I just returned from a weeklong bike ride across Iowa known as RAGBRAI. That’s “Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa”. It’s the oldest, largest and longest bicycle touring event in the world. Nearly 20,000 riders pedal five hundred miles over hills, into headwinds and through horrendous heat and humidity. All of which should raise a simple question in your mind, “Why would any sane human being do such a thing?”
I suppose there are lots of reasons including an incredible sense of accomplishment. And pie. But the real reason that this event is so popular boils down to the incredible hospitality of the people of Iowa.
Communities plan for months to make our visit awesome and memorable.
Local bands and cheerleading squads greet you in every town as early as 6:00 AM.
Hundreds of local residents line the streets of every town to cheer you on.
Iowa bicycle shops travel with the riders to repair bikes along the way for a fraction of the cost of my local bike shop.
State Highway Patrol members monitor every major intersection.
Local artists create incredible bicycle sculptures.
Libraries, schools and businesses welcome overheated riders into their air conditioned spaces.
Iowans open their homes, their lawns and their restrooms for riders.
And did I mention the pie? Blackberry, blueberry, peach, apple, rhubarb, strawberry, cherry, pecan. I think every church lady in Iowa bakes themselves into a lather.
I’m honestly not sure I’ve ever felt more welcomed anywhere than I do in Iowa during RAGBRAI. That’s why riders endure hills, heat, headwinds and humidity, not to mention weary legs and wicked sore bottoms. We do it because the people of Iowa draw us with an irresistible hospitality.
All of which makes me wonder a bit about our churches. I don’t want to diminish the importance of good preaching, quality programming, sharp staff and nice facilities, but at the end of the day I wonder if it won’t be the irresistible hospitality of Jesus expressed through the people of God that will really draw people in.
And I suppose pie wouldn’t hurt either.
When have you experienced irresistible hospitality? How can you express Jesus’ welcome to others?
Jeff Marian is lead pastor at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Burnsville, MN