Patron Saint of Mediocrity
16 August 2017
Isaac turned out to be something of a dud. I suppose it is the problem of every child with an illustrious father. How do you live up to the expectations left by the great man? Certainly, Isaac never lived up to Abraham's stellar record. And yet, he was the child of promise and was in the messianic line. He was a child born of a miracle. He inherited great promises from God, and held the deed to the land of Canaan for future generations. However, this great patriarch was subject to the ridicule of another, less important boy, Ishmael, his half-brother. Abraham sent a servant to fetch Isaac a wife. Maybe Abraham knew he didn't have the pluck to find his own. Isaac withholds the birthright from his own sons until he is so old and doddering that he can be fooled into blessing Jacob instead of Esau. His track record is not so good. Isaac is the patron saint of mediocrity.
Like many of us Isaac could look back upon a life of missed opportunities. Yet, God still used him. As the son of promise he was the father of many nations. His blessing was still the blessing of God, because what God said through him came to be. Isaac's failures became God's successes. One cannot attribute the life of Isaac to the towering abilities of this man, but can only be attributed to the grace of God. No other way could the mediocre be said to be great in the firmament of human stars.
God uses those who are not as well blessed as the truly brilliant stars. Lacking power and strength of their own, only God is their strength and their power. They are able quietly to wait upon God, which is the very essence of faith. They do not struggle against the gospel but receive it in peace. Ishmael, despite being a dud, had the full panoply of divine gifts, the Word, the promise of forgiveness and the messianic line, and the hope of an eternal home given by God. He gives over the birthright and messianic blessing to Jacob, who was altogether unworthy of it. Yet in all this the gospel of free grace was highlighted in his life. God's grace was paramount when Isaac displayed human weakness. So too we ought to pray for Isaac's blessed weakness.

Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Memorial Lutheran Church

Augustine of Hippo

"Abraham might have thought that in Ishmael God fulfilled what He had promised him, saying, when he wished to adopt his home-born servant, 'This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir' (Gn 15:4). Therefore, lest he should think that what was promised was fulfilled in the handmaid's son, 'When Abram was ninety-nine years old the LORD appeared to Abram and said to him, "I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless, that I may make my covenant between me and you, and may multiply you greatly"' (Gn 17:1-2).
"Here there are more distinct promises about the calling of the nations in Isaac, that is, in the son of the promise, by which grace is signified, and not nature. For the son is promised from an old man and a barren old woman. For although God effects even the natural course of procreation, yet where the agency of God is manifest, through the decay or failure of nature, grace is more clearly discerned. This was to be brought about, not by generation, but by regeneration, and therefore circumcision was commanded now, when a son was promised of Sarah. By ordering all, not only sons, but also home-born and purchased servants to be circumcised, He testifies that this grace pertains to all. For what else does circumcision signify than a nature renewed on the putting off of the old? What else does the eighth day mean than Christ, who rose again when the week was completed, that is, after the Sabbath? The very names of the parents are changed: all things proclaim newness, and the new covenant is shadowed forth in the old. For what does the term old covenant imply but the concealing of the new? What does the term new covenant imply but the revealing of the old? The laughter of Abraham is the exultation of one who rejoices, not the scornful laughter of one who mistrusts. Those words of his in his heart, 'Shall a son be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a son?' (Gn 17:17) are not the words of doubt, but of wonder.
"When it is said, 'And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God' (Gn 17:8), if it troubles any one whether this is to be held as fulfilled, or whether its fulfillment may still be looked for, since no kind of earthly possession can be everlasting for any nation whatever, let him know that the word translated everlasting, by our writers is what the Greeks term eternity, which is derived from 'eon,' the Greek for an age. The Latins have not ventured to translate this by 'secular,' lest they change the meaning into something quite different. For many things are called secular which so happen in this world as to pass away even in a short time; but what is termed an eternity either has no end, or lasts to the very end of this world."

Augustine, The City of God, 16.26
Genesis 17:9-22
 And God said to Abraham, "As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations.  This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised.  You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you.  He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised. Every male throughout your generations, whether born in your house or bought with your money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring,  both he who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money, shall surely be circumcised. So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant.  Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant."
 And God said to Abraham, "As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name.  I will bless her, and moreover, I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall become nations; kings of peoples shall come from her."  Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed and said to himself, "Shall a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?"  And Abraham said to God, "Oh that Ishmael might live before you!"  God said, "No, but Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his offspring after him.  As for Ishmael, I have heard you; behold, I have blessed him and will make him fruitful and multiply him greatly. He shall father twelve princes, and I will make him into a great nation.  But I will establish my covenant with Isaac, whom Sarah shall bear to you at this time next year."  When he had finished talking with him, God went up from Abraham.  
Lord God, You gave great and powerful promises to Isaac our father. Grant us in our day to live by faith and not by works. Amen.
For persecuted Christians all over the world, that they might be able to confess Christ and be shaped like His suffering
For police and other public safety officials, that the holy angels would guard them in the commission of their duties
For the faculty and staff of Memorial Lutheran School as they begin a new school year, that Christ the master teacher would grant the joy of learning and teaching to them all
Art: Albrecht DURER,  The Adoration of the Trinity (1511)
Memorial Lutheran Church
© Scott Murray 2017
Memorial Lutheran Church, 5800 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX 77057
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