Summary: What chokes the joy out of life? Too many cares that major on minors, and the relentless pursuit of material success. Jesus came to be authentically human among us.
Nearly every time I take an airplane trip, I get a happy surprise. When we take off and rise through the congestion of earth and the grim gray clouds of our immediate atmosphere, there comes that astonishing moment when the plane bursts through the cloud cover into bright sunlight.
I am always surprised by this, even though I have experienced 1t many times. No matter how dismal and gray it is down low, up above there is sunshine and light. It’s easy to forget that above the clouds there is all that light and clarity.
Of course, the problem is that we do have to come down. We do have to land again. You cannot float endlessly above the clouds and the storms; you do have to re-enter reality. And that may not be so pleasant.
I remember flying into National Airport late one summer afternoon. It had been a beautiful day on a comfortable flight from someplace out near heaven, which, as a few of us know, lies about 600 miles west of Washington. I was glorying in the lovely sunlight and was fascinated by the sight of another aircraft off in the distance, perfectly visible through the clear skies.
But then the pilot informed us that because of weather and traffic conditions there would be a longer-than-usual approach time. We would have to circle for a while over northern Virginia and southern Maryland. I looked out my window again, expecting to enjoy the view of the landscape: the mighty Potomac, the monumental core of the city – but what to my wondering eyes did appear but a huge yellow-gray mass, a cloud of pollution so thick and so foul I could already feel my eyes stinging and my throat closing up.
There is only one word to describe such a sight, and every eight-year-old knows that word. Yucky! A thick cloud of yucky that makes you choke! We’d rather not get into in that choking world.
And yet, that is where we live. A choking world. Choking is a fitting picture of the world in which we live. Choking means that something obstructs the air passage, something is sticking in the throat, we can’t get our air. We can’t breathe, we can’t thrive. Choking.
This is a choking world. I do not refer simply to air pollution. I refer to the way many of us live our lives. Choked. Choked off from the things that matter most, choked off from love, choked off from fulfilling relationships. We are in a choking world.
Jesus told a parable about the sower of seed and the soils on which the seed fell. His intent was to remind us that there are all degrees of spiritual readiness. There are all sorts of people who respond to truth in one way or another. His parable tells of four groups. Of all these groups, however, I want today to focus only on one group: on those who live in a choking world.
The parable first, and then part of Jesus’ own explanation of his parable: Matthew 13: 3-9, 22
"Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them ... As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing."
Jesus tells us two reasons why people choke up. He mentions two pollutants that make ours a choking world: “the cares of the world” and "the lure of wealth". Let’s look at those.
First, there are many of us for whom the cares of the world choke off life. There are a host of people, not a few of whom are in this very room, who feel choked and starved, captured and caught, by what Jesus calls the “cares of the world.”
What does Jesus mean by that phrase, "the cares of the world?” You and I could spend all morning listing the cares of the world: the material things – jobs, money, food, clothing, shelter. The quality of life things: education, safety, stability, neighborhood.
An astounding proportion of the world’s people have to care about all these things. Literally millions of people around the world have to spend virtually every waking minute finding enough to eat, looking for a place to sleep, scampering for a brief respite from the ceaseless pounding of gunfire. For them, life is choked, this is a choking world. That’s one of the reasons why our foreign missions efforts are so important: just lifting up another way of life, just providing a glimmer of hope for people in desperate, choking circumstances, is worth all of the millions we spend on missionary work.
But the cares of the world include some other things too, very personal things. The cares of the world include disappointment, disillusionment, lack of direction, loss of meaning. I’ve known many people who feel choked by these personal issues. It’s as though they cannot get a breath of fresh air; it’s as though life comes down to nothing but its everydayness ... you get up, you dress, you go to work, you come home, you eat, you do a few chores, and you go to bed. Why? So that tomorrow you can get up, dress, go to work, come home, eat, do a few chores, and go off to bed again. If that’s all there is, that’s living in a choking world. It’s too narrow. It’s too confining, and it doesn’t yield any joy. A choking world.