“Dedication Determines Destination”
July 02, 2017
By John Partridge*
Genesis 22:1-14 Romans 6:12-23
On July 4th, 1776, fifty-six men from 13 colonies signed the American Declaration of Independence. Of these, nine were immigrants, two were brothers, two were cousins, and one was an orphan. The average age of a signer was 45. Benjamin Franklin was the oldest delegate at 70. The youngest was Thomas Lynch Jr. of South Carolina at 27.
They were merchants, businessmen, farmers, doctors, lawyers, judges, legislators, one a clergyman, and while most all were Protestant, only one was Catholic.
What they signed was a list of grievances against the King of England that had not been resolved and, having complained, had been made worse. At the end of this declaration was an oath in which they swore their “support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.”
And they did. And the cost, for many of them, was steep.
Seventeen signers fought in the American Revolution and the British captured five of them during the war. Richard Stockton never recovered from his incarceration at the hands of British Loyalists. He died in 1781. Thomas McKean wrote to John Adams and said that he was “hunted like a fox by the enemy – compelled to remove my family five times in a few months.” Abraham Clark had two of his sons captured by the British during the war. Eleven signers had their homes and property destroyed. Francis Lewis’s home was razed and his wife taken prisoner. John Hart’s farm and mills were destroyed when the British invaded New Jersey, and he died while fleeing capture. Carter Braxton and Thomas Nelson lent large sums of their personal fortunes to support the war effort but were never repaid.1 Thomas Lynch contracted swamp fever while fighting with the South Carolina militia and his illness left him sickly for the rest of his life. Seeking relief from his illness he and his wife sailed for the south of France and were lost at sea. Joseph Hewes worked night and day and spent himself creating the new United States Navy. His health failed and he died from overexertion.2
These men knew that signing the Declaration of Independence would mark them as an enemy of the king and all of England. They didn’t make their choice of allegiance lightly. They knew that the American colonies had chosen a destination that would carry them away from England, her king, and their empire. But they also knew that reaching that destination would take incredible courage and dedication. Without their dedication and sacrifice, our freedom would have been impossible.
This is the theme that we also see in today’s scripture readings. We begin in Genesis 22:1-14, as we continue with the story of Abraham and Sarah.
22:1Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!”
“Here I am,” he replied.
2 Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.”
3 Early the next morning Abraham got up and loaded his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about. 4 On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. 5 He said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.”
6 Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them went on together, 7 Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, “Father?”
“Yes, my son?” Abraham replied.
“The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”
8 Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And the two of them went on together.
9 When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. 11 But the angel of the Lord called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!”
“Here I am,” he replied.
12 “Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.”
13 Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14 So Abraham called that place The Lord Will Provide. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.”
God, knowing full well that Abraham and Sarah had sent Ishmael and his mother out into the desert to die, or at the very least, knowing that they would never return, God asks Abraham, to take Isaac, his only son, his most prized, most loved, the son through whom God had promised to produce nations and people more numerous than the stars, and the one thing Abraham held to be more valuable than any other, even more than his own life, and to sacrifice him as a burnt offering on the top of a mountain. This was God’s test. God knew that Abraham loved him. God knew that Abraham trusted him, but God still wondered if Abraham was “All in.” To be fair, Abraham also knew what God had promised. He knew that God had promised that Isaac would be blessed and that God would make his family into a great nation. Abraham knew that Isaac was only the beginning of the fulfillment of God’s promise to make Abraham’s children as numberless as the stars in the sky. But now God wanted Abraham to take that promise to the top of a mountain and put a knife to Isaac’s neck. We don’t know what Abraham was thinking. Maybe he was thinking that God would relent and change his mind. Maybe he was thinking that God would raise Isaac from the dead. We don’t know.
