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The Deepening of Hope: Progress Inside the Story of Jesus

What does it mean to live inside Jesus’ story?  The novelist Margaret Atwood has said that in the end, we will all end up as stories.  For those of us claimed by the love of God made flesh in Jesus, it is Jesus’ story that determines and guides our own. 

In a sermon titled ‘Life Draped in Hope’, the Rev. Dr. Willie James Jennings offers helpful insights into what it means to live inside the story of Jesus.  

Jennings insists that in Jesus’ journey to the cross, we see Jesus’ offering his followers his life and so invite his followers into his story.  As followers of the crucified and risen Jesus, we are now inside the story of Jesus.  And being inside the story of Jesus, we see the story of progress very differently.  

Jennings says that for those inside Jesus’ story, progress is defined by “the deepening of hope over time”.   We know we are moving forward faithfully in our story as our hope deepens.  And that hope deepens as we live more deeply into our conviction that Jesus will not let us go, that the powers of death and injustice and violence will not ultimately win out, that the power of resurrection has the power to subvert the forces that threaten to undo us and our suffering neighbours.

Progress is defined by “the deepening of hope over time”.

To define progress as the deepening of hope will put us out of step with many around us.  Many of us – including and especially within the church - have been hoodwinked into believing that we live inside the story of our country, and so we define progress by our country’s achievements and failures over time.  The health of the economy, the state of our politics, the failures of one party or movement or program or plan or initiative or another . . . we’ve come to think that progress is the story of successes and let-downs, achievements and failures over time.  

‘It is not that we don’t care about achievements and failures,’ Jennings reminds us.   But our hope is not rooted in achievements and failures!’  Why?  Because our hope is rooted in the story of God made flesh in Jesus, a story of love with and for the world.  

We are not Americans or Canadians first, and Christians second.  We do not live inside the story of America or Canada (or any other country or people).  We live inside the story of the crucified and risen Jesus, and so our identities are not wrapped up in the achievements or failures of our nation-states.  Rather, our identities are determined by our ever-deepening trust in God’s coming new creation that we see in Jesus.  And this trust is embodied, put into practice by doing justice, practicing loving-kindness, and walking humbly with our servant-king Jesus who spent much of his own life in out-of-the-way places with lost, oppressed, and forgotten people. 

Jennings’ words have prompted me to wonder about my own justice advocacy, political engagement, community service, and prayer, and how these practices may be re-oriented and re-shaped as I seek to live faithfully within the story of Jesus. 


Photo by Hans Isaacson on Unsplash

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