Super Interesting Sermon - Acts 20
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Super Interesting Sermon – 07.17.2022
There’s an old retired preacher who tells a story of a guy from his church. It’s a true story of a man who generally slept in church. Sermon starts. He would do that arm cross thing that all men of a certain age do, and just settle in for a little snooze. And one Sunday, started off like any other Sunday – and he dropped off like he always did, only this time the power went out. Big church, almost like an auditorium, and suddenly the whole room was in total darkness. Now they knew the power was coming back, it was just going to be a few minutes – and this preacher, he didn’t use notes – he knew what he was going to say, so he kept right on preaching. Somewhere in the sermon there was a particularly enthusiastic moment when the preacher raised the volume of his voice, the groggy parishioner woke up. He rubbed his eyes but he couldn’t see a thing. He heard the preacher and he could feel his wife and daughter on both sides of him – but everything else was pitch black. In a state of panic the man stood up, and shouted, “Help me, I’ve gone blind!” Laughter filled the darkened room – and one complacent church member experienced revival at the altar of embarrassment, and one blessed pastor enjoyed poetic justice.
Today we are finishing up our time in the book of Acts where we have been following Paul around the ancient world. I was so excited to get to this chapter, because of the story of Eutychus – the guy who falls asleep during Paul’s sermon, I knew it was going to be a lot of fun. What I did not expect was an incredible powerful and emotional chapter that concludes Paul’s time with the folks from Ephesus. Check this out.
You might remember last week, Paul had accidentally started a riot by ticking off some craftsmen in the city of Ephesus, and that’s where we’re at coming in this week [read v.1-3]. Every single chapter in this sermon series we have seen Paul’s rhythm played out. He goes to a new place – tells people about Jesus. Some people listen, some don’t, some get really mad. Then he usually has to leave town quick. So there’s a whole bunch of travelling that happens with a bunch of guys. Eventually he ends up in a place called Troas hanging out with some believers. [read v.7-9]. [laugh]. Okay, we’re allowed to laugh because we know the end of the story – and it all turns out okay. But they’re all hanging out, and they’re staying up way too late. The bible describes the peaceful, candle-lit atmosphere of good friends hanging out in a safe space. Paul is talking on and on – you know how preachers do. And there’s this guy Eutychus. Inexplicably sitting in the window sill. You know that thing, where mom’s freak out when their kids get too close to the edge of somewhere high up? “Nikki, get off that ledge, I don’t want you to fall off.” Right? Every single one of us heard that growing up. Get away from the edge, and every teenage kid rolled their eyes and said, “oh mom, leave me alone - I’m fine!” This is that story. This is the reason we can’t stay in high up places – because you never know when a random preacher is gonna show up and put you right to sleep with his words. So, it’s like midnight, Paul is there talking and talking, candle-lit comfy space – kid falls asleep. Eutychus tumbles out the window and dies.
It keeps going, [read v.10]. Alright, so that’s verse 10. But verse nine, the one right before that said, [read v.9b]. Paul’s over here saying “he’s alive!” but it’s pretty clear – he WAS dead. It’s like Paul runs downstairs and goes, “oh nooo! We need to do a miracle real quick before people get mad.” They bring Eutychus back to life and bring him upstairs, it says [read v.11-12]. They were greatly comforted that Paul did not accidentally kill their son with his super interesting sermon. I think any Sunday you can get through without someone falling asleep and tumbling to their death during the sermon is a good one. Greatly comforting. Also, before we move on – I want to point out the first thing they do when they bring Eutychus back to life from death is bring him upstairs and feed him. And this is actually a theme in scripture – when Jesus raised that little girl from the dead, Jarius’ daughter – first thing he did was say, “get her something to eat.” Jesus himself, one of the first things he did after his resurrection was have breakfast on the beach with his disciples. After his resurrection, doubting Thomas wanted to watch him eat something. It doesn’t happen every time there’s a healing, but at least in these three cases – eating becomes one of the greatest expressions of life. And I was sitting on my computer this past week when I realized that – eating is an expression of life and vitality and I was thinking about that going, “gurl, saaame.” That is a good word from the scriptures for us today. [laugh] But truly and in all seriousness – eating is one of the greatest expressions of life, and eating together or sharing food with someone – that is one of the greatest and most universally acceptable expressions of love and community.
