Call to Confession
“And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. Then the Lord God called to Adam and said to him, “Where are you?” (Genesis 3:8-10).
What is sin? We often reduce it to mere legalism. We figure sinning just means breaking the law or goofing up. But sin, on a much deeper level, is a matter of the heart. It means, very simply, choosing not to love. By eating the apple, Adam and Eve weren’t simply disobeying. They were rejecting a relationship with God. Sin inevitably means death, because it’s a turning away from life. If you unplug a lamp from a wall you can be sure the lamp will stop working. If you disconnect your life from the Source of Life, how can you expect to keep on thriving? Adam and Eve immediately felt this death inside themselves and were ashamed. So they hid from God. But God’s response is striking. With unwavering love, He calls out, “Where are you?”
That’s our story in a nutshell. We sin. Then, instead of running to God for help, we hide from Him. God, all the while, calls out to us, “Why are you hiding? Come out. Come back to me.”
In our Gospel reading this Sunday, our Lord and Savior preached: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind…[And] you shall love your neighbour as yourself” (Matthew 22:37-40).
We’ve heard the commandment before, perhaps hundreds of times, but it’s one thing to know the commandment, it’s another thing to carry it out. How can we achieve this?
If you watch yourself through one day, without any excuses and with bold honesty, you’ll see how far you fall short of loving God
St. Paisios once described his love for God like a sharp toothache. Whether he was sleeping or waking, praying in church or going about his daily work, his heart beat violently in love of God. Most of us, on the other hand, tend to be more forgetful. We might feel a tug towards God, but quickly grow indifferent.
St. Gregory the Great goes so far as to describe the righteous person’s love for God like that of a drunkard for the drink. “The whole content of the cup poured into her mouth can no longer quench her thirst,” he writes. “She asks to be taken to the cellar itself and apply her mouth to the rim of the vats…that are overflowing.” This is the depth of love for God for which you and I were created. But each time we sin that love grows a little colder. With every glance we take away from God, the more hardened and sleepy we get. Not only do we borough into the bushes with Adam and Eve, we barricade those bushes with thicker branches, we cake ourselves in mud, and bury ourselves beneath boulders. Little by little, we build up a wall between us and God.
So what do we do? If I were to end it here, this would be a pretty depressing sermon…but it doesn’t end here. Adam and Eve rejected God, but that wasn’t the end of their story. God came out and called for them. “Where are you?” In other words, God reached down and searched in the depths of their inner hearts, whispering, “I love you. Will you come back to me?”
Today, I want to talk about the Sacrament of Confession.
The vision is to love God with all our heart and soul and mind. This is the star in the sky. Confession is the compass by which we sail to that star.
The goal to love God is impossible without Confession. Why? Confession is the act of stepping out of the bushes. Each time you bring yourself to confession you remove a twig, a branch, perhaps an entire wall, between you and God. Every time you visit the confessional you expose a little more of yourself to God and give Him something to work with. The best doctor in the world can’t cure you unless you first show her your wound. God can’t heal you unless you bring yourself to Him.
You can’t love God in hiding. Love always means exposing.
The heart warms gradually as we step out of the bushes and say, “Here I am God. Take me as I am. Make me yours.”
The Eucharist is the act of offering up bread and wine to God, and God, in turn, changes that Bread and Wine into His Body and Blood. Confession is the act of offering up your heart to God, piece by piece, layer after layer, and God, in turn, changes and renews that heart.
“Adam. Where are you?”
God isn’t an idiot. It’s not that He couldn’t see Adam in the bushes. This is an allegory. God was calling out, reaching out, to the depths of the heart of Adam. And so He does to you and me.
The heart is a great mystery.
The Fathers of the Church teach that the heart is more spacious than the cosmos.
Here’s how St. Macarius puts it, “The heart itself is but a small vessel, yet dragons are there, and there are also lions; there are poisonous beasts and all the treasures of evil. But there too is God, the angels, the life and the kingdom, the light and the apostles, the heavenly cities and the treasuries of grace—all things are there.”
All sorts of things linger in the heart. There’s only one way to purify them: a life grounded in Confession.
One day, when I was at the monastery in Greece, my spiritual father picked up a clean, empty glass. He said to me, “In order to be saved, your soul must look like this to your confessor. He should be able to take once glance at you and know every speck and mark.” The reason he told me this is because he understood what confession is. Confession is not seeking advice from someone wiser than you. Confession is exposing yourself to God. If you expose one or two blemishes in your heart, then God will forgive and heal one or two blemishes and the others remain buried within. If you expose every corner of the heart, then God will forgive and heal every corner.
But why confess to another man?
The whole message of the Gospel is that God never saves us in a vacuum. There is no such thing as a private relationship with God. A relationship with God is always a shared relationship with God. Nowhere in scripture does it say to make a private confession. Confession is always public. Christ very clearly gave His disciples authority to bind and loose on earth. The Book of James couldn’t be more straightforward. In order to shed the old man and walk in Christ we must confess our sins to one another and turn to priests for forgiveness. God speaks to us, heals us, forgives us, saves us through one another. Sin brings schism and disunity. The Sacrament of Confession is the door into healing and unity.
I’ll end with one final analogy by St. John Chrysostom.
“As in severe frost all limbs are stiffened and dead, so truly the soul shuddering in the winter of sins also performs none of its proper functions, stiffened as it were by a frost on one’s conscience. For what cold is to the body, that an evil conscience is to the soul.”
How can we love God with all our heart, soul and mind and love our neighbor as ourselves while our hearts are frozen?
But God, in His grace, will thaw that heart if we only let him.
And Love is free.
God didn’t drag Adam out of the bushes by the ear. He called out patiently, “Where are you?”
So He calls to you and me, “Where are you? Come home and give me your heart”
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.