Coals of Forgiveness
B Revised Common Lectionary
Fifth Sunday after Epiphany
Isaiah 6:1-8 (Contemporary English Version) In the year that King Uzziah died, [a] I had a vision of the LORD. He was on his throne high above, and his robe filled the temple. 2Flaming creatures with six wings each were flying over him. They covered their faces with two of their wings and their bodies with two more. They used the other two wings for flying, 3as they shouted, "Holy, holy, holy, LORD All-Powerful! The earth is filled with your glory."
4As they shouted, the doorposts of the temple shook, and the temple was filled with smoke. 5Then I cried out, "I'm doomed! Everything I say is sinful, and so are the words of everyone around me. Yet I have seen the King, the LORD All-Powerful."
6One of the flaming creatures flew over to me with a burning coal that it had taken from the altar with a pair of metal tongs. 7It touched my lips with the hot coal and said, "This has touched your lips. Your sins are forgiven, and you are no longer guilty."
Verse five has a slightly different feel in the old King James version. “I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips.”
Unclean lips in Hebrew carries with it the sense of lips that are “unclean, defiled, polluted, infamous” in a religious sense.1 Isaiah did not feel his lips were pure or clean enough to serve God in a religious capacity. But that soon changed.
The angel touched Isaiah's lips with a live coal, fresh off the fire. And Isaiah's sins and guilt were gone.
The things Isaiah did that he wished he had not done, the sins of commission, were gone. The things Isaiah did not do and wished he had done, the sins of omission, were gone. Just as important, Isaiah's guilt was gone.
Angels are messengers for God. In the story, God sent a messenger to ensure Isaiah was equipped to serve God's people. God is still doing that. The God we worship is still in the business of freeing people from guilt and sin, so they can serve.
To answer the call in a powerful way, God still cleanses those who answer the call to service. The sin of God's servants are washed away. And their guilt is removed. Instead of feeling defiled and unable to serve God, they are capable of rendering earth-changing service for our Creator, Comforter, and Redeemer.
Guilt for all of the things that were done that should not have been done, guilt for thoughts spoken that would have been better left unsaid, is gone. Removed is the guilt for things that could have, and possibly should have been done, but did not get done.
Another type of guilt is also gone. This is guilt for mistakes or sins that are not our mistakes, not our sins. There are times when people feel guilty for things that were not their responsibility. The guilt felt is very real, but the responsibility is only perceived. In reality, there is no rational reason to feel guilt. Guilt for the things a that are not our fault, not our responsibility, is removed.
A few examples of things over which people may guilt when they are not to blame are as follows:
Experiencing loss is not a sign God does not love us or has not called us to do special things for the Kingdom. And God sends messengers to tell you that!
The entire world may have failed you, may have let you down. That in no way limits God's love for you or disqualifies you to serve God.
Close your eyes for a moment. Today, you are standing in Isaiah's place. The call of God is upon you. And you do not feel worthy. Your heart objects – you feel just too unworthy to do anything for the Ruler of the Universe.
And you hear the flutter of angels wings, feel the brush of those wings. An angel takes a hot coal and touches it to your lips. The heat does not burn, but feels pleasant. You feel cleansing and healing power flow through your tongue, to your heart, to your mind, to your entire body. All of your guilt, both real and imagined is gone.
God made you sacred. You are sacred, sacred enough to serve our Creator, Redeemer, and Comforter. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob stands ready to guide you in paths of service, in paths of righteousness. And God glories in you, because you are God's son or God's daughter.
You hear God's question, “Is there anybody I can send?” And with enthusiasm you reply, “Send me!”