For Freedom Christ Has Set Us Free
Of all the spectacular exhibits at Disney World’s Epcot, the one I love the best is 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 Adventure” is a beautiful tune which frequently I find myself humming, however I believe the words of the song are even more beautiful than the melody:
America, spread your golden wings,
Sail on freedom’s wind ‘cross the sky.
Great bird with your golden dreams;
Flying high, flying high.
Restless one in a world of change,
Keeping dreams aloft in the rain;
Spirit free, soaring through the clouds of time, of time.
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 golden wings,
Sail on freedom’s wind ‘cross the sky.
Great bird with your golden dreams,
Flying high, flying high.
America… fly high.
Isn’t that a glorious image of this nation- like a great, golden eagle soaring free and flying high?
That image and that song remind me of the words which the Apostle Paul addressed to the Christians in the city of Galatia, 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… For you were called to freedom, sisters and brothers, only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become servants to one another.” I have come to believe that if we in America take to heart the message contained in those words, then we shall be able to help America spread her golden wings and keep sailing on freedom’s winds across the sky. But let me try to spell that out for us…
The freedom for which Christ has set us free requires courage.
The ancients used to say that courage is the first of all virtues. They were right. Courage is the first of all virtues. Honesty is a noble virtue, but honesty is never really tested until it takes courage to speak or live the truth. Love is a noble virtue, but love is never really demonstrated until it takes courage to love what the rest of the world hates. And of course, we would not know the virtue of freedom as it exists in this country today were it not for the courage of those who founded this nation.
I think today of John Witherspoon. When he put his pen to the Declaration of Independence to sign his name, he was risking not only his calling, but his life. Yet this is what he said as he prepared to sign the Declaration: “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 I have, all I am, all 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 the Declaration of Independence. The moment the ink touched the page they were charged with being traitors against the crown. They concluded that magnificent document with these words: “We pledge to this our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.” All paid a price, many paid the highest price. “We pledge to this our lives”- are you aware that fourteen of them were tortured and/or killed for signing their names? “… our fortunes”- are you aware that fifteen of them in one way or another were stripped of everything they possessed because their names appeared on the Declaration? “.. .and our sacred honor”- while many lost their lives and their fortunes, no one lost their sacred honor, for there is no evidence that any of them ever recanted that to which they had signed their names.
Paul wrote to the Galatians: “You are called to freedom”- but to answer that call takes courage. Did you know that 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 every single day. We must be willing to pray for freedom, to work for freedom, to sacrifice for freedom, even to fight for freedom if, God help us, that should be necessary. You see, it is not until we expend the price of courage, even if that price is blood, that we discover the priceless reward of true freedom.
The color of courage is red- blood red. That is why our “Star Spangled Banner” includes the color red- it is to remind us that the freedom for which Christ has set us free requires courage.
And that freedom requires clarity, purity.
Paul said: “Do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence..” In other words, don’t let your freedom lead you into nothing more than looking after your own needs and pursuing your own desires.
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 soldiers captive, they carried that soldier around in a tiger cage. They were bamboo cages five feet long, three feet wide, three feet high. Our soldiers could not even stretch out in them. There is at least one instance we know of where one of our soldiers was kept in such a cage for six years! It is a hideous thing to think about- to be so confined, so cramped, so contained for so long. Yet I tell you that there are many Americans today wearing tiger cages on their minds. They are bound, enclosed, imprisoned, enslaved by their own selfishness and by their pursuit of the things that are wrong. Consequently, we have become a nation where Patrick Henry’s great noble cry: “Give me liberty or give me death” has been shortened to just “Give me.” We have become a nation of people who have forgotten that freedom is not the license to do as we please, but the liberty to do as we ought. We have become a nation where anything goes, forgetting that in a nation where anything goes, soon everything is gone.
One example, you know that I love movies and I am forever trying to find movies I can recommend for you to see, but it is not easy these days. Did you see the article in USA Today last week which noted that more and more movies are being brought to the screen which utilize crude, over-the-top humor and rampant immorality in order to build an audience, particularly among the young? A couple of night’s ago now on the evening news, I saw a piece by Erin Hayes about the cartoon movie “South Park” which is being marketed to kids. Erin Hayes, the TV reporter said: “The content of that movie is so horrible as to defy description. You would be a fool to let a child or a young person see that movie.” Good for her. I’ll weigh in with an opinion of my own. The movie “Big Daddy” is rated PG-14 and is being touted as a good family movie. But let me tell you that it is garbage- in the beginning, at the end and in between. It makes a mockery of everything decent and virtuous. You would be a fool to let a child or a young person see it.
All of this is just one indication among many that we are in danger in America of becoming insensitive to that which is wrong, impure and destructive. That’s why I call us today to recapture a deep longing for the decencies of life which have been so smothered by the philosophy of “anything goes”. I call us today, if we are adults, to be reading books like Tom Brokaw’s The Greatest Generation, and if we are children to be reading books like William Bennett’s Children’s Book of Virtues. I call us today to blend our hearts and our voices together and say: “We have had enough of cleverness without wisdom, brilliance without values, liberties without responsibility, power without integrity. God wants us to live a better way- His way- a way of pursuing standards which are clear and clean and pure.”
The color of purity is white. That’s why our “Star-Spangled Banner” includes the color white- it reminds us that the freedom for which Christ has set us free requires purity and righteousness.
And that freedom requires compassion.
Listen again to Paul writing to the Galatians: “You are called to freedom, therefore do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become servants of 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 spirit of 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 lack of them, 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 in America 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 nor egalitarian- never has been. When America’s founders 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.” That’s 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 have.” That’s the egalitarian spirit. No, what the signers of the Declaration of Independence meant was: “You are as good as I am, so is there anything I can do to help?” It is that spirit of helpful, voluntary, compassionate caring which was the genius of this country at its founding.
I have said it before. I must say it again. The true spirit of America has never been “what do you owe me?”…or “what can I get from you?”… or “what do you have that I don’t have?” The true spirit of America has never been “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 very beginnings has always been: “How may I help you?”… and “together we shall overcome.” The color designated to represent compassion is blue. That’s why our “Star-Spangled Banner” includes the color blue- it is to remind us that the freedom for which Christ has set us free requires compassion.
I love America. I do not disparage those who live in other countries- not for a moment. It’s just that because America is in my heart, my heart is in America. I glory in her history. I exalt in her freedom. I am wounded by her failures. I am hurt by her occasional blindness. But I love America. I become absorbed in reading about her heroes. I marvel at the genius of her Constitution and her Bill of Rights, and I salute her valiant attempt to work for all her people. I love America. I am moved to tears when I sing her songs, when I see her flag, when I speak of her spirit, when I pray for her people. For America testifies to the truth that the more a nation depends upon the greatness of God, the more the greatness of that nation will be revealed. That’s the way it was on the first Fourth of July.
May it be so again.