One of the most popular television shows of all time was Cheers. It was a quirky comedy about a Boston bar tended by a washed out Red Sox player, surrounded by a a group of misfits that included a wise cracking bar maid, a neurotic psychiatrist, a know-it-all postman and a ne'er-do-well accountant named Norm. Together they formed a substitute family of sorts. They teased each other, supported each other, and though they rarely said it, they truly loved one another.
The theme song for the show ended with the line "You want to go where everybody knows your name." And both the show and the song tapped into our deep desire to be recognized, to be known by name and truly loved.
Names, you see, do really count. Mine for instance. Like many other folks, I have a lat name that was botched up by some clerk when my ancestors entered the country back in the eighteenth century. Apparently, three brothers, all named Tannen or something like that, emigrated together from Germany, and all three found their names had been changed to Danner on the official paperwork.
That's fine. It's a simple name. Rhymes with common words like banner and tanner. Easy enough, or so you'd think. But up in New England, where I was born and raised, it seems to be a challenge for a lot of folks. You see New Englanders are rather fond of dropping their r's. You knw, "Pahk the Cah in Hahvad Yahd" and all that. So instead of pronouncing my name Danner, they often pronounce it Dana. That used to make me furious!
Yes, names really do count. People you've just met are always impressed when you call them by name. And one of the great frustrations of growing older for many people is the difficulty they experience remembering names. Names sum up who we are. They symbolize our very identity.
As a pastor, I sometimes do forget someone's name. But the good news is that God does not. God remembers each and every person, by name. God knows and loves us for who we are. And that, at least from where I stand, is good news indeed!