Feast of Saint Timothy

By The Rev. Anne Michele Turner

Acts 15:22-26, 30-33, 16:1-5; John 10:1-10

 

Today our church celebrates the feast of its patron, the Feast of Saint Timothy.  I have to confess that despite my years of bible study, I didn’t remember a lot about Timothy, so I went researching to see what inspirational nuggets of biography I could find.

Truth is, there wasn’t a lot.  Among the saints, Timothy is no leading man.  He’s more of a character actor.  One source I found described him as a “timid, affectionate” person.  He was young, and Paul refers to him as “my child.”  The bible attributes two letters not to his authorship, but to his reading; he is the recipient of 1 and 2 Timothy.  They are kind of bossy letters.  There is not a lot of theology but there is, instead, a lot of instruction for a presumably uncertain apostle.  Apparently, Timothy also had a nervous stomach, and so he is the patron saint of those with gastro-intestinal disorders.

Rightly or wrongly, I have a picture of an eager, nerdy young guy in my mind.  The Book of Acts tells us that Timothy was a closed and trusted companion of Paul, and I have a hard time putting the voluble, impassioned Paul next to this earnest teenager with a bottle of Tums.

But—Acts tells us that Timothy was chosen by Paul as a companion because he was “well spoken of.”  And that description gives me pause.  Because it makes me ask an important question.  What does it mean when we think well of one another in a community?  Or, to put it a different way, what makes a person useful to a community?  What makes a community trust a person, and a person trust a community?

The gospel chosen for today, in which Jesus talks about himself as a good shepherd, addresses that question of community and utility and trust.  We get to hear about the sheep and the shepherd, about the flock who is gathered in the fold together, safe from thieves.  We hear about how the sheep will follow the right voice, about how only a good shepherd will lead them to good pasture.

And my first instinct was to say to you that whoever picked this gospel did so as some kind of nod to Timothy’s role as an apostle.  Timothy is maybe a junior apostle but he is an apostle nonetheless, like Peter and Paul and all the rest, and so he knows a thing or two about shepherding.  He knows, and perhaps he can teach us, about emulating Jesus, about pastoring one another.  This is what it means to be trustworthy in community, right?  We can trust this person to be a leader.

But the more I think about it, I don’t think the point of this day is about trusting Timothy—or Paul—or anyone else.  It’s about trusting Jesus.  What makes Timothy useful is not that he is like Jesus.  What makes Timothy useful to the community is that he is, like everyone else in that flock, gathered up by this one shepherd who refuses to leave anyone outside the fold.

That’s what Jesus wants to tell his disciples, of course.  That’s what Jesus wants to tell us.  That his work is to gather his people together, to make them safe together, to create am embrace in which they might find abundant life, and where they might find that life not one by one but together.

If we hear this gospel and think about how we can care for the flock, that’s well and good.  But it’s more important to be reminded that we are the flock, that we are in need of care and love, and that we are dependent on Jesus and no one else for that love.

What makes a person useful to a community?  The answer is evidently a lot more basic than our achievement- and action-oriented culture might have us think.  It is not being eloquent, like Paul, or diligent, like Timothy.  It is not being patient or eager or thoughtful or impulsive or compassionate or wise or any other quality of personality, no matter how good.  What makes us useful to community is simply being in community.  What makes us matter is that Jesus loved us and embraced us.  And so we trust one another, and so we work with one another.

Jesus put us in the fold together.  And so we embrace one another, whoever we find ourselves to be.  We cannot work alone, we who follow Christ.

The implications for us who worship under the name of Timothy are clear.  We need the leading lights and we need the character actors.  We need the prophets and the apostles, and we need the administrators and the caregivers and the listeners, too.  We need saints of all kinds here.

And, it seems, we are invited to treat one another as saints, too.  So often, we regard one another instrumentally, in church, in the rest of the world.  I am as guilty of this as the next person.  I am trying to accomplish something, whether it’s renewing my drivers license at the DMV or renewing my soul at a worship service somewhere, and I begin to treat the people around me as instruments to my ends.  I wish that person were faster, or louder, or gentler, or more this, or less that, and generally more like me, because of course I know all the answers, right?

And then, if I’m lucky, I remember: this is another person who Jesus loved.  This is another soul for whom Jesus died.  This is another marvelous person whom God created.  And I have to treat that creation as precious.

It has to be true here in church.  We are one another’s companions on the way.  Like Paul and Timothy alongside one another, we travel our Christian journey, trying so hard to build something up, trying to hard to do good.  And this is a critical time in our parish life together.  This feast day reminds us that it is not only what we accomplish, but how we accomplish it that matters.

It has to be true in church.  And, if we are to be real followers of Jesus—well, it has to be true outside of church, too.  Because Jesus didn’t limit the scope of his love.   I first started thinking about this sermon, it was early in the week, and what was on my mind what all the church governance that was planned in this week—our Diocesan Convention, our vestry retreat—and so I was thinking a lot about what happened inside the church.  But the news Friday and yesterday brought me up short and reminded me that it is not only or even primarily inside of church that we need to be reminded of the way in which we belong to one another, and the ways in which we matter to one another.

We live in a moment when hatred, xenophobia, racism, and bigotry are rampant.  In some quarters, they are acceptable.  The Christian community should not be one of them.  This church should not be one of them.  There is no innocent standing by in the time like this.  We who follow Jesus, who bear the mantle of his apostles—we should know better than anyone that what matters about is nothing that we have done and nothing that divides us, but it instead the one thing that unites us: the love God bears for us.  We all matter to each other because of the way we matter to God.

We can be expedient and efficient, whether in church or country or anywhere else; we can raise up leaders who seem talented and promise one another to get things done the right way, by the right people.  Or we can remember what makes us really useful.  We can remember that we all have the gift that enables sainthood, which is the gift of Jesus’s love.

This is our sheepfold, this church, this world.  Jesus chose each one of us to be here.  And so, I hope, we will we choose each other.