I want to begin by reading again a line from our opening prayer. We asked God for the privilege of sharing “in the labor of all creation to give birth to your hidden glory, through Jesus Christ. Amen.”
There is a lot in that single line.
I love the idea that all of creation reveals God’s glory. Right now, in New England, it is especially true. Last weekend, my wife and I drove up to Vermont. We were a little early for the peak leaves, but it was still a beautiful drive. God’s glory was on display all around us. Creation was giving birth to God’s not so hidden glory right before our eyes!
But sometimes God’s glory is more hidden. People in the Gulf Coast got a display of nature’s power this week, but I doubt many of them would call it glorious.
And too often in our life together—I think for example about our political discourse—we, God’s people, do more to obscure God’s glory than to reveal it.
And yet we insist that God’s presence is around us all the time, in everything we touch, in everyone we meet. Our task is to join with each other and with all of creation to bring God’s presence to light, particularly when God’s presence is hard to see.
This is one of the lessons of our gospel reading. Jesus teaches his disciples that they have a part to play in the revelation of God’s presence and God’s glory.
As the reading begins, Jesus is looking for a little down time. Jesus goes off by himself, away from the crowds, away even from the disciples. But the crowds track him down, and they are needy, so Jesus gets to work, healing the sick.
We don’t know where the disciples are while Jesus is busily healing the crowds. But they must have been there, even if they weren’t doing much. As I picture the scene, the disciples are initially happy to see the crowds. After all, the Jesus movement is building momentum, and that has to be a good thing. Better yet, God’s presence and God’s glory are visible all around them. That makes for a good day.
But as the day wears on, the disciples get anxious. Remember, this was supposed to be a day off. Nobody had planned for this great crowd. Jesus is doing his thing, but the disciples know that all those people are going to need something to eat at some point.
I don’t blame them. Somebody has to pay attention to the details. We are planning a little reception after this service. If another hundred people had showed up, long-suffering Jen would be dashing out to get more food right about now.
So it is quite understandable that the disciples ask Jesus to send the crowd away. Besides, Jesus has already done plenty to make God visible on this day.
But you never know what Jesus is going to do. Jesus refuses to send the crowd away. Worse still, Jesus tells the disciples that they are the ones who should give the people something to eat. The disciples are not supposed to just stand around watching Jesus make God’s glory visible. The disciples are supposed to do their part, to join in the work, to share in the labor of all creation to reveal God’s hidden glory.
What the disciples say to Jesus is, we can’t do it. I suspect what the disciples feel is some combination of embarrassment and irritation. “Jesus, what do you expect us to do with a few loaves and fish? If you had told us earlier, we could maybe have helped. But now it is too late.”
All the disciples can see in this moment is their lack, what they don’t have. They are operating in a world of scarcity where, even on this day, God’s glory suddenly seems hidden away. This is the world many of us live in much of the time.
But Jesus knows, and Jesus wants his disciples to know, and Jesus wants us to know, that it doesn’t have to be that way.
Jesus has told the disciples to feed the crowd, and Jesus expects them to do what he says. The good news is, the disciples don’t have to do it alone. Jesus multiplies the food. And then Jesus gives the miraculous abundance to the disciples, so that they can then distribute it to the crowds, just like he told them to do.
Matthew doesn’t tell us much about the meal itself, only that all ate and were filled, with lots left over. But think how much fun it must have been for everyone.
This is a group of peasants who live in a hard land under Roman occupation. They have no meaningful medical care and no social safety network. On this day, they came out to find Jesus, literally hoping for a miracle. They were sick. By the end of the day, they were hungry.
And now, thanks to Jesus, they are healed, and they are fed as much as they can possibly eat. This must have been one big joyful party.
And the disciples were at the center of it, handing food out to everyone who wanted it.
As you might guess, I’ve never experienced anything exactly like that. I doubt many of us have. But I would also guess that we have all had moments that were close enough to give us a glimpse of what it must have been like for the disciples that day.
I think about Halloween. Children come charging up to my house, shout out trick or treat, take my candy, and dash off gleefully. Giving away that candy is tons of fun. And, in a crazy way, God is made visible in the joy of those children.
Or Church without walls. Every second Sunday of the month, people from Saint David’s offer a service at the Parish Cupboard, and then hand out lunches to the gathered people, some of whom really need it. (Other Churches cover the other Sundays.) The people who participate in that ministry love it. And unquestionably, God is visible in that act of love and compassion.
Communion may be the closest parallel of all. I will always remember the first time I distributed the wine at communion. That was a long time ago in a place far, far away.
It was a little bit like Halloween. People came forward, and I got to give them something they wanted. But of course, it was much more, too. I was a small part of a sacred moment, part of an intimate encounter between people and God. On that day, for the first time, I got to distribute the gifts of God to the people of God.
Jesus invites us all to experience that kind of joy, to experience the joy of joining with all of creation in making the sometimes hidden glory of God visible, at least for a minute.
My prayer for us on this day, when we celebrate the fruit of all creation, is that we can glimpse God’s hidden glory in all things and at all times. And I pray that we can embrace the joyful calling of making God’s glory more visible in our world.
In Jesus’ name. Amen.