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The Eagle and the Lamb


The dual myths of unrestrained capitalism and consumerism articulate an ideological empire that tells us that this is the way things 'are,' the way the world 'works,' and therefore 'the way to get along'. These myths, beguiling stories that have seduced us since birth through the propaganda of advertising, offer a vision of the good life and provide a cultural liturgy that is enacted by our society and enforced by our institutions.


And yet, although the church has often co-opted, colluded, and compromised with this ideological empire - allowing its mythic power to infiltrate and shape our worldview so that we do not question its power and influence - the ideological empire of capitalism and consumerism have been embodied in a history of abuse, exploitation, and domination. It also leads us further into a future in which, in the words of the UN Secretary-General, we face an existential threat.


Within the pages of scripture, we also find texts and contexts in which the covenant people of God have bowed the knees to the idols and ideology of their age. The prophetic voice again and again, in both the Old and New Testaments, seeks to speak truth, urge repentance, and articulate a fresh vision.


The Book of Revelation compels its readers to pledge allegiance to Jesus the Lamb and reject the Roman Empire's ideological narrative. The Roman Empire claimed to have ushered in a golden era of global peace and prosperity, presenting itself as the new reality and perpetuating this dominant story from generation to generation. The empire dictated behavior as "the way things are," "the way the world works," and "the way to get along." This narrative, championing Rome and the Emperor, was disseminated through various channels, including temples, monuments, inscriptions, festivals, orations, coinage, plays, and songs.



Plutarch, in reference to the era of the Book of Revelation, highlighted Rome's growth and stability under the rule of foreign kingdoms. He stated, "Rome developed and grew strong, and attached to herself not only nations and peoples but foreign kingdoms beyond the sea; and then at last the world found stability and security when the controlling power entered into a single, unwavering cycle and world order of peace."


This imperial rhetoric and propaganda shaped the lives and worldviews of ordinary Romans, offering a structured and meaningful existence. The "glory of Rome" brought cultural riches such as theaters, gymnasiums, baths, and schools, often described as "panem et circenses" (bread and circuses) - a tactic to distract and appease the populace with immediate gratifications.


In Asia Minor, home to the seven churches of Revelation, support for Rome was substantial, with cities competing for imperial favor.


Within these cities, a dominant cultural narrative prevailed, enforced through rewards for adherents and sanctions or violence against dissenters. The Roman Empire ensured compliance with its social, political, and economic agendas.


However, Revelation challenges this narrative, offering a damning critique of the "glory, strength, and peace of Rome" and presenting a fresh perspective on reality. It calls the church to embrace a different narrative and see things as they truly are.





A full exploration of Revelations' critique of the Empire cannot be done here, but the following quotes from Revelation give an example of its counter-cultural voice.


Instead of Rome bringing glory and peace it is described as that would bring destruction/


Revelation 11:18 (ESV)

18 The nations raged, but your wrath came, and the time for the dead to be judged, and for rewarding your servants, the prophets and saints, and those who fear your name, both small and great, and for destroying the destroyers of the earth.”


Rome and the Emperor have seduced the public and are portrayed as a beast in cahoots with Satan and Evil.


Revelation 13:1–4 (ESV)

1 And I saw a beast rising out of the sea, with ten horns and seven heads, with ten diadems on its horns and blasphemous names on its heads. 2 And the beast that I saw was like a leopard; its feet were like a bear’s, and its mouth was like a lion’s mouth. And to it the dragon gave his power and his throne and great authority. 3 One of its heads seemed to have a mortal wound, but its mortal wound was healed, and the whole earth marveled as they followed the beast. 4 And they worshiped the dragon, for he had given his authority to the beast, and they worshiped the beast, saying, “Who is like the beast, and who can fight against it?”


Rome is a harlot who is responsible for violence.


Come, I will show you the judgment of the great prostitute who is seated on many waters, with whom the kings of the earth have committed sexual immorality, and with the wine of whose sexual immorality bthe dwellers on earth have become drunk.” And I saw the woman, drunk with the blood of the saints, the blood of the martyrs of Jesus. (Rev 17:1-6)

Rome is the New Babylon in which wealth is hoarded but is built on the backs of slaves.


Revelation 18:3 (ESV)

3 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.”


Revelation 18:11–13 (ESV)

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.


Christians are encouraged and called to reject idolatrous economic practices.


