The Lutheran Hour: April 26, 2015

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"Open-Minded and Accepting" #82-34

Presented on The Lutheran Hour on April 26, 2015
By Rev. Ken Klaus, Speaker Emeritus of The Lutheran Hour
(Law and Justice)
Copyright 2015 Lutheran Hour Ministries

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Text: Acts 4:12

Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed. Dear Lord, I give thanks that although I once was blind, because of Holy Spirit-given faith I can see. May I gladly share Jesus' life-changing good news with others so they might also believe. Amen. 

An updated story from ancient India begins with a small circus coming to an even smaller town. In fact, the circus was so small its coming might have gone unnoticed if it weren't for the fact they had a petting zoo... a petting zoo which featured an elephant. To "see" an elephant with their sensitive hands was an opportunity which intrigued six blind men from the area. Knowing their interest, two friends of the blind men set up a meeting. The elephant's trainer promised he would make the visit memorable if the group arrived before Baby's afternoon's performance. Baby was the elephant's name. 

Sadly, the blind men and their leaders misjudged the time it would take to park their car and make it through the crowd to the pen where Baby was located. The trainer said, "We only have a few moments before we have to perform, so please, quickly, come and see Baby for yourselves." The blind men didn't need to be invited twice. As they approached Baby, they spread out so as not get in each other's way. One felt the elephant's trunk and said, "AHH! An elephant is like the branch of a tree; another, at the tail, exclaimed, "The elephant is like a snake." One of the blind men felt Baby's leg and stated she reminded him of a tree trunk; while another touched the elephant's ear which most resembled a large jungle leaf. The last blind man felt Baby's massive side and said, "Now I understand, the elephant is very much like a wall with stucco." 

Their visit was cut short by Baby's performance. As the friends took them home, the blind men shared their impressions with each other. At first they disagreed with each other; but then, after a while, common sense took over, the blind men became reasonable and realized each had been absolutely right and correct in sharing his partial and personal perspective of a bigger truth. 

That incredibly simple story, a story which encourages people to be open-minded and accepting of others has, in the last 100 years, seen widespread application. First open-mindedness was used to address conflicts between nations. From 1914 to 1918, many countries fought in what was known as "The Great War" or "The War To End All Wars." After that conflict had ended, the civilized people of the world thought, "This is foolish. All of us hate war and all of us want peace. Even so, we are sacrificing millions of our generation's young men on the battlefield to settle petty, international conflicts. Most certainly our nations have their own unique perspectives on matters political, but do those opinions justify such sacrifice? Can't the nations of the world be more tolerant and get along together?" 

Being open-minded and accepting was a grand idea... a wonderful idea. But the idea of international tolerance and global peace was somewhat tarnished by the Lithuanian War of Independence, and the Polish-Czechoslovak War, and the Hungarian-Romanian war, and the Turkish War of Independence, and the Third Anglo-Afghan War, and the Portuguese Monarchist Civil war, and the Italo-Yugoslav War, and the Polish-Soviet War, and the First Silesian Uprising, and the Irish War of Independence, and the Greco-Turkish war. And if that sounds like a lot of wars, it is... but those are just the wars which began in the year 1919. By 1939, much of the rest of the world, having put open-mindedness and tolerance on the back burner, had armed its troops and sent them off to a war which was unprecedented in size, scope, and scale. And the War To End All Wars was given a number to show open-mindedness and tolerance doesn't work with nations. 

Still, the idea of tolerance seemed solid. If it didn't play out so well on a large, international scale, perhaps it might do better within the confines of our nation's borders. "After all," the reasoning went, "we who have a common background and geography ought to be able to live in harmony. Now I don't know how that has worked out in other countries, but in the U.S. of A. everybody says open-minded bi-partisan support of any bill or project is a good and noble thing. That being said, any statesman who does cross over party lines is considered a turncoat, a traitor, a betrayer. And the most casual observer soon sees tolerance in a nation is a brass ring which always seems beyond our reach. 

Now even though open-mindedness and tolerance have failed internationally and nationally, that doesn't mean the world is ready to give up on the concept. Their adherents said humanity ought to start small and work its way up to bigger applications. The logic of working with a more manageably sized group was unquestionably sound. Yes, the idea is sound theoretically, but practically, it is often a distinct failure. Talk to the merchants of Ferguson, Missouri; go to any of America's divorce courts and ask those folks about tolerance and they will give you an earful. Tolerance and open-mindedness sound great until you are caught in a traffic gridlock during a city rush-hour or travel a few hundred miles with three children in the backseat of your car. In all of these instances and so many more, tolerance and open-mindedness remain little more than an unfulfilled dream. 

