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First Presbyterian Church of Guymon

Peculiar People: Paul Encourages the Church at Troas

The next text we come to in our summer’s journey through the Book of Acts reads like it’s just an itinerary of Paul’s journey from Ephesus back to Jerusalem – it has no details of the journey and lots of names of people we don’t know and haven’t heard about so far.  If we read it in isolation, it doesn’t make much of an impact and there aren’t any lessons readily apparent.  If we were reading Through the Bible in Ninety Days we’d probably skip over it in the interest of time.  But one of the things we learn when we read straight through a book of the Bible is that 1) every word is important and 2) sometimes the meaning of a text is pulled from reading between the lines, or by reading other books of the Bible to fill in the blanks.  We should remember that the meaning of the text is not always going to jump out at us, or be low-hanging fruit for easy picking.  Sometimes we have to dig a little deeper.   I’m reading from The Message, in Chapter 20 of the Book of Acts, beginning with verse 1.  Hear the word of the Lord: 

20 1-2 With things back to normal, Paul called the disciples together and encouraged them to keep up the good work in Ephesus. Then, saying his good-byes, he left for Macedonia. Traveling through the country, passing from one gathering to another, he gave constant encouragement, lifting their spirits and charging them with fresh hope.

2-4 Then he came to Greece and stayed on for three months. Just as he was about to sail for Syria, the Jews cooked up a plot against him. So he went the other way, by land back through Macedonia, and gave them the slip. His companions for the journey were Sopater, son of Pyrrhus, from Berea; Aristarchus and Secundus, both Thessalonians; Gaius from Derbe; Timothy; and the two from western Asia, Tychicus and Trophimus.

5-6 They went on ahead and waited for us in Troas. Meanwhile, we stayed in Philippi for Passover Week, and then set sail. Within five days we were again in Troas and stayed a week.

7-9 We met on Sunday to worship and celebrate the Master’s Supper. Paul addressed the congregation. Our plan was to leave first thing in the morning, but Paul talked on, way past midnight. We were meeting in a well-lighted upper room. A young man named Eutychus was sitting in an open window. As Paul went on and on, Eutychus fell sound asleep and toppled out the third-story window. When they picked him up, he was dead.

10-12 Paul went down, stretched himself on him, and hugged him hard. “No more crying,” he said. “There’s life in him yet.” Then Paul got up and served the Master’s Supper. And went on telling stories of the faith until dawn! On that note, they left—Paul going one way, the congregation another, leading the boy off alive, and full of life themselves.

 

Peculiar People:  Paul Encourages the Church at Troas

Paul has been on the road for awhile now, and he’s ready to take a break, or at least slow down.  You’ll remember how we read last week that he’s just escaped the silversmith’s riot back in Ephesus and things have quieted down a bit.  One of the things that is repeated in this text is that Paul “encouraged” the disciples in the churches.  He encouraged them in four ways:  1) Through his presence; 2) Through the ministry of the Word through his preaching and writing; 3) through fellowship and the breaking of bread in the Lord’s Supper; and 4) by showing them that death does not have the last word.    

First we have his encouraging the disciples with his presence.  Paul’s goodbye to his friends in Ephesus is the first in what will become a long string of goodbyes.  Luke says that Paul traveled through Macedonia “passing from one gathering to another, [giving] constant encouragement, lifting their spirits and charging them with fresh hope.” 

Who can tell what happened on those visits?  He would have gone back to visit the churches at Philippi, Thessalonica and Berea to see how they were doing and look up old friends.  If you’ve ever lived in another town where you belonged to another church, you know what it’s like to go back and visit.  The church will have changed – there will be new faces of people who are now leaders in the congregation, but you – who used to be a leader there – don’t know their names.  People with more familiar faces will often have moved away and some of them will have died.  Ministers in long-term pastorates often say that “there is a new congregation every ten years.” 

So we know from this little bit that Paul was becoming all about encouraging the churches to continue after he was gone.  He would not be back to Ephesus, so he gathered the church there and encouraged them to carry on.  He did the same in Macedonia.  That is what believers do for one another – we are to encourage one another with our presence, remind one another that we are not alone, comfort those who are suffering and build up those who are weak.  In Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians he told us what this encouragement looked like in the church, when he wrote, “Get along among yourselves, each of you doing your part. Our counsel is that you warn the freeloaders to get a move on. Gently encourage the stragglers, and reach out for the exhausted, pulling them to their feet. Be patient with each person, attentive to individual needs. And be careful that when you get on each other’s nerves you don’t snap at each other. Look for the best in each other, and always do your best to bring it out.”[1]  We do a better job of this on some days than others don’t we?  It would be good to put that verse up on our bathroom mirrors and read it every Sunday morning while we brush our teeth.