So Paul continues his world travels and he ends up in a town called Miletus, and while he’s there he reaches out to his friends from the town of Ephesus. [read v.17-19]. You might remember the big riot from the last chapter, when he was in Ephesus, things got pretty ugly. So rather than go back, he invites the elders to come to him. They show up and the rest of the chapter is basically advice given from Paul to the people in Ephesus. He says, “you remember how I lived when I was with you.” Down in verse 22 it says, [read v.22-24]. Paul is telling the Ephesians – I gotta go to Jerusalem, but everywhere I go I realize – Jerusalem probably means prison and hardships for me. Now this is a key teaching for us this morning – that obstacles are part of the journey. I mean, most of us – we hear “hey, if you do this – it’ll mean prison and hardship” most of us translate that in our heads to say, “no, don’t do that thing.” For so many of us, hardship is a wall. It shuts us down and we cannot overcome. But Paul is saying hardship is not a wall, hardship is a hurdle. Obstacles are a part of the journey. Just because something is difficult, we don’t give up. Next week we’re going to start a new sermon series, but when we come back to the book of Acts – we’re going to see exactly how much hardship Paul goes through. He gets arrested in the next chapter and spends basically the rest of the book moving from prison to prison. But he looks at THAT future and he doesn’t even blink. Trials come with every path, but hardship is not a wall. Paul’s advice to the elders in Ephesus is that hardships are hurdles – obstacles are a normal part of every journey.
Now, the second piece of advice Paul has for the Ephesian leaders is this, [read v.28-31]. You’ve probably heard the phrase, “wolves in sheep’s clothing” to describe a leader or someone you are supposed to trust – but they are actually leading you in the wrong direction. That was Paul’s big fear. He had two big warnings for the leaders. 1.) Don’t give up, hardships are just hurdles, and then 2.) be shepherds on the lookout for wolves. Now, we’ve all heard the phrase, and we know that wolves are the bad guys – but I think if we sat down and tried to define it, we would be totally stumped. How do you know if someone is a wolf or not? Well, you just have to keep reading. Paul, who is not known for his humility, uses himself as a good example. Which… you’re not supposed to do, but basically Paul points at his own life and his own ministry and he says – look at all the humility! [read v.33-35]. Wolves distort the truth draw away disciples after them, but a real shepherd of God uses the work of their hands to help the weak.
Now there is one final piece I want you to see about this chapter. Hear the last few verses, where it says, [read v.36-38]. You see, this is not just a nice chapter where Paul gives some good advice to the leaders. These are the last words Paul will ever say to the leaders in Ephesus. If you go back to the story of Eutychus, the kid who fell out the window – it’s fun to make jokes, but this is not actually a story about a kid who fell asleep during a boring sermon. That was Paul’s last night in Troas – they stayed up so late talking, not because Paul was a blabbermouth, but because that was his last night there. Have you ever visited with family, or hung out with people you haven’t seen in years and years? And you know you should probably go to bed, but you haven’t seen them in so long – and you don’t know when you’ll get the chance and so you just sit around talking deep into the night? I think that’s more like what happened with Paul and Eutychus. He didn’t fall asleep because Paul was boring and rambled on – he fell asleep because good friends were hanging out for the last time, and nobody wanted to close out the evening, because it was their last chance. And so the window of this entire chapter, the framework for understanding is the fact that every conversation Paul is having is the last words he will ever say to them. Paul’s about to get arrested, and he knows it. He says, I’m going to Jerusalem, and I know if I go to Jerusalem I’m going to prison. He knows this is goodbye, and so suddenly there’s more meaning to all the stuff he says to them.
Think about it this way. If you had one day left on this earth – what would you do? There’s a lot of movies out there about the end of the world, or even just movies where someone knows they’re going to die – and the responses always vary. Some people get drunk, try to forget that the end is coming – which never works. Some people cry, hold their families close, call friends they’re mad at to apologize. Try to find healing and reconciliation in the last moments. Some people eat their favorite foods, do their favorite activities, visit their favorite places. Some people, if they know it’s the last day – they make a list of things they want to do, a bucket list and try to scratch off as many things as possible. I think, next to “what would you do if you won the lottery?”, this is the most popular question that captures our imaginations. If it was your last day – what would you do? And we think and we dream, and it makes us a little sad but also makes us smile a little bit. Because we know it’s just a game – we don’t know when will be the last time we talk to someone. Well, actually – Jesus did. Jesus knew he was going to die. He knew that the last supper was the last supper. And what did Jesus do with his last day? Did he fill his life with bucket lists and favorite activities? No, knowing full well the end was coming, Jesus spent his last day washing the feet of the disciples. He washed the feet of his betrayer. He gave us the gift of communion – so we would always be reminded of his presence. Jesus is so incredible. To spend his last day – not thinking about himself or anything selfish – but to spend it living by example, helping the weak. Jesus is an amazing savior – and Paul knew that.
Somehow Paul knew, that this moment in chapter 20 was the last time he would be able to speak to the leaders in Ephesus – and he’s really only got the one message: I need you to know about Jesus.
