On the first day of the week, Paul was holding a discussion and he continued speaking until midnight. A young man named Eutychus, sitting in the window, began to sink off into a deep sleep while Paul talked still longer. Overcome by sleep, he fell to the ground and was picked up dead. But Paul went down, and took him in his arms, and said, “Do not be alarmed, for his life is in him.” Then Paul went upstairs, and he continued to converse with them until dawn. - Acts 20:7-11 (NRSV, excerpted)
Paul talked till midnight. Eutychus nodded off. Paul kept talking. Eutychus fell out the window, hit the ground, and died. Paul went down, revived him, went back up, and talked straight through till dawn.
I can’t tell if the author of Acts is impressed, irritated, or amused by Paul’s gift of gab. Whichever, the story’s a caution for preachers: keep it short.
But Paul went long for a reason. He was leaving the next morning, never to see them again. He had one night to tell these new Christians more about Jesus. One night to encourage their fledgling faith. One night to engage their burning questions. One night to break Christ’s bread with them.
One night. He was determined to use every minute, come hell, high water, or defenestration.
We don’t want our preachers going long like Paul. But we should want his urgency, his determination to help his siblings’ faith, his willingness to talk till dawn if need be to stoke the fire of love for Jesus in the church’s heart.
If we understood that we only have one night – this one short life – to be together in love, to share faith’s treasures, to increase each other’s joy, to embrace the Way, we too might happily be talking straight through night till dawn.
Holy Spirit, give me the gift of holy gab, the heartfelt sharing of faith. Just don’t let anybody die while I’m talking.
Mary Luti is a long time seminary educator and pastor, author of Teresa of Avila’s Way and numerous articles, and founding member of The Daughters of Abraham, a national network of interfaith women’s book groups.