Acts 20-21

Read Acts 20-21.

“It isn’t going to kill you to go to church,” or so goes the argument parents often make with their kids. Honestly, I don’t know if parents say this, but having served as a student pastor for over a decade, I can see why some might resort to such an approach. And while I definitely get it, I wouldn’t say it is a particularly strong argument. To start, there are a lot of things that won’t kill us that aren’t good for us in any way. Something not killing us isn’t a high bar for decision making. We should aim a little higher. The even bigger problem, though, is that going to church could, in fact, kill you. Just ask Eutychus. Paul prolonged his sermon until midnight, and poor Eutychus fell asleep and tumbled to his death from a third story window. Now, you might argue that lengthy sermons are a greater danger than church attendance in general. You’d probably be right if you did, but I have other questions about this story. I mean, how often did this happen during Paul’s sermons? I ask because he seems a lot calmer than I would expect. Paul’s response to Eutychus falling out the window is essentially, “He’ll be fine. Could anyone else use a late night snack?” My other question is about Luke’s understated narration in verse 12, “And they took the youth away alive, and were not a little comforted.” Not a little comforted that Eutychus (who fell to his death moments earlier) is alive? Well, I would think not.

Unlike Eutychus, most of us aren’t in danger of falling out of a window during a sermon. That is true for a number of reasons. Perhaps for us, the greater dangers are the ones Paul warns the Ephesian elders of a little later in the same chapter: the dangers of false teachers, spiritual slumber, and greed. So, what is Paul’s advice in the face of these threats? First, he says to “pay careful attention” to ourselves, to be alert. It’s a call to resist apathy. Second, he says to remember “the words of his grace,” to keep our focus on Jesus. There’s a way to be alert and still be focused on the wrong thing. There’s a way of simply going to church that leads to death rather than to life. The good news is that if we ever find ourselves in that situation, Eutychus also reminds us that our God is one who raises the dead.

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