The next thing Luke writes is the short sentence “[Paul] then came to Greece and stayed on there three months.”  Luke tells us nothing much.  From what we already know about Paul, he didn’t just sit around for three months.  Paul is a friend in whom we have confidence.  We don’t need to know his every movement to know that he was about the Lord’s work there.  He might have gone back through Athens and surely he went to Corinth.  The decree of the Emperor that had sent so many Jews and Jewish Christians into exile had been annulled by now and his good friends Priscilla and Aquila have gone back to their home in Rome.   His ministry was becoming a written ministry, and we know that during this time period he wrote his second letter to the Corinthians and probably his great letter to the Galatians.

This brings us to the encouragement of the Word written.  Friends, there is no substitute for the encouragement that we receive when we read our Bibles.  There are stories of God’s faithfulness to his people, stories that encourage us to believe that he will be faithful to us in the same way.  There are stories of healings and restorations to wholeness after health and property have been snatched away.  There are reminders of the redemption that has already taken place through the life, death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus, and the final redemption that awaits us and all of creation when he returns in glory.  The New Testament is quite short – you could read through the gospels and the letters in about twelve hours.  That means you could do it several times a year if you wanted to, without taking much time away from other things you’re doing.  There are even five books that can be read in less than five minutes each.  In a reasonably short time you could become very familiar with the contents of the New Testament, enough so that you could encourage yourself with your personal knowledge of Scripture and could encourage others as well.

When Paul got to Troas, a city on the coast of Turkey, he met with the Christians there on Sunday and encouraged them through fellowship, along with the Word preached and the Lord’s Supper.  It’s one of the main reasons we meet together on Sundays – we meet together on Sunday because it’s the day Jesus was resurrected.  We meet together on Sundays to worship and edify one another with preaching and teaching.  We meet together on Sundays to be encouraged by the Lord’s Supper.  We meet together on Sundays to encourage one another with our presence.  Sundays matter.  We can also worship and do all of these things on Mondays or any other day of the week, but even when we do, we also worship on Sunday – we don’t substitute another day of the week for the Lord’s Day.  

When the early church met on Sunday, they were meeting on “the first day of the week,” which was a workday.  They would sometimes meet twice during the day – once at sunrise before going to work, and then again in the evening after work when there was more time for fellowship.  The church met together to renew their strength – this particular meeting went on all night, with apparently no complaining about how long the service was taking.  Paul knew that he would not be seeing them again, and he had much to say.  And because the congregation knew that this might be their last time together with their leader, they needed to celebrate together and to take his words to heart – they were reluctant for their time together to end.  It reminds me of the atmosphere you sense when you read in John about the Last Supper when Jesus made his long farewell discourse to the disciples and washed their feet.  Jesus knew they would not be together again – the disciples were confused and beginning to be afraid when he talked of leaving – how would they go on without him?

There are times when we think the same thing – how can we go on?  How much longer can we last before Jesus returns for us?  What sorts of things will we have to face before that happens?  Will we be able to persevere to the end or will we be one of those who will fall away when being a believer becomes difficult or even life threatening?  If we allow ourselves to dwell on the questions, it’s easy to become frightened and discouraged.  But as Paul encouraged the people at Troas as Jesus encouraged the disciples and now encourages us, when he said, “I will not leave you orphaned. I’m coming back.  In just a little while the world will no longer see me, but you’re going to see me because I am alive and you’re about to come alive.  At that moment you will know absolutely that I’m in my Father, and you’re in me, and I’m in you.”[2] 

So Paul preaches on into the late hours of the evening, past midnight, and here the story takes an odd turn.  There is a young man present who is named Eutychus, and who is sitting on a windowsill.  The room they are meeting in is on the third floor of a house – it would have been crowded and hot because of all of the people gathered there; and Luke says the room was very well lit with oil lamps, so there probably would have been fumes in the air from their burning.  So it may be that Eutychus sat in the window to get away from the crowd and to get a breath of air.  But this was a meeting at the end of a long workday, and after a good meal, in a room that was a bit oxygen deprived.  As Paul talked on, Eutychus fell asleep and toppled out of the window to the courtyard three floors below.  People who saw it happen would have been shocked; some would have screamed.  It says he was a young man – he might have been a teenager who was present with his parents – can you imagine if his mother was there to see it?

