A long time ago I wrote a sermon about a bike ride through the cornfields of central Illinois. It was one of my favorite things to do when I lived in Chenoa. I would turn left out of our driveway and just keep going. It wouldn’t take long before I was on a road that looked a lot like the one pictured.
When the corn was high, riding a bike down a narrow road like this was a slighltly harrowing experience because I couldn’t really see where I was. When you’re in the middle of one of these corn canyons, you can see where the road leads – at least until the next hill – and that’s about it. When the corn is high, you can’t really see anything but corn and sky.
That is partly why I loved those bike rides so much. It was so peaceful and so calm. I spent a lot of time in prayer on those country roads. The reason I said it was harrowing, however, is because I could be riding along with cornfields on boths sides for quite some time. And while country roads were usually straight, they were not always a dependable grid. Some were deadends. Some veered in directions I didn’t really mean to go. Some took me to the highway (and if you ever want a lesson in white-knuckled prayer, ride your bike on a busy country highway – with semi trucks passing you at 60 miles and hour).
It could be really easy to get turned around amidst all the fields and right angles. Yet no matter where I rode, I always knew that I could see the water tower. As long as I could see the water tower, I knew I could get back home. The water tower is the tallest thing poking out of the grove of trees that is Chenoa. Whenever I rode – I knew I could make it home if I could see the water tower. That is why those moments in the corn canyons were a little unsettling.
In life, we can go down a lot of roads. Sometimes were are heading away from home. Sometimes we are meandering around aimlessly. Sometimes we hit dead ends, or go on courses we didn’t intend. Sometimes we get turned around. Sometimes we hold on white-knuckled just praying that things will be okay. That is why it is so important to have that water tower – raising over it all, showing us the way home.
To me, that is church. It is the place to which I can always turn. It is not perfect. The church has made mistakes – some historic, some personal. The church has hurt people, hurt families, hurt nations. Yet as far as I’m concerned, it is our best hope. It is the best hope we have of finding our way. It is the beacon that calls us home.
At its best the church is a place of love. If the church is being what Christ intended it to be, the church is a place of forgiveness, grace, invitation and mission. It is a place to be fed, empowered and sent out. It is the oasis of the Kingdom of God. When I think of the churches I have been a part of, I don’t think of buildings or decor. I don’ t think of great sermons or well-organized Bible study. I don’t think of perfect liturgy or music. I think of love.
I think of people that cared for me as a child. I think of people that loved me as an adult. I think of people that helped guide me into ministry, that picked me up when I failed and allowed me to grow. I think of people that loved me like parents and were grandparents to my daughters. When I think of when the church has hurt me I do not think of wrong theology, or boring sermons, or bad music. When the church has hurt me it has been when people failed to live up to the commandment Christ has given us – love one another as Christ has loved us. Yet before I let the anger, resentment and hurt feelings get the better of me, I remember that I have failed to love as well. I am in need of forgiveness for my carelessness, my thoughtlessness and my selfishness.
Through it all, I have found love in the church. My heart breaks for those that have been wronged by the church. My heart yearns for those that seek and do not find. I don’t know where you are on your journey. I don’t presume to know the path you need to take. All I know is what I have found. I have found a place to hold onto. I have found a water tower in the bike ride of my life – showing me the way to get back home. I pray you find your way home too.