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Isaiah: Touch of the Burning CoalJeremiah: How Long Will the Land Mourn?Ezekiel: From Heart of Stone to Heart of FleshThe Book of the Twelve: Let Justice Roll Down Like Waters

Biblical prophets/Isaiah: Touch of the Burning Coal

Meditation and Reading taken from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible
All other text by Cynthia Stewart

For a historical introduction to this sacred text, see Leader Resource 1: Historical Introduction -
Today's Themes

A number of the Biblical prophets paint verbal pictures of their calls to lives as messengers of the Lord, but Isaiah’s is particularly iconic. As the burning coal touches the prophet’s lips, we are reminded of the pain involved in being the one chosen for this very public and often-hated role. The prophet’s job is to cause discomfort, to show the wrongs that have been covered in a veneer of smug righteousness, and to demand both personal and communal accountability from those who have no interest in giving it. Through the work that bears his name, and particularly in sections known as the songs of the suffering servant (42:1-4, 49:1-6, 50:4-11, 52:13-53:12), Isaiah reminds us of the unwelcome and even torturous reception that the prophet of righteousness can expect.

Words used in this session:
seraphs – members of the highest order of angels

Call To Worship

Prophetic voices fill my ears and the word of the Lord touches my lips as I call you into this moment. Will you hear it?

Will you gather here with an open heart, letting your whole being proclaim the truth that you have seen?

Will you answer the call to minister in your own life to friend and enemy, family member and stranger?

Will you let the burning coal of compassion touch your lips and your eyes and your heart, and purify you of guilt and doubt and fear?

Like the prophets of old, will you live your vision?


     …I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple…And I said, “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”
     Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: “Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt is departed and your sin is blotted out.” Then I hard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I; send me!”

Isaiah 6:1, 5-8 (NRSV)


The Lord God has given me
     the tongue of a teacher,
that I may know how to sustain
     the weary with a word.
Morning by morning he wakens –
     wakens my ear
     to listen as those who are taught.
The Lord God has opened my ear,
     and I was not rebellious,
     I did not turn backward.
I gave my back to those who struck me,
     and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard;
I did not hide my face
     from insult and spitting….
Who will contend with me?
     Let us stand up together.
Who are my adversaries?
     Let them confront me.
It is the Lord God who helps me;
     who will decelare me guilty?

Isaiah 50:4-6, 8-9 (NRSV)


The prophet’s path is not an easy one. Too often reviled for speaking truth to power and power to the powerless, still the prophet continues in the ways of righteousness. She holds up the banner of justice, and asks each of us to measure ourselves against it.

As you move beyond these walls and into your days, let your life become this banner, so that others may look to you for the measure of justice, and goodness, and truth.

Go in peace.