You can join this week’s worship service by visiting here.
Below, you’ll find Steve’s reflection and prayer for this week.
Music: Come Touch Our Hearts, Words/Music: Gordon Light; Like a Healing Stream, Words/ Music: Bruce Harding
Scripture: Revelation 18: The Fall of Babylon (Selected Verses)
“Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great! It has become a dwelling place of demons, a haunt of every foul and hateful beast.
For all the nations have drunk of the wine of the wrath of her fornication, and the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her, and the merchants of the earth have grown rich from the power of her luxury.”
Then I heard another voice from heaven saying, “Come out of her, my people, so that you do not take part in her sins,
and so that you do not share in her plagues.
As she glorified herself and lived luxuriously,
so give her a like measure of torment and grief.
Since in her heart she says I will never see grief,’
8 therefore her plagues will come in a single day—
pestilence and mourning and famine—
and she will be burned with fire;
for mighty is the Lord God who judges her.”
And the kings of the earth, will weep and wail over her when they see the smoke of her burning; they will stand far off, in fear of her torment, and say, “Alas, alas, the great city,
Babylon, the mighty city!
And the merchants of the earth weep and mourn for her, since no one buys their cargo anymore, cargo of gold, silver, jewels and pearls, fine linen, purple, silk and scarlet, all kinds of scented wood, all articles of ivory, all articles of costly wood, bronze, iron, and marble, cinnamon, spice, incense, myrrh, frankincense, wine, olive oil, choice flour and wheat, cattle and sheep, horses and chariots, slaves—and human lives.
The merchants of these wares, who gained wealth from her, will stand far off, in fear of her torment, weeping and mourning aloud, “Alas, alas, the great city, clothed in fine linen, in purple and scarlet, adorned with gold, with jewels, and with pearls! For all this wealth has been laid waste!”
And all shipmasters and seafarers, sailors and all whose trade is on the sea, stood far off and cried out as they saw the smoke of her burning, “What city was like the great city?”
And they threw dust on their heads, as they wept and mourned, crying out, “Alas, alas, the great city, where all who had ships at sea grew rich by her wealth! For she has been laid waste.”
Rejoice over her, O heaven, you saints and apostles and prophets! For God has given judgment for you against her.
Then a mighty angel took up a stone like a great millstone and threw it into the sea, saying, “With such violence Babylon the great city will be thrown down, and will be found no more; For in you was found the blood of prophets and of saints,
and of all who have been slaughtered on earth.”
That was quite a reading from Scripture wasn’t it? Angels coming down from the heavens to destroy Babylon and its rulers and all who profited from the evil?
It strikes a sense of fear and confusion in us. It doesn’t make a whole of sense to us either.
So, do you remember the Bugs Bunny cartoons when Willie E. Coyote would have a light bulb show up when he had another idea about how to get the Road Runner? Well it wasn’t really a light bulb going on for me as I was reading the background material written by respected academics about Revelation but as I dug deeper into the research I began to see it in a new light that made sense to me for the time it was written for and for us today.
The academics wrote about how John of Patmos wasn’t creating a dark, mysterious forecast of the future about the cataclysmic collapse of society and the end of the world but instead his letter was filled with meaning and even a sense of hope for the seven churches if his time.
It really wasn’t meant to be a puzzle meant for you or me or any televangelist 2,000 years later; it was a letter for the people of that day and that location. It was written in a way that they would understand it and that would protect them from persecution by the state.
– They would have easily figured out that the city John was referring to wasn’t Babylon, the empire that destroyed the holiest of the holies, the Temple in Jerusalem 650 years earlier; it was the city state that had sacked the Temple about 30 years ago, the city with seven hills, Rome.
– They would have known the one with the mark of the beast, the 666 was Nero, the dreaded emperor who it was feared would come back from the dead. It was not Saddam Hussein or any other demagogue in this era.
– They would have seen that this was a continuation of the critique that God’s prophets from days gone, like Jeremiah and Isaiah, Amos and Micah had written to the faithful in Israel around the failings of government and society after the destruction of the first Temple.
