Ordinary II: The Silent Treatment?

Sermon – Ordinary Sunday 2  [2nd Sunday after Epiphany] Year C – Jan 20 2019 – by Fr Greg Davies

Theme: The silent treatment?

[Isaiah 62.1-5; 1 Corinthians 12.4-11; John 2.1-12]


Have you ever been on the receiving end of the ‘silent treatment’?  You know something is wrong when there is no conversation, no communication as usual – all is silent and the tension can be palpable.  I have to be honest – I hate the silent treatment – feelings of anger and frustration increase and that if it goes on too long - I find myself saying something in order to try and bring things to a head.

I could not help but wonder if this kind of scenario may be the backdrop to our first reading from the prophet Isaiah.  For what is essentially a proclamation by the prophet of God’s salvation for his people, begins in fact with a complaint to God by the prophet - saying that salvation should be a lot more evident in Jerusualem than it is.

The assumption which forms the background of this reading is that God is all too silent and the prophet cannot bear it any longer.  Thus, he complains to God and says that for the sake of Zion/Jerusalem, he will not keep silent even though God may be presently silent.  The prophet is then bold enough to speak for God and proclaim that Jerusalem will experience a reversal and that it is to be symbolized through a name change.

[2] The nations shall see your vindication, and all the kings your glory; and you shall be called by a new name that the mouth of the Lord will give.

How can the prophet be so bold or presumptuous?  The reason the prophet can be so bold as to speak for God is because he has a written copy of God’s promises of salvation, which he not only believes in but on which he is even willing to call God to task.

The context for this proclamation is that the people have returned from Exile and are rebuilding their homes and lives.  They are vulnerable and yet impatient for evidence of God’s presence and glory - for vindication amidst the turmoil and uncertainty of the times.

These words of the prophet form a proclamation that is surely to be a source of encouragement when times are bleak and God seems not to be living up to God’s side of the bargain. 

The word of encouragement for us though, is not only in terms of the proclamation itself but also in the relationship between the Prophet and God - when God’s prophets or instruments are not passive but dynamic in their actions and speech to and with God. This seems to me to affirm strongly both the need and right to question God - to complain to God – and especially in the midst of silence to bring things to a head if necessary and ask what is going on?  Why is God silent?  Is God silent?  Am I not listening or seeing?

When God fails to act or react on our terms - just like when we think we are getting the silent treatment from God, our natural reaction is to do exactly the same thing - I can play that game too - like in human relationships we go off in a huff and refuse any communication - stop praying, cease coming to worship and so on.  The prophet by his action tells us that this will get us nowhere - in fact the silent treatment - if indeed God actually does that - may be one way or the only way for God to grab our attention so that we might truly listen, see and engage the God within and around us.  The prophet says by his action - keep the communication going - don’t give up on God because God does not and never will give up on us.

This is the message of our readings this morning - firstly in the proclamation of the prophet that Zion will be vindicated and that God will give her a new name.  This is God’s action and the motivation for this is the delight and love that God has for his people, just like a bridegroom for his bride.

This reality is also expressed in the various gifts of the Holy Spirit that are entrusted to the community of faith for its life and witness - for the common good.  And then as our gospel clearly shows in the person and work of Jesus and in particular in John’s gospel through the epiphanies or signs such as we witness in the story of the wedding at Cana.

If we have lingering doubts about God remaining silent then John’s gospel dispels them.  The purpose of this gospel is in no uncertain terms to bear witness to the fact that God is the creator and Lord of all things.  The gospel is about the manifestation of God’s sovereign rule in the life of the world and looks to the ultimate completion of God’s total work in terms of a new heaven and a new earth [symbolized perhaps in that the new wine is served last – a complete reversal of the status quo].

And we are given more than a glimpse of what this new heaven and earth is like in the ministry of Jesus.  These signs given by Jesus are grounded in the ordinary physical world.  They effect what they signify and they signify what they effect, namely the present reality of the gracious rule of our God.  They are the foundation upon which the sacramental life of the church rests and the sacraments of the church derive their character as effective signs from the ministry of Jesus in whom the rule of God is present.

These stories such as the wedding at Cana bear powerful witness that the Word has been made flesh, that this human life is the living word of God in action and that Jesus is God’s presence.  They do not merely illustrate or symbolize divine actions - they are the record of divine action itself.  And like most signs they point to something else - something that goes beyond their immediate reality.  For example, in the wedding at Cana, the readers whom the evangelist is addressing already know that wine has a sacramental meaning beyond its use as part of the wedding celebration - we soon learn that Jesus himself is the true vine and that the wine of joy is in fact the blood of Jesus - the blood of the new covenant poured out for the life of the world.

This gospel makes very clear that not only in the individual signs such as at the wedding at Cana, but rather in the whole life and ministry of Jesus - the Word made flesh, God is anything but silent.  And even when we cannot hear or experience God - when we are in the desert so to speak and it seems we are on the end of the silent treatment - the challenge again is to maintain the dialogue [or monologue as it may seem to be] and keep the communication lines open through our prayer, worship and the scriptures - in these and other ways we at the very least maintain a relationship with God - we like the prophet continue to engage God even if it be in terms of complaint, anger, frustration or challenge - for in particular through our worship and reflection on the scriptures we keep the life lines open, for in and through them we expose ourselves to the very presence of God in and through their witness.   Their witness that we hear again today must surely be a source of encouragement and faith in a God who indeed is utterly faithful to the promises made and fulfilled in our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

Alae Taule'alo