Why I now side with Paul, not Eutychus

On the first day of the week we came together to break bread. Paul spoke to the people and, because he intended to leave the next day, kept on talking until midnight. There were many lamps in the upstairs room where we were meeting. Seated in a window was a young man named Eutychus, who was sinking into a deep sleep as Paul talked on and on. When he was sound asleep, he fell to the ground from the third story and was picked up dead. Paul went down, threw himself on the young man and put his arms around him. “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “He’s alive!” Then he went upstairs again and broke bread and ate. After talking until daylight, he left. The people took the young man home alive and were greatly comforted. — Acts 20:7-12

St. Eutychus: Where being boring kills.

When I changed the name of this site from nathanintownsville to st-eutychus, I did it because I thought the story of Eutychus falling out the window in Acts — to his death — was hilarious. Eutychus will eternally be known as the guy bored to death by Paul’s preaching. Paul. Potentially the most effective teacher ever to have lived. In my reading of the story, for the sake of the title, he fell into the trap of preaching too long. As a PR hack, who wrote pithy 500 word press releases for a living,  I genuinely believed this trap was deadly.

So what’s happened?

Somehow in recent times the tagline of this site should almost be read as an indicative — this is the place where you might come to be drowned in words, lulled to sleep, and might fall from a window to your death. Where being boring kills. Yes.

This is deliberate. I’m raging agains the TL:DR; machine. If you want short, punchy, simplistic and inane reactive viral fodder, then, well, pith off.

I’m raging against this machine because I think Eutychus was wrong. I think being bored kills. I think Eutychus should have worked harder to pay attention to Paul, and to the world — he should have known the dangers of sitting on a window sill, in a dimly lit room, listening to someone speak for hours.

We’ve lost the ability to pay attention, and the only way we’ll gain it is to start paying attention. Copious attention. To the world, to the Gospel, to the people around us. TL:DR; (too long didn’t read) is at least as much an indictment of our collective failure to pay attention as it is on poor content that is too long and convoluted.

Sure, a thing might not be worth your attention — that’s on you to figure out, and your attention is yours to give. I’m writing as an attempt to pay attention to things myself. To notice. To seek understanding. To avoid knee-jerk outrage in response to whatever is going on in the world, and to try to understand the world as people see it, and the world as I believe people should see it. Attention is what is required to live well, and love well. It’s what prevents outrage, and what causes someone to bother with fact checking before sharing something designed to create outrage. Any pithy thing I ever do write — anything under 2,000 words, the posts I typically see shared the most — is always, always, the product of thinking I’ve extensively outlined, out loud, here already, at much greater length.

At the end of the day, I write about things that interest me, that I hope, over time, might prove of interest or value to others. You don’t need to pay attention to me or what I write. That’s fine — I don’t check stats, this stopped being about my ego or my ‘brand’ a long time ago. But I do feel like I need to keep explaining the shift of gears in this corner of the interwebs.

You don’t need to read everything I write — not even my wife or mother do that (I think dad might, hi dad) — but if I could leave you with one plea. One desperate, heartfelt, plea:

Please pay attention.

To the world.

To others.

Give it generously.

Lavish it in droves.

Use your brain, and your eyes, but think about what you’re filling them with. Ask yourself why we fill a 24-hour news cycle with 10 second grabs from spokespeople forced to reduce complex issues into a memorable zinger. Ask what that’s doing to our media, our politics, and our ability to be civil. Ask yourself why we’ve got a 24 hour news cycle that we then pad out with input from multiple devices, feeding us those same 10 second lines from those same glib speakers. Read Nicholas Carr’s famous piece Is Google Making Us Stupid. In his book, The Shallows, Carr says:

“Media aren’t just channels of information. They supply the stuff of thought, but they also shape the process of thought. And what the Net seems to be doing is chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation. Whether I’m online or not, my mind now expects to take in information the way the Net distributes it: in a swiftly moving stream of particles. Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski.”

The internet has the capacity to stop us concentrating, and contemplating — other words for paying attention.

And then he says, according to neuroscientists and because our brains are ‘plastic’ — they change as we use them…

“We become, neurologically, what we think”

The Psalmist behind Psalm 115 says:

But their idols are silver and gold,
    made by human hands.
They have mouths, but cannot speak,
    eyes, but cannot see…

Those who make them will be like them,
    and so will all who trust in them.

We become what we behold. And what we behold isn’t just the messages we pay attention to, but the mediums that deliver them too.