So, is there no place where the story of the blind men and the elephant can be played out successfully? Is there no venue where humanity can expect to see open-mindedness and tolerance? My friends, don't be surprised when I tell you there is such a place, and that place is religion. People expect all religions to be open-minded toward each other and be tolerant of all humanity. They expect religions to be tolerant because, "When all is said and done, aren't the various religions of the world just like those blind men and the elephant? Each religion has its own particular version of the truth. Yes, they all have their holy books, they all have their individual doctrines and their own unique concepts of the afterlife; but, in actuality, those religions are pretty much the same. In actuality they are all following the same god; they are all saying the same thing; they are all trying to help people." 

Believing those statements to be the gospel truth, the world demands religions in general, and Christianity in particular, to find common ground with each other. And if everyone, and by that I mean, any Christians, get bucky about being open-minded and tolerant, they will hear the outcry: "How dare you! Didn't Jesus tell us to love our enemies? Didn't Jesus tell us not to judge? Wasn't Jesus open-minded and tolerant of everyone?" 

Well, those questions deserve answers; so, here goes. Did Jesus tell us to love our enemies? Absolutely. Even from the cross, as He was carrying our sins, as He was dying the death we deserved, Jesus loved His enemies and forgave them. Yes, Jesus loved those who made themselves His enemy, but remember, those are the very sinners He had come to save. 

People get pretty bold when they say, "Isn't Jesus accepting of everyone? Well, I can tell you Jesus' entire ministry was a call to repentance and an invitation to faith and salvation in Him as Savior. Jesus asked, He demanded that His followers leave behind their old lives so the Holy Spirit could create a new heart within them and give them a faith which would bring them into the family of faith. So was Jesus always accepting? Yes, He accepted them as sinners, and then He changed them. He told them to leave those sins and be given a new life, a new heart, a new home in heaven. 

But a moment ago we were asked other questions, questions like, "Didn't Jesus tell us not to judge?" Yes, I have to admit, the Savior did say those words. But I also have to tell you that sentence ripped out of context totally miss His point. Let me explain. Suppose a young man left a message on his girlfriend's phone. The message he sent was: "I am leaving you to go downtown and buy an engagement ring." The message she got was, "I am leaving you." Now, did he tell her he was leaving her? Yes, he did. But those words, taken out of context, really change the message. 

Similarly, Jesus told us not to judge, but He judged a lot. When He kicked the money-changers and the sellers out of the temple, that was a judgment. When He commended the widow who gave all she had to the Lord, that was a judgment. When He wept over unrepentant Jerusalem, His tears were a sign of Him having judged. When He called the Pharisees 'white-washed tombs' and 'snakes' and a lot of other names, it was a judgment. When the Savior picked His disciples, even that was a judgment. 

When Jesus told us not to judge, it was a warning. He wanted us to know the standard we used in judging others would be the same standard they will take and use on us. If those words, "Do not judge" was what He really wanted, then why did He give the keys to the kingdom of heaven to His church? Why did He tell us, "If you forgive the sins of any person, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any individual, forgiveness is withheld." John 20:23

Yes, the church is to be judgmental. Do you want to know why? It is because the Lord has said there are things a person can do which will keep Him out of heaven. Yes the Lord has said that, and then He has asked His church to deliver His message. He has told His people to let the world know there is salvation for them by believing in Jesus' perfect life, His unfair death, and saving resurrection. But in order to have that faith the Lord needs to transform them from being dyed-in-the-wool-unforgiven sinners to saints with saved souls. That is the message we have been asked to share. If we don't, we would be like the doctor who has a cure for a dying patient, but refuses to share that information. Such negligence is unacceptable, inexcusable, unfaithful, and sinful. 

Of course, there are those people who will continue to say, "But shouldn't Christianity try to find common ground with other religions? Shouldn't you be more open-minded of them and tolerant? After all, they are worshipping their version of god and you are following yours. Who can say which of you are right? Maybe, like those blind men and the elephant, all of you are a little right and all of you are a little wrong? Isn't that a possibility?" 

