A young man named John received a parrot as a gift. 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, threw up his hand, grabbed the bird and put him in 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, John quickly opened the door to the freezer. The parrot calmly stepped out onto John’s outstretched arms 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 made such a dramatic change in his behavior, the bird continued, very softly, “May I ask what the turkey did?”
What does it take for you to change; what does it take to get you to reevaluate how you see your world? 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 we are not motivated to change. 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 to relate to. 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 what all the Messiah had to suffer before entering into his glory. And 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; it all made sense. It was 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 meaning.
Certainly part of the problem is of our own making. Like Jesus told his two disciples, “How foolish you are and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared.” Part of the problem is we foolishly adopt our world’s standards. The one that we find the most difficult to discard is materialism. We have a very hard time seeing beyond this world and our circumstances in this world. We have a very hard time believing that God and eternity are bigger and more significant than our here and now. And then we find it hard to spend time to read and think about what God’s Word is saying to me. 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 the presence of God in our lives.
In 1950 Time magazine ran an article on Mary Bullock Powers. She was an heiress who lived in a $30 a month apartment at the Hotel Seymour in New York City (that would translate into a $300 a month in today’s dollars). She kept her door bolted. She allowed her banker and her lawyer to call only at long intervals. On rare occasions she received her cousin Hollis Gale—usually asking him to bring a collection of menus from other hotels to be sure the Seymour was not cheating her on the prices of meals. 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 never made a will.
She took no newspapers, had no radio. She got her whole view of the changing world from the hotel windows over one traffic-jammed street in Manhattan. She wore clothes designed in 1900. When the Seymour was modernized in the late 1930s, she refused to let decorators enter her rooms so they went untouched. Finally, in the summer of 1948, Mary grew ill. Hotel employees and a doctor invaded her suite, 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 in today’s money would be over $40 million in her bank account.
What is in your bank account? What riches do you have that you are not accessing? 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 us “What do you have in your wallet?” The more important question is what do you have in your heart? It is important to ask yourself this question because any change in us has to start from our hearts. The parrot, the crowd, and the disciples were all struck with something that truly moved them. Are we going to live and die like Mary Bullock Powers or are our hearts going to burn within us as we turn to God’s Word and feel his Holy Spirit which changes us, gives us that new paradigm, and gives us life? Amen