Community Columnists

KEEPING THE FAITH | On Mary and her ‘Great’ lamb

The Rev. Lewis Macklin
The Rev. Lewis Macklin

Often folks equate the nursery rhyme “Mary Had a Little Lamb” with the mother of Jesus and Jesus, who is the Lamb of God. This week I was compelled to examine this relationship further.

The urban dweller in me had to complete some research on the subject of sheep. As I was reading information about the nature of sheep in my home office, I had to reassure our family canine companion Sir Winston, who was curiously observing my newfound interest that we were not looking at acquiring another resident in our home.

I discovered the differences for sheep were based on age and gender. Lambs are considered to be young sheep less than 1 year old. Ewes are female sheep and rams are male sheep over a year old. Until now, I had very little need for this information.

To my astonishment, ewes are actually considered poor mothers. In fact, ewes have a tendency to reject their lambs, especially in the event of twins. This does not sound very motherly or nurturing.

Ewes have been known to abandon their offspring in vulnerable areas, leaving the lambs orphaned. These lambs may be adopted by other sheep or required to be bottle-fed.

In times past, bottle-feeding a lamb was time consuming for farmers who had to tend to other needs. In those instances, the orphaned lambs were given to the farmer’s children for caring.

Clearly, this does not align with the nature of the Mother of Jesus, who embraced the calling to bring forth a Son. In fact, the message conveyed by Kirk Franklin & the Family’s song Now Behold the Lamb reflects that this Lamb would be ultimately rejected for an even greater sacrifice:

The precious Lamb of God

Born into sin that I may live again

The precious Lamb of God

The popular nursery rhyme was written by Sarah Josepha Hale, who wrote children’s poetry. The poem was said to be inspired by a child named Mary Sawyer who embraced the lamb rejected by its own mother.

Sarah also advocated to makeThanksgiving Day a national holiday, using her influence as an editor and publisher to champion other causes of the day. She accomplished many things while rearing five children as a single mother.

“Mary Had a Little Lamb” was published in the McGuffey Reader in 1857, which is recognized as the first elementary school-level textbook. A local historical tidbit: Rev. William Holmes McGuffey, a nationally celebrated educator and publisher of the famed series, actually lived in our area. His former residence bears a historical marker and is literally up the road from my home.

Did you know that the first words ever recorded on a device were this popular poem? Thomas Edison recited these words on the phonograph he invented. Since that time the tune “Mary Had A Little Lamb” has been given numerous makeovers.

I am sharing a modern day parable to offer encouragement if you are feeling broken and dejected. Every once in a while, a ewe will give birth to a lamb and reject it. There are many reasons she may do this. If the lamb is returned to the ewe, the mother may even kick the animal away. Once a ewe rejects one of her lambs, she will never change her mind.

These little lambs will hang their heads so low that it looks like something is wrong with its neck. Their spirit is broken. These lambs are called “bummer lambs.” Unless the shepherd intervenes, that lamb will die, rejected and alone. So, do you know what the shepherd does?

He takes that rejected little one into his home, hand-feeds it and keeps it warm by the fire. He will wrap it up with blankets and hold it to his chest so the bummer can hear his heartbeat. Once the lamb is strong enough, the shepherd will place it back in the field with the rest of the flock.

But that sheep never forgets how the shepherd cared for him when his mother rejected him. When the shepherd calls for the flock, guess who runs to him first?

That is right — the bummer sheep. He knows the voice intimately.

It is not that the bummer lamb is loved more, it just knows intimately the one who loves it and has experienced that love one-on-one. So many of us are bummer lambs, rejected and broken.

However, we have a Good Shepherd. He cares for our every need and holds us close to His heart so we can hear His heartbeat. With full disclosure, I am a bummer lamb adopted and loved by The Good Shepherd!

As I read Psalms 23: Like David, it is with the full vigor and expression as a redeemed and loved sheep:

The Lord is my shepherd; I have all that I need. He lets me rest in green meadows; he leads me beside peaceful streams. He renews my strength. He guides me along right paths, bringing honor to His name.

Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for You are close beside me. Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me. You prepare a feast for me in the presence of my enemies. You honor me by anointing my head with oil. My cup overflows with blessings.

Surely Your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will live in the house of the Lord forever.

