The questions go together. A couple of weeks ago, I saw a beautiful example of the two questions at work in the movie “War Room.” Some of you probably saw it when it came out a few years ago.
The main character in the movie, Elizabeth Jordan, has what looks like a good life. But her husband is acting like a jerk, and she is becoming increasingly bitter and resentful towards him.
Elizabeth meets an older woman named Miss Clara, who tries to help her. In one scene, Miss Clara asks Elizabeth to write down all the ways her husband has failed her. When Elizabeth complains that it will be a long list, Miss Clara advises her to stick to the highlights. Elizabeth writes three pages, and claims she could have kept going.
Then Miss Clara asks Elizabeth if, despite all her husband’s failings, she still loves him, and if she can forgive him? Elizabeth does not know how to answer in part because she is not convinced that her husband deserves her love or her forgiveness.
That is when Miss Clara nails her with the first key question. How about you? Does God love you? Does God forgive you? Yes. And do you deserve God’s love and forgiveness?
That is the first key Christian question. What has God done for you? How has God shown you grace and mercy, even if you didn’t deserve it?
Then Miss Clara asks the second key Christian question. What is God inviting you to do in response? Miss Clara asks Elizabeth, could she show her husband some of the undeserved grace that she has received?
It’s a movie, so you can guess what happens next. Elizabeth does forgive her husband and begins to pray for him. Gradually he recognizes the error of his ways, confesses his sins, and starts to do better. It all ends happily.
But when Miss Clara asked Elizabeth the two key questions, she couldn’t know how it would all go. She couldn’t even tell Elizabeth exactly what to do. The fact is, Miss Clara did not know that much about Elizabeth’s life. Miss Clara had never met Elizabeth’s husband, and she didn’t read Elizabeth’s list of complaints.
But Miss Clara knew the right questions to ask. What has God done for you? What does that mean about how you should live in this moment, with the particular challenges and opportunities facing you?
So, how about us? How should we answer the two key questions?
Well, God has done a lot for us, beginning with creation itself and coming right up to this minute. But if we had to give a single answer to the first key question, what has God done for us, the answer surely comes from the story we just heard. God incarnate suffered and died for us, out of love, as an act of grace and mercy, when we were trapped in sin and darkness.
That is what God has done. The follow-up question is, how will we live our lives in light of what God has done for us?
We answer that question, the second question, in practice, for better or for worse, every day, as we go about our business.
And sometimes we answer the question poorly. Sometimes we act as if God has not done anything for us, even when we know that is not right.
That is why services like this one are so important. On Good Friday, we hear again the familiar story of Christ’s passion—his suffering and death. On Good Friday, we are reminded of just how much God has done for us.
And hopefully, as we listen, the story sinks in a little more, becomes a slightly bigger part of who we are, a slightly bigger influence on how we live. Hopefully the story begins to shape our behavior a little more deeply. Hopefully the story helps us to answer the second key question about how we live a little more faithfully.
But for tonight, we are staying focused on the first key question. Tonight, and this whole weekend, is all about the first question, the question of what Christ has done, and is still doing, for us.
In just a moment, we are going to sit in silence to reflect on that question. During that time, I invite you to personalize the story we just heard. Think about the first key question. Think about what Christ did as having been done for you. Continue to think about that through Holy Saturday.
Then, come Easter, you will be ready to celebrate with special joy and gratitude the goods news of Christ’s resurrection. And going forward, you will be a little better prepared to answer the second key question in your day to day life.
My prayer for us is that we can answer both questions well. In the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.