Following Jesus: Unbegrudgingly

The Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost, 15 September 2019

A Sermon on Luke 15:1-10 by Samuel David Zumwalt

Luke 15:1-10 English Standard Version, © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers]

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” So he told them this parable: “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. “Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it? And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ 10 Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”



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

Will you care enough to persist in praying for, engaging in conversation, and inviting someone you know who is unchurched to attend worship with you? Will you be like the shepherd who seeks his lost sheep? Will you be like the woman who lights a lamp and seeks her lost coin? Will you care? Let’s go deeper together as the Holy Spirit calls us through the Gospel.

Who Are the Lost?

Let’s be clear from the outset. All of us are born in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves. We need a Savior not once, not occasionally, not merely when we really mess up, but always, until we draw our last breath in these mortal bodies. If we don’t want to be as obtuse as the Pharisees and scribes in today’s gospel lesson, then it is necessary to remember, as Martin Luther said on his deathbed, “We are beggars.” We need God’s grace and mercy always. Always!

So, then, who are the lost? From the Lord Jesus’ two parables, we can be clear that the lost are those who have wandered away from God’s grace and mercy. That would include those who don’t know they need a Savior and those who don’t want a Savior. Now, which are easier to reach? The former, of course! But here’s something to think about. What we don’t know and what we don’t want may be two sides of the same coin. The person who doesn’t want a Savior doesn’t yet know he or she needs saving. So that person also doesn’t know he or she is lost.

When we care enough to persist in praying for, engaging in conversation, and inviting an unchurched person to worship with us, we take the long view of things. If you can remember a particularly rebellious period in your own life or a particularly shallow period in your own life, you will be able to remember those who cared about and were patient with you. Our heavenly Father has a huge heart for those who have wandered away or even are content with being lost.

Does It Matter That We Believe and What We Believe?

The Lord Jesus makes clear to the actively religious folk (that would be all the regular worshipers in our day) that He has come even for, and especially for, the people who have run the farthest from His Father’s grace and mercy. For the parents, grandparents, and godparents of adult children, our role in the lives of those adult children may have changed, but we are still called to persist in praying for, engaging in conversation, and inviting those who have become unchurched persons to come home to their heavenly Father’s waiting arms.

Why does it matter? Why should we care? Let’s remember, parents and grandparents, that we kept the children from playing in traffic when they were little. We kept them from missing school as they got older. We kept them from becoming seriously ill by taking them to a physician for annual checkups and when they were hurt or sick. We monitored their friendships and set boundaries about where they could and could not go. As godparents, we encouraged them in the practice and keeping of the Christian faith. So, if it mattered when they were younger, why would it not matter now whether or not they are far off from their heavenly Father’s grace and mercy? And, let’s be clear again, we are talking about whether they are hearing the Word of God as Law and Gospel and whether they are regularly confessing their sins, having sins forgiven, and receiving the true Body and most precious Blood of the Lord Jesus Christ at His altar.

For those who are still actively parenting children and youth in the home, and for their godparents, you have to ask yourself this question: Am I preparing my children to become lost adults by sending the message that regular worship, Bible study, and faithful reception of the Lord’s Supper are optional? Am I sending the message that the Lord Jesus is whomever they say He is and think He is rather than God in human flesh who has come to die for their sins?

The actively religious folks, the Pharisees and scribes, had lost sight of their own lostness. They didn’t want Jesus to be their Savior. They didn’t think they needed Jesus to be their Savior. And they didn’t care enough about the tax collectors and sinners to rejoice that Jesus was eating with the lost ones. Today, Paul teaches us to say: “I am the foremost of sinners.” We need Jesus!

In keeping with our fall preaching theme, the Lord Jesus teaches us to follow today not like that (not like the Pharisees and scribes who begrudged Jesus’ outreach to the lost ones) but like this (persisting in praying for, engaging in conversation, and inviting the unchurched to worship).

Rejoicing Over Those Who Repent

We see clearly today that God in Christ delights in finding and restoring those who are not in fellowship with Him. The Lord Jesus is on His way to Jerusalem where He will shed His blood as a once-and-for-all sacrifice for sinners including you and me. Because He is God in human flesh, the Lord Jesus’ death is big enough to cover any and every sin … no matter where we have been, no matter what we have done, no matter what has been done to us, and no matter what we have said or has been said to us. Even if you have committed murder, you can still be forgiven!

The message of Christ crucified is Good News for sinners like you and me, because no matter how far we have come from how far away we once were, nevertheless, we are beggars in need of our heavenly Father’s grace and mercy in Jesus Christ. But there is an alternative to this Gospel!

In the world around us, especially the world in the university across the street, identity politics is the latest competitor for the hearts and minds, the bodies and souls, of all the living. The specifics of gender, race, and economic policy are carefully laid out as either good or evil. The autonomous self is celebrated just so long as you understand what is good and what is evil. There is a narrative about who is in and who is not, what is acceptable to think and what is not. And so, parents and students can spend a lot of money and go into a lot of debt while students are being indoctrinated into a worldview that is utterly false and only marketable if they go into academia, government work, or the entertainment industry. More young people would benefit from a few years of military service and a few years in trade school rather than to be indoctrinated into a worldview that is hostile to God, to family, and, yes, to the neighbors who are not like us.

