Sweet starts this chapter with these words, “We are all treading in someone else’s footsteps.” We all work within the framework of someone else’s legacy and to those that have gone before in the great cloud of witnesses.
2 Timothy 3:10-11 says, “Now you have observed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness,my persecutions, and my suffering the things that happened to me in Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra. What persecutions I endured! Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them.”
A Timothy is a protégé, an heir, and an apprentice. A Timothy knows your mind better than anyone else. They can anticipate your every move even before you make it. A Timothy is not an Andy and a Paul is not a Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada, where she will have to gopher all of Miranda’s every whims at all hours of the day or night. But, they would have spent an awfully lot of time together.
Who is Timothy? Of all the early Christian workers on behalf of the Gospel, Timothy was the closest to Paul. It’s often the case, that Paul pushes Timothy to the beginning of his letters to a particular church. For example, 2 Corinthians, Philippians, Colossians, Thessalonians and 2 Thessalonians, all start this way. Paul looks on Timothy as a son in Philippians 2:22. He was from Lystra in Asia Minor. He was born of a Greek father and a Jewish Christian mother. Timothy was young when he first joined Paul and Silas, but his co-workers in Lystra and Iconium spoke so highly of him that Paul decided that he could handle this journey. Although Timothy’s mother was Jewish, he had not been circumcised. Paul was concerned that this would impede his authority among the Jews to whom he would be preaching, who knew his father was Greek, and so he circumcised him personally and ordained him as a preacher. His mother Eunice, and his grandmother, Lois, are noted as examples of piety and faith.
What kind of legacy will you leave your descendants? Alan Jamieson says it like this, “Like Abram, the question that we, too, must consider is whether we will have descendants: not children in our own line but descendants in faith and life. Will we love and care for others in such a way that they become descendants? People to whom and through whom the lessons of faith we have learned are passed on?” What’s our legacy going to be? Will our descendants be numerous as the stars or will they all be extinguished when the mere flicker of doubt sends them running for the hills?
Before Paul had a Timothy, he first had to BE a Timothy. Paul was a protégé of Gamaliel, the most important rabbi in Jerusalem during the time of Jesus. Gamaliel was the grandson of Hillel, one of the greatest interpreters of the Torah in Jewish history, as evidenced by the title bestowed on him of Rabboni, “our teacher” rather than Rabbi, “my teacher.” Even though Gamaliel recommended patience with those who claimed that Jesus was the Messiah, his star pupil Saul didn’t agree with him and stoned the “blasphemers.” Before becoming an evangelizing Paul, Gamaliel’s star pupil was a persecuting Saul. In Acts 22:3 Paul tells a crowd in Jerusalem, “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated at the feet of Gamaliel according to the strict manner of law of our fathers, being zealous for God as all of you are this day.”
A mentor is someone who is a wise and trusted counselor and teacher or an influential senior sponsor or supporter. Synonyms for mentor are an advisor, master, guide, or preceptor. We all have mentors that shape us and mold us as we ask vocational questions or continue on our career paths. That make it easier for us to not walk this journey alone. It depends on the relationship how hands on the teaching is, how personal.
Osmosis was how protégés like Timothy learned from Paul. He traveled with him, watched what he did, and then was given “tests” or assignments to complete to see how well he was developing his potential. Wherever Timothy went, he carried the aura of Paul’s authority and name with him. For example, the Assistant Directors are leading the leadership meeting this afternoon, and I want y’all to treat them the same way y’all would treat me….only better. The Timothy relationship cannot develop without the patience of presence. A Timothy needs a balance of instruction and silence to process the teaching, and the trust you place in him or her to do the job. You don’t have to say a word, or call every other day, to let him or her know you still care. That’s the difference in a Timothy relationship, you care. You care about how well their soul is doing.
I will have dinner with three of my Timothy’s tomorrow night in Atlanta. I’m meeting with Angela, Jessica and Jon at the Vortex, a hamburger joint in Little Five Points. Angela spent two years with me. She was a rising Junior when I got to Winthrop Wesley, needless to say that first semester our relationship was rocky. She didn’t want anything to change and she liked Wesley small, which would never work for me. I’ll never forget taking Angela on her first camping trip or her first rafting trip. Stories abound, and I will tell you about her first camping trip Wednesday night. She saw me at my best, and at my worst. And she’s the only one that has ever experienced the joy of Enoch projectile vomiting on her when he was an infant. She’s now the campus minister at Georgia State Wesley, and I’m exceedingly proud of her. Jon and Jessica are in their second year of Candler, where I went to seminary. Jessica worked for me as my student assistant for 3 years and Jon lived for two years at Wesley in a small room that we had on the side. So they certainly saw “my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness.” The good, the bad, the ugly.
