Who would have thought 24 bunny rabbits could cause so much damage?
But that’s exactly what happened in Australia. In 1859, an Englishman brought 24 wild rabbits to Australia to hunt them. Apparently the rabbits outsmarted the Englishman and have bred continuously since that time. Today there are estimated more than 200 million rabbits across the Australian countryside costing the populace more than $500 million in damages annually. Maybe he was just “sharing the wealth” with this once British colony, as rabbits have become the most invasive non-native species to inhabit the United Kingdom. Today, damages caused by these Easter celebrants is over £260 million every year! The United States has many of its own problems with invasive species. The kudzu plant is among the most well known, especially in the South. The object of many jokes, the plant itself is hardly a laughing matter. This fast-growing vine is virtually impervious to pesticides and herbicides, can grow up to a foot per day, and costs an estimated $500 million in lost crops and control costs annually. Native to Japan, the plant grew rapidly in the South where conditions were ideal for it, and without its natural predators, the plant thrived covering more than seven million acres. Richard Benyon, the minister for the natural environment in England, said, “It becomes increasingly difficult and costly to control invasive non-native species as they become more established. Taking early action may seem expensive, but this report shows that it is the most effective approach, saving money in the long run and helping our native wildlife to thrive.”
Human beings have their own invasive species.
Bitterness, anger, hatred, and resentment. These emotions are the kudzu and bunny rabbits of the human soul. They take root, spread and twist it as well as any known biological disease does to our bodies. In fact, recent studies have shown that bitter, angry people have higher blood pressure and are more likely to die of heart disease and other illnesses than people who are not. Being bitter and angry can literally kill you. And like Mr. Benyon said about other invasive species, early action is the most effective approach to rooting it out. Before it digs deep into your soul, before it has a chance to twist you like a pretzel, you have to get rid of it. Because as long as you hold onto it, you’ll never be able to truly follow Christ. You’ll never be able to give yourself to God in the way we need to experience all that God has in store for us. You have to unburden your heart.
Jesus talks about this in our Bible passage this morning.
This occurs right after Jesus is having dinner at a Pharisee’s house. In this section of the Bible, Jesus is spending much of his time teaching and sharing parables about God and the world. At the Pharisee’s house he told the parable of the Great Banquet where the invited guests all came up with excuses why they couldn’t be there, much like we give excuses for why we don’t commit our lives to Christ. One guy says he has to tend to his field, one guy says he has to care for his animals, one used his marriage as an excuse, but they all had an excuse for not coming to the banquet. God’s warning for us is that we can’t afford to let these other things get in the way of our relationship with God or we might just be sacrificing our own salvation. In the passage we’re about to read, Jesus emphasizes this point in another way.
25 Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: 26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. 27 And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.
28 “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? 29 For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, 30 saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’
31 “Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? 32 If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. 33 In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.
34 “Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? 35 It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile; it is thrown out.
“Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.” – Luke 14:25-35
This is a tough passage to hear.
When we first read these words they seem harsh. It’s pretty much against everything Jesus taught. Hate your father and mother? Hate your wife and children? Hate even yourself? This doesn’t sound like the Jesus who commanded us to love God and love our neighbor. It doesn’t sound at all like the Jesus who told us to love one another so that everyone will know we are his disciples. In fact, it sounds like just the opposite. But what Jesus is doing here is a technique he often uses – hyperbole. He’s trying to shock the crowd to get his point across. The fact that it IS so incongruous makes the listener focus on what Jesus is about to say. The meat of his argument comes in the verses following those statements where Jesus starts talking about tower building and going to war and emphasizes that in either instance we wouldn’t even begin the project unless we knew what we were getting into. We wouldn’t commit before being prepared. Unless you knew the costs and benefits. Unless you knew the risks you were about to take. Discipleship is the same way. Because Jesus knew that becoming a disciple wasn’t an easy path. Especially in those days. There would be a lot of pressure from family and friends not to follow Jesus. There were those who thought he was a heretic or crazy or both and to follow Christ meant to go against what society considered acceptable. And that’s something we all struggle with – doing what’s right vs doing what is acceptable. Becoming a disciple of Christ meant risking being an outcast. So Jesus warned them they needed to understand what was necessary to become a disciple.
