Since Scott and I became friends fifteen years ago, he and I had numerous conversations about his name. Although he did not have a big problem with his middle name Scott, the name by which he was most commonly known, he actually preferred his first name Joseph; because, like the Jewish people of the Bible, Scott understood that names are important.
Joseph was his favorite name for a couple of reasons. First, Joseph reminded Scott of Jesus’ earthly father, the selfless carpenter who had the privilege of raising the savior of the world.
Although Scott was always quick to admit that he was no carpenter, Scott did consider himself to be a pretty decent handyman. And not only was he a decent handyman, Scott was a most selfless handyman. As far as I know, Scott never profited from any of his labor.
I could literally stand up here for the rest of the day and talk about the countless mission projects that Scott worked on voluntarily in Farmville for the First Baptist Church, for Monk Memorial Methodist Church, Emmanuel Episcopal Church and the Farmville Community Soup Kitchen. Scott spent incalculable hours, many times working all through the night, painting, refurbishing, repairing, restoring and landscaping.
Scott also shared his talents by working on many homes that needed repair throughout eastern North Carolina. Additionally, Scott volunteered at a homeless shelter in Tarboro doing whatever they needed him to do. And just this past summer, he helped our church build a handicap ramp for someone in Farmville, as he built many handicap ramps in this community with the West Edgecombe Baptist Church.
Scott would do anything that you needed him to do, and Scott never expected anything in return. In fact, Scott volunteered to serve, without pay, on staff of the First Baptist Church in Farmville as the Church Sexton. Anytime anything needed repairing or refurbishing, the church could count on Scott.
Along with local mission projects here in eastern North Carolina, Scott traveled to Gulfport, Mississippi to repair homes with the First Christian Church of Farmville after Hurricane Katrina. Scott and Bridget also traveled to Moldova on a mission trip with the Oakmont Baptist Church of Greenville.
Like the Good Samaritan, Scott never passed up any opportunity to help someone in need. And he literally never passed anyone on the side of the road who needed assistance. I bet no one in this room has changed more flat tires for strangers than Scott Thorne.
Scott was always volunteering to do things for me personally. Scott repaired my lawnmower, repaired my son’s electric scooter, repaired my washing machine, repaired my dishwasher, repaired cracks in my sheetrock, caulked my windows, painted my ceilings and spread pine straw around my bushes. Scott was the consummate giver, always doing whatever he could do to selflessly help others.
Like I said, I could talk all day about Scott’s selfless ministry, but Scott would not want me to do that. Because Scott’s favorite name was Joseph.
Scott preferred the name of a selfless handyman who had the honor of raising the savior of the world, yet in the scriptures, does not utter a single word. Scott’s favorite name was Joseph, the name of one who selflessly gave himself to the world, yet never drew any attention to himself and never asked anything in return for his selflessness.
Scott also loved the story of Joseph in the Old Testament, the favorite son of Jacob. In fact, Scott’s dream was to start a ministry based on this story called: Joseph’s Coat of Many Colors. Earlier this year, he designed a logo that he wanted to put on an enclosed tool trailer to use to offer his many gifts with any who needed them, whether it was painting a church or a house or repairing a washing machine. Bridgett said that the T-shirts Scott ordered with the Joseph’s Coat of Many Colors logo were just delivered to their home.
The following are Scott’s words that he put on Facebook earlier this year to describe his dream:
I am trying to start up a new ministry to occupy my time and serve God. Over the past eight years, I have done much needed work on four churches and on many homes of elderly and disabled community members. My wife and I want to continue this ministry. I am not asking for money from my family or friends, only prayers. This type of ministry is not expensive. I always refer back to the time I helped a widow who had a broken shower. She took pan baths for six months, because her hot water nob in her shower was broke. With less than four dollars for a part and with a few tools, I was able to change her life. All I asked was for her to know that God loved her and for a hug. Please lift me and my wife up as we plan a more detailed and organized ministry. The “many colors” in our ministry name represent many aspects of our ministry.
I am not sure I can even remember the last time Scott introduced himself to anyone as Scott. He always introduced himself as Joseph. Sometimes Joseph Scott Thorne; but never just Scott Thorne.
Like the people of the Bible, his name was important to him. Moreover, Scott also understood that names have the peculiar power to bless or to curse. Like few others we know, Scott understood the popular lie that we have been taught by our culture that sticks and stones may break our bones, but names will never hurt us.
Scott understood that names do hurt. He would agree with David Lose, President of the Lutheran Seminary in Philadelphia who has written:
“Whether they are names we have been called by others, or those we have called ourselves, names can exaggerate our inadequacies or herald our failures; names can expose our weaknesses or pay tribute to our bad decisions.”
It was no secret that Scott suffered with mental illness. Scott suffered with it, and in a world that does not treat mental illness like other diseases, Scott also suffered for it.
