One of my favorite theologians is Theodor Geisel . . . better known by his literary moniker as Dr. Suess. Dr. Suess, especially in his later years, wrote a lot of really cool theological books disguised as children’s books. On of my favorite is The Butter Battle Book . . . a cautionary Cold War tale that he wrote back in 1984.
The book is about the Zooks and the Yooks who live on opposite sides of a long curving wall. They keep on their side of the walls because they do not like each other. They are different. The Yooks wear blue clothes, the Zooks wear orange. The primary dispute between the two cultures has to do with bread . . . and, how you butter the bread. The Yooks eat their bread with the butter-side up, while the Zooks eat their bread with the butter-side down. This difference, over the years, leads to an escalating arms race to keep each culture on their side of the wall.
The book begins with a Yook grandfather explaining the very serious differences to his grandchild: “It’s high time that you knew of the terribly horrible thing that Zooks do. In every Zook house and every Zook town every Zook eats his bread with the butter side down!” He then recalls the escalating weapons race between the two . . . up to the point where the Yooks stand on one side of the wall with their Bitsy Big-Boy Boomeroo, and the Zooks stand on the other side with their Bitsy Big-Boy Boomeroo . . . facing each other in a nuclear game of chicken. Each standing there . . . waiting to drop their Bitsy Big Boomeroo to completely wipe out the other’s whole race.
And, that is how the book ends . . . there is no conclusion . . . only a stalemate.
Does the tale sound familiar?
In our reading this morning the Apostle Paul poses a question to those in Rome reading his letter: “Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? . . . You, then, why do you judge your brother? Or why do you look down on your brother?”
The apostle is addressing a serious problem facing the young church . . . by “church” he is referring to the totality, not a particular congregation . . . that of the differences between the two cultures that are coming together to be one body . . . the Jews and the Gentiles. There were definite differences between the two cultures, including dietary restrictions. Each side in the argument holds that their understanding and practice is better than the other . . . especially on moral grounds. Those on the other side will rot in hell. Needless to say, such conflict does not make for good community or chemistry as the body of Christ. Thus the apostle attempts to deal with the issue head on.
As far as Paul is concerned, that in the end, it does not matter what one side or the other practices when it comes to faith, but rather the relationship that one has with God and other believers . . . whether or not there is love for God and others. To this end, the apostle proclaims: “For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living.” In other words, Jesus welcomes all into the family . . . sinners and saints, or whatever a person might view him or herself as being.
With that, the apostle declares that everybody needs to focus upon him or herself when it comes to faith to make sure that he or she is living up to what Jesus called them to do. Take care of your own business and let others take care of theirs. Why? Because in the end, says Paul: “. . . each of us will give an account of himself to God.”
The Yooks did not like the way that the Zooks ate their buttered bread. The Zooks did not like the way that the Yooks ate their buttered bread. Sounds pretty silly doesn’t it? Does it really matter how we eat buttered bread? Isn’t the result in the end the same? The bread gets eaten.
No two people are created identical. God creates each and everyone of us as unique and special creations that are in God’s image. Because we are all created differently, why in the world would we expect everyone to think and do things the same way? The reality is, we all think and do things differently . . . in ways that make sense to us. This includes how we view faith . . . our faith. Whether we want to admit it or not, deep down . . . we want people to be like us . . . to think, act, and believe like us. And, when they do not . . . well, don’t we get a little judgmental?
When we get judgmental things become a competition and conflict . . . gets a little nasty; and, if we are not careful, it can escalate until we are in a stalemate clutching our own version of the Bitsy Big-Boy Boomeroo just waiting to annihilate the other. In our minds it is our way or the highway.
In Paul’s mind, this is a waste of time . . . time that could be better spent in doing God’s will . . . of building stronger one’s relationship with God and with others. It is time that could be spent on kingdom-building. God will take care of God’s business . . . in the meantime, Paul urges his readers to work on being the body of Jesus. Put aside the differences and focus on the example of Jesus in which all are welcomed just as they are as pieces of a holy puzzle needing to be pieced together as the Kingdom of God.
In Paul’s argument he says it does not matter what one eats or does not eat, but that the end result brings the same thing . . . that Christ is reflected in that person’s life so that the world can see it. He states that it does not matter if one person thinks one day is better than the other as long as the result is towards the same goal . . . that Jesus is reflected in that person’s life so that the world can see it. None of us are the same, so why then do we think that everyone will be like us?
There is one God, but there are many roads that lead to God.
One of my favorite places to visit is Yellowstone National Park. There are five entrances into the park. I imagine, that if we took a poll right now, there would be five different opinions as to which is the best way to go into the park. My favorite way is to go up Chief Joseph Scenic Byway, go through Cooke City and Silver Gate, and enter through the northeast entrance . . . and then to come home via the Beartooth Highway. In my opinion, this is the best way. But, do you know what . . . there are people who would not agree with me! No, they rather go in through Cody and the southeast entrance . . . or zip up to Livingston and come in the north entrance through Gardiner. Some will argue that the best entrance is the south entrance through Jackson. Five different entrances with the same goal in mind . . . to get into the park! Is one way better than the other? Not really when one realizes that the whole goal is to get into the park.
In the end, it all depends on how one wants to experience it.
How each of us comes to understand God and our relationship with God and others depends on the choices we make in our individual lives . . . and, the odds are no two of us are going to make exactly the same choices. Our goal is the same . . . one God, many roads. Each of us is responsible for ourselves. As Paul states: “So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God.”
It is not “my way or the highway” when it comes to faith. Each of our ways is valid. It may seems silly to most of you that I find understanding about God through children’s books by Dr. Suess . . . but, I do. We all experience God in different ways. I stand in awe of Marilyn who shares her experience of God through her battle of depression . . . in awe of Bob, who through mathematical calculations experiences the God and the holy in ways that I cannot even comprehend . . . or how Rick in climbing down in deep, dark, damp caves has a sense of God and the Holy in a hole in the ground . . . or Nellie who sees the holy in the world around her and paints it onto a canvas.
With each and every story you and others have shared about your journeys of faith . . . much different than mine . . . I stand in awe even though they are not like mine. Each and every one of them is as true and valid as mine . . . none is better than the other. So . . . why judge whether one is better than the other? All are equal in the eyes and heart of God . . . Jesus showed us that time and time again in his life and ministry.
In the end, it is between us and God as individuals.
In the end, will we have lived up to the potential that God created us to be? Will we have loved God and others as Jesus has loved us?
When it is all said and done, may each of us have been true to God in who we have been created to be . . . may we each have lived up to Jesus’ understanding of love in our lives . . . and, may we have found the Kingdom of God where we are. In the end, that is all God wants to know. May you eat your bread buttered however you want. Amen.