Over the last few weeks, it has become clear to me that squatters have moved in and taken up residence at St James’ Church in Burnopfield. Yes, thanks to my desire to be outside to greet those arriving at the communion service that takes place each week on Thursday morning, and indeed for the 8 o’clock communion service on a Sunday, I have noticed from both the sweet and gentle sound of cheeping, and the less sweet and gentle trail of bird mess heading to one corner of our porch, that birds have made a nest in the eaves of this entranceway to the Church. And as I have also witnessed the arrival of a fully-grown Starling with a wiggling worm in its mouth on at least one occasion, this makes it clear that it is Starlings who have decided to use our place of worship as their home in this way.
On the one hand I must admit that I am keen to see these interlopers leave. But this is mainly so that the porch can be cleaned of the foul mess left as mum or dad attend their chicks, and I also remember from my time at home as a boy that the sound of birds nesting in the eaves was often greeted by my parents with concern that they would be doing damage to the house. And we don’t want any more church building work on our hands!
However, on the other hand I am very grateful to these feathered creatures that they have indeed decided to come and live this part of their lives with us, and I welcome their presence, such that I will be sad when they leave. Why? Well first of all as it is very much my desire to see God in nature, alongside a desire to welcome those who to come to worship, that sees me outside Church in the first place at the times I have mentioned. Nature (trees, plants, sky, clouds – and yes very much as well, birds), for me reveals the presence of God in our world. And the beautiful simplicity of what is around us each and every day calms me before we head off to worship within Church itself. And this, not least since our Starling household has arrived, as this reminds me of the following words of Jesus: “Do not worry about your life… look at the birds of the air, they neither sow nor reap… and yet your Father feeds them”, which of course our worm carrying friend has revealed to me in quite clear terms. And so the presence of God in nature, and the love that He shows for this and us, swells my heart at least a little before each act of worship that takes place within the parish, and all the more at the moment.
But secondly, and thanks very much to our using this as our theme for a Messy Church session recently, the arrival of these feathered creatures and their deciding to make their home within our Church has been bringing to mind for me the Parable of the Mustard Seed as well, two short verses, in St Matthew’s version that say this:
Jesus told 31JesusJesusthem another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; 32it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”
Obviously, for Jesus the birds and trees here are a metaphor for people and the love of God for them. But for me the presence of our real birds is a continual reminder of the truth revealed in this parable; that the Kingdom of heaven, is so huge that all can find a home within it, as our Starlings have done at St James. And they also remind me that here at Church our job is to endeavour to make our worshipping communities nothing less than heaven here on earth, and then to be places of welcome to all in the world around us. In short, our Church and indeed all others, should be places where any and all can find a home. And once again in a world that is currently a place of so much division and hate this is something that I cannot help but feel that we need to continually stay focussed on and strive for as followers of God and His Son.
God then, can and is to be found in nature, in all the world around us, and has created a Kingdom for all – a Kingdom that, as Jesus suggests, all the birds of the air can come and make their nests in, a place where they can truly find and make their homes. And as it turns out for us at St James’ Church at the moment, that appears to be something that some of our feathered friends have decided to take literally.
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze