Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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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




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

disaster relief
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