful that God has brought you to this day and this place and our synod.


So today, in this Advent Season which is already filled with gifts, celebrate what you have:

the gift that was first given to you from a stable in Palestine, the gift that has been given to the world throughout these centuries, the gift that rests within you and now comes to you again in this Holy Communion: God’s own Son, God’s love in flesh. This is the one gift you will enjoy most fully if you realize that you already have it, the gift which you are privileged to share – all of you – as with John and Mary and Jonathan and Emily and Rodney you prepare the way.


Bishop Robert Alan Rimbo

We are not alone.

Oct 31, 2012

God is our refuge and strength,

a very present help in trouble.

Therefore we will not fear though the earth be moved,

and though the mountains shake in the depths of the sea;

though its waters rage and foam,

and though the mountains tremble with its tumult.


In another example of the amazing coincidence of our lectionary with our lives, many of our churches prayed Psalm 46 last Sunday.   


It says, in glorious words and images, "We are not alone."


The waters of the sea roar and foam, mountains shake, whole communities are wiped off the face of the earth. In the midst of unspeakable disaster, this psalm reminds us that we are not alone.


Already I have received communications from Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson; from Pastor Stephen Bouman of our ELCA Department for Congregational and Synodical Mission; from Lutheran Disaster Response; from Lutheran Health Care in Brooklyn; from Lutheran Social Services of New York.   


And from other places, too. A congregation in Ohio; a friend in Finland; and this message from our companion synod, the Northwest Diocese of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania:   


Dear Bishop Robert Rimbo,

I am sending this message on behalf of Bishop Elisa Buberwa. He returned from a meeting in Indonesia yesterday and today he is attending a funeral of a close relative in his home village. Two main reasons he could not write personally.

This is a tough time for millions of people in New York City.  We therefore want to express our love, concern, and solidarity in the midst of the devastating effects caused by the Hurricane Sandy. We have watched painfully, through the media, the unthinkable damage, suffering, despair, and hopelessness the New York people and of other parts like New Jersey, have gone through. The loss of 18 people's lives in NYC, the flooding tunnels, the crippled NYC subways, damp, darkness, the damaged economic infrastructure, environmental effects, to mention a few.  Life is miserable, pain reigns supreme, fear and uncertainty sows the seeds of terror when an emergency of that magnitude strikes.

Bishop Elisa Buberwa, his family, your sisters and brothers of ELCT/North Western Diocese are holding you in prayer. We are praying for your quick recovery and resilience. We trust that timely response and intervention will be in place to provide the much needed psychosocial support for the well-being of the affected population. Kindly convey this message to the brothers and sisters of Metropolitan New York Synod. As companions and members of the body of Christ we feel very much touched and affected as well.

Our hearts and thoughts are with you, and above all, we commend you all in God's loving and caring hands to carry you through. Let you be reassured and find consolation and peace in the midst of such an atrocious calamity. (Psalm 121).

Sincerely yours in Christ,

Rev. Christopher Mbuga
Deputy General Secretary - ELCT/NWD


We are not alone.   


In the next few days, our synod staff will be in contact with as many of our congregations and ministries as we can reach. We will attempt to assess the magnitude of this disaster. We will keep in contact with you. If you wish to help financially, I urge you to send contributions to Lutheran Disaster Relief either through our synod or directly to the ELCA.


In all of this, please remember God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.


Sincerely in Christ,


Bishop Robert Alan Rimbo

Looking back and forth

Sep 17, 2012

Every September I do my impression of the Roman god Janus, for whom the month of January is named. I am keenly aware that it feels like New Year’s Eve, facing back and facing forth. 

As I look back, the Synod Assembly in May is the center of my thoughts. It was a remarkable event at which we approved norms for analyzing the viability of congregations, approved a process for electing the bishop, and adopted a strategic plan that will guide our life together in Christ for the next decade (at least). But what was most amazing about the assembly was the spirit of love the pervaded our hard work and wonderful worship.

Strategic planning has been very present to us since then. The chairs of the three writing committees (for Claimed, Gathered and Sent), our consultant Tom Massey, and the Executive Committee have been very busy, under the leadership of Vice President Maria del Toro. At the same time, there has been a very hopeful process of planning for Latino ministry in Manhattan which will, I am sure, have impact on our multicultural mission. I am grateful to our Executive Committee for their graceful leadership. And I am likewise grateful for new members of the Synod Council who recently joined the Executive Committee for an orientation to our work (as well as all of our Synod Council).

Our staff participated in another great visitation during these months, with our friends in the Brooklyn Bridges and South Shore Brooklyn Conferences. (And I even had a guided tour of Brooklyn from Pr. Ken Simurro.) This summer our staff also said farewell and Godspeed to Ms. Mary Tennermann and Pastor Gary Mills; we are thankful for their ministry with us. 

I have had ongoing conversations with leaders of the United Methodist Church (including participation in their ordinations), the Presbytery of the City of New York, and the bishops of the Episcopal dioceses of New York and of Long Island. These strengthening ecumenical ties are very encouraging and hopeful.

