The NFL of Grace (Matthew 17:1-9)

By | February 6, 2011

Superbowl Sundays


     I read that once, during Vince Lombardi’s years at Green Bay, the Packers were resoundingly defeated by an opposing team. They did everything wrong. The very next day at practice, Coach Lombardi stood up and said, “Gentlemen, I’ve seen about enough. We’re going to start over, right at the very beginning! The object I am holding in my hand is a football.” One of the players, a jokester of the bunch, is supposed to have said:  “Hey, Coach, please don’t go so fast.” (1)

     So, taking Vince Lombardi’s lead; “The object I’m holding in my hand is a Bible.” And like that Green Bay team, today we’re going look at some of the basics of our faith and especially our Wesleyan theology thru what I call the NFL of God’s Grace.


     How many of you are going to watch the Super Bowl tonight? It’s sort of an American tradition isn’t it? You have to watch it, if for no other reason than to watch the commercials and be able to talk about them the next day with everyone else.

     Today is Super Bowl Sunday and I don’t think there’s anything quite like it anywhere else in the world. Including Soccer’s World Cup. There’s already been a lots of hype and hoopla, and there’ll be even more. There will be the multi-million dollar half time show. According to one reporter, this year’s show is supposed to cost more than $4 million. And while we’re all watching the half time show, the players will be in the locker room getting that half time speech from the Coach. That moment with the coach where they are pumped up to give it their best during the second half.

     I think one of the greatest halftime speeches ever given or portrayed as being given, was by Syracuse Coach Ben Schwartzwalder during the historic Cottonbowl when Ernie Davis was a Sophomore at Syracuse. From the moment the Syracuse Team arrived in Dallas, in 1959, people had been shouting racist threats. During the first half of the game people were throwing beer bottles and cans at the team. The team was beginning to lose focus both on their game and on who they were and what they stood for. The coach re-centered them with these words.  

     I love that line, “Winning means nothing if you lose yourselves. Don’t give this one away. Keep it. Hold on to it for yourselves.” We could say that about our lives of faith. “Winning at whatever we are doing, means nothing if we lose ourselves and in the process lose our faith. Don’t give it away. Hold on to your faith and hold onto yourself.”

     By some timelines, the passage of Scripture for this morning comes about half way into Jesus’ ministry. And could almost be seen as one of those half time speeches by God to help Jesus re-center and refocus before the crucial second half. God comes to lift Jesus’ spirits and give him the courage and strength He’s going to need to go on, to finish what He was called and commissioned to do. Let’s look at passage. Matthew 17:1-9 (NRSV)

[1] Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves.

[2] And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white.

[3] Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him.

[4] Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”

[5] While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!”

[6] When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear.

[7] But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.”

[8] And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone.

[9] As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”

     That was some half-time speech. Not only did the head coach, God, show up but a couple of the most famous former players were there to affirm and inspire as well. Moses and Elijah. It was a moment of Grace for both Jesus and the Disciples at a critical time in Jesus’ ministry.

     But then you can see the grace of God in nearly every aspect of the lives of the disciples and in Jesus’ life. You can see God’s Grace working in the NFL of Grace. Not the National Football League, this sermon isn’t about football, despite all of the football stories. It’s about God’s Grace, the NFL of God’s Grace.

     In this case NFL stands for the Nudging, Forgiving and Leading of God’s grace.


     Let’s look at the Nudging of God’s Grace. Wesley called this Prevenient Grace. This is the grace of God working in our lives before we’re really aware that it is working. It is God knowing our name and calling us by that name to get our attention. It is God wooing us with love songs and all the blessings of life. It is God whispering our name and showing us God’s great love for us, before we ever have a conscious relationship with God.

     It was this Grace, the Nudging Grace of God working in the lives of the Apostles which allowed them to answer the call of Jesus to follow Him. What else could it have been? They didn’t know who Jesus was. They didn’t know what He was capable of or what His ministry would lead to, yet they dropped everything and followed Him.

     Ever since he was a little boy, Rudy Ruettiger dreamed of attending Notre Dame University and playing on the Fighting Irish football team. But Rudy’s dream didn’t seem very practical; his grades weren’t very impressive, and standing just a little over five feet tall and weighing just a little over 100 pounds, Rudy is hardly built for the gridiron. However, Rudy let nothing stop him from realizing his Dream. He tried out every year for the time, finally making the practice team. Because of his determination and his love for both the school and the game, he became the heart and soul of the team. But he never got to dress with the team.

