December 2016 Archive for Bishop's Message

RSS By: Bishop Robert Alan Rimbo




"Bridges Not Walls" 


"Puentes No Fronteras"



Grace and peace to you in the Name of Jesus as we enter 2018 together!


We are on the bridge - on many different bridges, to be frank. Transitions and changes surround us. So, I invite you to look back with me at two parts of our life together as a Synod that will have lasting impact. 


The Commemoration of the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation, "Reformation 500: Committed to Unity in Christ", on November 1 and in a variety of other events, marked this great year. At this Eucharist, we turned a page in our ecumenical and interfaith relationships. The response from various communions has pointed to a desire to join us on this bridge and work at tearing down walls that divide. I am pledged to lead us in these efforts drawing on the great spirit experienced at our remarkable commemoration. 




The second part of the new vision I have coming across the bridge into 2018 is our renewed and renewing commitment to various issues of immigration and welcoming of all people into our country and our churches. The SENT Committee is working hard at making the renewal happen and I pledge to be at the center of these efforts. Not only are we called to build bridges; we are also called to break down divisions by active participation in our communities at all levels. Lutherans have been central to the work of immigration justice for decades; it is an even greater need today. 


These two gifts from 2017 will continue to guide our efforts in 2018. Our unity as a Synod is a tremendous gift from God and together we will, by God's grace and power, cross these bridges into a bright future together.


A blessed New Year to all of you!



+ Bishop Robert Alan Rimbo

Metropolitan New York Synod, ELCA


















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




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.