These days it’s common to see people taking selfies. Sometimes they use selfie sticks and these can be very long. We might say that such people will go to any lengths to get a good view of themselves they can share with the world.
Which leads me to a question. Do we as the Lord’s people have a good view of ourselves that we want to share with the world? And to what lengths are we prepared to go in order to make sure we have a good view of ourselves that is worth sharing with the world?
When I talk about having a good view of ourselves that we want to share with the world I’m not talking about our physical appearance. I’m talking about engaging the world in mission. How does the world see us? How do we want to appear before the world? Do we have a good view of ourselves that we want to share with the world? What are you really like deep down? What am I really like deep down? What is your church like deep down? What is our essential identity as followers of Christ engaging the world in mission? If a mouth swab was taken what would be found in our DNA?
The Human Genome Project began formally around 1990 and identified all of the 3.1 billion molecules of adenine (A), cytosine (C), guanine (G) or thymine (T) that make up the double helix strands of DNA, the master blueprint of each and every human. It doesn’t take much, however, for the human mind to move from fact to fiction. My guess is that people are more likely to think of TV crime dramas where DNA helps to track down perpetrators.
The human mind is also adept in moving from fact to metaphor. DNA has become perhaps the leading metaphor for our age. Akio Toyoda, the President of Toyota Motor Corporation said, “It is in Toyota's DNA that mistakes made once will not be repeated.” Actor Brian Dennehy said, “I come from an Irish Catholic family, and hell-raising is part of the DNA.” Actor Dwayne Johnson commented, “I was raised by strong women, and that DNA is in my daughter and wife.” Goldie Hawn said, “I am compelled to continuously see the bright side. It is in my DNA.”
In the same vein we might say that every true church of our Lord Jesus shares the same DNA. This is because the church shares the same DNA as that of our Lord himself. How might we describe the DNA of our Lord? We know that Jesus lived to glorify his Father. We know that he believed “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” We know he was a man of prayer. We know he modelled perfect love. And so we could go on. But central to all of these things is the fact that he came to complete a mission task, to create a new humanity, to gather a people for himself from every nation, tribe, people and language. Jesus himself said that mission was his whole purpose for coming into the world. He said, “…the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mt 20:28). He said, “…the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Lk 19:10).
We could go on, but you get the point. Mission is in our Lord’s DNA. But now get my next point. Every true and legitimate church shares Jesus’ DNA. It seeks to glorify God, just as Jesus sought to glorify his Father. It too lives “by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” It is a community of people committed to prayer. But here’s the crunch point – every true and legitimate church also shares the mission of Jesus. It is profoundly committed to doing whatever it can to contribute to the continuing mission of Jesus, as our risen and ascended Lord, to create a new humanity, to gather people for himself from every nation, tribe, people and language.
We are familiar with many of the key texts. This is what our risen Lord says to all of his followers, including you and me: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Mt 28:18-20). What did Jesus say to his apostles immediately before his ascension? “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Clearly, Jesus wants to see the apostolic gospel witness to him as the risen Lord go to all people wherever they might live on this planet.
In coming to terms with our true identity, who we truly are, it is also helpful to go back to the Beatitudes: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek for they will inherit the earth” and so on. What Jesus is doing here is describing the DNA of all who truly follow him. He is saying that if you become his disciple then you are poor in spirit, you are one who mourns, you are meek, you do hunger and thirst for righteousness, you are merciful, you are pure in heart, you are a peacemaker and here’s the climax: you are someone who is going to experience persecution.
How does Jesus summarise all of what he has said in these beatitudes? He says immediately after making these utterances:
“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.
14 “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 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. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven (Mt 5:13-16).
Jesus does not say to his church, his people: “You will be the salt of the earth if you meet such and such a condition. You will be the light of the world provided you do such and such.” No! He plainly tells his disciples: “You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world.” It’s hard-wired. It’s in our DNA. It’s what we ARE by virtue of being in Christ, of being his people. This describes any true and legitimate church. It is the light of the world. It is our poverty of spirit, the fact that we mourn, that we are meek, that we hunger and thirst for righteousness and so on that makes us the salt of the earth, a truly distinctive people and it is these same qualities that make us the light of the world and results in people who don’t know our Lord praising our Father in heaven.
So this is in our DNA. This is the view of ourselves we want to share with the world. But, as Jesus indicated, the danger is that we put the lamp under a bowl; that we cover up this light. No! We need to get out of the caves we hide ourselves in and shine for Jesus.
We Christians are inclined to live like troglodytes, cave-dwellers. The light is shining but inside our cave. On Sundays we might get some curious visitors coming into the cave, but is our light shining outside the cave for the world to see. Jesus tells us we are the light of the world and he exhorts us not to hide the light but to put the lamp on its stand so it will give light to everyone in the house. He says, “In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”
Our church services are very important. But do note that Jesus did not say, “Let your light shine before men, that they may see how you do church and praise your Father in heaven.” He spoke about good deeds, life in action, the outward expressions of the qualities Jesus has just spoken about – the outward expression of poverty in spirit, of Christlike meekness, of being pure in heart and being peacemakers and so on. The whole point is that we are to live out what we already are in Christ. The New Testament ethic is not ‘become what you are not’ but ‘be what you are.’ It’s only a profound understanding of the immense depths of God’s grace and love that enable us to grasp this. And it is precisely this we must understand if we are to be effective in mission – if we are to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world.
We, the followers of Jesus, are the light of the world. In this world where vast multitudes are suffering in horrendous ways it may seem to us that there are many thick dark clouds obscuring the light. But we are called to shine for Christ and to let that light shine as far as possible, not only to our immediate neighbours but, as the Lord enables, to people who need to know Jesus in distant overseas cultural environments. As this church and you as individuals support God-glorifying ministries in other nations then your light shines as far as those nations.