It was a great pleasure for me to visit Koinonia and our Pinecrest Leadership School, both treasures of our synod which I will continue to encourage people to use. It was likewise a pleasure to have interaction with candidates for rostered leadership and prospective pastors for congregations of our synod.

I participated in the Immigration Summit sponsored by Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service in Minneapolis, the wonderful ELCA Youth Gathering in New Orleans, and the Urban Leaders Institute (another part of our synod which I encourage all of you to explore).

It was a great honor to preach and preside at the 150th Anniversary of Christ, Ellenville. The same weekend, Lois and I were with the good folks of Atonement, Saugerties; St. Paul, West Camp; Christ’s, Woodstock; and Trinity, Immanuel and Redeemer, all in Kingston, for their annual joint worship at the river. It was fun, to say the least, and I am grateful that there are many now-familiar faces among these wonderful people. It was also a great honor to receive an award from the Arab American Muslim Association at their Ramada Iftar in Brooklyn.

Most recently, Lois and I gathered with other Region 7 bishops and their spouses to say goodbye to Bishop Margaret Payne of the New England Synod. And last Sunday, I presided at the Rite of Closure for St. Thomas, Bronx. Both were bittersweet services, to say the least.

There were times of refreshment this summer. Even though I preached every day for two weeks (!) it was a delight to be part of the community at the Montreat (North Carolina) Conferences on Worship and Music sponsored by the Presbyterian Association of Musicians. We also had a wonderful family reunion (with Lois’ family) in Colorado which included our entire family. And it’s always good to be with our children and grandchildren! 

Looking forward, now, I will be less verbose. 

The staff of Lutheran Social Services of New York and our synod will meet to get acquainted and explore how we can work together.

I will preach and preside at the 100th Anniversary of St. John’s, Lynbrook, the 150th Anniversary Mass and Jazz Vespers at Saint Peter’s, Manhattan, the 90th Anniversary of First, Throgs Neck, and the Organ Rededication at St. Jacobi, Brooklyn, in the next few weeks.

I will be part of an ecumenical consultation of judicatory leaders considering what our full inclusion and welcoming GLBTQ members of our churches means for us. And, that same week, I look forward to participating in the annual Appeal of Conscience Foundation Dinner.

On September 29 I will represent our synod at the installation of Bishop James Hazelwood of the New England Synod.

I am honored by the invitation of the Church of Finland to speak at their annual pastor’s conference in Helsinki in early October. I will be giving a lecture on "why worship matters" and a workshop on preaching and community there. Then Lois and I will have a few days of visit in St. Petersburg where we fully expect to cross one item off our "bucket list": a visit or two to The Hermitage.

It has been a very busy and very exciting time.

Bishop Robert Alan Rimbo

Standing in the shadow of Kilimanjaro

Aug 06, 2012

Pastor Jack Horner, Assistant to the Bishop for Evangelical Mission, takes a turn on the blog toreflect on his recent Mount Kilimanjaroclimb toconquer malaria. Read the post here.


Costs and benefits

Apr 11, 2012

A Sermon from Chrism Mass 2012 with a reading from Mark 14:3-9.


In early February I experienced something new. Soon after my emergency appendectomy I received anointing from Holy Trinity’s Pastor, Bill Heisley. I had never been on the receiving end of that ministry and I was deeply moved. After Bill left, I actually broke down in tears. I’ve been thinking about this Chrism Mass ever since, though Bill had no idea he was acting for posterity.


She had no idea she was acting for posterity. It was not to be remembered that she did what she did. She had other motives than that. But Jesus said "wherever the good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her."


Jesus’ own disciples did not value her deed that highly. In fact, it seemed to them a foolish, wasteful act. We can speculate as to who this woman was, but one thing is certain: in an extravagant expression of affection, this outcast woman had come into the home of Simon the leper-outcast where Jesus and his disciples were guests at a meal, and had poured an alabaster jar of ointment, a jar of expensive oil, on Jesus’ head. It was worth a year’s wages for the average laborer, money that could have put bread in the mouths of hungry children and clothing on their backs. But it couldn’t now; it was gone, poured out in an instant, never to be recovered again. Such a waste. Such extravagance.


But Jesus saw more in the act. He saw beauty. He saw devotion. He saw the future. He said that her deed would be known in all ages and all places where the gospel was proclaimed.


Which side would you have been on? Would you have called this ointment wasted? Would you have commended or condemned?


It was a beautiful thing in Jesus’ eyes, an expression of self-forgetful love. There was nothing calculating about it. The woman had nothing to gain by it. Indeed, she was not interested in gaining by it. And Jesus knew it. She simply wanted to give. She wanted to express in this visible and tangible way something like gratitude, I think. So forgetting herself and the things she might have procured with cash from the sale of that expensive ointment, she poured it all out in an expression of affection and gratitude. And Jesus did not miss that.


Let’s be honest, sisters and brothers. We often do what is calculated to benefit us in some way. We place such a high value on our own welfare, our own interest, our own desires, our own entitlements, and the result is one calculated act after another. There is little beauty in that kind of living; it has no claim to commendation.


But every now and then some person pours out the jar of self in the interests of another, and his or her life takes on a beauty it has not shown before. That’s why Jesus commended this woman! She was acting in love, uninterested in gain for herself. She was pouring out, not just expensive ointment, but selfless devotion and gratitude as well.


