“Silent witness: a window”
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus.
Back in 2014, when the youth of The Cross Lutheran Church in Mount Dora, Florida were looking for some way to set a new world record, that’s when their pastor, Pastor Zach Zehnder, started to wonder--what was the longest sermon ever? When he looked into it a little more, he found that a man named W. A. Criswell had once preached for as long as five hours and Vickrant Mahajan of India, had spoken for forty-eight. And since he was a bit competitive and loved to preach, he thought it’d be a good idea if he could try to set a new world record too.
So six months later, after choosing some fifty different Bible stories from Genesis to Revelation, and preparing 200 pages of notes and 600 powerpoint slides, (what would take any normal pastor two years to preach), he started his sermon at 7:00 one Friday morning. When he broke the record on Sunday morning, forty-eight hours, and thirty-two minutes later, his church dropped balloons and cheered.
But he wasn’t done. He kept going for another five hours! Finally, at 12:18 that Sunday afternoon, with the help of his congregation, (not to mention four nurses who were with him around the clock), he said a big “Amen,” fifty-three hours and eighteen minutes after he started.
And after raising more than a hundred thousand dollars for a local addiction recovery ministry, he went home and took a seven hour nap. Then he watched part of a Sunday night football game, then went back to bed for another seven hour nap. He said, “Apparently my kids came home and I talked with them for a couple minutes, but I don’t remember any of it.”
So far, it’s the longest sermon ever!
And just in case you’re wondering who preached the shortest sermon ever--that was a pastor named Walter Kirwan of St. Peter’s Church in Dublin, Ireland. It was a special service to honor the orphaned children of his community, and the church was packed to hear him preach. But he had a bad cold and could hardly speak. And since no one else would speak, he stepped into the pulpit and read his text: “True religion is this--to look after orphans and widows in their distress” (James 1:27). Then pointing to the orphans sitting before him, he said, “There they are.”
The book of Acts chapter 20 also tells a story about a sermon, what must have been one of the longest sermons ever, once preached by none other than the apostle Paul. It begins with this: “On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the next day, and he prolonged his speech until midnight. There were many lamps in the upper room where we were gathered. And a young man named Eutychus, sitting at the window, sank into a deep sleep as Paul talked still longer. And being overcome by sleep, he fell down from the third story and was taken up dead” (Acts 20:7-9).
At the time, Paul was on his third missionary journey, a journey that would take him all the way from Syria to Cilicia, to Asia, Macedonia and Greece. This time, Paul didn’t start any new churches. Instead, he simply went to strengthen the ones that were already there. Now, toward the end of his journey, he stopped to visit the city of Troas on the coast of the Aegean Sea.
Now as I read that text a moment ago, I hope you noticed the word “we.” “We gathered together...we broke bread.” And that’s important, because it tells us that Paul wasn’t alone on this missionary journey. There were others with him, men like Sopater, Aristarchus, Gaius, Secundus, Tychicus, Trophimus and Timothy. And best of all, there was the one who wrote the book, a physician named Luke. That’s why he included that little word, “we.”
Also, it’s important to note that, in the early days of the church, since believers were often persecuted, they met in darkness and secrecy. Those who hated them even claimed they met under cover of darkness to overthrow the government and commit other unspeakable crimes.
But here in Troas, there was no secrecy. The room was well lit with a room full of people, filled to capacity, all of whom had gathered just to hear Paul speak. This was, after all, the very last of his major missionary journeys, and a chance like this--to hear the apostle Paul preach--would never come again.
And as they gathered, probably around six o’clock that night, they joined in a meal, a first century potluck, complete with matzo balls, tuna casserole, jello and seventeen different kinds of dessert. Then about an hour or so later, after the dishes were cleaned up and the music team led them in a couple of songs, Paul began to preach.
And when Paul preached, it must have been amazing to hear him speak. He said, “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him and have been called according to His plan.” He said, “I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” And he said, “These three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”
For one hour, two hours, three hours, five hours, Paul preached Christ crucified--a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.
But it had been a long day and there were quite a lot of people all crowded together in that room, with oil lamps burning and no air conditioning. And it was getting pretty close to midnight, with no sign whatsoever of him letting up.
