The craziest story I’ve heard about falling asleep in church was told to me when I was in S.F.: a former pastor, who was growing old, was preaching away when suddenly he paused, and slowly his head went down and came to rest on the pulpit. The people looked at each other and one of them discovered the problem: the preacher had fallen asleep.
The stories of the Bible are often told without commentary, leaving it up to us, the readers, to figure out the lessons. The story of Eutychus falling asleep has a wide range of suggested lessons. One of the most common is that it’s not good to fall asleep during the sermon or bad things might happen, or related lessons on being serious about things of the spirit. IMHO, that’s a wise lesson, but I think there are better lessons from this story….
Some less common lessons: Pastors, don’t kill off the people of the church. One commentator said the truth is that today we don’t need to worry so much about people falling out of windows as we do falling out of fellowship. That’s true.
Another silly lesson: why does Luke add the detail of Acts 20:8? READ. No explanation is given, but most think its an indication the oxygen in the room was being sucked out so the conditions for falling asleep were just right…the lesson? Take away distractions. Other lessons? Get enough sleep before you go to church, or the opposite, many people think Eutychus was a hard worker and probably worked hard that day, quite likely even a slave, no days off. Go to church anyway even when tired. Is that a possible lesson? So what if you fall asleep, there is still life. Is that a lesson?
What other lessons come to mind? ______________________ Ask the Lord to speak to you the lesson. Maybe you do need to be convicted to be more serious about faith and not fall asleep so easily. God can raise the dead, but it’s better if we don’t put him in the position of having to raise us by not sitting in a window. God can rescue the fool, but that isn’t a license to be foolish.
Today I’m going for the angle of learning to enjoy the church fellowship. Question, (raise your hand if you dare): Have you ever fallen asleep in church?... anyone want to tell the story? We are in a transition of leadership in the church… take this transition as a time to think through the purpose of the church, the vision… Acts is a handbook of what the church is about, the greater kingdom, being led by the Spirit, outreach, doing things in ways they’ve never been done, priorities, emphasizing the resurrection.
Today I add to the toolbox the need to enjoy, to have fun. Delight in what God is doing. After many serious stories, a riot in Ephesus, people being displaced, it’s like Luke is pausing with Eutychus and showing us to have fun. Another lesson: laugh at yourself. I imagine the young man Eutychus heard about falling asleep and falling out the window the rest of his life. He fell out a window, died, and was raised back to life.
Another humorous part of the story: the way the story is told, it seems Paul is annoyed by the inconvenience of somebody falling out the window while he’s preaching and dies. READ Acts 20:9-11. Paul acts like he’s interrupted, he was on a role, so he quickly runs down, raises the young man from the dead and says, “No big deal, nothing to see here… let’s get back to my sermon.” Another lesson: we easily get annoyed with distractions in ministry, but maybe the distraction is the main thing. Maybe I’m on my way to help with a project in the Foothills, and I get sidetracked by a person with another need. Maybe that was God’s assignment. I find it instructive that Paul spoke for 8-10 hours, not a word of what he said is recorded, but it was Eutychus resurrection that made the lasting impact: READ Acts 20:12. We make our plans, but God will reach people in his timing in His way.
I want to share with you a recent story out of this church that will make you smile when I read it. An anonymous letter arrived to the church addressed to the Hammings (explain that clearly they think Don is alive… for years the Hamminghs ran the Sumas Market Grocery Store… sometime I would go into that store not to buy anything, but to walk the old creaky aisles of the ancient floorboards, or to hear Don Hammingh tell me to go play on the freeway). Doris gave permission to share this wonderful little letter.
Dear Hamminghs, You may find this unusual me writing this but I have something bothering me. I grew up in your town of Sumas quite a while ago. I was a squirrely kid and wasn’t very mindful. I grew up in a Christian home but I wasn’t a Christian, my mom prayed for me I’m sure.
Recently I was asked by someone, ‘Come on, didn’t you ever steal something?’ and I though and thought, and then I remembered, ‘yes I did’. I shoplifted once, maybe it was twice at the local grocery store. It was the Hammingh Market. The worst part about it is that they asked if I repayed what I shiplifted. I hadn’t. It has bothered me ever since.
Why does it make a difference to me now you might ask? Well, because it was a few years ago that I became a Christian. It keeps coming to my mind. I think the 1 or 2 items may have totaled then about $5. First of all, I hope you forgive me. Second, I hope you take this as payment for those two items. I hope this covers it plus interest. That’s all I have, hope you are well. [$100 cash, Doris donated to youth camp]
The miracle of Eutychus being raised from the dead is FUN. It’s a miracle set in an unexpected tragedy and God uses a preacher that seems annoyed because it is distracting from his sermon. I’m reminded of the story of Denny Bos that fell off the top of a barn and landed on cement on his back. How old were you Denny? As he was about to land he felt an angel cushion the back of his head.
