I knew him as a diminutive, bow-legged, grizzled old man, but the yellowed newspaper clippings told a different story. A storied rodeo rider, he had ridden in and won events all over the country. There was not a horse he could not ride, a bull he could not conquer, an injury he could not survive. Though I imagine he reaped monetary rewards for his dangerous athleticism, it was the belt buckles of which he was most proud. Displayed in glass cases on every wall and every surface, the belt buckles gleamed as brightly as he did as he showed them off. Buckles of every size, every metal, from every state and province in North America. They were valuable to him because of the memories they carried, but some of them also had significant financial value.
As happens to most of us as we age, he reached a point where “things” no longer mattered to him, and he started giving things away. Furniture. Photographs. Dishes. If you liked it, it went home with you. The belt buckles? One of his nephews had always admired them, and as the rider’s years drew to a close, he bequeathed all the belt buckles to this favorite nephew, who promised to cherish and protect them.
Imagine the old man’s horror when a neighbor called to say he’d seen belt buckles available for sale on EBay. And not just any belt buckles—the old man’s belt buckles, being auctioned off to the highest bidder.
Sunday’s scripture texts are rich and timely. We meet the prophet Jeremiah who prophesied—unsuccessfully—in a time of economic prosperity and growth. (Jeremiah 11.18-20) Jeremiah’s words were not welcome, even among his own family. In Sunday’s text he writes of betrayal and lying and plots against his life. The gospel reading picks up the theme of innocent suffering, as Jesus offers the second of three passion predictions in Mark. (Mark 9.30-37) Jesus’ disciples do not, cannot, will not understand his words—they are convinced Jesus is destined for greatness, not a cross. There is a lot to mine in those texts.
But it is the reading from James that catches my eye. (James 3.13 – 4.3, 7-8a) James wrote a blistering letter to a young Christian congregation, eviscerating them for action-less faith, gossiping tongues, lust for power. Apparently, this congregation had also complained that they were not receiving from God all they asked. “It’s simple,” James writes, “You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly.”
Wait. Wrongly? Is that even a word? Is there a wrong way to ask, to pray?
Let’s read on: “You ask and do not receive because you ask in order to spend what you get on your own pleasures.”
Asking in order to spend the answer on oneself—that’s what it means to ask “wrongly.” It’s like pretending to love your uncle’s belt buckle collection, when, in fact, you want it only to sell it for personal gain. That’s asking “wrongly.”
But when we ask as God would have us ask—humbly, for the sake of the other, according to God’s will—we receive. God wants us to ask; God wants us to receive; God wants those gifts to be used for good.
Please join us Sunday, when we’ll study all these challenging texts. Yes, the smell of new carpet hangs in the air—along with a fair amount of dust—but progress is being made. We are also delighted to report that Godly Play, our new Sunday School program, was a wild success last Sunday. We invite children ages 3 – grade 3 (and older) to join us for Music with Minkyoo at 9:30 a.m.; Godly Play at 9:45. Our children will be returned to us in time to share the Lord’s Supper with us.
But, what about the Parable of the Belt Buckles? Here’s how that story ended. A phone call was made. The belt buckles were taken off EBay. The nephew returned the whole collection. Upon his death, the rodeo rider donated them to a rodeo museum, where they will be cherished and protected.
“You ask but do not receive, because you ask only for your own pleasure.”
Today, when you pray, imagine what it is God wants to give you, not only what you want. And then imagine how you will share the answer to that prayer with someone else. James would be proud. Jesus, too.
See you Sunday,
Pastor JoAnn Post