Dear Siblings in Christ, Dear People of Emanuel Lutheran Church,   It’s wonderful to be here with you today, celebrating the season of Epiphany and joining you in this new phase of your life as a congregation.  

My name is Robert Smith. I direct Briarwood Leadership Center and serve as an Associate to Bishop Erik Gronberg in the NT-NL Synod offices. I am happy to join you for a time as your Transitional Pastor.  

With you, I celebrate the ministry of Pastor Cindy Carroll and wish her well in retirement. She is a wonderful leader who will be missed. Already, your search committee is hard at work with our Synod leaders to provide options for who your next pastor might be.  

This process isn’t just about finding a pastor. First, it’s about discerning together the ministry to which Emanuel Lutheran Church is called in this place, in this time. That’s no simple task, especially these days.   The Emanuel community is in the middle of a global pandemic and in the middle of a rapidly transforming neighborhood. Certainly, our country is in the midst of a very challenging time. With all of this happening, the search for a new pastor is less about that person and more about discerning the character of this community and its mission for the sake of this city and the world.  

Your task in this time—both as individuals and as a community—is to discern the mission into which God is calling you.  

Samuel was open to the call. He eagerly jumped up in response to his master’s voice. He ran to Eli’s side, asking what was needed. But Eli knew better; this voice wasn’t his, but the Lord’s. Eli urged patience and quiet response. And then, when the Lord spoke, the message was nothing either Samuel or Eli could have imagined. It was an unexpected and challenging message.  

This is the sort of process Emanuel is engaged in now. As you work together to patiently listen to God’s call, to better comprehend God’s purpose for this congregation, there will be times when the answer comes to you in the middle of the night and you think “Yes, this is it! This is exactly what we should be doing!” But in prayer and in conversation with others, you may need to take a step back and listen again. And the vision you finally see together may be quite different from what you imagined at the beginning of your process.   What I can tell you, even from knowing this community for just a short while, is that Emanuel Lutheran Church is a place where people experience and share the love of God in Christ Jesus. This is a place where the real presence of God is experienced through the sacraments and through fellowship, where God is truly with us, manifesting God’s love for the sake of the world.  

In other words, Emanuel is a community filled with disciples, those who follow Jesus. Emanuel is like Philip, who answered Jesus’ call: “Follow me.” In response, Philip went out to gather other disciples, saying “We have found him.”   But instead of immediately falling in line, Jesus and Philip find skepticism and, later, outright resistance. Emanuel, as a community of disciples, is surrounded by hundreds and hundreds of Nathanaels asking “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”  

As we speak today, all of northern Texas is changing. The apartment complex being built around Emanuel is a symbol of that change. The people in our communities—the very people who will live in those apartments—are asking questions: about institutions, about government, about the church.  

Nathanael asked: “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Many people today are asking: “Can anything good come out of Christianity?” More than a few people see Christianity as fully coopted by reactionary, extremist wings of political parties. They see churches as bastions of patriarchy and white supremacy. Emanuel offers a different witness.  

People are skeptical, and rightly so. They’ve been convinced that religion has little to offer that’s relevant for their lives. At the same time, they are seeking: seeking purpose, seeking to participate in a mission that larger than themselves.  

In response to the skepticism of this world’s Nathanaels, we issue the invitation: “Come and see.” Come and see the joy of organic human diversity; come and see how Emanuel Lutheran Church feeds the poor and advocates on behalf of justice. At Emanuel, come and see the inclusive, healing, restoring, and liberating love of God in Christ Jesus.  

Through the Sacrament of Baptism, we have been called to participate in God’s mission for the sake of the world. Together, we are nourished and strengthened by God’s presence in the Sacrament of Holy Communion. We are saved by grace through faith, so that the salvation we proclaim in the world isn’t from us, but from God. Our service to our neighbors is, therefore, our service to God.  

It is a pleasure for me to be on this journey with you, dear people of Emanuel Lutheran Church. I look forward to getting to know you and finding out more about how you live out your holy calling in everyday life. Emanuel, God is with us. Amen.

Rev. Robert O. Smith, PhD