Sermon: Proper 17 RCL A – “Silk Thread”

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Photo by Zdeněk Macháček on Unsplash

Chief of police Thibodeaux gets a call from one of his deputies on the police band radio:

Deputy: “Chief, we have a case dat we need you to be aware of.”
Thibodeaux: “Mais, what you got deputy?”

Deputy: “Dere has been a shooting at you friend’s house. Boudreaux is in bad shape. Da ambulance just left wit him on da way to da emergency room.”

Chief Thibodeaux: “Oh no, mon ami!! What happened deputy? How did Boudreaux him he get shot?”

Deputy: “His wife chief. Marie shot Boudreaux.”

Chief: “What?!? What in da world is going on? Why for did she shoot him deputy?”

Deputy: “She say he came in from da crawfish pond and walked all over da floor she had just mopped. She say she told him if he ever done it again, she’d shoot him… so she did.”

Chief Thib: “I can’t believe dat me!!! Dat women done gone off da deep end of da bayou!!! I can’t wait to talk to dat crazy lady! Did you arrest her yet deputy?”

Deputy: “No sir, not yet, Chief”

Thibodeaux: “Well son, you got a job to do!! Get on wit it. Get in dere and arrest her right now!”

Deputy: “No chief. Can’t arrest her just yet.”

Thib: “And why not deputy?!?”

Deputy: “Da floor is still wet, Chief.”
Some folks are fast learners like that deputy, where as the rest of us are like ol’ Boudreaux: eventually we end up getting shot. One of my friends use to tell me that the devil is stupid, he’s only got so many tricks. Only problem: we keep falling for them time and time again.

I believe I shared a portion of this during a Wednesday night study, but I also said I was going to preach it sometime, so if you know the story, bear with me. Also, if spiders give you the willies, you may want to plug your ears up for a few minutes.

During my studies at Nashotah House seminary, I would go for some two week summer intensive programs. During those weeks I would stay in the rooms above the classrooms. At night, except for the weekends, there was a good bit of reading and studying that took place, so not much happened. One evening I was out walking along the cloister. It was very warm and the bats were having fun, then I noticed a very large moth caught in a spiders web. I looked a little closer and saw that it was actually caught by only one strand of the spider’s silky web, but it could not get free. The spider was tucked away in a corner just watching, but then, after the moth settled down a bit, the spider came creeping out. The moth was four to five times larger than the spider, but the spider was undaunted. She had played this game before.

I thought the spider would rush the moth and try and wrap it up, but instead, it came very close to the moth and reached out with one leg and—I mean this—gently touch the moth. The moth lost it’s mind and started flapping around again, but was still unable to get loose. Once it tired and settled again, the spider reached out and touched the moth again. Same reaction. This took place several times: touch, lose it, touch, lose it, but then there was a touch and the moth didn’t lose it. The moth remained still, so after a moment, the spider reached out with a second leg and touched the moth. That sent the moth off again, but the spider was patient.

I don’t know how long this went on, I was actually horrified and fascinated. Horrified that I was going to stand there and watch this spider kill the moth and fascinated by the entire process. A short time later it ended. The moth eventually became accustomed to being touched by the spider and so after much patient work, the spider was able to completely crawl up on the moth without the moth reacting at all. At that point, the spider did what spiders do and the moth that was caught by only a single strand of silk was dead.

Just a few minutes ago, Jesus said to Peter, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.” And now, Jesus rebukes the one on whom he will build his church: “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

As I considered this passage, I kept coming back to the idea of the stumbling block. We know that Peter was acting as a stumbling block before Jesus. Trying to draw him away, tempt him into not fulfilling his purpose. That tells us that we too can be stumbling blocks to other people. Have a friend that’s an alcoholic and you invite them over for a drink, you’ve become a stumbling block. No someone that struggles with gossip and you drop them a tasty morsel: stumbling block.

Just as we can be stumbling blocks to others, they can do the same to us. Then there are the stumbling blocks we didn’t see coming. Someone says or does something to you. Under most circumstances you would just let it go, but on this occasion, anger, this rage bubbles out of you. I believe that most folks who follow the Way of Jesus, strive daily to avoid these types of stumbling blocks, but there is another stumbling block that is far more insidious. These are the ones that we are aware of. It is the one that we keep falling over time and time again. We don’t think much of them, because… well, they resemble a single strand of silk. And when we see it, something of a spiritual amnesia comes over us, or even worse, a desire on our parts to keep it, naively believing that we can control it. We’re slow learners. Like ol’ Boudreaux, we’ve walked over that wet kitchen floor many times, we’ve stumbled over that same obstacle time and time again. And even though we’ve been warned, time and time again, we just can’t remember that this single strand of silk is going to kill us, so we end up getting shot. We get trapped by a single silky thread, and instead of cutting it, removing it from our lives, we allow it to remain. As with the moth, the devil, seeing our predicament patiently waits for us to tire of the struggle, then at a more opportune time, he shows up and gently reaches out and touches us. At first, we resist, but he waits. He whispers, “Surely you will not die.” And he touches us again. We eventually become accustomed to being touched, touched by the devil, sin, and even death, and it is at that point, we are lost. We knew the stumbling block was there. We know it will cause us to fall. And yet, we are surprised when we find ourselves sprawled out on our faces, banged up and bleeding.

My friend, St. Josemaría Escrivá, writes, “How clear the way! How easily seen the obstacles! What good weapons to overcome them!…” We know where God would have us go and we are aware of the stumbling blocks along that way that will bring us down. God has also given us the necessary tools to overcome those obstacles, “Nevertheless,” Escrivá continues, “what side-tracking and what stumbling! Isn’t it true? That fine thread — that chain: that chain of wrought iron — of which you and I are conscious and which you don’t want to break, that is what draws you from your way and makes you stumble and even fall.”

We believe it is a single silky thread that binds us, but we have deceived ourselves. It is in fact a sturdy chain that binds us to death. Escrivá concludes, “Why do you hesitate? — Cut it… and advance!” How do you cut it? Jesus said, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” You cut the silky thread that chains you to death, by taking up your cross and following Jesus, by allowing him to break the chains that bind you, just as he broke the chains of death that attempted to hold him. Easy? No. Painful? Possibly. Impossible? Jesus said, “All things are possible for one who believes.”

For the record: I put the moth out of its misery and after a bit of chasing around, I killed that dang spider. Yeah, I know. It was only doing what spiders do, but it made me mad. It was only a moth, but I should have cut that single thread of silk and set it free (there’s a sermon in that also on how we are to help one another). I should have set it free, just as, through Jesus, we can be set free from the chains that bind us. “Why do you hesitate?”

Let us pray:
The light of God surrounds us,
The love of God enfolds us,
The power of God protects us,
The presence of God watches over us,
Wherever we are, God is,
And where God is, all is well.
Amen.

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