The Ultimate Power Play


In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

The Boston Bruins were able to survive a historically bad power play in the 2011 National Hockey League playoffs en route to a Stanley Cup championship last year. But unfortunately, those power-play woes carried over into this season, and Boston didn’t survive due to their ineffectiveness when they had the advantage throughout the season and in the first round of the playoffs, and the ousted Bruins blamed their anemic power play.

It seems like the same old sad story all over again as the B’s had their chances on the power play in their playoff run, but they couldn’t leverage it and gather strength from it. The Bruins finished 0-for-3 on the power play in Wednesday’s 2-1 overtime loss in Game 7 to the Washington Capitals.  They finished the best-of-seven series in a 2 for 23 power play funk that once again exposed their weakness and many wasted opportunities in a historic series in which all seven games were decided by a single-goal margin of victory.

Okay Pastor Bill’s a hockey fan, but what does this have to do with Jesus? Glad you asked. You see the power play is important in hockey, but power play is a sports term used in various games including: lacrosse, water polo, indoor soccer, indoor football, netball, and cricket. It also is a term used in corporate America and politics.

In the sports world…

  • Power plays take advantage of a team weakened by the loss of a player.
  • Holding the power advantage, most are able to skate circles around their opponents, and
  • Drive-up the score in their favor while adoring fans cheer and celebrate the power brokers.

In corporate America…

  • Power plays take advantage of employees and consumers weakened by the loss of jobs and product quality.
  • Holding the power advantage, most are able to skate circles around their opponents, and
  • Drive-up wealth in favor of shareholders, while lining the pockets of power brokers.

In the political arena…

  • Power plays take advantage of rivals, voters and those oppressed without a voice.
  • Holding the power advantage, most are able to skate circles around their opponents, and
  • Drive-up perks in favor of their constituents and contributors, while the minorities on the margins are ignored or oppressed by the power brokers.

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In a post-resurrection world, power plays still happen, but Jesus continues to turn tables and redefines the term power in the midst of a huge political and religious power play. The political and religious authorities have dragged Peter in to find out the details of the healing of a man crippled from birth. Those gathered were the power brokers of the day: civil rulers, religious leaders, religion scholars, Annas the Chief Priest, Caiaphas, John, Alexander—everybody who was anybody was there. They stood Peter and John in the middle of the room and grilled them: “Who are you and who put you in charge here? What business do you have doing this? Just who do you think you are?”

There is no concern over the miracle healing or the restoring of the crippled man. The rulers and leader are only concerned about their power, authority and being surprised by, and beaten by this holy power play. And there is another power play as Peter, for the first time in Acts is described as being filled with the Holy Spirit. Peter, powered by the Spirit lets loose: “Rulers and leaders of the people, if we have been brought to trial today for helping a sick man, if we are under investigation for this healing, I’ll be honest with you—we have nothing to hide. It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, the One you killed on a cross, the One God raised from the dead, by means of his name this man stands before you healthy and whole.”

And because like the rulers, leaders and people gathered, Peter and John are devout Jews, as well as disciples commissioned by Jesus who was a loyal worshipper of YHWH, we hear an echo of Psalm 118 from Peter. “Jesus is ‘the stone you masons threw out, which is now the cornerstone.’ Salvation comes no other way; no other name has been or will be given to us by which we can be saved, only this one, Jesus.” Old Pete the rock and blockhead of the disciples, proclaims Jesus as healer of the crippled man. Jesus who cares for, leads, and keeps us safe is the model image of the Hebrew Scripture Shepherd and here is named as the cornerstone of all healing and life restoring power.

+          +          +

The authorities were interested in more than the details and authority of the healing act. Because the healing restored the man to wholeness, it saved him from his powerless life on the margins, ignored and oppressed by the people and powerful alike. The healing turns the tables of power and authority, changing both the man and the community. It brought new life through a power play of merciful love and it scored salvation, the goal of us all.

The power brokers, the people, and the man experienced both the healing and saving power of Jesus’ name. And you and I if we admit it seek salvation all the time. We sit on the margins of a world run by powers that be that doesn’t call on or see the healing and saving power of Jesus’ name. We get caught-up and buy-in to powerful ways of the world, lured by all that glitters and seems to satisfy…

Sports and Entertainment, where we seek comfort and escape through cheering on and consuming activities that fill our hunger, fantasies, and mask our loneliness and longing for love and community.

  • Corporate America, where we seek comfort and escape through shopping and consuming activities that fill our hunger, fantasies, and mask our selfishness and longing for acceptance and fulfillment.
  • Politics, where we seek comfort and escape through debating and following activities that fill our hunger, fantasies, and mask our hopelessness and longing for a messianic leader to make us safe and secure.

Because we are not in control of the power play, we seek healing power and salvation in the “ism’s” of our lives…

  • Athleticism, perfecting our bodies while winning with power
  • Careerism, perfecting our identities while succeeding with power
  • Consumerism, perfecting our inadequacies while preening with power
  • Militarism, perfecting our insecurities while beating with power
  • Racism, perfecting our mediocrities while oppressing with power

Anywhere, anytime, anyplace we can place ourselves and our power over others we do. It may give us meaning, but it doesn’t heal or save us.

+         +          +

Jesus our Good Shepherd who laid his life down for us, calls us to do the same for our neighbor in need. It is not about winning power plays, it is about trust centered on Jesus as we are sustained by the power of the Holy Spirit, and called to heal and share the name above all names, Jesus.

This day theologian Catherine of Siena is remembered on the liturgical calendar. She and Francis of Assisi, are the two patron saints of Italy. Catherine’s life was sustained by the power of the Holy Spirit and shaped by sacrificial and generous acts for her powerless neighbors done in the name of Jesus. She left a great legacy of prayer, one of which is included in our Evangelical Lutheran Worship book that is powerfully simple and beautiful.

Let us be in a place of prayer….

Power of the eternal Father, help me.

Wisdom of the Son, enlighten the eye of my understanding.

Tender mercy of the Holy Spirit, unite my heart to yourself.

Eternal God, restore health to the sick and life to the dead.

Give us a voice, your own voice, to cry out to you for mercy for the world.

You, light, give us light.

You, wisdom, give us wisdom.

You, supreme strength, strengthen us.



One thought on “The Ultimate Power Play

  1. Bill – in the second to last paragraph, you missed an n in the word winning. The sermon was thought provoking an well done. May I have permission to use the ending prayer in our WELCA newsletter?
    Susan P.

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