Power--and the transfer of power--is on everyone's mind these days as we ready for the old presidential administration to leave and the new one to take office. What are the limits of power? Its benefits? Responsibilities? Opportunities? These questions of power are real and relevant, particularly in a troubled economy where the use of power may or may not provide a solution to a recession and increased unemployment. These questions of power are also pressing in a place like Gaza, where the use (and abuse) of power (whether by Hamas or Israel) is hurting innocent, captive civilians.
Today's lectionary readings focus on power: where does ultimate power rest? In whom is the proper use of power found? First, the psalm of the day, Psalm 146 makes a bold statement: "Do not put your trust in princes, in mortals, in whom there is no help. When their breath departs, they return to the earth; on that day their plans perish" (verses 3-4). Whether voted in by a majority, protected by the Secret Service, or armed with sophisticated weapons, a new presidential administration's power is limited. Barack Obama, George W. Bush, it doesn't matter: these are mortals whose power is not ultimate and whose office cannot provide for our deepest longings and desires. By contrast, the psalmist urges people to invest their aspirations elsewhere: in the God whose power will never change. "Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord their God" (v. 5). What follows is a list of God's work for justice, the comfort of the oppressed, the release of captives, the restoration of sight to the blind and finally a declaration: "The LORD will reign forever." Here's true power, a power that liberates and is used consistently for the good of all.
The epistle reading today centers this power in Jesus Christ, as the apostle Paul prays that his readers will be able to grasp this, trust this, and be reassured (Ephesians 1:15-23). If you've got a Bible handy, look at the many times "power" is referenced here. In particular, note verses 20 and following: "God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion...[God] has put all things under his feet." This is the focus of the final reading this morning, Mark 1:15-28, as Jesus, in verse 15, preaches his first public sermon (his inaugural address, if you will). Here it is: "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news."
True power, the best power, the power that liberates and provides justice, that gives peace and hope for all, rests not in a new president or a clever economic policy. It rests in the King who's come to regain his rightful reign over the citizens of earth. This king comes for the first time in humility and gentleness, offering all who will hear his voice the chance to change their other allegiances and willingly submit to his peaceable kingdom.