The stories of Balaam and his donkey and Simon the Magician are well known, as is the parable of the lamp stand. Balaam is a seer and has been called upon by the Moabite king to curse Israel. But, the donkey interrupts this adventure. Simon receives the gospel, but misunderstands it -- and as a result lives in infamy. It would seem that there are right and wrong ways of presenting divine messages. But, if you have a light to shine -- then you had better shine it! In all three texts we are invited to be faithful to the God who has called us into existence. The alternative readings that David Ackerman provides for Epiphany 3 (January 26) offers plenty of meat for preaching and study. I invite you to read the texts and let the questions guide your meditation. Then see where this takes you.
“Be Faithful to God”
Call to Worship: Psalm 56:10-13 NRSV
One: In God, whose word I praise, in the Lord, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I am not afraid.
Many: What can a mere mortal do to me?
One: My vows to you I must perform, O God; I will render thank offerings to you.
Many: For you have delivered my soul from death, and my feet from falling, so that I may walk before God in the light of life.
Gathering Prayer: God, you reveal yourself to us in the wonder of creation. As we gather here in your name, lead us in your truth, so that we might see your grace at work in our universe and follow you faithfully as your disciples.
Confession: God, our lives are sometimes so out of control. We’ve deluded ourselves into thinking that money will solve all our problems when sometimes it just won’t. We’ve imagined that if we could just say the magic words or do all the right things that we’d be able to get you to cater to our wills. God, forgive us the foolishness of our ways. Show us a way that is beyond ourselves, and teach us, so we may live the kind of life that you want us to live.
Assurance: God lifts our burdens off our shoulders and sets us free to live authentically. With our whole lives, let’s praise the Holy One, who delivers us from the prisons of our minds and sets us on the path to genuine hope, faithfulness, and peace.
Scriptures: Numbers 22:22-35; 23:7-12 – “Balaam’s Ass”
Acts 8:9-13, 18-25 – “Simon the Magician”
Mark 4:21-23 – “A Light under a Bushel Basket”
Commentaries and sermon ideas are available in Beyond the Lectionary.
· The story of Balaam’s ass in the book of Numbers is a favorite in our family. What are some of your thoughts on the story? Did the donkey really speak? What does the story have to say about caring for animals? Do animals sometimes see things that people don’t? How does the donkey teach Balaam a vital lesson that changes his life? What is the point of the story, in terms of Balaam’s response to Balak’s insistence that he curse Israel?
· What do you think is the point of the story about Simon Magus in Acts 8? Do you think people still try to buy God’s favor or compromise their integrity in the hopes of gaining power? Can you think of any examples?
· In this context, light is described as revealing something good that is hidden. Are there ways in which we hide our faith or conceal our gifts from others? Why do we do this?
· In what ways do these readings lift up the Epiphany theme of the revelation of God to the Gentiles? How is God being revealed to the peoples of the world today?
Prayer of Thanksgiving: You know us at our worst, God, and despite the evil we have done, you offer us grace and love. For these great gifts, we give you thanks and praise. Help us to see your glory revealed all around us.
Benediction: God sends us out to bless and to be people of blessing. Let us go now, to love and serve God faithfully. Amen.