“Good fences make good neighbors”

Electric paddock with creosote posts.Electric paddock with creosote posts.

All of our Springer Heifers disappeared without a trace one morning!

No, they hadn’t been stolen, nor had they just gone to the next field. They really were gone. I eventually found them all confused with a neighbor’s herd. Please don’t be surprised if it was our poor grass. Just ask a moment of sympathy for all the hassle of separating and getting them back and then finding the little gap in the hedge where they got through.

One of the farm’s joys this time of year is watching the hedges sprout into green new life. It’s also time to get out with a post or two, a roll of wire, a sledgehammer, and a bag of staples to fill in those gaps before the supply runs out. Fencing is so necessary – good old hedges, barbed wire, sheep wire or of course the movable electric fence.

All of us who own land (or a small garden) want to know where “mine ends” and “yours begins”. Having good fences also means respecting and honoring what belongs to us and our neighbors. I had to think of good fences. The American poet Robert Frost gave us this well-known line: “Good fences make good neighbors”. But surely a fence says “Keep Out!” How could that be good? Farmers, of course, know that fences are good and even vital.

God also has limits. There are times in the Bible when God actually says, “So far and no further.” He is holy and perfect in all his ways and being. When God’s people came to worship him in the temple in Jerusalem in ancient times, they would have been separated from the Holy of Holies by a huge curtain. The ark of the covenant rested behind it. The curtain was there for a reason.

What God said was, “You have to be perfect to get here.” As a result, no one except the high priest could enter alone and then only once a year to make an offering for the sins of the people. It was a very solemn and fearful day. Would people actually really forgive?

Wouldn’t it be incredibly sad if it had to be this way all the time? On Good Friday, when Jesus died on the cross and cried, “It is finished” (John 19:30), something amazing happened. This huge temple curtain, which kept us from God’s presence, was torn in two parts – from top to bottom.

Today “… we have a great high priest who went to heaven, Jesus, the Son of God … For we have no high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses. Instead, we have someone who has been tempted like us in every way, but he has never sinned. So let us continue to come courageously to the throne of grace that we may receive grace and find grace to help us in our time of need ”(Hebrews 4: 14-16) (International Standard Version).

Jesus says loudly and clearly: “There is no longer a fence that keeps us away from God.” He has cleared the way where imperfect people can be forgiven and come into his presence. We don’t have to be afraid that we would enter, we come as we are. He wants to forgive us and change us so that we can live with him forever – on his side of the fence!

Ian was raised on a dairy farm near Limavady. He was a minister in the boroughs of Ballyroney and Drumlee, South Down, and most recently Moneydig Presbyterian, County Londonderry. Due to a serious cancer diagnosis, Ian had to retire from active service and now offers advice and support to other people with cancer.

If you would like to speak to anyone about any of the issues raised in this article, please email Rev. Kenny Hanna at [email protected] or call them at 028 9753 1234.

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