Revelation 13:15–18 (ESV)

15 And it was allowed to give breath to the image of the beast, so that the image of the beast might even speak and might cause those who would not worship the image of the beast to be slain. 16 Also it causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave, to be marked on the right hand or the forehead, 17 so that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark, that is, the name of the beast or the number of its name. 18 This calls for wisdom: let the one who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man, and his number is 666.


Rome thinks it is invincible, but it will fall.


Revelation 18:10 (ESV)

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.”


Ceaser and Rome are not at the centre of the cosmos. Instead, it is the Lamb, Jesus, the one full of self-giving sacrificial love who is the centre of the cosmos.


Revelation 5:12–14 (ESV)

12 saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” 13 And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” 14 And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” and the elders fell down and worshiped.


In our present day, one task for the church is to provide a prophetic response to our contemporary ideologies of consumerism and capitalism. This means, like Revelation, we are to offer an alternative narrative and a new vision. We must promote and express a compassionate kingdom within our financial systems, ensuring they don't lead to harm, oppression, wealth hoarding, or environmental destruction. Instead, our financial systems should embody kindness and compassion, striving to realign us with a sustainable future.


We must resist the beasts.


Apocalypse


Father of Creation,

To the one who sits on the throne,

The climate curtain has been drawn back,

And we see things as they really are.

An apocalypse,

An unveiling,

That reveals our existential threat.


Lord ,have mercy,

Christ, have mercy.


Narratives of empire,

Announce news of endless growth,

Whilst propaganda politics

Distracts,

Denies,

Deludes.

Whilst political propaganda,

Entertains and educates

The masses who march to the beat,

Towards the cliff edge of the ecological abyss.


Lord, have mercy

Christ, have mercy


Father of Creation,

To the one who is, who was, and will be.

At the centre stands the butchered lamb,

The centre of the cosmos.

We take our place alongside non-human worshippers.

Saying,

Praise, Glory and Honour.


We are not the centre,

The world does not revolve around us.


We are not on the throne.

To You, and your Son,

Be all Praise, Glory and Honour.


Violent Power is not the centre,

That place is taken by the butchered lamb.


Violent Power is not the centre,

That place is taken by self-giving sacrificial love.


Father of Creation,

God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,

We march to the beat of a different drum.

Instead of lust for power,

We love.

Instead of despair,

We hope.

Instead of lies,

We speak truth.

We pledge allegiance to the butchered lamb,

To Him be all praise, glory and honour.


Father of Creation,

God of Justice,

The horseman of the apocalypse

Are at the gates.

The Alarm has gone off,

The neighbours are awake.

Lord, have mercy.


Father of Creation

Famine,

Sword &

Pestilence

Have been welcomed in,

We reap what we have sown.

As our addiction to fossil fuels

Sets your world

On fire

As our addiction to fossil fuels

Sets our home

On fire


We reap what we sow,

We sow what we desire,

We desire what we worship.


If we sow into the wind of unrestrained capitalism,

We will reap a whirlwind.


If we sow into Love

We reap a justice-shaped harvest.


Lord, have mercy,

Christ, have mercy.


Father of Creation,

God of Compassion,

Strange beasts stalk the land,

And we dare to name them,


Unrestrained Capitalism, Yours days are numbered

Consumerism, your days are numbered

Individualism, your days are numbered


You offer life,

Yet you bring death.

You promise hope.

Yet you bring despair.

You offer joy,

Yet you bring grief.

Your days are numbered.


Unrestrained Capitalism, Yours days are numbered

Consumerism, your days are numbered

Individualism, your days are numbered


Father of Creation,

God of Justice,

You offer a fresh story,

You stir imaginations,

We march to the beat of a different drum.

Hope is on the horizon,

Hope is in our hearts,

Hope has a name,

And we pledge allegiance to your Son.


Father of Creation,

God of Justice,

In your new creation,

Every Tear is wiped away,

Death will be no more,

There is a tree for the healing of the nations.

Hope is on the horizon,

Hope is in our hearts,

Hope has a name.

And we pledge allegiance to your Son.



Father of Creation,

To the One who was, and is and will be.

At the centre stands the butchered lamb,

The centre of the cosmos.

We take our place alongside non-human worshippers

Saying;

Glory, Honour and Praise.


Amen


- Swales, 2023


For further exploration see the following teaching.





A sermon series








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