America, Spread Your Golden Wings
You would have to hunt for a long time to find anyone who loves to go to Epcot at Disney World more than I do. Everytime I go, I love it more. Of all the spectacular exhibits at Epcot, I love best the “American Adventure.” I never experience that stunning portrayal of our American ideals without rejoicing all over again that I am privileged to live in this great and free land. The song from the American exhibit is a beautiful tune which frequently I find myself humming. Yet I believe that the words of the song are even more beautiful than the melody.
America, are you still dreaming now,
Dreaming the promise now of your pioneers?
America, keep on flying now
Keep your spirit free facing new frontiers,
America, spread your gold wings
Sail on freedom’s winds across the sky;
Great bird with your golden dreams
Flying high…flying high…flying high!
Isn’t that a magnificent image of this nation—like a great golden bird soaring free and flying high?
That image and that song remind me of the words of the Apostle Paul addressed to the Galatians, words which later on had a profound impact on those who brought this nation into being. Paul wrote: “For freedom Christ has set us free…you are called to freedom, therefore do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love be servants of one another.” My friends, I believe that if we in America today take to heart those words and that message of Paul, then we shall be able to help America spread her golden wings and keep sailing on freedom’s wind across the sky. But let’s be more specific…
First of all, keeping America’s spirit soaring free requires courage.
It takes courage to be free. We don’t think about that as being true, but it is. Not long ago, the newspapers carried the story of a man who had been imprisoned in Turin, Italy for 27 years. On the night before he was to be released, Albert Guizini hanged himself in his cell. He left a note indicating that the closer freedom came the more frightened he became of it. It takes courage to confront freedom.
The ancients used to say that courage was the first of all virtues. Today many people quibble with that. They point to the Ten Commandments or the Beatitudes or the list of spiritual excellencies drawn up by the Apostle Paul. But the fact is that the ancients were right on target. Courage is the first of all the virtues. Honesty is a noble virtue, but honesty is never really tested until it takes courage to tell the truth. Love is a noble virtue, but love is never really demonstrated until one has the courage to love what the rest of the world hates. And we would not know the freedom which we know in this country today were it not for the courage of our Founding Fathers.
I think of John Witherspoon. He was a Presbyterian minister. When he put his pen to the Declaration of Independence, he was risking not only his calling, but also his life. Yet this is what he said: “Though these gray hairs of mine must soon descend to the grave, I would rather they descend there by the hand of the executioner than desert, at this crisis, the sacred cause of my country.” That is courage. Or I think of John Adams who addressed the assembly and said: “All that I have, all that I am, all that I hope for in this life, I stake on our cause.” Those were men of courage—all 56 of them. They paid a price to sign that document. The moment the ink touched the page, they were declared to be traitors against the crown. They concluded the document with the words: “We pledge to this our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor,” and there is not a shred of evidence anywhere that any of them ever recanted that to which they put their signatures.
For nearly twenty years I have been standing in pulpits quoting those words from Galatians “You are called to freedom,” but to answer that call takes courage. The word “courage” appears in the Bible 365 times, one for each day of the year. Somehow I feel that that is no accident. We are called to be courageous in the pursuit of freedom. The single thing which keeps most people from freedom is this—they quit too soon. They are unwilling to fight for that freedom. They are unwilling to pay the price necessary for such a costly reward. You see, it is not until we are willing to lay out the price of courage—even if that price is blood—that we discover what true freedom is. Therefore, color courage red. Keeping America’s spirit soaring free requires courage.
There’s a scene, a touching scene, in the Broadway musical “1776”, when George Washington steps to the footlights and looks out into the audience and says: “Is anybody there? Is anybody listening? Does anybody care?”
Now secondly, keeping America’s spirit soaring free requires creativity.
Paul, writing to the Galatians, said: “Do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh.” The word “flesh” there means “the things of the world.” In other words, don’t let your freedom lead you into nothing more than just doing what the world does. Your freedom is to be inventive, progressive, creative. You are to have a sanctified self-confidence. You are to believe that you and God together can do anything.
One of the most tragic stories to come out of the VietNam War concerned tiger cages. Because the Viet Cong were always on the move through the jungles, when they took one of our men prisoner, they had no permanent prison in which to hold such captives. So they carried our men about locked in tiger cages. They were bamboo cages five feet long, three feet wide, and three feet high. Our men couldn’t even stretch out in them. There is at least one instance we know of where one of our men was imprisoned in such a cage for six years. It’s a hideous thing to think about—to be so confined, so cramped, so contained for so long.
But I’ll tell you something equally sad to think about. It’s the fact that so many people today are wearing tiger cages on their minds. They are bound by their education or the lack of it. They are enclosed by their upbringing or the lack of it. They are imprisoned by their possessions or their positions or the lack of them. And that is so sad. But that is not what enabled America to first spread its golden wings. No, those who wrote the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were not noted in that day for particular brilliance. They did not possess the gift of genius. But they did have unchained, uncaged minds—and a creative mind can do magnificent things with freedom.
Here is a railroad clerk in North Redwood, Minnesota. An order of watches came through to a local jeweler. The jeweler refused to accept them. So this railroad clerk bought them from the jeweler, and made up a little brochure advertising the watches, and he sent it out to the other railroad clerks along the line. Soon all the watches were sold. He then ordered some more watches and a few other things, and he put out a larger brochure, and very soon he had sold them all. His name was Sears. You have probably heard of his catalog! That’s the power of an uncaged mind.