The thing that bothered the disciples about this was that they saw no value in it. The woman was giving expression to her feelings, but what good could come from that? What kind of return could be expected from poured-out oil? It just didn’t pay to waste like that. They had no tolerance for waste. And if something doesn’t have some pay-off, it has to be stopped.


But we are not mere flesh and blood, are we? So it is not enough to be concerned only about the most obvious needs. One can be well-fed and yet be starving. One can be warmly clothed and still be cold. One can be surrounded by people and yet feel lonely. One can have everything money can buy and still be miserably impoverished so far as meaning and purpose and love and joy are concerned. On the surface, for instance – thank you, Marva Dawn, for this reminder - it may seem "a royal waste of time" to worship. That’s a realization that could be a bit of a blow at the beginning of this Holy Week. The worship in these days may seem irrelevant in the face of the desperate cries of the needy, in the world of Trayvon Martin and Afghanistan.


But who can measure the influence and importance of what we are doing this afternoon and for these next holy days? Who knows how much meaning is given, how much purpose is created, how much comfort is imparted, how much courage is inspired, how much generosity is motivated, how much love is expressed because of what takes place in our worship this week? There is a lot of wasted oil these days and every day we gather for worship. But who can measure how much God enjoys it? And that is, after all, the main point.


When Jesus said, "the poor you always have with you," what was on his mind was the brief remaining time he had with them. And here they were, mouthing a pious platitude when they could have been doing something to lighten the heavy load he was bearing. But there was one person who did not let this opportunity slip by, and that wasted ointment is witness to that fact.


When you look at her deed in a rational way, it is not too impressive. A royal waste. Its physical effects could not have lasted very long. But it meant something to Jesus that could not be explained in terms of the outward actions and elements involved in it. He was living at that time in the shadow of the cross. He was already feeling the sting of his rejection by the world. He knew his disciples well enough to know that even they would desert him when the going got tough. Perhaps what he needed then more than anything else was the communion of those who loved him. So he was strengthened by this woman’s extravagant and unrestrained expression. Not much could be done for him, but what she could do, she did, and Jesus was pleased. He said, "She has done what she could." Just as we offer our praise, not as we ought but as we are able, doing what we can is often an unexciting and unspectacular thing. We are so often looking to do something else, aren’t we? Something else would be so much more interesting and useful than this, wouldn’t it? But that poured out oil should encourage us to do what we can instead of complaining of how little we can do or waiting for an opportunity to do something big and significant.   


The world and the church owes most, not to those who sought to do great things but to those who were faithful and loving in little ones. The truly memorable people are the ones who devote themselves to doing what they can, what they are able to do, even when it is not what they would like to be doing, even if the results are questionable. The world and the church owe most to people like you.


We should not be surprised, then, that a person should become immortal in history for an act of wastefulness. But this was only because Jesus saw the truth, the nature and value of her deed, and called it a thing of beauty. He knew her deed was a defiance of the mind that thinks primarily in terms of success. He knew she was seizing an opportunity that would not be hers again, doing the little she could do to ease his own hurt and sorrow. And Jesus saw she was doing so out of self-forgetful love.


It is not for waste that we desire to be remembered or to receive Christ’s commendation. But it may well be that if the kind of outlook and desire that motivated that woman long ago could possess us, we might have the thrilling experience of hearing Jesus say that we have done a beautiful thing as well.


Bishop Robert Alan Rimbo

The sad stuff

Feb 27, 2012

Every Lent I think of Kellie. In fact, I wrote about her for The Lutheran a few years ago. Kellie was in confirmation class and had experienced rough things in her life. The death of a sibling. The divorce of parents. So I should not have been surprised by her answer. In addition to asking students about last Sunday’s sermon – threatening, risky for any pastor, I think – I also habitually asked about the service itself.


What was the color for the day? Purple.

Who was included in the prayers? Millie, Frank, the President.

What did you not like about the service? The sad stuff.


Kellie did not like the sad stuff. Further conversation revealed that what she meant was the absence of "This is the feast" and the presence of the Brief Order for Confession and Forgiveness, the Kyrie, and "all those sad songs." She really missed "the A word." It was Lent. Lent brings with it "the sad stuff."


I was frankly troubled by Kellie’s lament over "the sad stuff." There is good reason for having Confession and Forgiveness at the outset on Sunday morning, praying the Kyrie, singing "all those sad songs" and omitting the "glad" ones. We assemble to make visible the Body of Christ though we have not lived as that Body. We have not been faithful to our common vocation to offer the world a sign of hope and renewal. We have not lived a lifestyle which contradicts the individualism, self-interest and consumerism of our culture. We have failed to work for justice and peace. We have not shown that divisions, prejudice, injustice and indifference can be overcome by God.


We cry for mercy as our worship begins, in our intercessory prayers, as we gather around the Table singing of the Lamb of God. We plead for mercy for friend and stranger, for the whole universe and for me. And we rejoice that this mercy is for everyone and everything. At this Table all are welcome and all are fed, for all – whether they know it or not – need this mercy. 


