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. 

 

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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!

 

 Rimbo

+ Bishop Robert Alan Rimbo

Metropolitan New York Synod, ELCA

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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

 

 

 

Where Do We Go from Here?

Jan 15, 2017

Bishop Rimbo preached this sermon at the ADLA Commemoration of Martin Luther King, Jr. at St. Paul's, Parkchester, Bronx on January 15. The theme was "Where Do We Go from Here? Chaos or Community?"

 

I am so grateful to the leaders of the African Descent Lutheran Association, Metropolitan New York Synod Chapter, for the invitation to preach today. For a number of years, I have not been able to be at this commemoration of The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., because it always conflicted with a gathering of the Conference of Bishops. I am thankful that leaders of ADLA put this event on the Sunday of the national commemoration and that Lois and I can be with you. Thank you.

 

I greet all of you, sisters and brothers, in the Name of Jesus and in that Name I now preach.

 

Nine days ago, on January 6, 2017, Lois and I were privileged to stand with other bishops and various leaders of our Evangelical Lutheran Church in America in the sanctuary of Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. There were plenty of tears there. We were on holy ground. We were welcomed with gracious, godly hospitality. All of us in our delegation were silent with awe in the presence of God at the site where the Nine Martyrs of Mother Emanuel were killed.

 

I keep thinking of the people there. Especially today as I gather with you to commemorate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and to address the persistent systemic racism which continues to weigh us down and against which our Synod is committed to struggle.

 

The long list of racist horrors in the past few years is always present, on our streets, in our schools, at our jobs and in our churches, mosques and synagogues, I could speak of so many atrocities, but I am most moved by that experience I had at Mother Emanuel. Imagine nine of your fellow church members murdered by a stranger whom they welcomed in for Bible Study. What a wound. Those scars will mark us forever.

 

Over a hundred and fifty years have passed since this nation’s bloodiest war. Despite all the efforts and accomplishments of both black and white Americans, despite all of our worthy civil rights legislation, and despite the Church’s fierce stand against the sin of racism, it continues to raise its ugly head, it continues to have a stranglehold. The Ku Klux Klan still marches not only in white sheets, but in pin-striped suits and off-the-rack dresses and preachers’ robes. The Civil War may have ended at Appomattox, but remnants of its cause still linger.

 

Racism persists in the jokes we tell, In campaign speeches, in the choices we make, the friends we keep, the places where we live, the candidates we vote for or against, the reality of our lives. Many of you know that better than I. Many of us are outraged at the dismissive attitudes and downright lies we’ve heard or seen tweeted regard a hero, Congressman John Lewis. We’re outraged because it’s outrageous. Racism is like the common cold: It’s in the systems of our society. Everyone – those in the church and those out of the church, those who identify as red or blue or orange, those who are rich as well as those who are poor – everyone is susceptible to the virus.

 

We have just experienced the grace of eight years of the most even, balanced, wise, compassionate presidency – you choose the words as well as I do – now coming to an end, and, ask Lois, I have been weeping every day and every night, partly out of a great sense of loss, partly out of a great sense of fear.

 

Racism brings misery to all. And as shocking and embarrassing as it is, we must have the courage to look at racism in light of God’s truth, in light of God’s Word, and to ask "Where Do We Go From Here?"

 

"Where Do We Go from Here? Chaos or Community?" is the title of Dr. King’s last book. Those questions, and thousands of other questions, surround us today. Where do we go from here? Chaos or Community? What can we offer? The fact that this assassin, this young man, Dylan Roof, grew up Lutheran makes the grief more painful for me, not because I think Lutherans should be free from such evil, but because I keep asking, "Where did we go wrong with this young person?" Especially knowing that he declares that he has no remorse. And even though the trial has now moved to sentencing him to death, the fact is there is no bringing back these nine faithful people: Cynthia Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lance, Depayne Middleton Doctor, Pastor Clementa Pinckney, Tywanza Sanders, Pastor Daniel Simmons, Pastor Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Myra Thompson.

 

When we were in Charleston we heard the story of the impact as victims’ family members and friends shared their pain on the news.

 

We can certainly pray for all who mourn but we must also offer to transform this broken reality of our world.

 

We can offer our courageous challenges to prejudicial words and racist behavior.

 

We can offer our words, our actions, our willingness to suffer when our concerns are not welcome.

 

We can offer our honest love to people who need to know that, as with our Lord Jesus Christ, God can raise the dead and heal the broken.

 

We can continue to teach the ministry of reconciliation.

 

We can strive for the justice to which Dr. King committed his life, the justice which the Prophet Amos proclaimed.

 

You heard one verse from Amos moments ago. Did you notice it began with the rod "but"? That means something came before it, right? So let’s hear more:

I hate, I despise your festivals,

and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.

Though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings,

I will not accept them,

and the peace offerings of your fatted animals

I will not look upon.

Take away from me the noise of your songs;

I will not listen to the melody of your harps.

But let justice roll down like waters,

and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

(Amos 5:21-24)

 

We gather here this afternoon to worship, and Amos tells us graphically, pungently, how intimately worship and justice are conjoined in God’s covenant with God’s people.

