This is one of my favorite Scriptures, probably because of absurdity. I find it humorous and a great illustration of the fun stories in the Bible. It brings me joy (not for the poor donkey), especially when it is seen acting out
This week in our stewardship season we are celebrating joy! We started four weeks ago with a reminder that love needs to be the root of all things we do and say; we moved to looking at how when we serve as Christians we need to do so authentically; last week, we practiced fellowship as we listened to other people’s stories of moving to the United States. This week, we end with joy. Love - Service - Fellowship - Joy: it is a recipe to make up Lynnhaven Colony. Today is joy!
And animals bring us joy! Doing a Blessing of the Animals is definitely one way to express that!
Now, in the case of Balaam, his donkey wasn’t bringing him joy at the start. He was actually quite frustrated with the poor thing. There was appreciation and joy of the animal, though, once Balaam knew the donkey was only reacting to the angel of the Lord and saved Balaam.
I can imagine the frustration building inside this donkey as he was dodging the angel of the Lord, yet dealing with Balaam hitting him. What relief when God gave the animal a voice to speak words and say “What have I done to you to make you beat me these three times?”
And then the donkey is also the voice of reason back to Balaam, helping him to reasonably see that this isn’t normal behavior for the donkey - clearly he was reacting to the angel.
These verses hold many lessons in them, and tell us a few things about animals:
First, they are sometime more in-tune with the spiritual world than we are.
We humans have so many built in and learned inhibitions and skepticism toward the spiritual world, the deeper connection across this earth that connects all living things. Animals are often more in tuned to that.
Second, because of being more in tune with the natural world, they are open to God’s leading.
Humans are unique in their opposable thumbs and rationalizing brains, but sometimes those rationalizing brains can get in the way of following the Divine’s lead. Animals don’t have that as much.
Third, God can and will use them to get our attention
Since we have our mental roadblocks up at times and since animals can be more in-tune with nature, I believe God uses them to get our attention. Whether it is a dog laying on the lap of a family member who is sick or a horse trying to run to pasture before a storm, animals offer insight.
So, for all the things that we want to return thanks to God, of course we would want to say “thanks” for animals and have a special worship service to honor them.
For those that may not know, St. Francis of Assisi, in Italy, is the patron saint of animals in the Catholic church. October 4th is the day that he died, thus, it is the day the Catholic church honors him and practices the Blessing of the Animals during that week. He often preached sermons to animals and was a huge advocate that all creatures were part of God’s family in creation. So, Blessing of the Animals is celebrated in conjunction with the feast day of St. Francis.
(We also celebrate World Communion Sunday, which is the 1st Sunday and a little scheduling conflict occurs, so we bumped it to 2nd week. Though, maybe we combine them one year and have communion with the animals?)
Doing a Blessing of the Animals visually reminds us of the role animals play in our lives and it gives us a chance as a community of faith to extend a blessing to them.
Animals, all of God’s creatures, both great and small, play a role in this Creation. By doing this Blessing of the Animals we are reminded of that. We are reminded of their connection to the spiritual, the insights they offer, and of the joy they add to our lives.
LET US GIVE THANKS by saying the Prayer of St. Francis together
Prayer of St. Francis
ALL: Lord make me an instrument of your peace Where there is hatred let me sow love Where there is injury, pardon Where there is doubt, faith Where there is despair, hope Where there is darkness, light And where there is sadness, joy
O divine master grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console to be understood as to understand To be loved as to love For it is in giving that we receive it is in pardoning that we are pardoned And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life Amen
Scripture: Numbers 22:21-38