The Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost, 6 October 2019
A Sermon on Luke 17:1-10 by Samuel David Zumwalt

Luke 17:1-10 English Standard Version, © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers]

And he said to his disciples, “Temptations to sin are sure to come, but woe to the one through whom they come! 2 It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin. 3 Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, 4 and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.” 5 The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” 6 And the Lord said, “If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you. 7 “Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and recline at table’? 8 Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink’? 9 Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? 10 So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’” The Gospel of the Lord.


Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Please repeat after me the short version of the prayer known as the Kyrie (in Greek, “Lord”):

Lord, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy. Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.

It’s Tough to Be in Charge

As much as any parent, grandparent, or godparent would like it not to be so, we cannot keep children in a bubble safe from the forces of sin, death, and the old evil one. If a child has access to the internet or to very inappropriate material through something as seemingly harmless as playtime with a neighbor or friend, the child is going to be exposed to ideas, images, and language from which you may always have protected them. Yes, even if you have kept your home separate from the world, even if you yourself never watch or read inappropriate material or use foul language: as soon as your child goes out the door to be in the company of others or is under the tutelage of a coach, a teacher, or a mentor, that child is going to be exposed to ideas, images, and language from which you may always have protected them.

So, when our translation says, “Temptations to sin are sure to come,” our Lord Jesus is saying (quite literally in the Greek): “It is impossible for stumbling blocks not to come.” Someone or something somewhere or somehow is going to put a stumbling block in front of a little child or someone who is a baby in the faith. Our Lord Jesus says of tempters: “Woe to those who cause a little one to stumble.”

Just because someone is nice. Just because someone is friendly. Just because someone presents an exemplary face to the world. That does not mean that you can trust such a person with a child. Outward demeanor does not mean that person won’t place huge stumbling blocks that wreck a child’s life. After the fact, many a parent has learned too late that another adult greatly damaged their child physically, emotionally, spiritually, and relationally. So, what do you do preventively? How do you handle this?

Parents, grandparents, and godparents must be vigilant. There are parents who have had a lifetime of regret, because they didn’t more closely monitor their child’s activities and didn’t say, “No.” Children and youth have ended up in cemeteries, because their parents didn’t want to do the hard work of saying, “No.”

Yes, there are evil people in church work, in education, in youth clubs, in entertainment, in sports, and in politics who will have a rude awakening when they stand before the Judge from whom there is no appeal. That is why the Lord Jesus says, “Woe! It would be better for that person to have a millstone ….”

So, if you have failed miserably as a parent or have placed a stumbling block before a little one in age or a baby in the Christian faith, then admit it. Repent of it. Ask the Holy Spirit’s help to amend your life and get some new friends. If bad things happen when you party, you need to change where you go and what you do. Changing your life with God’s help is very difficult; maybe, not at first, but for the long run, yes.

Please remember that though our Lord compels us to forgive those who sin against us, He doesn’t pretend that sins are not evil. Forgiveness does not mean forgetting the evil done and who did it!

Please repeat after me again this short prayer:

Lord, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy. Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.

The Gift of Faith Works

Like all of us I hope, the Lord’s disciples wanted Him to increase their faith. They were not asking for degrees in theology or the ability to understand a philosophical argument. They knew they needed to grow in trust especially in the face of the insistent, persistent stumbling blocks that the old evil one throws in front of everyone. One of those stumbling blocks is when someone keeps on attacking, keeps on lying, keeps on wounding like a swarm of angry yellow jackets. You can’t change or negotiate with terrorists.

So, then, what does the Lord Jesus mean when He says that faith the size of a tiny mustard seed can do amazing things? What we can’t do by ourselves, what we can’t do for others, God can. The impossible!

If somebody runs over you with a big truck, you don’t just let them back up and do it again… unless you are incapacitated. You pray for that person. You ask God to help you forgive them, and it may take years. But you leave them in your heavenly Father’s merciful hands, and you let God work in that space created by your withdrawing. Think of that story in the news about the brother of the man who was killed by an off-duty Dallas police officer. Thinking there was an intruder in her apartment when she went into the wrong apartment, she shot its resident. At her sentencing, the man’s brother forgave her and told her to turn her life over to Jesus. Do you wonder if you could be that kind of Christian were you in his shoes?

