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

 

 

 

Learning from Mary

May 13, 2017
Bishop Rimbo preached this sermon during our 2017 Synod Assembly in Tarrytown, NY on May 13, 2017.
 

Luke 1:46-55

Mary said,
"My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever."
REW_20170513_914
 

Alleluia! Christ is risen!

Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!

 

Theologians call the paradoxes "coincidences of opposites." And Mary’s Magnificat is filled with them.

 

And for good cause, apparently, according to Martin Luther who was the champion of coincidences of opposites, the prince of paradoxes.

 

Martin Luther’s amazing Commentary on the Magnificat was composed amid the stormy days of the spring and summer of 1521. The writing and the publishing were interrupted when Luther was summoned to the Diet of Worms. It’s a "deet of vorms, by the way, which has nothing to do with food. At the Diet, you’ll recall, Luther gave his famous "Here I stand" speech and really got himself in hot water which led to his forced exile at the Wartburg Castle. Eventually, while he was dealing with his own demons, the turbulence which he caused with those infamous 95 Theses, the less-than- successful meeting in Worms, and the depression brought on

by being stuck in the Wartburg Castle, he finished the devotional commentary on the Magnificat.

 

It is an exegetical commentary and a devotional classic. But frankly, it is also a guideline, even a manifesto, on how the person to whom it is dedicated, Prince John Frederick, Duke of Saxony and a whole lot of other places in Germany, should behave as a ruler.

 

It is largely about how to be a political leader. Last Friday we had a group of diaconal leaders from Germany visit us in our office. It was the day after the "triumph" in the House of Representatives of what appears to be an ill-fated health care plan. The Germans asked: "What kind of influence do you Lutherans have on your government?" I hemmed and hawed for a bit. I should have told them I’m sending multiple copies of Luther’s Commentary on the Magnificat to Washington and Albany and City Hall.

 

See, in his cover memo to Prince John Frederick, Luther says, "when power, riches, and honor come to a human being, these form so strong an incentive to presumption and smugness, that the leader forgets God and does not care about the people. Being able to do wrong with impunity, the leader lets himself go and becomes a beast…and is a ruler in name, but a monster in deed…"

 

I know some of you are mad at me for saying this, but I’m just quoting Luther directly. You can disagree with him.

 

To counter this human tendency he feared would be the case for Prince John Frederick, Martin Luther points to Mary and "this sacred hymn of the most blessed Mother of God, which ought indeed to be learned and kept in mind by all who would rule well and be helpful…In it she really sings sweetly about the fear of God, what sort of Lord God is, and especially what God’s dealings are with those of low and high degree…this pure Virgin Mary deserves to be heard by a prince and lord as she sings her sacred, chaste, and salutary song."

 

As we come near the end of this Assembly and as we engage in this new thing of working together to help people in need in a hands-on experience today, we can learn from Mary how to sing and live to God’s glory and praise.

 

It strikes me as strange that Mary did not receive from God’s messenger any help prior to her visit to Elizabeth when she first sang this song. She did not receive any script, any kind of scenario for her life as a mother. I suspect Gabriel knew that Mary lived in Faith Not Fear. But consider this: Gabriel did not tell her any of the facts, alternate or otherwise: "Now, Mary, before you say anything, you should know what a ‘yes’ entails. Joseph will think you’ve been unfaithful and will plan to separate from you. There are no Lamaze classes in Nazareth or Bethlehem. Your baby will be born far from your home and family, and have as his first crib a feed trough for animals. To escape the rage of a mad ruler, you will have to flee with your infant to far-off Egypt. Then you will return to live in this backwater town of Nazareth and no one will give a hoot about who your son really is. You will watch your neighbors try to throw him from a cliff. Your relatives will claim he is crazy. The authorities will accuse him of blasphemy. And, on top of all that, he will not outlive you, not die of natural causes. He will breathe his last executed like a common criminal on a bloody cross, between two bandits. But don’t worry, Mary: three days later you will see him again."

 

None of this was given to the singer of Mary’s Song. If it had been, she might have responded, "Are you crazy?" The only thing given was a promise. The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you, and with that alone, Mary spoke her faith-filled once-for-all yes: "Here am I, servant of the Lord. Let it be to me as you say."

 

The Magnificat is a song, a prayer, filled with memory and with hope…and an over-arching sociopolitical manifesto. Listen to this again:

 

God has shown strength with his arm;

scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;

brought down the powerful from their thrones;

lifted up the lowly;

filled the hungry with good things;

sent the rich away empty;

and helped his servant Israel.

 

No wonder Luther sent this to his Prince!

 

This is the Mary whose sights are set beyond little Nazareth, who proclaims biblical justice, not the justice of men and women or constitutions or bills of rights, but the justice of God. Mary, in this single song, takes us back to God’s mercy in the selection of a band of enslaved tribes, their exodus from Egypt, the prophetic witness. And Mary takes us forward to the hope that stems from Jesus who fulfills all justice, whose reign is a reign that will make all things new; forward to the Jesus of judgement who will separate the sheep from the goats on the basis of what we do for the least of these, and will create the ideal community envisioned in the post-Pentecost power of the book of Acts.

 

Mary’s Song pushes us beyond our comfort zones, beyond our boundaries, beyond what we think the Church is supposed to do, to where God wants us to be. It causes us to work together for issues right in front of us that are killing people. We live in a country that is discouragingly deaf to the cries of the enslaved poor, its abused women and homeless men, its sick who have no access to health-care and must choose between food and medicine, its millions of youngsters sleeping on its streets each night, its elderly rummaging for food in dumpsters, its prisoners on death row. Mary’s Song opens our eyes to see thousands of infants living in poverty who will not see their first birthday, and opens our ears to the prophetic witness of Micah calling us ‘to do justice, to love mercy, to walk humbly with God.’

 

Mary calls us to live the mission of her Son, Jesus: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor, has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free."

 

Now, this afternoon, we will engage in fairly simple activities of caring. We will also, I hope, put our names on the line to work for God’s justice. And in the next months, it is my hope and intent that our synod will continue to bear witness in efforts at advocacy and bold service for the life of the world, all of us together.

 

Martin Luther’s friend Mary appears also in a single sentence in the Book of Acts where it declares "The apostles were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the Mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers."  (Acts 1:14) One word sums this up: community. We cannot be Christians alone. Mary is seen sharing food and conversation, prayer and memories with Jesus’ closest friends, with women and men who had shared his hopes and his fears, his travel and his travail, his agonies and his ecstasies, his life and his love. 

 

Sisters and Brothers, we are called to that same community now, as we come to this Holy Communion where we will be nourished so we may bring Faith, not Fear, to our world.

 

For, Alleluia! Christ is risen!

Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!

 

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Amen.

 

Bishop Robert Alan Rimbo

Metropolitan New York Synod

Evangelical Lutheran Church in America