Misplaced Weeping

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Greetings world.  I want to speak with us today about the manner in which the world’s economy has twisted our values and the epic shift that the Coronavirus pandemic beckons us to embrace.

In order to make the case let us engage in a lengthy reading of two passages from the book of Revelation. Verses 17 – 21 of chapter 16, and verses 1 – 13 of chapter 18.

17 The seventh angel poured out his bowl into the air, and a loud voice came out of the temple, from the throne, saying, “It is done!” 18 And there were flashes of lightning, rumblings,[c] peals of thunder, and a great earthquake such as there had never been since man was on the earth, so great was that earthquake. 19 The great city was split into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell, and God remembered Babylon the great, to make her drain the cup of the wine of the fury of his wrath. 20 And every island fled away, and no mountains were to be found. 21 And great hailstones, about one hundred pounds[d] each, fell from heaven on people; and they cursed God for the plague of the hail, because the plague was so severe.

18 After this I saw another angel coming down from heaven, having great authority, and the earth was made bright with his glory. And he called out with a mighty voice,

“Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great!
    She has become a dwelling place for demons,
a haunt for every unclean spirit,
    a haunt for every unclean bird,
    a haunt for every unclean and detestable beast.
For all nations have drunk[a]
    the wine of the passion of her sexual immorality,
and the kings of the earth have committed immorality with her,
    and the merchants of the earth have grown rich from the power of her luxurious living.”

Then I heard another voice from heaven saying,

“Come out of her, my people,
    lest you take part in her sins,
lest you share in her plagues;
for her sins are heaped high as heaven,
    and God has remembered her iniquities.
Pay her back as she herself has paid back others,
    and repay her double for her deeds;
    mix a double portion for her in the cup she mixed.
As she glorified herself and lived in luxury,
    so give her a like measure of torment and mourning,
since in her heart she says,
    ‘I sit as a queen,
I am no widow,
    and mourning I shall never see.’
For this reason her plagues will come in a single day,
    death and mourning and famine,
and she will be burned up with fire;
    for mighty is the Lord God who has judged her.”

And the kings of the earth, who committed sexual immorality and lived in luxury with her, will weep and wail over her when they see the smoke of her burning. 10 They will stand far off, in fear of her torment, and say,

“Alas! Alas! You great city,
    you mighty city, Babylon!
For in a single hour your judgment has come.”

11 And the merchants of the earth weep and mourn for her, since no one buys their cargo anymore, 12 cargo of gold, silver, jewels, pearls, fine linen, purple cloth, silk, scarlet cloth, all kinds of scented wood, all kinds of articles of ivory, all kinds of articles of costly wood, bronze, iron and marble, 13 cinnamon, spice, incense, myrrh, frankincense, wine, oil, fine flour, wheat, cattle and sheep, horses and chariots, and slaves, that is, human souls.[b]

One of the many WhatsApp forwards I received this week was a news item from the financial sector in Jamaica. It was the announcement that deposit-taking institutions have decided to suspend dividend payments due to Covid-19.  The Gleaner Newspaper article stated, “ Deposit-taking institutions will suspend the distribution of profits by way of declaring dividends in any manner (cash or stock) for the 2020 financial year until further notice. Further, institutions will similarly postpone the distributions of any unpaid dividends declared for the 2019 financial year.”

Another, of note, from the BBC, was that Richard Bronson had approached the British government for a loan to keep Virgin Atlantic’s operations in motion, inclusive of avoiding having to cut staff.  He was willing to offer a Caribbean island he owns as collateral.  

The indications of the blow to the world’s economic systems and the assault on family and individual wallets are all around us.  World leaders are chomping at the bits to reopen their commercial activities.  Some, more than others are grappling with the dilemma of curtailing the length of downtime and reducing the death toll.  

While all of this is going on, at the individual level many are taking to social media to vent their frustrations at being locked indoors and mourning over all that they miss about life as we knew it.  

I chose the passages in Revelation for their content of a fatal blow to a sprawling economic system and a lament over its demise. I hasten to add that it is not the intent nor scope of this message to seek to identify Babylon as a country or nation, nor to get unto the bandwagon of those who are hasty to make pronouncements of specific end time prophecies each time there is a global crisis.

Biblically, and more so in the Book of Revelations Babylon represents a system, a culture, an ethos, a methodology, a structure.  It is powerful, it is proud, it views itself as invincible even against death itself, it is far-reaching, it is ruthless, it is oppressive, it is the desire of the masses.  In support of this listen to John in our text, ‘’For all nations have drunk   the wine of the passion of her sexual immorality, and the kings of the earth have committed immorality with her,  and the merchants of the earth have grown rich from the power of her luxurious living… Pay her back as she herself has paid back others,…As she glorified herself and lived in luxury,…in her heart she says,     ‘I sit as a queen, I am no widow,    and mourning I shall never see.’

The passage read from Chapter 16 paints a vivid picture of this judgment.  John’s vision captured in this chapter focuses on the fullness of God’s wrath being poured out against evil.  The seven bowls target all the facets of evil’s expression. As he describes the seventh bowl. he makes what may seem to be a digression to name Babylon specifically.  In actual fact, it is no digression. Jesus wanted John and us to note that Babylon has not escaped God’s attention, and that the wrath of God has a firmly established timeline Babylon shall be toppled.  

