Is America really a Shining City on A Hill, or is it just a dream? Was it once and is no more? Could it ever be? Should we care? Maybe it is just wishful thinking.

In Ronald Reagan’s farewell address to the nation in January of 1989, he said, “We’ve got to do a better job of getting across that America is freedom – freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of enterprise. And freedom is special and rare. It’s fragile; it needs protection.”

I was prompted to read this speech after hearing Rush Limbaugh play some excerpts from it on his show. Reagan’s words are profound, which I think we have a hard time appreciating, having grown up in the USA. We have always known “freedom”. We have never lived under a regime that dictated our occupation, education, residence or a ceiling to what we could accomplish or worse and much worse. This is indeed rare.

In his speech, President Reagan noted that it was John Winthrop an original pilgrim who first used the phrase, the “shining city upon a hill.” He “wrote it to describe the America he imagined. What he imagined was important because he was an early Pilgrim, an early freedom man. He journeyed here on what today we’d call a little wooden boat; and like the other Pilgrims, he was looking for a home that would be free.”

Most people that came to this continent after Columbus’ discovery came here for similar reasons to Mr. Winthrop. They were looking for religious freedom, the freedom to own land and develop it and provide for their families and to be free of the dictates of Kings and Lords and wealthy land owners. We often miss the significance because we take it as a birthright. This has not always been so.

I have recently been reading a Jeff Shaara historical novel “Rise to Rebellion” about the days leading up to the signing of the Declaration of Independence and I am once more struck by the great gift we have been given. These were people untrained and unused to governing who were unceremoniously severed from the laws of England, who had to scramble to form a cohesive government and an army in order to fend off the English and the Hessian mercenary troops with whom we were in the midst of a war with. This is not only truly remarkable on a human level but it bespeaks the intervention of God, who was so often invoked for blessings at the time. He obviously answered in the affirmative. I for one am thankful that He did and I want Him to know it.

As President Reagan shared in that farewell address we need to do a better job communicating the great blessing and the great gift that this nation is to us from God. Our founders understood that and we must remember that.

To revisit the question, are we the “shining city upon a hill”? Reagan described it as a desired goal, a dream to press towards, not a utopia, but a real place of opportunity and freedom. In his words “it was a tall proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, wind-swept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace, a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity, and if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here. That’s how I saw it, and see it still.”

Well, we certainly are not there, and alas we may be drifting further from that preferred future envisioned by John Winthrop, Thomas Jefferson, Ronald Reagan and many more. The question asked by Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg still echoes across the years and reaches our ears today, “our fathers brought forth, upon this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are …testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived, and so dedicated, can long endure.”

They passed the test in 1865; can we pass the test today? Are we too far removed from the novelty of a free and independent nation? Are we too accustomed to the benefits of freedom that we are unable or unwilling to put in the diligence to preserve it? I believe the nation hangs in the balance. There are good signs (the elections this past November and the increasing opposition to abortion, rise of peaceful protests from Tea Party activists) and there are not so good signs (increasing crime and immorality, Omaha settling for the status quo of fiscal irresponsibility, havoc on our borders, etc).

If we are to achieve the vision of Reagan, Winthrop, Jefferson and others, we must know our past, our legacy the vision of America as a shining city, and pass it on. None-the-less, our hope is in God. The vision of a shining city on a hill is a biblical vision alluding to Jerusalem. America is not like every other nation, it is exceptional. It is the exception. It is established by God. As Paul tells the Romans, “There is no authority except that which God has established”.

It is an honor and a privilege to be a part of this. I don’t ever want to act ungrateful or hold loosely so great a gift. I want to do all I can to preserve it and to pass it on. What about you?