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Making Minority Reports
October 20, 1996

NUMBERS 13:1-3, 25-33

It was a good plan. The slaves had escaped from Egypt. They were wandering like nomads, following their herds, throughout the Sinai desert wilderness, preparing themselves for their entrance into the promised land. But, first they needed a reconnaissance mission into the promised land to scout out the possibilities and the problems. It was a good plan. Moses appointed a committee of 12 to spy out the land. The wisdom of appointing 12 was that each spy represented one of the 12 tribes. Therefore, no tribe would feel left out. Each tribe would then trust the report because one of their own helped make it.

The reconnaissance committee was gone for forty days, spying in what we today know as Israel. When they returned, the people gathered eagerly to hear about the new land, to hear a first-hand report of the land that God had promised to their ancestors-- Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. It was during Jacob's time they had emigrated to Egypt because of the Great Depression, and eventually found themselves enslaved and forced to work on Pharoah's building projects. Now, they were free. Now, they were going home. Now, they were going to hear a report of what home was like.

The first sight that amazed them was a cluster of grapes that was so big, it was tied to a pole which two men carried on their shoulders. The spies reported to Moses, "It is a land that flows with milk and honey. But, the people who live there are strong, and the towns are fortified and very large." And then they listed all the different peoples who lived there: Amalekites, Hittites, Jebusites, Amorites, Canaanites! The announcement of each name must have sounded like a nail pounded into a coffin. The people began talking among themselves, murmuring, moaning, some gasped, some women sobbed, old men shook their heads in resignation.

That was the majority report given from the committee of 12. Have you noticed how most committees become very conservative, very cautious? Rarely does a committee produce startling insights or dramatic action. They tend to follow the path of least resistance. Committees like to cut big ideas down to manageable size. And in the process, they often leave the big idea bleeding and dying. Committees tend to make mole hills out of mountains.

Then Caleb stood up to give the minority report. Caleb represented the tribe of Judah on the spying expedition. Caleb was enthusiastic. Caleb said, "Let us go up at once and occupy the promised land, for we can do it!" But, the majority were adamant, "No, we can't," they said. "They are stronger than we. They are taller than we. They are giants. We seemed like grasshoppers in comparison to them." When you think of yourself as a grasshopper, other people will soon come to the same conclusion. The image we carry of ourselves is usually, eventually, the image others get. If you think you are short, small, insignificant, unimportant, others will soon think the same.

Which report do you think the people adopted? They ignored Caleb and believed the majority report. They were very upset. They wept all night, and in the morning turned against Moses. "Why didn't you let us die in Egypt? Why did you bring us here? Why is the Lord bringing us to a land where we will be slaughtered? Why don't we just forget it and go back to Egypt." Back to Egypt, back to slavery. Had they so easily forgotten what their lives were like in Egypt? Not only did they complain to Moses, they began to say murmur, "Let's choose someone else to be our captain, and go back to Egypt."

Joshua then joined Caleb in the minority report. Two against not only the other ten on the reconnaissance committee, but two against the multitude. Joshua and Caleb cried out, "The land that we spied out is a good land, a land that flows with milk and honey." Then they said, and note this statement of faith, "If the Lord is pleased with us, he will bring us into this land and give it to us." And they pleaded with the people, "Do not rebel against the Lord, and don't be afraid of the people who live there. They are humans like we." Guess what the reaction of the crowd was? Numbers 14:10, But the whole congregation threatened to stone them. So much for the popularity of minority reports!

What do you suppose the Lord thought of all this? The Lord was not pleased with either the majority report or the negative faithless response of the people. The Lord had rescued them from slavery in Egypt. The Lord had fed them and watered them in the wilderness. The Lord had promised them a land-- a home-- and now, out of fear and lack of faith, they wanted to go back to Egypt. The Lord fumed, and in the early Old Testament, the Lord is perceived as having very strong emotions. Numbers 14:11-12, "How long will this people despise me? And how long will they refuse to believe in me, in spite of all the signs that I have done among them? I will strike them with pestilence and disinherit them."

Moses argued with the Lord. Moses believed in changing God's mind. Moses told the Lord, "When the nations hear that the mission has failed, they will say it is because You, the Lord, failed. They will say You were not able to pull it off. Forgive your people, according to the greatness of your steadfast love. Forgive them, Lord." The Lord listened to Moses, backed off from his pestilence and disinheritance talk, and said, "All right, already. I forgive them, but the entry into the promised land is postponed until this generation dies. Of the 12 spies, only Joshua and Caleb shall see the promised land." The majority of ten did not enter the promised land. At the end of the forty year period, the minority report became the majority report. They went home to the promised land.

We had an example this week of the power of the minority. The Trustees scheduled a Work Day for yesterday, but early in the week, it was discovered that most, if not all, of the Trustees would not be able to participate, including the chairperson who is away on a business trip. The logical thing to do was to cancel the Work Day. That was the majority report. But, then my wife, Ellie, heard of the cancellation. She said, "We can't do that. It has been announced. People are planning to come. How will they feel if they arrive to work, and find out it has been canceled? Besides that, there is work to be done. Classrooms need painting. Outside doors need touchup." She made a minority report, got on the telephone and began recruiting. In the calling, she discovered that, yes, several were planning to come because they had read the announcements.

Lloyd Hall and Richard Perez stepped forward to be foremen. 45 people were organized into three teams. A team came on Friday and prepared the rooms. Saturday morning a team painted and refinished. Saturday afternoon a team cleaned, including windows and blinds. Several sent in home-made baked goods. The workers had a great time fellowshiping, feasting and working together. And, our children now have bright, fresh classrooms in which to learn about Jesus. If you couldn't volunteer or weren't recruited for this weekend, new opportunities will soon appear. Our church bursts with activity and mission as we experience and share the love of Christ (which is our new mission statement.)

Our Administrative Council has stepped out on faith and adopted goals for 1997 to hire a part-time pastor to work specifically with older adults, to start a Video ministry, to continue to expand our excellent children and youth ministry. The minority report ( and I say minority because the Administrative Council is a small group of people compared to the size of the congregation) proposes a 1997 budget of $ 330,000, plus special mission offerings. The income in 1993, my first year here, was $226,511. Now, we're looking for $ 330,000 next year, an increase of over $100,000. Some shake their heads. Caleb says, "Sure, we can do it!" Joshua steps up to join him, "Absolutely, this congregation can do it!" In November we will have a finance campaign to visit every member of the church to see what the majority report will be! May the minority report become the majority report as we together experience and share the love of Christ.

What about your life? What little voices dominate? Those who whisper, "You can't do that. You're too small. You're too weak. You'll never make it." Or, those who urge you, push you, "Sure, you can. Look at who you are. Look at Whose you are. You are not a nobody. You are God's person." When Nelson Mandella was inaugurated as head of the South African government, his inaugural speech included these words,

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.

Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.

It is our Light, not our Darkness, that most frightens us.

We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?

You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the World.

There is nothing enlightening about shrinking so that other people won't feel unsure around you.

We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.

Where those who gave the majority report made their mistake was in looking at the wrong things. They looked at how well the cities were protected. They looked at how strong the inhabitants were. They looked at how tall the people were, and saw themselves as grasshoppers in comparison. What they should have looked at was the glory of the Lord, the power of the Lord, the promise of the Lord. What they should have looked at was what the Lord was calling them to be and do.

When the Lord is at work, the minority report becomes the majority report.

© 1996 Douglas I. Norris