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December 2012 Archive for Bishop's Message

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




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

disaster relief
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