I was troubled by Kellie’s lament because it indicated that she did not get the "glad" stuff that’s evident even on Lenten Sundays, the "glad stuff" offered in worship by God to the people of God. The Lord to whom we pray, before whom alone we bow, before whom the cherubim and seraphim bend their knees, before whom the earth is silent is the source of mercy.


Kellie needs to know (as I need to know) that God gives reprieve, release, another chance, a new lease on life, new dawn, new day, new age, repair of the broken, resurrection of the dead, smiles for the defeated, life to those who are crushed in the winepress we call living. Oh, yes, we need to lament. We need to confess. We need to plead. We need the "sad stuff." But more than that, we need to know and feel that God fills us with forgiveness, with gladness, with joy, with love.


Bishop Robert Alan Rimbo




Identifying skills for healthy leadership

Feb 03, 2012

Pastor Kathleen Koran, Assistant to the Bishop for Congregations, takes a turn on the blog to explain what Healthy Congregations is and who it is for. Read the post here.

The gap

Nov 07, 2011

No, this title is not an endorsement for a certain brand name. I’m getting no commission for using it! Nor is it a reference to the British exhortation “Mind the gap” or the LIRR’s less luxurious “Watch the gap.” It’s rather a little bit of a reflection on my increasing sense of disparity in our world and the despair that accompanies it.


It doesn’t take very long for us to react when someone mentions the disparity between races and even between cultures within races. The media is a little less attentive now to the disparity being pointed to by those who occupy Wall Street, but they are still there. (People who ask my opinion about that are quickly referred to the ELCA’s social statement on economics; you can find that wise and balanced statement here: “Sufficient, Sustainable Livelihood for All.”) Even the All Saints’ Day gospel from Matthew 5 points to gaps in our world; it’s even more acute in Luke’s telling of the beatitudes and his accompanying “woe-itudes.”


Jesus turned the world upside down that day on the hillside. Those who had been fighting for breath at the bottom of the human heap suddenly found themselves closest to heaven and those who thought they were on top of things found themselves flat on their backs looking up.


I don’t want to sound sacrilegious, but, seriously: Blessed are the meek? The mourning? The poor in spirit? Who is he kidding? There is nothing blessed about that at all. What is so blessed about hungering and thirsting for righteousness? About being reviled and persecuted? “Rejoice and be glad”? Excuse me, Lord, but gimme a break! No one with an ounce of common sense would endorse that kind of thinking. No one with an ounce of common sense would consider that the good life. But that’s exactly what these nine short verses constitute: a new portrait of citizens in the reign of God, people previously known as losers, victims, fools, dreamers, and pushovers. These are the chosen. These are the saints. These are the ones who will see God face-to-face.


Mind this gap, friends: The blessed shall be satisfied not because they’re winners but because winning is the farthest thing from their minds. The ever-unpredictable Jesus presents a list of losers. And we are among them. I’m reasonably certain that these descriptors can be used to describe you: The merciful who keep forgiving their enemies so their enemies can trounce them all over again. The pure in heart who believe everything they hear and empty their bank accounts to help the needy. The peacemakers who hear the nagging voices of politicians and decide to step in and promote a cause that can change the world. These are the blessed of God – the ones who cannot compete and who would not know success if it came up to them and handed them a trophy. The blessed ones would insist that there must be some mistake. The blessed ones would give the prize away to someone who needed it more. The blessed ones would put that trophy in the closet so they would not be tempted to think too highly of themselves.


There are great gaps between people, gaps we need to mind, to watch, to be aware of and attentive to. It’s part of our calling as Christians, I think. The blessed ones – us – can mind them, watch them with the eyes of Christ, give care to them with the heart of Christ. That’s what it means to be a saint. And that’s what we are. 


Bishop Robert Alan Rimbo

The Wounds Remain

Sep 08, 2011

Originally written for LivingLutheran.com


I was not in New York City on September 11, 2001. I did not feel the terror of falling towers and broken bodies and tragic death as many in this City feel to this day. At least not in the same way many feel it. I can assure you: the wounds are still there, especially on this day. The wounds remain.


There are the wounds of loss for those who were directly impacted by the deaths of friends and family members. There are the wounds of first-responders who suffer still from the damage to their bodies and souls. There are the wounds of those who have been sent to far-off places to fight unseen enemies in what might be called a state of perpetual war. There are the wounds of those yet held in places like Guantanamo and immigration detention centers because they are Muslim. There are the wounds of fear perpetuated by our culture, our politicians. There are the wounds of the tortured. There are the wounds – even in this amazingly multicultural metropolitan area – that evidence themselves in rampant racism and deep fear of “the other.” The wounds remain.


We worship the Risen Christ whose body is wounded even now. Jesus healed many others of deforming diseases and physical flaws. He made many broken bodies whole. But on his own transformed, risen body, there were scars. The holes in his hurt hands and feet. The wound in his side. By these wounds we who have seen Hiroshima and Auschwitz and Vietnam and Ground Zero with towers falling to dust – we are healed. We see Jesus and the permanence of his wounds. We see him and believe that the Christ who could not come down from the cross to save himself, could not be raised from the dead without his wounds, the marks of his dying. Those wounds convict us still but also give us life. By the authority of those wounds he speaks a message of hope to our wounded lives and our wounded world and, yes, our wounded City.