Well, no, it's not a possibility. How's that for a short answer? If you're patient with me I'd like to explain why. You just mentioned that story about the blind men and the elephant. Please, let me retell that story... 

... which begins just as it did before... a small circus came to a very small town. That circus had little to recommend itself to the townsfolk other than it offered a petting zoo to all who paid admission. The chance to get up close to a llama or a camel was intriguing but what really interested folks was seeing and touching Baby, the lone elephant of the circus. The possibility of seeing, that is touching, Baby, was of special interest to some men, five men in the area, who had been blind since birth. Those blind men asked two of their friends to find out if such a thing were possible. One of them was glad to do so, but the other reminded the men that he had already made plans to take them to the eye doctor, a surgeon who had a clinic a few towns away. 

It was a tough decision, but it had to be made. Four of the men went with one friend to see Baby and the other went to the eye surgeon. As before, the blind men arrived to see Baby just before she was supposed to do her act. Still, they were welcomed and got a few moments alone with the elephant. As before, the blind men spread out as they went to 'see' the elephant. As before, the first blind man felt the elephant's trunk and thought, "AHH! An elephant is like the branch of a tree; the second who had gravitated to the tail, whispered, "Now I see, the elephant every much resembles a large snake." The third blind man had wandered up to Baby's front leg and stated 'the elephant certainly resembles a tree.' The fourth, and last blind man, ran his hands all over the elephant's ear and noted that it resembled a palm leaf. 

The time they spent with the elephant was way too short, but as we all know, the show must go on. The blind men with their associate got into the van for the ride to their various homes. As they traveled, they talked about the afternoon's experience. It didn't take too long for these bright men to realize that each of them had based his beliefs on the small part of the elephant that he had experienced. 

That story is pretty much as you remember it... except for the fifth blind man who went to the eye surgeon. He was examined and told he had congenital cataracts. That bit of information was nothing new to him. What was new is the doctor assured him that the medical removal of such cataracts had advanced considerably over the years. Indeed, the surgeon was fully prepared to take off those cataracts that very day. 

The blind man hesitated a bit. Of course he wanted his sight, but how could he pay for such a surgery? It had to be expensive, certainly more than he could afford. He shared his concern with the physician and was told this: "Years ago my son died. It was a tragic and unfair situation, but I decided to make good come of it. I set up an endowment in his memory and now, every surgery which restores sight to the blind is made for free."

In less time than it takes to tell, arrangements were made and within the span of four hours, the blind man was able to see. Traveling back home with his friend, the blind man was positively mesmerized by all the sights he could see through the vehicle's glass. Although he had to wear large, dark glasses, the man remained enthusiastic as he eagerly described old things which were new to him. It took a while for the once-blind man to wind down. Eventually, he grew silent. His friend said, "A penny for your thoughts." Slowly his passenger spoke, "I know we're headed home, and I hate to ask you to do something more for me, but I was wondering... do you think we could stop at the circus so I could see the elephant?"

The driver laughed and made the detour. They reached the circus and walked toward Baby. This trip also took longer than anyone might have imagined since our newly visioned friend was overwhelmed by the wonderful things he was seeing. Again and again he stopped to soak in and comment on every sight, every face, every wonderful color. Eventually they managed to reach Baby. Baby's handler wouldn't let the two get right up close because Baby was already resting from her long day. The ex-blind man was disappointed, but that feeling lasted for only an instant. "After all," he thought to himself, "I can actually see her. I can see all of her. I can see her color, the hair on her skin, the myriad number of muscles in her trunk; her great flapping ears." In an instant he took in so much information he couldn't help but be overwhelmed. Finally it was time for them to leave. 

That's the story. Now, let me ask you... what did that ex-blind man do the next day? Can you guess? Yes, he went and saw his still-blind friends. He talked to them about the elephant and, since he had seen the beast, he filled in all their unknowns with the truth. And if any of them said, "But isn't an elephant like a big leaf, or a tree trunk, or a snake," he would not have been open-minded or accepting. Lovingly, gently, he would have told them the truth. Of course, the elephant was not the major part of his talk. Most of all he spoke of his gratitude toward the doctor who had changed his life. He spoke of the doctor's son whose death had graciously, and freely, given him a new life. He talked about the doctor because the once-blind-man wanted his friends to see things as clearly as he. 

