So they Bulldozed the Chapel

by Jonathan Whitaker

“The Kingdom of Heaven is like…” Fans of poetry will recognize this as the opening clause of a poetic form called simile. As a word of caution, if you so choose to start your simile with this particular phrase, I recommend you tread lightly with your conclusion to that verse. It is my humble observation that God probably has an opinion on what the Kingdom of Heaven is like. Fortunately for us, Jesus was the author of the parables that coined this particular poetic idiom.

Every morning as I drive by the now-empty lot where the Base Chapel used to sit, the words “The Kingdom of Heaven is like...” are brought fresh to my mind. No exaggeration, every day, at least twice a day. It is the end of the simile that has resonated so strongly with me as I watched the month-long demolition of a place of worship. “The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.” (Matt 13:31-32)

A church building being demolished is a concrete example of what Jesus was talking about in this parable. In the 20 or so verses in which Jesus references the Kingdom of Heaven, he is always talking about the Church. As a quick reminder, the Church is the body of people who have believed in the resurrection of Jesus and declared Him their Lord. The Church is not people who get together on Sunday, people who celebrate Christmas, and most definitely not a building. So, if you meet the description of the Church, then you should be keenly interested when Jesus describes what you are like.

In this parable, a member of the Church is compared to a mustard seed, and together many Church members are represented by a mustard plant. So far, so good. A plant is a good thing, because plants make seeds and seeds make more plants. A quick google search will tell you that mustard plants are prolific seed makers. We Christians should take that to heart; we should be prolific seed makers. Re-creating your faith in others is absolutely the call to discipleship found in Matthew 28:16-20.

But the parable of the mustard seed is not encouragement -- it’s a warning. An honest read of these verses will puzzle an educated reader. A mustard seed is indeed small, less than 1mm in diameter. However, one thing a mustard plant is not, and never will be, is a TREE. At this point you have stopped reading and started Googling. Your next thought is, “Well what about the brassica negra, mustard variety?” I will grant you, brassica negra can grow for multiple seasons, and they do get big, but at best they are a bush. Here is the thing: Jesus would have been very familiar with this variety of mustard plant, because they grow all over Judea. He would tell you that nobody in their right mind would cultivate a brassica negra into a large bush. A large mustard bush is the sign of a neglectful farmer.

Even this giant species of mustard plant is considered healthiest when cultivated seasonally then pruned or culled before it overgrows. Jesus knew that. You can see it in his warning, “birds of the air come make nests in its branches.” Bird nests and birds are not good for a mustard plant. They weigh down the branches, they use the foliage to make their nests, they eat the seeds so that they can never become another mustard plant. If the "birds" have infested your church, it is the beginning of the end. You can see the direct application to Jesus’ Church.

It seems that Jesus was saying that His Church should grow for a season, then put out seeds to grow more plants. What good is one large plant? Even the greatest mustard plant can only make enough seeds to season the food of a small group. A field -- or many fields -- of mustard plants and you’ve got a French’s factory on your hands.

I say the bulldozer is the best thing that could have happened to the base chapel! Today we have a thriving ministry called HCCF. At HCCF, the people preach, rather than the professionals, the people lead the worship, not the professionals, the people serve, and are on mission, and are making new seeds, to plant new churches.

One last thought. God has truly blessed HCCF. We are a congregation of nomads. We are all employees of the government or government contractors. We all serve short tours then move on. At HCCF we get a chance to serve, to learn, to grow, and then God gives us a boot out the door. We need to see that boot and the bulldozer as an opportunity to turn another seed in to a plant.