(first read: Acts 20: 7-12)
This passage (or pericope if you read this past Friday’s Just a Thought) seems to be a somewhat obscure passage from the Book of Acts – it is seldom if ever preached on – even the commentaries in my library where the authors go through the Bible verse by verse explaining its background and what the passage is about, seem to deal with these verses almost out of necessity rather than because the commentators want to go into the depth and meaning of this section – they seem to want to get past it in a hurry and on to the meatier sections of Acts.
I will admit that this passage does get mentioned on occasion at workshops for preachers – as a reminder of what not to do. But otherwise it just generally gets ignored. However, I find this to be a fascinating passage; first – because it has that unmistakable flavor of being an eyewitness account. I mean why in the world would this passage be there otherwise? Luke, who is the author of what we call the Book of Acts (it is actually a personal letter to a man name Theophalus), was there – and you can tell that this isn’t just some information that he is passing on about something that someone told him about – you can sense that he was really there and remembers this event.
As a preacher – to be honest – I find this passage to be very, very comforting – how wonderful it is to know that even St. Paul could put them to sleep on occasion in the midst of the sermon. Comforting indeed! I can say categorically, however, that I’ve never had any one fall out a window and die in the middle of my sermons!
Let’s recap the account. It is Sunday – and the Christians of Troas – which is a city in Greece – have gathered together for worship. Now on this particular occasion they are gathering together in the evening rather than the morning because many members of the early Christian church were slaves or servants and they were not free from their duties early in the day – and thus they were not able to gather together until late – until evening.
This particular service was going to be a very special one for the Troas church – Paul the Apostle is in town on his way back to the Holy Land and he’s the guest speaker. They begin with a meal together and after prayers and song – Paul begins to preach and teach – and he goes on – and on – and on – and on –there is just so much to share – and on and on and on and on. The room is getting a bit stuffy from the large number of people present – extra large crowd tonight – and on and on and on and on and the oil lamps are burning to give off the light – and you can smell the aroma in the air – and on and on and on and on.
And a young man name Eutychus climbs up in a hole in the wall – now I know that it says that it was a window – and when we think of windows we think of glass windows – but they did not use glass in those days – the window was just simply a good sized hole in the wall placed in such a way as to catch a fresh breeze. Eutychus is happy there for a while – but eventually it just becomes too much for him – the stuffy room – the long day’s work – the fresh night air – the odor from the lamps – Paul’s oratory skills that go on and on – and as he becomes a little bit bored with the whole thing –before he knows what is happening to him – he falls asleep and right out the window – the third story window!! And verse nine tells us that he was picked up dead.
Fortunately this passage goes on to have a happy ending because Paul acts to revive the young man – but I would expect that this was the last time Eutychus ever fell asleep in Church! Luke then shares a rather mundane detail for he writes that they gave him something to eat and then Paul goes back to preaching and teaching until the morning. That really was quite a sermon!
Now other than a reminder as to why we shouldn’t fall asleep in church –you might wonder what there is about Eutychus that I would want to focus on him this day. I happen to think that Eutychus is the patron Saint of a great number of people, in fact you might even say that he is the patron saint of our culture right now – because Eutychus stands out as the patron saint of boredom – a man whose slogan in life is “Won’t someone please entertain me!”
We live in a culture today that is very easily bored – which is always looking to be entertained. One the one hand it seems strange that we should be so easily bored – we have so many toys today to keep us amused. Even basic cable now has 100 or so stations – not to mention the hundreds more you get with the digital and HD tiers. We have computers and tablets and even smart phones that you can play games on all day long – or if that’s not enough you can play games on the internet – or send emails or text messages to family and friends – and now we can face time or skype much like Dick Tracy in the old cartoon series. We have iphones or ipods or mp3 players that are not much larger than a large postage stamp and which will play hundreds of songs – think about it, when you are out taking a stroll along the beach why would you want to be forced to listen to the sounds of nature – the gulls singing “Mine-mine-mine” or the waves crashing on the shore – when instead you can be entertained by your favorite music.
My van allows me to preset 36 different radio stations – but I can’t find 36 radio stations that I like to listen to – and if your car has a satellite radio there are hundreds of stations to listen to – right there at my fingertips – all sorts of talk radio to keep my mind off my driving –all kinds of music from opera to hard rock – there was even a station that plays only Elvis Presley – 24 hours a day – 7 days a week. There is always something else in this world to entertain you. Yet, oh my – despite all this entertainment – how bored we are. I’m not so sure that boredom however, is such a bad thing. I happen to think that boredom is not so much an enemy – but rather an alarm – reminding us that something is amiss – that something needs our attention.
On the one hand, boredom can be a sign that you are just plain tired – that you need some rest. The Biblical notion of a Sabbath – of taking one day in seven – when we just rest – has long been lost in our world. And our recreation – and notice that the word recreation is really the word “re-creation” – our recreation on our day of rest often makes us more tired than we were to begin with. How often have we heard someone who just returned home from vacation someplace say something like: “Boy it’s good to be home, but now I need a vacation from my vacation.” Many people are just plain tired. In the 46th Psalm, the song reminds us to “Be still and know that I am God.” God sometimes speaks not through the thunder – but through that still, small voice. And if we are just too darned busy keeping ourselves entertained to the point where we are just all tuckered out – then there’s a good chance that we are also too tired – to hear that voice. Perhaps what we need is a bit more Sabbath in our life.
