I don’t say Moses – even though at times I’ve felt adrift in life and like I’m floating down a river into the unknown
I don’t say Peter – even though I relate to his epic adventures in missing the point
I don’t say Paul – even though I relate to his ego, and the unnamed thorn in his side
I don’t say Mary – even though my heart sings with elation when I realize how she, a woman, was the first Christian preacher and evangelist of the good news of the risen Christ!
I don’t even say Jesus – though I love my Jesus!
I say …. Eutychus. I say Eutychus.
Eutychus who most folks have never heard of.
Eutychus who those who have consider just a footnote.
Eutychus whose name means “fortunate.”
Eutychus the teenager who fell asleep while Paul was preaching in Troas.
Eutychus who fell asleep on the window ledge on the 3rd floor of the dwelling where Paul was preaching.
Eutychus who fell out that window while he was sleeping, and crashed to the ground dead as result.
Eutychus – the first young victim of organized religion.
Eutychus who the Church would rather we’d forget.
But if it does remember him, the Church would slut-shame him on Facebook by telling his story as if it were meant to be a warning to young people to pay attention to the elders in the Church and to make sure not to fall asleep while they’re talking!
But that’s not what your story was about at all was it dear Eutychus?!
No your story wasn’t about the dangers of falling asleep during worship,
and it wasn’t about the dangers of preaching sermons that are too long.
Your story isn’t about cardiopulmonary or mouth to mouth resuscitation.
Your story is about God’s ability to heal and restore whatever the Church might kill!
Your story is about the Church admitting and recognizing that you F’ing mattered!
That people who are on the 3rd story window ledge margins of Christianity matter!
That those just trying to get a taste and a whiff of the love that those who follow that amazing dude from Nazareth go on about – matter!
I was a youth like Eutychus.
I fell out of a window.
As a youth I was active in the Boy Scouts and one of my adult advisers was Johnny
Johnny and I worked together on the Council newsletter throughout my high school years.
Johnny picked me up from my house and dropped me off.
One night, outside my house, Johnny kept me in conversation before I got out.
He said that he’d noticed that I’d been lifting weights and that my body was becoming muscular.
He said that he’d be happy to take some photos of me sometime so that I could see my progress over the months.
He said, he could put some baby oil on my skin to help my muscles and veins really pop out.
He said, black and whites would look best.
He said…. he said…
My body tensed. I couldn’t believe what was happening. I felt violated.
No, not to learn that he might be gay, but violated that an adult mentor who I’d grown to admire – would breach a sacred trust.
I was no longer sitting next to Johnny, I was in the car with a pedophile who was grooming me for sex.
I lost a mentor.
I lost a friend.
I lost my innocence.
No wonder I was a late bloomer who didn’t date in high school or even in college.
A month later Johnny died.
The official story was that he swallowed his tongue in an epileptic seizure, but was that was the first I’d ever heard of him having that condition, and while I was carrying his coffin to his grave in my uniform, I noticed one of my fellow scouts crying – massively crying, beside himself, snot running out his nose, shaking, and convulsing crying.
I knew that he and Johnny were close, maybe closer than I was.
And I connected the dots. A deep inner knowing that I felt in my bones.
I could see that my friend had already been touched and violated by Johnny.
And Johnny had taken his own life. He swallowed his tongue due to the cocktail of prescription drugs he’d taken to kill himself.
Part of me died that day.
No not just my innocence, but my trust in the institutions that had formed and shaped my life.
Boy Scouts and American Christianity go hand in hand.
And I was invested and all-in with both.
I earned the God and Country Award and the rank of Eagle.
I took my church’s confirmation classes seriously and I really meant it when I took my membership vows.
God loves us so much that God gave us Imago Dei – total creative freedom,
the freedom to serve the world in helping ways, and the freedom to totally screw up and cause much harm. And through the life, teachings, and example Jesus, God shows us to be fully human, and to forgive and accept each other as God does and to create a world of restorative justice. And that no matter how badly we might screw things up, God provides a grace and a peace beyond all understanding to help us to face each new day!
But when an adult who’s entrusted to guide our youth and be an example to them – violates that trust, years of nurturing faith development can fly out the window
from a 3rd floor
But Eutychus your story was included in the Bible!
You were remembered in that 20th chapter of the Book of Acts!
You did die, but God’s healing power to restore you to life was stronger than any institution’s misguided and utterly fallible ways.
Many of us have been burned by the Church
many of us have experienced violations of trust
many of us have become disillusioned with organized religion.
And I guess that’s okay. I mean God’s at work in our lives wherever we are!
But the good news is that the parts of us that died, the parts of us that crashed and burned – don’t have to remain dead heaps on the ground!
There’s a holy hug that comes to us enfolding her arms of love around us
saying “there’s a big difference between mostly dead and all dead, mostly dead is slightly alive”
She pumps her bellows of ruach, pneumos, spirit, and grace into us
She says “Hello in there, what’s so important what ya got here that’s worth living for?”
And we know it’s love.
We know that the people, the families, the churches, synagogues, mosques, sanghas, kirtans, and covens that God intends as safe wells that allow us to dip deep into life-giving waters – are fallible.
They’re fallible because they’re comprised of humans.
They’re made up of people like us.
The good news is that God uses broken vessels to bring forth wholeness, life and salvation– that’s the only way.
Eutychus your gift to us is the mirror in seeing that we are you and that God can reach in and raise us up saying “There is life in him! There is life in her!”
Eutychus your gift to us is truth that we get knocked down, but we get up again ain’t nothin’ gonna keep us down!
Eutychus your gift to us is in helping our institutions that seek to convey God’s love – to strive to be at their best, and mend thine every flaw!
Eutychus your gift to us is in seeing that God is at work outside the walls of the Church – right out on the streets, where people have crashed and burned, fallen and can’t get up, and are truly down in the dirt.
Eutychus your gift is in helping us to see that it’s a Ginormous Blessed Both/And – that no matter where we are on our journeys of faith, no matter if we’re part of a church or not, even if we have a hard time staying awake during a long sermon, or a gorgeous sunset, and no matter whether or not we even believe in God, God believes in us!
Eutychus – not a footnote.
We declare thee Fortunate patron saint of fallen youth, of innocence lost, of sleepy bored again Christians, of disaffection, and disillusionment;
phoenix patron saint of new life, restoration, and new beginnings.
Three cheers for Saint Eutychus!
Painting by Simon Carr. “Eutychus” – a poetic prose sermon poem delivered on Sun. April 24, 2016 at Wesley Chapel in Boulder, CO (video clip will be added to this blog when it becomes available)
xx – Roger
Rev. Roger Wolsey is an ordained United Methodist pastor who directs the Wesley Foundation at the University of Colorado at Boulder, and is author of Kissing Fish: christianity for people who don’t like christianity