“Rowing” by Dan Phillips

2009summercover.jpg"Rowing" by Dan Phillips

July 19, 2009


Text: Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. He said to them, "Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while." For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves.

Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things. When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored the boat. When they got out of the boat, people at once recognized him, and rushed about that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed.


Greetings again, all you Seekers. As one who O spends a lot of  time recently looking for things that I have lost, I am here to tell you that Seeking is not as much fun as it used to be. The glasses, the keys, the confidence that I put on the bookcase, or left on the table, or used to lead a Sunday School class: these things elude me now more than ever before. So I thought this group above all others would understand my aging life.


And I don’t Seek calmly, relying on God and the truths I have learned. No, I Seek loudly, demanding that Martha, or God, or whoever else is near, help me find what I have lost. I am not a contented Seeker, or a peaceful Seeker. I am a loud, obnoxious, angry Seeker, until I find, or Martha finds for me, or God shoves in my face, what I am looking for.


I was surprised when I tried to pick out some music for this service. I LOVE to use `canned’ music in the service, particularly songs that are quasi-religious, rather than the traditional hymns. The surprise for me was that all of the songs I picked, all five of them, related to water some way. And I did not start with that as a theme.  When I then examined the liturgy, I noticed the mention of water, and realized that my choices were due to the `hospitality of God’.  Why am I so emotional about finding what I have lost when I live in a summer of sprawling gifts, gifts scattered around  everywhere, the hospitality of a loving God. In the midst of all this divine plenty, why am I still Seeking?



Job is all of us

Suffering under the hand

Of unseen powers

Wrestling with ignorance and Accuser

Until the day

We measure all creation See the past

Give orders to the dawn

And learn where darkness resides

Then we will be able

To answer God

Then we will be Ready

For a new set

Of questions


I am still Seeking, like most of you, because I don’t understand so many things. Job demands answers from God, and receives precious few. Instead, he is told that he is not able to understand the answers. Instead, he, Job, is asked questions by God, questions that demonstrate how insignificant Job is. But Job does get a response from God, something his three friends do not. And like Job, I am coming to understand that it is the conversation and not the answer that counts.



The pieces of the life puzzle

That you gave me

Don’t fit

And if I have damaged some

Pounding them into place

It is your fault

For not giving me the right pieces

In the Beginning


I am also still seeking because I do not have my life in order, or at least, in the order I want. I am learning that wisdom does not automatically come with age, or even come at all with age. I am even more aware that I often confuse activity with results, and ideas with change. Jesse Palidofsky sang on his album a song about a man who could do almost everything, but who still needed mercy a million times a day. I love that song, and identify with the need of that man, though not with his skills.


The struggle with my own defects and the desire to order my life are carried out in my conversation with God. Like Job, I demand answers from God, and often get none. But it is in the conversation that I find direction, and joy, and grace. Unlike Pat Conover, I am often surprised by God’s grace. A part of that grace, for me, has been a new call.



I tried to have a dialogue with God

When She didn’t answer

I cursed railed

Stomped shouted sputtered


In anger and disgust

I turned to leave

And slipped

Fell to my hands and knees

And heard a voice say



I have accepted the pastorate of the Caroline Valley Federated Church in Brooktondale, New York. This church is affiliated with the United Methodists and the United Church of Christ. It will be the first time that I have been the senior pastor of a church, indeed, the only pastor of a church. It is a small congregation, smaller than Seekers or Mt Vernon Baptist. And no group has scared me this much since I came to Seekers the first time, because I will be the local prophet. That position of responsibility is more than I deserve, or can completely fill. Yet, it is where I will be. I have asked God, and gotten the almost answers, and now must go back to living and working.


Marjory said in a recent sermon that "It is seekers, then, who make prophets, and the initiative of any one of us in searching for and responding to the voice of contemporary prophets may mark the turning point in (our) growth and service." I’m not sure of all the meanings of this statement, but for me it says that to be a successful prophet at Caroline Valley, I must continue to be a Seeker.


And what will I be Seeking? I will seek Christ, and to know His nature and methods and words. It is a sad part of modern Christianity that we no longer attempt to understand or emulate Jesus. Often it is because we are so sure that the Jesus is on our side, that we already KNOW what Jesus would do, or think, or say. We think WWJD (what would Jesus do) or WWJB (who would Jesus bomb) rather than struggle with who Jesus is.


As a Christian I believe Jesus is my model. I Seek to follow ‘ Him well aware that the disciples, men like me, were constantly embarrassing themselves because of how they misunderstood Jesus. I Seek to act like the Christ knowing that I also will run away, deny, and betray. I am no better than those worshippers in the past, but still I will try. Because, as Pat put it, "we Christians are a special people, but our specialness is to serve and not to dominate, to build friendship rather than manipulate, to consider the good of others as important as the good we seek for ourselves, to be a Pentecost people who align themselves with an active and loving God."



How tall is Jesus today

Is Jesus still a man

I talked to Jesus

Just this morning

And can’t remember

If I looked up

Or straight ahead

He probably was short

When he was here


And had a crooked nose

Spoke with an Aramaic voice

Has he grown since

Learned a new language


Will I be able to recognize him

From the old photos


I am familiar with the "old photos" of Jesus, the paintings that make him look Caucasian and bland, or the verbal ones that make him exclusive and demanding. All of us have a picture of who Jesus is in our heads somewhere. I think it is a part of our task to take that picture out and show it to others. Not demanding that they agree that it is the one and only right picture of Jesus, but so they have some idea of who He was, and is, at least to us. Perhaps then I will be the projectionist for the Caroline Valley Federate Church, displaying my version of Jesus side by side with that of each of the other members, Seeking to find something new in our images.


In our text this morning, Jesus is riding on the water, going away to rest. But when He and his crew get to the other side, they meet the crowd who has followed them. Moving away, even for a few hours, was not possible, and Jesus and the disciples immediately go to work again.


I’m not sure what the lesson for us is in this story. Should we not try to get away from the pressures of life ever? Should we understand that the needs of this world will follow us wherever we go? If Jesus knew everything, why did this attempt to `get away’ fail? Perhaps when we try the hardest to change the paradigm of our lives, that is just the time when we come again to see what our duty is.


But an important part of this story are the journeys of those who walked around the Sea of Galilee to again hear Jesus, again see Jesus, to again ask Jesus for help. As leaders, we are just as prone to see only ourselves as everyone else is. As Christians, we too forget the faith journeys of those we meet. Maybe that’s what we are meant to understand from this short story of travel to a new place. And that brings me back to my future. Moving to the Ithaca, New York, area feels a lot like the journey across the lake. I will be a part-time pastor, surely a contradiction in terms! In this "third round of call", I will balance rest and meditation with pastoring and writing. May God give me the grace to know when to get in the boat, and when to attend to the needs of our hurting world!



Dan gave everyone in the congregation a small pamphlet with several poems. Most of them were included in his sermon. Here are the others: 



The immersionists

Baptists to the core

Have had it right all along

You have to dip the children

Into the waters of the church

Into the blood of God

Into the chaos of the Spirit

Pneuma of the Pneumos

So to speak

I personally was held under

Until I cried Uncle

Or actually

I Believe



When you look at the cross

You can feel the arms and legs

The body stretched

Up out down apart

We hold onto our fervor

Speaking in fiery tongues

With one hand

While the other grasps

The knowledge of Historical Criticism

Source documents and all

We stand on the Word

Taught in our youth

With one foot

Resting the other

On repeatable science

Our head is in the clouds

That lead to space and future

The same clouds

Jesus entered

Before older believers

Crucified with Him

Just like us


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