Cann Memorial Presbyterian Church
June 10, 2018-3rd Sunday after Pentecost
Faces of Faith: Eutychus
When I was a teenager, I went on a mission trip with my church’s youth group to Mexico. We were partnering with a congregation to help build a home for the church’s pastor. Because I had a strong enough ability to speak Spanish, I was asked to work alongside our local partners, translating and being the communication bridge. Long days working in the sun, we then would share an evening meal and devotion together. One evening, towards the end of the week, we gathered with the congregation for worship. It was a warm summer night and I was physically tired, from the construction work, as well as mentally drained from the linguistic gymnastics of interpreting and communicating in a foreign language. That evening, as the pastor preached, I tried concentrating to his sermon in Spanish. I tried listening, but I was worn out. My eyelids were heavy. I thought to myself “if I do close my eyes, then I can listen better…” not so much. I did everything I could think of to keep awake, but in the end, I just fell asleep in worship. Thankfully, I wasn’t sitting on the window sill, but in the middle of the room.
For some preachers, our text today, could be a cautionary tale to not preach boring sermons. It may also be the cautionary tale of what happens when you do fall asleep in worship…be forewarned! But perhaps this short story is more than that.
The setting for today is Troas, on the coast of Asia Minor. It is an evening service, since Troas has many disciples who are slaves and cannot meet during the day. It also happens to be the last time these disciples will hear Paul, the visiting preacher, since he plans to leave in the morning; …The lateness of the hour (Paul is preaching past midnight) and the ambiance of the room (all those burning oil lamps, presumably to keep people awake in the absence of Starbucks or Muddy’s) only serve to accentuate the text's focus on sermon length. This vespers service is fast becoming a smoked-out lock-in. If the listeners were on the edges of their seats with excitement or bored out of their minds, the text doesn't tell us; perhaps the author is too polite to comment. Yet in verse 9, there is at least one reaction to Paul's preaching that cannot be overlooked, not because it is an unusual way to respond, but because the location of the listener prompts an unusual crisis. Over by the open window, propped up on the ledge, sits a young man named Eutychus who cannot keep his eyes open. This is hardly surprising: for all we know, everyone was starting to doze off from lack of sleep and breathable air. His eyes are heavy and despite probably all efforts to stay awake, he falls asleep and falls out of the window. If we fast forward, we don’t have to worry, he rouses awake, (whether he was dead is debatable, but Paul rushes down, checks on him and confirms he is alive).
This is an unusual story, but one that leaves me with lots of questions. Paul is worshipping with this new congregation, they come together in this upper room, to break bread together, and hear the Good News proclaim. They fellowship with one another, they are the first church and learning to be passionate in their worship.
This story reminds me of another parable. Soren Kierkegaard tells the parable of a community of ducks waddling off to duck church to hear the duck preacher. The duck preacher spoke eloquently of how God had given the ducks wings with which to fly. With these wings there was nowhere the ducks could not go, there was no God-given task the ducks could not accomplish with those wings they could soar into the presence of God himself. Shouts of “Amen” were quacked throughout the duck congregation. At the conclusion of the service, the ducks left, commenting on what a wonderful message they had heard---and waddled back home.
Isn’t that truth, too often would-be worshipers waddle away from worship as they waddled in-unchallenged and unchanged. Why is that? Is the sermon uninspiring? Is the perpetual rote-ness of the liturgy not meaningful? Perhaps it is because we are creature of habit. Week after week, church goers sit in the same place in the same pew, following an order of service that they know by heart, listening to a sermon which they assume is intended primarily for someone else. Is there anything wrong with this? Do we blame people if they metaphorically fall asleep, or fall out of church due to the routine?
Occasionally, though, something happens. Serendipity, unplanned, unrehearsed, uncontrollable spirit moves through the worship space filling the church goers with new breath-worship happens. Someone’s eyes are opened to a deeper awareness of the grandeur of God by the majesty of the music, and new commitments are born. Someone recognizes his or her life’s story as the Scripture lesson is read, and new believer is born. Someone hears in the sermon, as if for the first time, the unrelenting and forgiving love of Jesus, and new hope is born. Someone experiences worship and leaves worship soaring, called to serve the Lord in their community. We may wonder why or where these moments happen, to some people but not to all. The trouble is these events can’t be explained, they can’t be directed, only described.
For the church in Troas and for us, I think this passage requires us to ask ourselves, when we worship are we creating a stuffy environment, one that lulls people to sleep (and perhaps even fall out) or are we providing a worship environment that provides fresh breath and new life for people so they soar instead of waddle out?
When we come into worship what or who are we thinking about? Are we concerned more about how comfortable we feel in worship than who we are worshipping?
Worship is a time to think less about ourselves and more about our faith in God,
to think less about our own personal agenda and more about God’s will,
to think less about squeezing God into our busy lives and more about melding our lives into God.
Instead, worship is a time to recognize what God does in our midst.
Worship is a time to be a place of fellowship and community for those seeking to see God working in their lives.
Worship is a place of refuge for those who feel on the margins of God’s abundant love.
Worship is a time to honor and glorify God through our words, our songs, and our actions.
Worship is a time to be renewed and refreshed by the Spirit, so as to go back out into the world to love and serve God.
In every imaginable setting, through worship, people seek to connect with God, allow God’s word to shape them and offer their unique response of faith. God’s spirit changes us through worship. Without an attitude and space for passion in worship, worship becomes dry, routine, predictable, keeping form and order, but lacking space for the Spirit. We and others will have a tendency to fall asleep and fall out.
Who is it on the fringes of our world, and in our lives needed fresh breath and life in them? How can we in our worship, in our fellowship, and in our service to the world, be that needed breath for them?
When we worship we are called to stir people back into their consciousness. We are called to desire our best in worship, honoring God with excellence and with clarity about worship’s purpose: that is connecting people to God. When churches engage in passionate worship, it is alive, authentic, fresh, engaging whether it is a congregation of 15 or 1500. The purpose of worship is to help people perceive themselves, their world, their relationships and their responsibilities in ways that include God’s revelation in Christ. It is something alive that requires continuing care, cultivation and effort to keep it alive and fresh.
Worship is a place in which people come to connect with God, and to one another as well as a place to feel restored, reminded, remembered and refreshed, so that when they exit the doors and assimilate back into their daily existence, they carry the light of Christ with them, sharing it with those who cross their paths. May we, through our stirring experiences in worship, go out into the world and be the breath and life for others. May we, through our love for God, worship and glorify him through our daily lives. And may we seek to arouse others into life with Christ. And may it be so. Amen.