Study Guide: Mission Impossible

Sunday August 1, 2004 | Brenda Salter-McNeil

Focus Scripture:

Brief Summary:

Brenda reissued the challenge of serving a radical savior. If we feel God has called us to do the impossible, then we are indeed following the radical God of the Bible! However, if our faith doesn’t inspire us, we need to take another look at Jesus to see how far from dull and boring he really is. Brenda helped us do this using Isaiah 6 and many vivid analogies.

Extended Summary:

We were blessed to have the Rev. Dr. Brenda Salter McNeil present the Word of God to us this weekend! The theme of the message was Mission Impossible and the text was Isaiah 6. Just as Sandra challenged us last week with the reminder the Jesus is truly a radical savior—far more dangerous to follow than the flannel-graph versions we use in Sunday school—so also Rev. Brenda reissued the challenge. She reminded us that when we feel God has called us to do the seemingly impossible, that suggests we are indeed following the radical God of the Bible! If we are bored with our lives and feel as though our faith doesn’t inspire us, Rev. Brenda reminds us that we need to take another look at Jesus to see how far from dull and boring he really is!

One way that God inspires us to move toward the Kingdom of God is through meeting us concretely in worship. This was what happened to Isaiah. As you read through Is. 6 consider all the worship songs inspired by this passage! God interrupted Isaiah’s routine life of worship and prayer and blessed him with a supernatural vision of glory and majesty. Isaiah was overwhelmed and this changed not only how Isaiah saw God but also how he saw himself: unworthy of such intimacy with the pure and holy Creator of the Universe. This awareness caused him to confess that both he and those he represents are unworthy. He understood that he and all people had unclean lips which spoke out of unclean hearts.

God heard Isaiah’s confession and sends an angel to purify Isaiah’s lips with a hot coal. Rev. Brenda pointed out that being purified by God may not be easy and pain free. A hot coal on the lips is an extreme measure! Her encouragement to us was to hang in there nonetheless, even when we are undergoing a painful purifying process. Don’t follow the status quo that says, “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the fire!” Hang in there! God will see you through because God has a plan for you on the other side of this purifying process. I say, “If you can’t stand the heat, you ought to just get a fan! Wipe your brown, but do the best you can and don’t you DARE get out of that kitchen!” Some times, when the heat gets turned up in our lives, it’s not Satan’s hand controlling the thermostat but God’s. Though we do what we can to avoid pain (as well as the notion that God can cause it), it is often a part of the purifying process, as Isaiah found out.

After purifying Isaiah with the coal, God asks “who will I send?” and Isaiah responds, “Send me!” And then God gives Isaiah the message to take back to the people: “keep listening, but do not comprehend; keep looking but do not understand…” and so on with discouraging words about how things will go. Isaiah is understandably bothered by the idea of proclaiming God’s words without a fruitful effect and asks, “How long, oh Lord?” But it doesn’t get any better. Read Is. 6:11-13.

God is clearly warning Isaiah that though this message will not be well received, it is what God requires to build the Kingdom. Rev. Brenda connected this to how difficult it is to do the ministry of reconciliation that God has call us to in 2 Cor. 5 and other places. It may not be well received, we may lose people over it, but God has called us to this nonetheless! We may ask, “How long, Oh Lord!?” But that won’t change the call. As the Body of Christ, the Church has been given the mission of showing the world that the Kingdom of God is possible! Recall John 17:20-23. The will know that Jesus is the truth because the Body of Christ, the Church is unified in such a way that the world cannot duplicate. This is the ministry of reconciliation!

Rev. Brenda did not present a naively optimistic feel-good message! She warned us, because God has warned us, that it is going to be tough going. People are going to leave, things that we like may diminish, we might even start to look more like a stump (recall Is. 6:13). But that stump can be the holy seed that God wants to plant here in St. Paul in order to give birth to a whole new creation that God is building for the sake of the Kingdom! The radical challenge was: are we willing to obey God even if it conflicts with our own human goals for Woodland Hills Church? How far are we willing to go in pursuit of the vision that God has given this church? Where we see our own end, God sees the beginning of something profound for the Kingdom!

Reflection Questions:

  1. Recall the powerful analogy Rev. Brenda offered: Walmart casts a vision by putting a billboard up on an empty plot of land. On this sign there is envisioned not only the store of the future, but the people, the landscaping, the cars, the shopping carts…Walmart believes in their vision enough to project that vision with confidence, even though there is no sign of the future present on that plot of land. The messages, “Coming Soon!” and “Now Hiring!” demonstrate confidence in their vision. Do we have this sort of clarity and faith in the vision that God has given us here at WHC? Discuss this in your groups.
  2. Rev. Brenda offered us a powerful hope that comes from the whole witness of Scripture. God does not start something that God will not finish! Keeping this in mind, consider the three calls that were offered toward the end of the service: 1. Are you in the game? Have you encountered God in such a way that the vision for you life has been forever altered? 2. Are you weary? Has the difficulty of the mission worn you down? 3. Are you willing to be enlisted as agents of the Kingdom of God from here forward?
  3. Read the seventh value of WH: “One With the Body of Christ: We are part of the one Church in this region and are called by God to always function as a team player. Assisting other churches has the same Kingdom value as assisting our own. Reconciliation across racial, gender, economic and other lines that divide God’s people is an essential part of affirming the unity of the Body of Christ. Therefore, we will actively pursue this until the Lord returns. Discuss how it relates to this week’s sermon.