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Beasts

Rev. Harry Currie

Aug 27, 2023

Exodus 1:8-2:10, Romans 12:1-8, Matthew 16:13-20

In 1886 Robert Louis Stevenson published a novella entitled Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. It is commonly known as the “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” and one other little bit of interest, while we say Jekyll, Robert Louis Stevenson in his Scottish accent pronounced it Jeekyll.

 

       It is a classic piece of literature about a Lawyer named Utterson who investigates strange occurrences between his old friend Dr. Henry Jekyll and the mysterious Mr. Edward Hyde.

 

       Most of know that the secret of the book is that Dr. Jekyll transforms into the evil Mr. Hyde, and then transforms back again.

       One of the things I didn’t realize is that the evil Mr. Hyde is smaller than the larger affable Dr. Jekyll.

       And while the Incredible Hulk who is loosely based on Mr. Hyde is incredibly huge with supersized muscles, Mr. Hyde is small.

       Dr. Jekyll turns into Mr. Hyde by drinking a potion he created, and the reason given is that by turning into a different person, who looked different, he would be free to indulge his vices without fear of detection. The story never divulges those vices expressly except for the fact that Mr. Hyde turns to violence and kills.

       The problem we find out at the end is that Dr. Jekyll is turning more and more often into Mr. Hyde and spontaneously, without the potion, so that it becomes clear that he will eventually completely turn into Mr. Hyde permanently. Therefore, while he is still Dr. Jekyll, he kills himself.

 

       Besides a fascinating story, Stephenson had deeper meanings when he wrote this piece of fiction. He wanted to explore the complexity of human nature and of human society. The reality is that both humans and human society are a mixture of good and evil, and sometimes it is very hard to separate the two.

       In fact, many of the greats of this world, including religious and spiritual greats, when you dive into their lives, often had fatal flaws, or committed some grievous sin, or did something we might consider evil, or held ideas we might find unacceptable such as racism.

       It is hard to put up a statue of a great person anymore, because whatever their greatness, historians will find something unacceptable in their life.

 

       So, one of the ways to interpret The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is to think about it from a personal level, and the good and evil that is in your life, the struggle to be good, and not to do evil things, or participate in evil things. Many churches, religions, denominations and theologians over the years have talked about sin and personal sin, and Jesus dying for our sin, and us being freed from the power of sin. Paul the apostle said that it was a struggle and that he did things he didn’t want to do and didn’t do things he wanted to do.

 

       However, there is another way to look at The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and that is from a corporate or cultural perspective. Stephenson not only wrote a book that explored the good and evil within a person, but the good and evil within a society. There was tension in Edinburgh and Scotland whether Victorian Scotland should be like Victorian England, or whether it should be following its own course, with its own identity.

 

       There was a lot of tension and duality in the need to appear above reproach in society, while having the ability to secretly indulge in vices, which many did.

 

       There was a real tension between the rich and poor and the divide was great. Stephenson could seem the slums, the poverty and crime, and on the other hand, the newer part of Edinburgh with its Georgian architecture, wide clean streets, and how this duality was incompatible to what might be professed by Christianity.

 

       And there was a real duality between the Church of Scotland and is Calvinist almost puritanical theology, which seemed repressive of joy, fun, the arts, literature, sexual pleasure and singing; and a whole lot of people who wanted to be freed to have fun and to enjoy life, enjoy the arts, music, literature and other worldly pleasures.

 

       The beast of Mr. Hyde on one hand was the evil that lurked within every human soul.

       But the beast of Mr. Hyde was also the evil of society when it repressed people, dominated people, caused them to have no fun, delineated people by class, kept the poor down, and didn’t try to change the system that kept the poor, poor.

       Even the beast of Mr. Hyde was the evil of the church when it was repressive and controlling. Not that the church was all evil, but like humans and human society, was a mix of good and evil.

 

       The title of the sermon is “The Beast” and you will probably recognize the powerful imagery that is especially found in the Book of Revelation. There is the Beast from the Sea, and the Beast from the Earth. Three is a scarlet Beast. There is the mark of the Beast. The seven heads of the beast according to Revelation are seven hills. And the Beast fights against the armies of heaven who are led be a rider on a white horse, whom we identify with Jesus because his name is called “Word of God” and his name is also “King of Kings and Lord of Lords.” In the end the Beast along with the false prophet are thrown into the Lake of Fire.

       Many scholars attribute the Beast to the Roman Empire, the Beast by Sea to its navy, the Mark of the Beast to the coinage with the Caesar’s image on it, without which one could not buy or sell. The seven hills the seven hills of Rome.

