I moved down to Indianapolis on Labor Day, 1982. Janet and the kids were still in northwest suburban Chicago and I checked into my Indy hotel room (Room #1231) to begin work the following morning. It was a bittersweet time. There was the excitement of a new job after having been out of work for a period of time – but it was tempered by the fact that I was leaving the only city that I had ever lived in for the first 29 years of my life. And to be sure, my family was back there!
Janet and I had decided that I would get the lay of the land and try to start looking at real estate to see what was available in our price range. We still had a home to sell in Inverness – near Palatine, IL, and we were concerned about having a commitment on two homes but I started the search.
After speaking with some of the local movers and shakers, it was clear that Zionsville and Carmel should both be on our radar screen as possible communities to call home. Zionsville was a little closer to I65, the main highway to Chicago but Carmel had a tennis club – and we were avid tennis players. In fact, Janet’s family had played tennis for years and I started to play when we were dating.
Anyway, I decided that after my first day of work, I would head up to Carmel and start to check things out. I got the directions to the local racquet club and arrived from my office in downtown Indy about 30 minutes after setting out.
I arrived at the club and sat down to watch people play on the various courts. To be sure, I was kind of lonely. Janet and I didn’t know ANYONE in Indy and it would be at least two weeks before I would head home for a weekend. It was in that moment that the prospect of a completely different life with three very young children was about to become a reality.
I went upstairs to the small restaurant at the racquet club and sat at the bar. I remembering ordering a reuben sandwich and patiently waited for it to arrive from the small kitchen. In the meantime, another guy at the bar introduced himself to me. Barry was a very outgoing car guy and we soon entered into a conversation. I explained my move to the area and the attraction of a local tennis club.
We each finished our meals and as I was about to pay my bill, Barry reached for the check and insisted on buying my first real dinner since moving down. It was an act of kindness that I have never forgotten. In fact, the friendliness of the people at the club and throughout Carmel in general were major reasons we ended up here.
That dinner was forty years ago least Tuesday, the day after Labor Day. I have often wondered about the hand of God in all this. Here I was, alone in a new city and absolutely no idea of where we should move or what I should look for. I had travelled for business in the past but always returned “home.” Now home was taking on an entirely different meaning.
It was one of the few times in my life that I felt like one of the least in the kingdom of God. That might sound strange to many of you, but I needed to cultivate friendships down here. And I found those friendships at the racquet club. Those first days in Carmel were some of the most difficult I have ever faced. Our verse for tonight reflects what Jesus has to say about hospitality and treating each other with dignity and respect.
Matthew tells us about the thoughts of Jesus on hospitality in Matthew 25:35-40. We are told, “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’
My encouragement this evening is that there are times when each of us needs a friend or encouragement in a strange new environment. And that’s what hospitality is all about – it’s even a spiritual gift. And there are those among us who have been given this special gift of making others feel welcome. My prayer is that we will all be more aware of those around us who are needing a little hospitality.
By the way, Barry and I have periodically stayed in touch throughout the years. I called him on Tuesday to thank him for the kindness that he extended to me 40 years ago. He really appreciated my call and attributed his actions 40 years ago to “Hoosier Hospitality” – and he’s right. But I also think God’s hand was all over it. It really was the catalyst for the move that we eventually made to Carmel, where we still live to this day. Have a great day in the Lord, grace and peace…