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The Silent Treatment
Isaiah 6 v 1-8, John 3 v. 1-7.
Dave Gladwell

Since this is Father’s day, I thought it would be appropriate if I said a few words especially to Father’s this morning. The subject I want to talk about is ‘the silent treatment’ – I’m sure all of you dad’s have experienced this extremely refined form of torture. Now I don’t want to give anything away of a strategic nature to our beloved and better halves – so I’m going to turn the mike off for a second so that only the Dad’s will hear.

(Turn mike off and proceed to speak without uttering a sound for 30 seconds or so.) (Turn mike back on and start speaking again).

Now I hope those pointers will be a great help for all you guys next time you get the silent treatment. It’s a funny thing though, you never find out exactly what you did wrong, at least in our house anyway, you get these pointed statements that just stop short of revealing exactly what the problem is and how you could actually do something about it. But that’s not the point you see, the point is not to solve the problem, the point is that we suffer for . . . . . .well we’re not quite sure what we’re suffering for.

The first thing I do is figure out which month it is – just to make sure I didn’t forget a birthday, second check is for the anniversary – “oh good we’re still in June – a whole month to forget that one!”. The second thing to do is find a safe place to hide, I have a barn so I’m pretty lucky, but a garage or a workshop is just as good. The Church office is pretty useful for hiding in too! The next thing is to perfect the art of not looking directly at one’s beloved until the silent treatment is over. This is to avoid THE GLARE. The Glare is a powerful weapon, and should it catch you full in the eyes, well, you’re just finished – so at all costs – avoid the Glare. In my experience the best thing to do is find a job that takes all your time and attention for a few days and just go get on with it, making it very obvious when you do meet ‘you know who’ how much your enjoying life and particularly enjoying the opportunity to get this big job done.

The Silent Treatment.

Isaiah was getting the silent treatment too, not from his wife but from all the people around him. From verse 9 on:

Be ever hearing, but never understanding; Be ever seeing, but never perceiving. Make the heart of this people callused; Make their ears dull and close their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, Hear with their ears, Understand with their hearts, And turn and be healed.

As we read this passage, it is hard to understand. Why would God send Isaiah out to say words that would never be understood, that would never cause people to turn to God. It seems such a waste to us. The passage is unintelligible to us! We are among the people that do not understand what this particular silent treatment is all about. We don’t understand because to us, what matters is results. We want to see students getting high marks, businesses making money, Churches getting filled with people, people living changed lives for God. There’s nothing wrong with any of those things – in fact in their own way they are all quite laudable. But that’s not where God is at, and neither is it where Isaiah is at. I recently watched a movie called Paradise Road. It has been out for some years, but I had never noticed it before. It is about a group of women who are held in a concentration camp in Sumatra after the fall of Singapore in WWII.

They are treated atrociously by the Japanese jailers; beaten, tortured; one Chinese woman was even burnt alive for smuggling quinine into the camp to help another woman with Malaria. The women’s eventual response to this treatment is to form a voice choir where they reproduce awesomely beautiful classical music. The jailers cannot understand this and break up the choir practices with violence. Eventually, though the jailers too succumb to the beauty of the music and sit and listen. Paradise road is a movie about silent treatment and it also happens to be a true story. Paradise road is about women who dared to express the wondrous beauty of life in the most godforsaken hell on earth.

Where is Isaiah at? Isaiah is in the presence of the Living God, huge, awesome, immense before tiny Isaiah. Thundering and shaking. The angel voices beat through his body. Isaiah is ruined, it seems pulled, bone from bone. His body aches all over. He is consumed with the extreme holiness and purity of God. “God, help me” cries Isaiah, weeping, flat out, near dead on the floor. An angel flies with a burning, hot coal and touches his lips with it. Scalded, blistering, bloody, his lips are sealed, but he is purified, no longer unclean, but clean like a new-born babe. As the voice of God booms across space and time “Whom shall I send?”. Tiny Isaiah, lips cracked and bleeding, whispers to the floor, “Here am I. Send me!”. Isaiah is not concerned with his theology marks, he is not concerned with how much money he has in the bank, about how full the Church is, or not.

He has met the Living God, and barely survived the experience. An experience he can never forget, that haunts him day and night, an experience that drives him, forces him to speak of God as he sees the lackluster lives being lived around him. They give him the silent treatment. They do not listen to his sermons. They do not fill his pews. They do not understand this crazy fanatic who calls out about God’s impending judgment. How long? How long? Cries Isaiah in his prayers. How long do I have to put up with this, I long to be back in Your Holy Presence. How long? God’s answer should chill us to the bone:

Until the cities lie ruined and without inhabitant, Until the houses are left deserted and the fields ruined and ravaged, Until the Lord has sent everyone far away and the land is utterly forsaken.

In other words – until they are devastated before me as you were in the temple Isaiah. There is no alternative, either know Me in the devastation of worship, or you will be forced to know Me in the devastation that is life and death on earth.

Maybe God is giving us the silent treatment, waiting for us, hoping that we will choose worship instead of a life of hellish disappointment.

“You must be born again” says Jesus to Nicodemus. Such language was nonsense to Nicodemus – unintelligible. Nicodemus was like the unclean people around Isaiah – they could see something amazing had happened to Isaiah. But what? Nicodemus could see everyone was listening to Jesus, but what was Jesus saying that was so significant? Born again of the Spirit? Ridiculous! Nicodemus looked, but he did not see, he listened but he did not hear – at least at first. We know from later in John (John 19:39) where we see him bringing 75lbs of myrrh for Jesus’ burial that Nicodemus did see and understand in the end. We don’t know about Isaiah’s countryfolk.

Have you seen? Do you understand?

Some people ask me, how are YOU going to fill the empty pews? Some gentler people say, how are WE going to fill the pews? How are WE going to get more young people into Church?

I don’t hear God answering these questions. Maybe God is giving us the silent treatment. Maybe God waits for us to ask the right questions. Maybe God waits for us to ask: How can we see? How can we understand?

Maybe God waits in silence until we begin to ask, “God show yourself to us like you did to Isaiah. Devastate us, scald our lips with burning coal that we may be purified.” God, ask us “Whom shall I send?”.

Of course, if we ever ask that question, then God will certainly answer it – so we had better be jolly certain we want it answered.

Will we say, “Here am I, send me.” ?

The people will look at us and not see, hear us and not understand. They will give us the silent treatment. But, we will not care that pews are empty, for our focus will be on the Living God, all our mind and thought and praise will be for our awesome, loving Daddy. Amen.