June 9 | Outdoor Service | Reflections

Dan Halterman

Joel in 2017 opened a sermon describing himself as “a pastor in the Mennonite creek of the Christian stream of the human river of spiritual wisdom traditions.” 

Even though Google is unaware of any “Mennonite River,” “Mennonite Creek,” or “Mennonite Ditch,” I’ll get back to this.

Matthew 5:45 says God causes his rain to fall on the just and on the unjust.  That’s you and me.  I’m taking liberties to commingle that about rain and the fates of seeds in the Parable of the Sower:

The Lord causes his rain to fall on the just and the unjust…that’s us.  Some falls on leaves or other surfaces and promptly evaporates back into the atmosphere.  Some falls on hard surfaces, roofs, parking lots, roads, and quickly runs off, cleansing the surfaces of accumulated oil and gas from vehicles, dirt, dust, animal feces and animal carcasses, litter – icky stuff – and transfers it directly to streams as the so-called “first flush.”  Some falls on vegetated land, dissolving nutrients in the soil waiting to be shared with plant roots and rises to the light again through the wonder of photosynthesis that lifts soil water through capillary action – an inch above the soil into a radish leaf or hundreds of feet to the top of a giant redwood.  Other water mingles with its kin in the moist soil and percolates further by gravity, being cleansed, and becomes ground water that may be pumped through a well supplying a home or multiple huge wells feeding a public water system serving Dayton and Montgomery County.  Other water may encounter an impermeable layer and emerge to light again later as a spring or seep pulled by gravity to join a stream – with the other water that the Lord has equally shared with the just and the unjust.  Those who have ears to hear, let them hear.

To the north of us, rain falls on the Olentangy River watershed.  Rainwater that doesn’t enter a plant or evaporate eventually gets to the river and flows past this park.  Some of it will baptize Eve Miller.

The Olentangy River from just below the Delaware Dam to Old Wilson Bridge Road carries two official labels.  It is a State Scenic River and, despite intense ongoing development over four decades, river water quality – water chemistry and biological diversity – achieves the high-level classification exceptional warm water habitat.  It’s a healthy river.

Now, Delaware’s municipal wastewater treatment plant is only 7 miles upstream of us.  You don’t need to fret about that, Eve. Baptismal worry would be appropriate if you wanted to be immersed in the Jordan River, parts of which are so polluted it is unsafe for human contact.  Jesus probably wouldn’t risk it.

But the City of Delaware and Ohio EPA scrutinize the plant’s operations 24/7 to be sure the discharge meets the legal limits that protect the river’s water quality and human health.  And because it hasn’t rained recently, the icky “first flush” of storm water from the last rain has long since passed this area.  Not to worry, Eve.  You will be good hands, the hands of a pastor “in the Mennonite creek of the Christian stream of the human river of spiritual wisdom traditions.”  And you will be in clean water, plenty of it.  Because God sends the rain on all of us.

Jerry Nussbaum

“Listening in the depths”


1 As a deer longs for flowing streams,
so my soul longs for you, O God.

2 My soul thirsts for God,
for the living God.

The first 10 years of my life, I grew up near a creek, the Kidron Creek, that ran past our house just east of Kidron, Ohio, at a crossroads locally known as Jericho.  Most of the time, the Kidron creek was a quiet little stream where one could wander and explore its winding turns through the quiet farmlands.  My favorite places were sitting on the rocks by the bank of the creek or the walking bridge that led to the field and woods on the other side. I enjoyed watching the ducks swim, the weeping willow branches sway in the breeze just above the rippling stream, the swallows gliding across the water finding insects, the bubbles rising to the surface creating wonder at what lies beneath.   These experiences with nature and water were a vital part of my faith formation and I find now that nature is where I feel especially drawn toward God. 

The creek behind our house in Jericho was not always calm. During hard rains, the crashing waters grew high and came near the back of our house, creating uncertainty and fear.  But it always came back to a calm flowing place.      

I have been drawn toward water since a young age.  Whether a creek, a farmland drainage ditch, or larger rivers or lakes, sitting next to the water draws me toward life and wholeness, letting go of fears and insecurities, worries and grief.  My grief is like a river, I must let it flow…  became a defining mantra at different times in life.  Sitting on the shores of Lake Superior, I can mentally cast my worries to the water and let them disappear in the ebb and flow of water. 

A river or stream is a strong metaphor for life and journey.  Today we celebrate graduations and baptism, stepping into streams that leads to unknown places and new perspectives. 

There is a poem that suggests sitting by a river and observing the surface while contemplating its depths.

I invite you to listen to a brief meditation that starts on the bank of a river.  The poem is based on an excerpt from Anita Diamant in her novel The Red Tent and is expanded in an adaptation written by Joyce Rupp The Circle of Life.

A Closer Look

by Anita Diamant, The Red Tent

“If you sit on the bank of a river,

You see only a small part of its surface.

And yet, the waters before your eyes

Is proof of unknowable depths.”

If you look at a sunset,

You might see only the disappearance of daylight.

If you look beneath,

You may see darkness opening the splendor of the stars.


If you look at illness and disease,

You might see only physical diminishment.

If you look beneath,

You may see it as a teacher bringing you vital wisdom.


If you look at lost dreams,

You might see only disappointment and doubt.

If you look beneath,

You might see the stuff that new dreams contain.


If you look at the death of a loved one,

You might see only pervasive sorrow.

If you look beneath,

You may see that love lives on forever in the heart.


If you look at the planet’s pain and creatures’ woe,

You might see only despair,

If you look beneath,

You may see hope woven in the

Compassionate care of many.


If you look at yourself,

You might see only tarnished unfinishedness.

If you look beneath,

You may see your basic goodness shining there.


If you look for the divine being,

You might see mostly unresolved questions.

If you look beneath, you may be astounded;

At the availability of divine love.


In closing, when you witness a baptism, when you receive a “senior blanket,” marking an important transition, or you attend a worship service in a building on Oakland Park, or a picnic here at Highbanks, you may see the rituals of this faith community, if you look beneath you may see a community of faith, gathered and welcoming the journey of many lives, intertwined in the embrace of this day, this time.

Psalm 42 “As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God.     My soul thirsts for God, the living God.” 

May we be grateful to God for the journey our life takes, where we are right now.


With what do you struggle today?  What might be beneath that struggle for which you can give thanks.

(adaptation from The Circle of Life, by Joyce Rupp)