First Congregational United Church of Christ

October 25, 2015

“The Minority Report” Numbers 13: 1-2 &21, & 25-14:4

Rev. Diane K. Hooge


Today’s text from the Hebrew scriptures is not in the lectionary which is the three year cycle of biblical texts that are used by most mainline churches each week in preparation for worship.  The stories about the wilderness are primarily found in Exodus and Deuteronomy but the book of Numbers, which in Hebrew is translated “In the Wilderness,” offers unique snippets and pieces of stories regarding the desert journey from a very different perspective.

For forty years they have been in the wilderness.  Some of them only know the wilderness because they were born on the journey.  The older members can remember Egypt, but what they all share is their united focus on getting to the Promised Land.

Today’s lesson finds the Israelites on the edge of God’s destination for the people—this Promise Land future is known as Canaan. The decision has been made to send twelve spies, one from each tribe, to check out the land.  Forty days later they were welcomed back to camp by the waiting throngs who are eager for their report.

The spies offer a good news/bad news report: the good news is that it is a rich and bountiful land. It had to have been an incredible experience to witness two men carrying a mammoth cluster of grapes hanging from two poles, and to see the beauty and mystery of pomegranates and figs.  No matter how many ways one can fix their desert food, called manna, it’s still manna, and the excitement of new food options must have been thrilling.

Then came the bad news: There are giants in the land.  The majority of the spies with fear in their voices announced, “There is no way that we are strong enough to go up against those folks or their fortified cities.” Everyone got the information as to which people were living in what part of the country and as good as the land looked, they assured the people that  there is no way that the Israelites can expect to make it their home.  The oral report offered the picture that folks hung on to: “We are like grasshoppers compared to those giants.”

The minority report, offered by Caleb and Joshua, is wedged into the majority report just after the litany of where all the inhabitants of the land live. It’s a short report:  Caleb quiets the people and says, “Let us go up at once and occupy it, for we are well able to overcome it.”

Caleb and Joshua were squelched by the rest of the spy contingency, and the majority of the people then moved into anger. After 40 years, they are ticked off.  Ticked off at Moses and Aaron, feeling betrayed by God, and they decide to take things into their own hands.  Can’t you just visualize the mob scene that was going on that night as they huddled around their camp fires with their voices growing louder and louder?  It was a long noisy night as they lamented their assumed plight.  I suspect that it was over breakfast around the campfires that they began putting together their plan of action.  In whispered voices they set up their time line for packing up and heading back to Egypt. They were angry at wasting their lives getting to the edge of the Promised Land only to hear the overwhelming majority report.  Why would they risk their lives?  They decided to find their own captain as they constructed their plans to rebel against the leadership.  They high-fived one another and began packing.

So, they did what a lot of us do. They re-created their history and pretended that Egypt was a great place to raise a family. In the midst of their fears over facing a new land, they chose to go back to the known rules of living in the desert.  Manna may be boring, but it’s safe.  And they chose to forget the imprisonment stories of Egypt.  Stories that had been shared at the campfires for years…stories that had kept them focused on their freedom journey.

They falsified their memories.

This Sunday is about celebrating our journey through the desert of transition. This Sunday is about remembering God’s faithfulness on the journey. When I arrived here June 12, 2014, this community was in shock. There was fear about entering the unknown land of the interim time. Questions arose as to whether or not the church would make it; how many members will we lose?  Should we go back to one service?  Do we have enough finances to pay our bills? And what do interims do, anyway?

The grasshoppers vs. Giants dilemma is one that we face pretty regularly in our lives on many different levels. There were no guaranties before the Israelites walked into the Promised Land. The only thing they could do was to step out in faith and make the crossing together into the new land.  There was no promise of new jobs or affordable housing.  It was a united leap of faith for those who chose to make the journey.

But, before they could walk together, they drove their leaders nuts by all their fear manifested in their anger:

– Anger that they couldn’t be in control of how the Promise Land was laid out.

-Anger that they couldn’t control who lived in the land.

-Anger that clouded their memories of God’s faithfulness to them throughout their long, long journey.