I could name students that are not ministers, lest you think I’m creating little spawns of me. Josh and Jaime that work at the CDC, Jan that’s a neuro nurse, Ashlee who some of you met in New York, that got her Master’s in Social Work from Columbia University. I am incredibly proud of all of them and I’m hoping that they’re creating a ripple effect of being God’s hands and feet in the world. A healthy tree is not a single tree, no matter how beautiful it may look. A healthy sycamore tree is a tree with heirs, a sycamore community with trees in various stages of growth and development. You must always look at trees successors before you judge its health and vitality.
Joshua in the Old Testament, did not pass the baton, he had no heirs. Then came the judges, spawning the most horrible times recorded in the Hebrew Bible for Israel. When the baton is passed, we tend to grab the wrong end of the stick, where our mentors are holding. We want to be clones not heirs. Joshua is not Moses’ clone. Timothy is not Paul’s clone. What we find is a “mash up.” Mash-ups remix the same song with a different beat, sometimes in a different key.
Glee made mashups popular again. Do you see what I’m saying? They’re not the same song, but there are some similarities and you can tell it is the same vein.
The process of being a Timothy is a gradual revelation of the song your life is composing, that one-of-a-kind, unrepeatable, irreplaceable song that only you can sing. Remember Winnie the Pooh in the story about losing his song? He gets his friends to go on the hunt for his song and then he finds that his song is within him. “A friend is someone who, when you forget your song, comes and sings it for you.”
When James Mawdsley was imprisoned in Burma, he sang to give himself courage, “After [the prison guard] left, still unable to sleep, I began singing “How Great Thou Art.” My voice got louder and louder until I was belting it out. I could feel strength coming back to me; I was not going to bow yet. A gaggle of guards came running and told me to be quiet. They were excited and afraid. I sang to the end of the song, congratulating myself on my defiance, then crumpled back into bleakness.” Let Jesus sing through you. When God sings in and through us, liberation happens. The sound of a voice calling from the darkness can pierce through that very same darkness.
The primary organ a Timothy must possess is ears. Jesus says when Pilate confronted him, “Everyone who belongs to the Truth hears my voice.” Sweet says if anything indicates the success or failure of a Timothy, it’s the ability to listen. “Some things can only be heard by those with ears to hear. The more layers of interference—iPods, iPhones, cell phones, the tv, Netflix – the more our inner voice is blocked and the more help we need to hear.
Astonomer and atheist Carl Sagan said, “Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.” Sweet makes the supposition that more either becomes better or different. More as better means doing what you’re already doing, except doing it bigger, faster, with added value. In contrast more as different means doing something unique and outside the box. As Christians, we don’t live better than others. But we sure as heck better be living different. They will know we are Christians by our love. Timothys have to take some leaps into the unknown when they do the different route. How about you, when someone says, “You sure are different and you think different.” Do you take it is a compliment? Is it meant as a compliment, or is it almost always negative in its implications? What about when we say it to others?
Charlie in the Broadway Show Kinky Boots, is set to inherit his father’s shoe business, but he has other plans of moving to London with his girlfriend Nicola. When his father suddenly dies, he must take over the shoe business. His doubts are expressed in a song “Charlie’s Soliloquy” and I would like to play it for you.
Do I belong here?
Am I what’s wrong here?
Know what I’m doing?
Or am I a fraud?
Do I fit in?
Where do I begin?
Same old Charlie,
Frightened and flawed.
So, I pretend
and keep my head up like I
Know how this will end.
Maybe these pieces
Are falling together.
Making me feel like
I’m not alone.
Into this leather
This kind’a feels like
I’m back home.
I’m watching myself
And I know what to do.
Hey look at me now
It’s a shoe.
Charlie was feeling alone with the burden and the weight of his father’s legacy on top of him. But then he realized that he’s not in it alone, he’s got a community behind him. He’s got a cluster of sycamore trees rooting for him, quite literally.
I couldn’t help but call to mind the Rob Bell NOOMA video “Dust” so I’m going to end there. Because anybody can be a Timothy, if they want to be. Anybody can follow if you have a willingness in your heart. Just pay attention to be on the lookout for mentors.
Dust – 9:30-13:49
Let us pray.
Holy and Gracious God, may we be covered in your dust. May we earnestly seek you and to do your will in our lives. May you give us hearts to follow, but also hearts to mentor, to guide, to lead. Like Charlie may we find reassurance for our doubts. May you speak truth over our lives and may we hear your truth and not brush it to the side. In Jesus’ name I pray, and I pray as you taught your disciples to pray, saying…