Summary: Incredible numbers of people are falling, and we have contributed by pushing them to the edge and failing to listen. But at the Lord’s Table we see the embracing arms of Christ and are empowered to lift the fallen and give them life.
Those of you who were in my Vacation Bible School class know what happened – the class was supposed to run from 7:15 until 9:00 each night. At 8:57, what did I say? Something like: I know you have to go, but there are just a couple more points I want to make. And so, at a few minutes after 9, with kids clamoring at the door, the air conditioning no longer cooling, yawns intruding on your faces, every night I said, “Well, I guess we’ll have to stop. I’m out of time.”
These long-winded preachers, who feel they have to say everything three times! Why do we seem to think that the world could be saved if we just had a few more minutes of pious palaver?! In the “Beetle Bailey” comic strip this week, the chaplain is about to begin his sermon, and he says, “Today my sermon will be short and sweet”. From his congregation arises a huge, “Hallelujah”! In the second panel a chastened chaplain asks, “Was that for ‘short’ or for ‘sweet’?” Some of us like to talk and keep on talking; others seem to have trouble with that.
With fear and trembling, I bring you today to a funny story in the New Testament. Funny, that is, unless you are Eutychus, who fell asleep while Paul was preaching, dropped out of the window, and knocked himself out! I am tempted to call this message, “Why the Youth Should Not Sit in the Balcony”. But you no doubt would rather call it, “What’s Wrong with Long Sermons.” I’ll make you a deal – if you will promise not to go to sleep, I will promise to stop preaching somewhere short of midnight! Do we have a deal?
We all have lots of funny stories about people falling asleep in worship services. My favorite is about the usher who woke up when he heard music playing. He assumed it was time to receive the offering, and so he marched down front with his offering plate, only to learn that it was the invitation hymn. When he figured out his mistake, he said to the pastor, “Well, I’ve already been baptized, I’m already a church member, I’m too old to surrender for the ministry, so I guess I’ll just collect a special offering.” A special offering -- I like that!
Falling asleep in a worship service may be funny. Falling down and suffering a fatal accident is not so funny. And falling out of life, falling away from God, falling into hell itself – none of that is funny in the least. That’s tragic. That’s serious. But that’s what happens with myriads of people. They fall asleep, they die, they are lost, they are forgotten.
The good news for today is that Jesus Christ, through our arms, can embrace the fallen and can give them new life. That’s the good news. And the even better news is that you and I can receive the power to give new life through intimate partnership with the Lord Himself.
A military commander shouts, “Present arms”. By that he means, “Get your weapons into combat position.” Our great captain, Jesus Christ, also calls, “Present arms”. He means, “Get ready to embrace the fallen; get ready to embrace for life.”
Do you realize how many people are counted among the fallen? Our city, our neighborhood, even our own homes are filled with the walking wounded. All around us are men and women who are spiritually dead. I am thinking of several kinds of people.
I am thinking of those in destructive lifestyles – drug addicts, alcoholics; prostitutes and pimps; the vagrant and the violent. If you imagine that you are living in some little idyllic corner of the world, where nothing damaging ever takes place, then I don’t know where that spot is, but it isn’t Takoma. This is a community in which there are the fallen. They have fallen by destructive lifestyles.
But there are other fallen comrades as well. There are those whose lives are falling apart because of emotional issues. Those whose anger is unmanageable and who feel death in their souls because anger has lashed out and poisoned significant relationships. Or those whose critical spirit leads them always to see the failures of others and never to acknowledge their own shortcomings. Or those whose anxieties get the upper hand and who never seem to be able to get on top of their own lives. They seem dead, these whose emotional lives are so negative. No life, no vitality, nothing but fear or hostility. They live without hope. Just an endless drudgery of day after gloomy day, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. Many are fallen, like the young man in the Bible story, dropped out long before they even had time to mature. They are lost and without hope in the world.