On Sunday we met to break bread. Paul was discussing Scripture with the people. Since he intended to leave the next day, he kept talking until midnight. (Many lamps were lit in the upstairs room where we were meeting.)
A young man named Eutychus was sitting in a window. As Paul was talking on and on, Eutychus was gradually falling asleep. Finally, overcome by sleep, he fell from the third story and was dead when they picked him up. Paul went to him, took him into his arms, and said, “Don’t worry! He’s alive!” Then Eutychus went upstairs again, broke the bread, and ate. Paul talked with the people for a long time, until sunrise, and then left.
The people took the boy home. They were greatly relieved that he was alive. (God’s Word Translation)
When I was a kid, the church worship service on Sunday was the longest hour of my week. I wanted to play in the pew, but my mom wouldn’t let me. I asked to go the bathroom, but my dad wasn’t having it. I tried to draw in the hymnal, but my sister always took everything around me ought of sight. My only relief was to sleep and drool on whatever I could lay my head on.
I’ve come a long way since then. But my experience taught me something. God isn’t boring, so I’m not going to be boring, either. Maybe I could have taught the Apostle Paul a thing or two.
In our New Testament lesson for today, the lateness of the hour (past midnight) and the ambiance of the room (all those burning oil lamps, presumably to keep people awake without any coffee) clues a church-going person immediately that something bad is about to go down. A long-winded preacher only serves to make for a combustible situation.
In all fairness to Paul, if the congregants were bored out of their minds, the text doesn’t tell us. My guess is that the author, Luke, doesn’t want to go there. Yet, we have evidence of a bored person in the form of none other than a young person, a kid named Eutychus.
He’s over by the open window, propped up on the ledge, and can’t keep his eyes open. Heck, for all we know, everyone was starting to doze off. And, as every preacher has experienced, as somebody slips into sleep, we just talk even longer.
The young man’s precipitous position leads to disaster: he falls out the third floor window. And, as one might expect, he fell to his death. Now, instead of some slap-stick comedic set up, we have a genuine tragedy: a young person literally bored to death by preaching.
All of a sudden, the story is no laughing matter. So, what might we learn from the preacher who bored Eutychus to death?
He finally stops preaching
The sermon is interrupted (as it turns out, of course, only momentarily) in order to attend to the tragedy. Sometimes, the sermon has to stop. Everything has to stop. We have to take a good, hard look at what’s going on. There are questions to ask, things to notice, conversations to begin. We have to get particular about where we are, and what we’re doing, before we can keep going with anything.
Maybe, just maybe, if Eutychus was part of the communion service, he wouldn’t have been on the margins and at risk of falling. As for many churches today, it could be there’s no young people around because they all fell out the window. Never underestimate the power of participation. Most youth just need to be asked to help out. But most adults don’t ask. And most kids aren’t going to volunteer.
He threw himself on him
Paul went down to Eutychus, and bending over him, took him in his arms in an emotional embrace – similar to what the father did when the prodigal son came home. (Luke 15:11-32)
In both cases – the prodigal son and Eutychus – they each needed a new life. The prodigal fell asleep to who he was, in a living death, and woke to his condition and went home. Eutychus literally fell asleep to an actual death and was woke to a resurrected life – returning back to the congregation (and even more preaching! *sheesh* leave it alone, Paul).
Each was found. Each had someone care about them by throwing their arms around them and giving them new life. That’s what grace is. Grace is giving the gift of seeing another person and embracing them – no matter whether they’re worthy of it, or not.
“He’s alive” is a statement of fact, of reality. It puts all the attention on what is true, right now, in this moment – and deflects attention away from who’s around the living person. In other words, Paul doesn’t take credit for Eutychus coming to life or restoring breath to him.
Implicitly, we know where the power comes from to raise Eutychus to life. It doesn’t come from the preacher. However, there is an important task that every preacher can do: witness a new life and bring the announcement of that life to the community. Preaching can (and ought to) bear witness to the activity of God in raising the dead and granting life.
The preacher can encourage the congregation to celebrate life around the Lord’s Table, notice the people on the margins of the community, and stay awake to the possibilities of what God can do amongst us.
Turns out, neither the length of a sermon nor the level of boredom is the issue. What’s most important is proclaming the gospel of grace in word and sacrament. And that’s something we all can participate in together and celebrate.
God of life, may we learn how to live from the mercy which was brought to us through the mission of your Son – whose saving love extends to every person, whose presence reaches into every place, Jesus Christ, who makes all things new, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.