       But biblical scholars also talk about Revelation in metaphorical terms, to say that any Empire that is self-serving, violent, not looking out for the good of all people, unwilling to share its assets, prejudiced, racist, misogynist, etc. is a beast.

       And many biblical scholars say that the primary message of Jesus was not about personal sin, and personal confession and getting to heaven and avoiding hell…

       But about bringing the kingdom of heaven here on earth in direct opposition to the beasts and empires that dominate and repress ordinary people, that funnel the wealth into the hands of an elite few, who Lord it over us, who repress those who challenge the system… systems which are often unjust, repressive, dominating, greedy, and use violence to maintain the status quo.

       Granted changing the dominating bestial system often begins with personal confession and transformation and a commitment to following Jesus’ way of love and justice.

 

       But the big picture is not about individually getting to heaven and getting our own sins forgiven, but that when we confess our sin, and repent and follow Jesus, we become part of a large family trying to corporately change the world and the systems of the world into something that more represents the rule of the love, and the way Christ would like this world to be. We corporately are fighting the Beast, or Empire, or Domination System, of Systems of Injustice and trying to let love rule.

 

       Our Old Testament text is about the birth of Moses at the time of domination under the evil empire of Egypt under the Pharaoh. This is one of the first metaphorical beasts that the faithful have to deal with.

       I am not going to dwell much with this scripture, but to note that the real action in the story of the birth of Moses is women. It is women who are the Christ, or Christ-like. There are the midwives who risk their lives to oppose the Pharaoh. There are the mother and sister of Moses. There is a princess of Egypt, a daughter of Pharaoh who rescues Moses and adopts him. Rich women, working women, poor women who embody the Kingdom of love, and who oppose Empire and Beastly ways.

 

       To that end and in that context, we come to one of the most important scriptures in the gospels, the confession of Peter that Jesus is the Christ.

 

       And last week I said that place is important. Where Jesus did a miracle, or told a story, or preached a sermon, or made a revelation was important, and often was a clue to the meaning of the event.

 

       And Jesus takes his disciples to a place called Caesarea Philippi. That is quite a little road trip for Jesus and his disciples. It is 35 miles north of the sea of Galilee and smack dab in the middle of the Roman Empire. In fact, it was a regional capital for the Roman Empire. It is called Caesarea Philippi after the Caesar and after Herod the Great’s Son, Herod Philip.

       It is a pretty place with the largest waterfall in Israel today. In those days before the Romans took over it had been a center for Baal worship, the Canaanite God, and then when Alexander the Great had conquered all that part of the world, it was a center of worship for the Greek God Pan.

       The grotto at Caesarea when Jesus and the disciples went had many niches carved out of the rock with statues of Pan and other gods.  It was the site of a major battle which the Greeks won.

 

       Today it is the most northerly part of Israel and only a hop skip and a jump away from both Lebanon in the north and Syria on its East.

      

The city Caesarea Philippi was Philip’s Caesar-ville.

       Taking the disciples there to the very centre of Roman Rule in the area is a little like Jonah going to preach in Nineveh. Nineveh was the capital of the Assyrian Empire that wiped out the Northern Kingdom of Israel.

       So, Jesus is taking the disciples to the centre of oppression. It would almost be like Jesus taking his disciples to Berlin during early Nazi rule. Not quite the same, but I want you to understand that this is a very significant place.

 

       And it is there Jesus asks the disciples: “Who do people say the Son of Man is?

       It is a loaded question in the midst of a loaded context of Roman oppression. Rome is the empire most associated with The Beast in the New Testament.

       And just to load up the question even more, Jesus doesn’t ask who people think Jesus is… he asks who people think the Son of Man is…

       The term Son of Man is a term from the books of Ezekiel and Daniel. And remember the sermon title Beasts.

       In chapter 7 of Daniel, Daniel has a vision of four beasts which scholars think are these four Empires of Beastly Domination: Babylon, the Medes, the Persians, and then the Greeks under Alexander the Great.

       In the vision Daniel sees one coming in the clouds like a human being…. Or the son of Man. Christians believe this is imagery for Jesus and his dominion is an everlasting dominion.

       (By the way, Canada is called the Dominion of Canada because Sir Leonard Tilley premier of New Brunswick saw the term Dominion in the scriptures here and in the psalms in 72:8 where it is written: He shall have dominion also from sea to sea…)

 

       So, Jesus himself loads up the question: Who do people think the Son of Man is?

