A sermon by The Rev’d Peter Jin
Sirach 15:15-20, Psalm 119:1-8, 1 Corinthians 3:1-9, Matthew 5:21-37
In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
This morning I am going to tell you a short version of my faith journey.
I was born in Shanghai in 1973. You have probably already noticed I am pretty loud. The population of Shanghai is about 27 million. Being surrounded by crowds, if you want to be heard, you have to shout. But Wei, my wife, says I have no excuse because she comes from a big city, too. So she is more civilised than I. She is from Xi’an, place of the famous Terracotta warriors. I guess she is afraid that if she speaks too loudly she might wake them up.
My parents were not Christians. At the age of 15, my father told me my great grandfather had been a Christian pastor in Shanghai. My great aunt who lived in the United States wrote my father a letter and suggested I should go to USA to continue my education and she would pay for my expanses but the catch was I must be a Christian. My father told me she was a devout Christian and a retired paediatrician who had lived in Seattle for almost 50 years. And in fact she was the only Christian alive in my father’s side of family. My mother’s side had no Christian connection at all. So I started to go to the local church in Shanghai in order to go to the United States, but I could not carry on after a while. I had no interest at all. At that time, the majority of Chinese still lived in poverty, so if people could go to the United States, it would be a life changing event.
I started to seriously explore the Christian faith when I was at the university in Shanghai studying accounting.
I was not able to go to the United States because it was hard to get a student visa at that time. So in 1999, I spent one year in Denmark, Sweden and Norway. The original plan was to see the world, but after six months, I entered a Pentecostal Bible college by the invitation of someone I met in the street. They were keen to train me to be a missionary but unfortunately we had theological differences, although I did like the music and worship.
Back in Shanghai four years later, in 2004, at the age of 31, I converted to Catholicism.
I had already explored different denominations but in the end I was drawn to Catholicism, after conversations with a priest about the history of Catholic Church and especially the fact that it was founded by Christ himself.
In 2007, I made a radical decision. I sold my apartment in Shanghai which I really loved, and I went to New Zealand to join a lay Catholic religious community. In 2008, I went to Sydney to attend World Youth Day along with 250,000 young Catholics from all over the world. There I talked to a Jesuit director of vocations about becoming a priest. When I told him that I wanted to keep the option of marriage open, he let me go.
In 2009, I still felt the call to be a priest, and started to explore the Anglican Church in NZ.
What had made me become a convert at the age of 31 in 2004? I think it was the uniqueness of Jesus.
Before I became a Christian, I thought that Jesus was just a social reformer, just a prophet among many. In today’s Gospel, Jesus says, ‘You have heard it was said, but I say….’ So where did they hear it said? It was in the Torah. To the first century Jews, when Jesus said ‘You have heard it was said, but I say…’ he was making a breathtaking claim. Because the Torah, God’s law, was the highest authority, the Torah would be seen as the word of God. Who was this Galilean prophet who said, ’You have heard it said there, but I say…’, claiming an authority even above the Torah? Who could do that, except the one who himself is the author of the Torah? We hear this language and we take it for granted, but not for the first century audience.
Throughout the gospels, Jesus consistently speaks and acts in the very person of God. Jesus says, ‘Unless you love me more than your very life, more than your mother and father, you’re not worthy of me’. That’s an extraordinary thing to say, isn’t it? You might imagine a religious teacher, a guru, a prophet, that says, ‘Unless you love my teaching’, or ‘Unless you love God more than your very life…’, but Jesus says, ‘Unless you love me above all else in the world, you are not worthy of me’. Jesus says to the paralysed man, ‘My son, your sins are forgiven’. Right away, the bystanders say, ‘Who does this man think he is? Only God can forgive sins’. Jesus is speaking there in the very person of God.
Today’s first reading points to the great symbolic story in Genesis. God made this world of stunning beauty and complexity. As the crowning point of God’s creation, God created Adam and Eve. What did God give to Adam and Eve? Almost full reign in the garden: the place of life. One Early Church Father said: ‘The glory of God is a human being fully alive.’ God wants us to be fully alive, using all of our powers, all of our skills, mind, will, imagination.
You know what the Early Church Fathers read into that wonderful liberty in the garden? They read it as God’s permission for science and art, politics, friendship, freedom, all that makes life rich and wonderful. That’s what God is saying, ‘Go for it, be fruitful, multiply’. That is what God wants for us, life, life, fully alive.
Brothers and sisters, what have I learnt as I walked my faith journey? Putting Jesus at the centre of our life makes us a different person. We will think differently to the way we were thinking before. We will choose differently to the way we were choosing before. We will walk differently to the way we were walking before. ‘Come follow me’, the Lord says over and over again. Amen.