How many of you have ever played the game of hearts?
It is a very simple game. Hearts are bad, if you get a heart you get points, and you don’t want points. Mind you, hearts are bad except if you get all of them, then they are good because you get to give all the points to everyone else. I love playing cards, and hearts is one of my particular favourite games because of this wonderful twist of trying to get them all. To be successful in getting all the hearts, you have to be very strategic, always look like you are not trying to get all them all so as to provoke your opponents into playing what you need them to play because if someone knows your game plan, it is doomed to failure. It requires a certain playful provocativeness.
Now because I can be just slightly competitive, every hand has the potential to take them all. It is exciting tension.
I feel a little of that tension in the first part of our Scripture reading today, in all three sections of the reading (Mark 2:15-28). I feel in the text a playful provocativeness in the Holy One. Obviously, at stake in the text is something much more important than a game of cards, but there is an energy in this text that is both playful and provocative. There is a verve, an energy in the text.
We know best by heart.
There was a time when I had as a passion for memorizing as much Scripture as I could. This task was founded upon good intent but had woven into some false expectations. The false expectation was that if I memorized scripture it would keep me from doing “bad” things, would keep all “temptation” away. This false expectation was founded upon some faulty thinking that included misguided understandings of God, misguided understandings about the meaning of sin, all of which was associated with a denial of sensuality and a myriad other rather strange concoctions which I won’t bore you with.
What I have come to realize is that this task of memorizing scripture was actually a way of hardening my heart by reinforcing preconceived notions. It was a way to avoid being honest and being real. It was a way of putting a shell around the heart.
The transfiguration story is a rather strange story which I must confess has become one that has become very significant for me in my own spirit and life journey over the last five years. As Marcus Borg reminds us “Myth are stories about the way things never were, but always are.”
It is precisely five years ago, I left for a short Lenten sabbatical retreat right after Transfiguration Sunday and in preparing for that retreat I noticed that, if I manage to survive until normal “retirement” date, that particular Transfiguration Sunday was exactly half way through my vocational life with the United Church…17 years, 2 month behind me, 17 years, 2 months ahead. This realization was both sobering and grounding.
In the gospel story, the transfiguration story serves as a middle point in the Jesus story, a time when Jesus and those closest to Jesus are regrounded as ancestors in the faith appear in vision and as Jesus, half way between his baptism and his death, hears again sacred voice declaring that he is “beloved”.