It's one of those questions that seems to have stumped quite a lot of people throughout history and continues to do so: 'what is the Kingdom of God?' The disciples of Jesus were confused (thinking it must be something to do with the overthrow of the Romans) and, from that point on, others have been as equally unclear as to what the Kingdom really is.
Well, firstly it must have something to do with a King but what about the 'dom' bit? My thinking is that 'dom' is to do with 'domain' or 'dominion' and this seems to fit with Jesus' description of the Kingdom being like a mustard seed that grows into a huge tree in Matthew 13: 31-32. This tree then becomes a refuge for birds to nest in. In other words, it is their domain and they thrive when they gather there. However, it is easy to get mixed up at this point and think the tree must be the church building or maybe the congregation itself, but Jesus says the tree is actually the Kingdom; it is the domain where the church can gather and thrive in a safe place. The church is the birds.
A couple of days ago I was listening to the today programme on Radio 4 and a reporter was lamenting his disappointment at the lack of birds on his garden bird table. This was somewhat peculiar as all had been well only a short time before with birds of all types flocking to the food his wife put out each morning and the two of them regularly sitting back with a cup of tea to watch the show. But this ornithological bliss had dramatically ended almost overnight. The ensuing investigation revealed the cause...a huge skyscraper of a bird table had been erected in the next door neighbour's garden and the birds, as fickle as cats, had transferred their allegiance at the drop of a hat.
When the embittered reporter asked an 'expert' how the problem might be resolved he was counselled to buy good quality food as birds are 'very discerning creatures'. He also said that birds know when they are safe and so placing his table in a secure location would help. I don't know if the reporter got his birds back but the story certainly made me consider my own priorities as a pastor. Do I want a larger building and smarter facilities to draw a bigger crowd of people to our church? Is a large crowd a true measure of growth anyway? And then I suddenly stopped and remembered the parable and how it explains the fact that the large mustard tree isn't the church itself. Rather, it is the presence of the Holy Spirit moving among us in power, making us more like Jesus and creating a safe place for us to thrive in. The Spirit is the essence of the Kingdom, the One who gives us security and brings real growth. My job, along with other people, is simply to keep feeding the birds with good food.