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August 18, 2013 - Numbers 22.22-35 (Holy Humor Sunday)

“Are You Talking to Me?”

August 18, 2013

Numbers 22.22-35

 

Before we read this text, we need some background to understand it.  There is this guy named Balak.  He is the King of the Moabites.  He wants to defeat the Israelites, but is outnumbered.  So, he goes out to hire this other guy named Balaam.  Balaam is a prophet, and has the alleged ability to put the whammy on people.  Balaam makes his living by charging people to put the whammy on other people.  Balak wants to hire Balaam, but Balaam has been told by GOD not to go.  So Balaam and God argue.  God gives way a little bit and tells Balaam to go, but only if Balaam will say EXACTLY what God will tell him to say, which will make Balak angry.  So Balaam sets off, knowing that he will give Balak what he wants and get paid nicely for it.  That’s where we come into this story.

 

Text:  22God’s anger was kindled because he was going, and the angel of the Lord took his stand in the road as his adversary. Now he was riding on the donkey, and his two servants were with him. 23The donkey saw the angel of the Lord standing in the road, with a drawn sword in his hand; so the donkey turned off the road, and went into the field; and Balaam struck the donkey, to turn it back onto the road. 24Then the angel of the Lord stood in a narrow path between the vineyards, with a wall on either side. 25When the donkey saw the angel of the Lord, it scraped against the wall, and scraped Balaam’s foot against the wall; so he struck it again.

26Then the angel of the Lord went ahead, and stood in a narrow place, where there was no way to turn either to the right or to the left. 27When the donkey saw the angel of the Lord, it lay down under Balaam; and Balaam’s anger was kindled, and he struck the donkey with his staff. 28Then the Lord opened the mouth of the donkey, and it said to Balaam, “What have I done to you, that you have struck me these three times?” 29Balaam said to the donkey, “Because you have made a fool of me! I wish I had a sword in my hand! I would kill you right now!” 30But the donkey said to Balaam, “Am I not your donkey, which you have ridden all your life to this day? Have I been in the habit of treating you this way?” And he said, “No.”

31Then the Lord opened the eyes of Balaam, and he saw the angel of the Lord standing in the road, with his drawn sword in his hand; and he bowed down, falling on his face. 32The angel of the Lord said to him, “Why have you struck your donkey these three times? I have come out as an adversary, because your way is perverse before me. 33The donkey saw me, and turned away from me these three times. If it had not turned away from me, surely just now I would have killed you and let it live.” 34Then Balaam said to the angel of the Lord, “I have sinned, for I did not know that you were standing in the road to oppose me. Now therefore, if it is displeasing to you, I will return home.” 35The angel of the Lord said to Balaam, “Go with the men; but speak only what I tell you to speak.” So Balaam went on with the officials of Balak.

 

Today being Holy Humor Sunday, I wanted to pick the funniest scripture I knew that I could actually preach on.  This is a scripture about a talking donkey.  Now I don’t care who you are; that’s funny.

 

Now I know that the skeptic in you might be wondering how does this donkey talk?  Donkeys don’t talk.  But let’s just trust the scripture here, OK?  Perhaps Balaam had a few too many herbs or mushrooms for dinner the night before and God used a hallucination, I have no idea.  But HOW the donkey is able to talk is not the point, not at all.  It was Mark Twain who said. It’s not the parts of the Bible I don’t understand that bother me. It’s the parts I do understand. So what do we understand in this story?

 

The donkey gets it. The man doesn’t. We sometimes say that someone is as "stubborn as a donkey." When we read this story, that seems a little unfair. Maybe it would be better to say as "stubborn as a Balaam." Because the donkey gets it the message, but not Balaam. Instead, Balaam beats the donkey to get her going again.  Three times – the donkey stops to save his life, for Pete’s sake, and what does the donkey get for her trouble?  A beating.

