I usually post a scripture verse at the top of our Wednesday evening prayer sheets, and this last time I referenced Acts 20.9: “Seating in a window was a young man named Eutychus, who was sinking into a deep sleep as Paul talked on and on. When he was sound asleep, he fell to the ground from the third story and was picked up dead” (TNIV). As our gathering concluded, one of our members approached me and asked about this verse saying “I’ve never heard this story before. How does it relate to our prayer service?” At this point I mentioned that I put a reference on the prayer sheet as a preview for the upcoming Sunday’s message.
Good thing people notice.
I didn’t know how to approach this passage, but several months ago it seemed like a good idea. In my efforts to “preach the whole word” and not those areas of particular interest to me, I am appealing to less evident passages which might stretch my powers of sermon preparation. This one did the trick.
I’ll be interested to know the reaction after Sunday, but I’m really looking forward to this sermon. It didn’t start out that way, after all, how do make spiritual applications from someone falling asleep during a sermon? I guess this could be a cautionary tale about what could happen to those who doze off during the preacher’s pulpit time.
What I’ve come to appreciate about this passage is the honesty and authenticity of Luke’s writing. He didn’t have to include an incident like this one, but I have come to learn that the church has been gathering for 2000 years plus now and that sometimes the unexpected happens. It happened during the long-winded sermon that Paul gave and it happens in our churches today as well. Not everything in perfect, which is good because our churches aren’t perfect either, and God can do something wonderful even when it isn’t listed in the order of worship.
Without going into all the details of my message for this Sunday, I will point out that there is no reference to what Paul is talking about. He talked until midnight, and then poor Eutychus fell out the window, then he talked more after reviving Eutychus. That might have been a good time to wrap up his sermon, but Paul took the group back upstairs and taught until the sun came up. Still, after all that talking, preaching, and conversation, there wasn’t any notation about his topic or specific instructions. Those details weren’t deemed relevant. What was relevant was including a young boy’s name and what Paul did to bring the boy back to life.
My point is that people don’t usually remember sermons, the hymns we sang on a given Sunday, or most of the things that I would consider significant. What folks do hold on to, however, are the experiences and people related to a community of believers. That’s what happened then, as Eutychus went home afterwards and the people “were comforted greatly.” No mention of the sermon though, only perhaps that Paul was really long-winded and his preaching almost killed someone.
Whatever church might be about, the gathering of God’s people ought to include a manifestation of God’s power and the people being greatly encouraged as a result. This may or may not come through the sermon, songs, or prayers. I’m thankful that it’s not all about me, and that God is big enough to do something unexpected and unscripted with a boy falling out a window. Paul’s embrace brought Eutychus back, and I can’t help thinking that the physical and emotional embraces of God’s people can do the same thing to those who feel like they are dying.
So, how long should a preacher preach? My usual response is “I try to finish the sermon before the people do.”