To declare a strong stance or position despite the current circumstances: It was recently popular to conclude by saying, “…and that’s on ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb!’” In essence, don’t ever give up a righteous cause or fight. Keep fighting and pursuing because “trouble don’t last always!”

“No weapon formed against you” never implied its formation would be non- existence, it simply would not have success or power over your God-ordained purpose! I literally watched with a smile as the enemy “attempted” to use the theft of time to delay, defer or interrupt the visions God had for my own life.

I waited patiently as God literally RESTORED instead of redeeming the attempted robbery of the time. Sometimes, simply standing still “after having done all to stand” is more than or just enough! And yes, “that’s on Mary Had a Great Lamb!”

A marvelous Maverick musical

Eleven-year-old Emmitt Nevels III and Pastor Mark T. Jackson are uniting for Maverick City-style collaboration. The musical extravaganza will feature children ages 7 through 17 for a worship experience. Plans are underway for a live recording event. Youth, including those who play instruments, interested in participating should contact Kacie Nevels at 330-980-3641 to obtain the musical selections. There will not be any practices required. The children will learn the songs from the comfort of their home and will come together for a live recording. All children with a love of music are welcomed and encouraged to participate.

A season for giving

While we are praying for the residents, especially in Mayfield, Kentucky, who were impacted by the devastating trail of carnage and damage from the ravishing tornadoes, please consider ways to provide relief, including donations of blood. You can also donate to the Team Western Kentucky Tornado Relief Fund. This is a single fund connected with the state that will help fund the ground efforts taking place right now and the relief efforts families will need to rebuild. If you choose to support another effort please make sure the resources are managed by a reputable organization.

Loss, grief and bereavement

The ministry of Mercy Health Youngstown has created a family support initiative in partnership with Catholic Charities and the Mahoning County Mental Health & Recovery Board at no cost to participants. There is help to process the wide range of emotions you and your family may be feeling. You are not alone! The support group extends a helping hand to those experiencing any type of loss due attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic. The next session will be held Dec. 27. Register or obtain additional information by calling 330-480-3109.

A high praise report

Praise God from whom ALL blessings flow! We are grateful for the safe release of the remaining captured missionaries in Haiti. Though we don’t know specifically how it occurred, I can say without contradiction it was the merciful hand of God. I pray for each of those victims for any after-effects they may have from enduring such a traumatic experience. The people of Haiti hold a special place in the heart of Rev. Dr. Robin Woodberry who has served on numerous mission trips via the Lott Carey Foreign Mission Convention. Mission work is not a vacation to an exotic resort, rather an example of humility and self-denial for a greater purpose. If you feel a calling for the mission field, do not let the recent incident discourage you. It is my impassioned plea that the works of mission continue locally and abroad as a witness of God’s concern for all.

Pastoral caring

My dear friend and sister in the faith, Dr. Rebecca Collins Kahnt, the beloved pastor of the historic First Presbyterian Church recently shared with her congregation a letter of resignation due to changing health status. The blessing is she will remain in our community and will serve out her call in other creative and inventive ways once God heals and reveals. “Now picture this Sicily...” is an ongoing salutation Pastor Becky and I have exchanged since she came into our community and hearts. Each time, it evokes her warmth, humor and generous smile which complement her genuine love, uncanny wisdom and keen intellect. Pastor Becky closed her parting letter to the church sharing her personal adaptation of St. Patrick’s prayer:

Now as we leave this time together, know that our Living Lord goes with each of us,

Behind us to encourage us,

Beside us to befriend us,

Above us to watch over us,

Within us to give the gifts of faith, hope and love,

And always before us, to show the way.

While I take nothing away from her prayerful benediction, I would like to add, “As we continue to keep the faith!”

And all God’s people said. Amen.

The Rev. Lewis W. Macklin II serves as the lead pastor of Holy Trinity Missionary Baptist Church, chaplain for the Youngstown Police Department, president of the Baptist Pastors Council and the local coordinator for the African American Male Wellness Walk of the Mahoning Valley. He resides in Youngstown with Dorothy, his partner in marriage and ministry. They share the love and joy of six children and eight grandchildren and their mischievous canine, Sir Winston.

— All biblical citations are New Living Translation unless noted otherwise.

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