Category Archives: Holy Days

Up and Away

On a recent Sunday morning as I stood outside the front entrance of the church, getting some air and waiting to greet folks as they arrived, I looked up to see a hot air balloon aloft in the distance. Initially hardly more than a speck, the balloon gained in size as it closed the gap between us. Making use of a substantive air current, in just a few minutes it was overhead to the delight of a growing group of worship arrivals. Many, like me, were snapping photos, angling to catch both the balloon and the peak of the church building in their picture. Others were speculating who the pilot might be, naming a local man known to have flown balloons for some time. Some arrived commenting on how they had been watching the balloon as they drove in that morning. Still others were recalling prior hot air balloon experiences they’d had – a ride while traveling in Australia, attendance at the Albuquerque, New Mexico festival.

Photo taken by Dan Cash

I rather wished we could’ve relocated worship outdoors that morning, given the blue sky and warm weather. Then speculated how challenging it would be to keep a congregation’s attention while a hot air balloon went over. Not a chance! I think you’d have to call an audible, suspending whatever was happening in worship, to let people enjoy the sight.

There is something rather uplifting and serene about seeing a hot air balloon aloft. I was immediately taken back a few weeks to having witnessed four in flight together over Colorado while taking a morning walk. Then recalled another occasion, years prior, also in Colorado, having come upon a balloon festival near Aspen. The fields were in full color that day as the balloons dotted the landscape. Maybe it’s the size, colors or the silence of these airborne vessels that can stop you short when you see them. Their hushed travel interrupted by the occasional plume of fire gushing more air into the balloon. It’s the rhythmic music of rests with the occasional whole note of gas, igniting the elevated air ship to greater heights and distance.

Some years ago our church observed our own neighborhood celebration with tethered hot air balloon rides on the lawn. People lined up and waited for their turn in the basket, young and old alike, a quick up and down ride that offered a taste of what such travel might entail. It was a great part of a fun day together, it’s memory brought back by the unexpected spotting of our Sunday morning balloon guest.

FBC Faithful at 50 Celebration in 2014.

Worship is sometimes described as that which creates or facilitates an encounter with God, causing the worshipper to acknowledge God’s sovereignty and holiness. Much effort can go into the elements that lead to worship on a typical Sunday. A preacher will spend hours crafting a sermon. Musicians will rehearse. Worship leaders give much thought the service’s flow. Then there are the other moments, like the one that spontaneously developed outside the front entrance to the church this past Sunday. A moment when an unexpected worship leader caused us to look up, reflect, and notice the wonders of life as God has created it.

Turns out we didn’t need to relocate worship outside the church, it had already happened. We had been called to a moment through the artistry and simplicity of an overhead leader causing us to stop and worship God outdoors, before we went inside to continue.

Photo taken by Wayne Lovelace

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The Freedom Trail

On a recent family excursion to Boston we explored the famed “Freedom Trail”. This is a 2.5 mile path that meanders through downtown Boston, passing by 16 historic locations significant in the nation’s colonial journey toward independence and freedom. It’s an interesting walk that combines the preserved markers of history in the middle of a contemporary urban center that is filled with the sights and sounds of progress. One particular visual that I found noteworthy was an old burying ground adorned with weathered markers and headstones, some of which were located flat against the foundation of a modern office building. The office building’s windows overlook the resting place of revolutionary heroes, buried just feet beyond. Such is the juxtaposition of contemporary life in the midst of history.

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Living the Joy of Easter

This morning I began my day with some time in Psalm 47 and a prayer guide titled The Songs of Jesus by Timothy Keller. Psalm 47:1 says: Clap your hands, all you peoples; shout to God with loud songs of joy. In his reflection on this psalm, Keller writes: “Rather than think of ourselves as an embattled, political minority or persecuted underdogs, Christians should be so over-flowing with the joy of our salvation that we feel the privilege of singing his praise to those who do not know him.” (p.98 The Songs of Jesus)

As Christ followers we serve and follow a risen Savior. He is King Jesus, the One who overcome sin and death. His resurrection, celebrated just last Sunday, makes it possible for you and I to know joy. We can know the joy of our own redemption from sin. We can know the joy of abundant life in Christ. We can know the joy of a promise of eternal life with him when, one day, we enter into our life after death. In short, there is so much to be joyful about.