Paul, in Romans, says:

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Things in this world shape us. Things external to us. You might believe you’re in control of this shaping, but the only way to be in control is to pay attention — Christian or not — testing and approving of how you live and the decisions you make is what keeps you in the driver’s seat for your brain, and what keeps us able to live well in this world.

Ask yourself if you really believe that we become what we behold — then ponder why media theorists, theologians, and neuroscientists all agree that the information we consume, and the way we consume it, has the power to shape the way we think and physically re-shape our brains and communication.

Maybe a ten second sound bite or a seven hundred word opinion piece isn’t enough to do justice on any real issues in this world. And maybe consuming these things and thinking they do our thinking for us is starting to cost us our ability to see the world well, and thus live in it well. Maybe you’ve got to read ten seven hundred word opinion pieces, or one seven thousand word opinion piece to really know what’s going on, and to react appropriately.

That’s what I think. That’s why I’ve switched camps from Eutychus to Paul. Paul was also a nice guy. He didn’t punish Eutychus for not paying attention, he saw what happened and picked him up.

And then he talked some more. From midnight to dawn. That’s a lot of words. Because sometimes its words that give life.

St. Eutychus: Where being bored kills.



Eutychus and the second storey window

Grant me, if you will, this moment of complete self indulgence. This post is purely here for the purpose of citation in the essay I am handing in tomorrow.

The story of Eutychus (Acts 20) demonstrates that Pauline churches met not only in the courtyards of tradtional flat pack Roman homes – but in any available and appropriate domestic space.

This is really a cheap way to get my principal visiting my blog – though I’m not sure how wise this course of action is.

A fiverr well spent

Fiverr is a new website that lets you buy and sell services for $5. A lot of the services offered are pretty fun – and if you’ve got a mad skill that you can churn out pretty quickly those $5 payments probably add up pretty quickly. It’s powered using PayPal. In the interest of putting the service to the test I took up Brojimh’s offer to produce a sermon on the topic of my choosing for $5. And asked him for a sermon on Eutychus. It only took him a couple of hours to produce the work.

Here is the result. $5 well spent.

The Longest Sermon Ever Preached

Acts 20:7-12

(Acts 20:7) And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them, ready to depart on the morrow; and continued his speech until midnight.

(8) And there were many lights in the upper chamber, where they were gathered together.

(9) And there sat in a window a certain young man named Eutychus, being fallen into a deep sleep: and as Paul was long preaching, he sunk down with sleep, and fell down from the third loft, and was taken up dead.

(10) And Paul went down, and fell on him, and embracing him said, Trouble not yourselves; for his life is in him.

(11) When he therefore was come up again, and had broken bread, and eaten, and talked a long while, even till break of day, so he departed.

(12) And they brought the young man alive, and were not a little comforted.

I.  The Setting Of The Longest Sermon Ever Preached

A.  It Was A Holy Night

(Acts 20:7) And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them,

This occurred around the Jewish Festival of Unleavened Bread.  Paul and Luke stayed in Philippi for the Feast then sailed to Troas for this event.

It was during a holy, religious time for the participants.

B.  It Was A Huge Night

(8a) ready to depart on the morrow; and continued his speech until midnight.

It was a very big night for the audience.  This was Paul, the Apostle, who’s reputation preceded him.  It was huge!  Then it became huge as in how long it lasted!

Paul had a lot to say and knew he was leaving the next day so took advantage of the time, plus when you have an apostle, someone of Paul’s caliber, you just let him preach as long as he wants to!

C.  It Was A Hot Night

(8b) And there were many lights in the upper chamber, where they were gathered together.

There were many, many people there to hear Paul.  In fact it is safe to assume it was probably over crowded as people piled in the small upper room.

Not only was the weather hot, even at night, but the body heat was tremendous.  Add to that the heat from the candles and torches, and you can just imagine how hot it was!

II.  The Effect Of The Longest Sermon Ever Preached

A.  A Tired Slave

(9a) And there sat in a window a certain young man named Eutychus, being fallen into a deep sleep:

He is sitting here because it was the coolest place he could be.  Trying to get cooled off, the young man sits inside the window frame hoping to take advantage of any breeze.

He was very sleepy.  It is easy to understand why he was sitting in the window, it is also easy to understand why he is so tired.  These people listening to Paul, looking for freedom were slaves.  That means, as other slaves, they were up before sunrise and had toiled and worked hard all day.

No wonder he was so sleepy!

