Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Sermon: Proverbs 6: 6-15 Laziness - learning from the ant

As you read through the book of Proverbs, there are some verses that capture the imagination. The proverbs might be short and snappy, but the pictures they paint really stand out. So 21:6 ‘It is better to live in a corner of the housetop than in a house shared with a quarrlesome wife.’ But as you read through, the one that stands out the most is probably the sluggard.

In three passages, as well as some more isolated verses, we’re introduced to the sluggard. As his name sounds, he isn’t terribly quick to do anything - if he does anything at all.

Now perhaps that sounds great, being able to do very little. Taking your time to enjoy a duvet day, not really bothering with very much. Definitely not worrying about working. To our overworked, constantly busy culture, the sluggard’s existence might seem very attractive. Like the worker waiting for the weekend, or those counting down the days and years until retirement, the desire to do nothing is strong.

But the sluggard isn’t here as a role model. He isn’t portrayed here in a good light. This isn’t something to aspire to. Rather, he’s here as a warning, something to avoid, something to learn from.

I think I’ve shared before that I was in our school play when I was in P6. The production was Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, and owing to my natural ability, I was cast as Sleepy. For an hour and a half, I sat on a chair and slept, apart from my two lines: ‘I’m tired.’ and later, ‘Is it bedtime now?’ It’s as if I was channeling the sluggard. Look at Proverbs 26.

‘The sluggard says, “There is a lion in the road! There is a lion in the streets!” As a door turns on its hinges, so does a sluggard on his bed. The sluggard buries his hand in the dish; it wears him out to bring it back to his mouth. The sluggard is wiser in his own eyes than seven men who can answer sensibly.’ (Prov 26: 13-16).

He won’t leave the house. It’s just too dangerous. You never know what’s outside. There could be a lion on the loose! It’s much safer inside. Better to stay in, you could be hit by a bus. So he stays in. Safe - and warm too, in his bed. He turns over and over, like a door turns on its hinges. Making himself comfortable, getting the best position - it might be the only exercise he gets. Especially since, when he does eventually get up, it’s too much work to even bring his hand up to his mouth. It’s such a strain, it’s too much to do. So he sits, lazily, slumped over. Just don’t try to convince him otherwise. He reckons he’s wiser than seven sensible men.

What a picture! What a man! (Or woman). While we might not find such an extreme example, could there be samples of sluggardliness in most of us? Perhaps the parents of teenagers find a bit of truth in those verses. But maybe it’s not just the young who can be a bit sluggardly.

Watching some friends on Facebook talk about Sunday night blues or Mondayitis because another weekend is over and it’s back to work could be a mild form of this sluggardliness. Or perhaps there are some things we have to do that we don’t really want to do, so we delay, we leave them until we really, really have to.

Some of us might even be procrastinators - putting things off until the last minute. My homeworks and essays at college were like that - my (very sensible) reasoning (in my own eyes) was that if I spent ages writing an essay on Tuesday that wasn’t due until Friday, and Jesus came back on Wednesday, then that was a waste! A new form of procrastination has been conceived - procaffeination, the delaying of work until you’ve had a good cup of coffee.

So the sluggard sounds attractive. We might even have recognised that we have a wee bit of sluggardliness in us. It sounds great, doesn’t it, after a hard day’s work: ‘A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest.’ Thankfully no one is demonstrating that right now, but it sounds delightful. And yet, twice, we’re told that it is the slippery slope to poverty and want.

I grew up on the main street in the middle of Dromore. It might be a small place in the country, but I am a townie. But as I drive around, I’m getting to know the fields, to see what’s growing, and what’s happening in them. You would be better at that than me. But all of us would be able to see what is there in the field of the sluggard in Proverbs 24. It’s overgrown with thorns, covered with nettles, the stone wall broken down (so animals can roam freely). The sluggard doesn’t bother to work, to keep everything right, so he has no way of growing crops, so no way of eating. There’s no welfare state here, no payments to keep people going. Sleep, slumber, and poverty comes.

Now I’m sure you can think of an exception to that. Sometimes the laziest of people come into a great fortune - they maybe receive an inheritance; they might win the lottery. while some hard-working people work away and just can’t keep their head above water. But, like the rest of Proverbs, what we have here are probabilities, not promises. Proverbs is the observation of life in God’s world, and this is the way things generally happen. There may be exceptions, but not always. If you tend to sleep and slumber, then poverty will tend to come.

Just as the Lord Jesus points to nature to keep us from worrying - the birds and the flowers - so Solomon in the early chapters points to nature to keep us from being sluggardly. ‘Go to the ant, O sluggard; consider her ways and be wise. There’s no boss, no ruler, no manager, yet all the ants get on with their work. They store up food ready for the winter. And Solomon says, if even the wee ant works, then why not you?

Watch the ant, says Solomon, and stop being sluggardly. That’s a wise thing to do for anyone and everyone. But for the Christian, it’s also a command. In both of Paul’s letters to the church in Thessalonica, he refers to work. He says that it’s a good thing, if you’re able to - ‘For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work but busybodies. Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.’

Sometimes we reckon that work must have been part of the fall, part of the curse. But Adam and Eve were placed in the Garden of Eden to tend and care for it. They had work to do in paradise. The fall only corrupted it, brought strain and sweat and toil. That’s why things aren’t always straightforward, why the confusions and frustrations happen.

The Lord Jesus came to complete his work, to do all that the Father wanted of him. And when he had finished it all, he sat down. He entered his rest. He wasn’t sluggardly. He was perfectly in keeping with God’s will and God’s work. So we can take refuge in the finished work of Christ for us, and bring him our frustrations. Let’s learn from the ant, and shake ourselves from sluggardliness.

This sermon was preached in Aghavea Parish Church at the Lent Midweek series on Wednesday 4th March 2015.

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