No matter how old or how young you are, the day is coming when you will wonder if your faith is strong enough to carry you through the worst chapter of your life. You may cry buckets of tears until there are no more. You may rage against God or others. You may be tempted to crawl into a bottle of alcohol or a bottle of pills. You may go into self-destructive mode with your life. And, on the other side of that, if you get there, that crisis will not have changed. This is why I have asked this question for years: “Why do we practice the Christian faith? So that it will be there when we need it.” You can’t grow in faith apart from the God who made you and all things, and who has not even withheld His own Son’s death. Jesus lived the perfect life we cannot live and died the innocent death we cannot die, that we may be His own!

It’s like that guy said to me years ago at the driving range: “A man can hit an awful lot of golf balls and never get any better.” To get better, I needed help. To get better, we all need the help only Jesus can give.

Please repeat after me again this short prayer:

Lord, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy. Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.

Filling Those Empty Hands

We live in a very narcissistic world where people feel entitled to everything they want. You may see it in the person who blocks an entire aisle in the grocery store while that one is figuring out what he wants. You may see it on the road when someone decides at the last minute to change lanes, and rather than driving on until she can legally U-turn, she partially blocks two lanes waiting for a turn signal. The narcissist wants whatever she or he wants, and everyone else is supposed to give in because, after all, the narcissist is more special than anyone else. That’s what Mommy or Daddy always said. The narcissist loves to play the victim card to get his or her way. Our culture is constantly catechizing us into sin. And so, we are all tempted to become just like that. The Darwinian survival of the fittest message is seductive.

No! Life is difficult, and it is hard to practice the Christian faith in a culture where even churches are organized around the message: “It’s all about you.” Well, no, it’s not! You need Jesus. I need Jesus!

When the tank is empty, you go to the filling station. When your spiritual, physical, emotional, and mental cup is empty, you go to God’s house to receive Jesus’ forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.

Twenty-one years ago, I was very proud of my top-of-the-line Ford Explorer with all the bells and whistles. I was leading a very busy life, often working 80-hour weeks. I needed to leave for a pastors’ meeting in San Antonio, 90 miles away, and I was working the phone all the way there. On the outskirts of San Antonio, my SUV started to cut out. I had ignored the fuel gauge, the warning light, and even the warning chime, because I was so busy. I ran out of gas and had to call for help. I had not paid attention.

We live in bodies that wear out. We live in relationships that are fragile. We live as creatures, and we die as creatures. Timex or Rolex. Mazda or Mercedes. Discount or designer. Ashes. Ashes. We all fall down.

My advisor, Morris Niedenthal, talked about when he was a parish pastor. He always asked: “What has drained your cup and what has filled your cup this week?” Some of us live or work in relationships with people who always drain our cups and never fill them. Well, the people in our lives aren’t Jesus. Even if they are those rare nurturers and gracious servants, they can’t be who they are not. Everyone needs Jesus.

Unlike His story about the field servants and the master, the Lord Jesus actually does serve us. We may come drained, weary, sad, or discouraged … or we may be so busy we aren’t paying attention to what is going on in our lives, but we need Jesus’ forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. We need the life and love He shares eternally with His Father and the Holy Spirit to fill our sin-sick souls and bodies. He gives it!

Are we worthy? No. Do we deserve it? No. Do we too often get it wrong thinking “my” will is God’s will? Yes. So, here in God’s house, we tell the truth and hear the truth about ourselves. We need Jesus!

Please repeat after me again this short prayer:

Lord, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy. Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.

And He does, and He will, not because we are worthy, but because He is gracious and merciful.

In the name of the Father, and of the +Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

©Samuel David Zumwalt
St. Matthew’s Ev. Lutheran Church
Wilmington, North Carolina USA

Bulletin Insert
Following Jesus: Unworthily


“Almighty and everlasting God, you are always more ready to hear than we to pray, and to give more than we either desire or deserve. Pour upon us the abundance of your mercy, forgiving us those things of which our conscience is afraid, and giving us those good things for which we are not worthy to ask, except through the merits and mediation of your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen” (The Daily Prayer of the Church, 622).


