It’s My Way or the Highway

Heritage Presbyterian Church

August 29, 2021
14th Sunday after Pentecost
Scripture readings: Deuteronomy 4:1-2,6-9 and Mark 7:1-8,14-15,21-23

The newlyweds were settling into their first house after returning from their honeymoon.  On the first night, the woman wanted to prepare something special for her husband, so she phoned her new mother-in-law to ask for a favorite recipe.  The mother-in-law said her son just LOVED meatloaf, and so she shared her favorite recipe.  When they met at home that night after work, the woman told her husband she was making the main course and he could make everything else.  They both got busy preparing dinner together.  When it was done, they sat down to a delicious, relaxing meal.

When it was done, both of them sat at the table and complimented one another on all the preparations.  The husband remarked that the meatloaf was especially good, and he asked how she had prepared it.  “I got the recipe from your mother!  I’m so glad you liked it!” his wife gleefully remarked. 

Then the woman asked her husband an unusual question: “I liked the recipe too, but there was one thing I didn’t understand; your mother insisted that I cut the ends off the meatloaf before putting it in the oven and cooking them separately.  Do you know why she did this?”  Her husband had no clue, but he assured his wife that his mother had always done it that way.

A few days later, the wife phoned her mother-in-law to thank her for the recipe and to comment on how much her son had enjoyed it.  “There’s only one thing I don’t understand; why did you have me cut the ends off the meatloaf before I cooked it?”  

Her mother-in-law chuckled and said it was an old family tradition; her own mother had done the same thing to her meatloaf because she couldn’t afford a bigger baking dish!

I wonder how often we have been shaped by events in our own lives that were put in place long before we were born; and then we just keep following those habits, traditions, and routines without ever wondering why we do them in that particular way.  Think about your own family; there are traditions, habits, methods, recipes that you follow today that are almost instinct to you.  A perfect example of this is the opening of presents at Christmas time.  Let’s have a show of hands: 

  • How many of you open presents on Christmas Eve?
  • How many of you wait until Christmas morning?
  • How many of you wait until after breakfast on Christmas morning?
  • And here’s my favorite: how many of you open stockings on Christmas Eve and THEN open presents on Christmas morning?

And why do we do these things in this way?  Because we were taught to do this.  “That’s the way it’s always been done” is our mantra.  But that doesn’t imply a lack of flexibility…things can change. There is not usually a hard line about where you keep your house keys so you won’t lose them, or how you tie your shoes, or which television channel has your favorite version of the evening news…or who you vote for, is there?

We can usually accept new things, changes to our lives and our patterns of doing things IF we are shown a better way.  We are not usually unreasonable, inflexible people.  Right?  We don’t dig in so far and so deep that our constant battle cry becomes “It’s my way or the highway!”  Right?

The two Scripture readings for today are a perfect setting for this type of conversation because at the middle of the words are three powerful questions:

  • Do we continue to strictly follow the Laws in the Bible?
  • Or do we follow the example of Jesus Christ and work within and around those same Laws – as He often did?
  • Or is there some middle ground that we should seek?

Let’s look at what the readings actually say…

In the reading from Deuteronomy, the people of God have reached the Promised Land, but they have not yet entered it.  This is a day for triumph and celebration!  Moses addressed the people and told them to obey the Law strictly; the word “strictly” was the part that the people often struggled with, but the time for wishy-washy followers was NOT that day.  Moses addressed them as a final warning before their wonderful new lives would begin.  As Moses did this, there were five reasons the Law was given in the first place and those same reasons would guide and sustain the people of God in their new homes:

  1.  By heeding the Law, the people could continue to live.  In other words, the Law of the Lord was the source of life!
  2. The Law was complete.
  3. Keeping the Law would ward off Yahweh’s displeasure.
  4. Israel would be deemed as wise by other countries who observed their obedience.  It also demonstrated wisdom on the part of the people AND their leaders.
  5. The statutes were unique for their high religious quality.  (These were so much more important than a list of heavenly do’s and don’ts.)

As we closely examine the various Laws listed in the Old Testament, it is good to also examine the setting for them to be given to and followed by the people of God.  The Ten Commandments, the very heart of the Law, still resonates with God’s people today – both Jewish and Christian.  They ensure a harmonious community that can live together in peace – but do they cover every single detail of life?  

And if someone claims to STRICTLY follow the Bible, do they abstain from pork, shrimp, shellfish, and sausage?  Do they wear clothes that are made of more than one type of cloth sewn together?  Do their teenage sons understand that if they become drunkards and make their mothers cry, they will be taken to the city limits, denounced, and then stoned to death by the elders?  