It’s also worthy to note here, to expound on their love for Paul and how he got away with preaching that long,  no one even seemed to notice the young man falling asleep.  Everyone was so riveted to Paul, so locked in to the Apostle

B.  A Terminated Sleeper

(9b) and as Paul was long preaching, he sunk down with sleep, and fell down from the third loft, and was taken up dead.

We’ve all been there.  In school, at work or even, (GASP) at church.  That point where the eyelids become heavy as iron, the vision becomes blurry, the eyes begin to burn, the head begins to nod and the speaker’s monotone voice becomes a lullaby as it slowly slips away in the darkness of our closed eyes . . . and then . . . we jerk our head up and look around hoping no one saw us.  Then we move around, change position and try to stay awake again.

This young man did as we all have done before and just fell asleep

Luke tell us that he was “taken up dead.”  That phrase literally means that he was a corpse by the time anyone got to him.  Many try to explain away the miracle and say that he was just unconscious, had a concussion or that Paul administered CPR and brought him back.  But Luke makes it plain that he was dead as a doornail.  Then, the next verse makes it plain that Paul held him, embraced him, not pound on his chest or breathe in his mouth.

C.  A Truthful Scene

(10) And Paul went down, and fell on him, and embracing him said, Trouble not yourselves; for his life is in him.

Paul, obviously reacting to the noise and crowd interrupting his sermon, sees what is happening and runs down to the young man.

He begins to check him out, and, seeing he was dead (as Luke made it clear in the previous verse and really, who would know better than Dr. Luke?), embracef him and then felt God’s presence and realized that the young man would be brought back to life.

Probably in most settings, with most people saying what Paul said (Trouble not yourselves; for his life is in him.) would have caused the people to consider stoning him or at least putting him out.  But this is Paul. . .they let him preach till at least midnight. . . who knows how long he would have gone on if this young man had not fallen.

Also, when Paul tells the crowd “Trouble not yourselves,”  he is responding to the crowds reaction to the devastating event.  The crowd became almost hysterical.  Yelling and wailing, all things that Paul wanted to avoid happening so he tries to cut it off with words of encouragement to assure them that the reaction elicited was not needed.  We know that because he uses the word “thorubeomai” (translated “Trouble not yourselves).  That is the same Greek word he used in trying to calm and quiet down the mob in Thessolonica (Acts 17:5)

III.  The Legacy Of The Longest Sermon Ever Preached

A.  Eating With A Dead Man And A Preacher

(11a) When he therefore was come up again, and had broken bread, and eaten,

Paul understood the enormity of what had just happened, the psyche of the people and that his sermon was now over.

Instead of expounding on what happened or turning it into a lesson/sermon, he instead turned his attention to what was best for the crowd physically and emotionally.  They need time to process this event.  They also need rest and recuperation.

Luke lets us know that Paul changed his tone and verbiage to a more solemn tone.  He uses the word “talk” translated from the Greek word “homileo” which means homily, which means solemn and serious.

This is the same word used to describe the conversation between the two disciples on the Emmaus Rd. after the death of Christ. In the 24th chapter of Luke.

B.  Enjoying A Dedicated Man And A Pastor

(11b) and talked a long while, even till break of day, so he departed.

Paul stayed as long as he could.  I’m sure not only enjoying the company of Eutychus, but wanting to watch him as well.  I can only imagine how I would react to someone brought back from the dead.  I would have lots of questions and be in awe!

This young man, I’m sure quickly got saved, if he wasn’t already, and became instantly one of the most devoted Christians in the town.

C.  Enduring A Dreadful Matter And A Phenomenon

(12) And they brought the young man alive, and were not a little comforted.

Everyone was comforted and exhorted by the young man’s amazing and instant recovery!  Also, there is no telling how many people gave their lives to Christ because of this event.

On preaching about Eutychus

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.

Euty goes to Downsville

Ben has really stepped things up in the creativity department since I featured Simone as an example of the “creator” type of blogger and he was relegated to the “less prestigious” (in paraphrase) tier of “commentator”… if you have no idea what I’m talking about – see this post.

This would, were I corruptible, be an opportunity to play the two off against each other in order to see what kind of creativity they might produce… But lets face it… Ben’s pretty creative in his own right.

And this is awesome.

Change in the air

I’m gradually making the switch between this geographically and personally specific domain name – and my new, as voted by you, domain – st-eutychus.

All the links and stuff on the page will now direct to “st-eutychus” links.

Eutychus was the young man who fell asleep, and out a window to his death, during a sermon by Paul. Paul felt so guilty that he resurrected him.

The current domain expires in December, and will work up until then. I’ll change the name of the blog when I have a new design ready to go.

Exciting times.

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