The good news for us this morning is that thing that Paul has been trying so desperately to tell to the entire world – no matter what. Paul needs to tell you about Jesus’ love. Verse 24 he says, [read it]. The good news for us this morning is God’s grace. There is grace. There is forgiveness of sins if you are willing to take it. There is a new life, where you can step into God’s holiness. And I know that sounds weird, but all of us have stuff in our life that creates shame. Things we have done that convict us. We know it’s not right. We know it’s what we’re supposed to do. But the gospel truth is that God’s love is there for you. Even while we are far away from God, and we feel unworthy and we feel undeserving and we feel unloved – God’s love is there for you. God’s love keeps no record of wrongdoing, there is a second chance available, there is redemption, healing, wholeness. It is that thing we are so desperate to find. So much of this world is designed as a distraction, designed as a way to keep us from realizing that we are not fulfilled by anything in this world. We need God’s love, but we’re afraid to ask for it. We know it, we know we need it, but we’re afraid it’s not true. That thing that’s out there, the idea that it would care for us – it would love us. That would take something radical. To prove that that thing that’s out there actually cares about little ol’ humans? It would have to step into this world. As a baby, born in a manger. And if we were going to believe in love from the almighty, he would have to be in this world – and his life would have to be accompanied by signs and wonders, incredible miracles, not just supernatural events but also defying social norms. To believe that God would love me, a wretch – I would have to see God, the person of God walking on this earth, loving a wretch. Reaching out to the outsider, those trampled by society. Reaching out on his last day by humbling himself and serving those who would betray him. Reaching out with his last breath and offering forgiveness to those who were at that very moment in the process of murdering him. It is the only way I could accept that the love of God is real. Jesus is the tangible proof of God’s love. Verse 21, [read v.21] Verse 28 [read v.28b]. Verse 32 [read v.32]. The good news is not a message – it’s a person. The Good news is the thing Paul uses his last moments to tell you about. The good news is God’s love, and we see that love, we see that grace in the person and the presence of Jesus.
So I look over this chapter, and to close out my sermons I always ask the question – okay, so what? How does this affect the way we live our lives? And I look over Paul’s deathbed conversation – obviously he’s not dying, but he’s never going to see them again – so it’s his last conversation. And there are a couple of key, practical elements that pop out. So I have two challenges for you. First, remember that when Eutychus died and came back, giving him food was evidence of life. I think, in our lives, we should remember to use food as a love language. One of the most concrete and practical ways to show you care is to make someone a meal. Bring someone cookies, casserole, order them a pizza – whatever! Food is a phenomenal way to show you care. In this church we literally have 2? 3? Maybe 4 ministries that center around food. Funeral Dinners – when someone passes away, you can sign up to be a part of the group that provides food to the grieving family. It’s a beautiful thing. The Food Train – when someone is sick or going through a big life transition, or whatever we offer to bring people meals – for a limited time. There’s a whole list of people and we sign up for a day and we bring food to a person on that day. Funeral dinners, the food train, not to mention brown bag Sundays and our work with FCOC which is providing grocery supplies to folks. And if you want to be a part of any of those – just reach out to the church office, we’ll connect you to the ministry. But these are also things that you can do personally – with people you know in your life. First challenge – use food as a love language.
The second big challenge was Paul’s warnings to keep the church safe. He talked about how hardships are hurdles, and he told people to watch out for wolves. So my second challenge for you is vigilance. If you want to protect your community you have to be prepared to overcome obstacles and pursue humility. I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating. There will always be drama in the church. Our church, lately, we’ve been talking about LGBTQ inclusion and big policies because those are big decisions that are coming up in this church specifically. And I remember a conversation I had years ago with a fellow about this issue – and he said, I don’t know – maybe I should go somewhere else. I just want to go to a church where they’re not fighting. And I remember laughing and I said to him, “you find that church and you let me know I’ll move there tomorrow.” I’m not trying to shrink the issues, but more important than any single theological disagreement is the way we love. Because the church has been around for a couple thousand years – and the Jewish faith before that, I’m not sure I can find a single spot in our extremely long history where there were no fights and total agreement. [hold up bible]. There’s fights in here! Peter, Paul they dealt with it all too. There will always be something to fight about – but as a church we need to be vigilant to stay true to the example of Jesus. We overcome obstacles and pursue humility and no matter what else happens – we will be blessed. Paul points at HIMSELF as an example. [read v.35]. By this kind of hard work – we can help the weak. Overcome obstacles, pursue humility, help the weak.
I love the story of Eutychus, because he falls asleep while the preacher was talking and falls out a window. I mean, people falling asleep in church is hilarious – there’s even a Mr. Bean sketch about it. But when I looked a little closer I saw a church family who stayed up late talking because it was their last chance to hang out. I see just how badly Paul wanted to make it clear that the good news of God’s love is found in the person of Jesus. And so I’ll leave you with this. May you realize that God’s love is both demonstrated and fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ. May you hear Paul’s desperate message and turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus. May you use food as a love language, watch out for wolves in all disagreements, and above all overcome obstacles in order to help the weak. Amen
 Humor With A Halo, Al Fasol.