The story is told of a young man named John who received a parrot as a gift. Unfortunately the parrot had a bad attitude and an even worse vocabulary. Every word out of the bird’s mouth was rude, obnoxious and laced with profanity. John tried and tried to change the bird’s attitude by consistently saying only polite words, playing soft music and anything else he could think of to ‘clean up’ the bird’s vocabulary. Finally, John was fed up and he yelled at the parrot. The parrot yelled back. John shook the parrot and the parrot got angrier and even ruder. John, in desperation, grabbed the bird and put him into the freezer. For a few minutes the parrot squawked and swore and screamed. Then suddenly there was total quiet. Not a peep was heard for over a minute. Fearing that he’d hurt the parrot, (and it had been an expensive gift) John quickly opened the door to the freezer. The parrot calmly stepped out onto John’s outstretched hand and said “I believe I may have offended you with my rude language and actions. I’m sincerely remorseful for my inappropriate behavior and I fully intend to do everything I can to correct my rude and unforgivable behavior.”
John was stunned at the change in the bird’s attitude. As he was about to ask the parrot what had caused such a change, the bird continued, very softly, “May I ask what the turkey did?”
What does it take for you to change your behavior; what does it take for you to reevaluate your life? Like the parrot we can be shocked by a near death experience into reevaluating our behavior. It seems that what precedes behavior change or attitude change or really any kind of paradigm shift is some sort of an ‘aha moment’ or epiphany. It may be a shock like the parrot received or it may be a sudden understanding, the pieces just fall into place and what was once murky now suddenly becomes crystal clear.
And that’s what we see happening in the passage we heard from the Acts reading. “When they heard this, they, the men in the crowd listening to Peter, were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?” But before this ‘aha’ there was no desire to change behavior. And for us it is the same. Unless we suddenly see something, unless we suddenly ‘get it’ or are shocked typically we don’t change either. We see the same thing in our Gospel reading as well, don’t we? To me one of the most amazing stories in the Bible is the one we heard in our Gospel lesson today. I find the disciples all too easy with whom to relate. They were depressed, and disillusioned and walking along a road feeling bad. It is easy to get discouraged isn’t it? Sometimes in our personal circumstances things happen to us and we feel pretty alone; we feel bad. And look what happens in the gospel! Jesus comes and begins to walk alongside of the disciples except that they don’t recognize him. And then they tell him about how disappointed they are and how they are feeling bad and he tells them “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared!” And then he opened up the Scriptures so that they understand and see what God has done and how God had shown in the Scriptures that the Messiah had to suffer before entering into his glory. It was later on they said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us as he opened up the Scriptures to us?” There was a sudden ‘AHA’ moment—suddenly they got it; suddenly it all made sense. They had a moment of clarity.
After reading those Scriptures the question it seems to me is how do we get those moments of clarity? What can we do in order to feel the force of the Holy Spirit in our lives? And then how do we keep the force of those moments in our lives day to day? It is after all those moments when we are touched by God that bring us life and bring our lives meaning.
So how can we get those moments to occur in our lives? First, frankly some of this is really not up to us. God the Holy Spirit is the one who is at work in these situations and He is God and not subject to our beck and call. Still, Jesus says, “Look I am standing at the door knocking—if you open the door I will come in.” It seems then a large part of the problem is of our own making. God the Holy Spirit is willing to be part of our lives. But like Jesus told his two disciples, “How foolish, how senseless, you are and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared.” This part of the problem is us! We start off with a doubtful mind when we approach the Scriptures. We don’t want to believe what it says to us. Also we foolishly adopt our world’s standards and let that world-view affect how we understand what the Bible says. The one that most people find the most difficult to discard is the world view of materialism. Materialism is the view that at the most fundamental level, everything that exists can be completely explained in terms of physical laws. There is no such thing as a life beyond what we can now see and no such thing as the supernatural. Even as Christians we often have a very hard time seeing anything beyond this world or beyond our particular circumstances. We have a very hard time believing that God and eternity are bigger and more significant than our here and now. And because of that we find it hard to spend time reading and thinking about what God’s Word is saying to us. We find it too easy to do other things, to read other things, to think about other things. And then we wonder why we don’t feel, why we don’t sense God’s presence in our lives. If we truly want those moments to happen in our lives we need to change our behavior and attitudes.
In 1950 Time magazine ran an article on Mary Bullock Powers. She was an heiress who lived in what would be today a $300 a month apartment at the Hotel Seymour in New York City. She kept her door bolted. She allowed her banker and her lawyer to call only occasionally. On rare occasions she received her cousin Hollis Gale. Though she loved beef and cheese she felt they were too expensive, and never ordered them; a bellboy brought one meal a day to her suite. She refused to let anyone see her sign her name, and she never made a will. She took no newspapers, had no radio. She got her whole view of the changing world from the hotel windows. Finally, in the summer of 1948, Mary grew ill. Hotel employees and a doctor found her lying amid filth and squalor. After she died, the walls of her rooms had to be torn down to the bricks and floor boards; in the 23 years of her living there the upholstery in her room had become infested with beetles, maggots and moths. Hairpins were found rusted into her hair; she had not washed it for 15 years. Yet this woman died with over $40 million in her bank account. This is a very sad story.
Yet as Christians what riches do we have that we are not utilizing? Peter told the crowd that the promise of the Holy Spirit was for them and their children. The Holy Spirit, that’s God’s Spirit, God Himself, is for us and our children. Actor Samuel Jackson used to ask in that Capital One commercial “What do you have in your wallet?” The more important questions for us are “Is the Holy Spirit really in our hearts and then with what do we fill our minds?” As Christians we know we have the Holy Spirit within us; we have God Himself in us. But any change in us has to start with how we think. The parrot, the crowd, and the disciples were all struck with something that truly moved them. They were struck with something that truly changed their point of view; something that truly changed how they thought. Are we going to live and die like Mary Bullock Powers, spiritually speaking, that is, having great spiritual riches but living like paupers? Or are our hearts going to burn within us as we turn to God’s Word to read it, believe it, obey it, and then to feel his Holy Spirit change us, God’s Holy Spirit who can give us that new paradigm on how to understand this world, how to understand our lives for what they really are, and then to give us true life? This choice is up to us. Let us choose life! Amen