He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not
When you were younger, perhaps a young teenager, do you remember playing a game in which you grabbed a flower and began to pick off the petals? The game was meant to determine if someone you liked, liked you. With the first petal, you said “She loves me” or “He loves me.” With the next petal you said “She loves me not” or “He loves me not.” You would keep doing this until the last petal and what you said predicted what the other person felt, love or no love. Historians tell us this game originated in France and one sketch from the year 1820 depicts the game being played and is titled “The Decision of the Flower.” It’s a silly little game. Perhaps you forgot about it until I mentioned it now.
But this silly little game, even though we do not play it with a flower petal, we still may play it in another form. If someone pays us a compliment, we might think “He/she loves me.” It doesn’t have to be a romantic thing. It might be a friendly relationship, “He/she likes me.” But if the same person criticizes us, “He/she likes me not.” It can be a gesture of helping and we think, “He/she likes/loves me.” But if they ignore us, “He/she likes/loves me not.” Sometimes we interpret a facial expression: a slight smile and “He/she likes/loves me.” If it is a slight frown or even a blank stare, “He/she likes/loves me not.” We are constantly interpreting gestures, words, expressions, and tell tale signs to try and figure out how people feel toward us. Some of us are more sensitive to these signs than others.
Fr. Anthony Coniaris, in his book titled “Message of the Sunday Gospels” (vol.1 p.11) says that the ancient Israelites played the same game with God. When Moses helps God’s chosen people to be released from slavery in the Egypt, they said “God loves us!” But when Pharaoh’s army pursues them and traps them next to the Red Sea, they said, “He loves us not!” When God parts the Red Sea through Moses and provides a means of escape for the Jews, they said, “He loves us!” But afterwards, when they wandered in the desert with nothing to drink, “He loves us not!” All the stories recounted in the Old Testament repeat this pattern, “God loves us, God loves us not.”
But Father Coniaris poses the question: Don’t we also play the same game with God? We receive a promotion at work and God loves me. We experience a financial setback and God loves me not. We receive a good grade on a test and God loves me. We receive a failing grade on a school assignment and God loves me not. My family is healthy and happy and God loves me. A family member is seriously injured or ill and God loves me not. If the sun is shining, He loves me. If it is cloudy and raining, He loves me not. See the pattern? We understand God’s love when things go well but how easily we allow hardship and tragedy to obscure our view of God’s love.
In today’s Gospel reading for the Sunday before the great feast of the Elevation of the Cross, which is tomorrow September 14th, we hear Jesus speaking as recorded in John 3. 16"For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him may not perish but may have eternal life.”
This passage only occurs in John’s gospel. It does not appear in Matthew, Mark or Luke but it is probably one of the most well known verses in all of the Scriptures. Stated in a slightly different way the verse says, “For God loved me so much, that He gave His only Son to me so that I could know Him and learn how much God loves me. And God’s Son, Jesus Christ, loved me so much that He was willing to die for me on Cross to save me from my sins. And that seeing that great love Jesus and God the Father have for me, that I would believe in them and entrust my whole life to them so that I may receive the ultimate gift of love from them—eternal life with them in heaven.”
Sounds pretty simple but the love of God in His only begotten Son has been lost because at times Jesus to us is God’s only forgotten Son. We need to be reminded of God’s love constantly and we need to remind each other by sharing God’s love with each other. We spoke two Sunday’s ago about God’s unconditional love for us and that we need to show unconditional love to one another. Jesus said this exact thing later in the Gospel of John 13:34, “A new commandment I give to you that you love one another as I have loved you.”
However, we read the petals of life and we forgot about God’s constant unconditional love. Why? Because we fail to understand that the love of God does not mean that things will always go well for us. When we come to flower petal of pain and suffering in our life, we must remember that God still loves us and that He has allowed us to experience that pain and suffering in order for us to grow and mature. In John 15 Jesus says, “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. 2Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit.” This is the symbolism of the north and south walls of our temple of St. George here in St. Paul, MN. Look at the vine pattern running up the wall and remember Jesus’ words every time you see it. The purpose of pruning, although at times painful, is not punishment but for bearing more fruit.
Speaking of a church temple, think about how it is constructed. All different sizes, shapes and forms of wood, stone, steel and cement block are used to build it up. Each piece is cut and sized, flattened and smoothed in order that they all may fit together to form something beautiful and holy. God does the same with us. He prunes us, forms us, shapes us, molds us, fashions us so that we can be fit for eternal life and that we can fit together to form His body, the Church—the community of His chosen, faithful people.
As we conclude today, let us return to the Decision of the Flower game. We play this game in our head with other people, “He/she loves/likes me” and “He/she loves/likes me not.” Some might say we play this game because of our personal insecurities. But do we ask ourselves where a sense of insecurity comes from? Some say it is because of the way were raised by our parents. Others say that insecurity arises from the way were treated by our peers at school. Still others emphasize that our insecurity stems from the ways we view and treat ourselves. These are all true to some degree but the ultimate reason we are insecure in ourselves and with how other people feel about us is because we are first and foremost insecure about how God feels about us. We need to become secure in God’s love by remembering Jesus’ words today, 16"For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him may not perish but may have eternal life.” One of the most helpful ways we remember God’s love is through the Cross. As we make the sign of the Cross upon ourselves, we remember God loves me. As we put our baptismal cross and chain around our neck we remember God loves me. As we see the Cross on top of and in our church temple, we remember God loves me. When things go well, we remember God loves me. And even when things don’t go well or they go very badly, we remember God loves me. Amen!