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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




The tension between grace and works

Apr 25, 2016

Ministerium Gathering

Matthew 11:25-30


Alleluia! Christ is risen!

Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!


Pastors gathered for a Synod-Wide Ministerium. See the pictures here and the prayers of intercession offered here.

I hear that there is a bit of a betting pool among members of our synod staff when it comes time for an ordination. The wager revolves around the question: "When, in the rite of ordination, will the Bishop begin to choke up?" Most often it is at the time when the stole is placed on the ordinand’s shoulders and I say: Receive this stole as a sign of your work, and live in obedience to the Lord Jesus, serving his people and remembering his promise:

Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.


It’s a wonderful promise, a comforting promise to which many of us turn when our burdens seem impossible to bear, when our best efforts to cope with them have failed and we are close to collapse. It is a promise that offers hope of help, hope of a God who will lift the sweaty loads off our backs and replaced them with a lighter yoke, lighter because it yokes us with One who is greater than we are, and with whose strong help we can bear any burden.


That’s what the passage means to many people. But it meant something very different when Jesus first said it.


Our Lord had just finished a preaching mission to several Galilean cities, where his welcome had been less than warm. The people in those cities were smart and capable. In spite of Roman occupation, both their local economies and their religious institutions were still working. They were not looking for help from Jesus or anyone else, and whatever gifts he had hoped to give to them, they declined to take. This Galilean mission was a failure, in other words, and in the passage at hand we hear Jesus’ response to that failure. After heaping some powerful reproaches on those who did not welcome him, he thanks God for showing things to simple people that wise and understanding people cannot see. At least one reason why this is God’s will, apparently, is so that no one gets human wisdom and understanding confused with divine revelation. Those who know God do not arrive at such knowledge by their own natural intelligence or capable efforts. They know God because God has chosen to be known.


By the time Matthew wrote his account, some believers were proposing fairly weighty requirements on new prospects. And if you pay any attention, you know that such requirements were not unique to that time, long ago in a land far away; such requiring happens right now, wherever religious people meet to decide what it means to know God. I think the case can be made that Matthew’s Gospel is not about a struggle between two different religious traditions. It is about the struggle within one religious tradition over the requirements of faith. A struggle of which we are well aware.


We Lutherans need to be careful here.


In traditional telling, when Jesus offered his heavy-laden listeners a lighter load, he was offering them a religion of grace to replace the religion of works under which they were laboring. I confess that I have actually preached that sermon myself, offering the gathered assembly the high Lutheran ground while denigrating the competition. In hindsight, my offering was not true on many levels. It was not historically true. It was not theologically true. It was not even humanly true.


As best I can tell, the truth is that every human being who longs to know God lives with the tension between grace and works. On one hand, we long to believe that God comes to us as we are, utterly unimpressed by the tricks we do for love. On the other hand we live in a world there those tricks often work really well, so that it is next to impossible to give up believing in them too. Follow us around for a day or two and you may discover what we believe most by how we act.


I may believe that I live by God’s grace, but I act like a scout collecting merit badges. I have a list of things to do that is a mile long, and while there are a number of things on the list that I genuinely want to do, they easily become things I should do, I had better do or God will not love me anymore. I may believe that my life depends on God’s grace, but I act like it depends on me and how many good deeds I can perform, as if every day were a talent show and God had nothing better to do than keep up with my score.


Honestly, now, do you know what I mean? Human beings, even Lutheran human beings, have a perverse way of turning Jesus’ easy yoke back into a hard one again, driving ourselves to do, do, do more and whipping ourselves to be, be, be more when all God has ever asked is that we belong to God.

That comes first. Everything else follows that, but we so often get the order reversed. We think there are all kinds of requirements to be met first, all kinds of rules to follow, all kinds of burdens to bear, so that we are not yet free to belong to God. We are still loaded down, by our ministry and our families and all our other responsibilities but really by something deeper down in us, something that keeps telling us we must do more, be better, try harder, prove ourselves worthy or we will never earn God’s love. It is the most tiring work in the world. And it is never done.


We live under the illusion that our yokes are single ones, that we have got to go it alone, that the only way to please God is to load ourselves down with heavy requirements – good deeds, pure thoughts, blameless lives, perfect obedience – all those rules we make and brake and make and break, while all the time Jesus is standing right there in front of us, half of a shared yoke across his own shoulders, the other half wide open and waiting for us, a yoke that requires no more than that we step into it and become part of a team.


"Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." No wonder those words have weathered the centuries so well; no wonder they are still music to our ears. They assure us that those who please God are not those who can carry the heaviest loads alone but those who are willing to share their loads, who are willing to share their yokes, by entering into relationship with the One whose invitation is a standing one. "Take my yoke upon you and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."


Alleluia! Christ is risen!

Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!


Bishop Robert Alan Rimbo

disaster relief
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