Luke 17:1 “’Temptations to sin are sure to come, but woe to the one through whom they come!’”

St. Cyril [5th century Patriarch of Alexandria, Egypt]: “Nothings that is evil comes from him [God]. He is the fountain of all virtue. Why then must this happen? They clearly happen because of our infirmity, for all of us stumble in many things, as it is written. Nevertheless, he says that there will be woe to the person who lays the stumbling blocks in the way. He does not have indifference in these things without rebuke but restrains it by fear of punishment. He still commands us to bear with patience those who cause sins to happen” (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: Luke, 266).

Luke 17:2 “ It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin.”

St. Jerome [5th century priest, theologian, and translator of the Latin Vulgate Bible]: “’It is impossible,’ he says, ‘that scandals should not come.’ I suppose that a scandal is a sin because sin comes through scandal. In many things we all offend. Granted that I have not come to ruin, but I have certainly offended not only in one thing but also in many things (266).

Luke 17:3 “‘Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him,’”

St. Ambrose [4th century Bishop of Milan, Italy]: “After the parable of the rich man, who was tortured in punishments, how fittingly he added the command of showing mercy to those indeed who repent of their error; for fear that despair might not recall someone from guilt! He is truly moderate, so that pardon is not difficult or leniency lax, fearing that harsh reproof might cast someone down or conspiracy might invite guilt! … After the first admonition, avoid a person that is a heretic, because unbelief is not on a par with minor transgression. Since error very often surprises someone through ignorance, he commands that it should be rebuked, so that stubbornness is shunned, and a mistake is corrected” (266).

Luke 17:10 “, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’”

St. John Chrysostom [late 4th – early 5th century Patriarch of Constantinople, Turkey]: “He said, ‘When you have done everything, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants,’” to warn them in his wish that they keep themselves at great distance from that destructive passion. Dearly beloved, see how the person with his mouth open for human glory and performing the works of virtue on that account has no benefit from it. Despite practicing every example of virtue, if he seems to give himself credit for it, he ends up empty-handed and bereaved of everything” (267).


1. Do I know that I remain a sinner, throughout this life, unworthy of God’s grace in Christ?

2. Have I led anyone into sin or to false teaching that could cause them to be separated from the Lord of the Church, Jesus Christ?

3. Am I willing to forgive those who repent of their sins? How about those who do not?


(Read this aloud daily until everyone in your home can say it from memory.)

As the head of the family should teach them in a simple way to his household.

The Sixth Commandment

You shall not commit adultery.

What does this mean?

We should fear and love God so that we lead a sexually pure and decent life in what we say and do, and husband and wife love and honor each other (Luther’s Small Catechism).


1. Pray for every unbaptized child and adult you know and for the child’s parents, too.

2. Pray for your unchurched loved ones and friends. Invite one or more of them to worship.

3. Sunday School classes continue at 9:45 a.m. If you have children or grandchildren, will you bring them to learn the Bible stories? Will you be either a teacher of children or an adult learner?

4. Have you been intending to join the Crossways Bible study? We continue with unit 58 of 60 on Hebrews this Wednesday at 6 p.m. or Thursday at 10 a.m.

5. Do you have a 6th, 7th, or 8th grade child ready for Confirmation instruction? Confirmation instruction continues each Wednesday at 7 p.m. in McCombs Hall.

6. Will you join with the group in giving silent witness to life this afternoon at 2 p.m. out front?

7. How will you serve joyfully both at St. Matthew’s and beyond? Don’t put it off any longer. Sign up in the narthex today to serve at and beyond St. Matthew’s. Mail:

8. Hang a crucifix or cross opposite your pillow so that the last sight you see before turning out the light is your Lord’s cross and the first sight of the new day reminds you to pray.

For Husbands and Wives

Repeat daily: “I (name) take you (name) to be my wedded wife (husband), to have and to hold from this day forward; for better, for worse; for richer, for poorer; in sickness and in health; to love and to cherish until death do us part, according to God’s holy ordinance, and thereto I pledge you my faith.”