Against all reason and all natural law, Jesus rose from the dead, wounds and all.


We need to remember that and live that with all of our wounds intact. Cynics argue that, even if there were such a thing as resurrection, the scars on many of us would be so numerous there would be nothing left to be raised. They resist the temptation to hope. They shake their heads at our faith and are sure that they are right as they ask “Who believes in resurrection?’


Our faith says, “We do.” This is the heart of the Christian mystery, our faith. Jesus is alive, wounds and all. Alive now. Alive for us and in us. This is our hope. It is not wishful thinking. It is not a stiff upper lip. It is the confident expectation that God is faithful and will always be there with us and for us. This is the hope that marks a follower of Christ.


Every anniversary of the tragedies of September 11, I reflect on the wonderful hymn “All My Hope on God Is Founded” (ELW #757). It is a sturdy text and tune that carries me, supports me, and calls to mind the ultimate hope we have in God. Two stanzas say it all for me, especially today as I write:


            Mortal pride and earthly glory, sword and crown betray our trust;

            What with care and toil we fashion, tow’r and temple, fall to dust.

            But thy power, hour by hour, is my temple and my tow’r.


            Great thy goodness, e’er enduring; deep thy wisdom, passing thought;

            Splendor, light, and life attend thee, beauty springing out of naught.

            Evermore from thy store newborn worlds rise and adore.


Here is my hope today, as we mark this anniversary. I hope we will continue to hold on to the wounded Christ, acknowledging all the terrors and sorrows and pains we bear. I hope we will never forget the stories that have shaped our lives in this metropolitan area. But I also hope we will move forward from here, holding on to the story of the wounded Jesus, crucified but risen. While there remains sadness, I hope we will turn now and walk into a newborn world in which all will live in hope.


Bishop Robert Alan Rimbo


Remembering Dag Hammarskjöld

Aug 24, 2011

"At some moment I did answer Yes to Someone – or Something – and from that hour I was certain that existence is meaningful," wrote Dag Hammarskjöld, three months before his death 50 years ago. This week, Pastor Al Ahlstrom writes a reflection on this Lutheran diplomat, economist, poet, and mystic. Find resources and quotes to use on September 18 on the Formation blog.

Opinion and Guidance with Regard to Same-Gender Marriages

Aug 01, 2011

Opinion and Guidance with Regard to Same-Gender Marriages

for Pastors and Congregations of the Metropolitan New York Synod


Lutherans are always caught in the middle, living with ambiguity and paradox, seeking to be faithful to God and to others. It is part of our character, even our vocation: we are both catholic and evangelical, proclaiming both law and gospel, always saints and sinners.


Because Lutherans do not hold marriage to be a sacrament, though there are, certainly, sacramental overtones, in thirty-five years of officiating at marriages, I have understood my role as a pastor to be, principally, an agent of the state. I believe it could be argued from liturgical history that Luther himself would agree: marriages at which Luther officiated were more often than not held outside of the church building and then celebrated in a service blessing God inside the church building.


I know that many in the Metropolitan New York Synod and in the entire Evangelical Lutheran Church in America are frankly rejoicing at the decision of our State legislature and governor to allow same-gender marriage (the word used by our State’s legal linguists to capture the idea). I honor the historic understanding that marriage is between a man and a woman, but now we are being guided by our State into a more expansive use of the term marriage.


I think the decision of our State is a just decision which is, in my opinion, pleasing to God. But I also know that many others in our synod and our denomination disagree with my opinion. I suspect that the vast majority of our members and our pastors are in the middle, trying to discern what to do in response to our State’s decision.


Our Synod Council will be discussing this in the next few months. Their consideration may or may not lead to a policy statement or guidelines. I sensed a need to offer my opinion and guidance from the stance of one who daily lives with ambiguity.


Our social statement, Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust, adopted at the 2009 Churchwide Assembly, and the subsequent revision of Vision and Expectations for Ordained Ministers in the ELCA which our Church Council adopted in April, 2010, are helpful to us all while we live in this paradox. I know that many pastors and congregations in our synod are supporting same-gender couples with prayer and praise as they seek to live out their lifelong commitments. Please also note that rostered leaders who wish to live in publicly accountable, life-long monogamous same-gender relationships have been told that public accountability includes compliance with the law of the State of residence.


Given these facts, I want to share some guidance.


I believe that pastors who are invited to officiate at the marriages of same-gender couples in the State of New York should do so. I also believe that pastors who cannot, following their bound conscience, officiate at same-gender marriages should not in any way be forced to do so.


I believe that if those marriages are to be held in the sanctuary of the church, it should be in compliance with the property use policies of the congregation. If it is determined that broader approval is needed, there should be consent from the elected leaders of the congregation. I do not believe that it is wise to involve the entire congregation in approving this by vote. Asking for a congregational vote would (1) question the pastor’s authority to marry (as articulated in Chapter 9 of the Model Constitution for Congregations and in other parallel constitutional provisions) and (2) possibly lead to divisions within the congregation over a matter which is in essence a pastoral decision.