John says, ‘’…and the cities of the nations fell, and God remembered Babylon the great, to make her drain the cup of the wine of the fury of his wrath…”  Continuing in chapter 18 he writes, ‘’Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great!…For this reason her plagues will come in a single day,     death and mourning and famine,
and she will be burned up with fire;     for mighty is the Lord God who has judged her.”  The vision of John here is not dissimilar to that of Daniel’s in the Old Testament.  Growing up in a Grenadian pentecostal church we would often sing, ‘’Daniel saw the stone, rolling down to Babylon…It was a lily-white stone, Daniel saw the stone…’’

Whatever else will occur when this geo-socio-political system that we are identifying as Babylon gets toppled, it is clear that there is a finality to it. It will be marked by a total demolition of its commerce. Its economic prowess will be clearly established as a thing of the past.  Listen again to John’s words,  ‘’And the kings of the earth, who committed sexual immorality and lived in luxury with her, will weep and wail over her when they see the smoke of her burning… And the merchants of the earth weep and mourn for her, since no one buys their cargo anymore.

It is this weeping and mourning I referred to earlier as my focus.  Something about the ways in which many of earth are lamenting their loss of trading, the disruption of their pleasantries, the rude interruption of their frolic in profiteering has an uncanny preview of what will occur on a grander scale when Babylon is toppled.  

The merchants in John’s vision do not weep in contrition over the atrocities of Babylon. Their weeping is utterly self-centered. Their weeping and mourning is focused on that which they have lost. They simply miss the grander transcendent issues at stake.

But beyond that, which is bad in and of itself there is a further, far more chilling observation to be made as we examine how John captures the lament of the merchants.  Follow closely as I read again verses 11 – 13 of chapter 18: ‘’And the merchants of the earth weep and mourn for her, since no one buys their cargo anymore, 12 cargo of gold, silver, jewels, pearls, fine linen, purple cloth, silk, scarlet cloth, all kinds of scented wood, all kinds of articles of ivory, all kinds of articles of costly wood, bronze, iron and marble, 13 cinnamon, spice, incense, myrrh, frankincense, wine, oil, fine flour, wheat, cattle and sheep, horses and chariots, and slaves, that is, human souls.”

This is an exhaustive list of the world’s commercial menu.  It represents the lifestyle of the rich and famous.  It encompasses in one way or another the commodities around which the stock market, the fashion industry, the food distribution chain, military, transportation, and everything in between.  

Notice the ordering of the trade items which the merchants lament losing.  Do you see anything in there about the descending order of value? Their list of their loss begins with gold, and ends with… humans! People! Even horses are placed before people.  The merchants have lived in luxury with her (v.9) and gained wealth from her (v.15). Those listed here have been their stock in trade.  They are howling at their losses, now that Babylon has been dealt a double portion of what she has dealt out.  And the least valuable of their stocks are the human lives.    This is entirely characteristic of Babylon. It is about the economy over people. People are only as important as the dollar value they can produce. Machines replace them without a thought being spared for their livelihood. It is wherever people are used rather than valued.

Human trafficking is particularly heinous.  Interpol concludes that there is not a country on earth that is spared its tentacles. The network is deeply and sometimes highly connected, well funded and the demand-supply curve is skewed on the demand side constantly edging the price upwards.  From the days of the transatlantic slave trade to the modern forms of human trafficking for sex workers and organ harvesting Babylon has been facilitating the enrichment of the merchants that live by the mantra the end justifies the means.  

John uses two separate words to include humans in the list of the merchants. Body and soul. This, I believe is meant to drive home the point that the merchants were trading in both the tangible and the intangible of human reality.  This is not mere wood or stone like the other cargo John wanted us to see. Human beings for crying out loud.  This is totally lost on the merchants. These were mere chattels with a price tag.  The sick twist though is that while humans sold and bought enriched them the merchants would likely take more care in transporting their gold than in transporting the human cargo.  The records are there to show that the ships bearing the gold from south and central america were escorted by heavily armed vessels whereas the ships heading towards the region with the enslaved from Africa came without such.

We are all in throes of the pandemic. Life’s normals have shifted axes. I saw a video of throngs in India bearing placards and chanting, ‘’Go Corona go!’’ Oh, how we want it to go away. But may I ask us to pause to contemplate how now shall we live when this is behind us.

Will hospital admins continue to bypass and overlook the sick that are unable to pay as they rush to gain wealth for the owners or shareholders?

Will the hedonistic masses return to their you only live once drunken frolicking into the predawn hours and clamoring for the extension of the cut off time?

Will church leaders who have mastered psychological manipulation under the guise of blessing sever ties with Babylon and stop trading in human souls?

Will  CEO’s repent of their lavish salaries at the expense of the line staff who are reduced to weekly anxiety of barely making it back to work on the wages they are told are the best the company can offer?

Will companies stop using the economic slow down as an excuse to fire persons to lighten their wage bill?

Will governments decide to make matters such as the minimum wage, access to health insurance, and the regulation of commercial bank fees and eradication of squandering of public funds their legacy.

Covid-19’s effect on the world’s economy is the writing on the wall. Hear the words of this preacher man saying Babylon you throne gone down, gone down, Babylon you throne gone down. Will you weep with those who are afflicted with covid19, with those who mourn the dead from this disease, with those who have lost their job, with those who do not know where the next meal is coming from… or will you continue to weep over the luxuries that you can no longer enjoy?

You think about it, let’s talk about it.

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