The Klu Klux Klan once moved into Riverdale.
That’s right, the KKK moved into the lower East end of Toronto back in the 80’s. And the church that I was part of back then organized a “Ban the Klan” rally. It was a profound act of inhospitality that I would repeat today. We embraced a Nimbyism that said in a clear voice that racism was not welcome in our backyard.
At the rally there was every progressive/leftist movement you could imagine. And in an act of hospitality to them we gave everyone a chance and the microphone.
“All union folk should ban the clan!”
“All gays and lesbians should ban the clan!”
“All anti-apartheid activist should ban the clan!”
But it wasn’t until late in the proceedings that a black person finally came to the microphone, and it wasn’t until that moment that a member of the church had finally addressed the crowd.
Sister Bernice was the pastor of that rockin’ black church that I walked by every Sunday night but never entered. This was one of those apostolic, Pentecostal, charismatic churches of the latter times.
And as Sister Bernice came to the podium, I gotta tell you, I was worried.
I mean, what was this woman going to say? And might she, well, “preach” the gospel to all these heathens in front of her?
Here’s what she said:
“When Jesus came to Caesarea Philippi and asked his disciples, ‘Who do men say I am?’ some said John the Baptist, some said Elijah, and some said one of the prophets.
‘And who do you say I am?’ asked Jesus. And Peter replied, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’
Then Jesus said, ‘That’s right, Peter, and flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, Peter, you are the rock on which I will build my church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against my church!‘”
Then she looked out at the crowd and said,
“I’m hear to tell you that the Klu Klux Klan are the gates of hell, and they will not prevail against the church of Jesus Christ!”
Sister Bernice left the stage to rapturous applause from all who were present.
I was right. This woman was going to preach the gospel. And I’m not sure that I’ve ever heard a more eloquent or more radical proclamation of the gospel in my life.
The gates of hell will not prevail. Sister Bernice saw this as an attack from the forces of evil manifest in the KKK.
But I wonder if there is maybe another side to this. You see, gates don’t usually attack. They are usually defensive structures. They repel attack and secure those on the inside.
So I wonder whether Jesus was maybe thinking of something more offensive than defensive here. The gates of hell will not prevail against the church when the church attacks those gates.
It seems to me, friends, that we are called not just to resist the forces of evil, but we are called to go on the offensive against those forces.
That’s what we were doing that Saturday afternoon in Riverdale years ago. I pray that is what we do in every act of justice and compassion, every creative idea, every gesture of faithfulness of our lives.
May it be that in the breaking of the break and the pouring of the wine, we are storming the gates of hell every Tuesday morning.
I hope to see you this week at Wine Before Breakfast, in the face of hell.
Brother Andrew will serve the Eucharist,
Brother David will open the word,
Sister Jacqueline will lead us in prayer,
Sister Deb will lead us in song.