What we know is, that in the end, Abraham did everything that God asked. Abraham was fully prepared to end Isaac’s life if that was truly what God wanted. Now God knew, without a shadow of a doubt that Abraham was “All in.” There was nothing, not even this most prized, most loved, most cherished son, as well as the love of his wife (because I just don’t see Sarah being the same if Abraham had come home without Isaac), not even that would Abraham keep from God if that was what God desired. This is the most extreme example, but this is what it looks like to give everything to God. Especially after last week’s lesson, we know that Abraham was far from perfect. But he was willing to give God everything that had any value to him. God blessed Abraham, and Isaac, and their family and still does so today.
Abraham’s dedication determined his destination.
In Romans 6:12-23, Paul explains it this way:
12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. 13 Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness. 14 For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.
15 What then? Shall we sin because we are not under the law but under grace? By no means! 16 Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? 17 But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. 18 You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.
19 I am using an example from everyday life because of your human limitations. Just as you used to offer yourselves as slaves to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer yourselves as slaves to righteousness leading to holiness. 20 When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. 21 What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! 22 But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Paul’s first argument is that we are each like an instrument offered to God. Every part of us needs to be equally dedicated to God. To withhold a part of our lives, and to offer God less than all of ourselves, produced a gift like a guitar with missing strings, or a trumpet with one valve stuck, or a piano with some of the keys missing.
Next, Paul again confronts what must have been a common argument to excuse sin. The argument was that since the sacrifice of Jesus and the grace offered by God now supersedes the Law of the Old Testament, then sin is therefore permissible. But Paul destroys that argument by saying that human beings, by nature, will enslave themselves to something. We are enslaved by our desires, our lusts, our passions; we are enslaved by greed, sex, power, and a host of other things. But the gift of Jesus Christ and the grace of God allows us a choice. We can continue to be enslaved by our sin, or we can choose to give ourselves instead to a good, just, and merciful master who will set us free from sin and make us slaves to doing right. What’s more, when we are enslaved by our desires, the direction of our lives will lead to death but if we are enslaved to righteousness, our lives lead to eternal life.
Our dedication determines our destination.
The signers of the American Declaration of Independence knew with absolute certainty that what they were doing was an act of treason and would make them enemies of the King, of England, and the empire. They understood that liberty and freedom for the new American colonies would come at a price and they were prepared to dedicate their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor in pursuit of that goal.
And it was their dedication that determined the destination of our nation.
Abraham and Sarah spent their entire lives praying and waiting for God to fulfill his promise to give them a son, and when God gave them Isaac, he became the most treasured thing in their lives. But when God asked Abraham to sacrifice Isaac to demonstrate his devotion and dedication Abraham was prepared to hold nothing back and give everything, even his most precious son, back to God.
And his dedication determined his destination.
That same choice falls to each one of us in our spiritual life. Just as you cannot make beautiful music on a guitar that is missing strings, or a piano with broken keys, neither can we withhold parts of ourselves from God. We will, by nature, drift into slavery to something but the sacrifice of Jesus Christ and the grace of God allow us to choose whether we want to be slaves to our own desires, or slaves to God and slaves to doing what’s right. When God asks us if we are “All in” he isn’t just asking if we are his fans, he is asking if we, like Abraham, are willing to give God absolutely everything that has value to us. Your willingness to be “sold out” to God is literally a choice between life and death.
Your dedication, determines your destination.
Are you… “All in?”
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1Note: Information from Larry James • CelebrateLove.com These are his sources: Robert Lincoln, Lives of the Presidents of the United States, with Biographical Notices of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence(Brattleboro Typographical Company, 1839); John and Katherine Bakeless, Signers of the Declaration (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1969); Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, 1774-1989 (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1989).
* You have been reading a message presented at Trinity United Methodist Church on the date noted on the first page. Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Trinity of Perry Heights in Massillon, Ohio. Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you. Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry may be sent to Trinity United Methodist Church, 3757 Lincoln Way E., Massillon, Ohio 44646. These messages are available to anyone regardless of membership. You may subscribe to these messages by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at firstname.lastname@example.org. To subscribe to the electronic version sign up at http://eepurl.com/vAlYn. These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.