Sermon preached for the May Stated Meeting of the Presbytery of Cincinnati.
On the first day of the week, as we gathered together for a meal, Paul was holding a discussion with them. Since he was leaving the next day, he continued talking until midnight. There were many lamps in the upstairs room where we had gathered. A young man named Eutychus was sitting in the window. He was sinking into a deep sleep as Paul talked on and on. When he was sound asleep, he fell from the third floor and died. Paul went down, fell on him and embraced him, then said, “Don’t be alarmed. He’s alive!” Then Paul went back upstairs and ate. He talked for a long time—right up until daybreak—then he left. They took the young man away alive, and they were greatly comforted.
When I got asked to preach at Presbytery, I called my grandfather to tell him. Grandpa is a lifelong Presbyterian who’s attended his fair share of Presbytery meetings. He knows what they’re like.
The next day, he called me back. “I had a dream about you last night,” he said. “You were preaching at Presbytery, and you were explaining the Greek and Hebrew for things, and everyone’s eyes were just rolling back in their heads.”
I really hope Grandpa hasn’t been holding out on me about having the gift of prophecy.
Friends, we’re a talky people. A preachy people. A wordy, long-winded kind of people. Have you read our Brief Statement of Faith? It’s beautiful, but brief it ain’t.
Many of the words we say are good words. True words. Needed words. I don’t want to downplay how important it is to preach the good news, and to use words to do it. To tell people that the God of the universe loves them.
But as much as I hate to admit it, especially as someone who words for a living, there’s a limit to what words can do.
I mean, how many of us have felt the way poor Eutychus did? Late night, warm room, and the preacher is just going on… and on… and on.
And there comes a point, even when the words are good, that we are just going to get bored with all the talk. Even, like Eutychus, bored to death.
I’m going to let you in on the world’s worst kept secret: church can be super, super boring.
And I’m not just talking about worship, even though I’ve snoozed through my fair share of mediocre sermons, and preached my fair share of clunkers myself. I’m talking more broadly, about the stuff we church people get mired in that leaves other people yawning and looking for the escape hatch.
If you are preaching love and singing love and talking love, but I never see you show love, I’m going to get bored.
If your entire mission as a church is keeping your doors open, but not your hearts or minds or spirits as well, I’m going to get bored.
If your obsession when it comes to the church is listing all the problems you see, and you never have a solution to share, I’m going to get bored.
If you say all are welcome but you never learn my name or come talk to me, I’m for sure going to get bored.
And if your obsession when it comes to the church—or the denomination—is on how we’re dying, I have been bored with that for years.
Y’all, I’m a child of the 90s. I was raised by the “dying church.” Nurtured by the “dying church.” Taught the love of Jesus by the “dying church.” Empowered by the “dying church.” Ordained into the “dying church.” Working alongside hundreds of bright, passionate young collegues who have given their life to the “dying church” all around the globe.
I’m a Christian. I follow Christ. That means some things end in death. And begin again in resurrection. Can you imagine if the Jesus had spent his whole ministry hand-wringing about the death he knew for sure was coming? There would have been no time for miracles. For feasts. For parables. For preparing disciples to become the church. For anything.
Jesus showed us the way of courage, but when churches go on and on and on about themselves, and what they need and want, and not what the spirit is calling them to, then its no wonder our people, like Eutychus, are napping in the pews and falling out of windows.
But here’s the thing.
This is a miracle story. A resurrection story. An Easter story.
When Eutychus goes missing, in that crowded upper room, Paul notices, and he stops talking. This is important: he stops talking. And he runs down three flights of stairs and goes after the one who was lost. And he embraces him, and Eutychus lives.
Eutychus was bored to death by words, and brought to life by a real-life connection.
I have told you reasons church can be boring, and I know you have your own. Yet here I stand. I’ve committed my whole life to this enterprise, all my days and energies and resources. I’m all in on this church thing, and I can tell you why.
It’s because along the way, when exhaustion hit me and I fell out the window and was lost from sight, someone came and found me, and held me tightly.
In my darkest midnight, when I lay broken on the ground,
Someone showed me I was loved.
Someone showed me I was needed.
Someone showed me I was worthy.
Someone showed me I, too, could be called to something extraordinary.
And every last one was a church person.
I’m a Christian—and a Presbyterian—and a pastor—because church is where messy, boring, human people can come together and become the body of Jesus. Church is where my little broken gifts can change the world. Church brought me back to life when I was about ready to be done with it. I’m not stepping away from that source of resurrection power anytime soon.
Now, there are still days that bore me to tears. Meetings where I watch the clock. Conference topics that make me roll my eyes.
But there are also days when it seems like the Spirit is zinging around the room. When I hear a confirmation student say that being Presbyterian gives him hope for the future. When I watch the grandmother of nine know exactly how to make casseroles in bulk for a hungry crowd of homeless. When a cancer patient’s room is covered in get-well cards from their Sunday School class. When a newly divorced woman comes into the sanctuary and knows that she is worthy of love, full stop. There are days when the church is so alive—so full of that Easter, resurrection life—that I can’t help but pledge my own life to it.
I love what Paul says, when he hugs that boy tight, that lost boy, and brings him back to life.
“Don’t be alarmed. He’s alive.”
I know that being part of a church, and a presbytery, and a denomination—I know it can feel like cause for alarm. So much for us to tackle, so much for us to solve, so many issues begging for us to speak out about them. And we can pore over statistics and get ourselves all kinds of freaked.
But I know first hand that even a Church that looks like its dying can still bring the dead to life.
And its because a man hanging on a cross had a new creation up his sleeves.
Church can be boring. There’s no two ways around it. But it’s the only group of people I have found who embrace those who lie lost and broken on the ground in such a way as to lift them right back into life.
And as long as we keep doing that—as long as we keep preaching our encouragement and sharing our embrace—then I think we’ll be alright.
Don’t be alarmed, folks. We’re alive.