 

Now hold on a minute here.  Isn’t Balaam supposed to be a seer?  This is a significant critique on Balaam’s ability as a seer.  Not only does the seer not see what is right in front of him, his donkey does indeed see – three times – what he does not.  Even his donkey is a better seer than Balaam.

 

In the movie The Blues Brothers, Jake Blues sees a sign and declares “We’re on a mission from God…We’re getting the band back together.” When you are on a mission from God, look for signs.  They are all around.  And you are, in fact, on a mission from God.  I hope you know that.  Every disciple is.  Following Jesus IS a mission from God.

 

It’s amazing that the donkey speaks, but don’t let the fact that an animal could talk distract you from the point. It was the Lord who opened the donkey’s mouth. It was the Lord who has been speaking the message, and it’s the Lord who will make sure that Balaam gets it.

 

I don’t know what is more amazing, that the donkey is talking or that Balaam doesn’t seem surprised that the donkey is talking. Balaam is just not getting it. In fact, in this argument between Balaam and the donkey, the donkey is winning.

 

Finally, after telling Balaam, several times, after sending an angel to give him the message, after causing Balaam’s donkey to talk to him, finally, the Lord opens Balaam’s eyes. And he gets it.

 

Finally.  He gets it.  He repents.  Whew.  All it took was a talking donkey.

 

What does it take to get you and me to repent?  I have to admit, there have been times when I could have used a talking jackass to tell me I needed to repent.  In fact, as I phrase it like that, I think I may have had a few people in my life that would fit that description.  IN FACT, I think we all might be hearing the same thing from a jackass right now!  We need to repent!  Turn our lives around and go the other way!  I am a jackass from God!  Hear the word of the Lord!

 

Balaam realized he had made a terrible mistake. He had totally misjudged this God.

  • This God meant what he said!   How often do we forget…
  • This God could not be manipulated or used for his own purposes. How often is the Lord’s name taken in vain for an agenda…
  • This God wasn’t like the gods with which he was used to dealing.   God is the only God…
  • This God must be obeyed!!

 

Like Balaam, we live in a world where many “gods” coexist. Many people believe they are free to mix and match their gods. Even Christians try to blend various religious ideas. We want a god that is right for us.

 

  • We want a God who’s comfortable. God never promised us that…
  • We want a God who will meet our needs, say “yes” to all our prayers. God never promised us that…
  • We want a God who will bless our friends and curse our enemies. God never promised us that…
  • We want a God who will let us do what we want to do. God never promised us that…
  • We want a God that does what we want. God never promised us that…

 

You’ve heard this before. You’ve heard this message. This is not new. No, I’m not talking about this sermon. But this isn’t the first time you’ve heard what God is telling you. God has been speaking to you before this morning, and He’s been telling you what He wants you to know. He’s been telling you that He wants you to do something. He’s been telling you that He wants you to stop doing something. He’s been speaking to you through His Holy Spirit.

 

Are you hearing Him? Are you getting the message? Do you know what He’s trying to tell you? Or is it going right past you? Is the message having an effect, or is it sitting in the inbox, with other, more important items piling on top of it? What is God telling you? What does He want you to know? And, and here’s the question this morning, are you getting it?

 

God can use anyone and anything to accomplish his purposes.  If God can use a talking ass to accomplish God’s divine will then God can certainly use you or me.  Can you get that?

 

Balaam wasn’t getting it. God had told him, and told him, and told him and told him again, but Balaam wasn’t listening. Balaam wanted to hear what he wanted to hear. But God wasn’t going to be ignored. God’s message would get through, even if it was through the vocal chords of a jackass, and this morning, I get to be that jackass.

 

Whatever it is that God is telling us, it’s about our redemption. God is constantly at work, changing and correcting and nudging and growing. The work that Jesus did when He died on the cross, the life that He gives as He comes out of the tomb, the effects of the death and resurrection of Jesus are constantly being worked into our lives. God doesn’t give us a week off, or a month off, or a year or decade off, of growth and change. What has God been telling you?