Church Council Homily 11-17-15: “Dead to Sin”

November 18, 2015


I delivered the following homily at last night’s Church Council meeting. I hope it’s clear below that I love Charlie Sheen. I’m rooting for him. He’s a gifted actor, of course. But it’s more than that for me: I recognize in him a fellow sinner in need of God’s grace at every moment. We’re not so different from him, are we? As I say in this sermon, we all have shameful, embarrassing, guilt-ridden secrets. It’s just that ours don’t get exposed on TMZ or in the National Enquirer! Something about his story scratches the grace itch for me.

Homily Text: Romans 6:1-11

This morning, actor Charlie Sheen was on the Today Show, where he announced to Matt Lauer and the world that he has H.I.V. He’s known he’s had the disease for about four years. He said the diagnosis led to “a temporary yet abysmal descent into profound substance abuse and fathomless drinking” that he called “a suicide run.” It was during this “suicide run” that the producers of the hit show Two and a Half Men finally fired their leading man for his erratic behavior.

Part of the reason that Sheen came forward with this announcement today is, well… he’s broke. You see, for four years he’s been paying lots of people to keep quiet about his illness—including women he’s slept with over the years who threatened to go public his secret. And when I say a lot of money, I mean a lot of money! Upwards of ten million dollars!

I get the irony here: For years—decades, even—we’ve known about Sheen’s drug and alcohol abuse; we’ve known about the prostitutes that he’s hired; but in his mind, it was H.I.V.—rather than all the other self-destructive things he’s done—that was so shameful and embarrassing to him that he was willing to pay ten million dollars to keep it secret! Which goes to show, of course, that some people don’t embarrass easily!

But it also goes to show that if even someone like Charlie Sheen isn’t completely without shame, then it’s safe to say that everyone has shameful, embarrassing, guilt-ridden secrets that they want to hide from others!

But this is where the good news of the gospel comes in. In his own way, Charlie Sheen expressed at least a little bit of this good news when he told Matt Lauer, “I think that I release myself from this prison today.” What a relief! He feels like he’s released from prison!

I can’t help but think of Jesus’ own words: “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”[1] A big part of the truth of the gospel is that we are all sinners—and before we can even receive God’s gift of salvation in Christ, before we can receive the good news of the gospel, we have to confess bad news!

We are sinners! It sounds like bad news. But you know what I’ve discovered in my own life? Even this bad news, when you let it sink into your bones, is incredibly good news: What a relief to know—apart from God’s grace, left to my own devices—that I am a hopeless sinner! At last I see there’s a reason I struggle like this! There’s actually a reason, as St. Paul says, that “I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.”[2]

Years ago, I heard an interview with actress Patty Duke, who lived for years with undiagnosed bipolar disorder. She said she was so relieved when her doctor finally told her that something really was wrong with her, and that this problem had a name.

Humanity’s main problem has a name, too—sin. Left untreated, it will destroy us and people we love, both now and for eternity.

When you realize that you share this problem with the rest of humanity, and that all you can do is “fling yourself on God’s mercies” and cry out, “Help me, Jesus,” that is a wonderful place to be! Because that’s the place at which God’s all-sufficient grace meets you.

So thank you, Jesus, for this bad news!

But not so fast, you might think: It’s one thing for someone like Charlie Sheen to come clean about his sins. After all, I don’t know if Charlie Sheen has any religious faith, but he certainly isn’t famous for being a churchgoer or any kind of born-again Christian. That’s what we are! And doesn’t Paul say in Romans 6, the scripture I read earlier, that we shouldn’t sin anymore—and that if we still sin, then there’s something seriously wrong with us?

No. That’s not what he says.

While it’s true that we ought to sin less and less over time as we’re sanctified by the Holy Spirit—indeed, to become holier—Paul says, in spite of whether or to what extent we’ve been sanctified, we are still, at this present moment, “dead to sin.” This is, Paul says, an objective fact that is true of all Christian believers.

