Laborers in the Vineyard

Bedtime ecclesiology with the 3 yo... 

(After reading the healing of Bartimaeus, the blind man, from children's which Bartimaeus talked to Jesus...)

Me: How can we talk to Jesus?

3 yo: (Looks at the ceiling and yells) Hello? Hello!!!

Me: Well, yes, that's one way. We can talk to Jesus through prayer.

3 yo: But how he hear it? He way, way up in the sky.

Me: Yes, but he's also in church, in your heart and everywhere.

3 yo: I saw Jesus at church.

Me: Oh, tell me more about that.

3 yo: But, what about when Jesus die on the cross?

Me: What do you mean, sweetie?

3 yo: But when Jesus die on the cross, who going to work at his church?

Jesus said the harvest is plenty but the laborers are few (Matthew 9:37), which my mother told me at least once while I was growing up on our Midwest farm, perhaps as an encouragement (warning?) that I ought to get to work pulling weeks, or stacking wood, or bailing hay. There was a literal harvest to be taken in, and plenty of work to do.

I'm not the first pastor to note that there is something deeply satisfying about manual labor, a task that has a beginning and an end, when you spend most of your days sitting at a desk or in conversation with others. Emotional labor (you know it if you're doing it) is never done, and I wonder if Jesus felt that way about his work, too. In his case, he handed it off to us. 

Working at a church is a funny thing, really. I've done it in some form for nearly 15 years. Pastors are this odd combination of administrators, spiritual leaders, vision-setters, educators, public speakers and mediators. I sometimes felt like the activities director on a cruise ship. I wonder what Jesus would think about the work that we do at church? What would Jesus think about the churches that we have in the first place? How would he feel about having a name for the study and theology of churches (ecclesiology)?

Later in the above conversation, I tried to explain that Jesus never worked at a church. The 3 yo could not comprehend that, so I finally gave up. My child here is a textbook example of what psychologist James Fowler calls the "mythic-literal" stage of faith development, when deities are anthropomorphic. It's developmentally appropriate for a young child to think that Jesus is literally at church and only at church. But for the rest of us, let's not get stuck there.

I miss being in the physical church building, and I miss taking my children there. Turns out they actually pay attention better in the building than they do on the sofa with Zoom church on a laptop. Humans for nearly all of their existence have designated sacred, holy spaces; people are drawn there to venerate, to weep, to hope, to pray. 

But neither Jesus or my local parish pastor are working the building now. He's out! We're out! It's probably more Biblical anyway, to see and encounter Jesus in daily lives and around tables in our households. 

Martin Luther said that parents are the first teachers of faith, and he's right, but it's the emotional labor kind of work, the kind that's never done. Before COVID, I could bring my kids to church at 9:45 AM on Sundays and check off that box. Task completed! I can neither confirm or deny feeling this way. But now, when is church? Where is it? It's everywhere. It's never done. 

Some people use the phrase "the harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few" as a bit of a kick in the pants. But maybe it's a word of grace and hope, too. Yes, my emotional labor of raising these children as Jesus followers is seemingly never done. So.Much.Work. But the harvest is so plentiful, and the joys of seeing Christ in daily life with my children, and living it out together are satisfying, like a long day of work.

Recently, my children and I made cookies for two dear friends and delivered them. One friend is care-taking his mother, who is receiving hospice care. My children didn't know this elderly woman. They seemed bored and restless the whole time (hanging 6 feet back, wrestling and complaining). We'd talked before we went about how God calls us to care for those who are sick. Someone may have rolled their eyes.

Later at dinner, I asked, what was your high today? Both kids said the cookie drop off. 

Church everywhere. Satisfying work. Jesus has left the building.

Note: Conversation occurred July 10, 2019.


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