The mystery of a sermon (2)

The mystery of a sermon (2)

Do you remember the guy in the Bible called Eutychus?  He’s the patron saint of all those who fall asleep while the minister is preaching.  You can read his story in Acts 20, where the preacher was none other than the apostle Paul.

I’ve seen a few of Eutychus’ followers over the years.  One outstanding “Eutychus” was an older man who had developed a unique pattern for snoozing during the sermon.  Usually those who doze while the minister preaches have their head down and it’s not so obvious that they are catching forty-winks.  But this man’s head would invariably tilt back with his mouth wide open.  In one instance I had trouble maintaining my composure while preaching because I spotted my daughter, who was sitting behind him, holding a peppermint over his mouth as if to drop it straight down his throat.

I don’t mind people falling asleep while I preach… it’s the snoring I have problems with.  Seriously, sleeping in church is simply evidence of our human weakness and evidence that it’s hard work concentrating on what is being said.  Of course a very late Saturday night party doesn’t help matters.

Honesty forces me to admit to having taken a “power nap” myself during a sermon on more than one occasion – though thankfully never while preaching my own sermon…!

I have rarely made an issue of this matter because I remember well the story of the preacher who interrupted his sermon to rebuke one of his elders for falling asleep.  The elder stood up and said, “Pastor, I wasn’t sleeping, I was just praying that the Word might be preached with greater power and conviction.”

All of this simply highlights again the mystery of a sermon.  In Eutychus we have one response to preaching.  In the story of Lydia we have another.  You can read her story in Acts 16.  Here too Paul was preaching, but as Paul preached, the Lord used his message to open Lydia’s heart to the good news about Jesus Christ.  It was a sermon that transformed her life.  That message that Paul preached was used by God to change her from a searching pagan into a born-again Christian.

This is the mystery that I have so often witnessed over the years as a preacher.  There have been times when preaching a sermon was hard work – and feedback (if there was any) was largely negative.  There have also times when preaching a sermon was a delight and when I know that it made a big difference in someone’s life.  I’ve had many a Eutychus in my congregations, but thankfully also some Lydias.

I’ve learned therefore as a preacher not to be concerned about my own feelings about my sermons.  There have been times when I felt woefully inadequate about a sermon I had prepared.  I felt bad because I wondered whether I had really done justice to the text I was preaching on.  It was a sermon that just hadn’t come together well – and yet afterwards I received several positive responses indicating that the Lord blessed people through that message.  At other times the Lord has humbled me because I had been so confident of having prepared a good sermon – and yet people’s reactions afterward seemed to indicate the contrary.

None of this should surprise us.  Last week I spoke of the preaching of God’s Word as a means of grace.  God uses it to bring blessing into our lives.  Some verses from Isaiah 55 bring that home to us, “As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”

The mystery of a sermon is that when it faithfully explains and applies the Biblical text then it is the Word of God that will not return to Him empty.  That means that we should do our best not to become a Eutychus during the preaching of the sermon.