All of those are parts of the Law.  Do you suddenly feel the need to go back and carefully read Deuteronomy and perhaps Leviticus too?  Do you hear a whisper of “It’s my way or the highway!” in your mind as you hear these?  Or is your response more of a modern “What would Jesus do?” which is a much more nuanced response than many of us realize?

Think about that for a moment…now let’s look at Jesus when he was confronted by the keepers of that Law and see what happened.

Jesus’ Apostles gave the eagle-eyed Pharisees and scribes ammunition to confront this “Teacher” because his Apostles didn’t wash their hands the proper way, according to the Law.  Hand-washing is something most of us have strictly re-adopted in the past 18 months of the Covid-19 pandemic, so we understand it clearly.  But according to the strict interpretation of the Law, washing hands before eating was only required of the priests; later on, the requirement was also given to the people so they would appear pure as they gave thanks to Yahweh for their food.  By the time Jesus was in Jerusalem, this requirement had become a strict one.  Not obeying this was cause to also believe the Apostles – led by Jesus – were not following other aspects of the Law.

Jesus shut them down by calling those leaders exactly what they were:  hypocrites!  To wash their hands and believe that honors Yahweh when their hearts were far from Yahweh was a perfect example.  Jesus went on to say, “You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.”


Jesus called it out – and then after fussing at those leaders, he turned to the crowd that was with them and explained it to them.  I wonder how many in that crowd had been victims of the religious leaders’ “It’s my way or the highway” mentality…

Jesus wins…inflexible religious authorities lose…at least for that moment.

Good thing we don’t engage in that type of behavior or that type of thinking today, right?  We are flexible and open-hearted to all who enter our church and all whom we encounter.  We can change if we choose to.  We can adapt to new urgings of the Holy Spirit without abandoning all that we hold dear.  


Because if we don’t, then we can’t have female elders or deacons or preachers or pastors.

If we can’t, then we can still justify slavery because it’s in the Bible.

If we refuse, then new ideas that could spark new movements in the spread of the Christian faith would flicker and go out because of our lack of interest and effort.

If we close our eyes or remain blind to even the possibility that we need new ideas, then our little church would have closed in March of 2020 when in-person worship in the Heritage Lodge ballroom was not possible due to the current pandemic.  

(Fun fact: I never heard of the computer program called Zoom before April of last year.)

Keeping the faith, following the traditions of our families and elders, while also greeting the future and all the new possibilities, is an on-going struggle for most churches and church members.  Remaining a viable, loving family of God is worth that struggle, even as we disagree over the details of worship and new trends that come with the passing of time.

There is one detail in this message that I have become aware of in the past few years: it is the battle between those who follow Jesus Christ in a certain way, and all those who follow Him in a different way – with both sides condemning one another.

There is a man I don’t know very well, in fact I have never met him face to face.  He is married to a friend of mine, and he has recently become a zealous Christian.  He is a changed man who has become a joyful Christian who looks forward to regular Bible study and attending church.  Anyone who knew him years ago is astonished at his transformation because of who he used to be and who he is now.

As near as I can tell, there is only one problem but it is a big one: he seems to seek out and roundly condemn any other Christian who disagrees with any of his views.  After posting something on Facebook, he lectured me and called me a “false teacher” despite never hearing me preach, never reading any of my sermons, never having met me or even talked with me.  He just saw something I posted – I wish I could remember what it was! – and that was it: I am a false teacher condemned for all eternity because I don’t see things the way he does.  In other words, it was his way or the highway.

This is not the first time this has happened to me, and I doubt it will be the last.  I have been put in the Jesus corner, so to speak, by various Christians throughout my lifetime.  I see this type of behavior as being similar to those religious leaders who condemned Jesus because his Apostles didn’t wash their hands properly.  I am certainly NOT Jesus, nor do I put myself in the same situation as the Lord often faced.  

But I do put the inflexible, immovable, rigid, narrow-minded people of God into the same category as Jesus used on those hypocrites of his day.  To accept this type of treatment and to suffer it in silence is not a skill I possess; and I suspect you might struggle with it too.

There is only type of Christian I want to be, and it is one who does the following:

  • Believes Jesus Christ is the Son of God who saved us all from eternal damnation;
  • Believes our daily mission lies in treating everyone – believer or not – as a child of God.
  • Believes everyone can learn more about the Bible, about God, and about faith every single day; I also believe that often those new things we learn can and will directly challenge what we believe and hold dear;
  • Believes we are better together than we are separately;
  • Believes what our denomination states clearly about the Bible: it is the unique and authoritative Word of God.
  • And most of all, I truly believe that we fallible, tiny, human beings do not truly understand the mind of God at any time.  The best we can do is to try!

To do otherwise is to follow the “it’s my way or the highway” type of thinking.