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.



Jesus is gathering a group of intimates around him, is gathering a group of “disciples”.  Recently added to this number is Levi, a tax-collector.  It is an interesting “play”…what exactly is this Jesus up to?  To mark the occasion, Jesus attends a rather public dinner party at Levi’s house, a party that draws attention, the attention of  the learned and the prestigious in society, who express concern about who Jesus is cavorting with, those “tax-collectors” and “sinners”.


Remember last week, when we talked about the heart of Jesus, what it was that broke open the heart of Jesus, what it was that allowed the heart of Jesus to move beyond a self-protective stance into understanding the depths of human experience.  We noted the non-naming of a father in the gospel of Mark, a clue into the life experience of Jesus himself that likely placed him on the “wrong side” of societal acceptance and shunted him to the margins.  


An experience he knew in the heart, a heart that was deepened in a spirit quest to a desert for 40 days where his heart became one with the wanderings of his people, wanderings on a journey from slavery to liberation, wanderings born in the cry from God’s heart who had heart the suffering of a people.


Deep in the heart, Jesus became one with the cry “let my people go” as he connected with a common story which birthed in his heart a passionate vision.


Jesus knew, that in the eyes of the prestigious and religious, he was always a “sinner” and always would be, and so while appearing to play along with the judgements of the establishment, Jesus is laying the foundation to shift the “game”.  Overhearing the question “why does Jesus eat with tax-collectors and “sinners”?  Jesus responded “it is not the “healthy” who need a doctor, but the “sick”.  I did not come to call the “virtuous” but “sinners”.  Sounds establishment like, but something tells me Jesus is redefining who the healthy are and who are sick are.  He is about to take all the hearts.


I love the play in this story.  Sometimes play is underestimated. Sometimes we are too serious in life.  I know I am.  Play is not frivolous or trivial but life-sustaining.  Rita Nakashima Brock in her book Journeys By Heart notes that through playing, the heart heals, connects and creates.  In play we can become one with the fundamental power of life, that universal power or love born into us that makes whole, that empowers, that liberates.  

In play, an energy is released, a graceful passionate mystery at the centre of ourselves and each other.  This energy, this power heals brokenheartedness.  This energy, this power gives courage to the fainthearted.


Jesus is making quite a play as these tax-collectors and sinners are the ones who are becoming the family of Jesus.


In the next chapter of the gospel of Mark, the mother, and brothers, and sisters of Jesus will come looking for him.  Again, not there is no father.  Again one senses a story, an unknown story complete with its own tensions.  In this encounter, one also senses the connection and love and concern that exists within the family of Jesus, but in this encounter, Jesus is again “playing” and says “who is my mother, who are my brothers and sisters”.  Jesus answers his own question, “those who do the will of God”.


Today we were supposed to have our annual meeting; however, winter is “playing” with us.  We could be all panicked about it, or we can just “go with the flow” so to speak, or maybe even allow the occasion to teach us something.


Our faith community is our “faith family”, that group of rather strange people who we sing and pray and study with, people who we might not have had opportunity to “choose” as our friends, but here we are becoming family to one another, provoking and playing one another into greater health.   It is a good thing to have a faith family, frozen pipes and all.  


So while we were supposed to be feasting on wonderful sandwiches, we are fasting because we have no water, which takes us to our second passage as we, instead of through agenda and motions and budgets, we are given the opportunity to simply think about being family.


The Pharisees were all worried that the followers of Jesus weren’t playing the game correctly.  Why aren’t your disciples fasting, are they not taking this spiritual business seriously.  


Jesus plays along, “don’t worry, when we need to be serious, we will be serious”, but know that our seriousness will come from a deep heart place.  We will be serious because the heart will be tenderized and transformed, not serious because we have played the protective power games of the prestigious.  Rather the energy to deal with the serious will come from within, from the heart.  


The Pharisees were stuck in conformity patterns where they tried to control the sacred, where the sacred had been reduced to a commodity to manipulate and use, where rules were used to try to manage the sacred.  It doesn’t work so good.  The sacred has a playful wildness to it.  It is time to get rid of those old clothes and used wineskins.  Time to try something new.


Pharisees were not so keen on the playful wildness of the sacred, preferring their external structures to protect their rather fragile selves.  One needs control when self-love is buried.  They were “virtuous” but not terribly “loving”.

Sacred Love, Jesus understood, is incarnate in every heart, the hearts of tax-collectors and “sinners”.  Those on the margins know the limits of the rules, and when those on the margins are awakened in the heart, it has transformative capacity.  It touches the humanness of our experiences, a humanness imprinted with the sacred.


You see Jesus, identified as the Child of Humanity, or as the Son of Man in traditional texts, was connected with the heart of the universe which is borne within the heart of each of us.


Jesus connected with this universal heart not by rigidly following laws like the Sabbath laws, but by knowing the heart of the law.  He played with the Pharisees, using their own stories and heros, remember David amazing King David, he didn’t always follow the rules.  Jesus plays with them understanding that the Sabbath is to serve humanity and not be humanity’s task-master.  The Sabbath is to give place for play and rest and prayer, not logistics and regulations and stress.  


A Sunday with no water, maybe, just maybe, such as occasion reminds us about the true meaning of Sabbath.  


We have all our reports and budgets organized and ready to go, but, as winter “plays” with us, we are reminded that reports and budgets matter less than being true to our faith family and its deepest values.  Reports and budgets serve us, we don’t serve them.  Maybe that is the most important meeting of all.

I don’t know why you came today, but let the spirit feed your soul.  So let’s relax and gather around God’s table and feast on God’s grace, the grace that happens even when winter “plays” with us.  Let’s just play back…