Heuristic Pastoring

A sermon has never been a thing I could write, the one exception for my attempting it being a course assignment, the time the professor called me in his office to tell me that what I had written wasn’t really a sermon, at least not one he imagined someone would preach. I gently told him that I do not write sermons. “But I assumed you wanted to preach,” he said, “not to mention, you’re a good writer.” “I do want to preach,” I said, “and thank you. I write, but I don’t write sermons and probably never will. Sermons to me are preached, and writing is best when it’s not preachy.” A week after my release from that office, the essay got returned to me with an A+ and red ink: “Good sermon, Joseph!!!” Oy. I defaced the whole thing with a frowny face.

Had he insisted I redo the assignment, I might have managed to type one of my sermons, but not write one.

These posts I’m writing for the Sunday bulletins and Web site are a way for you to probe a pastor’s mind and find out the guts of who I am, a way of conversation about the living which we are all doing. One pastor who conversed this heuristic way for his congregation is Eugene Peterson, and I won’t describe it better than he:

I began to sense that my writing was at some deeper level a conversation with scripture. At the same time a conversation with my congregation. But conversation, not explaining, not directing. I was exploring the country, this land of the living. And I was taking my time. I hadn’t set out to do this. I had neither model nor goal—at least I didn’t think I did. It was a way of writing that involved a good deal of listening, looking around, getting acquainted with the neighborhood. Not writing what I knew but writing into what I didn’t know, edging into a mystery. This, I was learning, was what real writers did. . . .
Writing as a way of paying attention. Writing as an act of prayer, . . . revealing relationships, drawing me into mysteries, training me imaginatively to enter the language world of scripture in which God “spoke and it came to be,” in which “the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.” And it became a way of writing in which I was entering into the language world of my congregation, their crises and small talk, their questions and doubts, listening for and discerning the lived quality of the gospel in their lives. Not just saying things. Not just writing words. [emphasis added] (The Pastor: A Memoir 238-39)

You’re finding this out now lest you impugn these newsletters, demanding the answers, the solutions, one more bite-sized fix. I promise when preaching the Scriptures to give you the point of the text, but when writing this page I’ll give you an edging into the mystery.

— Joseph


A Mother’s Day Reflection: The Old Normal

When our first baby is born, Kari will take maternity leave. After that, she’ll go back to work.

As a bi-vocational pastor, my bi- part will be caring for our baby. So, friends kindly point out, I will be a stay-at-home mom.

No, I retort, I’ll be a stay-at-home dad. God made Kari the mother, a wise choice because he also gave her a higher threshold for pain. My body has been aching since the first chapter of my birth partner book. It’s the first time I’ve complained about a book having too many pictures.

I’ll never be a mother, thank you, but I will have to learn to be more motherly. A shocking truth that wins nods from even the most conservative systematic theologians, God the Father — known to Jesus as Abba — possesses motherly attributes. Having given us life, he nurtures, nourishes, loves, and protects, leaning over his children with concern and care, our infinite source of security, power, and possibility.

The union that Jesus described as having with the Father may accommodate our understanding if we dwell on the union of an infant with its mother. The picture isn’t perfect, but it is a natural reflection. What repulsed Jesus’ audience was not that he called God his Father, but that he claimed to experience the Father so intimately as expressed in his calling him “Abba.”

As a father should, when my child cries, “Daddy,” I’ll run to provide the kind of love and care that really only merits the attributive motherly — even so, reserving full credit for being the father when my son wants to learn how to be an actor, or when my daughter wants to date.

– Joseph

My First Year, Now Henning’s

My first year as Brookview’s pastor got a check mark on Palm Sunday. That afternoon we celebrated in the fellowship hall with garlic bread and spaghetti. Only a small amount ended up on my white dress shirt, and no one noticed. I hope people did notice my extreme happiness, an emotion I could not have estimated just over a year ago, rising not so much out of accomplishment as of gratitude. My whole life I’ve been unlucky, the last person in the world who should be feeding himself marinara sauce in his Sunday best, but I have always transcended fortune and chance with the heavenly blessings of, first, my mom and dad and siblings; then of my all around gifted, energetic, beautiful wife; now of this supportive, loving church; and very soon of the arrival of baby Henning, who will emerge into a community and a family that brim with possibility, energy, and security.

And so, if I haven’t told you already ten thousand times, members and friends of Brookview –– thank you.

– Joseph