By the Rev. Hunter Ruffin
Early in the week last week, I set out toward Austin, TX, to join some of my classmates, friends, and colleagues at the annual Blandy Lectures hosted at Seminary of the Southwest. Whenever I set out on a road trip, whether by car or by plane, I carry with me a backlog of podcasts safely stored on my iPhone. These digital companions are rarely listened to during my weekly grind, but they are always good traveling friends. One of my favorite programs to listen to while traveling is Krista Tippet’s On Being. Over the years, I have grown to enjoy the thoughtful conversations that she has with others about faith, spirituality, the world, and humanity. Almost without fail, I am struck by at least a few comments that are offered in the course of a conversation, and it is equally almost without fail that those comments help inspire me in some future writing for a blog post or a sermon or simply a post on Facebook.
As I made my way down from Fort Worth to Austin, I happened to listen to an episode of On Being with Arnold Eisen (“The Opposite of Good is Indifference“), a Jewish American scholar now serving as the chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City. As the conversation unfolded and as miles passed, a single quote from Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel caught my attention–“Few are guilty, but all are responsible.” Perhaps the quote got my attention because I can understand it in light of the Christ hymn in Philippians 2, or perhaps it got my attention because I believe that we live in a world that is so fractured that attempting to reduce any problem in the world to a single source of causation is, at best, naive.
The truth that Rabbi Heschel speaks is the same truth that I find in the Christ hymn. It is a truth that tells me that I may not be the person responsible for evils in the world, but I am certainly responsible for working against that same evil. I have a duty as a follower of Jesus to speak out against those things which I believe are wrong. I have a responsibility to my fellow human beings to become a servant unto our shared well-being in order that our world might eventually be one that is defined by justice and by love. I have a responsibility because I am human.
The Christ hymn sings the truths that Christians claim about Christ as the Son of God, the Messiah, as God with us. Though short, it pushes us to go beyond the status quo and to move steadily toward a world that is defined by the same kind of love that Christ has for God. The hymn does not simply speak about what Christ has done for us but also what we are called to do for each others as sisters and brothers within God’s household. Paul exhorts us through his letter to the church in Philippi to “let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 2:5 NRSV).
In other words, we are to have a mind for the good of each other. We are called to tend to the importance of the common good at the expense of the immediate gratification of our own desires. We are called to give of ourselves in such a way that we honor another person’s perspective, that we hear the cries of injustice as a rallying call, and that we listen so intently to the stories of our fellow human beings that we cannot help but be touched by the grace of their lives.
The Christ hymn is a glorification and adoration of Christ Jesus precisely because it is a clarion call to disciples of Jesus to love as deeply and as faithfully as Christ. It is an ancient call that has resounded throughout the ages in the words of others, and it is a call to take up the mantle of Christ’s ministry that, perhaps, is best summed up in the words of William Blake:
“The Angel that presided o’er my birth
Said, “Little creature, form’d of Joy and Mirth,
“Go love without the help of any Thing on Earth.”
The Rev. Hunter Ruffin (Seminary of the Southwest, MDiv ’15) is a church planter in the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth. Learn more about The Episcopal Church in Parker County here: https://www.episcopalchurchparkercounty.org/. He also has a blog, A Journey in Faith.