Leon the bull owned a large and prosperous farm. It had kept him, his wife and his four calves generously supplied for many years. when Leon was old, he made out his will. His money and goods he divided equally among his offspring. However, he had difficulty deciding which of his children should receive the farm. "I'll tell you what to do." said his wife. "Give it to the one who does the best work."
Now Leon had two sons and two daughters. All of them overheard what their mother said. Immediately, the eldest bull, Dave, went out and plowed the entire north forty. Muriel, the eldest cow harvested all of the fruit from the orchard. The younger bull, Jack, built a fence around the entire farm, erected a new silo and repaired the old windmill. Only May, the youngest cow made no attempt to curry her father's favor.
When their curiosity finally got the better of them, the two bulls and the eldest cow asked which one would be inherriting the farm. They were all surprised when he named May.
"Don't think I'm not grateful for all that you have done." said Leon. "Your work has been wonderful, but it is also recent. I am placing Muriel in charge of the farm because she has proven her worth to me by caring for this farm for many years. She worked hard while the rest of you were still very difficult to motivate."
As I was preparing to write this sermon, I thought it would be fairly simple. when God introduces Himself, He often uses the names of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as references. This is how He introduced himself to Moses. Not that He needs human testimony, but so that we know who He is, He identifies Himself as the God of these three men.
Abraham was a very noteworthy man. He literally had his own personal army. Jacob was also noteworthy. He was so clever it bordered on being illegal. Isaac's story, if we exclude the parts directly related to his father and his son, is fairly unremarkable. Isaac never did anything tremendously heroic. He never destroyed a terrible enemy. He wasn't terribly clever. He didn't even find his own wife. Isaac was a fellow who kept to himself and generally stayed out of other people's way, it seems. That's not to say that he never made mistakes or that nothing ever happened to him. He did tell the same lie that his father did, telling folks that his wife was his sister, consequently getting Abimilech into a heap of trouble. And he did have trouble with the neighbors stealing his wells. But Isaac was the kind who would rather move than fight over a well. Isaac even made peace with his half-brother, who hated him. At the end of Abraham's life, we see Isaac and Ishmael burying their father together.
What makes Isaac stand out is the fact that He was steadfast. In his childhood, we saw that Isaac had a great deal of faith both in God and in his father. Abraham told Isaac that God would provide a lamb. Isaac put his faith in God and in his father. He allowed himself to be bound and placed on the altar, believing that God would provide a sacrificial animal to take his place. That faith continued throughout his life. At the time of his death, Isaac's faith was such that he fully expected God to honor the blessings that he spoke to his sons, even though Jacob's blessing had been meant for Esau.
All in all, Isaac's life wasn't very noteworthy when compared to others in his family, but because he is steadfast in his faith, God mentions him as though they were kin. (Which, of course, they eventually will be, but that's another story.)
How many people here are lifelong believers? I am one. And you know what? Though it seems counterintuitive, it doesn't feel all that great. Our reading today was from part of the parable of the prodigal son. I believe that Jesus included this specific part of the story for folks like me. It gets hard for me, sometimes, to join in the hymns that the others are singing about how they were mired in sin for so long, wandering around lost for years, until Jesus changed their lives. I can't sing those songs and mean them because I was never lost. How "mired in sin" can a person be at age eight? There is a lot of huzzah and hooplah over the lost who come to a saving knowledge of Christ, who spend the rest of their lives talking about what God brought them out of, but for lifers like me, it seems sometimes like we're an afterthought. I sometimes tell people that I don't have a testimony, because I wasn't brought out of anything, since I was never in it to begin with.
There is a definite tendancy to feel jealous, to feel overlooked. I was just telling a couple of you last week that I have felt for years that I was beneath God's notice. Of course, I don't complain. I recognize the fact that being noticed by God is not a right. When I sing that I am nothing on my own, that much, at least, is true. Yet it still makes me sad. When you have a clear picture of what God has saved you out of, the contrast helps you see God's work clearly. But when you've never been without God, the contrast isn't there. You really can't know what you've been kept from and sometimes, it's downright difficult to see what God has done for you. This can be very lonely.
One needs to keep mindful that just because God is hard to detect does not mean He isn't there. Since the day that God asked for Isaac as a sacrifice, there is no direct evidence of God working in Isaac's life. Yet we know that God WAS at work in Isaac's life. It's easy to see in context and in retrospect. God blessed Isaac with exactly the right wife. He kept Rebekah safe from Abimilech, gave them both favor in Abimilech's eyes, even though Isaac did not understand that at the time. He prospered Isaac materially, gave him peace from his enemies, and made sure that his inheritance did NOT go to the son who sorely grieved his parents by deliberately marrying three heathen women.
It can be readily argued that even though late-life converts such as Paul, Moses and Nebuchadnezzar can easily see God working in their lives, years spent living in obedience to God are easily better than years without. And concerning the lack of an interesting testimony, I'd like to quote something a good friend and fellow lifer said to me recently. "Testimony is to give glory to God anyway, that mine does so by its LACK of detail rather than its abundance is just the way things are and not good or bad. Looked at from a certain perspective it means I was blessed with parents who could and did explain the matter to me well and am 'good' enough in myself to realize my need sooner rather than later."
Isaac is proof that even if you can't see strong evidence of God working in your life, that doesn't mean He isn't, and it CERTAINLY doesn't mean He doesn't care. Isaac's life is a straightaway in the river of history, having no turns, rapids, waterfalls or marshes, taking the waters straight from point A to point B. It is nevertheless a very important part. Without Isaac, there would be no Jacob. No Jacob means no Israel.
I realize that this sermon has been pretty much exclusively for people who are already Christians. Nonchristians, if you've been reading my sermons, you already know what my challenge to you is going to be- ask Jesus to be the Lord of your life. I think I have said that enough times to preach a sermon without the salvation message directly in it.
For lifelong Christians, if you've ever felt jealous of late-life converts, you can look at the life of Isaac and see just how fortunate you really are.
For late-life converts, I hope that today's message will help us to build up bridges between our two groups by letting you know how the lifers often feel and creating the opportunity to demonstrate love and understanding.
Today's reading: Luke 15:25-31
25 "Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing.
26 So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on.
27 'Your brother has come,' he replied, 'and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.'
28 "The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him.
29 But he answered his father, 'Look! All these years I've been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends.
30 But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!'
31 "'My son,' the father said, 'you are always with me, and everything I have is yours.