Yet how often do we project a different message through our countenance, our words, or our behavior? When we go through life long-faced, despondent, complaining or piously encumbered, we act more like that “embattled minority” Keller counsel us to avoid representing. My experience of Easter this year was joyful, was yours?

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Holy Week Pilgrimage

*Note: This blog post is also available as a podcast on “Dan’s Sunday Preview“, a podcast by Pastor Dan Cash which can be accessed at https://anchor.fm/daniel-cash, Apple podcasts and a variety of other sites.

Growing up in a Christian home, Holy Week was a time in the Christian year when I was reminded that as Baptists, we were not alone in this journey of faith.  You see during Holy Week we came together for a series of “special services” with our Methodist and Disciples of Christ brothers and sisters to commemorate the season.

These three congregations in my home community took turns hosting one of three special services – Maundy Thursday, Good Friday or Easter Sunrise – providing special music and preaching on the occasions when they weren’t serving as host.  I found the whole enterprise to be quite interesting.  Sitting in the pews in another congregation was a new experience.  Seeing people from the greater community who were members there, or at another church.  Listening to another preacher – my favorite was the Methodist pastor because he never preached longer than 15 minutes!  In contrast it seemed like our pastor couldn’t wind it down under 30!

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Leaning into Lent

I was not raised in a family or faith tradition that observed the season of Lent. As Baptists we were what some might call “low church” or of the “free church” tradition. That is to say the liturgical calendar, aside from Easter and Christmas, was not something we consulted on a regular basis. As for Lent, as I’ve often said, that was something you cleaned from the dryer trap.

Upon attending seminary and serving a Chicagoland church as a seminary intern, I learned about the Church Year and had opportunity to participate for the first time in the Lenten season. I learned that Lent was a period of 40 days, plus 7 Sundays, largely patterned after Jesus’ 40 days of temptation in the wilderness. I learned it was a time of spiritual preparation and reflection leading up to Easter. I learned it wasn’t something weird or other, but rather a season in which I could take on some spiritual practices in prayer, study or even mission to focus my own discipleship.

The church I served in seminary had a tradition of holding an annual Lenten Arts series. This was a time when some aspect of the fine arts were displayed in the sanctuary and became part of our worship space. One year it was art from a local sculptor. Another year we borrowed paintings of Jesus’ twelve disciples to display. This was a further enhancement of my experience with the season, and a good reminder – especially for someone who is word focused – that other media can speak to us. I remember studying the faces of the disciples during those Sundays and thinking about what they must have experienced with Jesus.

Today it has become more common for those of us from the “low/free” church tradition to acknowledge and observe the seasons of the Church year. As an American Baptist pastor, who has often felt I have one foot in the mainline and the other in the evangelical traditions, the Lenten season has become one I not only lean into, but encourage congregants to as well.

For me it’s not so much a focus on giving up something for the season, although that’s a fine practice if it works for you. I prefer to think about what practice I might “take on” for Lent. Usually that means reading through one or more devotional books, or changing a prayer pattern for the season, or engaging in some type of mission focus (beyond normal duties). The possibilities for such practices are truly endless. Especially during this ongoing pandemic, it might be meaningful to take on a practice of connection with someone who is isolated; or a good deed to one who needs extra help during the challenges of winter’s snow, ice and cold.

The hope is that these Lenten practices can help us to see life, see others, and see Christ with eyes that are refreshed or refocused. When we live beyond ourselves – helping others, praying for others, connecting with others – we engage in the acts of Christ who called us to love one another. That’s something worth leaning into, not just for a season, but for a lifetime.

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