Today’s topic form Benedict’s toolbox is ‘learning.’ I start today asking you some basic questions:

On a ‘teachable’ scale are you average, above average, or below average?  What prevents you from learning more?  What (or who) encourages you to learn?

Benedictines are known for their scholarship, but it is a scholarship that is not purely for the sake of knowledge and trivia.  As a culture, we have unprecedented access to knowledge and information, yet we are deficient in learning, wisdom and moral character.

What the Benedictines brought to the world is an ability to meditate and contemplate the things of God beyond the academic.  It is a perspective on learning, a way of observing.  It is a way of hearing Scripture, the world, and each other.  A way of learning.

Paul speaks to Timothy in Paul’s last will and testament.  This is Paul’s letter from prison in anticipation of his death.  He is telling Timothy what a father would tell his son before he dies.

When Paul was ministering in Lystra, he heard about a young man named Timothy.  The book of Acts tells us that Timothy was well spoken of by the believers in Lystra and Iconium.  So, Paul took Timothy under his wing.  Timothy’s mother was a Jew and Timothy’s father was a Gentile, the only thing we hear about his father at all in the Scripture.

Paul heard of Timothy’s faith and potential, and took him right into the field.  Timothy’s task was to imitate Paul.  Timothy would have been a part of the imprisonments, beatings and suffering for the sake of Christ right along with Paul.

Paul entrusted Timothy with the Church in Ephesus.  It is possible Timothy would have met and ministered with John the evangelist, whom tradition puts in the city of Ephesus for a time.

As Paul says, Timothy had a Jewish mother named Eunice and a Jewish grandmother named Lois who taught him the faith.  They were his spiritual mothers.

We don’t know when, but at some point Paul laid hands on Timothy and ordained him as bishop and pastor.  But also—since we do not hear about Timothy’s father—it is likely that Paul became his father.  He certainly talks as such.  In fact, he was more than a physical father—he was a father in God—a spiritual father.

There is between them a language of intimacy.  Paul was Timothy’s spiritual father—what did that look like?  It was a relationship of love and mutual affection—it was a family relationship.

But it was also a learning relationship.  Paul encouraged Timothy to:

  • Not be afraid or ashamed of the gospel.
  • To keep the apostolic fires burning.
  • To be a man of holiness.
  • To guard the faith delivered to him as a deposit.
  • And lastly, Paul encourages Timothy to imitate him.

So was the teaching from Paul to Timothy.  And we know that Paul took each of those points seriously—to the point of suffering and death.

I won’t go through all of these points today but who do we have in our life that encourages us:

  • Not be afraid or ashamed of the gospel.
  • To keep the apostolic fires burning.
  • To be a man or woman of holiness.
  • To guard the faith delivered to him as a deposit.

And who is there for us to imitate?

I think to boil it down—what we need in our Christian walk in the area of learning is someone to love us, someone to challenge us and someone we can emulate.

Someone to love us.  Paul loved Timothy.  There is affection, tears and familial intimacy between them.  ‘To Timothy, my child, my son.’

In the Christian faith and life we need someone who exemplifies the love of Christ.  I do not believe that the faith can be communicated without love.  In fact, we don’t deserve to be heard without love.  Look at St. Francis, whose Feast Day is tomorrow.  Thomas of Celano, Francis’ biographer tells the story of Francis, who was at first repulsed by the sight of lepers, one day was confronted with one in the woods while he was on his horse.  Rather than running, Francis felt led to kiss him and show him Christ’s love.  Celano concluded, “Francis therefore resolved in his heart never in the future to refuse any one, if at all possible, who asked for the love of God.”

Who is there to challenge us?  Paul encouraged Timothy to rekindle the apostolic fire that was given to him in his ordination.  St. John of the Cross said, “A disciple without a master to lead the way is like a single burning coal—he grows cooler rather than hotter.”  We need those who challenge us to keep the fires of the gospel burning in us.  Frederick Von Hugel, was aRoman Catholic writer and spiritual mentor of the last century.  His niece said of him: “He preaches Jesus.  And when he tells of God his face is lit and illumined by some interior fire.”

Who is there to challenge us in holiness and guarding the faith?  Timothy was told to guard the faith, like a deposit.  This is investment language.  The faith we have is a treasure.  A treasure of two thousand years to be invested and protected, not in a reactionary way, but in a way that shows its value.  John, you understand this and this is something of what you do for  Nathan.  You are to keep the faith, like you are protecting wealth—and pass it on to Nathan, who will guard the faith and pass it on as well.  It is protecting the investment, but watching it grow as well.  This is what we do in baptism.  We pass on the treasure from one to another.  Nathan will need his mom and dad to teach him about the treasure and he will watch them pass it on.  We in the church have the responsibility to do the same as well with Nathan and all those who pass through the waters of baptism.

Which brings us to the last point.  Imitation.  Who do we have to imitate, to emulate?  Whose footsteps can we follow to lead us to the savior.  Imitation and apprenticeship were the ways of learning in the ancient world.  This is how Paul taught Timothy and how Jesus taught his disciples.

“Jesus style of instruction embodied a pedagogy that invested life in the learner through an incarnation of the message being taught.  This teaching was not something that was conceptually defined for his disciples as much as it was lived, experienced, tasted and touched by the learners…in the sweat of shared work as well as the dusty exertion of shared travel, they were always in the classroom. By the sea…in the fields…in the stimulation of the sensual barrage of the city with its crowds, bazaars, buildings, soldiers, markets—they were always in school, always becoming a community of learners whom he called disciples” (Reese and Anderson, Spiritual Mentoring, pg.18).

‘In the ancient world skills were handed down from father to son, and so apprenticeship also carries with it the implication of a father-son relationship.  It involves imitation, and long, patient watching and copying, a shared learning that owes much to the fact of daily living together.’—Esther de Waal.

Imitation.  Patient watching, copying, a shared learning.  St. Aelred said, “There is you and I, and I hope a third, Christ in our midst.”  Julian of Norwich said, “I look at God, I look at you, and I look at God again.”

Someone to love us, someone to challenge us, and someone to imitate.

I close with these questions:

  • Take a moment to look at your own life and ask:
  • Who has created a safe space in which to tell my own story?
  • Whose ‘song of faith’ has rung most powerfully in my life?
  • Whose life do I desire to imitate or emulate?
  • Then:  how can I be that for others?

Let us pray:

Lord, give us someone to love us, to challenge us and someone we can imitate in your ways.  Help us to pour ourselves out for the other, to give ourselves away, to learn to follow and to be worthy of emulation.  In Jesus’ name. Amen.