You know you’re from a small town if....
1. You can name everyone you graduated with
2. You know what 4-H is
3. You ever went to a party at a pasture, barn, or in the middle of a dirt road.
4. You used to drag race on "main street."
5. You said a curse word and your parents knew within the hour
6. You regularly went cow-tipping or snipe hunting
7. The whole school went to the same party after graduation.
8. You don't give directions by street names but by people’s homes (turn by Nelson's house, go two blocks east of the Anderson's, and it's four houses left of the track field).
9. The golf course had only 9 holes.
10. Your car stays filthy because of the dirt roads, and you never owned a dark vehicle for this reason.
11. You refer to anyone with a house newer than 1980 as the "rich people".
12. You bragged to your friends because you got pipes on your truck for your birthday.
13. Your teachers call you by your older sibling’s names and remember when they taught your parents.
14. It is normal to see an old man riding through town on a riding lawn mower.
Yes, small towns are quite an experience. Those of us who grew up in the city don’t quite understand some of these novel experiences, but growing up this way can sure give you an interesting perspective! I was intrigued by a story that Nolan told me about his family restaurant in Leiper’s Fork. Well, it was the only restaurant in town and he saw lots of interesting things and people come through. One story that made me chuckle was an experience he had while working in the restaurant. Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban were cuddled up at a corner table of the restaurant, without seemingly being recognized. Someone told Nolan that he was serving a couple of celebrities. Nolan replied, “Who? Well, whoever they are, I hope they tip well!”
In small towns, it’s not necessarily about who you know, but who you are related to! Have you ever met a famous person or celebrity? Sometimes the mere attachment of a famous name to a charity or fundraising event can attract a huge response. It’s no wonder that famous people these days are sought after for lucrative promotional contracts with major commercial brands—or given non-descript awards for merely showing up at a charity ball or dedication ceremony. Wow—who wouldn’t love to make a million dollars for lending their name to promote a product or cause. I must admit I’ve fallen for that trap myself. For some reason when I watched those commercials with Lindsey Wagner pushing a really expensive bed—I fell for it. Just knowing that her sleep number was 45 somehow made me feel close to Lindsey—and believe everything she was saying. After—she was the Bionic woman! She wouldn’t lie!
I’ve met a few celebrities while working in New York, Chicago, DC and Los Angeles before being attending seminary. I met Patrick Swayze when working as an extra in his movie, Next of Kin. While managing dinner cruise ships in Los Angeles I got rub elbows with Alan Thicke, Kurt Cameron and other cast members from “Growing Pains.” Dick Van Patton, the father from the late 70s and early 80s TV show “8 is Enough” was also on that cruise. I literally almost ran into Lauren Bacall walking the streets of New York during a high school fine arts trip. And of course, meeting Anderson Cooper and Andy Cohen a few months ago right here in Nashville was an awesome experience.
But one of the most memorable moments with a celebrity happened while I was working as a student pastor in seminary. I planned a fundraising event for the launch of our church’s martial arts ministry called Spirit Quest. We invited the former White House correspondent Helen Thomas as our keynote speaker to address her experiences detailed in a new book she just had published. Our marketing materials said “Come and See” this inspiring speaker who was the most infamous person in the press room. Her distinctive career spanned the presidencies of JKF to George W. And many people were willing to pay big bucks to hear her speak.
And the events in our gospel text today also inspired such an experience for the followers of Jesus. It started with our reflection of baptism last week. John the Baptist was out in the wilderness when Jesus came to be baptized. John the Baptist must have heard about Jesus because John the Baptist said, “I am not worthy to tie your shoes.” Jesus said, “Baptize me.” As John baptized Jesus, it was as if the Spirit of God came down on Jesus in a special way. I am not exactly sure what happened afterwards but I am sure that something important happened. The heart of John the Baptist was captured by Jesus. And what did John the Baptist do? John the Baptist went and found his own disciples and said, “Come and see. Come and see.”
One of those disciples was named Andrew. John the Baptist said, “Andrew, you’ve got to come and see Jesus. He is an incredible man. I have never met anyone like him before.” And Andrew came to see Jesus and spent the whole night talking to him.
Something powerful happened to Andrew that night, as he encountered this spiritual giant, this amazing person.
