Central Presbyterian Church

Massillon, Ohio


Acts 20:7-12

 Matthew 25:31-40

    Every so often, we come upon a passage or story in the Bible which causes us to ask: What in

the world is this all about?  Why is this here?  I’ve asked these very questions for years with regard

to the text I’m about to read for you.  The historical context is the apostle Paul’s farewell sermon

before he leaves the coastal Mediterranean city of “Troas,” where he’d been for a week after

escaping a plot against his life by the Jews.  Here’s how Luke describes the events of that evening.

          (Acts 20:7-12)

      I once heard it said that preaching is the fine art of talking in someone else’s sleep.  When I was

student pastor at the Mt. Nebo church, we had a regular attendee named Dave who would sit in

the second pew religiously.  I noticed that when I preached, he always had his hands folded over

his belly and his head bowed in prayer.  It was very encouraging to me, a bumbling seminary stu-

dent, that my words were touching him deep in his spirit.  One Sunday after I had greeted folks at

the rear door, I returned to the sanctuary to find Dave still deep in prayer.  As I approached him,

intending to commend him for listening so intently, I heard a sound which woke me up: zzzzzzzz.  I

realized I wasn’t so inspirational after all. 

     Someone wrote a little poem which inspired the title of this morning’s sermon:  “I cannot praise

the reverend’s eyes; I never saw his glance divine; He always shuts them when he prays, and when

he preaches, he shuts mine.”  The late, great George Burns once said that “A good sermon should

have a good beginning and a good ending.  And they should be as close together as possible.”

      Again, I’ve always been mystified by this story of Paul preaching and Eutychus sleeping.  Is it

some sort of Biblical barb aimed at long-winded preachers?  It is a warning to the congregation 

to not dare fall asleep during the sermon?  The storyline is simple enough.  It was Sunday, the first

day of the week.  It must have been a service that started late afternoon winding into the evening,

as Luke tells us that “There were many lamps in the room upstairs where we were meeting.” At

midnight, Paul was still going strong.    “….when we met to break bread” suggests that the Lord’s

Supper was being celebrated, as it was a customary part of every Christian worship service in the

early church. 

      This young man by the name of “Eutychus” [which, by the way, means “good luck”] was evi-

dently sitting in a window, trying to get through the “discussion”; maybe trying to catch a wisp

of evening breeze to help keep his eyes open.  We’re not told Eutychus’ age, but I imagine him as

a teen; thinking what most teenagers think during sermon time:  This is sooo boring.  Won’t this

ever be over?  Okay Pastor Paul, you’ve made your point….a dozen times.  Let’s wrap it up.

      Well Paul just kept on going and going, like a preaching Energizer Bunny.  Eutychus had been

slipping in and out of consciousness, trying to at least appear to be awake.  In our day and age, he

would probably have been sending texts or playing Solitaire, trying to keep occupied.  But finally

the drone of Paul’s voice got the best of him, and Eutychus “began to sink off into a deep sleep

while Paul talked still longer.”  A moment later, he silently disappeared from the window and fell

three stories to the ground below. 

      To Paul’s credit, he interrupted his sermon and went out to the aid of the young man whom

everyone assumed was as good as dead.  “But Paul went down, and bending over him took him

in his arms, and said, ‘Do not be alarmed, for his life is in him.’”  We don’t know how long Paul

remained with him, nor are we given any further details of the immediate aftermath.  But eventu-

ally, Paul returned to the “room upstairs” where he either officiated the Sacrament, or simply had

a bite to eat, conversed with the people “until dawn;” then departed.  Luke wraps up the story by

affirming that Eutychus was alive; taken away no doubt shaken, but okay.  And everyone was “not

a little comforted.”  They were a lot comforted.  Eutychus was a lucky kid!  And my guess is from

that time forward, he got a nap before service, and sat on the floor like everyone else.

