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JOE LAGUARDIA: For the sake of the Gospel, we should treat each other as brothers and sisters

In 1942, the Second World War was raging throughout Europe. During that time, the villagers of a little town of Le Chambone, France, decided to re-define who their neighbors were and save Jewish refugees from Nazi genocide.

Led by a courageous pastor, Andre Trocme, the town saw the Jewish people -- both in their midst and those coming from all across France -- as God-image-bearers to whom they had a sacred responsibility. As a result of their efforts, the villagers saved some 5,000 Jews.

God is constantly helping us connect with others, even people who don't look like us or believe like us. One little letter in the New Testament shows how this is the case, even if it means crossing cultural barriers to do so.

Paul's letter to Philemon encouraged Philemon to see one of his (Philemon's) slaves not as a servant, but as a brother in Christ: "Perhaps this is the reason Onesimus was separated from you for a while, so that you might have him back forever, no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a beloved brother -- especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord."

Although the short letter has a controversial interpretative history, Paul's letter to Philemon shows how relationships change when they come under the lordship of Christ. Old notions of division, culture and privilege melt away before the Lord when it comes to relationships.

For those of us who call Christ Lord, we, like the people of Le Chambon, must also hear God's challenge to re-define how we see our neighbors. In so doing, we even have the power to save some. That's easier said than done, and sometimes the walls that exist between us and others are not so obvious.

In a movie called "Couples Retreat," starring Vince Vaughn, four couples go on an intensive marriage retreat on an exotic island. At first, the couples do not seem to have many issues beyond those that pervade many a marriage.

As the movie progresses, however, the audience discovers that the couples share one deeper issue: each spouse takes the other spouse for granted.

There is one scene in which one husband upsets his wife, and the wife storms off into a jungle. The other wives follow and the husbands, left to their lonesome, argue over what exactly occurred and what to do about their wives.

Vince Vaughn's character tells another husband that he is at fault, that he doesn't appreciate his wife and that's why she left him. In the middle of the diatribe, Vince Vaughn pauses, looks intently at his friend and says with pointed finger, "You have an attitude!" It's one of my favorite movie lines.

I like to think that when Paul wrote Philemon, Paul was basically telling his friend, "You have an attitude!"

As a New Yorker, I know a thing or two about attitudes. I have heard God tell me on more than one occasion that I have an attitude.

Just last week, my cat got stuck in a tree, and it took nearly 8 hours over two days to get her down. On day two, my neighbor's half-a-dozen dogs were barking at us. During the final hour of trying to get the cat down, I got so annoyed with those dogs, as tired as I was, that I got into my car, drove around the block to my neighbor's house, and planned to give him a piece of my mind.

When I pulled into the driveway, God stopped me dead in my tracks and told me, "Joe, you have an attitude."

When God challenges us to re-define who are neighbors are, it's often not a big challenge. Sometimes, it's only a reminder that we have to drop the attitude we have about others.

We are to see one another as God-image-bearers who are called to be -- and to act as -- brothers and sisters with everyone we meet. We are to work with others and relate with others for the sake of the Gospel and be Good News in a world in which Good News is hard to find.

The Rev. Joe LaGuardia is the senior pastor of Trinity Baptist Church, 301 Honey Creek Road, Conyers. Email him at trinitybc3@bellsouth.net or visit www.trinityconyers.org.