The same is true for us.
Do we really understand what it means to be a disciple of Christ? Are we willing to leave our old life behind and embrace Jesus’ version of it? You’ve heard some of Christ’s radical teachings on forgiveness. Turn the other cheek. Give a thief the clothes off your back. Forgive not seven times but seven times seventy times. These are not simple commands, but necessary if we are to embrace his teachings. Jesus doesn’t tell us these things arbitrarily. He tells us these things because they are true. The more we lead a life like Christ, the more people will embrace Christ for themselves. When they experience the love of Christ in the world, only then will they really know a loving God. But that can’t happen if his followers are filled with the same prejudices, hatreds, and bitterness that the rest of the world embraces. If we don’t let go of those emotions, there is nothing to distinguish us from everyone else except a fish symbol on our car.
That reminds me of a story I heard in seminary.
I don’t know if it’s true or not, but it’s about a guy driving along the highway when suddenly this other car comes out of nowhere and cuts him off. The guy has to slam on his brakes to avoid hitting the car in front, and this makes him mad beyond belief. He starts tailgating the other guy, honking at him, making obscene gestures. Suddenly in his rear view mirror, he sees a police officer with his lights flashing and so he pulls over to the side and surprisingly the officer pulls over with him. The officer gets out and asks to see the man’s driver’s license and identification. The man pulls them out and hands them to the officer. The officer hands them back and tells the man he can go on his way and the man asks why he pulled him over in the first place. The officer says, “I noticed one of those fish on the back of the car, but with the way you were behaving, I thought the car might be stolen.”
Being a Christian has to mean more than simply saying we are.
It means being a Christian even in the tough times. Even in the times when people have done wrong to us. It means forgiving someone when they don’t deserve it. It means letting go of our hurt and opening ourselves up not only to the possibility of more hurt but of greater love as well. It means putting aside the comfortable for the potential of the future. That’s what it means. When Christ tells us we must hate the ones we love, he only means we must be willing to let go of the past in order to embrace the future. To truly be disciples we must be willing to unlearn the lessons we have been taught. We must be willing to operate by a new set of rules, ones that are more encompassing and more loving than any we have embraced before. And even if the world tells us that there is some sense of justice in holding on to our hate, our bitterness, and our anger, we know better. To embrace the lessons of Christ, we have to let go and open ourselves up to the possibilities God can bring our way. Letting go of the past is the only way we can be free. Free to live. Free to love. Free to reach the potential life God has carved out for us. God isn’t punishing us for holding on to these feelings. God is telling us that when we don’t let go, we are anchored to this world and we can’t be free to live as God wants us to live.
Our challenge for this week is to let go of the past.
Forgive those who are clouding our future. Forgive them so YOU can move forward. Whether it’s someone who wronged you or someone who hurt you or someone who made your life hard to endure. Forgive them. It might not even be someone who did something to you recently. It could be someone from your past, someone who isn’t even a part of your life anymore but whose presence haunts you as if they were still there. Forgive them. Let go of the hurt. Because like the kudzu, the pain, bitterness, resentment, and hatred we carry with us are roots that bind us to the world. It can grow and fester within us at extraordinary rates unless we root it out, which isn’t easy and isn’t comfortable, but once we are free, the burdens we carry are lifted from us and we can live the life God had always promised us. Pray this week for God to reveal to you those burdens you haven’t let go of. Pray for God to give you the strength to let them go, to cut them loose from your life, and to offer forgiveness for those past wrongs. And pray that God will not allow the mistakes of the past to haunt you from your promised future. Take a moment to picture someone in your mind who you need to forgive, who stirs up those emotions within you, and then pray these words.
Gracious and forgiving God, mold us into beings who can be as forgiving as you. Do not allow the pettiness, bitterness, anger, and resentment of life to weigh us down. Lift these burdens from us and give us the strength to let them go. Let us give these things up to you so that we can live the life you have created for us and not the life we have created for ourselves. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.