She was five years old. Her family was in the midst of a housing crisis. That is to say that they did not have a place to stay. In their city, some churches had formed a network to provide shelter for children and families who are in just the kind of situation that her family was now facing. In this network, each church hosted the children and families for a week. At the end of the week, the families in the network moved to the next church.
She had met a woman at the church where they had been last week. The woman’s name was Charlotte. Before it was time for her to leave that church, she asked Miss Charlotte a question. She said, “Miss Charlotte, do you live at this church?” Miss Charlotte smiled. She did seem to spend a great deal of time at the church. So much so that at times it felt like she did, in fact, live there.
“No, Honey, I don’t live here; but some days it feels like I do because I spend so much of my time here.”
“So, do you have a house?”
“Yes, I do.”
“Good. I just wanted to make sure you had a place to live, because if you didn’t, you could stay here at the church with us. That is why Jesus built all these churches. He wanted to make sure everybody has a place to stay.”
This exchange was shared with me two weeks ago on the Sunday morning that our church was starting our week of hosting families in the network. The man who brought the trailer filled with rollaway beds told it to me. It had happened at his church. He knew that it had happened and he had to share it with someone else. It is that kind of story.
Since that morning, I have thought about it every day. It is a heartwarming story. While one may be able to read a retelling of it without responding in an emotional way, I imagine that it would be difficult to hear that little girl explaining why Jesus built churches without getting some moisture in one’s eyes. Yet, to hear this story and to simply categorize it as a heartwarming one seems to me something of an injustice. While there is certainly a warmth and tenderness to it that moves the soul, there is also wisdom in it that challenges our understanding of church, Jesus, and how He would have us live our lives.
Most of my life, I have made an effort to learn about what it means to follow Jesus Christ. I have had caring and attentive Sunday School teachers who taught with dedication and commitment. In college and seminary, I was privileged to sit under some of the most learned men and women in Christendom. Since that time, I have attended numerous conferences and seminars where noted preachers and theologians have sought to shed light on issues facing the church in today’s world. In all of that, I am not sure I have ever heard anyone sum up the whole idea of church as succinctly and with such clarity as did this little girl.
It is her story, her life, and her experience. She is the one who, as a little girl, has experienced the trauma of not having a home — a place to live. She is the one who found a place in a collection of churches and faith communities. In her experience of being without a place to stay, and finding a place to stay in one of those churches, she has no reason to think that Jesus built them for any other reason but that everyone would have a place to stay.
She may not have known it, but she was expounding on the Great Commandment when she gave her explanation of why Jesus built all these churches. Whether she realized it or not, she had been loved by some people loving their neighbors as they loved themselves; and in so doing, loving God with all their heart, soul, and mind.
What she may not have yet realized, but what her explanation certainly pointed toward, was that Jesus also wants everyone to have a place to stay in the next world as well. He built all these churches so that everyone would have a place stay in the here and now, and in the hereafter.
Jesus asked the chief priests, “…have you never read, ‘out of the mouths of infants and nursing babies you have prepared praise for yourself’?” May we hear the word of the Lord, spoken by this little girl, who has nothing to offer us save the immeasurable richness of the gospel of our Savior, Jesus Christ.