Stewardship Resource

A God of Abundance

Sermon  Sermon
  • Author: Tania Haber senior pastor of Westwood Lutheran Church, St. Louis Park, Minn.
  • Updated: 08/02/2010
  • Copyright: Tania Haber

Text: Psalm 116 & Story of Feeding the 5000

It is this abundant presence of Jesus that will go with you from this place today, back to your jobs and churches and homes. 
And it is this abundant presence of Jesus that can fill us up to overflowing, allowing us to spill over into the lives of people around us.  Allowing us to take the bread we've been given and be the ones to hand it out to those who are hungering for it.
And it is this abundant presence of Jesus that comes and meets you in this moment . . . right where you are . . . filling you up, satisfying your hunger, and as always, offering you more, so much more, than enough.


Tania Haber
A God of Abundance
At "Rethinking Stewardship" Conference
July 2010


Grace and Peace to you in the name of Jesus, who fills us with good things and blesses us with life abundant.  Amen.

Bob Nervig is a retired Lutheran pastor who is now a member of Westwood, the congregation I serve here in a Mpls suburb.  But when Bob was young and the new Director of Camp Koinonia in upstate in New York, he had no idea what he had gotten himself into.

As about a 30 year old at the time, he had a vision for the future of that camp when he took over its reins back in the early 1970's.  That vision included having not only middle and upper-middle class kids attend, but he also dreamed that hardened, inner-city, at-risk kids, could find their place at Camp Koinonia.

Bob had served parishes in New York City, so he knew that these kids were not about to check their urban ways at the door.  He was having a rough time with them that first summer. He needed to bring in reinforcements.  When the going gets tough, the tough call their mother.

That's precisely what Bob did.  He called his 70-something year old mother, Hazel, who agreed to come from the prairies of South Dakota to upstate New York, to help minister to the kids--ALL the kids--at Camp Koinonia.

And thus began the long tenure of Hazel Nervig, one of Camp Koinonia's unpaid but highly-treasured saints, whose listening ear and generous presence, especially with those High School boys, had an enormous impact at that camp, summer after summer after summer.

Hazel took those tough, urban teens under her wing.  She saw in these kids the "neighbor", HER neighbor, and as a good steward, she knew their needs, she knew what she could offer, and she put those 2 things together.

Every evening, they would run into the dining hall, not so much because the food was so good, Bob said, but because they desperately sought to get the chair right next to Hazel at the dinner table.

Those boys knew that they had a grandmother, one who knew them by name, one who inquired about their lives...but even more than that, she prayed both with and for them.

Hazel was a retired grandmother, living comfortably in South Dakota, when she realized that she could pay it forward. And she began to give of herself in ways that were to change not only those boys, but it would change Hazel herself. 

Psalm 116 that we heard read a few minutes ago, says "What shall I return to the Lord for all his bounty to me?  I will lift up the cup of salvation, and call on the name of the Lord."   The context of this Psalm is a meal of celebration where the Psalmist is giving thanks for everything God has done for him, and he raises his glass..."Skoal!  Lachaim!  To life!  To our great God who blesses us abundantly, I raise my glass to God as a testimony before all of you." The Psalmist saw God as a God of abundance.

And on a hillside one afternoon, 5,000 plus people gathered . . . hungering for the words of life that this man spoke, and by dusk, hungering for more than just words.  So Jesus provided.  Only here in the Gospel of John, is it Jesus, and not the disciples, who actually distributes the bread and fish to the crowd.  It is Jesus who literally walks out amongst the crowd and hands out not just what they need, but more  -- more than enough!  Jesus gives such an abundance that everyone ate their fill and there were 12 baskets left over!  Wow!  Our God is a God of abundance!

Do you remember the story of the Hebrew people - 600,000 of them, starving out in the wilderness after their exodus from Egypt?  Every day God provided water and manna...and the supply never dwindled or disappeared!

And then the people got sick of the manna and they wanted meat!  So they complained to God.  And it says, "Then a wind went out from the Lord and it brought quail from the sea and let them fall beside the camp...about 3 feet deep on the ground!"  Our God is a God of abundance!  ( . . . either that or he has a great sense of humor:  You want meat?  OK, here's 3 feet worth of dead birds!)

But you would be terribly mistaken if you thought this kind of abundance, this crazy radical kind of giving on God's part is a thing of the past, limited to Bible stories.  No, the feasting goes on.  The bread and fish, the quail . . .  the bread and wine . . . they never stop flowing, my friends.  The party goes on!  Yes, our God is a God of abundance!

And you and I get to be the stewards of it all.  That is who we are!  Through baptism when the cross is marked on our brows, and through the bread and wine we receive, you and I are given our identity....and that identity, my friends, is that we are the recipients of God's abundant love and grace.  We are God's people, blessed by this God who gives way more than enough! 

Which brings me back to the patron saint of Camp Koininia, Hazel Nervig, and how her life helped so many see the abundance of God's blessings.

As it turns out, after years of loving up all those tough teenage boys at Camp Koinonia, Hazel's health began to falter when a serious respiratory illness hit her hard at age 86.

Her primary doctor at Sioux Valley Hospital in Sioux Falls told her that she wasn't going to be able to go home, that her vital signs were so weak she would likely die in the next few days.

"But I'm not ready to die, doctor."

"What do mean, Hazel?  I know you are a woman of great faith.  What's your concern?"

"I have some unfinished business," she said.  "There are a whole bunch of teenage boys out at Camp Koinonia in New York.  Who's going to be there for them....who's going to pray for them now when I'm gone?"

Her doctor said, "What are their names?   I'll pray for them."

And a nurse who was in the room said, "Hazel--so will I.  I'm in a prayer group at my church.  Tell me about these boys and I'll get a whole group of people to keep praying for them."

A few days later, Hazel died.  That summer when Pastor Bob Nervig went back to Camp, he gathered these boys and told them of his mother's death.  But he also shared with them that Hazel would not die until she had secured people to continue praying for them.  And Bob said when he told them that, those boys cried like babies.  Hazel had been for them a "steward of the mysteries of God".

At Westwood where I serve, we are nearing the end of a sanctuary renovation project.  We've been worshipping in our gym for 8 months and we move back into the sanctuary in just a few weeks.  One of the changes to our space is that we've moved the chancel forward.  The altar and pulpit no longer stand against the front wall, but are out more in the midst, like this.

Our cross, which stands atop a 20 ft. wooden pole, and formerly stood against the front wall, now has been moved out next to the chancel platform.  When I walked in there last week and saw it for the first time, I was struck.  It is soaring high right over our heads...out IN the congregation, in our midst.

Isn't that where Jesus is?  Not far off, not uninvolved, but WITH us, gracing us daily with his presence and with abundant gifts.  "And God became flesh and dwelt amongst us."  Or as Eugene Peterson puts it, "God became flesh and moved into our neighborhood!" 

Yes, the one who blesses you and heals you, the one who forgives you and saves you, does not wait for you to come to him.  Rather, he first came to us, right where we are.  Whether it's a Camp in upstate New York, a Judean hillside, a suburban home, or an inner city sanctuary, Jesus comes into our midst, and not only gives us abundant blessings, but gives us himself, the bread of life.
And it is this abundant presence of Jesus that will go with you from this place today, back to your jobs and churches and homes. 
And it is this abundant presence of Jesus that can fill us up to overflowing, allowing us to spill over into the lives of people around us.  Allowing us to take the bread we've been given and be the ones to hand it out to those who are hungering for it.
And it is this abundant presence of Jesus that comes and meets you in this moment . . . right where you are . . . filling you up, satisfying your hunger, and as always, offering you more, so much more, than enough. 

This, brothers and sisters who live with me under the cross of Jesus Christ, this is the Good News for today.  So come and eat . . . for the feast goes on, and all are welcome.  Amen.

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