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




Learning from the Parable of the Prodigal Son

Oct 09, 2015

Sermon for Day of Penitence

Deans’ Retreat 2015


We have just heard the greatest short-short-story of all time

from the lips of the greatest storyteller of all time.

At least that’s one preacher’s opinion,

and you may disagree with that assessment.

But think of this story’s impact.


Rembrandt has painted it,

Prokofiev set it to music,

Nietzsche philosophized about it.

I’m guessing Freud had a field day with it.

But it’s not just a great story,

a superb piece of fiction,

of which Faulkner or Salinger might well be envious.

It is the gospel of Jesus Christ;

this is what God’s Son took flesh to do;

here is your Christian hope.


Here is a lad just out of his teens.

His father is not a Donald Trump,

but he does own a farm or at least a lot of land.

But the youngster is restless,

unhappy at home.

He craves action, a few fleshpots.

So he asks and gets his share of the property

which he converts into cash

and gets as far over the border as he can.

He squanders his money in lewd living;

his older brother complains that he spent a good bit

at the best little whorehouse outside Palestine.

Down to his last shekel, he is hit by a famine

and in desperation hires out to a Gentile

who sets him to the ultimate in degradation:

a Jew feeding pigs.

He sinks so low that he longs to fill his belly with what the swine are swilling

until he comes to his senses.


Back he goes.

Back home.

And his father spies his son while the lad is a good way off.

"Well, well, well.

I always knew if he got hungry enough he’d come crawlin’ back.

Let him squirm a bit."


That’s not what dad does.

Compassion fills his heart;

he runs to meet his wayward son

as fast as his varicose veins will let him,

and the son can hardly get his apology out.

His father hugs him,

kisses him, not just in welcome but in tearful forgiveness.

Treat him like a hired hand?

Not on your life!

Treat him like an honored guest!

Dress him in the finest you have.

Call the neighbors and get a party started.


Out in the fields, sweating with a vengeance, is son number one.

Coming to the house,

he cannot believe his ears.

He summons a servant:

"What in God’s name is going on?"

And when the servant tells him, the son is outraged.

A party for the prodigal,

the lazy lout who washed his hands of the estate,

who treated his dad like dirt,

the sexed-up neurotic

who fornicated a third of the family’s fortune?

His father comes out,

pleads with him to join the party.

"No, sir.

Not on your life.

Frankly, I’m mad as hell.

Here I’ve been slaving for you ever since I grew muscles,

never disregarded a single command of yours.

Have you ever thrown a party for me?

What kind of father are you?"

His father gently chides him:

"Son, you are always with me.

All that I have is yours.

But your brother –

yes, he’s been stupid, he’s sinned against God and against me;

he’s been as good as dead.

But, son, your brother has come alive again;

he’s changed;

he’s new.

Why shouldn’t we have a party?"


Of course, we all know the main character in this story is the father.

Before all else, the parable preaches a striking set of truths about God.

Our God is not a God of vengeance,

waiting to pounce on you

as soon as you stray from the straight and narrow.

Our God exemplifies to the nth degree

what you would expect of a loving parent.

"Can a woman forget her sucking child,

that she should have no compassion on the child of her womb?

Even these may forget,

yet I will not forget you.

Behold, I have graven you

on the palms of my hands." (Isaiah 49:14-16)

Do you imagine that God’s own Son took your flesh

in order to wreak vengeance on it?

Can you conceive that he was joking

when from the cross he murmured, "Forgive them"?

The primary principle of this parable is a message we have to share:

God loves the sinner while she or he is still a sinner!

God loves us all the time.

God loves us anyway.


And not only does God love and forgive;

God takes the initiative, the first step, in forgiveness.

God doesn’t wait, aloof and aloft in solitary splendor,

stroking a gray beard like a shrewd shrink

until you come to your senses.

God runs to meet you.


Before you can actually say "I’ve really screwed up,"

God, who knows your heart,

kisses you in forgiveness,

dresses you in new garments,

throws a party for you among the angels.


And, here’s a truth as consoling as it is frightening:

Unless God took the initiative,

the first step in forgiveness,

you could never come to God.

You cannot decide all by yourself,

"This life of sin is for the pigs;

I’m hurrying home."

What makes it possible for us to crawl out of the pigpen,

to eat the Bread of Life and to drink the cup of salvation,

is God’s love.

Without that we’re dead,

and we would stay dead.

We did not ask the Son of God to hide his glory in our feeble flesh.

We did not ask the earthly Christ to wean us from sin by a bloody cross.

We did not ask the risen Christ to keep interceding for us

till time is no more.

It’s all God’s own wild idea.

But unless Christ had done all this,

if he did not continue to draw us by his love,

you and I would still be lusting for the carob pods of pigs.


I can only tell you what I have learned about this story from my own life.

Your best bet is to listen to God and learn for yourself.


First, I have learned, slowly,

to relate to God more as a loving Mother.

My God is not the God of the Deists,

a cold Creator who shaped the world and then let us go our merry way, uncaring, unheeding, unhelpful,

waiting for us to appear before the throne for our just judgment.

God is like a Mother to me

and in God’s sight I am unique and wonderful and beloved.


Somehow God lets things happen that are unexpected of a loving Mother:

devastating earthquakes,

fires and floods;

two world wars, a Holocaust that gassed six million Jews,

schizophrenia and bipolar disorder and Alzheimer’s and AIDS.

I can’t explain that stuff.

But neither can I explain why God sent Jesus to die for me

and still cares for me when I repeatedly say "no"

and wants me to share the divine life forever.


My basic belief is: God is love.

Without that, the whole Christian edifice crumbles.

I begin not with a question but with an act of trust –

the same trust the God-forsaken Jesus forced through parched lips:

"Into your hands I commend my spirit."

The movement is not from knowledge to love;

the movement is from love to knowledge.

The more I love God, the better will I know God.


Second, I have learned,

through years of experience,

not to play the elder sibling,

even though I fully expect his renewed family

eventually threw a party for him, too.

It’s called mercy.

I have learned not to turn up my nose at "foxhole Christians"

who cry to God in final desperation,

and I am working at not judging born-again Pentecostals

except when they try to impose their religion on everybody else.


Because I know from my own life that God’s mercy is limitless,

not bounded by my myopia.


And third,

I identify best with the prodigal because I recognize in him,

far more than in his brother or his dad,

our human condition, my condition.

For all our apparent strength,

of ourselves we are frail creatures.

We chafe under restrictions,

rebel against authority,

sulk when slighted,

go off into our own far countries.

Even we who are professional Christians

take God all too lightly,

give God the time left over from more important events,

leave God’s family and house, the Church,

spiritually, emotionally and sometimes physically

when we don’t like what’s going on.

We toy with temptations.

We can be awfully small,



At times we come slinking back, embarrassed,

"I have sinned against heaven, against you…"

If you’ve never experienced any of this

please take your pulse to see if you’re alive.


But this I have learned above all:

The prodigal’s "I have sinned" is not just an admission of guilt,

it is an act of love.

The prodigal could just as effectively have said,

"Father, I love you."

If sin is rejection,

repentance is acceptance.

I have received God’s love

and I return that love to God.

This is what we do today,