A number of years ago, a friend asked me if I had ever thought about going into teacher, either in a college or seminary. I thought a little bit about that idea and after a moment I said to my friend, “I could see myself doing that, but my biggest worry is that I wouldn’t know how to grade my students.” My friend looked at me a little funny. I said, “I am a bit of a softy. I would want to just give them all “A’s” regardless of the work they turned in. But, that is not how the real world works, right?” It’s like giving participation trophies to kids just for showing up.

I don’t know how many of you remember, but, back in August, there was an article in the news about Steeler’s linebacker, James Harrison. Apparently, he came home one day to discover that his two boys had received trophies despite the fact that they had not one any kind of championship game. They were participation trophies. Well, James Harrison didn’t take too kindly to that idea. When his boys showed him their trophies, he took the trophies away from them and told them that, “You don’t get trophies until you earn them.” He made the boys give the trophies back. Many people responded to the article praising James Harrison and agreeing with him for his actions, citing the fact that giving participation trophies is not how the real world works. “Good job, James,” many people said, “you are getting your boys ready for the real world.”

Yes indeed, the real world! It’s not for the weak. If you want to make your way in the real world then you have to earn it. You have to put in the blood, and the sweat, and the tears. You have to claw and tear your way through. You have to be tough. If you’re weak, you get crushed and tossed aside. And, don’t go crying home to momma thinking that she is going to make it all better. Because, if she really loved you then she would just kick you right back out there and make you do it on your own. Because, that is how the real world works.

In the real world, if someone doesn’t live up to your expectations you shove them aside because they are just not worth it. If someone lets you down, you dismiss them. You don’t give them a second chance. Because that is not how the real world works. In the real world, if someone needs help, it means that they are weak. You cut them off, otherwise they will just drag you down. In the real world, you can’t trust anyone but yourself. You trust somebody else and they will only undermine your efforts and stab you in the back so that they can take your glory. In the real world, you have to seize the power because no one is going to give it to you. You have to set the rules and make other people live up to them. In the real world you have to be strong. There is no place in the real world for compassion, and forgiveness, and love, and grace, and the sooner you realize that, the better off you will be. We are not living in a fantasy world here folks. We are living in the real world.

Yeah, this is how the real world works. But, let me ask this question. “Is there anyone here who thinks that the real world is working well?” I find it interesting that so many people are quick to point out how the real world works, but there are so very few who are willing to point out the possibility that maybe the real world needs to change.  

“Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you.” Jesus, that’s not how the real world works.

“Bless those who curse you; pray for those who mistreat you.” Jesus, that’s not how the real world works.

“If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic.” Jesus, that’s not how the real world works.

“Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back.” Jesus, that’s not how the real world works.

“Your right,” Jesus says, “that’s not how the real world works. But, that is how God works.”

There are many wonderful things to see all throughout God’s creation, the Grand Canyon, Niagara Falls, the mighty trees of the Redwood Forest. But, for me, one of the most fascinating things to see is a flower, growing out of a slab of concrete. Think about what it takes for that flower to get there. It starts with a little seed that finds its way into a small crack. That seed germinates, and begins to send down roots until it finds the soil, buried deep down underneath. Then it grows and sprouts. Suddenly, embedded in an expanse of nothingness, there is life. The real world, which we are so fond of thinking of as our only reality is nothing more than a slab of concrete. It is cold and heartless and in it there is no life, until that little seed comes along. 
When Jesus taught us to love our enemies and turn the other cheek, he wasn’t telling us to do this because it would be easy, or fun, or a delightful experience. Jesus knows what happens when you live a Godly life in the real world. It leads to the cross. But, here is the thing. It also leads to the resurrection. In other words, it leads to life, real life. 
Jesus knew that what this real world of ours needs is that real life, which means that what this real world of ours so desperately needs are those little seeds of compassion, and forgiveness, and love, and grace. The real world needs those little seeds to find the cracks, to dig down deep, and to sprout up and bring life. Every act of compassion on our part is a little seed. Every time we offer forgiveness instead of bitterness, we are a seed beginning to germinate. Every time we choose love over hate we are sending our roots down deep into the soil. When grace is more important to us than getting our own way we begin to grow and sprout. Choosing mercy instead of demanding justice is a sign that life is growing out of a concreate slab. Every seed has the possibility of become life that grows out of a slab of concrete. And, here is the amazing part. If enough life grows, then the concrete crumbles and falls apart.

In commenting on this passage, one person wrote, “The kingdom that Jesus preached and lived was all about a glorious, uproarious, absurd generosity.” He went on to write, “Think of the best thing you can do for the worst person, and go ahead and do it. Think of what you’d really like someone to do for you, and do it for them. Think of the people to whom you are tempted to be nasty, and lavish generosity on them instead.” This author is talking about some pretty remarkable stuff! But you see, that is how life begins to grow out of a slab of concrete. 
Through the prophet Ezekiel, we learn of one of God’s great promises. God promises to remove our heart of stone and replace it with a heart of flesh. In other words, God promises to exchange our lifeless heart for one that is full of life. Well, this real world of ours needs this same heart transplant, and God calls upon the church to help make this happen. Every time we choose compassion, and forgiveness, and love, and mercy, we are helping this real world’s heart of stone to become a heart of flesh. Of course, choosing compassion, forgiveness, love and mercy is not how the real world works, but it is how God works.

Pastor Jim's past sermons:

That's Not How the Real World Works
Ezekiel 36:22-28
Luke 6:27-36
Links to past sermons can be found at the bottom of this page.
The Big Picture
January 10, 2016
Timing is Everything
January 17, 2016