I received a call from a Hindu man that wanted 45 minutes to interview me. We agreed to meet on Thursday evening. He arrived on time and began asking me questions about Christianity. He was accompanied by a young man in his early twenties. I had to explain not only the United Methodist understanding of the Christian faith, but also the differences between denominations. Their main interest was in dealing with interfaith marriages. They wanted to know how would I deal with a Hindu person who wanted to marry a Christian? He had read the Koran and thought that he understood very well what they believe, but he was having trouble understanding what Christians believe by reading the King James Version.
The hardest thing was trying to make them understand the trinity. How can Christians claim to believe in one God, while holding to the notion that the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are God without being three gods? After an hour and a half, they wanted to see the sanctuary and I gave him a copy of the “Good News Bible” telling him that it was not the closest translation to the original but it would give him a better idea of what we believe. It was interesting being questioned by someone who believes in many gods and who is trying to understand our belief in one God.
I was being held accountable for my preaching, for those things that I teach on behalf of Christianity. I was feeling like Peter must have felt when his fellow believers held him accountable for his teachings. According to the book of Acts Peter arrives from a very successful preaching tour. The congregations that were throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles had received the word of God; that was good. But they have also heard that Peter cut some corners while he was in Caesarea. So they waited until he went up to Jerusalem to ask him a couple of questions. Peter, we want to ask you a question: “Why did you go to the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them?” They were direct, no talking behind his back. They did not try to be politically correct, they just asked what they needed to know.
Peter could have questioned their authority to hold him accountable. He could have said; who do you think you are asking me how I do my ministry? Do you remember when Jesus told me right in front of most of you: “I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” (Mark 16:18-19) I do not remember Jesus mentioning your name, he specifically said Peter.
No, Peter did not claim any special privileges; he allowed himself to be held accountable by the congregation. The book of Acts tells us that “Peter began and explained everything to them precisely as it had happened.” He told them how he was praying and saw a vision of “something like a large sheet being let down from heaven by its four corners. He looked into it and saw four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, reptiles, and birds of the air. Then he heard a voice telling him, ‘Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.’ He protested that he had never eaten impure food and then a voice came and said: ‘Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.’
This happened not once, but three times. Then some men came for him and the Holy Spirit told him to go at once, which he did. When Peter arrived he immediately told them how uncomfortable he was to be in Cornelius house. Cornelius told Peter and his companions how an angel had ordered him to send for them. That was when Peter began to tell them the gospel story. While Peter was still speaking the Holy Spirit fell on all of them just like the Spirit did on Pentecost. So Peter reasoned that: “if God gave them the same gift as he gave us, who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could oppose God?”
The church has lost the gift of holding each other accountable, we no longer dare ask each other: “How is it with your soul?” Every Methodist preacher upon becoming a full member of an annual conference must answer several questions that were formulated by John Wesley and have been changed little throughout the years. One of them is: Are you in debt so as to embarrass you in your work? Many times after a bishop have asked a candidate that question the bishop and the congregation have laugh out loud. I do not know if it is because we believe that being in debt is so normal that no one would be embarrassed about it. The point is that we no longer take that or any other question seriously; we have lost any means to hold each other accountable.
One of men that were interviewing me asked me if Mahatma Gandhi would go to hell. I told him that I do not know who will be going to hell; I only know a way to avoid going there. Accept Jesus Christ and you will be saved. I believe that God will hold each person accountable for their life choices. I believe that God will hold me accountable for the things I say about God to others. As a Christian, God will hold you accountable for either honoring God’s son or for taking God's son name in vain.
In his farewell address to his disciples Jesus told them: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” How is this new when already, centuries before, the writer of the book of Leviticus had said: You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord." (Leviticus 19:18) Jesus himself told a teacher of the law that of all commandments the most important was to love God and that the second was to love our neighbor as ourselves. So how is this a new commandment? However we interpret the newness of this commandment, the text is clear in telling us that it is not about what we say we believe but how we act towards one another that witness to whether we are Christ disciples of not.
In New York a woman was being assaulted when a homeless man intervened to defend her. The man attacking the woman stabbed the homeless man. Several people, like in the story of the good Samaritan went by the dying man without stopping; except for a man who stopped to take a picture of the dying man before continuing his journey. We are losing our humanity, our compassion. We have made the word love into just another word for sex. If we lose the real meaning of love we lose God in the process, because God is love. If people are going to have a notion about the meaning of love is going to come from the church. How are we doing as a congregation?
We have being busy working for years in a ministry with our Spanish speaking neighbors. We are not in favor of anyone breaking the law, we believe that there is a process for people from other nations to enter the United States legally. But the love of God moves us to minister to their children, citizens of this country. Justice demand that they do not pay for the sins of their parents. We have been in ministry through Amistad for the sake of those children.
But what about when those children become youth? I know what it means to be in a no man land. Not being fully Mexican or Puerto Rican or Cuban; but neither being fully an American. You are not Mexican or American, but Chicano. You are not American or Puerto Rican but Newyorican. These young people feel rejected by the Mexican side of their parents and by their new neighbors in this country.
I just began to hear about how some of the youth that we have helped through Amistad have began to hurt themselves, cutting their bodies. Their parents have look for psychological help without understanding at all what that means. the love of God compels us to look for ways, besides Amistad, in which we can attempt to save these young people from themselves. Can the Freehold community know that we are Christ disciples by the way we love each other and by the way that we love our neighbors? If Jesus is going to hold us accountable it would be by the only commandment he gave us: to love one another. How are we doing?