      Neat little story.  Humorous story in a “we can laugh about it now” sort of way.  Story with a

happy ending.  But again, why is it here?  What’s it all about?  Over the years, I’ve consulted a

number of Biblical scholars and commentators, trying to find a take on Luke’s story.  Even William

Barclay, who usually has a lot to say about the contemporary application of passages, is unusually

quiet with regard to this one.  His only summarizing comment is that worship in Eutychus’ and

Paul’s time was like a family meeting, and that “it is possible that we have gained in dignity in our

church services at the expense of family atmosphere.”  Good food for thought, but not very help-

ful.  Then something struck me about this passage.

      The preaching ministry of the church has always been vitally important.  Proclamation of, dis-

cussion of, conversation around the word of God is central to our common lives of faith.  In the

closing words of Mark’s Gospel, Jesus Himself gives us this directive:  “Go into all the world and

proclaim the good news to the whole creation.”  If the church didn’t so highly value it’s preaching

ministry, most of us preachers would be selling insurance. 

     But for all the homiletical gems we preachers lay upon you every Sunday, there’s a more impor-

tant call to the church; a more life-giving directive which the church is to be about.  That call and

directive is to leave the chamber where we are gathered together, and go out to those who lie just

below our windows, fighting for life.  It’s well and fine to proclaim God’s word that Jesus stands

with us in our suffering.  But it’s far more important to go out to the suffering and embrace them

in their pain.  It’s an honorable task to preach God’s word that we should feed the hungry, clothe

the naked, and shelter the homeless.  But it’s far more important to go down, as Paul “went

down,” to the hungry; the naked; the homeless.  It’s a good and righteous thing to preach Jesus’

forgiveness.  But it’s far better to go out and find that person who’s wronged us, and embrace

them with a hug of reconciliation.  James puts it well in his letter when he writes:  “Be doers of

the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourself.”  And elsewhere in the same letter:  If a

brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep

warm and eat your fill,’ and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that?”

      It appears to me that this odd little story of Paul and Eutychus is inserted by Luke as a call to

outreach; as a missional call, saying to us:  Talking is fine.  Doing is better.  All our proclamation

may not necessarily be what gives or restores life.  In fact, too much talk, and the very one who

needs reached may just quietly topple out the window.  But to go out and down to the one who’s

fallen, and embrace them in their misery – offering them a morsel of bread, or a cup of cold water,

or binding their wounds, or bringing an act of genuine forgiveness – these are the things which

give life.  And ultimately, the gospel of Jesus Christ is about reaching out to those who are in a

manner dead or dying, and helping restore them to health – physically, emotionally, spiritually. 

      So perhaps this passage fires a few questions back at us.  Who lies just below our window,

having toppled out for life’s fatigue.  Is it those who come for our Need-a-Lunch or now, Bag-a-

Lunch?  Is it those who will return again someday to our Clothing Closet, or Door Ministry, or the

ASPIRE adult education program?  Is it those who need our help at the homeless shelter up the

street?  Is it those who have been victims of natural disaster helped through the One Great Hour

of Sharing, or the Pentecost Offering, or the Peacemaking Offering?  Is it those who are fed from

our annual Mountain of Food, or who are gifted and clothed by contributions to our Share-a-Gift

Tree, or children who receive needed tools for their education through the Back-to-School

Offering?  All these, and more, are the modern-day Eutychuses to whom we are called to go out. 

Maybe the most pointed question posed by this story is this:  You can talk the talk, but can you

walk the walk?

      Fortunately, you have a preacher who doesn’t make a habit of prolonging his speech “until

midnight,” or even until noon for that matter.  After all, I don’t want you falling asleep, {even

though you’re unlikely to fall out of any of these windows, in so much as they don’t open.} //

{although I assume you’re sitting on some sort of chair at home, and not in an open window.}  You

do however have a preacher who believes there is a time to talk it, and there is a time to walk it.

That having been said, let’s now go out and check to see who may be languishing below our

windows, and embrace them with the life-giving word we have heard.  Amen.