You Can’t Kill The Dream
It was late in the afternoon on September 17, 1787. A large group of people had gathered outside of Independence Hall in Philadelphia. They visited, anxiously. They wanted to know the decision of the Constitutional Convention, which was then in session inside the hall. It is not overstating the case to say that, on that September afternoon, the future of this nation hung in the balance. When Benjamin Franklin at last led the procession of weary delegates out of Independence Hall, a worried little lady walked up to him and said, “Doctor Franklin, tell me, do we have a monarchy or do we have a republic?” Wise old Dr. Franklin looked at her with a steady gaze and said: “Dear lady, a republic—if you can keep it.”
Franklin’s words still ring true. We have here in America a republic, if you can keep it. And I would submit to you today that the best way for us to keep it is to remember who we are and from whence we have come, to remember the high and noble ideals upon which this nation was built, to remember what we started out to be and to do here in America, to remember what is actually meant by that sometimes misused phrase “the common dream.” Today, then, on this Independence Sunday, I ask you to remember…
I want us to remember, first of all, that one dimension of the American dream is unity.
They came here from every land and nation—from Great Britain, Germany, and Italy; from Liberia and the Ivory Coast; from China, Japan, and Korea; from Brazil, Peru, and Mexico. They were drawn here by the astounding belief that no one in this great land would ever be a foreigner, because we are all foreigners. “Out of many, one.” That became more than just a meaningless motto for unison. Out of many nations, one republic. Out of many races, one people. Out of many hopes and many fears, one dream—and they called it America. They were gripped by the revolutionary belief that people—not just some people, but all people—were made to live together in mutual respect and love. They began to put that dream into words: “We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal and they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights…”
Do you know when that dream began? It began in God’s Word—the Bible—in verses like Galatians 3:28—”Now there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all made one in Christ Jesus.” That’s where the dream began. It came straight from the Word of God. “Out of many, one.” That kind of unity, that’s a part of the American Dream. Do you remember?
And I want us to remember, secondly, that another dimension of this American dream is freedom.
This part of the Dream also came from the Word of God—John 8:36—”If Christ makes you free, you shall be free indeed.” My father-in-law, Robert Dodson, wrote a book several years ago called Whatever Happened to Free Enterprise? Near the end of that book, he wrote these words: “All of our freedoms—of religion, of speech, of the press, of the right to assemble—have been bequeathed to us. We are all the beneficiaries of a great heritage from our forefathers. We should never forget their morality and faith in Almighty God. For more than anything else, it has been freedom that has made this nation great. We dare not lose it!”
Let’s remember though, that freedom is not the right to do as one pleases—it is rather one pleasing to do that which is right. Peter Marshall put it this way: “The Founding Fathers sought freedom—not freedom from law, but freedom in law; not freedom from government, but freedom in government, not freedom from the press, not freedom from religion, but freedom in religion.” That’s what freedom means here in America—not license but responsibility—and you appreciate that kind of freedom more when you see people who have surrendered their freedom or had it snatched away from them.
Some years back, one bitter cold Sunday morning, my wife, Trisha, and I stood in a church in the city of Moscow. It was crowded. There were no seats. We were jammed into the room standing shoulder to shoulder. As I looked around I saw the faces of old men and women—faces that told so graphically the story of the suffering that befalls a Christian in the Soviet Union. Most of them were weeping. I don’t know why for sure. Perhaps they were weeping because of the suffering their faith had caused. Perhaps they were weeping for their children, and grandchildren who might never know Jesus Chrsit. Perhaps they were weeping in the hope that soon the hell of this life would be over and their life in heaven would begin. I don’t know. But I tell you this: as I looked at their tear-stained faces, the tears welled up in my own eyes and my heart cried: “Thank God, thank God, I’m free!” That kind of freedom—that’s a part of the American Dream. Do you remember?
Then I want us to remember that a third dimension of the Dream is virtue.
It has been called one of the most stirring scenes in motion picture history.” I am referring to the scene in the movie, “Chariots of Fire” where Eric Liddell, the young Scotsman whose many talents had brought him within sight of an Olympic gold medal, was suddenly forced to make a terrible decision. Quietly and calmly, he told the Prince of Wales and the other rulers of English sport that he would not run on the Sabbath. He could not because his ideals, his standards, his faith left him no choice. Eric Liddell’s obedience belonged to God, not to the British crown. That scene and that movie touched many Americans deeply, for it illustrated the difference between right and wrong. It imparted anew the idea that absolutes exist in our world and that such absolutes can be a splendid guide for the conduct of our lives. You see, in our lifetime here in America, the definitions of “right” and “wrong” have become confused. Conscience has become a lesser commodity, not to be taken seriously. But if “Chariots of Fire” didn’t do anything else, it gave expression to our need for what Kathleen Kennedy Townsend has called “a rebirth of virtue.”