When in the midst of that group, there was a boy, probably about twelve or thirteen years old, who was having a little trouble staying awake. So he made his way over to one of the only windows in the room, and he sat down in it.
Have you ever tried to stay awake while you’re driving? You’re cruising along at 65 miles an hour. You roll down the window and you turn on the radio, hoping the fresh air and the noise will keep you awake.
Now before we talk about what happened next, we have to give Eutychus some credit. Even though he was young, he knew what was most important in life--the Word of God. And he went out of his way to get it. He was part of a congregation of Christians who cared for him and he cared for them. He belonged to the First Christian Church of Troas. He worshiped with them, prayed with them, and studied the Word of God with them. They were like family to him.
But it had been a long day and it was warm and he was tired. And the word Luke used in the text is what’s called a “present participle”--he was gradually and progressively falling asleep, trying everything he could to stay awake. His head was bobbing up and down.
Then it happened. Just when he couldn’t fight it anymore, the very moment he slipped into unconsciousness, he suddenly flew backwards out the window. And right as Paul was speaking, in the middle of a sentence, there was a scream and a thud as the poor boy fell to the ground below.
And as his family and friends rushed down the stairs, then came the blood-chilling cry: “He’s dead! Eutychus is dead!” Their voices shook in the dark.
But wonder of wonders, just as soon as Paul ran down those stairs and knelt beside him, he wrapped himself around his little body, just like Elijah and Elisha once did, and raised him from the dead.
You know, there’s a sleep a million times worse than what happened to Eutychus that night in Troas so long ago. And that’s the sleep of those who have fallen away from God. Maybe they believed once, but then they became too comfortable. They don’t bother to read the Bible anymore. They pray when only absolutely necessary, and they’ve long since stopped coming to church. And worst of all, they have no idea just how far they’ve strayed away from God.
In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul wrote, “You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light” (Ephesians 5:8). And he said, “Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you” (Ephesians 5:14).
Once, a church member wrote a letter to the editor of a newspaper and complained that it made no sense whatsoever to go to church. He said, “I’ve gone for thirty years now, and in that time, I’ve heard three thousand sermons. But for the life of me, I can’t remember a single one. I’m wasting my time and the preachers are wasting theirs.”
Then someone wrote back: “I’ve been married for thirty years now. And in that time, my wife has cooked almost thirty thousand meals. But for the life of me, I can’t recall the entire menu for a single one of those meals. But I do know this--they all nourished me and gave me the strength I needed to do my work. If my wife had not given me those meals, I would have starved to death. Likewise, if I had not gone to church for food, I would be spiritually dead today.”
Or think of the Sunday School teacher who asked her students, “Why is it necessary to be quiet when you go into church?”
A little girl answered, “Because the people are sleeping.”
This is no place to lean back, to get comfortable and to be entertained. What we are about here is nothing less than the life-changing, world-forming, and destiny-altering Word of God. It’s a sword. It’s a hammer. It strikes terror in a sinner’s heart and raises us from the dead. And there’s nothing in all the world that’s more powerful than that.
So there they were, those eleven disciples on Maundy Thursday night, in the Garden of Gethsemane. The day had been long, the supper had been deep and mysterious and their eyes were so heavy. How could they not fall asleep?
But even though they slept, Jesus prayed. Three times, He prayed, “Father, if there’s any possible way, take this cup from Me. Yet not as I will, but as You will.”
Though they slept, though all the world slept, Christ was still suffering and dying for the sins of the world.
One more thing--it’s funny that Luke even mentioned his name. He simply could have said, “One night, Paul was preaching. His sermon was long, well past midnight, and someone fell asleep, then fell out of the window.” But no. Luke chose to call him by name--Eutychus.
And that’s important, because it’s a name that meant, “Fortunate,” or “Lucky.”
He was lucky, alright. He was fortunate to join in that assembly of believers. He was fortunate to hear the Word of God. And he was fortunate to be raised from the dead.
And by the grace of God, so are we.
We thank You, Father, for the story of a boy named Eutychus. Grant that we may not sleep, but be found awake and ready when You come again in glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen