March 2017 Archive for Bishop's Message

RSS By: Bishop Robert Alan Rimbo

The Rev. Dr. Robert Rimbo shares regular thoughts and reflections about our life together.

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.