3 and 4
- To learn about the importance of insects.
- To reflect on the importance of work in our lives.
As a way of leading into this unit, you could use the quiz that prefaces the primary collective worship on insects. It provides a light-hearted way of introducing the topic.
All sermons should begin with a text from the Bible - so here's one for today: "Four things on Earth are small, yet they are extremely wise: ants are creatures of little strength, yet they store up their food in the summer" (Proverbs 30:24-5).
We won't bother about the other three animals that are also wise (they are rabbits, locusts and lizards). Let's stick with ants. Generally insects have a bad reputation in the Bible. They figure prominently in the plagues which devastated Egypt, for example. Why is it different here? The answer is that ants are seen to demonstrate the need for HARD work; they work in the summer so that they will have lots of food in the winter.
This was a popular lesson in the Victorian era. Thousands and thousands of Victorian children had to learn a poem* based on this passage:
These Emmets [Ants], how little they are in our eyes!
We tread them to dust, and a troop of them dies,
Without regard or concern:
Yet, as wise as we are, if we went to their school,
There's many a sluggard and many a fool
Some lessons of wisdom might learn.
- So there we are. End of sermon? Well... Actually the author of Proverbs didn't know much about ants. Modern scientists - entomologists - have taken a closer look. Nowadays it's possible to trace a single ant as it goes about its daily life. And what have they discovered? Well, in many ant species, many members spend all day standing still. These are the 'soldiers' whose job it is to guard the nest. Even the ordinary workers aren't working all the time. In fact, they only spend about 20% of their day doing chores like gathering nectar, or tidying up the nest. The rest of the time they spend... 'Resting'.
So what lesson can ants teach us? Should we follow their example and be lazy? Not exactly - each ant has to make its contribution to its society. But perhaps they are telling us that we are working too much. Or, more interestingly, perhaps they make us ask the question why we work. Some people kill themselves working 50... 60 ... 70 hours a week. But for what? More mobile phones, more cars, more microwaves, more televisions... More status? In the end, what's the point of it all?
The average French worker toils for 1646 hours per year, the average American for 1957 and the average Japanese for 2088. The average Briton works for more hours per year than most other Europeans. Attempts to cut the working week are met with immediate hostility from employers. In the Netherlands, the legal working week is 35 hours and there is no sign that the Dutch economy is collapsing. You might wonder which country in the world has the happiest population: Japan? America? Britain?
The only time Jesus mentions an insect is in the Gospel of Matthew (see if you can spot it - it's not an ant!). This is what he says: "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy... But store up for yourselves treasure in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy... For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." (Matt. 6:19-21).
Jesus's point is that there is more to life than accumulating things. In Jesus's day wealth consisted of land, camels, jewels. Today it's cars, houses, gadgets. But his point is as valid today as it was then. Even if you don't believe in heaven, perhaps if we weren't so obsessed with accumulating things our planet wouldn't be in such a mess; toys like mobile phones, for example, play their part in using up the world's supply of oils, heavy metals, energy - as well as creating inevitable waste. And do they really make you happy for long?
- On that question we'll end. However, remember the ant: work is necessary to make any society
function. But also remember that work for no other end than an accumulation of things is not
a good idea. Remember the moth!
'Good Morning, Good Morning' from side 2 of the Beatles' Sergeant Pepper album, which nicely captures the terrible pointlessness of a life spent focussed on work, work, work. 'Cardiac Arrest' by Madness has the same message.
* This poem is by Isaac Watts. His more famous poem on the subject is 'Against Idleness and Mischief' which begins:
How does the little busy bee
Improve each shining hour,
And gather honey all the day
From every opening flower.
Unfortunately 'busy bees', like ants, turn out to be fairly indolent!