Today, we are at the edge of a new land for this congregation. This is a time to remember God’s faithfulness through each transition.  In many ways the Search Committee represents the spies of this congregation.  By their diversity they mirror the various groups that reside in this church, and they have held a common commitment to inclusivity.  They were charged to seek new leadership to present to the congregation for your vote. On November 8th, you will be gathering in this sanctuary at the end of a busy candidating weekend.  Your candidate, Rev Christina Kukuk, along with her family, will also be stepping out in faith.  Her new land crossing will take her and her family from Ohio to Oregon. They are daring to enter into to a new state with the unique culture that comes with that land.  The Search Committee has told her stories of this community, and now she will be listening and watching for herself.  What will alert her to the experience of welcome?  What will she hear?  How will her family respond to their visit? Will her husband and children experience signs of hope that this can become a deep place of belonging as they take step after step to engage with all of you.   This whole venture is a leap of faith for both you and the candidate as you both seek to follow the Spirit’s guidance.

It’s almost been a year since we walked from this sanctuary to the Shepherd Room were we offered our litany of thanksgiving to God for the new classroom space where your monetary gifts not only enabled it to be purchased, but also to be remodeled. Together we dedicated the space and named it the “Shepherd Room” in honor of Rev. Pam Shepherd, who has such an important role in the history of this congregation. It is hard for me to imagine not having that space.  It is so important to the ministry of this church. And, it was a leap of faith by this congregation to take on buying that whole corner property. The timing of that purchase is part of your faith journey.  It is your gifts that have made it possible to not only buy the Shepherd Room, but also 136 Morton Street which gave me a space to live over these past sixteen months. It’s important to remember the incredible timeline of your story. We have walked together through staff changes along with new lay leadership. We have held countless discussions around the importance of shifting the infrastructure to accommodate a program size congregation.  We have celebrated all the new members who have joined this community during this in-between season.   We’ve had the privilege of listening to individual member’s life stories.  This past Thursday I had my last meeting with Chris Sohl and asked his permission to talk about his on-going decision around the possibility of entering seminary next September.  I encouraged him to seek your support as he looks at the daunting task of discerning Gods call to a new land.

Each time this congregation has taken a stand, it has demanded some kind of faith journey crossing. With each of those stands, just like the ancient Israelites, not everyone was able to choose to make the journey.  Each time this congregation steps out to take a stand on climate change, or takes a justice stand against racism, or sends some delegates to Honduras to walk with those who are daring to speak their truth against corrupt political systems—each commitment demands a leap of faith to make the crossing.

Last Thursday night was the Interim Exit Interview provided by the United Church of Christ Conference. I shared with the leaders gathered that I cherished last Sunday’s Arts Sunday, because it represents the utilization of the incredible gifts within this church community.  I cherished Welcome Back Sunday, because it signified the shift to move towards more lay ministry involvement and a desire to enable folks to use their gifts.  And, I’ve so loved my two camp experiences with all of you because whether it’s a weekend or a one day venture, it promotes the glue that is so needed to keep this congregation in touch with one another and connected.  It’s important to have adequate built in times for play. It deepens our relationships.

There is such a need for welcoming churches where no matter who you are, or where you are on life’s journey you are welcome. I have cherished the gift of being able to baptize L, Daniel, Jeff and Wendy along with baby Lars. And I treasure   our services of lament around Charleston and Roseburg.  It’s such a gift to gather as a united faith community and to offer our prayers of grief.  Those are such sacred moments.  It is often in our times of worship   that I think about the words of the Taize Hymn, “Surely, God is in this Place”

What I cherish about Rev. Anne Bartlett’s coming to be your Interim Interim, is, again, the Divine sense of timing. I met with her last Monday.  As we walked through her role as friend of the church, she looks forward to sharing Thanksgiving, the Advent Sundays, with their focus on waiting, and Christmas Eve.

Being invited to the new land comes from God. Being willing to move into that land demands risk, courage, and trust in the God who calls us. Those who entered Canaan carried out God’s call.  They courageously trusted God and carried hope into Canaan.

So, where in your life are you being invited to make a crossing?

Where are you being nudged to take a leap of faith?

Today on this last Sunday with you, I feel such a sense of gratitude that you are ready for a new land adventure. You are ready for new leadership.

And, as we both take on new crossings, let us never forget that we serve a God who has promised to never leave us or forsake us. Amen.

Benediction (Anne Lamott)

“I do not understand the mystery of grace—only that it meets us where we are but does not leave fus where it found us.”

“Laughter is carbonated holiness.”