How is it that fifty-year-old hay, stored in bales, can still be good enough today to feed your sheep?
As the drought remains and the hardship continues, farmer Ian Haywood has found himself feeding his sheep with hay cut and stored by his father in the shed built by the generation before. The hay was made by his father fifty years ago and as the bales are losing their shape the red string that once bound them is rotting through.
Thrown out to the sheep surrounded by the dry and dirt this old store of hay provides life!
This year, as part of our Easter readings we read the passage of resurrection, of life, where Jesus had breakfast with his friends on the beach (John 21; 15-19). After breakfast, he turns to Peter for a conversation. Three times Jesus asks Peter if he loves him, to which Peter replies somewhat offended, “Yes Lord, you know….”, to which Jesus replies each time, “Feed my lambs”. “Tend my sheep”. “Feed my sheep”. At the conclusion of the passage are those familiar words of Jesus, spoken to many throughout his ministry, to the greatest and to the least; “Follow me”.
In this passage, we could consider Jesus’ three questions to Peter and his responsive affirmation of love against Peter’s denial, three times, that he ever knew Jesus. We could consider this conversation with Peter and the question, “Peter, do you love me”, against the murmuring within the disciples as to who was the greatest, who was most important and who loved Jesus more than anyone. Or we could simply hear this conversation on the beach as a call to Peter to tend and love, not just the sheep who are in the pen, in the paddock, but the lost and longing as well. A call to discipleship of a wider community. A call to shepherding. A call to following as a disciple of Jesus.
Maybe Jesus invitation, “follow me”, is one that needs to be heard multiple times throughout life as one treads the way of Jesus Christ. We see this at the beginning, when Peter’s brother Andrew first introduced Simon Peter to Jesus when he was invited to “follow me” and then at the end of Jesus’ ministry when Peter is once again invited to love, to tend, to feed and to follow. Perhaps the invitation to follow is one that needs to be heard many times throughout our lives and equally, responded to many times.
For Peter, after all that had been happening – the death of Jesus, no doubt the loss of hope and direction, even with a renewed experience of the Christ, it must have seemed that things were falling apart. No doubt, the re-call to discipleship by Jesus was a significant moment of both reaffirmation and choice.
When Jesus gave the invitation to follow, to Peter, James and John, or the rich young man, or the man who firstly wanted to bury his father, or to the women and men who became the early church, it may well have seemed personally, or in terms of society, or politics and country, or the ways of religion, that there was very little holding all things together. The strings were fraying and breaking!
If an old bale of hay is still good enough to feed the sheep decades after it was cut, then it must still have its intrinsic qualities of vitality and goodness. Within its fibre must be nourishment and life. Even though the hay is losing its shape and the string that binds it together is fraying and breaking it obviously still has the qualities of life. This is also the characteristic of both the Christian community and the decision to follow as disciples. The followers of Jesus including Peter, the early church, the church we find ourselves in today, our own discipleship, has never been the perfect shape or neatly tied. No one, from congregations, Presbyteries or Synod, would be able to say that there is not a certain amount of chaos and strain, fraying and falling apart which is an enduring part of our church.
It is relatively easy to preach about or discuss the failings of Peter, James and John, Judas, the rich man, the religious leaders and to see their failings in ourselves, yet the intrinsic, life giving power of Christian community endures.
As Peter was asked numerous times, so our congregations, our church, and we ourselves, are invited numerous times to reflect on our willingness to respond to the call of discipleship. We too are invited to reaffirm the goodness and life giving qualities within and around and respond to the invitation to follow, tend and to feed.