A people of hope

A people of hope
Michael Kinnamon
Michael Kinnamon

“We anticipate God’s coming reign, seeking to serve the one God — Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer — whose loving dominion has no end.”

Christians live not just by memory but by anticipation. This tension — remembering what God has done for our salvation and anticipating what God will do — is evident in the act that best expresses who and whose we are, the Lord’s Supper: “Do this in remembrance of me.” “Maranatha. Come, Lord Jesus!”

We Disciples have our roots in the Restoration Movement. Our forebears in this part of the Christian family, recognizing how the church has so often fractured and gone astray, sought to restore the purity of New Testament Christianity and to imitate the New Testament church. There are lots of problems with such an ambition — in fact, the early church also suffered from division and faithlessness. But perhaps the biggest problem is that it focuses too exclusively on the past. Part of what we remember, what we should seek to restore to the center of our life, are the biblical promises of God’s coming reign. “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

Christians are a people who live by faith, love, and hope. I want to suggest three paradoxes that help explain what Christians mean when we use that word.

First, those who hope confess the ultimate triumph of God’s love over hate, justice over injustice, freedom over bondage, community over separation, life with God over death. And yet, those who hope also acknowledge that the world is filled with death, separation, bondage, injustice, and hate. To put it simply, Christians are not optimistic, we are hopeful. We trust in God’s promise that what is is not all that will be. But hope that is blind to the deep-rootedness of sin isn’t hope at all.

Second, hope rests on the conviction that the future is God’s, but also that we can and must contribute to that future through our efforts. Indeed, it is our confidence in God’s future that should motivate us to act now, even though our actions may not bear fruit in our lifetime.

What we hope for helps set our mission agenda. For example, the great prophetic vision found in Isaiah 65 suggests that in God’s future no infant will live but a few days (Isaiah 65: 20). Surely, we who believe in this vision will act to protect children and support good health for expectant mothers.

Third, our hope is for the fulfillment of individual life, but also for the fulfillment of life in human society — in fact, for the flourishing of all creation. This tension between individual salvation and social salvation is a major part of the liberal–conservative split in mainline churches. But it is a silly dispute! A biblical people will actively hope for the day when swords are turned into plowshares while also trusting that there is hope for each of us tomorrow — even in the day of our death.

As the recent presidential campaign made abundantly clear, folks in the U.S. are starved for authentic hope. And one reason for this is that Christians have not lived as a hopeful community. We use the word, we pray God’s kingdom come, but we live just as anxiously as society as a whole. Like society, we focus on our present rather than God’s future, on our wishes rather than God’s promises.

Let’s be even more pointed. Disciples have been living as a fearful people — more preoccupied with numbers than with mission, seeking to preserve our life rather than give it away in service to the One whose loving dominion has no end.

The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) has a glorious identity. But it is the identity of a people whose gaze is on God, not on ourselves. Our goal is not to be an efficient churchly organization, but to be a faithful, Spirit-led community that proclaims the wholeness of God in a fragmented world and welcomes others even as God in Christ has welcomed us.

This is the last in a series of columns exploring a new Disciples identity statement developed by the 21st Century Vision Team, an advisory group to General Minister and President Sharon E. Watkins. For the full statement, go to www.disciples.org.