So some people rush downstairs and find that he is dead from the fall – remember, Luke was a doctor and might have even examined him and pronounced him dead.  But then Paul comes down too – and like Elijah raised the widow of Zaraphath’s son, Paul throws himself over the boy and hugs him tight and brings him back to life, announcing to the onlookers that, “There’s life in him yet.”  And here is the encouragement of the witness of the reality of what the resurrection of Jesus means to ordinary people:  death no longer has the last word, ordinary people like us will die, but we will live again; and reality isn’t always something that is apparent in your circumstances, because God is sovereign.     

                Someone posted a link on the internet to a little application called the “Make Everything Okay Button.”  The only thing on the page is a picture of a rectangular typewriter key with the words, “Make Everything Okay” on it.  You move the cursor to the button and give it a click.  The button depresses and then you see a “page loading” message with the words, “Making Everything Okay is in Progress.”   When the progress is complete, another message appears that says, in large letters, “Everything is OK now.”  Underneath that, in smaller letters, is the message, “If everything is still not OK, try checking your settings of perception of objective reality.”  Or, stated another way:  “You pushed the okay button and it worked.  If it still doesn’t look like everything is okay, the problem is not how things are, but how you see it.”

For Eutychus, Paul pushed the “Make Everything Okay” button and the Troas disciples were able to see that things were not as they appeared.  They knew how far he had fallen to the stones below; they had seen that he was crushed and lifeless – of course he couldn’t survive that kind of trauma; and yet he did.  Which one was the reality?  The apparent reality of death or the young man sitting up and talking to them now?  It is the same for us – we have to step back and consider:  in the light of God, in the reality of the resurrection of Jesus, is my sickness the curse it appears to be or is it a blessing that has not yet revealed itself?  Is this job loss really the crisis it appears, or is God going to deliver you into something more fulfilling and more prosperous?  Is this episode an end or a beginning?  The encouragement of the reality of the resurrection.

Our city is experiencing something like that now – there was a time in the life of the City of Guymon when it looked like the town was about to die.  Then Seaboard came and saved the economy, but they brought many people with them who were very different – who didn’t look like us or speak our language or understand our way of life.  The changes were so drastic that even if the town remained, it looked like a death to many who had lived here their whole lives.  But over time perceptions have changed and what we once understood as death is becoming seen as a new way forward together with people whom we have learned want the same things from life that we do.  We have learned – and are still learning – to appreciate one another and the life experiences that each one brings to the group.

And the churches are experiencing it too.  There was a time when life seemed to be ebbing out of many of the local congregations as children grew up and moved away, older members retired and withdrew from the life of the church and men and women who were once the backbone of the churches died and their places weren’t being taken by new faces.  Society was changing and fewer people shared Christian values and fewer still saw the value of gathering together as a worshiping community.  It looked like reality for many congregations was simply fading away.  But that was just a perception of what people thought was reality – it isn’t reality in light of the resurrection.

The reality in the light of the resurrection is that thirty years ago the Walkers came to this church and began to create a written language for a tribe of people halfway around the world in a different hemisphere; and then used that new language to translate the gospels and the rest of the New Testament so that people living in Sudan could hear about Jesus and learn about the reality of the resurrection and begin to perceive their lives in that light.  Because those people so far away lived in the perceived reality of relentless war and Christian persecution; of being orphaned and lost and hungry and alone in the world – and two missionaries and a Sunday School class at this church in Guymon played a huge role in encouraging them to keep on by showing them the reality of life in the care of a good God.

And now – no one could have predicted that the children of those people who heard the gospel because of the providence of God through the work of this congregation and others – would come to Guymon themselves, as baptized Christians looking for a place to worship the God who kept them going, the God who delivered them from war and persecution and poverty to the United States.  And who would have ever thought that they would find their way to this place because we have church bells?  Because they heard that the Matengenzara and Lual families had already been welcomed?  Because I introduced myself and asked to take a picture of a pretty baby girl and her father said, “I’ve been wanting to talk with you”? 

God is showing us that this place – this congregation – matters in a way so unusual that we could never have imagined it or constructed it for ourselves – it has to be a “God-thing.”  And that is what gives us confidence – this altering of our two realities – the Sudanese reality and the First Presbyterian reality – by a God who was faithful when we didn’t know he was working towards this thirty years ago; and who is announcing to the world that like Eutychus, there is life in us yet!      

Let’s pray:   Faithful Father, we are always in awe when we discover what you have been accomplishing for our good while we were feeling abandoned and alone.  We thank you for all the ways that you encourage us, through your Word and through the fellowship of the church and the sacraments.  We are grateful for the strength we gather from one another and the renewal that worship brings.  Help us to be encouragers of others as well.  We pray this in the name of the resurrected Jesus, our Savior, and our guarantor of a new reality.   Amen. 



[1] I Thessalonians 4:18; 5:15-20

[2] John 14:18-20

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