Coals of Forgiveness

Year B Revised Common Lectionary
Trinity Sunday

Year C 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."

8After this, I heard the LORD ask, "Is there anyone I can send? Will someone go for us?" I'll go," I answered. "Send me!"

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:

  • Sickness of loved ones. No matter how much we love our family members, no matter how tenderly we care for them, we cannot keep our loved ones from getting sick. Being move loving, doing more for God, is not going to make a loved one get better again.

    In no way does the illness of a loved one disqualify a person from service for God. When the angel of God touches our lips with the hot coal, we realize that the God of grace is sufficient to allow us to be called even when we've seen sickness in our family.

  • Death of loved ones. The unfortunate reality is that loved ones die. We can love and cherish an aging partner, an aging parent, or a very ill loved one. No matter how much we love an aging partner or parent, no matter how well we care for that person, a time will come when our partner or parent will pass away. And that death is not our fault.

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!

  • Failures of other people - life partner, parents, children, or brothers or sisters are not our fault. Children do not fix parents. We cannot expect a toddler to fix any problems a parent has. Children do not correct deficits in their parents. A husband or a wife's job is not to fix the partner. One person does not fix another person. Parents try to raise children to make good decisions, but are not responsible for every mistake a child makes, for every poor decision a child makes. As long as children, especially adult children, have minds of their own they will make a few decisions that are not good. Those decisions are not the fault of parents, brothers, sisters or anybody else.

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.

  • Disabilities, or illnesses. Disease and disabilities happen. Unfortunately, if people live long enough they will have some from of long-term disease, disability, or handicap.

    Disease, illness, and disability are not curses from God. A loving, caring God does not punish people with handicaps, diseases, and illnesses. To people who've felt the ravages and pain of illness and disability, the angel of God touches you to let you know there is no reason for guilt. God is not through with you. In fact, God wants to do wonderful things through you.

  • Economic failure and unemployment, due to changes in the economy, are not a person's fault. We cannot control swings in the economy. The best known economists in the world cannot predict economic swings very well.

    There are pastors who teach that anybody who is not blessed by God lacks faith. That narrow view of how God blesses people is not realistic, healthy, or theologically sound. An angel reaching down to those who have experienced financial loss is touching you with the hope that God is with you, that God is waiting to bless your service.

  • Who you are. Gay, lesbian, bisexual, and trans-identified people have no reason to feel guilt. A sexual orientation, or a gender identification is not a sin.

    God calls gay, lesbian, bisexual, and trans-identified people to service. The very God that is represented in the Bible as calling you from before the foundation of the world,2 of forming you in the womb,3 and as creating you for God's glory,4 glories in you, glories in your God-given potential. And that God is moving in your life, to give your life, your ministry for God rich meaning and life-changing impact.

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!”


1“Strong’s Hebrew and Greek Dictionaries.e-Sword. (Software Program. Franklin, TN: Equipping Ministries Foundation, 2000)

2Ephesians 1:4-5.

3Isaiah 44:2 and Isaiah 49:5.

4Isaiah 43:7.

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