Series editor’s note: Throughout 2020, “Deeper understandings” will engage the ELCA’s commitment to authentic diversity. Kwame Pitts will continue on this theme in the next issue.
—Kathryn A. Kleinhans, dean of Trinity Lutheran Seminary at Capital University, Columbus, Ohio
As a child growing up in the Pentecostal church, I was encouraged to know Jesus as a friend and lover of my soul. Even as I was consistently taught to fear God, and that the potential consequence of my sin was eternal damnation, I was also introduced to the possibility and beauty of being in intimate relationship with Jesus.
Six days a week, I’d go to church and hear some rendition of “Repent! For Jesus is coming back and you want to be ready”—but not before a good hour of prayer and praise. Lights dim, corporate spontaneous prayer aloud and somehow in unison. Music and lyrics stirring our hearts and, yes, our emotions. My fellow siblings in Christ and I, on our knees, sometimes face to the ground. Other times, arms stretched to the sky, eyes closed, tears flowing, wrapped in the “move of the Holy Spirit.” It was a love fest to the God who became flesh and saved us from ourselves.
I wish I could say that by the time the sermon came around I was too lost in the love that had enveloped me to take the fear-based word at face value, but that would not be true. I did believe the conditional love, grace and salvation presented to me, and I often used it to condemn those who did not live or believe as I did. Even still, and by the grace of God, the Spirit inspired, and Jesus insisted I get to know him better.
One day it occurred to me that I needed some time alone with God. I purposefully used all my lunch money and bus fare so I wouldn’t be tempted to take the bus home. The 2-mile walk would be my alone time with God. I met up with my friend Jesus and told him about my day and my dreams. It was such a delightful walk that I did the same thing the next day.
Even though I wasn’t quite sure of the implications of song as prayer, I’d sing songs such as “Renuévame” by Marcos Witt, in which he serenades Jesus, singing, “Renew me, Lord Jesus. I no longer want to be the same. Renew me, Lord Jesus. Put your heart in mine … because all that I am needs more of you.”
I’d sing “Te Alabaré” by Danilo Montero, with its text: “You are the only reason for my worship, oh, Jesus. You have gifted me your salvation. There is joy in my heart and with my song, I will praise you … my good Jesus.” I’d sing, pray and mean every word. I’d then get home to read the Bible.
I found myself intrigued by Deborah, with her wisdom and ability to lead; by Moses, as he highlighted his insecurities before God; and by Esther, as she was called “for such a time as this.” But nothing drew me in more than God’s incarnation: how Jesus turned tables in the face of abuse and injustice; healed the woman facing the issues of blood and marginalization; spoke to the ostracized and lonely woman at the well; and taught his followers how to love as they had been loved by him.
Love is holy and revolutionary. It causes renewal, transformation and liberation. It begs to be embodied and shared.
Jesus was awe-inspiring to me, and I couldn’t get enough of him. Eventually, this devotional time evolved into a love affair. I looked forward to our intentional time together, and I talked about him to anyone who would listen. I loved Jesus then, and this love overflowed into the rest of my life, through today.
I share this because the more I engage the beautiful and beloved people of God, the more I realize that few of them know that a loving, intimate and intentional relationship with Jesus is possible. Many go to church Sunday morning, enjoy communal worship, partake of the sacraments and (I hope) leave knowing they are loved, but they do not engage the one who loves them so dearly until the following Sunday.
I believe our church and our world need Jesus-lovers who love as they have been loved: truly, unconditionally and extravagantly. Love is holy and revolutionary. It causes renewal, transformation and liberation. It begs to be embodied and shared. This is so because God is love. And this love became incarnate so that we might not just know about it but know it for ourselves; so that we might love God and neighbor in ways that affect our daily living and the lives of those around us.
I pray we will be inspired by the Spirit to learn, know and love Jesus, not for the sake of our eternal salvation but for the sake of our thirsty souls and our wounded world—with God’s help and in Jesus’ name. Amen.