The actor Andrew Scott has recently spoken about his need to very emphatically pause in the middle of a Shakespearean play.
The reason for this interruption was a member of the audience taking their laptop out of their case, firing it up and then proceeding to answer emails.
This fairly indiscreet intrusion was not accepted favourably by the actor or the rest of the audience. The online session ended when the person next to the offending audience member gave them a long withering stare.
Preachers know all about distractions.
This can include a child crying, a mobile phone ringing, a dog barking, a hailstorm on a tin roof, someone with a hacking cough, the rustle of multiple plastic shopping bags and all manner of objects being dropped on the floor.
Distractions can also involve people entering or exiting during the sermon, especially if this involves the arrival of an ambulance crew who have arrived to take away someone who has had a turn!
More mundanely, distraction can come through people falling asleep. When this is accompanied by sonorous snoring the distraction level rises sharply.
Preachers who have navigated the choppy waters of sleeping congregations gain some comfort in the knowledge that after a long sermon session one of the members of a congregation where Paul was preaching fell asleep.
What was worse for this man was that his sleeping is recorded in the New Testament. What is worse still is that the young man Eutychus, whose name means ‘happy’ or ‘fortunate’, not only falls asleep but falls from an open window to his death.
Happily, Paul is on hand to pray for the young man and see his restored to health and strength.
For most people who fall asleep in sermons their biggest fear is not falling out of windows; it is instead the panic that sets in concerning how long they have been asleep.
If Eutychus falls asleep when Paul is preaching perhaps there is a little bit of consolation for us lesser preachers.
Indeed, I was interested to read recently a sermon by Jonathan Edwards that he preached during a time of spiritual awakening, in which he complains about those in his congregation who fall asleep during the sermon.
“Here I would particularly desire that you would not suffer those who sit with you, to sit sleeping at meetings; but wake one another, when anything of that appears.”
I wonder how we go about waking up those who are sleeping? Do we try a loud cough or perhaps a gentle dig in the ribs?
I was always amused by the comment in the Alpha Course that:
“If you lined up all the people who had fallen asleep in church, you would have a very long line!”
Maybe Paul had the Eutychus incident in mind when he wrote to the Ephesians:
“Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.
Be very careful, then, how you live — not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.” (Ephesians 5:14–16)
Preachers: Don’t be dull.
Be too interesting for people to go to sleep.
But be ready to issue a wake up call!