Summary: For Martin Luther King Day. The words we offer fall into the thorny thicket of anxiety, despair, and distraction. Like King with his dream, we the church can give hands and feet to help those so captured.
Our back yard is a thorny thicket. Other people have manicured lawns, with friendly plants laid out in neat rows. But our back yard is a tangled thorny thicket.
Along one fence there are blackberries, growing in long canes that have to be tied up lest they wander into the next county. They are allegedly thornless blackberries. They are not. They have thorns that tangle tightly in twists. That yard is a thorny thicket, I say.
And in front of the blackberries, raspberries. Who knew that such sweet succulent fruit would be protected with needles that get into the skin and will not come out? Thorny thicket.
And don’t even get me started on the rose bushes that reach out and aim at my arms, my legs, my jacket, intent on impaling me! A rose by any other name may smell just as sweet, but those thorns are not sweet at all. Thorny thicket. Everywhere in my back yard.
At least we finally conquered the pyracantha that built its fortress in a corner and would not let us even get close. It took months of struggle and the shedding of much blood, but we did whip that one and removed it from our tangled jungle excuse for a yard. And all at some cost to these hands. When you go to play the piano and find that it’s painful because of the thicket thorns in the thumb, you know you have paid a price. And not only to these hands, but also to my legs. The jeans have not yet been made that are strong enough to repel pyracantha thorns with a mind of their own. Hands and legs and face and back – all bear witness to the struggle with the thorny thicket. It’s tough out there.
Jesus must have known that. I expect that He had had to press His way through some unpleasant places in His journeys. And so He knew exactly what He was talking about when He spoke of how God’s word sometimes falls among thorns and takes hold, for a while, but eventually is choked out. Jesus must have felt the tear of the thorns on His hands and His legs and the pull of the thicket on His sleeves. And He made sure we would understand what we face when we try to make a difference in such a world.
For this world is a thorny thicket. Much of what we do will fall among thorns and take hold for a while, but it will be choked out. Much of what we try to implant in others will take hold among the tangles, but will not survive. But I submit to you that working in the thorny thicket will be worth it. I submit to you that the thorny thicket is exactly where Jesus lived, and exactly where you and I are called to live. Not in the comfort of daffodils and daisies, but in the thorny thicket. Not in the lush green meadows among the pansies and petunias, row on row, but in the thorny thicket, where life is tangled, where people struggle with issues, where nothing is simple, where spirits hurt. That is where He is and that is where He calls us to be.
Jesus describes this thorny thicket world in which so many live, and it would pay us this morning to listen to His description. He will teach us about this harsh reality to which we are called. No illusions here; many of this world’s people live lives of pain and anguish, and there are distinct reasons why they do. Distinct reasons why people live in thorny thickets and tangled messes.
For one thing, there is what Jesus calls, “The cares of this world.” Hosts of people live in anxiety about merely sustaining themselves. Jobs ... bills … health … family … self-esteem … all sorts of things that people must deal with in order to survive, caught up in the cares of this world.
Those of us who live in middle-class satisfaction may never fully understand what it is to be in constant struggle just to keep a roof over your head and food on your table, not to mention all the other issues that pile up when you are poor. I have worked at one job or another for fifty-four years, since I was sixteen years old, and was unemployed for a whopping four months after my alleged retirement in 2004! What do I know about joblessness? What do I really understand about fearing starvation or worrying about my home? Not much!
So where do I get the right to say to somebody, “Just have faith, the Lord will provide”? How can I with a straight face tell a homeless man, “Something will turn up, just get out there and look for it.” I know that the antidote to anxiety is always faith; but do I teach faith by bombarding someone with admonitions to have faith? Or do I get him to a place of faith by laboring alongside him to solve these thorny issues? Do I teach her to trust in the Lord with all her heart and lean not to her own understanding by popping Gospel pills down her throat, or do I get my hands dirty building her house, teaching her a skill, making sure her children are clothed? I am confident we know the answer to that.