I’ve been hand-rearing a couple of lambs. One of the lambs is an orphan, the other rejected by its mother. They are cute looking little beasts, Merino/Suffolk crosses with black markings on their heads and legs.

I’m going to give you the long version of how  I came to be bottle feeding a couple of lambs. I bought 50 pregnant Merino ewes which had been joined to a Suffolk ram.

As they are about 5 years old, there were many multiple births. One ewe died after giving birth. A lamb, one of twins to another ewe,  also died.

Before deciding to bottle feed, I tried for some days to get the mother of the dead twin to adopt the orphan lamb. This only made things worse as my handling the lambs, as I got them to suckle on her, led to her rejecting her own surviving lamb as well as the orphan lamb. Enter my bottle feeding the two lambs..

If I am feeding the lambs while there are visitors about I usually offer for them to help. People love it. Whether they are children or in their seventies, the sight of these lambs enthusiastically sucking on the bottle, their tails wagging in time to their mouths and the impatient butting of the bottle melts the heart of those watching or holding the bottles. Because of people’s emotional responses to this experience, I I could have given them away many times.

As humans, we seem to have a greater capacity than most species to have empathy for others who are not “our own”. Sheep, despite their strong herd instincts, just won’t allow a lamb which is not their own to suckle. But humans care for orphan children and adoption waiting lists are long.

They say that to feel pain says you are alive, but to feel another’s pain make you human.

Thinking about what makes us human can seem rather bleak in these times of indefinite offshore detention and our government’s heartless response to refugees and asylum seekers. That we have so many people seeking refuge to begin with speaks of the terrifying violence, callousness and ignorance we are capable of. Samuel Veissière, writing in Psychology Today, says, “But there is also something deeply precious about our unique nature-nurture , and now more than ever, it is time to remember, honour, and summon that part of the human in each of us.”

He says, “Altruism, co-operation, and caring for the vulnerable is what made our species unique. It is empathy and co-operation , not self-interest and competition, that drove our physiological, cognitive, linguistic, cultural, social, and technological evolution.”

We wouldn’t be who we are without the help that we give and receive each day. The saying that “it takes a village to raise a child” reflects our evolutionary history of collective childrearing, co-operative hunting and gathering, caring for our elders and the sick, and freely sharing information.

Raising weak, slow-maturing human infants requires immense amounts of collective effort and the free sharing of knowledge, attention, time, love, joy, and fun. This is a miracle that we need to repeat  in each generation.

That each of us is able to walk, think, talk, imagine and navigate complex social worlds is a testament to this collective miracle. We owe this miracle to everyone alive today, and all that came before us. We could never be our own selves, without others.

Jesus said that it was our capacity to care for “the least of these”, the poor, the vulnerable, the broken, the orphan that marked us out as true Christians.

This is the gospel, and it’s good news.

Brian Spencer, Minister