“The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. 32 Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.” – Matthew 31:31-32
When Jesus taught it seemed that He loved to turn things on their heads. No more so than when talking about the Kingdom. It seemed that before the word Kingdom, a word laced with power and authority, had landed on the eardrums of the listener or the retinas of the reader He followed up with a description of something that at first glance seemed weak, dismissible and run-of-mill. Yet, as we listen the truth of the strong-in-the-weak, great-in-the-strong Kingdom dawns on us and the true upside down nature of the world comes into view.
The Kingdom of Heaven is like a little seed; small and insignificant, forgettable and unimportant. Yet this seed in the hands of the gardener grows large in the man’s garden. The Kingdom of heaven appears small and insignificant, forgettable and unimportant; no more than a thought forgotten before it makes its way around your brain. It isn’t a Kingdom marked by the same banners of strength and significance that an earthly Kingdom would be yet, on closer inspection it is more than it first appeared.
The seed is small but when it grows the mustard tree is strong, large in the garden, amongst the largest in the garden, casting a long shadow in the sunlight. This small seed, grows in time into a strong and powerful tree, a tree in which the birds of the air perch in it’s branches, building nests and making a home.
This isn’t the only place that Jesus talks about birds. In Matthew 10, Jesus, talking of God’s love and care for us, tells us that even the 2-a-penny sparrows are known and loved by God. Not one falls to the ground without Him noticing. Even the birds, the least of things is loved by God. The suggestion is that there are so many birds that they, like the seed is insignificant and forgettable.
The Kingdom of God is an insignificant seed that grows to be a significant tree in which the insignificant birds can make their home. What a beautiful picture of the Kingdom. A place to make your home when you are feeling insignificant and forgettable. A place where the God who made the whole of the world cares for you and notices everything you do and say.
The beautiful thing about this illustration is that the weak and insignificant bird who builds a nest in a tree finds security. A nest on the ground is insecure and weak, yet that very same nest in a tree is secure and strong, held by the branches around it, sheltered by the leaves from the wind and hidden from predators.
I wonder how the church, the agent of the Kingdom on earth, fares in this picture. Do we do well at being a place in which the insignificant can come and make this homes? Are we a place where the many weak find themselves collectively strong as they come together in Christ centred community? Or are we something different?
In each individual church community the answer will be different but I think it is important that we are asking the question of all that we are doing. Is the activity and culture of our community welcoming to those who are to make they nest here or are we indirectly excluding them by who we have become and what we celebrate.
The thought of a birds nesting in a tree is the type of thing you see on a post card or on the side of teapot in a certain kind of establishment but if you’ve had birds nest in your garden you will know that the reality is not that pretty at all. Birds are noisy and messy little things. Growing up one of our neighbours had some swallows build a nest in the gable of their house. Whilst the warm and fuzzy of feeling of supporting nature might have felt good for a while, whether rain or shine that end of their house smelt like bird poo and for long periods of the year there was incessant chattering coming from the nest. Hosting a birds nest in your gable brings suffering with it.
The same goes for the church, if we want life in our churches; if we want people to come in and live life with us we must expect mess, we must expect to make sacrifices. The reality of life, is that it brings with it a lot of baggage, brokenness and mess. A church that is a place where the weak can make their home will be one where, the service doesn’t always follow the plan on the sheet, someone might just interrupt. It will be one where people let you down over and over again as they don’t quite break free from the things that they want to leave behind. It will be messy and hard to get a strategy to fit around but it will be life giving and exciting.
I don’t yet know how we get there but I think it starts by asking the question, are we a community where people find home, or are we a member’s only club where we meet with those who’ve signed up to the membership agreement and proven themselves valid?