True confession . . . my favorite flavor of ice cream is . . . vanilla. Actually, it is Ben and Jerry’s Cherry Garcia . . . a vanilla ice cream blended with chunks of chocolate and cherries. But, if I cannot have Cherry Garcia, I will take plain ol’ vanilla. You are probably sitting there, thinking to yourself, that that explains a lot about me . . . pretty plain. But, I would bet, that the very first ice cream was vanilla, and that everything else has been a variation of vanilla ice cream.
You like chocolate ice cream . . . it is just vanilla that has had chocolate added to it. Like strawberry? Vanilla with strawberries added. I believe, and I might be wrong . . . but, I believe that all ice cream comes from the same basic recipe and only varies once a flavor has been added to it.
This is probably a way too simplistic way that I speak to children when it comes to the many different denominations and religions that there are floating around in the world. I explain that there is one God, and that there are 31 flavors of that one God. And, not too surprisingly, everyone has his or her own favorite flavor. Some people favor the Methodist flavor, others the Presbyterian flavor, and still others the Catholic flavor. Some like the Christian flavor, others the Jewish, while others chose Buddhist. One God, 31 flavors.
The Apostle Paul, while evangelizing in Athens, hits upon this idea. Having come to Athens to share the good news of Jesus, he was startled to see that the city was filled with idols. But his message rattled the cage of the educated in that city and confused them . . . stated that he was babbling nonsense. Thus it is that urge him to come to a meeting at the Aeropagus to explain these strange ideas he was espousing.
The Aeropagus was a gathering place where the people gathered to discuss ideas. Now, remember, this is taking place in Athens . . . the literary capital of the ancient world. This was the most cultured city on the earth and the one in which every Roman sought a finished education. It was a place of philosophers, orators, sculptors, painters, and poets . . . and the great university where people from throughout the world gathered to study. Aeropagus was the place of great debate.
In Paul’s presence the debate centered on what these educated individuals considered to be strange teaching from some unknown teacher known as Jesus. They tell Paul, “You are bringing some strange ideas to our ears, and we what to know what they mean.”
In what I would consider to a very uncharacteristic move by the apostle, Paul is diplomatic in his response. He compliments them on their religiosity having seen their many statues and objects of worship throughout the city. He even points out to them one particular item . . . an altar that is inscribed with the words, “TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.” It is at this point that Paul loses his diplomatic touch as he proclaims, “Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you . . .” From there he goes on to describe the one God.
But, this is not the only time that Paul dabbles in this idea of one God, 31 flavors. In is dealings with the church in Corinth he describes their conflict being centered around the fact that there are factions within their body of faithful on which teacher of the good news is the right teacher. Paul wrote, and I quote from I Corinthians 1, verses 11 and 12: “My brothers, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says, ‘I follow Paul’; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas’; still another, ‘I follow Christ.’”
Then, to emphasis the “oneness”, he asks the question in verse 13: “Is Christ divided?”
I think that the apostle poses a pretty good question.
This past Wednesday evening the ministerial association hosted the baccalaureate service at the high school for the graduating class of 2017. In that service there were represented four of the six churches in Joliet. There was a Lutheran, an independent Baptist, a Wesleyan, and a Christian . . . missing were the other Baptist and the Catholics. There would have been seven churches, but the Episcopalians are no longer open. That is one church for approximately every one hundred people in Joliet . . . and, if you got down to the brass tacks, the key ingredients of what each believes, they would all tell you the same thing. They would tell you the good news of Jesus . . . to love God with your whole being and to love your neighbors . . . it would be vanilla ice cream.
So, what happened? Why isn’t there just one church?
Well, I think that we all know the answer to that . . . everybody seems to like a different flavor. Or as Paul put it to the Corinthians . . . some like Paul, some like Apollos, some Cephus, while others like Christ. Everybody has their favorite flavor even when it comes to faith.
On the count of three, I want each and every one of you to shout out your favorite ice cream. I am going to give you a minute to think about it because I know that sometimes it is difficult to chose just one favorite flavor; but, on the count of three . . . shout out your favorite flavor of ice cream.
Well, I am not surprised . . . I could not determine on particular flavor of ice cream as being the right flavor. No, what I heard was a lot of noise as everyone shouted out his or her favorite flavor. Yet, I remind you, my earlier contention that all ice cream comes from the same basic ingredients. There is only one recipe for ice cream.
This is what Paul poses to those who are gathered around him in that place of debate in Athens . . . there is one God who created it all, but there are 31 flavors. The real issue is how do we set aside those differences in flavor to get down to what really matters?
Everyone knows the answer to that question . . . Paul reiterates it time and time again. We look toward Jesus who shows us the way through the words that he spoke and the actions that he took. It is a simple teaching that every Jew already knew, and one that he emphasized with his followers . . . to love the Lord, our God, completely . . . to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. Jesus stated that if people would do this they would fulfil all the laws and teachings of the prophets.
It really is not all that difficult once you get down to the basics . . . just like ice cream . . . there is one God. Jesus has shown us the way. The flavors just spice things up. May we all focus on that which makes us the children of God . . .
. . . God. Amen.