Rev. Dr. Troy K. Hauser Brydon
October 15, 2023
Proverbs 9:7-12; James 3:13-18
I used to watch so many children’s movies. There was a decade from 2004-2014 or so that I had watched just about every animated film put out by Pixar, Disney, or DreamWorks. It wasn’t until this week that I found out that Pixar’s 1998 movie, A Bug’s Life, was based on an Aesop fable called, “The Ant and the Grasshopper.” A bit similar to the parables of Jesus, Aesop’s fables have messages that are greater than the story themselves. Often those point to the way to live wisely. So, for fun, let’s hear Aesop’s “The Ant and the Grasshopper.”
Once there lived an ant and a grasshopper in a grassy meadow. All day long the ant would work hard, collecting grains of wheat from the farmer’s field far away. She would hurry to the field every morning, as soon as it was light enough to see, and toil back with a heavy grain of wheat balanced on her head. She would put the grain of wheat carefully away in her cupboard, and then hurry back to the field for another one. All day long she would work, without stop or rest, scurrying back and forth from the field, collecting the grains of wheat and storing them carefully in her cupboard.
The grasshopper would look at her and laugh. ‘Why do you work so hard, dear ant?’ he would say. ‘Come, rest awhile, listen to my song. Summer is here, the days are long and bright. Why waste the sunshine in labor and toil?’
The ant would ignore him, and head bent, would just hurry to the field a little faster. This would make the grasshopper laugh even louder. ‘What a silly little ant you are!’ he would call after her. ‘Come, come and dance with me! Forget about work! Enjoy the summer! Live a little!’ And the grasshopper would hop away across the meadow, singing and dancing merrily.
Summer faded into autumn, and autumn turned into winter. The sun was hardly seen, and the days were short and grey, the nights long and dark. It became freezing cold, and snow began to fall.
The grasshopper didn’t feel like singing any more. He was cold and hungry. He had nowhere to shelter from the snow, and nothing to eat. The meadow and the farmer’s field were covered in snow, and there was no food to be had. ‘Oh what shall I do? Where shall I go?’ wailed the grasshopper. Suddenly he remembered the ant. ‘Ah – I shall go to the ant and ask her for food and shelter!’ declared the grasshopper, perking up. So off he went to the ant’s house and knocked at her door. ‘Hello ant!’ he cried cheerfully. ‘Here I am, to sing for you, as I warm myself by your fire, while you get me some food from that cupboard of yours!’
The ant looked at the grasshopper and said, ‘All summer long I worked hard while you made fun of me, and sang and danced. You should have thought of winter then! Find somewhere else to sing, grasshopper! There is no warmth or food for you here!’ And the ant shut the door in the grasshopper’s face.
This fable is about wisdom, work, and folly. The ant plays the long game, understanding that hard work and preparation in the good times will lead to enough in the lean times. The grasshopper is a fool, passing the opportunity by to secure its future while it plays away all summer long.
Wisdom requires a strong inner life, but our culture discourages that. Our culture is about speed and surface, about success and glamour, about appearances and LinkedIn profiles. None of those things speak to character, and character reflects wisdom.
As we carry on in our God is…I am series, our theme today is wisdom. God is wise…so I am designed for wisdom. What can we learn from the Bible about the wisdom of God, and what does a wise life look like?
Let’s start with the Bible itself. Wisdom shows up all over the place. A natural place to start is the book of Proverbs. That book personifies Wisdom as a woman who calls to people loudly and boldly in the most public places in the city — in the streets, the market, on its walls, and at its gates (Prov. 1:20-21). Proverbs says that wisdom is more precious that jewels or profit (Prov. 3:13-15). In Ecclesiastes, wisdom is something that people have to actively search for. It doesn’t just come as a gift, which is actually something the author of Ecclesiastes finds quite maddening.
In the gospels, Jesus is connected to wisdom. In Matthew 12, Jesus says to the Pharisees that he is “something greater than Solomon,” which is a way of saying that all of their religious adherence has missed the mark on getting in sync with what God is doing. The first chapter of John, portraying Jesus as the Word, is another obvious connection to wisdom and also to God’s creative action from the very beginning.
