A Eutychian Moment

At least he wasn’t sitting in a third story window.

Former President Bill Clinton nodded off during a worship service with MLK III at the pulpit. Unfortunately, he happened to be on the platform at the same time. Those platform chairs can be comfortable, maybe too comfortable? Ahh, the perils and prestige of a public figure go hand in hand. Never underestimate the mixture of a long, dull sermon with an exhausting schedule. He might not have been the only one asleep in the pew that day. I’ve heard this guy speak a little bit, and even younger men and women would have trouble staying in the zone of consciousness.

Falling asleep in church is something ministers and laypeople alike joke about. Seeing this photo makes me wish we had a kind of “fan cam” similar to what is in football stadiums to capture the behavior of certain fans. It would be interesting to document ways church folks pass the time in a worship service, other than the appropriate way of staying riveted to every word from their inspiring preacher for the day. Anyway, I was reminded of what happened in Acts 20 when the great preacher Paul spoke through the midnight hour. . . “There were many lamps in the upstairs room where we were meeting. Seating in a window was a young man named Eutychus, who was sinking into a deep sleep as Paul talked on and on (emphasis mine). When he was sound asleep, he fell to the ground from the third story and was picked up dead” (v9). The story ends on a good note as Paul came down and brought him back to life. I guess that’s as good a way to end a sermon as any, but not too many preachers can pull that off.
I’ve sat through some sermons that made me feel like I needed to be “brought back to life.” It’s a miserable feeling for the eyelids to falter as the preacher is making his 12th point in alliteration. Sometimes the poem never comes and it is even more disheartening when you see the preacher pass up numerous chances to “bring the sermon in for a landing.” When I was a teenager, I recall our pastor preaching through Exodus on Sunday nights. There were times I actually felt like I was in the wilderness; it was a dry, tiring experience. It left quite an impact on me, yet probably not the one desired.

It’s pretty amazing that Eutychus got his name in the Bible for falling asleep during a sermon. And this was Paul the apostle at the pulpit. But even his great oratorical skills were no match for a warm, dimly lit room around midnight and this “young man” couldn’t take it anymore and left the building. Falling asleep during the sermon is not the most notable accomplishment, and there have been many who have followed his example. Even former presidents. I’ve even had one or two church members tell me that they “take medication that makes them fall asleep” when they get still. I guess they picked it up from some deacons in the foyer. Fortunately, this kind of behavior hasn’t been shown to be life threatening, only a little embarrassing. Just make sure to watch the snoring and find a place somewhere else than behind a large preacher and the pulpit to catch a few z’s.

I’ve tried to remember the adage: “be sure to finish preaching before the people stop listening.” It’s a goal anyway, and so far we haven’t had any fatalities due to sermon duration. But, I’ll be watching for some nodding and stretching during inappropriate moments.

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