How would you react to a disruption that overshadowed the peaceful worship service you were attending?
The Rev. Samuel Dunn began the Sunday evening worship service at Broad Street Chapel with the opening prayer. Seated in England’s Nottingham congregation were shopkeepers, mill owners, and well-dressed women. However, many of the best seats facing the pulpit were empty. In those days, pewholders paid their money to reserve their seats, and should they decide to attend services, their seats were ready and waiting. I think we may be missing out on something here!
Some latecomers entered, shuffling their feet. A portly mill owner opened one eye and looked toward the partition that separated the newly arrived from the rest of the congregation. He himself had contributed toward the buying of that partition. Yes, he nodded complacently, it was good that the unwashed street people sat behind an obstruction when they wished to worship. From there they could hear the service in progress, although they could not see. That was the way it should be, he thought. Why should the riffraff of society distract proper worshippers? The partition helped screen off a little of the body odor as well.
The prayer ended, and the minister seated himself on his red, plush chair. The congregation began singing, “Rock of Ages.” Voices soared and mingled with the shadows. They were just finishing the third stanza, “Foul I to the fountain fly…”
Suddenly the chapel door flew open! In strode a tall young man with a dark, black beard and a long nose; a motley group of street people followed him.
The worshippers nearly choked on their words. It was William Booth, know to all in Nottingham as Willful Will! Young William’s jaw was firmly set as he led his group to the best seats in the church, the empty ones facing the pulpit. The congregation could hardly sing verse four. How dare William bring these people—these scum into this holy place, Right where everyone was forced to look at them?!
The rest of the service was pretty much lost to the majority in the congregation. All they could concentrate on was the scraggly bunch occupying those special seats, who had caused such a disturbance.
The fallout from this experience and others led young William Booth to begin his own ministry which he called “The Salvation Army.” In this ‘disturbance’ the holiness of the people’s worship was interrupted by what they decided was something unholy—the presence of the lowliest people in society. When Jesus spoke in the synagogue in Capernaum, he was interrupted by someone who was possessed with an unclean spirit—essentially demon(s). The demon(s) within this man recognized Jesus as the Son of God and spoke out against Jesus in an attempt to gain power over Jesus. In the holiest of places, an unholy presence had come. The demon’s recognition of Jesus’ power and authority caused Jesus to act quickly to free the man from this terrible demon. In what was probably a most-disturbing scene, the demon convulsed the man terribly and left him. For the rest of the service, the people kept asking each other how it was that Jesus came to have this power and authority that even demons obey him!? That power was reserved for One who is from God, and they questioned themselves about this person who had such great authority as to cast out demons.
Demons in the NT are a cause of disease and disability. They prevent people from being what God intended them to be. Traditionally, nothing unclean was to enter the presence of the Holy One, but in this event, Jesus enters into the presence of the unclean, making the man clean with His power and authority. Jesus backs up his claim that God’s rule has come near by ending the rule of these demons within this man. God’s rule liberates from oppression and destroys all that is evil—sin, death, and disease. Jesus brings God’s rule of grace: the man doesn’t exhibit any qualities to commend this healing—the demons within him know Jesus. Jesus has come to bring in God’s rule on earth and He does it with great authority that the worshippers were in awe of Him.
Through his bringing in the lowliest, dirtiest, most-despised people he could find, William Booth also brought the presence of God to those who thought they were above such people. The demons for these street people were also disease and disability. Booth showed them how they were to be accepted and loved by God despite how they looked. He gave them some self-esteem by teaching them—and others in the congregation—that God loves all people equally.
In a nation that is divided and pointing fingers at one another, there are a lot of demons that we are facing. We find ourselves fearful of those who do not agree with us. We look at them with disdain. This is happening on both sides, it’s not just one group of people. We are not united, and we won’t get any form of unity of purpose unless we can start to break down the walls and exorcise the demons plaguing us.
Jesus has entered into the fray—the uncleanness of our lives—lives filled with sin, disease, and death. Jesus stands ready to bring help and hope to our brokenness if we will accept it. Through his death, Jesus has made us clean and He shows His love for us by willingly dying in our place. All that afflicts us in life, whether it be poor self-esteem, poverty, disease, or contempt and disdain for others who are different from us or see the world differently, can be cleansed with Jesus’ grace.
This gospel reminds us that it is God’s will that all people be healed from whatever afflicts them in whatever way God sees is right. Jesus’ power and authority are for us found in His Holy Word which carries the same liberating power as the man cleansed from the demon experienced. As we hear and accept Jesus’ teachings in the Gospels, we too experience the joy and freedom that is found in Christ. The Holy Spirit is present in our lives and in our world to lead and guide us to begin to listen and grow together as a Christian community, as a nation, and as individuals.
Jesus’ example for us in found in His serving. Authority is not for ‘lording’ over others, but for serving them as Jesus has served. Jesus entered into the unholiness and uncleanness of the world to bring His love and salvation to bear on all people. Through His body and blood Jesus has made us clean and empowers us with His Spirit to go and do the same. In following William Booth’s leadership, the Salvation Army has shown what service to others can look like. We don’t all have to follow this exact model. There are many ways to reach out to those in need, to bring healing and reconciliation to others, and to show the love of Jesus.
Sometimes, disruptions to our lives and routines can lead to growth in faith and love.