Our worship books do not offer a rite specifically worded for a same-gender marriage; in fact, the language is very much that of husband and wife, man and woman. However, because of our Lutheran freedom to adapt liturgical resources and the fact that our worship books are recommended for our congregations as opposed to being imposed, I believe it is rather easy to make necessary adjustments.


Please note again: this is my opinion and not the official policy of the Metropolitan New York Synod or the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. As you consider my words, I ask you to remember that all of our decision-making as pastors and leaders of our congregations needs to be within the context of prayer for God’s continuing guidance, care for our local communities, sensitivity to the bound consciences of others, and loving compassion for all people.


The Rev. Dr. Robert Alan Rimbo


Reflecting on reflecting

Jul 28, 2011

Bishop Rimbo is keeping a busy travel schedule this summer. Since he has been in and out of the office, other members of the executive staff are filling in on the blog. This week, Pastor Jack Horner takes a turn.

Read Pastor Horner's post about the need for reflection.


Good conversation

Jun 20, 2011

Bishop Rimbo will be the first to tell you that his role is to "delegate" to the executive staff. This week, he delegates blog-writing to Pastor Jonathan Linman.

Read Pastor Linman's post about good conversation and formation.

On the road to Emmaus

May 23, 2011


Easter 3, Cycle A

St. Luke 24:13-35


St. Luke’s story of what happened on the road to Emmaus is one of my favorites in the Bible, one of seven post-resurrection stories in the gospels. I have tried to come up with a word to describe it and the only word I can use is “ghostly.”  


Think about it: the stranger whom the disciples do not recognize at first turns out to be the Messiah and then vanishes from their sight – poof – as soon as they know who he is. It’s ghostly. The crucifixion stories are not like this. They are one hundred percent solid. Jesus is nailed to the cross with a nameplate tacked above his head, where he dies in front of scores of eyewitnesses. No case of mistaken identity here. No sudden appearance and disappearance. His death is real.


His resurrection, on the other hand, is largely rumor. Someone said that someone said his tomb was empty, but that could mean anything. Maybe his body was stolen. Maybe he revived and walked away. Even those who saw him in the flesh had a hard time convincing anyone else it was true. Seven post-resurrection stories do not go very far. Jesus did not appear to everyone before he ascended to heaven, which left plenty of people to weigh the evidence for themselves, to listen to the testimony of those who were there and to decide if and what they would believe.


That’s pretty much our situation in the post-Easter church. None of us was there, for the real death or the rumored resurrection. All of us have a decision to make about the truth of what we have heard. But if it is all true, then we have more than hearsay to make up our minds. If Christ is risen indeed, then we may base our decision on our own encounter with the living God. The question is, what is the address?


For St. Luke, the answer is: Somewhere on the road between here and Emmaus. Luke is the only gospel writer who tells us the story of what happened on that road, but everyone has walked it at one time or another. It is the road you walk when your team has lost, your candidate has been defeated, your loved one has died – the long road back to the empty house, the piles of unopened mail, to life as usual, if life can ever be usual again.


It is the road of deep disappointment, diminishing numbers, fear and scarcity, illness and disconnect. Walking it is the living definition of sad, and many in this assembly have been walking it just like the two disciples in today’s story. It takes two hours or so to walk seven miles, and that is how long they have to talk-over the roller coaster events of the past three days. The trial, the crucifixion, the silent procession to the tomb for burial. And then the women’s vision of angels, the empty grave. Real death. Rumored resurrection. Even the disciples thought it was an idle tale.


Cleopas and the other disciple are talking it all over when the stranger comes up behind them and asks them what they are talking about so that they stop in their tracks to look at him. Who is he? Rip van Winkle? “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” Cleopas asks him. But the truth is they are both glad for his company and so they walk with him, matching their stride to his as they tell him everything they know. They tell him how things had looked so promising at first, when Jesus impressed everyone with his eloquence and mighty acts, when they had hope. And then they tell him how things had gone wrong, bad wrong, so that there was finally nothing left for them to do but to go back home, dragging their feet in the dust.


“We had hoped he was the one to redeem Israel,” they say to him, admitting their defeat. “We had hoped.” Hope in the past tense is one of the saddest sounds a human being can make. We had hoped he was the one. We believed things might really change, but we were wrong. He died. It is over now. No more idle tales. No more illusions. Back to business as usual.


And that is when their walking partner explodes at them. “Oh, how foolish you are and how slow of heart!” he says to them. If you had read your Bibles, none of this would come as a surprise to you. Listen, Cleopas and all of you walking with him, hearing now, the other disciples walking the road, listen. It is right there: The Christ is not the one who wins the power struggle; he is the one who loses it. The Christ is not the undefeated champion; he is the suffering servant, the broken one, who comes into his glory with his wounds still visible. Those hurt places are the proof that he is who he says he is, because the way you recognize the Christ – and his followers – is not by their muscles but by their scars.


Which means that they are not to despise the painful parts of their lives anymore. Which means that they are not to interpret their defeats as failures anymore, not even death itself. Contrary to all good common sense, they are to follow their leaders into the ghostly, scary, most dangerous places in the world armed with nothing but a first-aid kit, because they, like him, are not fighters but physicians – wounded healers – whose credentials are their own hurt places.