You see, the message of that movie is unmistakably clear. It reminds us that we need to forge our Christian principles into our own living and then become a blessing to our land. We need to honor our Lord at all costs, and without restrictions or conditions. That means that we refuse to betray, for any reason, what we have learned in Christ. It means refusing to be bullied or badgered by a secular society where only material power—economic, technological, and political—seems to matter and where God is seen at best as a doubtful last resort. It means demanding that private citizens and public officials have the honor and the courage to do what is right, whatever the risks. It means building our society not on phrases like “get mine” or “get even” but on phrases like, “Love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, soul and mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” It means recapturing the sense of virtue upon which this nation was built.
In the movie, Eric Liddell shows us the way. All of the power of the British Empire was brought to bear upon him to try to force him to change his mind and to run in the Olympics on Sunday. But he wouldn’t bend. He saw it as a matter of loyalty to the Christ he had chosen to serve. He wouldn’t run on Sunday. After he had made his stand, he was asked: “Do you have any regrets?” He replied, “Yes, but no doubts.” What a powerful affirmation of faith from a man whose faith burned like a fire within him, but who was under fire from without. And our spines tingle at the sight of Eric Liddell’s integrity because, in our heart of hearts, we know that that kind of virtue existed among the people who gave birth to this nation. They took seriously God’s Word in II Corinthians: “If my people pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will forgive their sin and I will heal their land.” That’s the way we started out here in this land. That kind of noble virtue was part of the American Dream. Do you remember?
But wait just a minute here!
All about us strident voices are claiming that the American Dream is dead, that it choked on blood-spangled nights when our cities erupted in rioting and looting, that it was strangled by the few who insisted that this Dream was not intended for all but only for themselves, that it has been suffocated by the indifference of those thousands of Americans who are concerned only with satisfying their own selfish desires.
But that’s not true. You can’t kill that Dream. War can’t kill it. Subversion can’t kill it. Racial hatred can’t kill it. Blind patriotism can’t kill it. Not even our apathy, our indifference, our lack of compassion and concern can kill it! No, you can’t kill the Dream! Do you know why? Because the Dream comes from God.
You see, I dare to believe that God has something in mind for America which is for the blessing of the whole world. He wants to show in us the clear alternative to tyranny and despotism. He wants to show in us that it is possible for people to be judged not by the accident of birth or background, not by skin color or social standing, but by the individual worth of every child of God. And I believe that the reason that there are forces in our world and in our land seeking to cripple or corrupt the American Dream is that there are those who wish to deny to some the glorious beauty of God’s Dream for His creation.
Understand, please, that I am not talking here about a civil religion. We cannot speak of Americans as being the people of God. The people of God are those who claim God’s Son all across this planet. But I submit that the responsibility for leading America to become what God intends it to be belongs to those people who belong to Him. For just as God promised to save the city of Sodom if there were those in the city who looked to Him as God, so I believe He makes the same promise to America. If we need great leaders who depend upon the Lord as their only security, if we need resolutions passed that translate the policies of our faith into practical application, if we need to shore up our virtue and righteousness as a nation, these things will happen because there is at the core of this nation a fellowship of people whose God is the Lord.
Put as simply as I know how, I believe that God is calling us to make His dream for humanity come true. If we choose to help Him fulfill that dream, then I believe that the whole world will be blessed. If we, as Christians in America, can remember God’s Dream and obey God’s commands at whatsoever the cost, then this can be a nation of destiny. For here in America, we have the people, the wisdom, the skill, the wealth, the resources and the ingenuity to lead the world into a new and bright tomorrow—a tomorrow in which the hopes and dreams of the human heart can be achieved; a tomorrow in which there can be life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness available to all people of every race and creed, of every social standing and economic class. And that is precisely what God wants for all His creatures. Oh yes, a nation living in obedience under God could win the world to God. I say with Tennyson: “Come, my friends, ’tis not too late to seek a newer world.”
I love America. I believe in the Dream which is hers. I believe in her democratic form of government. I believe in her constitutional ideals. I believe in her system of justice. I believe in her people. I share her dream of unity and freedom and virtue. I shall live by her ideals and I shall die by them as well. But above all else, I believe in her God! Our country has its faults, and we must work to correct them. It has its wrongs, and we must right them. And that can be done if we remember that God is calling us as Christian in this great land to help His Dream for humanity live, that He is calling us to make that dream come true.
That’s all I know to say, except to share with you a story told by Wallace Hamilton. It seems that a man took his little girl to see the Statue of Liberty. The little girl was awed by the sight and size of that magnificent bronze lady. She looked in wonder at the great arm holding up the torch. She listened attentively as her father told her that the torch was the symbol of the American Dream—the symbol of unity and freedom and virtue for all people everywhere, whatever their color, whatever their circumstance, whatever their language, whatever their failings. That night, the little girl was restless. She just couldn’t sleep. Her father went to her room and said: “What’s the matter, Princess?” She replied: “Daddy, I keep thinking about that lady with the lamp. Don’t you think somebody ought to help her hold it up?
I ask you here today: “Don’t you think we ought to be the ones to help her hold it up?