Samuel L. Jackson is in our neighborhood this week. Seriously. He’s filming a movie called, The Banker, a street over from mine. It’s a quiet street called Sherwood with homes built in the 1930’s. I walk this street most mornings after the bus picks up my daughter for school. Usually, the most action on these walks is watching out for people backing out of their driveways for work. But not yesterday. I decided to stroll past the filming set in the early evening. It seemed as if everyone else in the neighborhood thought it would be a good time to take a stroll.
As I passed by the filming crew, suddenly I hear my name, “Will Zant!” For a fleeting moment I thought, “Well, finally someone realizes my talent.” But the voice wasn’t one of a director or talent recruiter. It was my neighbor and church member, Kevin.
Kevin lived a few doors down from the set and decided to bring out a chair and enjoy the fall air and the bustle of the film crew. He and his wife and I talked for a while. They have lived in the neighborhood for over 20 years. He updated me about the neighborhood and the history. There was something nice about an “experienced” Morningside neighbor calling my name. I felt like I belonged to this place.
As the new person to the community, you want to feel like you belong, like you have a place. I’m reminded of a quote from Fred Rogers giving advice to a journalist who had moved to a new community. He wrote to her, “Just as it takes a tree a long time to begin to grow again once it’s transplanted, so you can give your healthy roots time to find the nourishment of your new soil in your new community.”
On that walk, maybe the most meaningful thing to happen was not meeting Samuel L. Jackson, but walking away feeling like I was known and welcome. I imagine some of our biggest fears in this world is that there’s not a place for us. We won’t fit in. Our gifts won’t be needed. I won’t have anything to offer the larger community.
I’m thinking about our current sermon series at my church. Our theme is “There’s a Place for You.” My hunch is that such a message can speak to people longing to know there’s room for them.
This Sunday, we’re having our annual “All Saints” remembrance. We remember those saints who have gone before us in the community of faith. They are among the great cloud of witnesses who have professed their faith in Christ and have passed that faith down to future generations. We will remember 5 church members in particular who have died the past year. As a new pastor to this church, I’m reminded that I’m serving in a community of faith where I did not have the privilege of knowing the ones we will remember.
It’s a keen reminder to me that I’m inheriting the great work of people I have never known. The sanctuary where we worship, the room where children meet, the liveliness of our Wednesday night dinners: I have inherited all these gifts. The people have passed down to me a community where the name of Jesus is lifted up and where love abounds.
In a way, I’m quite envious of these saints. I’m preaching on a passage from Revelation that speaks of a new heaven and a new earth. The Lord declares,
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away. (Rev. 21:4).
They rest in place where suffering and death and crying are no more. We still have this mystic connection through our shared faith. They were like us.
I imagine them in the church at Haygood. I think about the many ways they nurtured their faith during times of hardships and joy. I often see pictures of Sunday school classes from the 1940’s. Pictures usually make people look more happy than they were. I imagine these groups prayed and suffered together. They prayed for each other in times of deep distress. They experienced WWII. They celebrated the birth of babies. They brought their dreams together and built a preschool. Although I can find no minutes of any sort of meeting, I’m sure there were squabbles over the need for one.
I’m thankful to feel a sense of connection to the past and to the present. I’m looking forward by God’s grace to finding my place to create the future.