Starting with Moses and working his way through the prophets, the stranger opens the scriptures to them and they hang on his words. He is a gifted preacher, but it is more than that. They are wounded. And what he is telling them is good, good news.


Maybe they aren’t losers after all. Maybe the rumors are true. Maybe there is reason to resurrect their crucified hope. So when they arrive at their village and he shakes their hands goodbye, they will not let him go. They have not gotten enough of him yet, so they invite him to stay with them and he does. He is an odd guest, though. It is their house, their food, their table, but when the three of them sit down together, it is he, the guest, who acts as host, who reaches out, takes the bread, blesses God for it, breaks it, and gives it to them. Maybe it is the oddness of the act that makes the blinders fall from their eyes, or maybe it is the familiarity of it – something they have seen him do before on a green hillside with five loaves and two fish, in an upper room the night before it all came crashing down. He takes, blesses, breaks, gives – and through the torn, fragrant edges of the loaf he holds out to them, they look at him and know who he is…one moment before he vanishes from their sight.


Their blindness does not prevent his coming to them. He does not limit his post-resurrection appearances to those with full confidence in him. He comes to the disappointed, the doubtful, the disconsolate. He comes to those who do not know their Bibles, who do not recognize him even when they are walking right beside him. He comes to those who have given up and are headed back home, which makes this whole story a story about the blessed-ness of broken-ness.


Maybe that is only good news if you happen to be broken. If you are not, then I guess it would be better news to hear a story about how those who believe in God may skip right over the broken part and go straight to the wholeness part, but that does not seem to be the case. Jesus seems to prefer working with broken people, with broken dreams, in a broken world. And for us, too. Jesus shows us how to take what we have been given, whether we like it or not, and to bless it – to say thank you to God for it – whether it is the sweet, satisfying bread of success or the tear-soaked bread of sorrow. To say thank you and to break it because that is the only way it can be shared, and to hand it around not to eat it all by ourselves but to find someone to eat it with, so that the broken loaf may bring all of us broken ones together into one body, where we may recognize the risen Lord in our midst.


What a story this is, showing us where we can see the living God. In the closeness of the two disciples on the road. In their kindness to a stranger. In the way their hearts burned within them when he opened the scriptures to them. In the way they knew him in the breaking of the bread. These are all the ways Christ has promised to be present with us, which also happen to be the everyday activities of the church, the people of God, who attend to one another, to strangers, to God’s word and sacraments as a way of life.


A lot of it happens in other places, but the breaking of the bread at Holy Communion can break me right open. Sometimes I can be right in the middle of it when suddenly the tears well up. It is like the gates to my heart open and everything I have ever loved comes tumbling out to be missed and praised and mourned and loved some more. It is like being known all the way down to the tips of my toes. It is being in the presence of God. One moment I see Christ and the next he’s gone. One moment my eyes are opened and I recognize the risen Savior and the next he vanishes from my sight.


If you are anything like me, and I suspect you are, then take heart. This is no ghost. Do not fear. You can never lose him for good. This is the place he has promised to be, in his own body and blood, and this is the place he returns to meet us again and again.


Bishop Robert Alan Rimbo

Yom Hashoah

May 02, 2011

Dear Sisters and Brothers, especially dear Rabbi Peter, Pastor Amandus, members of this congregation gathered to mark Yom Hashoah: I greet you on behalf of the Metropolitan New York Synod

and the entire Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and our Presiding Bishop, Mark Hanson. The last time I was in Central Synagogue was on October 12, 2008. This house of God was the setting for my installation as the bishop of our synod. Thank you again for your most gracious hospitality. What grand memories!


I bring other memories, as do all of you, as we gather here this evening to mark Yom Hashoah, twenty five years of memories and they remain demanding, harsh in the pitiless light they cast.


I remember Marc Tanenbaum confronting Christians with a searing question: How was it possible “in a country which, when it vaunted its great values and its great moral traditions, spoke of itself as a country of ancient Christian culture,” how was it possible “for millions of Christians to sit by as spectators while millions of human beings, who were their brothers and sisters…were carted out to their death in the most brutal, inhuman, uncivilized ways.” I remember those words tonight.


I remember ancient prayers for Good Friday which now, thank God, have been changed to warm thanksgiving for you, our Jewish sisters and brothers, the first to hear the word of God.  


I remember ghettos structured by Christians, forced baptisms, Crusades to liberate holy places, Good Friday pogroms, exiles, Dachau and Auschwitz.  


I remember the turned backs of my Christian sisters or brothers, the shoulders shrugged, the sneers and slaps and curses.  


I remember that there is a generation of Christians who have grown up for whom “Holocaust” is a word and little more – as vague and transient as the War of 1812 or the Battle of San Juan Hill.


I remember a letter I once read in the newspaper of a Christian college in which the student writer claimed that the Holocaust never took place; it was a fiction, pure and simple.


And tonight I remember Elie Wiesel’s warning: To forget is to become the executioner’s accomplice.   


I remember these things tonight with you. I repent of these great tragedies. I rejoice in our Lutheran church’s desire to redress the terrible teachings of our ancestors and come to our Jewish sisters and brothers ever seeking reconciliation.


