An Exercise in Sculpture

February 2, 2017 Length: 18:24

When a sculptor works, he hammers and chisels to reveal the image that is already in the stone, but hidden. This is what God did in the life of Timothy, and what He does in our lives today, in order to reveal the image of God in us.





In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

St. Timothy. Were I to pick a title for today’s sermon, it would be: “St. Timothy: A Study in Education.” I’ll have three points to it, of course. First, let me say something about education, generally considered. It comes from the Latin ex duco: I lead out, I bring out, ex duco. One brings out something that’s inside. It’s not indoctrination, whereby you put something in there that wasn’t there before, although a little information from time to time would help. Education means bringing out something that’s already there. It’s a rather spiritual way of looking at education. What is already there from the Bible? What’s already there? The image of God, that’s what’s already there, and you bring it out and you manifest it.

In this measure, there’s an analogy, an important analogy, with sculpture. I’ll just say one or two little things about sculpture. Last week, I spoke about the politicization of theater, and we decried that last week. I’m not going to say anything today of the politicization of sculpture, because I want to avoid politics. But the politicization of theater and the politicization of sculpture are dreadful things.

Sculpture and education: this theme was explored by a wonderful book that I think I can recommend to everybody here over the age of 15—I think; I think I can—and I’m sure that many of you have already read. It’s by Henry James. I believe it’s his second published novel. He was only in his 20s when he published it: a novel called Roderick Hudson. Roderick Hudson is a sculptor; he’s a New England sculptor in a small town. He’s discovered by a young, wealthy philanthropist who loves art by the name of Rowland Mallet. Rowland Mallet loves what he sees of the art, the sculpture, of Roderick Hudson. He pays for his education. He takes him to where the greatest sculpture in the world is found—Rome—and they start to live in Rome so he can study sculpture in Rome and model himself on the great works of sculpture.

Sculpture is really something of the Mediterranean basin, Greece and Rome, chiefly. I’m not going to tell you the rest of the story, but it’s interesting that the man who befriends Roderick Hudson, his name: Rowland Mallet—three-quarters through the book before I realized that. [Laughter] Rowland Mallet. Because it’s a story about education and how character is formed. Rowland Mallet is, well, he’s a man with a mallet and a chisel, which is how you sculpt.

The great sculptors, at least the ones that always seized me, like Rodin and of course especially Michelangelo, the great sculptors looked at a piece of stone, and they saw an image that was already there, and their task was to go in and bring it out by taking off what didn’t belong to it. Now there is education. A statue, a work of sculpture, grows by getting smaller. There’s education: growth by getting smaller, finding inside the lineaments of the image that’s already there. In the case of the human being, in the image of God. With that in mind, let’s talk about the education of St. Timothy.

The education of St. Timothy: three qualities. It was literate. Timothy was a man of letters. It was literate, and, being literate, it was historical, dependent on the standards, the canon, of a literature inherited from the past. That’s the Hebrew Bible. The soul of Timothy was shaped by the past, by the assimilation of literature, which sculpted his person. His education involved, gradually—gradually means step by step: gradus, the Latin gradus, which means a step, a grade, gradus—gradually entering into a history larger and vastly older than himself. Real literature, as distinct from what’s being taught in school today—real literature is the gift of history, and if it’s real literature, it speaks with authority. If it’s real literature, it speaks with authority, an authority that’s been recognized by the past. This literature was conveyed to him within the context of love and care. That’s the best way to be educated: in the context of love and care.

I look around at our young people, and I’m looking at them right now. What I see is formation of character through love and care. It’s an extremely beautiful thing to watch, and I’m glad I’ve been here long enough to watch it happening: the people I’ve baptized growing up in this parish in loving families where there’s a heavy component of the authority of literature of sacred Scripture.

St. Paul writes to Timothy towards the end of his life, his second epistle to Timothy, “I recall the unfeigned faith…” “Unfeigned faith” in Greek is pistis anypokritos. Anypokritos means not hypocritical: an-hypokritos, un-feigned faith. “...which is in you,” he says. The unfeigned, unhypocritical faith which is in you, “which dwelt first in…” where? “Your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice.” See that? Two generations back. There are not many people in the Roman Empire at this time to whom that could have been said. In fact, outside of the Jews, there would be almost none, where you had a grandmother and a mother who could both read. That’s something. That’s a gift to the world from Judaism, by the way: the transmission of education through the body of literature at a time when only a fraction of the people in the Mediterranean basin could read and write. He had a grandmother that could read and write, and a mother.

Paul had already used that same expression, pistis anypokritos, earlier in 1 Timothy, in the first chapter, because there’s really no education of any kind without faith. There really isn’t. You see, you can’t learn from somebody that you don’t trust. Pistis means trust or faith. It’s a joyful thing to see young people learning faith in God through the faith that they have in their parents. We had an example of it quite recently, didn’t we? Four little people came forward, trusting in their parents, and assimilating into themselves the faith of their parents, submitted to baptism. There was the paradosis, the handing-on of the faith, the handing-on of the Creed, the handing-on of the sacraments.

