Writer, editor, stumbler after Jesus

A killer sermon

asleep3THE APOSTLE PAUL and I have at least one thing in common. No, nothing from the list of his impressive credentials. Rather, we both put someone to sleep when we were speaking. My victim only appeared to have died, fortunately. I guess.

It was my second attempt at preaching. Given the way that the first occasion went south, that it even occurred was a kind of miracle. But despite having had my daydreams of preaching stardom shattered, I tried again—only for an old lady to once more leave me feeling I should maybe stick to writing.

As with Paul’s unfortunate encounter with Eutychus in Troas, I blame poor ventilation. I had been invited to speak at a candlelight service in a small chapel outside of London that was pastored by a friend. The theme of “Jesus, the Light of the World” seemed appropriate.

Unfortunately, what I hoped to be the brilliance of my message failed to shine through the sleepy pall generated by the warmth of the candles and the smoke in the smallish room. Somewhere in the middle of my sermon, an elderly lady sitting about three pew rows back from the front suddenly snapped her head back, mouth agape.

For a moment, I feared she’d had a heart attack. Then, I must confess, realizing she’d simply nodded off, I was momentarily disappointed that she hadn’t. Somehow I stumbled through the rest of what I had to say, though it was all rather dimmed.

This less-than-stellar moment came to mind this week when I attended Proclaim 2017: the National Religious Broadcasters annual international convention. Held in Orlando, the event brought together many of the brightest and the best in Christian media from around the world.

I wondered how Paul would feel if he attended. Would he be known as the brilliant communicator who could connect with diverse audiences—such in his Mars Hill address in Acts 17? Or the long-winded blowhard who literally bored one of his listeners to death as he kept talking until midnight?

Maybe it’s just our human tendency toward the negative, but it’s funny how most of us who are familiar with the account of Paul’s killer sermon in Acts 20 remember how Eutychus died after a) falling asleep, and then b) falling from the window ledge on which he was perched three stories to his death. (Actually, you could probably say that he fell one story too many to his death).

We often fail to note that after raising Eutychus from the dead, Paul just picked up where he’d left off and “conversed with them a long while, until daybreak” (verse 11). Another six hours or so. Remember that next time your pastor’s Sunday morning message seems to be drifting close to lunchtime.

Then again, I’m pretty sure Paul had gotten their attention. As he wrote in 1 Corinthians 2:4, his message was “not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.”

The power of God. Better than fancy words any day of the week.


Photo credit: kashmut via Foter.com/CC BY-ND

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