The next morning, at the crack of dawn according to the text, Andrew went and found his older brother, Simon Peter. Andrew said to his older brother, “Simon, you’ve got to come and see. You have got to come and meet this Jesus.” So Simon Peter came and met Jesus. Simon Peter spent time with Jesus. There is no record of what was said in that conversation or how long that it lasted. But Peter’s heart was transformed.
Peter then went to Phillip and said, “Phillip, you’ve got to come and see.” Phillip did. Phillip’s heart was transformed. Phillip went and found his co-worker, Nathaniel. He said, “Nathaniel, you’ve got to come and meet this Jesus of Nazareth. You’ve simply got to.” Nathaniel’s first response was, “You’ve got to be kidding me! Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Now Nazareth was quite a small town, around 150 residents at the time of Jesus. But it was just a short walk from the outskirts of a much larger city, Sepphoris, which served as an administrative center for the Roman Empire. It could be that Jesus was just from a one horse town, a place so small that it didn’t even have a stop sign, a hometown that everyone leaves as soon as they can. For whatever reasons, Nathaniel didn’t think much of Jesus’ pedigree.
But Nathaniel came and saw anyway, and Jesus said to him. “Nathaniel. I saw you sitting under your fig tree yesterday.” Nathaniel said, “How did you see that?” Jesus said, “I know your heart.” Nathaniel fell down and worshipped him. In all of these stories, there were hearts who had been captured by Jesus Christ. Those people then went out and said, “Come and see.”
Meeting Jesus is the experience all of us long for. Our deepest desire is to be called by a significant name, isn’t it? Last week I told you how ashamed I was of my name. Brice Arnold was a name I didn’t quite appreciate that day. When I came home from school that day, I wanted to change my name because I wanted to be grown up. And my name needed to reflect this change. When someone knows and respects our name then we are truly known. To be called by name is to be singled out and valued. When we are called by name we are valued as a person.
These last four months we have spent a lot of time and energy clarifying our identity as a church. You decided to sell this building and live into the new reality of who you have become. You accepted the challenge of hiring a new pastor. And then you embraced me with open arms. Within just a few months you engaged a six week process of approving our Ministry Action Plan, an aggressive and comprehensive vision of who we want to be in the community. Because of that plan, we expanded our outreach, opened our doors to new ministries, streamlined our budget, and have been growing our worshipping community every Sunday. Did you realize what we would become a year ago? I’m sure it felt like the future was bleak and the way forward full of challenge. But we are just getting started.
Yet throughout these challenges God has always known our name. What I want you to hear this morning, more than anything else today is this: God knows your name. The Bible tells us that God knows us better than we know ourselves. Think about it. God knows you, your thoughts and desires and needs even before you have words for them. In the deepest sense, God knows your name. And God values you eternally. From the beginning of time, the Bible tells us that God has sought after each of us. That’s why, whenever Jesus calls someone in the Bible, their name is included. In our text, Jesus doesn’t just call people; he calls individuals with names: Philip, Nathanael, Peter, and Andrew. And there will be times when God will change our names—to reflect who we really are inside. Simon will be named “Peter”—the rock. But of all the names we have been or will be called in our lives, God calls us “Beloved.” You and I have been given a new name to add to our names so that we will never forget God’s love for us—you are “Beloved John,” “Beloved Sue,” “Beloved…” is the name God calls when God calls you by name.
Today, make no mistake about it—the Holy Spirit is here with your invitation to God’s eternal love. The invitation we are being given by the Holy Spirit is the very same one given by Philip to Nathanael: come and meet Jesus. God’s invitation to all is to discover a life of joy.
What’s in a name? Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had a vision of a just society that sprang from the truth of the Gospel: God knows each of our names and has established an eternal love for us no matter what our circumstances, no matter what our color or creed. The Bible makes it clear that we are known by God. But the Bible is equally clear that God’s valuing of us is only the beginning. Being known by God means that we treat others differently. Christianity insists that each of us be respected by others. This was the clear call of Dr. King’s great speech, “I have a dream.” His dream is of a society that respects all. His dream is of a people valued by all. His dream is God’s love being born in all and given to all. This is our vision at Holy Trinity. That any who come here will meet Jesus and hear their names called in respect and with the regard of God’s love. God has chosen you and me, in this place at this time, to be witnesses simply of this. Will you help me call others to “Come and See” this love for themselves?