The faith in the existence of the Church, beloved in the Lord, down through history, is inconceivable without the likes of Lois and Eunice, instructing children in the canon of sacred literature. The transmission of this literature is a thing inseparable from their love of the children. This happens primarily in the family. The parish strives to supplement this, to augment this, which is why we have Sunday school. What we’re trying to do is help the parents and watch the little children come out with their little drawings and other things, the various ways in which they learn the word of God. It’s a beautiful thing to watch. You see these young people learn personal faith through personal love: personal love of the elders—and some of the elders here aren’t very, very old—the elders who instruct them. This ministry within a parish is only an extension of the ministry that rightly and inherently is in the family. I’m looking at the products of that faith right now. It’s a beautiful thing to see.

Second, the education of Timothy is experiential; it has to do with his experience. At no point in our lives should our education come to an end. When I go to speak at various places, and at the end of next month I’m going out to Spokane, Washington, to give a lecture on the psalms at Gonzaga University in Spokane, the first thing you’ve got to know is where I was educated. I always feel so silly writing that in, listing the schools I went to—because I remember how dumb I was in those schools! [Laughter] I mean, when I went to those schools, I didn’t know anything! I remember how completely ignorant I was the day I graduated from those schools, because it has so little to do with what I have going on in my head right now.

For most of us, the far greater mass of our education comes during the decades after we’ve been to school. I think of Timothy in this respect. He left home early, perhaps as a teenager. He joined himself to a rabbi named Saul of Tarsus, the Apostle Paul. For the rest of his life, Timothy would journey from city to city throughout the whole Mediterranean basin. Travel. He gradually assumed ever-greater and expanding labors of responsibility. He learned through experience, which is the best way to learn. I’m convinced that one learns a great deal more in what we call the marketplace than what he does in school; I’m convinced of that, that the best education comes long after you’ve been sitting in a classroom.

Timothy was with his “rebbe” when Saul sailed from Troas (Troy) to Macedonia. He was assigned to the older missionary, Silas, as a companion. He journeyed between Corinth and Thessaloniki. In due course, he came to Ephesus, where this young man pastored that church at Ephesus, where he may have been one of the youngest men in the congregation. From there, Paul sent him back to Philippi. He was dispatched as a trouble-shooter to the quarrelsome congregation at Corinth. The last trip we knew about this journey was to Rome, summoned there in Paul’s final letter, the second epistle to Timothy. Timothy grows from a shy youngster, step by step, to assume the sundry burdens of the Church, constantly growing in stature and ability. He dealt with numerous problems and difficult situations throughout the churches.

All of these experiences formed the web and woof of his education. Because he did them wisely, all of these experiences were like the mallet and the chisel which brought out the image in his soul. During this time, Timothy’s rebbe, Paul, consistently exhorted him as he did in the epistle this morning. What does he say? First thing out of his mouth: “Read!” he says, “Read!” Read! It’s his last word to Timothy: “Read! Do not neglect your studies.” The very identity and continuity of the people of God is inseparable from the lives of Timothy and men like him. Some of them were his friends and companions, experienced the friendship and companionship of men like Mark, who may have been about his own age; Luke, the cultured physician who was often at Paul’s side, especially in times of crisis.

Timothy, beloved in the Lord, was the last of that assembly of giants. He was the last among that generation of the living link between the apostles and those ancient churches founded by the apostles. His education was a matter of experience, and that experience was handed on to the apostolic churches.

The third quality of Timothy’s education: it was difficult. Timothy did his graduate studies at the university of hard knocks, where the school colors are black and blue. [Laughter] It was tough. We know some things about this. It’s all right there in the New Testament. We know that his health was poor. We know that; he had poor health. Paul refers to Timothy’s many infirmities. He was a man of asceticism and self-denial. I don’t know that Paul gave this counsel to everybody, but he gave it to Timothy. What did he tell him? “Drink wine.” He actually tells him that. Do you know how rarely that exhortation is given in the Bible? “Drink wine,” he says, “because of your many infirmities.”

St. Paul, in the last chapter of his last epistle, mentioned what he and Timothy had endured together: teaching, manner of life, purpose, faith, long-suffering, love, perseverance, persecutions, afflictions at Antioch, at Iconium, at Lystra. There it all is in 2 Timothy.

Finally, we celebrate Timothy as martyr of the Church. At the end, he would shed his blood in testimony (martyria) to his faith in the Messiah. He died confessing the name of Jesus. This is a picture of what we Christians mean by the word “education,” where we grow by becoming smaller. It involves the shape that emerges from stone as the mallet and the chisel work away at the substance of the soul. Timothy’s education was life-long; it was an exercise in sculpture. Amen.