Names At The End
Topic: Support in Faith Scripture: Romans 16:1–16:19
Many of you might know that I’m kind of a movie buff. I love going to the movie theater. Popcorn, a comfortable seat, a (hopefully) good flick…it’s one of my favorite pass-times. And virtually all movie-going experiences have a common series of events, right? You show up at the theater, grab your snacks, go in and find your seat, settle in. And then it’s the previews, and finally, you get to the main feature. And then the movie ends and what happens? You get up to go, while the credits roll. It’s that long list of names at the end. And unless you’ve been watching a Marvel movie with one of their iconic after-credits scenes, you simply miss seeing the names of the individuals that made that film happen. Everything from the director, to the lead actor, to the sound effects crew, to the catering services, etc. Most movies these days have well over 1,500 names in their credit scroll. And each name contributed to the story you were just told. Some in big ways and others in small ways.
And that brings us to our text this morning. Honestly, it’s a portion of Scripture that we don’t hear or read very often, but this very well might be the second time you’ve heard it this summer. It was one of the readings during our Sesquicentennial service. Vickie Kinzler read it for us. It’s the closing lines of the book of Romans. The apostle Paul has shared incredible truths and teachings to the church in Rome and is now wrapping up. And so, much like a film, we find a list of names at the end.
* Read Romans 16:1-19 *
Alright, so this is essentially the credits for the work Paul has just done. In truth, these are people that have shaped Paul and helped him along his journey and, perhaps more importantly, these people were significant in the spreading of the Gospel and the growth of the church at its earliest stages. So after Paul had concluded his thoughts and teachings in his letter to the Roman church, he was intentional to ensure that all of these people were known for the part they had played.
Now for us, this list of names might not carry much inspiration. We read names like Andronicus, Herodion, Tryphosa, and maybe the only thing we think is how it’s a good thing not every name in the Bible has made it into baby name books. But for Paul, these names represented faces and memories and relationships that were not only special - but vital to his life. Priscilla and Aquila, we’re told, risked their lives for Paul.
Junia was beside Paul and suffered alongside him in prison. Rufus was so close to Paul, that Paul said Rufus’ mother was like a mother to him. Yes, these names are unfamiliar to us, but the nature of the relationships Paul describes with these names are hopefully common to each and every one of us. People who helped us, who were with us when things were hard, who treated us like family. When it comes to the story of our life, we all have names at the end that are significant.
And just like with a movie, that list can be long and cover a lot of ground, right? We can think back to a teacher, and coach, boss, mentor, or neighbor that really helped us on our path. But this morning I want to keep our focus on the list of names that correspond with Paul’s list: the names of people who helped shape our journey of faith. And there are three things I think we really gain from when we consider Paul’s names and our own.
The first is the most obvious: When it comes to our story of faith, we all have a list of names at the end. And with this, all I am trying to encourage is recognition. Recognize that no matter where you are in your faith at this moment, you didn’t get here by yourself. You had parents, friends or significant experiences that were introduced to you, which in turn, introduced you to the person of Christ and this place, this church.
Tatum’s baptism is actually the perfect example of what I’m talking about. That precious little girl will grow up with two parents who wanted her to have a place in this family of faith. She’ll grow up with a clan of brothers who know about Jesus and who know this place. And every single one of you, during Tatum’s baptism, made a promise to help her know that she is loved by God and to show her the path God has set out before her. Tatum’s list, like all of our own, starts off small but they grow.
For me, thinking back through my list reminded me not only of how lucky I’ve been to have such wonderful people in my life but also how good God is and how He intentionally gifted me with certain people at certain times so that my faith could take that next necessary step. My mother introduced to me to church. She walked me into an elaborate, ornate - Catholic sanctuary, and guided me towards the values of forgiveness and faithfulness.
Davin Orlowski was a college student who also served as a volunteer youth leader at my church. Every Sunday he would pull his low-riding, neon green Honda CRX into my driveway so that high school Matt could have a ride to church and youth group. RJ James would take me out to breakfast once a month until I graduated high school, and asked me hard questions, and reminded me of the plans God had for me. Dwight Peterson showed me that theology can be as fun and transformative, as it can be confusing. Ted Mingle taught me that serving God means loving others and that both of those things are best done with joy in your heart and hope in your voice. Caitlin, my wife, continues to show me that loving Jesus doesn’t have to be complicated. It can be simple and child-like.
