Hebrews 13:1-2 (NIV)
1 Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters. 2 Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.
Carl was a quiet man. He didn't talk much. He would always greet you with a big smile and a firm handshake, but even after living in our neighborhood for over 50 years, no one could really say they knew him very well. All they really knew was he had worked for the Gas Company and had won an award when he retired for never having taken a sick day in all his 51 years with the company.
Before his retirement, he took the bus to work each morning. He had a slight limp from a bullet wound received in WWII. The bullet itself was still lodged very near his spine. Watching him, the people worried that although he had survived WWII, he may not make it through the changing uptown neighborhood with its ever-increasing random violence, gangs, and drug activity. How could they have known that a Miracle limped in their midst?
Carl was in his early 70's when he began what was to be a 15 plus years job of caring for the gardens behind the minister's residence. He was then retired and his wife had died a few years earlier. When he saw the flyer at the local church asking for volunteers, he responded in his characteristically unassuming manner. Without fanfare, he just signed up to do the weeding, watering and seeding of flowers and vegetables that were planted each spring. He was well into his 87th year when the very thing the people had always feared finally happened.
He was just finishing his watering for the day when three gang members approached him. Ignoring their attempt to intimidate him, he simply asked, "Would you like a drink from the hose?" The tallest and toughest-looking of the three said, "Yeah, sure", with a little smile. As Carl offered the hose to him, the other two grabbed Carl's arm, throwing him down. As the hose snaked crazily over the ground, dousing everything in its way, Carl's assailants stole his retirement watch and his wallet, and then fled.
Carl tried to get himself up, but he had been thrown down on his bad leg. He lay there trying to gather himself as the minister came running to help him. Although the minister had witnessed the attack from his window, he couldn't get there fast enough to stop it. "Carl, are you okay? Are you hurt?" the minister kept asking as he helped Carl to his feet.
Carl just passed a hand over his brow and sighed, shaking his head. "Just some punk kids. I hope they'll wise-up someday." His wet clothes clung to his slight frame as he bent to pick up the hose. He adjusted the nozzle again and started to water. Confused and a little concerned, the minister asked, "Carl, what are you doing?" "I've got to finish my watering. It's been very dry lately", came the calm reply. Satisfying himself that Carl really was all right, the minister could only marvel. Carl was a man from a different time and place.
A few weeks later, the three returned. Just as before, their threat was unchallenged. Carl again offered them a drink form his hose. This time they didn't rob him. They wrenched the hose from his hand and drenched him head to foot in the icy water as he tried unsuccessfully to fend them off.
When they had finished their humiliation of him, they sauntered off down the street, throwing catcalls and curses, falling over one another laughing at the hilarity of what they had just done. Carl just watched them. Then he turned toward the warmth-giving sun, picked up his hose, and went on with his watering.
The summer was quickly fading into fall. Thankfully, things had been quiet and uneventful. Carl was doing some tilling and getting the rose beds ready for their winter mulch protection when he was startled by the sudden approach of someone behind him. He stumbled and fell into some evergreen branches. As he struggled to regain his footing, he turned to see the tall leader of his summer tormenters reaching down for him. He braced himself for the expected attack. "Don't worry old man, I'm not gonna hurt you this time." The young man spoke softly, still offering the tattooed and scarred hand to Carl. As he helped Carl get up, the man pulled a crumpled bag from his pocket and handed it to Carl.
"What's this?", Carl asked.
"It's your stuff," the man explained. "It's your stuff back. Even the money in your wallet."
"I don't understand," Carl said. "Why would you help me now?" The man shifted his feet, seeming embarrassed and ill at ease. "I learned something from you", he said. "I ran with that gang and hurt people like you. We picked you because you were old and we knew we could do it. But every time we came and did something to you, instead of yelling and fighting back, you tried to give us a drink. You didn't hate us for hating you. You kept showing love against our hate." He stopped for a moment. "I couldn't sleep after we stole your stuff, so here it is back." He paused for another awkward moment, not knowing what more there was to say. "That bag's my way of saying thanks for straightening me out, I guess." And then, he walked off down the street.
Carl looked down at the sack in his hands and gingerly opened it. He took out his retirement watch and put it back on his wrist. Opening his wallet, he checked for his wedding photo. He gazed for a moment at the young bride that still smiled back at him from all those years ago, and then put the photo back in its place. He pocketed his billfold once again and went back to mulching his roses.
He didn't make it to the following spring to see those roses bloom again. He died one cold day after Christmas that winter. Many people attended his funeral, in spite of the weather. In particular, the minister noticed a tall young man that he didn't know sitting quietly in a distant corner of the church. The minister spoke of Carl's garden as a lesson in life. In a voice made thick with unshed tears, he said, "Do your best and make your garden as beautiful as you can. We will never forget Carl and his garden."
The following spring, as the ice thawed in the yard, another flyer went up. It read: "Person needed to care for Carl's garden." The flyer went unnoticed by the busy parishioners until one day when a knock was heard at the minister's office door. Opening the door, the minister saw a pair of scarred and tattooed hands holding the flyer. "I believe this is my job, if you'll have me," the young man said. The minister recognized him as the same young man who had returned the stolen watch and wallet to Carl. He knew that Carl's kindness had turned this man's life around. As the minister handed him the keys to the garden shed, he said, "Yes, go take care of Carl's garden and honor him."
The man went to work and, over the next several years, he tended the flowers and vegetables just as Carl had done. In that time, he went to college, got married and became a prominent businessman in the community. But he never forgot his promise to Carl's memory and kept the garden as beautiful as he thought Carl would have kept it.
The question for each of us is. Are we showing God’s love in the way we handle the situations around us. Do people see hate in us or do they see love.
Dear Lord, we pray today that like Carl we would have love I our heart for those around us. Help u seven in the bad situations to show that love so others may be changed because of it. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
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