This 25th week of our COVID-induced virtual church life finds me with an array of intense emotions. Last week, I was stunned by the news of the devastating explosion in Beirut. Two years ago, in-route to visiting partner churches in Iraq with a mission organization called the Outreach Foundation, our small group representing various churches in different states in the U.S. spent several days of orientation in that beautiful city. In Beirut, we had the opportunity to visit American University, meet people at the Near East School of Theology, and learn of ministries dedicated to serving the many refugees who have found a safe place in Lebanon, mostly from the nearby war-torn country of Syria.
During the days before and after our time in Iraq, I walked alone and toured with the group in this beautiful port city. I could view in the distance the seaside warehouse that unwisely stored 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate right near the densely populated metropolitan area of more than 2 million people. I never imagined that in a short time I could scroll back on my phone and see the photos of new friends and historic places that are now reeling from this destruction and loss.
Years ago my husband, Jim, and I served as the youth group leaders at White Clay Presbyterian Church in Newark, Delaware. When the group was forming a Tuesday night Bible Study that would meet at our home, we came up with the name TNT for the Tuesday Night Teens. On one of our first gatherings we were reading of the power of Pentecost promised from on high and learned from a foot note in a study Bible that the Greek word dunamis was the same root word for dynamite, also known as TNT, one of the most commonly used explosives in military, industrial and mining settings.
There was a different kind of dunamis in that storehouse in Beirut. The confiscated fertilizer was a useful product, intended to be dispersed and applied to soil in small safe amounts to supply nutrients that are essential for plant growth. However, left neglected, poorly stored and mishandled, it became volatile and deadly.
Our pandemic-induced distancing, which I believed at the time would just be a few weeks long, began in the introspective season of Lent. In the past months, churches have looked at the events leading up to the death and resurrection and ascension of Jesus. Until the experiences of the early church in Acts, his closest followers hoped that Jesus would use the power of God to overturn the occupying Romans, eradicate the religious corruption, and in a show of that power, establish a just earthly kingdom.
In recent conversations, I have heard people remark that they fear that civil unrest, a global pandemic, and what seems to be a climate of tensions and uncertainty, fear, and instability, could be the backdrop for explosive violence and even potential war.
For the last month at our weekly Zoom worship services, I have been preaching from the book of Acts. The healing of the crippled man who begged at the gate for decades, set the stage in the temple for Peter and John’s unpermitted proclamation of their witness to the resurrection power of Jesus. A night in jail and spontaneous trial of sorts concluded with threats and a prohibition on ever speaking about Jesus. The text concluded with even further threats and then the two disciples were released.
Upon being set free, Peter and John went back to their own people and reported all that the chief priest and elders had said to them, including the threats and more threats. When the others heard that disturbing report, they raised their voices together in prayer – so much that after their prayer time was up, the place was shaken and they were all filled again with the Holy Spirit. They had been forbidden to talk of Jesus and threatened with every sort of punishment available!
I guess if you are so prayed up and have just experienced a divine earthquake, you walk right out and boldly proclaim the word of God. Biblical scholars call this the birth of the New Testament church. That dispersed dunamis, rooted in sacrificial love, unwavering devotion, ignited by the Holy Spirit has and continues to change the world.
This is my fervent prayer today!
Rev. Ginny Teitt is pastor of Concord Presbyterian Church in Delaware.