There is a good use for chaff, contrary to popular belief. Most of us who live in the modern world, who have neither opportunity nor need for threshing grain, simply figure that grain goes in one pile and chaff in the other and when it's all said and done, you take the grain with you into the storeroom and push the chaff into the garbage.
But garbage is a very modern idea. In those days, there was no shoving the refuse into a big black bag and setting it out by the curb. There was no raking it into a nice pile and waiting on the city to drive by and pick it up. If you didn't figure out something to do with your chaff, it was just going to sit there. For a very long time. Until it decomposed on its own or the wind blew it away or the animals carried it off or whatever. Thankfully, chaff is good for something.
...it's good for starting fires.
Most of us understand this. As we're preparing a message, considering what words we're going to say, crafting the exact story we want to share, we're thinking about how to make it life-giving. We're thinking about how to make it meaningful. We're willing to throw away anything that gets in the way of the very good point we're trying to prove, even if that means we throw away something that would really get people fired up.
There's good chaff and bad chaff, of course. Sometimes, we throw away what would set people on unnecessary fire. Politics, for example, does this. Politics fires people up. But in terms of preparing a message for the Lord, politics is a bad fire. You don't want your message on the sanctity of life to get lost in a policy debate on abortion. You don't want your words on forgiveness to give way to talk of gun control. You don't want your ideas about leadership to divide people along party lines. So politics is bad chaff.
There's good chaff, too. Good chaff sets people on fire for the Lord, but it usually does so prematurely. Because it's so combustible. You can drop just a few words into a great sermon, and you'll lose the people too early. They'll start trying to move before they know what they're moving toward. It's when you're in the middle of telling them about starving children in Africa, and they're ready to go to Ghana before you can bring them back to starving children in your own community. It's when you're teaching about the lost, and they're out knocking on doors before you reveal your big outreach program. It's when you're just starting a sermon the poor, the sick, and the imprisoned, and you look up, and your audience is already gone, en route to the hospitals and prisons because you've lit a fire under them, but a bit prematurely. It's good chaff. It's not that it's leading to the wrong things. But it's the wrong fire.
Of course, there are times when that's really all you're trying to do. Sometimes, you have to start a fire. And I think most of us understand this, too. We understand how empty our words are when all we're trying to do is light people up, get them moving, get them involved, get them doing something. At times like this, we just don't put a lot of substance into things. Because we need people to stop thinking for a minute and move. We don't need them pontificating the finer points of modern theology; we need them putting their hands and their hearts into it and getting dirty and maybe even, *gasp* loving someone. For real.
So it's not that you start working your way toward a message, that you separate the chaff and the wheat and push one aside. No, even the chaff has its uses, and a good steward makes use of every part of the harvest. But you have to understand what it is that chaff does best and how it does it, as well as the potential dangers of burning it in the presence of God's people. It's going to start a fire.
The question is: will it be a controlled burn or a wildfire? That depends on you.