A sermon for the last Sunday after the Epiphany

I have a confession to make. This will shock some of you, I know, but I’m going to own it. Until about 10 days ago, I had no idea who Nick Foles was. And it gets worse. I didn’t know who Carson Wentz was either.

I’m not a football fan, obviously, but once the Eagles were really on their way to the Super Bowl, it was pretty much impossible to avoid getting caught up in the excitement.

I did watch the game last Sunday, and all week since then I’ve been thinking about Nick Foles of Philadelphia up on the winners’ platform and Simon Peter of Galilee on that high mountain with Jesus and James and John, and I’ve been thinking about moments of glory that stay with you for the rest of life.

These brief experiences can change everything. And to some degree—maybe not a Super Bowl victory, I’ll grant you that—but to some degree, they happen to all of us.

I don’t want to push this too far because it’s not a perfect analogy, but I do think that Nick and Peter have some things in common in their moment of glory.

Nick Foles is exactly a nobody, but he admits that two years ago his career was at a point where he was thinking about leaving the game. Two weeks before the Super Bowl, som sports analysts were predicting the Eagles would lose their game against the Vikings precisely because Foles wasn’t good enough to pull it off.

But when Super Bowl day came he did what needed to be done. He held it together, he didn’t fold under pressure, and when the game was over and the Eagles had triumphed over Tom Brady’s Patriot’s, there was up on that platform under the bright lights, a little choked with emotion in the glory of the moment.

“All glory to God,” he said—and I have to say that I don’t believe God made the Eagles win the Super Bowl, but when we live our lives to our full human potential, each one of us gives glory to the Creator.

No one can know now what the rest of Nick Foles’ life will be. How long he’ll play football, if he’ll go to the Super Bowl again, if he’ll become the youth pastor he says he’d like to be. That’s another job that requires a particular kind of leadership skills.

But you have to think that his moment in the spotlight as the quarterback of the championship Eagles will be something he’ll always look back on when he thinks about what his life has meant, even though there surely will be other moments to come.

Peter, on the other hand, he really was a nobody until Jesus came along and took him away from his life as a small town fisherman, gave him a nickname that means Rock, and led him off on the adventure of a lifetime.

Peter was the rock of that little group around Jesus, a loyal and loving follower who became the leader, but he could be a little slow to get what Jesus was teaching, and when he was put to the test in that fire-lit courtyard the night before Jesus was killed, he failed.

But we know that failure is part of what it means to be human, so the ultimate test is not whether you fall but whether you get up again, turn yourself around, and keep going. And Peter did that.

Back on that mountain, almost blinded by glory, he was afraid at first, but the truth was revealed to him there: “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” [i]

He saw Jesus transfigured, his clothes dazzling white, brighter than any bleach could make them. (And if you watched the Super Bowl, including the commercials, you’ll know what I mean when I say, no matter how clean and white the clothes were—no, this is not a Tide ad.)

Peter didn’t know how to respond in a moment when he found himself in the presence of Moses and Elijah, two of the great prophets of Israel.

His instinct was to worship, to build something that would mark the spot as a holy place. And worship isn’t a bad instinct in a moment like that.

Three important things happened on that mountaintop. Peter experienced the presence of God in a special way, and he knew it. He heard and took to heart that brief command: “Listen to him!” And when he came back down from the mountain, God came with him. And went on with him.

We don’t know what Nick Foles’ life will be going forward from his moment of glory—and interestingly enough, we don’t actually know that much about Peter’s life after the time that’s described in the Gospels.

We know from Acts that he was the leader of the church at Jerusalem, and the letters suggest that he went traveling to other places including Corinth, and that he was accompanied at least on some of those trips by his wife. Tradition says he was martyred in Rome, probably in the 60s.

His life was never easy once he left the fishing life behind, and I can’t help thinking that there were must have been times when Peter looked back and drew strength from that moment in the presence of glory on the mountaintop.

We Christians down through the ages also draw strength from that moment, and it’s no accident that the church wants us to hear the story again on this last Sunday before we begin the season of Lent.

This is the time when we take stock of ourselves, and think deeply about who we really are. And the moments of seeing Christ in glory that all Christians share, including that brilliant moment on the top of that high mountain—they’re all part of that.

But there are smaller moments in our own lives of faith that we look back on and draw strength from when we think about who we are in Christ.

We don’t have to go to the tops of mountains to have those experiences, and they may not leave us blinded by glory.

But even in ordinary situations there can be special times when we, like Peter, just know that we’re in God’s presence in a special way that stays with us even after the moment has passed.

What comes to mind for you if I ask if you’ve ever had a moment like that?

Maybe you’ll think of a time when you were particularly aware of the beauty of nature, or a newborn infant, or a time when you were alone—but just knew you weren’t really alone.

I’ll share two experiences that have been important to me in my own life, not because I think they’re so special or amazing, but because they could have happened to anyone, and that’s my point.

I remember a time when I was in church for the Easter Vigil, and the church was fully dark, and as we passed the flame to light each of the individual candles we were all holding, the warm glow of the light illuminated each face.

In that moment I saw God in each face, and I was powerfully reminded that perhaps the most common way we meet God is in each other.

And I remember a time quite a few years ago when I was in the hospital and having a hard time finding any words for prayer, and yet I felt the close presence of God more strongly than ever before.

It’s ironic—but true—that this time when I found it extremely difficult to pray at all has become one of the things I look back to when I need to remember that God has been with me through my life.

When the moment of glory on the mountaintop had passed, Jesus came back down to earth with the three he had taken up with him and kept on going.

He was there. He was with them. God walked among us, and still does.

These special, intense moments of knowing God’s presence in our human lives don’t usually last very long.

I imagine Nick Foles is back home with that adorable little girl doing the ordinary things dads do. Being just a husband and father again—as if that weren’t even more important than being a Super Bowl winner.

Peter went back to traveling with Jesus, learning the lessons Jesus was teaching, getting it right sometimes and wrong at others.

The special moments don’t last. That doesn’t mean they aren’t important, just that they have their place.

They help us to remember who we are in the most important ways. We take that understanding and go on with our lives, knowing that God is with us.

Jesus is here.

Listen to him.

Amen.

[i] Mark 9:7