Reflections on the Book of Acts #20: Eutychus

Here’s the link to Acts 20.

The very first Sunday I preached in our first church there were some people in the front row who had been up late for youth group. A young boy named Darren fell asleep during the sermon.

It wouldn’t be the last time this happened to me.

There was also a man named Wendell. He and his wife Jean were our next door neighbours at our subsequent church. Though they were members of a Wesleyan congregation, they often attended our church in the winter months to avoid the drive (our church was just across the street). They were an elderly couple and wonderful. And any Sunday they attended Wendell would shake my hand afterwards when leaving and say, “Lovely message.” He said this even though most Sundays he came, he ended up asleep and, yes, sometimes, snoring.

So I understand the story of Eutychus.

On the first day of the week, we assembled to break bread. Paul spoke to them, and since he was about to depart the next day, he kept on talking until midnight. There were many lamps in the room upstairs where we were assembled, and a young man named Eutychus was sitting on a window sill and sank into a deep sleep as Paul kept on talking. 

Acts 20:7-9

So Paul preached and talked and preached and talked. So much so that this poor young guy couldn’t keep his eyes open. Unfortunately, he had chosen to park himself in a spot that wasn’t conducive for mid-sermon naps. When he was overcome by sleep, he fell down from the third story and was picked up dead. 

Yikes! I’ve put people to sleep with my preaching but never killed anyone!

Thankfully, Paul was able to revive him. Did Eutychus just seem dead? Or did Paul miraculously heal him? Maybe he had one of those facecloths or aprons with him (see previous post).

What’s funny to me is that Paul kept on talking. Once it was clear Eutychus was alive, Paul talked a long time until dawn. Then he left.

Wow. Talk about homiletical commitment!

I know for myself, it has helped to add some tricks and techniques to my sermons to keep people awake and engaged. I sometimes use Power Point slides (people love slides, even if they’re not from your vacation). I use the occasional joke (off color ones often wake people up if they were already dozing). Once in a while I incorporate some liturgical dance. This usually results in puzzled gazes, but at least people aren’t snoring! Plus, I try to never go past noon. You never know who has a roast in the oven.

Maybe Paul could have tried some of these things. But he was probably too captivated by the gospel and the truth of Scripture to have it occur to him. Oh well.

In a bizarre way, the story of Eutychus reminds me of our humanity. Like it or not, there is an ordinariness even to the Christian life. Sometimes the spirit is willing when the flesh is weak. Here Eutychus was listening to the apostle Paul, superstar convert to the faith, church-planting evangelist supreme, eventual writer of much of our New Testament, and he fell asleep.

If even Paul could put people to sleep, then perhaps there’s hope for the rest of us preachers. And thanks to Eutychus, hope for those who fall asleep while listening as well.

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