Ecclesiastes 4:9-12; 1 Thessalonians 1:2-3; 1 Timothy 6:1-12

I had the extreme pleasure of studying under Reverend Ben Trammell, Faith United Methodist Church, Richmond, Texas for several years. Not only did he pastor me, but he also befriended me. Ben has moved on to bigger pastures in San Antonio now, but through the wonders of the Internet I still benefit each week from his sermons. This Sunday, he used a magic phrase. I’m not even sure he noticed it, but it caught my ear. He said made reference to, “the people who loved you into being who you are today.”

Love StatueI once heard a different preacher say you can only love someone into the faith – you can’t convince someone into the faith; you can’t argue someone into the faith; you can’t coerce someone into the faith. Sure, you can force someone to participate in the faith (often begrudgingly), but it has no lasting, heart-felt result. The only way to truly bring someone into the faith is through your expressions of love.

That was my second reaction. My first reaction was a flood of names and faces pouring into the forefront of my mind – those who loved me into being who I am now. I was overwhelmed by the revelation that I truly am who I am because they loved me into behaviors and beliefs which define me today.

And as I stepped back from the sermon, an additional reflection kicked in. I had conjured up the names and faces of the usual suspects – my parents, spouse, children, grandparents, pastors and spiritual directors all of whom loved me into being the person I present to you today. But there were others – others who I had no idea were loving me in certain directions, and many of whom had no such intentions. Bosses who encouraged me to strive to be more, chastising, even disciplining me, when I acted in ways detrimental to my development. Coaches who pushed me beyond my (perceived) limits, demanding more than I could deliver – only to find I could deliver. Friends, teachers, co-workers.

This is not to say all those who contributed to sculpting who I am today did it out of love. I well remember Joseph’s words to his brothers, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to save many people alive, as is happening today.” (Genesis 50:20). Many people along the way treated me poorly and wished ill upon me, but what is that to me?

Thanks to Ben’s pithy remark, I am ever so grateful for all those “people who loved me into being who I am now,” especially when I was least deserving.

Reaping the love others sowed in me,