What’s Gotten into You?
Scripture: Acts 2:1-21
Amazed & astonished, the crowd asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language?” All were amazed & perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” In other words, “What has gotten into those disciples of Jesus, those Jesus-followers?”
Today’s typical Christian has embraced a view of our faith that is far too tame. We have, in fact, reduced the gospel to a mere transaction involving right beliefs rather than seeing in it the power to change the world. We live in a world drowning in violence, poverty, injustice, disease, corruption, & human suffering – a world in need of transformation. But it is also clear from Scripture that the whole gospel – the very transformation Jesus intended as his kingdom unfolded on earth as it is in heaven – has been entrusted to us, we who claim to follow Christ. Jesus seeks a new world order in which this gospel, marked by compassion, justice, & proclamation of the good news, becomes a reality; first in our hearts & minds, & then in the wider world through our influence. This is not to be some far-off, distant kingdom to be experienced only in the afterlife. Christ’s vision was of a redeemed world order populated by redeemed people – now. To accomplish this, we are to be salt & light in a dark & fallen world, the yeast that leavens the whole loaf of bread – that is, the whole of society. We are the ones God has called to be his church. It is up to us. We are to be the change.
But a changed world requires change agents, & change agents are people who have first been changed themselves.
It is hard to believe that just eleven of Jesus’ disciples - & those eleven men in particular – actually changed the world. Do you remember them the night before Jesus’ crucifixion? He had taken them to the Garden of Gethsemane. He asked them to keep watch while he prayed. We are told that while Jesus called upon God, he was deeply distressed & troubled & that his soul was overwhelmed with sorrow. If ever Jesus needed his friends, it was on this night. But when Jesus returned to check on the disciples, he found them sleeping; not once, but twice! And worse, after his arrest, everyone deserted him & fled – the disciples scattered in fear! Peter denied Christ three times that night, & the others were found three days later behind locked doors, for fear of what might happen to them.
These were the same unlikely men who would later give their lives for Christ & change the world. What could have happened to transform them from cowardly to courageous?
It was something spectacular: they were filled the Holy Spirit! After Pentecost, we read that Jesus’ disciples became such incredible agents of change that they altered the course of history. The communities they started & the values they practiced were so striking to the world around them that they ignited a social revolution that drew thousands & ultimately billions to faith in Christ. The difference between the pre- & post-Pentecost disciples was astounding.
Fear became courage, timidity became boldness, uncertainty became confidence, as their lives were given over to the revolution that the gospel – the good news – envisioned. Everything changed because they had been changed, & they had been changed because the Holy Spirit had been poured out upon them.
You & I are not called to act like pre-Pentecost disciples, racked with fear, doubt & timidity. We are post-Pentecost disciples, & if we are to live like post-Pentecost disciples, everything in our lives must change. The question for us is whether we are willing to make that change – to live & act differently from the non-believers around us. If we are, then God will use us as actors in his amazing plan to change our world. But becoming this kind of disciple, one who is determined to be the gospel to the world around us, involves an intentional decision. Unlike the first Pentecost, it seldom “just happens.” Any of us who have been on a diet or embarked on an exercise regimen know that fitness & weight loss do not “just happen.” They require us to make a choice & then change our behaviors in deliberate ways. We cannot live “business as usual.” And it is not easy. The same is true of discipleship. We will not really become change agents for Christ simply by attending worship each Sunday. We must make some purposeful life choices & then change our priorities & behaviors. Only then can God transform us & use us to change the world.
Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:17: So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!
People who work around radioactive material must wear radiation badges called dosimeters. They change color as soon as they are exposed to a dangerous level of radiation. The exposure is cumulative, so the badges are designed to measure the worker’s cumulative exposure.
Sheryl & I have attended wonderful churches throughout all the years of our marriage. We have gone to worship faithfully most every Sunday, with our boys in tow.
We have gone to Sunday school classes each week, met in small group Bible studies during the week, & before I went into ministry, listened to approximately fifteen hundred sermons.
We have had daily times of Scripture study & prayed for God’s guidance in our lives. We have just kept absorbing more & more biblical knowledge & values – more ‘radiation’, if you will. If we had been wearing dosimeters, they would have been turning a brighter & brighter shade of red.
Some years ago, Bob & Pam Snyder went on a short-term mission trip to Latvia, shortly after the break-up of the Soviet Union. When they returned, they spoke to their Sunday school class about their experiences & about the great needs they had seen. Bob was a physician & had a particular concern for the crumbling health care system & the Christian medical personnel in the former Soviet republic. One Sunday, they came to class & announced that they were moving – lock, stock, & barrel – to Hungary, kids & all. They planned to start a nonprofit organization to build up & minister to health professionals, helping them to integrate their faith into their work. Just like that they were leaving everything behind: their home, their friends & family, Bob’s medical practice, & their financial security. Everyone was stunned. “I do not think I could do that – leave everything, just like that,” I thought as a I heard their story. The Snyder’s seemed like regular people. What had gotten into them?
Bob & Pam had absorbed a lot of “radiation” too. They had listened to hundreds of sermons, participated in Bible studies, gone to Sunday school classes, studied their Bibles daily, & prayed. And finally, when all of this cumulative exposure reached a critical level, they went “radioactive.” Their faith had encountered a human need through an opportunity provided by God, and they responded. Friends, this gospel we embrace & this Jesus we follow are dangerous - & they can change us!
Bob, Pam, & their three daughters left a few weeks later to being their new life in Budapest. Their willingness to follow God, no matter what, challenged many of their friends. I know it challenged me!
It was a couple of years later that my own moment of decision came, through a sermon series at University City UMC. Sheryl & I now faced the same kind of choice Bob & Pam had faced. In the end, Sheryl & I went radioactive too. We, too, went to Sunday school one day to announce that we were leaving. Our friends were stunned as well. Some of my professional colleagues & our neighbors were particularly perplexed, wondering why we were making such a radical decision.
A few years later, after 9/11, a terrorist sleeper cell in the US was uncovered & the terror suspects arrested.
Sleeper cells are small groups of extremists living undercover & waiting to be activated to conduct the purpose for which they have been prepared. I remember watching the news as the terrorist’s neighbors were being interviewed by the news media. “They seemed so normal,” one neighbor said. “They were nice young men who never bothered anyone,” another said. Imagine their shock when they learned that these neighbors, who had lived among them, had been planning a terrorist attack all along.
I am quite sure some of our friends & neighbors may have also experienced shock concerning us when we made the radical decision to move to Salisbury for my first pastoral appointment. “The Kelley’s seemed so normal. Nice people, really. How strange for them to pack up & move like that. I wonder what has gotten into them?” You see, we had been a sleeper cell – for Jesus, & we had finally been activated. We were confronted with a choice which required us to reorder our priorities & our lives to become completely available to God, without conditions. We had become radioactive, post-Pentecost Christians. We had joined the social revolution envisioned by Jesus for his coming kingdom in a deeper way than ever before.
Sisters & brothers, this is God’s dream, God’s plan for each & every one of us. Not necessarily to move to Hungary or to become pastors, but to give ourselves entirely over to God. The Snyder’s story, Sheryl’s & my story, are proof of the amazing truth that God does indeed use ordinary people to accomplish extraordinary things. David, a mere boy, killed a giant & became the king of Israel. Mary, a teenage girl, gave birth to the Messiah. Peter, a fisherman, led the early church & it changed the world. It is no different today. If the gospel is to be proclaimed, poverty defeated, racism overcome, or injustice challenged, such people will do it – ordinary people like you & me.
And as that happens, the people around us will wonder, what has gotten into them?