       It is in the context of the Beast of Rome. It is in the context of the Beasts of Daniel, and it is the site of the Greek Beast’s big victory.

      

       And the answers that the disciples give are that Jesus is John the Baptist, or Elijah, or one of the prophets.

 

       What people refer to is specifically to prophets who stood up to the Beasts.

       John the Baptist, stood up to Herod Antipas and denounced him publicly, for which John the Baptist was beheaded.

       Elijah stood up to the prophets of Baal and to Queen Jezebel and King Ahab, but afterwards ran away because Queen Jezebel put a price on his head.

 

       But then Jesus changes the question and asks them: What about you? Who do you say that I am?

 

       And then Peter’s famous confession; “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.”

 

       For many years after I first made a commitment to following Jesus, I heard that phrase primarily as a personal spiritual phrase. Jesus was my Saviour and Lord, saving me from my sin, so that I could go to heaven.

 

       I did not understand it as a profound political statement right in the heart of the Empire power, as an anti-Empire statement.

       Christ is the Greek word for the Jewish term Messiah. The Messiah was the long-awaited Jewish king from the line of David who was going to liberate the Jews and set them free and bring in justice and freedom and wholeness, and right wrongs and level the playing field.

 

       To even breathe that word Messiah and hint at a liberating King was the highest treason against Caesar. And to say that in the Roman Regional Capital. It was like asking for execution, which, we the readers know is going to come.

 

       And to say Son of God was another treasonous statement. The Caesars called themselves sons of God.

       And Jesus is countermanding this and opposing this. The true and rightful Son of God who brings real freedom and love, and cares for all people, is standing right here in opposition to those Caesars who call themselves sons of God, but are self-centred, violent, greedy and unjust and don’t care about people and especially not all people.

 

       This is the rock that the church is built on. The name Peter comes from the Greek word Petros, meaning Rock.

       So, Jesus says Peter you are rock and upon the rock of what you just said…. that I am the Messiah, the real son of God, I will build my church, the ecclesia, the called ones, the ones who will practice my love and care for people, and we will build a different Kingdom. Not a kingdom run by a beast or beasts that are violent, and devour people and enslave people, and make the powerful fantastically rich and are thoroughly unjust, but a kingdom of love where everyone counts, and everyone is a child of God, and everyone has a place at the table, and all deserve a share of the wealth; a kingdom of peace and non-violence and caring for one another.

 

       And in order to do this. Not only will you have to be transformed, we have to transform the whole system, we have to transform empire, we have to transform culture….

 

       You will have to have a whole new mindset.

      

It is not just being a Christian.

       It is not just believing that Jesus is raised from the dead, or that Jesus is Lord.

       It is about taking up a new way to be. And that new way to be is a whole new mindset about Power.

       To be vigilant about the power we have in relation to other people and how we use it.

       It is to understand how power is used in society and to seek to change power that hurts others, uses others, ignores others and takes from others. When Power is abused by Empire, by Government, by the Systems of the world it is called the Beast.

 

       Walter Wangerin Jr. tells the story of how he tried to get his son to stop stealing comic books.

       He first tried shaming him, taking him to the Public library from which he had stolen the comics. He asked the librarian to chastise him and shame him.

 

       The second time his son stole he tried using the word of God, and the seventh commandment. And then he burned the comic books in front of his son and said that the burning reminded him of hell fires.

 

       The third time he was desperate so he decided that he would spank his son, with his bar hand on Matthew’s bare bum and when he hit him he felt his son go stiff as a board.

 

       And Walter went out of the room and sat in the call and cried for beating his son. And his wife Thanne comforted him.

       A number of months later, while the family was driving in the car: out of nowhere, Matthew says to me, "Dad, do you know why I stopped stealing comic books?" (And he had stopped!)

       I said, "Yea, I finally spanked you." He said, "What!" And he looked at me. He said, "No.... It's because you cried...."

 

       As so come to the heart of what it means to confess that Jesus is the Christ, the son of God.

       We know about the suffering, the crucifixion, the resurrection of Jesus…

       we are reminded that God chose another way than the way of the Beast.

He could have used Power. He could have used force…

       He could have shamed us….

              He could have spanked us…

                      He could have destroyed us….

                             He could have condemned us…

                                    He could have sent us to hell

 

But he didn't.

       He chose the way of love and sacrifice and forgiveness and taking up a cross.

       To confess Jesus as Lord, as Christ, as Son of God, means that we will choose the same way as Jesus.

       …. that we conform not to the world, but let Christ renew our minds to love, to care, to forgive and to taking up our cross. Amen.

      

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