Which, of course is just what Christians do. They talk about how God and the sacrifice of His Son, Jesus, has transformed their lives and their eternity. No longer do we have to guess about our future or blindly stumble through this life. We have been saved by Jesus and given a new life, an incredibly wonderful life. We can see and we want others to see as well. Which is why we share God's truth and reject anything which is less. Which leads me to say... if you would like to know more about God's truth, we would like to share. Please, call us at The Lutheran Hour. Amen. 

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LUTHERAN HOUR MAILBOX (Questions & Answers) for April 26, 2015
Topic: Law and Justice

ANNOUNCER: Now, Pastor Ken Klaus talks about the difference between law and justice. I'm Mark Eischer.

KLAUS: And hello, to you my friend. 

ANNOUNCER: Lately, we've heard people demanding justice or saying justice hadn't been done in this or that case. Even after these folks had been through the legal process and a decision had been made against them; which leads me to ask, "What is justice and how do we obtain it?" 

KLAUS: To the best of my knowledge, every society has created laws for its people... laws designated to protect individuals, their homes, their property, and society. Ideally, those laws, their blessings and their penalties, are to be applied fairly, impartially, and in equal measure to everyone. 

ANNOUNCER: But here's the problem. Laws aren't always fair; they aren't always impartial; and they're not always equally applied. When that happens, that's not justice, is it?

KLAUS: Right. But we have to remember that there can be a very a big difference between the application of laws and real justice. 

ANNOUNCER: Shouldn't law bring about justice?

KLAUS: Yes, it should. And if everything was good and right, that is exactly what would happen. But everything is not always good and right. You can have a judge, a jury, prosecutor, defender, and press who can lean or come down fully for or against someone. It is difficult for justice to be done under such situations. You can have a super-star team of lawyers who simply out razzle-dazzle the competition. Then there are the emotions and background baggage of all the people involved. Now, add the fact that all of these folks, every single one of them, is a sinner with their own goals and agendas; well, it's amazing that justice is ever done. 

ANNOUNCER: According to the novelist Raymond Chandler, the law isn't justice, but it's a very imperfect mechanism. If you press exactly the right buttons and you're also lucky, justice may show up in the answer. Is that what you are trying to say? 

KLAUS: I am. Imperfect people, in an imperfect world, working with limited vision will not always arrive at the truth; nor will real justice always be handed out. That's why we keep hearing about innocent people who spend years in prison after they had been wrongfully convicted. The law is what we have; justice is the perfect ideal. 

ANNOUNCER: That leads me to ask will it ever be possible for people to be assured that justice has been handed out? 

KLAUS: No. Not in this world. As we go into the next, that is something quite different. God, who is just, has seen all we have done wrong and will punish us accordingly. 

ANNOUNCER: But, I don't think I would like that kind of justice. After all, the Bible says the soul which sins will die and the wages of sin is death. 

KLAUS: No, you don't want justice then. You want mercy and grace. Thankfully, because God loves us, He sent His Son, who was unjustly hated, unjustly accused, unjustly beaten, and unjustly murdered. All this injustice Jesus endured in our place so God's grace could be applied and we could be forgiven of our sins and stand in innocence before the heavenly Judge. 

ANNOUNCER: What quality is most missing in our world today? What one thing do we most need if we are going to improve our chances of obtaining temporal justice? 

KLAUS: Respect. Respect for the laws as they stand... and if they're not good laws, we change them in a lawful way. We don't ignore or destroy them. Respect. Respect for the rules and decisions of those who are in authority. If they are not worthy of respect, then we elect new persons to take that place. We don't threaten, blackmail, or terrorize the ones we have. In a single word: Respect. 

ANNOUNCER: But, will that guarantee justice?

KLAUS: No, but it is a step in the right direction. And it is absolutely better than the anarchy, the vigilantism, the breakdown of society that can occur if we don't. 

ANNOUNCER: In the time we have left, anything else? 

KLAUS: Yeah. Paul wrote to the church in Rome where God's people were suffering from injustice. In the 13th chapter, he wrote, "(the one who is in authority) ..."is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God's wrath but also for the sake of conscience....Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed. 

ANNOUNCER: Thank you, Pastor Klaus. This has been a presentation of Lutheran Hour Ministries.

Music Selections for this program:

"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.

"In You, Lord, I Have Put My Trust" arr. Henry Gerike. Used by permission.

"Long Before the World Is Waking" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)

"Hail Thee, Festival Day" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)


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