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Resist the Roaring Lion of Racism


1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11

May 24, 2020

Sermon preached by Rev. Donald Ng at First Chinese Baptist Church, San Francisco during the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic when worship was over Zoom.

1 Peter’s World

The letter, 1 Peter was written to the Christian communities scattered throughout the five provinces at the eastern extremity of the Roman Empire. It’s estimated that in the first century, there were only about 40,000 believers in an empire of 70 million, a minority even where the churches thrived. We are not sure if these believers were identified in society by the name, “Christian” and wearing that name brought social ostracism and various kinds of abuse.

But what is clear is that the Christians of Asia Minor were suffering from persecution. Some have thought that the persecution was the result of official-wide decrees but we now know that Nero’s violence against Christians were confined to Rome. There are other acts of violence against Christians under Domitian and Trajan’s reigns, but any official persecution didn’t happen until 200 years later at the time of Decius.

Why were Christians suffering at this time? 1 Peter reflects the kind of persecution inflicted by other citizens in the land. Not governmental persecution but persecution involving social ostracism and verbal abuse. The Christians were “maligned” (2:12, 3:16); “reviled” (4:14); “abused” (2:23; 3:9) by their neighbors.

The writer reminds the readers that Christ’s suffering and not his death is the model to emulate. This is to say, there is no call for martyrdom; rather the mistreatment to be endured and persevere at this difficult time. None of these remarks is intended to make light of the pain these Christians suffered.

Today we know and can identify that taunting, hate speech, social shunning, physical threats, ugly graffiti, segregation and anti-Asian racism from others can amount to greater cruelty than the clearly defined opposition of a government.

At the beginning of the letter the writer addressed the followers of Jesus as “aliens and exiles” (1:1; 2:11). The believers felt that they were not at home. While not fully at home in their environment, they felt that they were without the rights and privileges of citizens. Dispersed and scattered in Asia Minor, these early Christians suffered for their beliefs from others in their communities. The word, “suffering” appears 16 times in this letter because central to the understanding of what it means to be a Christian is to identify with Christ Jesus.

Let’s be clear again, Jesus is not looking for martyrs today. His sacrifice on the cross is sufficient for the forgiveness of all sins yesterday, today and tomorrow. God’s mercy and grace found in the loving act of Christ ensure that reconciliation is available to us all. While this is true, suffering in the world continues. And sometimes, suffering comes close to us while we are still Christ’s disciples in the world today. When we suffer, we can empathize with Christ’s suffering knowing in full confidence that we will also share in Christ’s glory and power of the resurrection.

Reviled

In the first part of our lesson today, 1 Peter 4:12-14, persecution is described as a “fiery ordeal.” During this ordeal, there is profound joy (v.13), not because of some special exemption from affliction but because one has been admitted to the circle of those who share the sufferings of Christ. And again, let me emphasize that it’s not suffering or martyrdom that joins us with Christ but it is the time of service and witness in Christ that brings us joy. And sometimes in our service and witness, suffering follows. It is this understanding that gave them joy.

Suffering in itself is neither a badge of honor not a mark of disgrace. Sometimes it will happen when we follow Christ in service and witness.

It says that as Christians, we may be “reviled for the name of Christ.” Just being identified as a Christian was in itself enough to draw verbal abuse and social isolation. Being called a “Christian” was a slur. There was fear and hurt that society inflicted on Christians without legal warrant.

Devoured

In the second part of our lesson, 1 Peter 5:6-11, we see an image of what evil looks like in the world. Evil is “like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour” (5:8b). The evil in the world is the perverter of God’s efforts to redeem the world. This demonic force inspired those who killed Jesus (1 Cor. 2:8), and who engaged in evil activity following powers of disobedience.

Read Related Sermon  Christian in the End Times

Evil is personified in 1 Peter 5:8 in a single figure of a roaring lion whose goal is to destroy the faith of God’s people. To become victims of harassment and abuse is to die spiritually. What Christians are up against can be seen in Ephesians 6:12, “For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against rulers, against authorities, against cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”

Any evil that causes us to feel that we are less than created in the image of God in the forms of harassment and abuse will lead us to die spiritually. Any evil that separates us from becoming the beloved community joined together in Christ will lead us to die spiritually. And as people of faith, if we were to die spiritually, we might as well die physically.

How do we prevent ourselves from being devoured by evil today?

Anti-Asian Racism

During this Covid-19 pandemic, some governmental leaders have created and perpetuated an evil perception that the deaths and suffering and the economic downturn in the US and around the world have come from the Chinese. Blaming and scapegoating the Chinese for the coronavirus have led to over 1500 incidents of anti-Asian abuse and at times physical harm. And even to those who are not necessarily Chinese and Chinese-Americans, as long as they look Asian, they are now ridiculed for the pandemic and shunned as spreading the feared virus. We are guilty for what we look like, not for who we are as human beings.

