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Bishop's Message

RSS By: Bishop Robert Alan Rimbo

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

Love governs all our relationships

Jun 09, 2014

 

Luke 1:39-57; Romans 12:9-16b

Preached at Synod Assembly

May 31, 2014


In one of the many wonders of the church’s calendar,

today, just a couple of days after we marked our Lord’s Ascension

and a week before we mark the Day of Pentecost,

we go back to the beginning in a sense

as we celebrate the Visit of Mary to Elizabeth,

the story that recounts how the pregnant Mary

went to visit her cousin Elizabeth

who was pregnant with John the Baptist,

which says that we also have tones of Advent

in our worship this afternoon.

We don’t often hear this story told,

but now, for two years running,

it has been the Gospel for one of our Assembly celebrations

 

of the Holy Communion.  

I’m glad for that.

Exactly one year ago today,

at the Opening Eucharist of our Synod Assembly,

I preached about how Mary and Elizabeth

demonstrate that we need each other.

That has not changed.

We still need each other.

 

 

Especially as God the Holy Spirit calls us

to ever-new ventures,

ever-new opportunities

to love.

 

I have always loved this story.

There is something so intimate, sacred, and profound about it.

In their mothers’ wombs,

babies are declaring that Jesus is the promised One…

Elizabeth utters words that will be recited over and over again

in the "Hail, Mary"

which we Lutherans don’t use so much

even though Martin Luther was devoted to the Mother of Our Lord…

and then, at the end of the Reading,

Mary sings a song that has been sung in thousands of ways

by thousands of communities

over thousands of years, the Magnificat.

As we will soon sing ourselves,

it’s unexpected and mysterious…

to say the least.

 

Because, see, all of this happens in the most unlikely context:

between two women who had little power,

one woman who is pregnant and unwed,

and another who is too old to be having children.

 

In these unlikely characters,

something revolutionary is taking place.

 

I have often wondered how much we miss about God

because we look in the wrong places.

We look in safe places.

We seek truth and intimacy with God

by consulting scholars or religious leaders.

We are so accustomed to experiencing God

in particular ways and places

that we can miss God speaking to us

or the Holy Spirit circling around us and stirring within us.

 

We are quick to label a kicking child as just a kicking kid –

not the Spirit speaking truth.

 

To encourage us to live in ways that access God

in unexpected and mysterious ways,

we get Paul’s words to the Romans.

It’s quite a list.

Paul knows that we often experience God in encounters with others,

in what Luther calls that mutual conversation and consolation

of brothers and sisters

to which we will be giving attention as a synod

over the next twelve months,

 

but also with those not valued by society or even by us,

those whom we would not necessarily name as brothers and sisters.

 

That reading from Romans

seems to be an unconnected series of commands,

a "rag bag" of miscellaneous exhortations,

things the Paul thought up on the spur of the moment.

But a closer examination

reveals how our need for one another

takes on flesh and blood and bone

as these verses declare what love looks like in the Christian life

with the central message that love governs all our relationships.

 

Let love be genuine;

 

hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good;

 

love one another with mutual affection;

 

outdo one another in showing honor.

 

Do not lag in zeal,

 

be ardent in spirit,

 

serve the Lord.

 

Rejoice in hope,

 

be patient in suffering,

 

persevere in prayer.

 

Contribute to the needs of the saints;

 

extend hospitality to strangers.

 

 

 

Bless those who persecute you;

 

bless and do not curse them.

 

Rejoice with those who rejoice,

 

weep with those who weep.

 

Live in harmony with one another;

 

do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly.

 

With Mary, the Mother of Our Lord and Elizabeth her cousin,

with Paul and Luke and Luther,

with you gathered in this Assembly,

with all who have been and will be engaged

with our synod’s Strategic Plan for God’s mission –

 

you knew I would get there eventually, right? –

we know that it’s all about relationships

and the love of God that governs and guides them.

 

The most powerful characteristic of any congregation

and, by extension,

the most powerful characteristic of any synod,

of the whole church is this:

that we love one another!

The world pines for this.

People are drawn to this.

When visitors and strangers are asked

what they are looking for in a church home,

the answer is nearly always the same:

care.

Not just a friendly bunch of people,

not just a relevant church

or a church with plenty of programs,

not even a church that takes the Bible seriously

or is faithfully Lutheran,

and, I can’t believe I’m saying this,

not even a congregation

that celebrates the Eucharist every Sunday.

As good and essential as those things are,

they don’t touch the deepest desire of people:

they want to be loved, truly and deeply,

and they’ll do the darnedest things to get that,

like join a congregation.

When people find such a place,

one filled with love,

they stand in line to get in.

 

 

God helps us grow in this love

by putting us in situations that force us to practice it.

God calls us to love by dealing with unlovely people.

I have seen it happen between spouses and partners,

parents and children,

between co-workers, neighbors, colleagues,

and students and relatives.

I have seen it happen between congregation members

who couldn’t stand each other.

I have seen people who start out disliking each other

end up as dearest friends.

Because it’s God’s love that binds us together,

 

not our own. 

 

Knowing what we know about how God works –

revealing truth in unexpected ways

and through unexpected people –

our invitation today is to be a people actively seeking God

in those unexpected and mysterious places.  

We will risk scary encounters.

We will cast seed where it’s unlikely to grow.

We will step out of comfort zones.

We will be attentive always.

Because when we do,

the reality of God’s revelation is an awesome ride.

When that happens,

along with Mary,

we will see the world differently

 

and we will declare the Mighty One has done great things,

 

shown strength,

 

scattered the proud,

 

brought down the powerful,

 

lifted up the lowly,

 

filled the hungry with good things,

 

sent the rich away empty,

 

helped us and all the world in mercy.

 

Let’s practice this love

for such a time as this.

 

 

Bishop Robert Alan Rimbo

 

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