the salt of the earth, the light of the world, the city on a hill = true followers of Jesus

“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.

“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

Matthew 5:13-16

In context these words apply to disciples of Jesus, those who are following him. The key here is not some kind of spiritual experience, but simply the needed commitment and follow through.

What Jesus is referring to here is a different kind of people. Marked, indeed changed by their identity with and in him. They used to be called “Jesus people,” “people of the Book” secondary to that. This impacts everything. How they read the Bible. How they live from day to day in their families, and in their places of work. How they spend their time, their money. How they see the world and live in it. Recognized by their good works.

This is the people who alone are the “city* on a hill,” “the salt” and “light” that the world needs. All because of Jesus. But participants in this. In and through him.

*KJV

racism today

Tomorrow marks the fiftieth anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’sI Have a Dream” speech. As a result of the Civil Rights movement in the United States, laws banning discrimination were passed. There is no doubt that there are freedoms now that were unknown them. The apartheid that was in place in the south is a thing of the past. The Voting Rights Act banned discrimination in voting. Yes, things are better now.

And yet the sin of racism is rooted in the heart. Black people, or African Americans continue to be sinned against oftentimes in subtle ways by society. And that sin is not only in the hearts of White people. Some African Americans harbor hate in their hearts over the injustices of the past and present. It is always good if a nation seeks to address problems politically by setting laws to ban unjust behavior. But more is needed, indeed a change of the heart.

The gospel of King Jesus is a gospel of reconciliation. The walls due to sin between us and God, and between us and each other are broken down by the cross of Christ. This gospel is political in the sense that it is meant for society. But that society of change is found in the kingdom of God come in Jesus. So that we ought to see this reality in the church, in local churches. The church should lead the way in showing the world something better. How the church is to do this is debated among good Christians.

I would be among those who would want the church to be intentional in expressing a culture which includes all ethnicities, particularly Black people, since that is where the racial sin of our society has been present. Yes, we don’t have to keep reliving the past, nor should we forget the past, either. But we need to be a community as church in which the new society of Jesus is front and center. One marked by a love which crosses boundaries often divided by hate. The gospel is meant to change individuals and societies, but the change is always in Jesus and should be seen in the church. And as the light of the world and the salt of the earth, that change hopefully will impact societies at large, even as it did in the United States, some fifty years ago.

And so we need to face the sin of racism in our own hearts and go to the cross where we will find forgiveness, reconciliation and a change of heart. We need to keep working on this since in this life we don’t arrive, even as followers of Jesus. Some may overcome the sin of racism completely, but others may still prejudge those who are different than us. As followers of Jesus, we learn to follow together, seeing Jesus in every sister and brother of every ethnicity. And being a neighbor to all, together in and through Jesus.

the problem with the two kingdom approach

Luther and the Lutheran theology which follows, advocates a two kingdom approach in which we as followers of Jesus are called to live as responsible citizens in both. For example, Paul would be a responsible Roman citizen, while at the same time being a responsible citizen of heaven, or the kingdom of God.

Part of the argument for a two kingdom approach would be that people must live in an order in which the sword of the state plays its part to restrain evildoers. Note Romans 13:1-7.

The problem with the two kingdom approach for us who are followers of Jesus is simply this: Jesus is Lord. It’s as simple as that.

Of course all Christians subscribe to that statement, but if Jesus’ Lordship means anything, it must mean that we are to follow his teaching (the Sermon on the Mount and the Sermon on the Plain are foundational in this). Which I believe denies that we are to give our allegiance to any earthly kingdom or government, including any that is supposed to be Christian. No, we are of a different kingdom, which may live in the kingdom of this world, indeed is in the world, but is not of it. We are to live out a countercultural life across the board, and yet one that is not seeking to overturn the powers that be. They have their place, indeed they are called “God’s servant for your good.” They are part of a kind of justice from God, which followers of Jesus are not to work out. Romans 12:14-21 sets the Roman 13 passage in context.

And so we in Jesus are salt and light, hopefully influencing the powers that be for good, but never seeking to overturn them. We are not of the world, including not of them, as the followers of Jesus in the reconstituted, restored Israel. The Israel of God for the world.