Summary: A look at the more excellent way of love - using the gifts for their intended purpose in their intended context.
A More Excellent Way
Cascades Fellowship CRC, JX MI
March 8, 2009
Series: The Church in Crisis
I remember a sermon – years ago, in fact I think I may have preached it during my time here as an intern – where my opening illustration was the difference between the way my father chopped wood and the way I chopped it. You may remember the scene – me as a skinny 18 year-old trying to impress my forty-five year-old dad by going as fast and hard as I was able. I would swing with my whole body, big looping strokes as fast as I could until I was forced to pause, huffing and puffing. I would swing five or six or seven real hard times and then rest for a minute or so before going on.
But my dad, my old, out-of-shape dad who I was certain I could work circles around – he established a rhythm, taking his time. He used measured, slow, controlled swings – steady as a drum beat. While I was huffing and puffing, he was steadily thudding away, breaking log after log and stacking it neatly into the woodshed. By the time mom called us for lunch, dad had outpaced me, stacking twice as much wood.
You know, what I learned that day was a more excellent way. Not just a more excellent way of chopping wood, but a more excellent way of approaching life. If we were to break-down the reasons for why my dad’s approach is so much more excellent than my approach probably last on the list of reasons would be that dad’s way was so much more productive. Although in a world where utility or usefulness is considered the greatest virtue – let’s face it, we like things that work well and honor those who are high capacity type-people – in that kind of world, you might think productivity would be at the top of the list, but that really isn’t what makes dad’s way more excellent. It has to do with what is in view, what motive drives the work.
You see, I was interested in impressing – I wanted props for how strong I was, how powerful my swings were, how fast I was. I wanted someone to notice that I was a fine physical specimen who split the daylights out of the wood. I was interested in showing my dad that I was better than he was at splitting wood, that I was the future and he was the past.
Now all this is really hilarious if you know that I was 5’10” and weighed a whopping 120-125 at the time. I may have been 130, but that was about it. I was not a fine physical specimen – I was skinny little punk who obviously thought way too much of himself and way too little of my dad. I was focused on what the work could do for me, where as dad saw his work as service. The family needed wood for the stove – dad chopped wood. His satisfaction came from seeing his family warm – that’s what motivated him.
Dad’s desire to provide fueled his effort and informed his approach to the wood pile. He knew it didn’t matter how fast you swung the axe – what mattered is how well you placed the stroke. If you wanted to have the wood split and put away before winter came, slow and steady won the race.
So what is it that allows a person to take such a big picture view – to essentially take themselves out of the equation and do whatever needs doing without regard to personal recognition or gain?
You know, in some ways, it sounds like we are defining heroism – that trait of selfless disregard to ensure the completion of the mission or the safety of others. We think of firemen, soldiers, police officers and the like when we think of heroes. In the world of fantasy, heroes have special powers – we refer to them as super-heroes. So was my dad a hero? Well, to me he was and is, although he didn’t have any special powers and there was no real danger except when I was swinging the axe. Was that his motivation, though – a heroic character?
Maybe – or at least in some sense – but I think the real motivation was even more basic than that. What allowed my dad to take such a big picture view was love.
In our study of 1 Corinthians, we have come to chapter 13 – what many have termed “the love chapter.” It is a bridge for the discussion on gifts Paul began in Chapter 12 that he will continue in Chapter 14. Many commentators have remarked that if Chapter 13 were removed, Paul’s argument would still make logical sense because chapter 13 reads almost like an interlude.