Biological life in this world is penultimate… not ultimate. According to the clearest Word in the Bible, ethnicity and skin color, sex and sexual desire, and all the other myriad socioeconomic markers that define our lives here are going into the grave as already dust and ashes or eventually dust and ashes. Are you attracted to socialism? Read a lot more history, and you won’t be. Are you so ashamed of the body you were born with that you need to have it cut on, injected, pierced, or tattooed? You won’t change who you are or the ultimate aging and decay that is sure to come. Are you certain you can define who you are by what you feel? Feelings don’t change your DNA.

At the end of all things, the Bible teaches clearly that all of us will give an account of what we have done and left undone. If we persist in going it alone without a Savior, God will sadly let us have our way. Our heavenly Father sent His Son to save us from our sins, that none be lost!

The hardhearted Pharisees and scribes were so busy trying to define who Jesus is by who He was hanging out with that they couldn’t see they were lost, too, and in need of a Savior. They didn’t persist in praying for, engaging in conversation, or inviting the lost ones to come home, because they were still lost, still far away from their Father’s grace and mercy in Jesus Christ!

Because the Holy Spirit has called you and me through the Gospel, which was shared with us by someone else, so the Holy Spirit can use each one of us to call others, too. Each of us has a faith story to share. Who taught you that Jesus is God in human flesh? That He died for your sins? Who brought you to be baptized or told you that you needed to be baptized? Who cared enough to persist in praying for you, engaging you in conversation about your heavenly Father’s love in Jesus Christ, and invited you to gather faithfully to hear God’s Word, confess your sins, and receive the forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and salvation through God’s Word and sacraments? As you write down your own faith story, you will better be able to persist in praying for, engaging in conversation, and inviting to worship those who are unchurched and in need of the same grace and mercy of God in Christ that you a sinner always receive with empty hands!

Each time you repent, the angels in heaven rejoice. Each time you share the Good News of Jesus, the Friend of sinners, the angels in heaven rejoice as you teach the lost to come home!

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: Unbegrudgingly


“O God, because without you we are not able to please you, mercifully grant that your Holy Spirit may in all things direct and rule our hearts; through 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, 619).


Luke 15:2 “And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled… ‘This man receives sinners and eats with them.’”

St. Cyril [5th century Patriarch of Alexandria, Egypt]: “Tell me, O Pharisee, why do you grumble because Christ did not scorn to be with publicans and sinners, but purposely provided for them this means of salvation? To save people, he yielded himself to emptiness, became like us, and clothed himself in human poverty” (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: Luke, 242).

Luke 15:6 “… ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’”

St. Basil the Great [4th century Bishop of Caesarea Mazaca, Turkey]: “Leaving those that have not strayed, the good Shepherd seeks you. If you will surrender yourself, he will not hold back. In his kindness, he will lift you up on his shoulder, rejoicing that he has found his sheep that was lost. The Father stands and awaits your return from your wandering. Only turn to him, and while you are still afar off, he will run and embrace your neck. With loving embraces, he will enfold you, now cleansed by your repentance” (245).

Luke 15:9 “… ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’”

St. Ambrose [4th century Bishop of Milan, Italy]: “The price of the soul is faith. Faith is the lost drachma that the woman in the Gospel seeks diligently. We read that she lit a candle and swept her house. After finding it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, inviting them to rejoice with her because she has found the drachma that she had lost. The damage to the soul is great if one has lost the faith or the grace that he has gained for himself at the price of faith. Light your lamp. ‘You lamp is your eye,’ that is, the interior eye of the soul. Light the lamp that feeds on the oil of the spirit and shine throughout your whole house. Search for the drachma, the redemption of your soul. If a person loses this, he is troubled, and if he finds it, he rejoices” (245).

Luke 15:10 “… there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

St. Ambrose: “The shepherd is rich. We are his hundredth portion. He has innumerable flocks of angels, of archangels, of dominions, of powers, of thrones, of the others whom he left on the mountains. Since these are rational, they fittingly rejoice in the salvation of people. Although this also may be of benefit as an incentive to honesty if each believes that his conversion would be pleasing to the hosts of angels, whose protection is to be sought and whose displeasure feared. Be a source of joy to the angels. May they rejoice in your return’” (245).


  1. Do I see myself among the smugly saved whose mission is to declare who is beyond mercy?
  2. Do I begrudge my heavenly Father His joy over those whom, in Christ Jesus, He seeks, finds, and calls to repentance?
  3. Whose return to the Father’s waiting arms would cause me to share His joy?


(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 Third Commandment

Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.

What does this mean?

We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it (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 55 of 60 on Romans 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. Is your child ready for her or his First Communion? Please sign up for the October 22 class.
  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.”


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