When All Heaven Breaks Loose


Matthew 16:13-20 NRSV

Jesus understands the importance of perception and identity.

He asks the question about himself: “Who do people say that I am, and who do you say I am?”

It is Peter who answers correctly: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.”

Then Jesus shifts the conversation from his identity to the identity of the church, which is very important for us to consider today.

How do people perceive the church? Who are we? What is our purpose? What makes the church special?

Of course, we love part of Jesus’ answer: “The Gates of Hell will not prevail against it” (King James Version).

In a world where all hell seems to be breaking loose, this is some very good news indeed.

The forces of death, despair, and darkness, no matter how great those forces seem to be in our world, will not prevail.

Sickness, disease, divorce, terrorism, war, hate, any power of Hades, which literally means “the power of death” will not have its way with us.

That might be one of the reasons we call the place the church meets each Sunday morning a “sanctuary,” a term, by the way I prefer over “worship center” or “auditorium.”

Death is moving and hell is coming. Evil is barreling toward us like a category 4 hurricane. It threatens us. It frightens us. It slams into us. But together, gathered in this sanctuary as the church, we are reminded that we are safe and secure from all alarm.

There’s no way I can count members of my congregations who have told me that they don’t know how people make it in this world without the church.

Because, when we are gathered in community, assembled in our sanctuary with people who are praying with us and for us, worshiping together, singing hymns like Leaning on the Everlasting Arms together, when we hear evil knocking at the door demanding to come in, threatening to do us harm, with nothing to fear and nothing to dread, we respond with utmost confidence:

“What’s that you say? You say it’s darkness and despair out there knocking on our door? You say it’s ‘hell’ out there trying to get in here?”

“Oh, not no. But heaven no!”

“In the name of Jesus, heaven no, you’re not coming in here! Heaven no, you’re not taking away our blessed peace! Heaven no, you’re not getting any of our joy divine!”

The good news is, and those of us who are the church know it, despite the constant onslaughts of Hades, despite the powers that seek to destroy us, the church hangs on, because we know that ultimately we will emerge victorious.

We hang on.

We hang on.

We. Hang. on.

How many times have you used that expression to describe the church? “How are things going there at First Christian Church in Fort Smith?”

“Oh, we’re hanging on.”

“It’s tough being church in today’s world, but we’re making it.”

“We’re surviving.”

Unfortunately, that describes both the perception and identity of many churches today. They’re in survival mode.

And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. For who doesn’t want to be a survivor, especially when all hell is breaking loose?

“It’s a struggle, but we’re holding on. It’s tough, but we’re paying the bills. It’s a fight, but we’re keeping the lights on. Not sure what we think of him yet, but we got a new preacher, so we’re making it. We’re surviving.”

But wouldn’t you like to be more than a church that is just hanging on and getting by?

Wouldn’t you like to be a church that is more about making a difference out there and less about maintaining the status quo in here?

Wouldn’t you like to be a church that is more about bringing some heaven to earth and less about hanging on until we die and go to heaven?

Although we love the term, shouldn’t the church more than “a sanctuary?”

Wouldn’t you like to be a church that is more about bringing some heaven to earth and less about hanging on until we die and go to heaven?

Let’s look again at this passage. About the church, Jesus says: “The gates of hell will not prevail against it.”

Do you hear it? Do you see it?  Jesus says it’s the gates of Hades, it’s the gates of death, it’s the gates of despair, it’s the gates of darkness that will not prevail.

Notice that he’s not talking about the gates of the church, the doors of the sanctuary, prevailing against an onslaught from Hades. He’s talking about the gates of Hades that will not prevail against an onslaught from the church.

When Jesus describes the identity of the church, when Jesus talks about who we are and who we are called to be in this world, he doesn’t talk about a host of evil rounding us. He doesn’t say death is coming and hell is moving. He says it’s the church that is coming, and it’s heaven that is moving.

It is the host of good that is rounding the host of evil.

By talking about the gates of Hades, Jesus is expecting the church to be on the offensive. Jesus is expecting the forces of truth, light, grace, justice, mercy, love and life to be on the move tearing down the gates of death, darkness and despair.

Jesus isn’t talking about all hell breaking loose in our world. Jesus is saying that when we embrace our identity, when we answer the call, when we claim our authority, when we fulfill our mission to be the church in our world, all heaven will break loose.