My list is long and personal, and with the exception of Caitlin, you don’t know any of those people. And you don’t have to. But you will be blessed and your heart will be warmed if you take a few moments every now and then to recall the list of names that are in your life. It can remind you how precious friendship is, how lucky you can be, and how deeply moving God’s love is.
So that’s one, recognize and remember those who have brought you to where you are. Number two moves beyond the names you already have and looks toward the ones you will be adding to your list. And believe me, you will be adding more names. Unless you entirely force yourself away from your faith and the church and maybe even still, you will encounter people who influence the faith you have in Christ the way you live that faith.
Those new names can come from any number of places but there is absolutely nothing wrong with intentionally seeking out new names and new relationships. In fact, I think it could be one of the most powerful means of seeing your faith grow more vibrant. My encouragement to you is this, number two, be intentional with seeking out diversity. This actually comes from Paul’s list. If you stopped and looked into each name, you find that Paul didn’t have a “type” when it came to the people he opened his life to. Paul’s list contains men and women, people new to following Jesus and people who have been working in ministry longer than Paul himself. Paul’s list contains folks who were from different races and different areas of the region. There are wealthy people of high social status and folks who were by other regards, unremarkable in society. And each of these people also had their own experiences with Christianity and their own moments of hearing who Jesus is. Paul’s list of names revealed a meaningful diversity. And so should ours.
You know what an echo chamber is, right? A bunch of voices in a room all shouting the same thing at one another. That’s a good way to make noise, not to grow in your faith. The difference in opinion and varied experiences foster the soil for growth. Throughout Christ’s life, we witnessed a man who reached out to and formed relationships with folks of all varieties of ethnic backgrounds, professions, political affiliations, incomes, and walks of life. The disciples even! They were fisherman, tax collectors, misfits, and ordinaries. If you opened the box for a puzzle and every piece was exactly the same, you wouldn’t be able to build anything. Likewise, we put a cap and a limit on how much our faith can grow when we only befriend people who think like we do, and share all the opinions we do, and that never force us into the blessing of thinking from a new perspective. So make a commitment to walk out of the echo chamber and seek out diversity.
And finally, there’s one more encouragement I need to offer. Up until now, we have been thinking in terms of the names on our list. Romans 16 is the credit list, the names at the end of Paul’s life, rolling down the screen. You have your list of names. But let me ask you this: whose list will your name be on? This is critical, and unfortunately, we live in such a fast-paced, serve-me, meet-my-needs culture - that we rarely take the time to consider it. Your name should be on someone’s list. And again, I’m not talking about the list of nice people they have met or the list of people who taught them how to master a skill. I’m talking about the list someone has of the people who helped them love Christ more, and share that love more with others.
I’ll use Paul again as an example. Paul clearly influenced and poured into countless people during his ministry. One of those people is the young leader named Timothy that we read about in 1 and 2 Timothy. Every single one of us should have a Paul and a Timothy. Your “Paul” is the person who is on your list. They are something of a mentor and guide. They are a person you hold a deep respect for and someone you allow to ask you the hard questions. They are someone who doesn’t accept your excuses and who truly sees your potential. And this is not only for kids and students. If you’re 16, you need a Paul. If you’re 28, you need a Paul. If you’re 47, you need a Paul. If you’re 71, you need a Paul. Our faith should never stop growing, and in order to make sure it does, we need “Pauls” in our life.
Your Timothy is the one who you do all those things for. They are the person who you know God loves and who God desires to know better. Your Timothy is a person you invest time into and a person you sacrifice for. It is a person you hold accountable for their faith commitment and a person who you ask the hard questions of. And your Timothy shouldn’t ONLY be your own children. Don’t get me wrong here. Parents, you are the primary spiritual caregivers for your children. No one (not a pastor or youth director or family friend) will influence the faith of your child more than you and your own faith. But our lists should have more than one or two names on them.
So, to recap:
- I want you to recognize and praise God for the list of names already in your life. Be thankful for the rich relationships and stories God has used to shape your own.
- As you add names to your list, seek out diversity. Latch onto people who think differently than you do, who have different experiences than you do, who will challenge your way of thinking instead of merely adding to the echo chamber.
- And finally, make sure your name is on someone else’s list. You’ve reaped the countless hours of prayer and conversation and investment from the “Pauls” in your life. Now it’s time to be one for someone else.
Every single one of our stories of faith is unique. And like the movies, they can contain comedy, suspense, romance, horror, and action. Following Jesus is a journey, and it’s a journey we do with others, both behind us and before us. You have people who God has used to shape you. There are people that God is calling you to help shape. That is why it’s so important to not skip over the names at the end.