This is racism and racism is a sin. Racism is the belief that groups of humans possess different behavioral traits corresponding to physical appearance and can be divided based on the superiority of one race over another.

When the coronavirus is called the Chinese virus, it associates the virus belonging to one group of human beings, Asians or people of Asian ancestry. The coronavirus is Chinese or Asian; and Chinese or Asian is the coronavirus. Implied in this thinking is that since the coronavirus is causing tremendous harm and disruption in life, then it’s acceptable to harass, abuse and hurt people of Asian ancestry because they are inferior. The belief in one’s superiority gives that person the license to hate and hurt and denigrate who he or she sees as inferior.

During the month of May, we celebrate Asian American heritage to remind ourselves as well as the country at large that Asian Americans have a long and rich history in the making and shaping of what the United States is today. There are special museum exhibits, movie festivals recognizing Asian American actors, and two weeks ago, PBS broadcast a 2-part series on Asian Americans. We remember the contributions of Asian Americans made in the United States.

But there is also the dark side of our history. We remember the Chinese Exclusion Acts in 1882 that singled out the only group of people to deny them by law to become American citizens because it was believed that the Chinese were not assimilable. We remember Executive Order 9066 that from 1942-46, the US forcibly relocated 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry to concentration camps of which 62% were US citizens because the US government questioned their loyalty based on race and color. We remember Vincent Chin in 1982 who was killed by two white men with bats in Detroit before his wedding because he was scapegoated to have taken away their auto assembly plant jobs.

Sadly, there are many, many stories that continue to remind us that anti-Asian racism happens. Today, we are facing anti-Asian racism as the result of Covid-19. The pandemic is the situation that we face today just as our forefathers and foremothers faced during their years when Asian Americans were viewed with suspicion, as unhuman, and inferior.

Read Related Sermon  The Bethlehem Wall

God’s word for us from 1 Peter is providential and more like a miracle. 1 Peter speaks to us because inasmuch as the early Christians suffered because they were labeled “Christian,” we are suffering labeled as Asians and Asian Americans.

Inasmuch as the early Christians felt they were “aliens and exiled” from their home, we as Asians and Asian Americans are citizens and permanent residents of the US but we are often perceived as aliens and foreigners.

Inasmuch as the early Christians were “reviled” and called dirty and awful names, we are called names that damage our personal worth and integrity.

Inasmuch as 1 Peter is encouraging the early Christians to watch out for the “roaring lion your adversary, the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour,” we as Asians and Asian Americans call racism that roaring lion that could devour us.

Resist

Today, Asians and Asian American Christians are not suffering for our faith but for our faces.

When the early Christians were experiencing the pervasive danger of a fiery ordeal, when they were reviled for the name of Christ, when they were made to feel like aliens and exiles, the writer of 1 Peter encouraged them to have hope in God’s promises. Today, we can also see 4 ways for us to remain faithful.

  1. Act humbly to acknowledge the power and providence of God (5:6). While we may feel especially persecuted at this time, let us also confess that we are guilty of racism. We too have thought badly of others thinking that we are better. Remember that the name of China is “Central Kingdom” and every other nation rotates around China.
  2. Act calmly (5:7) and cast your anxiety on God because you know that God loves you and cares for you whoever you are. This is not the time to keep our heads down so to be unnoticed and invisible. But when we do raise our heads and our voices to speak truth to falsehood, act calmly to bear witness.
  3. Act watchfully (5:8) with the discipline of not being naive when there’s impending danger. During this heightened sense of uncertainty, be aware of your surroundings and connect with others who can come to your protection and rescue. Remember that God is not looking for martyrs because Christ has already died for us so that we may live.
  4. Act faithfully (5:9) in resisting racism by speaking out, stand in defense of those who are vulnerable and victimized. When racism destroys the truth that we are all created in God’s image, we resist this evil as people of faith because racism is a sin against God who made us.

Christian Solidarity

Beloved sisters and brothers, you who have been reviled in the name of Christ, you are blessed because the spirit of glory, which is the Spirit of God, is resting on you (4:14). We who have felt the roaring lion of racism during this pandemic, “be steadfast in faith for you know that your brothers and sisters in all the world are undergoing the same kind of suffering” (5:9).

We may still need to endure in our suffering. And we may still need to persevere to protect our identity, rights and safety as Asians and Asian Americans at this time, but we are promise the comfort of God’s present grace and eventual victory. As a community of faith, we have each other to resist the roaring lion of racism.

Let us pray.

Lord God, who made us all in your own loving image, we pray for reassurance that our strength and identity come from you. Teach us to act humbly, act calmly, act watchfully, and act faithfully to resist the evil of racism in our world and to proclaim the good news found in Jesus Christ that brings community and mutual respect to one another. Empower us to be examples of this love in Chinatown, in our neighborhoods and beyond. In the name of Jesus Christ who has made us one in him, we pray. Amen.

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