Readings: Acts 20-23.
As someone who preaches, I feel a particular resonance with one section of today’s readings. The ideal length of a sermon is a topic of much debate among church leaders. Some advocate preaching short sermons, in keeping with research which suggests a declining attention span among average people. Others favour longer sermons, allowing the preacher to expound Scripture in detail and with ample application. However, even with this approach to preaching, it is unlikely that sermons will go on for longer than an hour.
On the first day of the week, we gathered with the local believers to share in the Lord’s Supper. Paul was preaching to them, and since he was leaving the next day, he kept talking until midnight. The upstairs room where we met was lighted with many flickering lamps. As Paul spoke on and on, a young man named Eutychus, sitting on the windowsill, became very drowsy. Finally, he fell sound asleep and dropped three stories to his death below. Paul went down, bent over him, and took him into his arms. “Don’t worry,” he said, “he’s alive!” Then they all went back upstairs, shared in the Lord’s Supper, and ate together. Paul continued talking to them until dawn, and then he left. Meanwhile, the young man was taken home alive and well, and everyone was greatly relieved. (Acts 20:7-12, NLT)
Many preachers would say that they know they have preached for too long when their spouse gives a signal from the congregation. Even if they had no pre-arranged signal, they would hear about it in the car on the way home! “What did you think dear?” “It was good, but you didn’t half go on!” Some preachers may receive complaints from their leadership teams or even from members of their churches if they preach for too long, but few will experience the consequences with which Paul was faced on this occasion!
I suppose this is a cautionary tale for preachers – if you speak all through the night, you might end up killing someone! Personally, if someone nodded off during one of my sermons I might feel at least a little offended. If, through falling asleep, they also fell out of a window to their death, I’d be mortified! I’d certainly take that as a signal that I should stop speaking and sit down. However, Paul seems completely un-phased by this. He nonchalantly heals the man, leads communion and continues preaching until morning! It seems that nothing could possibly come between Paul and preaching.
You can rest assured that we are not about to start preaching for this long!