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

By | February 5, 2012

Super Bowl Sundays


* [CLIP: TheVictory.mpg]

     I really like that video. “If you’re excited about this victory . . . you should see what Jesus has done.” That’s what we talk about every Sunday isn’t it, what Jesus has done and what Jesus is doing in our lives as we seek to faithfully serve Him.  

     Sports has so many great lessons to teach us and especially football. One of my favorite stories is about Vince Lombardi’s years at Green Bay. It seems the Packers were spanked by an opposing team. It wasn’t pretty. The Packers did everything wrong. Lombardi wasn’t happy and at the very next practice, he stood up, picked up a football 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)

     Taking a cue from Vince Lombardi, today we’re going back to the beginning; “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 very basics of our faith and especially our Wesleyan theology thru what I call the NFL of God’s Grace.

     Jack Payne did a great job of setting this sermon up when he talked about Prevenient, Justifying and Sanctifying Grace.


     Most of us are going to watch the Super Bowl tonight, right? It’s sort of an American tradition isn’t it? You almost 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.

     I don’t think there’s anything quite like the Super Bowl anywhere else in the world. Including Soccer’s World Cup. There’s already been a ton of hype and hoopla, and there’ll be even more. There will be the multi-million dollar half time show. Thirty seconds of commercial time is said to be $3 to $3.5 Million dollars or about $112,000 a second. Last year’s Half-time show cost more than $4 million. (2)

     And while we’re all watching the half time show, hoping there’s no “wardrobe malfunction” 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.

     In the movie Facing The Giants, the coach Grant Taylor who has never lead his team to a winning season finally has one. His pre-game speech is as inspiring as any half-time speech. Watch:

     I love that line, “Give your best to God tonight. And whether we leave the field victors or not, we will give God the Glory.” We could say that about our lives of faith. It’s not about winning of losing, it’s not about being number 1, it’s simply about being Faithful.  “Give your best to God Every Day. And whether you leave the field victors or not, your life will give God the Glory.”

     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 or pep talks by God to help Jesus re-center and refocus before the crucial second half.

     Peter James and John witnessed how God came to lift Jesus’ spirits and give him the courage and strength which He would need to go on, so He could 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 I believe, like our founder John Wesley, that you can see the grace of God in nearly every aspect of the lives of the disciples and in Jesus’ and in nearly every aspect of life itself. 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.

     The movie “The Blind Side” starring Sandra Bullock is based on the true story of Michael Oher and the Tuohy family. On the outside, it’s a touching story of a homeless and hopeless, young football player who finds more than home and more than hope. But on the inside, at a deeper level, it’s a movie about redemption, reconciliation and resurrection.

     Michael Oher has no idea who is father is and his mother is a crack head. Michael has had little formal education and few skills to help him learn. Leigh Ann Tuohy is a take charge, take no prisoners kind of woman with a compassionate heart the size of Texas, who enters Michael’s life, opens her heart and her home and in the process Michael’s life and her life are changed forever.

     When Michael expresses an interest in football, she goes all out to help him, including giving the coach a few ideas on how best to use Michael’s skills. Watch this:

     Michael needed a little bit of Nudge. He needed to be pointed in the right direction. He wasn’t really hearing the Coaches instructions until Leigh Ann marched onto the field and interpreted them for Michael. The Nudging Grace of God helps us and 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. Sometimes, we are a part of the Nudging Grace for others. Let me tell you how we can be a part of the 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 almost $10 million in cash and food items for local food banks by simply standing at the doors of their churches with a soup pot for donations. Since its inception in 1990 Souper Bowl of Caring has raised over $81 Million dollars for local charities and food banks. You see, all the proceeds will stay in the community in which is was collected. Ours will go to our local Food Bank.

     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. (3)

     Another way is through our current Mission Project. Today you are being asked to take just a moment to write a note to one of the Nursing Home residents and simply letting them know you are thinking about them, praying for them and loving them like Jesus loves them.

     Think about it, 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. That’s what our faith is all about. But think of the impact we have when we flood others with a wave of love and grace, without any other agenda but to help and to care. Maybe it will be the Nudge they need to hear God’s voice in their 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. Through Jesus, God reaches out, picks us up and dusts us off; 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 happened in the lives of the disciples. 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, it Leads us to do the right thing..

     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 We Are Marshall? It’s an amazing and inspiring story. In November, 1970, virtually the entire football team and coaches of Marshall University  in Huntington, W.V. died in a plane crash. The town and the University were devastated. As they grieved most people talked about completely shutting down the football program. But that spring, inspired and led by Nate Ruffin, one of a few players who were ill and missed the fatal flight, students rallied to convince the board of governors to play the 1971 season.

     The governors, lead by one of the wealthiest men in the community, who lost his son in that plane crash, are ready to vote when Nate Ruffin bursts into their closed door session. Told he cannot speak, Ruffin says, “I don’t have anything to say but they do.”

     What looks like the whole college is gathered below the windows of the governors’ meeting room. As the governors move to the windows, Nate signals the students and they start chanting, “We are! . . . Marshall! We are! . . . Marshall! We are! . . . Marshall!” Over and over again.

     Nate turns to the College president, Don Dedman and says, “Sometimes you have to do the right thing.” Dedman had to make a decision, the right decision for the University. Against the wishes of the wealthiest benefactor of both the town and University he does the right thing and keeps the football program alive.

     The work of the Holy Spirit and God’s Sanctifying Grace is like that scene. The power of God’s Holy Spirit is powerful beyond measure. It is the power to move us to do the right thing no matter how many obstacles stand in our way, no matter how much adversity we face. And when you have God’s Holy Spirit you CAN do everything.

     The truth is, we will have trials, there will always 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.

     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 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.” (5)

     In a sense that’s the work of 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.   Parables, Etc. (Saratoga Press, P.O. Box 8, Platteville, CO, 80651; 970-785-2990), October 1986