One of the most popular TV shows from 1982 to 1993 was the sitcom, Cheers. Cheers was the name of the neighborhood bar in Boston where an interesting and eclectic group of characters would gather daily. (You can go to Boston today and visit the actual bar that was the TV façade for the exterior shots. The owners quickly adopted the name and signage making this spot a destination for tourists) Every week the theme song would play and the catch phrase from that song would find its way not only into the American psyche but also psychological studies, theological writings, leadership and management seminars, and church growth plans. “Where everyone knows your name,” was the un-academic way of saying what sociologists termed a third place. The first place was home and the second was the office or work site. It was stated that everyone is looking for their third place, a space for community, bonding and hanging out because the first place, home, was stuck in dysfunction and the second place, work, was enveloped with dehumanizing monotony. Even if home was wonderful and work was fulfilling, a place where “everyone knows your name” fills a special void. Everyone is looking for their “Cheers,” just ask Starbucks.
Pastor Ed stated this weekend in continuing the Genesis series that God called Hagar by name. With this simple gesture, assurance, value, and hope are transmitted to the struggling Hagar. It is remarkable that the Creator of the Universe, the Infinite, and the Alpha and the Omega, knows names. Psalm 8:4 records, What is man that You take thought of him expressing wonder that God does take note. Psalms 139:13 reads For You formed my inward parts; You wove me in my mother's womb. Verse 16 goes on to say, Your eyes have seen my unformed substance; And in Your book were all written. With this intimate perspective, it is no wonder that God knows my name. Being called by name can make a difference.
I visited my friends, Don and Bonnie, in Birmingham, Alabama two years ago. Judy and I took the opportunity to attend Sunday service at Brooks Hills Community Church, at the time the church where David Platt, author of the transformational book, Radical, was the senior pastor. As I drove our rental car on to the church property signs directed me to first-time visitors’ parking and there we parked since this was the very first time. We were immediately greeted by a friendly man who introduced himself and asked my name. He directed us up the stairs towards the main entrance to the Worship Center. Once we climbed the stairs and walked a short way down the sidewalk towards the entrance, another unknown to us but friendly looking man approached. While still several footsteps away he said, “good morning, Bill, welcome to Brooks Hills.” He must have seen the perplexed look on my face when he called me by name and said the Holy Spirit works in many ways. He then held up a walkie-talkie and we both laughed. But I was greatly impressed and touched to be greeted by name at a church I have never been to before. Maybe everyone at Brook Hills did not know my name but surely the first two people I met walking in did. This sure set the stage that had I been a local, Brooks Hills easily could have become my home church, my third place.
I am not the best at remembering names these days but I am inspired to do better. Even though Cheers was canceled in the previous millennium, people are still looking for their Third Place. Is it possible that GateWay can be a Third Place? We certainly have a great start since God already knows your name. How much more special it would be if everyone at GateWay knew your name. Let’s make the effort to get to know one another by name and by living life together.