     In this scene, Rudy is a senior and it is the last game of the season and the last game Rudy will ever be able to play in. Rudy asked to be allowed to dress out for one game; just one. But Coach Dan Devine wasn’t moved. However, the rest of the team has something to say about that. WATCH

     God’s Nudging Grace is just like that team’s response. Rudy was constantly there, consistently ready, willing, on fire for the game; but Coach Devine couldn’t see it. But the rest of the team did. And through there nudging, each one of them asking that Rudy play in their place, Coach Devine was finally able to hear and accept. Prevenient Grace, or the Nudging Grace of God, allows us to hear the voice of God before we ever really know God. It’s God Nudging us closer to Him, closer to Jesus, closer to being like Jesus.

     And the great thing about God’s Nudging Grace is that sometimes, we get to be a part of that Nudging Grace for others just like Rudy’s teammates. Let me tell you how we can be a part of God’s Prevenient Grace.

     Today is Super Bowl Sunday but it is also the Souper Bowl of Caring Sunday. Last year, the youth of our churches in the US raised over $10 million for local food banks by simply standing at the doors of their churches with a soup pot for donations. All of the proceeds will stay in our community and go to our local Food Bank. Since 1990 when it was first started, Souper Bowl of Caring and the youth of America have raised over $73 million to combat local hunger. That’s one way you can be a part of God’s Nudging Grace; an act of unselfish love and kindness displaying God’s unconditional love and concern for the whole person. (2)

     Another way is our continued involvement in Nothing But Nets. The appalling statistic that we started with is that every 30 seconds a child dies of malaria. Since the beginning of Nothing But Nets and the distribution of Bed Nets that statistic has changed. Now it is only every 45 seconds. That’s still an appalling figure but we are making a difference. The number of deaths by malaria in Africa has dropped 10%.

     Our next goal is to eradicate Malaria by 2015. Our Conference goal is to raise $1 million dollars for this effort over the next three years. But the point is that every time we deliver a net and instruct a family in how to use it, we are doing so in the name of Jesus. And THAT is an opportunity for the Nudging Grace of God to work in us and through us to change lives. (3)

     Think about I, our motive is simply to love and help, because, as Children of God, as Christians seeking to become like Jesus, that’s what we do for people in need. That’s what our faith is all about. But think of the impact we have if we flood them with a wave of love and grace, without any other agenda but to help. I’m thinking that will notice and ask “Why?”

     And when they do, we can tell them about Jesus.” Just as God is continually calling and nudging us along in our relationship, we can be a part of God’s Nudging Grace in someone else’s life.


     A. Then there is the Forgiving Grace of God. This is the grace that makes it all real. God calls our name and continually nudges us toward a loving relationship with God. In that relationship God offers us forgiveness. Once we accept God’s love and forgiveness through Christ, it all becomes real. It is at that moment that Jesus becomes our friend, our Savior, our companion and our Lord, and not just a name.

     Wesley called this Justifying Grace. Through the forgiving and justifying grace of God we are brought into a right relationship with God.

     A friend of mine explains it like this, through the forgiving grace of God we’re justified and it’s “just if I’d never done it.” We’re forgiven and the slate is wiped clean.

     Several years ago, Coach Joe Paterno and his Penn State football team were playing for the national championship against Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. They probably would have won, but they had a touchdown called back because there was a twelfth man on the field. After the game, Paterno was asked to identify the man: “It’s only a game,” he said. “I have no intention of ever identifying the boy. He just made a mistake.” (4) That’s Forgiveness.

     The Disciples experienced that same kind of forgiving Grace there on the mount of transfiguration. Peter wanted to build tabernacles and enshrine the moment, he wanted to stay there forever in the Gory of God. And when God spoke, don’t you know he trembled in fear, thinking “Oh my God, what have I done.” But Jesus stretched out his hand and offered forgiveness in the words, “Get up. Do not be afraid.” You see, God is in the Forgiveness business.

     B. The Movie Game Plan, starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson plays playboy superstar player Joe Kingman who discovers he has an eight year old daughter when she shows up on his doorstep one day. As the movie progresses, Joe begins to take the whole fatherhood thing seriously. In a conversation with his daughter’s dance instructor, Monique, Joe gets some pretty good advice. WATCH:

     While the scene doesn’t deal directly with Forgiveness, I love the line “I wouldn’t underestimate the power of the father.”  Then she goes on to say “Dads are great for picking you up and dusting you off.”

     That’s exactly what Forgiveness is all about. Through Jesus, God is reaching out to us, picking us up and dusting us off and giving us a second chance.

