Dr. Gerhard Aho was one of my favorite professors at CTS. He was one of the most godly and decent professors I’ve ever known. He taught homiletics – the art of crafting sermons. Dr. Aho was a master at crafting themes and outlines. His expertise was thematic preaching of the text. “The theme must unify the text. It must engage the hearer. The major points must flow from the theme.” That was his mantra. He was so good at it that he was given a complimentary nickname: The Jeweler.
One example will suffice. I was to preach at my home congregation at Christmas. The assigned text was John 1:1-18. There are so many profound truths in that text. How would anyone possibly unify all the thoughts? I worked and worked for a theme, and finally landed on, “Jesus Christ is the Christmas Light that Will Never Go Out.” I really wasn’t all that jazzed with the theme, but that was the best I could do.
Then I picked up our seminary journal which included sermon studies as a regular feature. I wondered what someone else might have done with this text, so I turned to the page on which the John 1 text was found and saw my dear professor’s name. The Word Became Flesh, John 1:1-18 by Gerhard Aho. His theme unified the text – how did he do that?!? Then came the two major points: What a mystery! What a blessing! Elegant simplicity. Profound truth in simple words – just like John’s gospel. That was more than 40 years ago and I still recall it.
The day we were to discuss C.F.W. Walther’s The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel in class came. I had read the book. It was a daunting task. Many pages. Deep and profound thoughts. Challenging concepts. So challenging that I despaired of being a true Christian, much less a pastor!
Dr. Aho asked what we thought of the book. I don’t recall what any of the students said. I think we were all similarly challenged by this book. Dr. Aho offered an insight that gave me great comfort and the courage to continue to study. “I think,” he said, “Walther really knew the challenges we face. He speaks so clearly. Oh yes, gentlemen, Walther will challenge you to the core.” Amen, Dr. Aho. Amen. Walther really did challenge me to the core.
Here I am today casting about for a theme for this nascent book. I’ve written a lot of words. I’ve shared quite a few personal stories. I’ve tried to express the idea that there are times we legitimately ought to feel bad, sad, discouraged, afraid – all the negative emotions we have in this fallen world. I’ve tried to express how we will never find peace in beating up ourselves over our ill feelings. We will not offer a non-anxious presence if we are in denial of what is really happening all around us.
It is equally true that we fail to be true to the faith and hope we have in Christ if we constantly mope around in a defeatist funk. If we spend our time lamenting, being honest about how difficult life is, and expressing our very real frustrations over life’s challenges, we are forfeiting the blessings of hope and joy that are found in Christ’s resurrection. We are giving a poor witness. How might I unify those thoughts better than my working title, Don’t Feel Bad About Feeling Bad? More thought is needed on this. That will be tomorrow’s task.
For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory. 21 And it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us,22 and who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee. – 2 Corinthians 1:20-22