And I believe it needs to be said today, and said clearly, that Scott did not take his life. The disease of mental illness took his life.
Scott would be the first to admit that he had a disease. He would often say something to me in jest that was simply hilarious. For example (now, remember I am a pastor): “Hey Jarrett, why don’t you and I go out tonight, buy us some lottery tickets, get us a case of beer and a carton of cigarettes and just have a big ol’ time.”
Or, after he joined the staff of First Baptist Church as our Sexton: “Hey Jarrett, I am going to get me some business cards that read ‘Joseph Scott Thorne: Sexton. It’s not what you think.’”
I would say, “Scott, you’re crazy.”
And each time he would respond, “Yeah, and I’ve got papers to prove it!”
On some days, Scott could joke about his mental illness. But on many days it was no laughing matter.
It was no secret to anyone that Scott struggled; not just recently, but for much of his life. Some days he felt as if he was blessed by God, but other days, perhaps most days, he felt as if he had been cursed by God.
And more than anything, all Scott wanted was to know that he was blessed by God.
This is the real reason I believe Scott’s favorite name was Joseph. Joseph: the favorite son of Jacob, the fulfillment of the promise of God to Jacob.
None of us will ever understand Scott’s struggles, much like we will never understand the struggles of Jacob. Much like Scott, Jacob also struggled with his name. Jacob, literally, meant “heel,” as he was named for grasping the heel of twin brother Esau in the womb to prevent him from being the firstborn. And ever since that day, Jacob lived his life grasping and struggling.
One might say that Jacob’s grasping and struggling came to a head one night on a bridge over troubled waters. It was there we are told that Jacob wrestled all night. No one knows exactly with whom Jacob wrestled or what monsters assailed him in the dark of that night. Perhaps it was his hopes and his fears; his dreams and his nightmares; his present and his past; his regrets and his hopes. Was it a demon? Was it an angel? Was it an enemy? Was it a friend?
Whatever it was, the struggle was real. The struggle was spiritual. The struggle was mental. And the struggle was even physical, as he dislocates his hip during the fight.
Jacob, realizing that he is in the presence of something real, but at the same time, something supernatural, asks for that which he had always yearned, to be blessed. Because more often than not, Jacob believed that he was somehow cursed.
It is here that the story takes a strange but wonderful twist as Jacob’s opponent demands to know Jacob’s name before he will bless him. But names in the biblical world are never simply names; rather, they are descriptors, tell-tales, indicators of one’s very character.
And Jacob’s name, literally, “heel,” is no exception. Jacob was the one who was grasping to be blessed by God even before he was born. And he’s been grasping ever since, struggling to make sense of the world and to find his place in it.
In asking for his name, the demon or angel or enemy or friend was demanding that Jacob confess— confess his grasping and struggling, confess his pain and brokenness, confess his fears and failures, confess that he can no longer live in this world the way he has been living.
And when he does, when he confesses that he is at the end of his rope; when he confesses he has simply had it with his life; when he confesses that he has had all that he can stand; when he confesses that he wants the pain and the suffering, the dark voices of torment lurking inside his head and in his soul to finally be silenced, something extraordinary happens. Something miraculous happens.
Amazing grace happens. Unconditional love happens. Eternal salvation happens. Resurrection happens. Because God happens. God shows up, and God refuses to allow Jacob’s name, Jacob’s ceaseless struggles, Jacob’s relentless grasping, to define him forever.
So, God gives Jacob a new name, a name that signifies to the world that although he struggled his entire life, struggled with humans and with God, struggled with angels and with demons, he has prevailed. He has finally and eternally prevailed. He has seen God face to face, and his life has been preserved.
Thus, Jacob enters a new future with a new hope. Jacob is given a new name and a new life, a name and a life that he passes down to each of his descendants, but somehow, especially to Joseph, his favorite son, his favorite name.
Joseph: It is just a name. But, it is much more than a name.
Joseph: the favorite name of the one who had been grasping so.
Joseph: the favorite name of the one who had been struggling so.
Joseph: the favorite name of the one you had been yearning to be blessed by God so.
Joseph: the fulfillment of the promise of God to the one who found himself at the end of his rope.
Joseph Thorne, your name means that your dark struggle on the bridge over troubled waters is over.
Joseph Thorne, your name means that although the fight with unseen monsters appears to have gravely wounded you, the good news is that you have prevailed.
Joseph Thorne, your name is the revelation to the world that you have fought the good fight, you have finished the race, you have kept the faith, and you have struggled with humans and with God, with angels and with demons; with others and with yourself, and you Joseph, you Joseph Thorne have won.
Joseph Thorne, you have finally been given that which you have always yearned. You have finally been blessed by your God. You have been wholly, completely and eternally blessed.
Joseph Thorne, you have seen God face to face, and your life is now whole, complete and eternal; your life, Joseph Thorne, has truly been preserved.