Jesus tells a parable about a mustard seed in Mark 4:30-34 (also Matthew 13:31-32). He says it is about the kingdom of God and implies that it grows upon this earth like a weed. For the first couple of centuries after Jesus, this was literally true – assuming that the mustard seed in the story represented the new religion he founded. The small fellowship, or Church with a capital “C,” grew across the empire and inserted itself into the lives of people from India to Ireland. Like a weed, it was impossible to kill, even though hundreds of local rulers sought to persecute it out of town. Recently, the growth of Christianity has slowed. We have taken to personalizing the mustard seed, saying that it represents the growth of faith in our lives. If you are a member of an evangelistic congregation, you may also have heard a sermon where the mustard seed was made to stand in for the growth of that church. These interpretations are fine, but they ignore the birds.
Jesus says, “The kingdom of God is like… the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade."
Is the kingdom of God a matter of the head and theology? Is it synonymous with church membership? No. Is it an invisible thing, like personal spirituality? Jesus’ point seems to be that this mustard seed starts out so small that it can be hidden, but like all good weeds it soon takes over the garden. Why should the church or our personal faith become so obvious? Because the kingdom of God is a matter of goodness, love, and ministering to the needs of others. It transforms the world by providing a place for the birds to roost. You see, the birds matter. They represent the marginalized of your community. The immigrant, both legal and illegal. The homeless, both visible and invisible. The mentally ill. The dying. The underpaid fast-food worker and the single mother. The trans teenager and isolated elderly. In every community the birds that seek shelter in your sanctuary are different. Different Christians notice different marginalized people. The size of the congregation doesn’t matter when you see the kingdom of God in terms of your mission to meet the needs of those who have nowhere else to call home.