     You see, all of us have made wrong choices and gone in the wrong direction at some point. All of us have fumbled the ball. All of us have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. But because of the forgiveness of Christ, the game isn’t over. God is not going to pull us out of the game or write us off. We don’t have to give up, God doesn’t want us to give up. Jesus is God’s way of getting rid of a bad reputation.

     Forgiveness is God’s Offensive strategy for our lives and Jesus is God’s Defensive team to help us live the life God has called us to live; one that honors God and glorifies Christ. The Nudging Grace of God whispers God’s love to us, and the Forgiving Grace of God gives us a second chance.


     Once we’ve accepted that Forgiving Grace. God’s Leading Grace takes over, leading us into a life that everyday becomes more and more like the life of Jesus. That’s what the disciples did. Jesus lead them not only to the cross but beyond. They were filled with the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and then they lead the Church and proclaimed the Good News throughout the world. Wesley called this Sanctifying Grace, the Grace that Leads us toward perfection.

     We talk about how God “leads us beside still waters” like a Shepherd in the 23rd Psalm. And we ask God “not to lead us into temptation” when we pray the Lord’s Prayer. Those are both ways in which we remind ourselves that we are called to follow and that God’s Leading Grace will get us through whatever comes our way. God’s Grace continues to Lead us.

     How many of you have seen the movie Facing the Giants? I understand that Ginger Bassford used a clip from the movie a couple of weeks ago, I hope I’m not showing the same one, but if I am, you’ll get a different take on it.

     If you remember the story, the Giants are a small Christian school, the coach hasn’t been winning, and along with some personal issues, it brings him to a crisis of faith. His own rededication has an effect on the whole school and especially the football team. Watch This:

     That’s our call as well, to Praise God in both the good and the bad. In John 16:33 Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble, but take courage; I have conquered the world!”

     The truth is, we will have trials, there will be trouble and our faith will be tempted and tested. But the secret is to not listen to the world or to the negative things others are saying. Christ has conquered the world for us. He defeated sin and death and promised to be with us always. In those times of trial we’re called to listen to the Leading and Promptings of God and to trust in God’s Leading Grace.

     It was a comical picture that caused Dad to burst out in laughter. It caused the rest of family to come running to Dad’s workout room. There in the middle of the workout room was the pro football player’s seven year old son. He had dressed out in a full set of Dad’s pads and uniform. He had tied a string around the bottoms of the pants and pulled the waistband up under his arms. The jersey hung to his knees. The helmet looked like it had swallowed the boys head. You could just barely see his eyes peeking out. The boy’s feet were lost in his father’s size-eleven shoes. The little boy said, “Look, Daddy, I want to be just like you!” (5)

     That’s what we all say when we encounter and experience the love of Jesus. We want to be as loving and kind and caring and as God centered in our lives as Jesus. We want to be as compassionate and as forgiving. We want our lives to make a difference like his life did. We want to touch people with the Good News as he did. We want to be like Jesus. And the Good News is that we can.

     Through God’s Holy Spirit and the Leading Grace of God we CAN and WILL become more and more like Christ in our daily lives. Even in the face of hardship and adversity. When we rely on the the power and Presence of Christ, through God’s Holy Spirit, when we listen to the Nudging, Forgiving, and Leading Grace of God, nothing is impossible.


     Tom Landry once said, “The job of a football coach is to make men do what they don’t want to do, in order to achieve what they’ve always wanted to be.” (6)

     In a sense that’s the NFL of God’s Grace. The Holy Spirit Nudges us to do what we don’t want to do in order to become what we’ve always wanted to be. God Nudges us and loves us into a relationship. God Forgives us and sets us free to become a child of God. And then God Leads us into becoming like Christ.

     That’s the life of faith and that’s the NFL, the Nudging, Forgiving, Leading Grace of God. Let the NFL work in your life. Let God Nudge you a little every day so you can experience the Forgiveness God offers and be Lead to become more and more like Christ each day.


This is the Word of the Lord for this day.



1.   Parables, Etc. (Saratoga Press, P.O. Box 8, Platteville, CO, 80651; 970-785-2990), February 1994



4.   The Pastor’s Story File (Saratoga Press, P.O. Box 8, Platteville, CO, 80651; 970-785-2990), April 1986

5.   Wayne Rouse Astoria, Illinois Leadership-Vol. 13, #2

6.   Parables, Etc. (Saratoga Press, P.O. Box 8, Platteville, CO, 80651; 970-785-2990), October 1986