What was different was that the Hebrew prophets were critical of their own government along with the Babylonians in very direct language. But John needed to write in a different style than they did. He borrowed imagery from the Jewish Bible but he knew that if he attacked Rome directly that he would be putting the small Christian population at risk. So, he wrote in the apocalyptic style of Daniel so that Christians would understand but the Roman overlords would be left scratching their heads and wondering.
The section I read would have been a source of hope to the faithful followers of Christ who were being persecuted and robbed blind by the Romans and their minions. Revelation gave them a vision that God was with them and that in God’s own time that the way of righteousness and justice would win out over those who used brute force and the power of the state to suppress and oppress them.
The other issue that is clear is God will offer them economic justice too. God will punish the merchants who have benefitted unjustly from the Romans. And not just the merchants but also those who supported them like the shipmasters – all who took part in the economic injustice would feel God’s wrath.
So Revelation is really more about a social and economic critique of the empire than it is a prophecy about the end of times. If John is forecasting anything it is a collapse of the unjust Roman Empire and its unjust economy. That is a long ways from what some people claim that Revelation is all about.
So, what is the relevance of Revelation for you and I today? If it is truly a manifesto calling for the collapse of an unjust society and economy, as scholars tell us, then are we not called to look at our own economy and ask ourselves as people of faith, how does our city, our state match up with the demands of God to care for the most vulnerable?
In the midst of a federal election this might be a good time for us to ask as people of faith what is important to us as we consider all we have been through in recent times? Is our economy, our society more fair than that of the Roman Empire? I don’t have any reports on the concentration of wealth in Rome I suspect there are many major differences. But in Canada, in June of 2020 the top one per cent of Canada’s families held over 25 per cent of the wealth of the nation according to a report from the Office of the Parliamentary Budget Officer. And the wealth is even more concentrated than that because .5 per cent of the population owned over 20 per cent of the wealth. This year most economists have said that the true economic winners of the pandemic are the wealthiest in society. The pandemic has meant that the rich have grown even richer.
“Our world is one of growing inequality in income and opportunity; systemic racism; health and economic crises from a global pandemic; mistrust of experts; the existential threat of climate change; deep threats to employment in a digital economy with robotics on the rise. These are fundamental problems.” These are not my words but those of the former President of the Bank of Canada and Bank of England, Mark Carney. Think about it for a minute, Carney was the Governor of the third most powerful financial institution in the world, and he sees economic injustice as being a problem.
So as you think about voting, Revelation invites us to not just about our own self-interests but the country that God calls us to help create – where economic justice abounds, where the most vulnerable, the least and the last and the lost are on the minds of those who vote and where justice is what love looks like in public.
For God is still speaking to us. Sometimes we have to listen to others who understand what God was saying long ago to help us understand what God is still saying to us today.
For we are not alone, we live in God’s world. Thanks be to God.
Loving God, we look at your world and the future seems almost apocalyptic; the fall of Afghanistan, war in Ethiopia, injustice in Palestine, repression in Syria, racial and ethnic strife, the earthquake in Haiti and the climate in crisis – it feels overwhelming. . . Then your Spirit is revealed and we remember places where there has been reconciliation, people taking action on the side of peace with justice, ways we can help bring healing to this small beautiful planted.
We look at the needs of people around us and there is a sense of being overwhelmed; the pandemic rages on, hospitals are struggling, many are mourning the death of a loved one. . . Then your Spirit comes reminding us of what we can do, helping us to reach out in faith to those in need, strengthening us to lend a hand.
Creator when we consider ourselves, we too are in crisis, many of us are fatigued by the pandemic, we are confused by the choices we face even with simple decisions, many of us are struggling with family issues and other conflict. . . Then your Spirit comes to help us with visions of ways forward, offering us peace in the midst of our turmoil, reminding us of our strengths and giving us hope for today and the days to come.
Loving God, send your Spirit to us on this day and help us to remember to always give thanks for the joys and gifts you offer us.
We ask these things in the name of Jesus who teaches us to pray, Our Father, who art in heaven.
(This prayer was inspired by a prayer by David Sparks in: Worship for All Seasons: Pentecost, Summer and Autumn.)