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

By | February 2, 2014

Superbowl Sundays


     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. 


     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 or to simply try to figure out which ones I might use in next Sunday’s sermon.

     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 $4 Million Dollars or about $133,333 a second. This year’s Half-Time show cost nearly $7 million. (1)

     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.

     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. “Winning means nothing if you lose yourselves. Don’t give this one away. Keep it. Hold on to it for yourselves.”

     I love that line, “Winning means nothing if you lose yourselves.” Isn’t that partly what living the Christian faith is all about? Not losing ourselves.

     The passage of Scripture for this morning 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 of his ministry. God comes to lift Jesus’ spirits and give him the courage and strength He’s going to need 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.”

     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. In lives of the disciples, in Jesus’ life and this passage, we see the grace of God reflected and at work. You can see it worked out 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. John Wesley used different terms, he talked about Prevenient Grace, Justifying Grace and Sanctifying Grace all of which I think we can better understand as Nudging, Forgiving and Leading.


     A. 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 His 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.

     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, like Leigh Ann Tuohy, we get the opportunity to be part of the Nudging Grace for others.


     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. Our lives broken by sin are repaired and restored. Our relationship with God is restored and made new through the unconditional love of God in Christ.

     B. On May 21, 1972, during the 11:30 a.m. worship service at the Vatican in St. Peter’s Basilica, a man leaped over a tiny wall into one of the side chapels that surround the main altar. He took a hammer that he smuggled in and attacked one of Michelangelo’s statues, the Pieta, which depicts Mary, the mother of Jesus, holding the dead body of Christ. He continued attacking the statue until he was arrested, leaving 40 pieces of this work of art lying on the floor.

     His destructive act demonstrates the brokenness of humanity. This beautiful work of art was battered and broken like our lives. How could you ever replace something like that?

     The Vatican assembled a team of “experts” to restore the statue, as near as possible, to its original condition. It was a monumental task. Fortunately, the team was equal to the task. Seven months later the mission was completed. One art critic said, “You can’t even see the fault lines and cracks created by the assault . . . It is beautifully restored.” (2)

     I think that’s a great parable for what God can do and has done for us. We know we have all sinned and fall short of the Glory of God. We don’t have to have our noses rubbed in it. We know we’re broken. Broken homes, broken hearts, broken promises, broken relationships, they surround us.

     But what took those “experts” seven months to do, Jesus can do in a moment because of what He did for us on the cross. Through Christ Jesus, we have been reconciled with God and restored once again. Through Christ we have been given new life, a life which can once again be a thing of beauty. That’s what the Forgiving Grace of God does for us.


     A. Once we’ve let God Nudge us and we’ve accepted that Forgiving Grace. God’s Leading Grace takes over, leading us into a life that every single day 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.

     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.

     B. Today is Super Bowl Sunday but it is also the Souper Bowl of Caring Sunday.

Through the 2013 Souper Bowl of Caring, 8,168 groups raised over $7.5 Million Dollars for 6,625 different charities. They are on track to break that this year; $2.8 already collected and reported. All the funds raised go to local food banks where the money was raised. Since its inception in 1990 Souper Bowl of Caring has raised over $90 Million dollars for local charities and food banks. (3)

     Two pastors who serve churches in Seattle and Denver are engaging in a little friendly Super Bowl-related competition. After the Seattle Seahawks secured their spot in the Super Bowl, Rev. Brad Laurvick, at Highlands United Methodist Church in Denver, texted his friend and former seminary classmate, Rev. Monica Corsaro at Rainier Beacon United Methodist Church in Seattle, saying: “Want to make this interesting?” The challenge?

     Recruit United Methodist churches from Colorado and Washington to gather as much food as they can to stock local food banks and address the needs of the hungry in their own neighborhoods.

     They thought it was going to be a small thing between their churches, but by the end of the day 50 other churches had gotten involved. Laurvick said, “When Peyton Manning steps on the field he has an entire city supporting him. I want people in Denver who are food insecure to know that The United Methodist Church is behind them and supporting their needs.”

     Since this challenge began, both groups have estimated spending a grand total of $4 to promote the food drive, everything was done by texting, or on Twitter and Facebook. As of the writing of the article, they had already gathered over 10,000 food items, including pallets of fresh produce and more than $1,000 in donations. To join this friendly competition and learn more about how to get involved, visit the United In Orange or United In Blue sites support your favorite team. (4)

     I think every time we get involved in something like this, it is the work of the Holy Spirit, the work of Gods Leading Grace, drawing us closer to God; leading us to be more like Jesus. Jesus calls us to care for the hungry and thirsty. And when we do, we are living like him.

     This morning is Communion Sunday. This is a day when we are visually and physically reminded of the Nudging, Forgiving and Leading Grace of God. The bread and the wine remind us of the cost of our restoration. But the bread and the wine also give us a foretaste of the banquet which awaits us. This bread and wine are elements by which God strengthens our lives and our faith. Through this bread and wine we are drawn and empowered to become more like Christ.


     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 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 His Son, Jesus.

     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. Various News and Advertising Sources




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

Other References Consulted