Getting to the texts we heard this morning, Proverbs 9:10 says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.” While there is clearly wisdom to be found through observation — Aesop’s fable is a great example — the Bible tells us that true wisdom has to begin with a connection to the God who created wisdom in the first place. Apart from the God we know in Jesus Christ, seeking wisdom is vanity. It’s like showing up at McDonald’s and then getting upset that they aren’t serving sushi. You’re looking in the wrong place for what you want. Do you want wisdom? You have to seek God.
James takes it further. Not only do we have to seek wisdom from its true source, but also James says that wisdom is made clear in how it is expressed in our daily living. James’ words are stark: “If you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth. Such wisdom does not come down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish.” Talk about not mincing words.
James goes on. “The wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy.” Aren’t these the traits that we’d hope to see in a good judge or a fair principal? But they’re not just for people in those positions. They’re for all who seek to know the wisdom of God.
To be frank, our culture does not celebrate such wisdom. Gentleness is viewed as weakness. Being willing to yield is wishy-washy. But these are traits that we must cultivate. “They can only be sustained at great personal cost. They only appear where there has been a steady habit of prayer and self-discipline.” So, the Bible is clear on two fronts regarding wisdom. First, seeking wisdom begins with seeking God. It will never fully reveal itself apart from God. Second, wisdom must be revealed in a life that resembles the way of Jesus in the world. It has to be lived out.
I really appreciate how Eugene Peterson translates this idea in The Message in James 2:19-20, “Do I hear you professing to believe in the one and only God, but then observe you complacently sitting back as if you had done something wonderful? That’s just great. Demons do that, but what good does it do them? Use your heads! Do you suppose for a minute that you can cut faith and works in two and not end up with a corpse on your hands?” Wisdom is found in seeking God, but it does not end there. It moves from that seeking into actions that bring life into the world.
Several years ago I read David Brooks’ The Road to Character. It’s a book that has stuck with me. Brooks is exploring how our society is geared towards success through career but not towards building up those virtues that actually lead to a good life. He writes, “We live in a society that encourages us to think about how to have a great career but leaves many of us inarticulate about how to cultivate the inner life.” He describes the difference between the two as resume virtues and eulogy virtues. I find myself bringing these up as I’m preparing for funerals. After we share the details of the person’s life — work they did, ways they helped the community, places they liked to travel — I try to push into the eulogy virtues. Tell me about the kind of person he was. Tell me what he loved. Tell me what you’ll miss most about this person. And I find that families often struggle with the eulogy virtues, and I think that’s because our culture undervalues things like mercy, kindness, and humility and overvalues our resumes.
Google actually tracks how media uses language across the decades. Recently, there’s been a sharp rise in individualist words like “self” and “personalized” and a decrease in words like “community” and “common good.” The words “character,” “conscience,” and “virtue” declined over the 20th century. The word “bravery” decreased by 66 percent. “Gratitude” was down 49%. “Humbleness” was down 52%, and “kindness” was down 56%.
We can do better, and Christians should humbly point the way to wisdom, not just because we should be seeking after God with all of our hearts, soul, mind, and strength, but also because our lives should take the shape of wisdom. We desperately need to tend to our inner lives, so that what we believe about God and what we do are knitted together and alive. Without both, we’re the walking dead; we’ve got a corpse on our hands.
Friends, let us seek God and in that seeking find life and wisdom. But wisdom must be lived. Wouldn’t it be great if those outside the church described the way we live as “wise”? Wouldn’t that be something!
Followers of Jesus are designed for wisdom and should learn how to be wise because God is wise. That’s who we are because that’s who God is.
 Ryker, Leland, et al., eds., Dictionary of Biblical Imagery, 955.
 Wright, N. T., The Early Christian Letters for Everyone: James, Peter, John, and Judah, 24.
 Brooks, David, The Road to Character, location 4940.