A sermon by The Reverend Peter Jin

In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

There is a line from the second reading which really struck me. “discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.” 

Part of my ministry in Adelaide is to engage with young adults and international post graduate students. During the past months, I’ve often heard from those young people searching for God’s direction in their lives. They wonder, ‘what does God want me to do with my life? How can I be faithful to God in my day to day decisions? How can I hear God’? We all ask these questions, don’t we? This evening I am going to explore some answers. 

Saint Ignatius of Loyola tells us that the whole point of spiritual exercises is to discover what God wants for us, that is, ‘the path of greatest love’. God is love. Love is the whole point of the spiritual life. St. John of the Cross, 16 century Spanish spiritual master says, ‘it all finally comes down to the cultivation of love’. Thomas Aquinas defines ‘To love is an act of the will, willing the good of the other’. That’s what God wants us to do.

Now to get a little more specific in daily life: How do we discern moment to moment the path of love? Here, I go back to someone like St Therese of Lisieux, and her ‘little way’. She says that ‘Don’t focus so much on the grand question, but rather on how to live day to day’. 

Every moment the opportunity for love opens up. At every moment we have a choice: we can either will our own good or the good of the other. What do we do? We choose the path of love. Is that easy? No. It’s the ‘little way’, but that doesn’t mean it is the easy way. ‘Little’ means it is the little things in life that matter, not the big projects and plans.

What makes it easier in our lives to love? What path will open up the greatest capacity for love? 

Here is a good tip from Wei, my dear wife. When we were living in St. Johns Anglican theological college in Auckland, NZ after we was married for a few weeks , she highly suggested that I read Galatians 5 on the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. She said to me, ‘To tell you the bad news, you really don’t have much of those fruits. But don’t be discouraged, darling’, she carried on, ‘you have got some very high scores on the seven deadly sins’. So since then, I have been working hard to bear some of those fruits. 

Here’s a second point: we constantly resist God’s grace. It happens all the time. It’s called sin. But what does God do? God reshuffles the deck and presents something new to us. 

I use Google Maps in my car giving me traffic directions. When I make a wrong turn, the device immediately shows me a new way to get back onto the right track again. To me that’s a great image of the grace of God. We are making wrong turns all the time. Does it sound familiar? We say, Lord, I’ve heard your voice in the Bible, in the liturgy, in the sacraments. I know it’s the right way, but no, I’m going to make this wrong turn. God allows us to make this mistake, revises the route and finds us a way to get back on the right track.

Now the question of how do we discern God’s will in ordinary life. Some spiritual masters suggest we need to always be in close conversation with God. I think of people like Brother Lawrence explains that whether he’s washing dishes or working around the monastery, every moment he’s talking with God. On the other hand, others depict God as a good father or mother who gives us the responsibility of making our own decisions and figuring things out on our own. What’s the balance here? How do we discern what God wants us to do with each moment of our day?

Well, those two things are not contradictory at all. We can say with the prophet Isaiah, ‘Lord, it is you who have accomplished all that I have done.’ (Isaiah Chapter 26:12)That’s a wonderful biblical idea: Lord, you’ve accomplished it, but I’ve done it!

We can participate in what God wants to accomplish. We get all the joy and sense of self which comes from this participation. God delights in that. God is not competing with our wills. 

Thomas Aquinas writes that ‘God is in all things by essence, presence, and power’. ‘Where is God?’ God is everywhere. Before, we may think, where’s God? And we may answer, “I don’t know. God’s way up there, somewhere. No, no, no. God is everywhere. Everywhere right now, even between you and me, there is God. So what’s God up to? And what does God want from us? Paul gives us a great answer. Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect. Amen.