Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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January 2017 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

 

 

 

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.

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