One the other hand, sometimes boredom is a sign that we are being called to use our gifts – both our natural God-given gifts and our Holy Spirit given “Spiritual-gifts” for the sake of God’s kingdom and that we should be busy making a difference in that Kingdom. Years ago there was a young man who kept complaining to his father about church, especially he complained about the music in church. He went on to say – well let me paraphrase it a little bit – Ah man dad – it’s just so boring those hymns and songs we sing. And his father looked at him and said in effect – well stop complaining and do something about it. And he did. That conversation took place – not last week – not last month – not even last year – it took place about 300 years ago. The young man was a minister in a church in England – his name was Isaac Watts. I do not know if you are familiar with the name Isaac Watts or not – but he used his boredom as a call to be creative – and now – in our day – just about any hymnal that you pick up in any church – includes a song – a creation from Isaac Watts. Many of the songs he wrote are the standards in the Christian church in our day – think about it, what would the Christmas season be like if there was no song named “Joy to the World” for us to sing? This is one of the songs that Isaac Watts wrote because he was tired of the old church music.
The story of the life of Moses is instructive here as well. Do you remember how Moses was put in the basket shortly after his birth – floated down the river – was taken into the royal Egyptian family – lived in privilege and splendor – I imagine he had a very exciting life. All of a sudden he realizes, as he sees the people of Israel being oppressed, that these were his people and he ends up running away out into the wilderness. There he married the daughter of a shepherd – and spent years – and I do mean years – taking care of the sheep out in the field. Talk about a boring existence –heading out in the field with the sheep in the morning – back at home at night – day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year. Sounds entertaining – don’t you think?
I would imagine that there were times when Moses is sitting out there in the field thinking to himself – Boy I wish life could be a little more exciting – at least it was a little more exciting back in Egypt – and sure enough God took care of it for him. One day God appeared to him in a burning bush – something a little different in the midst of his day’s activities. He is called to go back to Egypt and help with the setting free of God’s people. You no doubt remember the rest of the story – the confrontation with Pharoah, the plagues, the exodus, the parting of the water, receiving the 10 commandments on the Mountain of God – Moses got more than he bargained for I expect.
He got a more exciting life indeed – but by then he was ready for it – God was using that time in the boring wilderness as a time of preparation for the tasks that would be set before Moses. It wasn’t all so exciting – but it was necessary – this time of preparation for him to find his place in God’s mighty history. In Romans 12:11 Paul reminds us: “Never be lacking in zeal to keep your spiritual fervor serving the Lord.” He means keep practicing the things that are important to the faith – you want an exciting faith life – you’ve got to do those little boring things along the way – you have to keep the zeal in your heart – the fervor in your faith – you need to go through the times of preparation. I like this quote from John Piper: “Being infinite, God is inexhaustibly interesting. It is therefore impossible that God be boring.”
Christopher Ash has written an inexpensive ($2.99 for Kindle version) little book with the title “Listen UP! A practical guide to listening to sermons.” Sounds like a title that would have been helpful for Eutychus! In this booklet he asks the question: Why on earth does anyone need a guide on how to listen to sermons? Don’t we simply need to “be there” and stay awake? Yet Jesus said: “Consider carefully how you listen.” The fact is, much more is involved in truly listening to Bible teaching than just sitting and staring at the preacher.
He then lists seven ingredients for healthy sermon listening:
- Expect God to speak
- Admit God knows better than you
- Check that the preacher says what the passage says
- Hear the sermon in church
- Be there week by week
- Do what the Bible says
- Do what the Bible says today—and rejoice!
First he says that when we come to worship – we need to do so expecting God to speak. The Scripture was given to us to teach us the truths we need (not should or even could know) but need to know – truths about God – about who He is and what He has done for us – and thus we also learn truths about ourselves. The Scripture is to be read and studied – but it is also to be preached – and in our worship together is the primary place where the Scripture is to be preached regularly and faithfully.
So says this little booklet – as we prepare ourselves for the preaching of God’s Word – we should be coming and listening expectantly for God to speak — and thus we should listen with a seriousness about us. It does not mean that there can be no laughter – that sermons must be very, very somber. But it does mean that there should be nothing casual about our listening. Prepare he suggests by reading the passage ahead of time – at home if you know it – but certainly as a part of the quiet time you have before worship begins. And get a good night’s rest the night before.
A second thing we mentions has to do with our attitudes as we listen to the sermon – as he puts it: Admit God knows better than you. Scripture is not a buffet line where you get to choose what you like and ignore what you don’t. In his second letter to Timothy (2 Tim 3:16) Paul says that: All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. All Scripture – even when you may not like what it says.
The final section in Ash’s book is also important. It is a reminder to “check that the preacher says what the passage says.” I wish he didn’t have to include that reminder, but it is absolutely true – for every preacher you ever listen to – and every author you read. Christians sometimes – perhaps too much of the time – don’t have very discerning ears and hearts. That’s why the Christian church of our day and age so often is filled with false teaching – and heresy. Just because something is in a book written by a preacher on the best-seller list – doesn’t mean that what is being presented is faithful to the Word of God. Just because a sermon or a book is filled with illustrations that make you laugh – or bring you to tears – doesn’t mean that they are being used in a manner true to what the Scripture is teaching. God has given you the ability to think critically – with discernment –no matter how good-looking the preacher – or how famous the author.
Those are some of the lessons from the account of Eutychus – those and one more – don’t sit in the window when the preacher gets long!!