 

Don’t just take my word for it. Read the book of Amos and you will find that he is a pessimist, the least hopeful of the classical prophets. He lived in a pessimistic, paradoxical period: on the one hand, great material prosperity; on the other hand, social and religious corruption. (Sound familiar?) His is a raw message of judgment – God’s judgment on Israel. Particularly against its leaders – rulers, priests, upper classes; but a judgment that would affect all the people. Why? Because the nation was understood as a unity, with a common destiny. Israel, Amos storms, will be destroyed; destruction is certain, inescapable, total. Because they had disregarded their covenant with God. They went through the motions of worshiping; merchants were careful not to do business on forbidden days but when the prophets reproached them they turned a deaf ear. 

 

But the ultimate reason the Lord would execute judgment? Because so many of the people compartmentalized their lives, separated worship of God from concern for their neighbor, even though worship of God and justice to the neighbor were intimately connected. The merchants did no business on the proscribed days, but they were impatient for the holy days to pass so they could resume their fraudulent business. Wealthy landowners oppressed the less fortunate; they simply took over the landholdings of impoverished people. No wonder Amos, speaking the Word of the Lord, railed against them. But look out, watch it here: First, this justice is not Constitutional Law – there was no such thing at the time, of course. This justice is God’s own sense of righteousness, of mercy.

 

And, also, this was not an out-and-out rejection of Israelite worship or religion. It was a rhetorical device which you can add to your collection of unusable phrases: it’s called "dialectic negation." Like any good preacher, Amos strongly negates, denies, nullifies one facet of religion (worship) so as to emphasize another facet (justice). Read the writings of great preachers like Dr. King and you will see this device used masterfully. Hosea likewise proclaimed this word of the Lord: "I desire steadfast love, not sacrifice" but remember that, of course, the Lord wanted sacrifice, too – just not when it was offered as a substitute for the demands of the covenant, not when love of God was supposed to replace love of neighbor.

 

"Where Do We Go From Here? Chaos or Community?" is an intriguing, amazing, challenging read. And I particularly appreciate the subtitle: "Where Do We Go From Here? Chaos Or Community?" Reading this book while visiting Charleston was deeply moving. Reading this book in preparing to preach for this commemoration with the words of Amos ringing in my ears is profoundly challenging.

 

Because – stay with me here – now we must move from Amos and Israel to you and me, now we must move from Chaos to Community, our community, the Beloved Community of which Dr. King spoke, that Community of which we are all part.

 

I am not as pessimistic as was Amos. For all our failings, I do not believe God has passed a definitive judgment

on the People of God known as the Church. I do not believe we are destined for destruction – certain, inescapable, total. Still, my experience and our work in our Synod on the immense and intense racism which we continue to face, says that we have strong parallels with that which caused Amos to predict disaster. There remains a great gulf between worship and justice, a gulf bridged in places like Mother Emanuel, in places like the churches and people of our synod working on addressing racism powerfully and prayerfully – trying to bridge the divides that separate us.

 

We, too, enjoy a covenant with God – a covenant that was sealed not with the blood of bulls, but with the blood of God’s Son. That covenant is shaped by faithfulness: God ceaselessly faithful to us despite our infidelities; We, bound by the two commandments that sum up the law and the prophets and express our faithfulness: "you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind" and "you shall love your neighbor at least as much as you love yourself."

 

One of the great heresies of the church today is believing that the only commandment that really matters for eternity, for eternal life, is the first: Love God but let humans fend for themselves. The First Letter of John summarizes this in a single uncompromising sentence: "If anyone has the world’s goods and sees their sister or brother in need yet closes their heart, how does God’s love abide in that person?" For a Christian, giving to those in need is not a secular handout, a simple act of constitutional justice, a lovely virtue, giving others what they can legitimately claim because it can be proven from philosophy or has been written into the Constitution of the United States. No. This is essential Christianity, my sisters and brothers. Without it I am not genuinely a Christian. Unless I love all of God’s images on earth at least as much as I love myself, I do not really love God.

 

The strong word of the Lord on Amos’s lips, "I will not accept your burnt offerings," did not fade away when Christ was born. Remember what he said to the Pharisees, "Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice’" – good old dialectic negation. Of course, God desires sacrifice, but it’s the sacrifice of which St. Paul speaks: "I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters – to you, Christians, to you, followers of the Way – I appeal to you by the mercies of God to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship."

 

Where Do We Go From Here?

 

We go to action linked to mercy, to practical love, to compassion, to justice, from chaos to community.

 

This is action growing from the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Martyr, Renewer of Society, Renewer of the Church. This is action flowing from the holy ground of Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church and the Nine Holy Martyrs of Charleston. This is action seen as we link worship and justice, as we move from the church to the world, from the pulpit to the people, from the Christ we meet in the Holy Communion to the countless images of God who are crucified still today by poverty, classism, ageism, and racism. This is action with which we confront racism in our Church and in our world. "Where Do We Go From Here? Chaos or Community?" Community, the Beloved Community, is Dr. King's answer. Let it be our answer as well. We go from chaos to community, a good direction, given our current state of affairs in the church and in our society. We go, together, into and as the Beloved Community of Christ Jesus our Savior and Lord. Amen.

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