Sadly, the perception of the church is often the other way around. We are the ones cowering behind the gates, behind the walls, behind the stained glass. We are the ones on the defensive. We are gatekeepers and wall builders. For our own protection and preservation, we decide who can come in and who must stay out.

But Jesus warns us: “what is bound on earth is bound in heaven. And what is loosed on earth is loosed in heaven.”

Sadly, the church— by taking a defensive posture, with our gates and our gatekeepers, with our walls and our barriers, with our obstacles and our hurdles—the church has been guilty of preventing all heaven from breaking loose in our world.

However, Jesus says we possess the keys, the authority to open doors, remove barriers, and get rid of obstacles. As the church, we are not gatekeepers, deciding who’s in and who’s out; we are gate-destroyers. We are not wall builders; we are wall-demolishers!

And when we do that, when the church swings wide its doors, when God’s people leave the safety and security of the sanctuary, when we boldly go out into our world to confront the gates of death, darkness and despair, Jesus says, the gates of hell will not prevail, and all heaven will break loose.

It should be said that with Rev. Dr. King, I do not believe Jesus wants us to use darkness to defeat darkness or use hate to defeat hate.

I believe Jesus wants God’s people to use the authority entrusted to them to overthrow deep darkness with illuminating light; overwhelm racist hate with revolutionary love; overcome deliberate deception with Biblical truth; overtake fearful prejudice with empathetic mercy, override uncalled-for meanness with called-for kindness, and overrun white nationalism with non-violent determination for liberty and justice for all.

I believe what our world needs more than anything else is for all heaven to break loose!

There are many ways I am looking forward breaking loose some heaven with this congregation here in Fort Smith.

Along with our financial support of the Week of Compassion mission fund, a mission trip to East Texas may be in our future to help remove the hurdles to restoration. And if we do that, if we leave the comfort of our own homes to help repair and rebuild the homes of strangers, all heaven will break loose.

With Ainsley’s Angels, the organization that includes the special needs community in endurance events, we are going to tear down walls of disability that has prevented people with special needs from experiencing the joy of inclusion, acceptance and accomplishment that one receives after completing a 5k, 10k, even a marathon. And when we do that, when we reach out, accept and include, all heaven is going to break loose.

By being a church that is committed to the prophets’ proclamation to take care of the orphan, we are going to do what we can to remove any obstacle to success that stands between a young adult who grew up in foster care and a promising future. We have plans to remodel more apartments for them. We have plans to to mentor them. And when we do that, when we love them selflessly and sacrificially, all heaven is going to break loose.

By being an anti-racism, pro-reconciling church, we are going to demolish the barriers of bigotry that are dividing our nation and do all that we can to work together with all churches, all faiths, all races, to stand up for the equality, the dignity and the worth of all people. And when we do that, when we come together as Americans to fight for social justice, all heaven is going to break loose.

By having a Harvest Festival, not only for our kids, but also for kids who are not members of our church, kids in foster care, kids in shelter care, all kids, we are going to bust down any door that may prevent anyone from being a part of our fellowship. And when we do that, when our focus is not only blessing our children, but the children of our entire city, all heaven is going to break loose.

And as a church committed to the inclusive love of God, the extravagant grace of Christ, we will continue to destroy any gate, remove any hurdle, break down any barrier that anyone tries to erect to keep people from coming to this table and being a part of our mission to be the church in this city, a movement for wholeness in our fragmented world. And when we do this, when we welcome all to the Lord’s table as God has welcomed us, all heaven is going to break loose.

So, let’s embrace our identity! Let’s claim our authority! And let’s answer the call to fulfill the mission to be the church in this world, until all people know who we are and whose we are: disciples of the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of the Living God!


Invitation to Communion

Notice that there are no walls around this table to climb over. There are no barriers to get around, no doors to unlock, no hurdles to jump over and no hoops to jump through. For the Messiah and Son of God has overcome every obstacle for us and has given us the authority to tear down any gate that anyone might try to erect.

So, after we sing our hymn of communion, please know that no matter who you are, no matter where you came from this morning, no matter what you bring with you, you are welcome, here, at this table, in this community.

2 thoughts on “When All Heaven Breaks Loose

  1. Wow! What an amazing sermon! Thank you so much Dr. Banks for continuing to inspire us with your amazing teachings. I am very encouraged and inspired to go out and be the hands and feet of Jesus in my community. Keep up the great work! May you and Lori be blessed in your new home!

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