I preached for the first time as an employee of a church yesterday. It was so big a milestone that my gran and my mum and my wife came to watch. My wife would have been there anyway I guess.
We’re doing a series on Acts at church at the moment and when Andrew asked what I wanted to preach on I naturally said “Acts 20”. Because I wanted to talk about Eutychus. Acts 20 isn’t really about Eutychus, he’s a peripheral figure. And I actually ended up preaching a mammoth passage from Acts 18:18 to the end of Acts 20 – Paul’s whole mission to Ephesus.
I would much prefer preaching a mammoth passage to preaching a mouse sized passage – it’s far better to have to leave stuff out than it is to have to make stuff up.
Here’s what I said about Eutychus. For the record…
And in verse 7 we have possibly my favourite story in the Bible. If you’re going to go down in history for something it may as well be being bored to death by the world’s most famous evangelist. And Eutychus has that honour.
Because in chapter 20 of Acts Paul preaches what could still be a world record for the longest sermon. From dusk until dawn Paul is preaching his passion – the Ephesians might have been able to fervently chant for two hours [in Acts 19] – but chanting six words over and over again has nothing on being able to preach ALL NIGHT teaching.
Paul could have spent hours talking about tent making – and you can bet there would’ve been more fatalities – he could have spoken at length about his travels. If you’ve ever watched a friend’s holiday slide show you’d be aware just how excited some people can be about where they’ve been and what they’ve seen… but that’s not what Paul is excited about. He just wants to talk about Jesus.
Scots Presbyterian in Clayfield enjoys a visit from the boarders from the local Presbyterian Girls’ school about once in a blue moon – and yesterday happened to be it. So between the morning service and the night service I removed the flesh from the skeleton of my talk and reshaped it into something almost purely evangelistic. This is surprisingly easy to do when you’ve put some hours into exegeting the text and figuring out the ways to point people to the gospel – so Gary Millar’s advice was invaluable.
Eutychus played a more prominent role in this talk… just thinking about his story made me aim to not bore my audience of teenage girls. I was glad there were no open windows because I’m not sure how many of them would have tottered out.
My sermons still suffer from slightly trite application (as trite as urging people to live for, and preach, the gospel can be) and I’m always left wishing I’d dug the knife in a bit deeper to cut some real change into people… hopefully that’s something I can work on. Memorable application is important. I feel a tension between creating a memorable understanding of the text and a memorable application of the text – though I’m not actually sure the two should be separate.
One of the bits of preaching I find most memorable was a refrain from an NTE talk on Ezekiel from many years ago where I think Donny Kwan spoke and kept saying “God will be God, and you will know it” is the big idea of Ezekiel. A mantra like that is helpful – but it hasn’t really been profoundly life altering.
So, preachers who read this blog, how do I move my application from the general “live like Jesus” to the specific “live like Jesus by…”, any tips? My guess is that I need to understand the people I’m preaching to and what they’re struggling with so I can metaphorically push their buttons. But even that seems a bit apply by the numbers.