I was always grateful when the preacher enlivened the service with a joke or was able to come up with an interesting story. I was blessed one memorable Sunday when a well-known evangelist preached to a packed house. Brother Paine was hailed far and wide for his moving sermons. He was eloquent and erudite, a born speaker whose knowledge of scripture was legend, as he quoted long passages flawlessly, without opening his beloved Bible. This was all wasted on me, a kid who zoned in and out and listened with less than half an ear. I usually managed to notice the change in rhythm when a joke, a good story, or an interesting bit of Bible lore might be forthcoming. Otherwise, I just tried to maintain consciousness enough to stay out of trouble with my parents. I did find Brother Paine’s sermon a bit more interesting than the usual fare, especially when he got to the story of Baalam. He spun a tale of Baalam’s evil deeds stoking God’s anger. As Baalam’s faithful ass carried him down the road, only the ass saw the sword-wielding angel of God in their path, prepared to strike Baalam down for his wickedness. Three times the ass turned away, saving Baalam from the death-angel’s sword. Three times Baalam cruelly beat her for disobedience. Intending to make the point that God miraculously gave the ass the power of speech to rebuke Balaam for his cruelty, Brother Raymond paused dramatically, pounded on the podium and boomed out. “God spoke through Baalam’s ass!!!!” He had our complete attention! Silence reigned as he realized his error. Some of the teenagers and younger kids snickered first, then a few of the less pious joined in. The song-leader faked a few coughs trying to regain his composure, then snorted two giant snot bubbles. We all burst into full-fledged, knee-slapping, undeniable laughter. Brother Raymond gave it up and church was done for the day. The final prayer was short and sweet.
If I’d had a quarter, I’d have put it in the love offering.