On Your Farm (6:30am on Radio 4 this morning 7th April in case you want to listen again on BBC iPlayer) followed the events on a sheep farm in north Wales, where late, deep spring snow has killed hundreds of sheep and lambs. The events as they were reported became a parable for evangelism as I prayed for the farmers in my quiet time after the programme. I used this illustration in my sermon this morning on John 21 as Jesus calls his disciples to feed his sheep.
The sheep farmer, Gareth Wyn Jones, walked with the reporter, Sybil Ruscoe, through still snow covered fields. He told Sybil that he’d lost 30 sheep and lambs so far and has no idea how many are still under the snow. Mr Jones told how he had struggled through huge drifts, where walking 1 mile felt like walking 1000, with his legs burning from exhaustion. Mr Jones said “I am fit but the physical exertion left me wacked.” As he ventured out in those first few days of the snow, he would find four or five sheep, weak and tired, buried deep in snow drifts. He’d dig one out, carry it down the hill to safety and return to dig another one out, only to find that the crows had pecked its eyes out and so he’d leave the sheep to die. There were also lambs which lay in blood stained snow where foxes and crows had eaten their fill.
He described how frustrating it was to work alone against such massive natural obstacles. He spoke of emotions which threatened to overwhelm him because of the sheep, but with but as so many dead and the crows and foxes adding their damage, he had to cauterise his emotions, blank out what was really happening to be able to carry on.
And so the parable, to me, was clear. Evangelists are often both physically and emotionally exhausted by the exertions of trying to rescue people from perishing spiritually and eternally. The spiritual cold of the atmosphere against God in secular Britain makes the labour of the soul seeking pastor exhausting. And so, because so many people seem to be perishing without hope, it is easy to cauterise our emotions and to plod on trying to rescue as many as we can. I have convinced myself that I must feed Christ’s sheep because I love him as my Saviour, my High Priest, my righteousness, my rock and my Lord. But it is hard.
Then, in the light of John 21, I realised this. Jesus calls everyone of his disciples to feed his sheep. This is not a lone task. What if Mr Gareth Wyn Jones could have called on the people in the local town to help him save the sheep? What if people left their shops, their plumbing business, their dental surgery for a couple of days and went to rescue the sheep, just because they were sheep, and not because it made economic sense.
That’s what Jesus challenges his disciples to do when they made the miraculous catch of 153 fish. Jesus called them to leave their nets, boats and fish to feed the sheep. This made no economic sense at the time and it makes no economic sense today. Yet, Jesus said, leave it all and follow me to feed the lambs and care for the sheep.
The call to feed the sheep is a personal one but it is also a corporate one. It is a call to put Jesus and the gospel before economic activity. And so, I give thanks to God for the evangelists he is raising up through our SOUL course and for every member of the church at Holy Trinity who feeds the sheep in small groups, youth and children’s work, Sunday services, SOUL course and every informal opportunity. May God multiply those disciples who will put feeding the sheep before economic prosperity.