By Thelma Phillip-Browne

It is not the lambs but the sheep that go astray, the lambs just follow inevitably! This was the gist of a poem read during our children’s service on Sunday 3, June 2007. It is a message that has struck me to the core. A few days previously, on May 31st to be exact, I had attended a youth rally organized by the Youth Impact Ministries.

Looking at the response I could not help reflecting on the fact that if it were an occasion for “pushing back the batty’ to the loudest and lewdest of music at various festivals, Carnival or even politically organized events, we would undoubtedly have seen a much larger turn out. I console myself however, that if just one of those girls could be saved from exposing themselves in a pornographic video or one boy saved from a life of drugs and crime it would all be worth it.

On that same afternoon I was moved by the dramatization of a song by Socrates in which the father of a murderer on trial begs forgiveness. This song is a poignant summary of some of what ails us today and could well be a second national anthem, in my books anyway.

Also preoccupying my mind were recent statistics I had seen which demonstrate that since the American Supreme Court banned the Bible from the schools in 1963, indices like teenage pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, drugs and crime among teens as well as school drop-out rates had all increased. On the contrary, positive statistics like SAT scores and high school graduation rates had fallen.

That night I pondered how I would put all these concerns into a commentary and eventually said, “Lord you just sort that out” and went to bed.  Of the several dreams I had that night, one stuck in my mind. In the dream I was about seven years old and my sister and I were housed in what appeared to be a school dormitory. My sister suggested that we hide in our rooms until the dorm mother, whom she apparently was expecting, showed up.

It seems she felt the dorm mother was bringing gifts and she did not want us to get any of those gifts. What child would be reluctant to receive a gift? Quite confused, I nevertheless obeyed my sister and hid in my tiny room. Hanging on the door of my room was a gown decorated with hearts and I remember thinking it symbolized Valentines Day. I sensed in the dream that my sister’s adjoining room was the birthday room and indeed the following day was her birthday.  Every now and then we’d take a peek and eventually the dorm mother did show up.

She took the form of someone I knew in my university days who had a rather unfriendly, grumpy and austere demeanour. She strolled down the corridor and approached the lady at the reception area. Taking out two rolls of toilet paper from her many shopping bags she tossed them to the receptionist and continued heading towards the far door. As she was about to exit, the receptionist shouted that the rolls of toilet paper were wet.

The dorm mother took the obviously ruined toilet rolls and meandered back down the corridor. I watched anxiously as she tossed them back to the receptionist with a terse order to” wrap them in gift paper” and pointed to two rooms on either side of the corridor whose occupants should receive those soaked gifts. None of those rooms were ours.

On awakening my first thought was, “thank God for my sister, whoever would want a gift of wet toilet paper” The second thought soon followed, “no wonder the dorm mother was so miserable and unhappy, she gave grudgingly, gifts which cost her little and was worth even less to the receiver, besides, didn’t birthdays and valentines count for something and required a special demonstration of affection?

But then, what did all this have to do with the topic I sought your help to address Lord?” Then came the revelation, by failing to demonstrate friendliness, generosity and kindness she had broken Jesus’ greatest commandment, she had failed to demonstrate love and in so doing she was another sheep gone astray.

You see, children are a heritage from God and all of us who are entrusted with their care whether they are biologically ours or not, have a duty to love them, raise them in the nurture and admonition of the lord and train them up in the way they should go. When we as adults fail to teach them the difference between right and wrong, when we fail to make them understand that actions have consequences, and that truth is absolute not relative, we are but sheep gone astray.

When we fail to teach them self-respect and respect for other people and their property another sheep has gone astray. When we fail to teach children accountability, when they lie and steal and we laugh and regard it as cute, when having failed to discipline them they are disobedient in school and we think we are supporting them by abusing the teachers, another sheep has gone astray. When we neglect their needs and bend over backwards to satisfy their wants because we’d rather be friend than disciplinarian, another sheep has gone astray.

When we use abusive language to them or to others in front of them, when we fail to instruct them on the pitfalls of drugs, and illicit sex, pitfalls that sometimes we ourselves have encountered another sheep has gone astray. When children are exposed to violence in their homes, when family members whom they trust molest some of them sexually, that is evidence of sheep gone astray.

When every national issue becomes divisive, and we become more concerned with the good of our parties rather than the greater benefit to our nation, when our youth are being sacrificed on the altars of our pride, it is further evidence that sheep have gone astray. When we emphasize the tangible things, big buildings, hotels, sports complexes, white elephants, while at the same time neglecting the mental, physical and spiritual development of our children, when we wantonly sell our choicest lands to non-nationals, lands which ought to be left in posterity for our children, we are but sheep gone astray. When so many of our youth are angry and unaware of a sense of destiny and purpose and our small nations have the dubious distinction of being world leaders in crime, more sheep gone astray.

Indeed, as I survey this beautiful land and particularly the alarming increase in gun related incidents, I think despairingly, “all we like sheep have gone astray” But then I remember David and Moses, Mary Magdalene and the woman of Samaria, and how could I forget Paul, I realize how God used liars and adulterers, fornicators and murderers to do wondrous works which bless us even today thousands of years later. I remember the uniqueness of the Christian Faith, that where sin abound grace doth much more abound. In this day of raging warfare, it is that transforming grace that changes surrendered lives from rebels without a cause, to soldiers in the army of the Lord.

Sudden death, whether due to violent or natural causes should certainly remind us of the fleeting nature of life and that we do not know the day or the hour of our demise. If we but stop and make a hundred and eighty degree turn we will see the welcoming arms of the Good Shepherd who had left ninety and nine sheep behind, to search for each one of us. It is guaranteed that he will throw us a lifeline rather than a gift of wet, useless toilet paper. More importantly, through his Holy Spirit he will personally clean up our mess. I pray that some stray sheep today will turn and take a fresh look at the “Good Shepherd.” If the sheep do what is right, the lambs will inevitably follow.