Why? Because of what Christ has done for us! “For the death [Christ] died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God.” In other words, we are dead to sin not because of anything we’ve done, or do, but because of what Christ did, “once for all” —all means all of us—on the cross!

But Christ didn’t merely die on the cross for our sins—so that we could be forgiven—although that’s great news in and of itself. Even more, he died to our sins. And since we die with him, as represented by our baptism, as Paul says in Romans 6:4, we also die to sin. His death to sin has become our death to sin. And this is true, regardless of the fact that we continue to sin.

Paul’s point is, even though we still sin, we are no longer enslaved by sin.

Think of it this way: For the past four years, Charlie Sheen was enslaved by all these people who held all this power over him: the power to blackmail him; the power to force him to do their bidding, including paying them upward of $10 million. He was deeply in their debt, and he couldn’t afford to pay them anymore. By going public with this secret, he was set free from those forces who enslaved him. He’s set free!

Now, for all we know, these people who’ve been blackmailing him for the past four years might still come to Charlie Sheen and say, “O.K. Fork over the dough! You need to pay me!” And maybe he will still pay them—old habits die hard—but he certainly doesn’t have to anymore! He can tell them to get lost. He’s free from their influence! They have no power over him!

We who are in Christ are in a similar position: we no longer have to pay attention to that voice of Satan—remember, Satan literally means “the accuser”—to that voice that condemns us and makes us feel guilty: That voice that says, “You’re no good! You’re a failure! You’re a terrible sinner! God doesn’t love you anymore! You’ve let him down too many times!”

Like Charlie Sheen, we can tell the devil to get lost! We don’t answer to him anymore. He has no power over us. Yes, it’s no secret that we’re sinners; yes, it’s no secret that we fail; yes, it’s no secret that we let one another down. But it’s also no secret that God isn’t holding that against us! He isn’t holding it over our heads! He’s forgiven us through the life, death, and resurrection of his Son Jesus!

I have a friend in A.A. This year he’s celebrating, I think, 20 years of sobriety. He travels a lot—he’s a successful entrepreneur. But no matter where he is, no matter what city he’s in—he always seeks out the local A.A. chapter in order to go to a meeting. And I think, “What is it about A.A. that is so powerfully attractive and important to its members that they make a point of seeking out opportunities to go to it?” I want church to be like that! It ought to be like that!

And I think that one reason that A.A. is so important to so many is because the people who go there have nothing to hide! They are up front about their biggest problem. They begin each meeting saying, “My name is [fill in the blank], and I’m an alcoholic.”

In that spirit, I want us to begin this meeting the same way. Turn to the person to your right and say, “Hello, my name is… and I’m a sinner.” Please take a moment to do that right now!

Let’s pray…

[1] John 8:32

[2] Romans 7:18-19 ESV

I’ll let Brother Bob testify about our need for grace and forgiveness.

2 Responses to “Church Council Homily 11-17-15: “Dead to Sin””

  1. Tom Harkins Says:

    My view on “Christian confession” is that it should “generally” be limited to seeking “prayer, that we may be healed,” which from my perspective should be to someone we trust as a close friend or advisor (as opposed to “publicly.” Hence, the “confess one to another” of the KJV.) (Of course there can be exceptions, as when a lot of people are affected by it, and perhaps, as to some sins, if one is a “leader.”) Personally, I am generally uncomfortable with “confessing to the church” our “personal” sins, and certainly don’t want to do that myself. With Sheen, he was in a slightly different position where he had let people know that he obviously should NOT have entrusted that “secret” with, and then tried to “undo the harm” in by “paying off” people. That will never work.

    • brentwhite Says:

      I don’t believe in public confession, either, in most cases—except to say, “Look, we’re all sinners here!” I do wish it would be a more routine part of our (Protestant) Christian lives, without becoming the distorted and legalistic thing it often is among Catholics.

      I’m sure the past four years of Sheen’s life have been horrifying! I’m glad for him that he went public. I hope he finds genuine healing from our Lord!

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