In the world of the arts, Edna Ferber was sitting on a darkened stage in New York one night together with some friends. They had written and produced a play which had flopped. They were bemoaning their plight, when one of the people in the group said in jest: “Well, we can always hire a showboat, and drift down the river, playing for the natives.” It was a joke. But Edna Ferber had an uncaged mind and she took that idea of a showboat and from it she brought a magnificent play. That’s what creativity can do.
Did you know that Thomas Edison, our greatest inventor, used to go fishing every afternoon, but he never put a hook on his line, or baited the line, because he didn’t want his thinking to be interrupted by a fish! Did you know that Thomas Jefferson wrote in one of his journals that we ought to have a new American Revolution every nineteen years, a new Declaration of Independence every nineteen years, a new Constitution every nineteen years. “Every generation,” he wrote, “should be challenged with thinking creatively about what it means to be free.”
So the first requirement to keep the spirit of America soaring free is a courageous heart and the second requirement is an uncaged mind. Courage and creativity. Color creativity white. For white is the mixture of all other colors and creativity is the sum of all the possibilities.
You know, in the Broadway musical “1776”, there is a very touching scene where George Washington steps to the footlights and looking out to the audience he says: “Is anybody there? Is anybody listening? Does anybody care?”
Then thirdly, keeping America’s spirit soaring free requires compassion.
Paul wrote in Galatians: “You are called to freedom, therefore do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but in love serve one another.” Did you catch that? Our freedom is to enable us to be compassionate, to be caring for one another.
That’s the way we started out in America, but we have lost some of that compassion along the way. I think I know why. There are some in America who call themselves “libertarians.” They believe in the primacy of liberty. The only equality they believe in is the equality of opportunity. They believe that everyone should have an equal chance but beyond that in spite of individual abilities or the lack of such abilities, in spite of what happens when some get too much at the expense of others—in spite of those things, they say of those who are down and have no way of getting out: “The devil take the hindmost.” That’s the libertarian spirit. And there are others who are called “egalitarians.” They believe in the primacy of equality. Everyone should be absolutely equal, and they will take anything they have to take from anyone from whom they have to take it in order to be sure that everyone has exactly the same thing. That’s the egalitarian spirit.
Many people today are influenced, consciously or unconsciously, by either or both of those points of view. But the spirit of America is neither libertarian or egalitarian. When our Founding Fathers declared that “all men are created equal,” they did not mean by that, “I am as good as you are, so don’t expect me to do anything for you,” which is the libertarian spirit. And they did not mean by that, “I am as good as you are, so I have to have as much as you,” which is the egalitarian spirit. No, what they meant was this: “You are as good as I am, so is there anything I can do to help?”
It is that spirit of helpful, compassionate, voluntary caring which was the genius of this country at its founding.
Therefore, I take to this pulpit to say—in spite of any charge of oversimplification which you might bring against me—to say that we must recapture the concept that as Americans, we are to be in the loving, caring, compassionate service of each other, doing only those things which benefit us as a people, both independently and collectively. The true spirit of America is not “What can I get from you?” or “What do you owe me?” or “What do you have that I don’t have?” The true spirit of America is not “I did it my way” or “Do your own thing,” or “Get what you can get while you can get it.” No, the true spirit of America right from its beginnings has always been: “How may I help you?” Freedom, you see, requires the red of courage, the white of creativity and the true blue of compassion.
At the end of the Revolutionary War, the Continental Congress failed to pay the revolutionary soldiers. The soldiers got together and planned to march on Washington and to overthrow the government. It would have been the beginning of fascism in America. George Washington went to confront the officers and the men who were organizing this revolution against the revolution. He stood before them and tried to talk them out of going and taking power into their own hands. He said to them: “If you do this you will open the flood gates of civil discord and you will deluge our rising empire with blood.” His words went unheeded. Seeing that what he had said had no effect, Washington remembered that in his pocket he had a letter, written by a member of Congress promising the men that they would soon be paid. He pulled out that letter, but then he stood there in some bewilderment and confusion. The troops, expecting decisiveness from General Washington, were puzzled. They wondered what was wrong, what was happening. Then the General reached into his pocket and pulled out something which very few people had ever seen him use before—spectacles. Putting them on, he said to those gathered there: “Gentlemen, you will forgive me if I wear my spectacles. You see, I have not only grown gray, but also almost blind in the service of my country.” The soldiers were stunned. They were so touched by what he said and what they had seen that they gathered about him and hugged him and wept—and the Fascist revolution disappeared. Thomas Jefferson, writing of that event a year later, said that the virtue of George Washington in that moment prevented the loss of the freedom this nation had so dearly won. George Washington personified what I am seeking to say today. He had courage enough to go after freedom. He had creativity enough to do magnificent things with freedom. He had compassion enough to offer himself to the service of his God, his country and his fellow citizens.
You know, in the Broadway musical, “1776,” there is a very touching moment when George Washington steps to the footlights and looking at those who are assembled says: “Is anybody there? Is anybody listening? Does anybody care?”