In the verses leading up to the story of Eutychus, I think Paul is having the time of his life. He just came off of a horrible experience of riots and threats in Ephesus (Acts 19:23-41) but then he keeps on going. READ Acts 20:1. Satan has limited power to discourage us, to stop us. Pain is real, but there must come a time when the joy of the Lord keeps us going forward.
My mother was barely able to talk this week. Sleeps most of the time. Discomfort. I was sitting in the living room and she called me and my sister in. “I want to sing a song to you” she says. We were amazed and smiled. Somehow she pulled out a verse to an ancient hymn I’m not sure I’ve ever sung or ever heard her mention, “The White Cliffs of Dover.” My mother chose to enjoy the moment.
Paul encouraged those in Ephesus and went on his next Holy Spirit assignment. One of my favorite lines in all of the hymns is from When I Survey the Wondrous Cross. The line: “See from His head, His hands, His feet/ Sorrow and love flow mingled down! just as Christ suffered and loved, so too can we suffer and love, suffer and enjoy. The amazing capacity that the Lord gave us to have conflicting emotions…. Eutychus fell and died, he was raised from the dead, a tragedy and a joy in a single event. Sorrow and love flow mingled down.
The greater purpose of the riots in Ephesus was for Satan to put a stop to the Way of Jesus Christ. Paul would not be stopped. In the next verses of Acts 20 it says Paul traveled and encouraged the people in so many places he’d already been. What a joy. He is refueling. Guess what else he does in this time frame that is not mentioned? He wrote some of the most incredible life changing letters in these verses that were later accepted as scripture in the Bible: 2 Corinthians, Romans. Maybe more.
Paul is having the time of his life ~ the grand old man traveling, encouraging his friends… and then, I’m going to imagine that Paul’s greatest joy of this passage is represented by this list of young disciples that accompany him (READ Acts 20:4.) Little is known about the specifics of who these people are other than where they are from, all the places Paul has been. They are with Paul on an important mission (details of deliving an offering to Jerusalem will come out later in Acts). A name that stands out: Secundus. Guess what that means? [Second]. Why name a child second? Probably it was a slaveowner. It’s not a name, he’s the second slave born. A slave with no name becomes a slave for Christ under the teaching of the great Paul. He is second no more. I can imagine the joy, the fun, the delight Paul must have been having.
Surely Paul is having the time of his life. Everywhere he goes there is mutual encouragement. Then we come to the story of Eutychus. Smile: somebody fell asleep in church. If your neighbor falls asleep in church, doesn’t it make you smile? Unless you are the wife…
I, for one, don’t blame Eutychus for falling asleep. When I was a teenager, May 1976, my father organized a group from this church to go to a Billy Graham Crusade in the Kingdome. I looked it up. A record crowd of 74,000 people. The great Billy Graham, I saw him one time in person///////I fell asleep. I didn’t mean to. It was a long day, a long car ride, and a long winded preacher….
Eutychus fell asleep, too. Maybe he arrived late, squeezed into the back of a crowded room, the burning lamps sucked the air out of the room, so he tried to get some fresh air by perching on a window ledge ~ but it wasn’t enough. He dozed and fell three stories.
There is another wonderful fun little detail most people won’t notice until somebody point it out to you. This is one of the well known “we” sections of Acts. The vast majority of Luke-Acts is written in the third person about Jesus, the disciples, Paul, Barnabus and a thousand other characters, but as we get to the end, Luke quietly inserts “we” READ Acts 20:6-7. Luke was there. He saw fit to add the detail of the many lamps in the room. Luke, a doctor by trade, says Eutychus was dead. The whole incident took place so fast many probably did not realize what happened, but Luke says he was dead. What a joy it is to see for yourself the miraculous works and ministry of our amazing God. Looking back at Luke’s reason for writing the Gospel of Luke and Acts, he says, “since I have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account….so that you may know” (Luke 1:3-4). Luke saw with his own eyes some of what he writes. I like to imagine that as Luke was with Paul in Troas when Eutychus fell asleep and died and was raised from the dead, it is not impossible that this is the incident that really got Luke thinking. Who is Jesus that he could inspire such devotion, such teaching, a miracle… I like to think that Eutychus is the catalyst to cause Dr. Luke to dive deeper into the life of Jesus Christ and the coming of the Holy Spirit.
Many lessons to be learned from Eutychus falling asleep, but, to me, the greatest lesson of all is that Luke wanted us to smile when he wrote down this story that he himself witnessed. I bet it made him smile! The lesson: it’s a lot of fun to serve the Lord Jesus Christ and it’s a joy to be a part of the fellowship of God’s people. Amen.