So this is what I pray as we gather: If our sin-scarred, tear-drenched, blood-stained earth is ever to enjoy a measure of peace, I pray that justice will be joined to reconciliation, to unity. I thank you, the people of Central Synagogue and Saint Peter’s Church, for teaching us to look at a more distant horizon where hands that have locked in hate are linked in love, where enemies are transformed into friends, and our dearest, deepest yearning is for unity, the unity of all God’s children.


Then our memories will reap their richest reward, we will show that we are faithful to the covenant God made with us, and we will hope again.


Thank you for your witness to all of us.  


Bishop Robert Alan Rimbo

Metropolitan New York Synod

Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

2 May 2011





Gifts to us

Mar 18, 2011

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

I love the gospel readings for Lent, and especially those in this year A of the cycle. They offer what I consider to be fundamental stories, insights and gifts to us.

Take, for example, the story of Nicodemus’ visit to Jesus from John 3. I’m afraid we have heard this Gospel so much that we cease to marvel at it. What the church throughout the ages has called the great Paschal Mystery, and what many have come to know as the gospel in a nutshell, is the burning center of our life, proclaimed in this reading.

We need to marvel more at this gift. We need to stand with jaws dropped and eyes wide open before this mystery.

God gave. That’s a central fact of our life as Christians. And it takes the church’s year to unpack it. The gift was a baby sleeping in the straw, Son of God and Son of Mary. The gift was an adolescent going about his Father’s business. The gift was a man who scuffed the dust of Palestine because the Spirit of the Lord was upon him, anointed him to preach good news to the poor, sent him to proclaim release to the captives, give sight to the blind, and set at liberty the oppressed. The gift was God sold for silver by one of his friends, delivered to his enemies by a cowardly Roman ruler, whipped like an animal, crowned with thorns, pinned to twin beams of wood, and left to die between criminals. And the gift was raised by the power of God.

God gave, and what a gift it was and is!

A gift because we had no claim on Christ, did not deserve Christ. A gift born for you and me, lived for you and me, died and rose for you and me. The Bible says, God, who is rich in mercy, out of great love, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ…and raised us up with him…For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God.

To give us life. What a gift!


Bishop Robert Alan Rimbo


Advent 5

Dec 10, 2010

Dear Friends, Sisters and Brothers:


I write to you, the congregations of the Metropolitan New York Synod, to offer my greetings at this holy time. I write to you on December 16, the day on which our Mexican sisters and brothers begin Las Posadas, the annual enactment of Mary and Joseph’s search for a place to rest in Bethlehem. So I am thinking about going home.


The reason why we’re not only merry at Christmas but also a little teary-eyed is that we think we really can never go home again. We’re all grown up. We have houses of our own. Life is not simple any more. “I’ll be home for Christmas, but only in my dreams.”


But we in the church have good news even as we wander with Mary and Joseph and then welcome the Child Jesus: that all of those visitors who will come among us in our churches this Christmas are Christ among us. We are honored to welcome them into our churches on Christmas and whenever else they come.


From all across this country and from places outside its borders, from all points on the compass and from down the street, people will gather in the churches of our synod.  I know they will really come to bring the new baby to grandma, or to be with their girlfriend; they will come because deep in their hearts they really want to see their uncle tease the dog or they know Mom simply could not survive without their kitchen help or to kiss Daddy under the mistletoe. They will come to be at home.


But until they walk through the door of your church on Christmas, they will not have truly been home yet. Because, to longtime member and seeking visitor alike, this place, your church, will be a welcome home for the infant Christ and for all those visitors.


The remarkable story will be told again: the child, the mother, the shepherds, the angels. The old story will be remembered again as one remembers a song whose words have become faint. We will remember the inn at the end of the road for tired minds and weary hearts, the manger which has become the locus of the world’s devotion, the cry of the Child. We will remember this story – the intersection of the will and way of Almighty God with our wills and our ways – as we tell it again in Scripture and in Song and in Sacrament at home in your church and in mine. 


This is its wild and wonderful message: God abandons heaven and comes to us, to be at home with us where life is never perfect, where people are often hurting and fearful, where even the most cherished rituals become empty at times.  God comes to us in the most unexpected ways, in the most unexpected people, in the most unexpected places...in the assembly of believers and in earthly things like words and songs and bread and wine which convey Christ’s living presence.


As the world turns again and again toward the worship of power, we worship by bowing before a baby.  We assemble not with the great and the mighty and the noble but with cows and sheep who were his company and with peasants who were his first congregation and with complete strangers who never otherwise darken the door of our church. This stable, this church, is the home of a different power…not the world’s power...but the mysterious power of God…for since that first Christmas night not a day has passed on which somebody would not have died for this baby who is the world’s ultimate hope, its only Savior, its true peace, its everlasting ruler.


That is why I say to you, “Welcome Home!” That is why I beg you to welcome Christ. That is why I urge you to see this Jesus in all those who will gather at home with you in your church. That is why I pray you will know his warm welcome as you kneel at the manger in worship.


Blessed Christmas.

Bishop Robert Alan Rimbo


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