Sermon on Luke 12:16-21 (The Rich Fool)
By Daniel VanderKolk
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
Today God calls someone a word that no one ever wants to hear: “fool“!
How scary is the thought of being called a fool by God!
Why does God call this man a fool? The man was rich. He worked his land well. He saved his extra crops. God even blessed his soil and gave this rich man good harvests.
So why is this rich man called a fool by God? Is it a sin to work hard, budget for the future, and save our resources?
No. Hard work is the virtue of diligence. Budgeting for the future is the virtue of prudence. Saving our resources is the virtue of frugality. So why is this rich man a fool?
Because this rich man fooled himself into thinking that all he had in life was his own. The man who wisely managed his goods, foolishly managed his thoughts. This rich fool said to himself: “I am the author of my life, my goods are my own”. This rich fool wrote God out of his life.
He separated himself from God who said, through the words of Saint Paul, that those rich in this present age should be rich also in good works. They should be ready to share. They should be generous. They should store up treasure for themselves in heaven.
This rich fool did not see himself as a steward of God’s treasure. He thought that by ignoring God’s command to feed the poor he would have more of the good things in life. He thought that he would have more joy and fulfillment by following his own will and ignoring God’s will.
The rich fool forgot that God gives us all good things in life. The rich fool forgot that God wants us to be filled with joy by accumulating an abundance of virtues. The rich man only sought to please his own stomach, never once thinking about how to please God. His body lacked no physical food, but his soul was starved for virtue.
God gave the rich man treasuries of food so that the rich man would cultivate love in his own heart by being charitable to his neighbor. But the rich man chose the fleeting joy of an overfull stomach rather than the eternal joy of supporting the poor. God wanted this man to be rich in virtue.
This man’s stomach wanted him to be starved for virtue. God knows that we easily love our stomachs more than we love His commandments. Thankfully, God easily loves us more than we love our stomachs.
God loves us so much that He gave His only-begotten Son to a humiliating crucifixion. But Christ’s life did not end with death. Christ conquered death, ascended into Heaven, and reigns at the right hand of the Father.
So too, our lives do not end with death. After death, we will be judged. And after the judgment we hope to behold our Lord in heaven. We hope to feed on the joy that comes from eternal communion with God. As we sing in the Troparion for the Departed: “Give rest to the soul of thy servant O Savior, preserving it in the blessed life which is with Thee, who lovest mankind.”
Because of Christ’s victory over death, we no longer fear death. Because of Christ’s victory over death, we look with joy to the life to come. We steward well the treasures God gives us in this life. We eagerly hoard good deeds and virtues, because they are the only things we can take with us into the next life.
On the 26th of December, 1782, Vassily Drozdov came into this world. He grew up in the town of Kolomna, near Moscow. God gave Vassily many gifts. He was able to study in some of the finest schools in Russia.
He never once thought that he deserved or earned his good things in life. He was grateful to God for all of the treasures he received. Vassily knew that he was partner, with God, in all of his endeavors in life. When God, in His love, gave Vassily learning and understanding, Vassily, with deep gratitude, wanted to return God’s love.
Out of love for God, Vassily chose to use his intellectual gifts to pursue virtue, for God’s glory. Vassily taught at seminary, considering the professional duties of a teacher of utmost importance. He cared for his seminarians, spent time with them, prayed for them, and loved them.
Vassily also used his intellectual gifts to feed the sheep outside of his seminary. Late at night, when Vassily was tempted to eat, drink, and be merry, he called his own stomach a fool and chose to be rich toward God. He labored at night, writing edifying words for his Orthodox brothers and sisters.
Vassily loved his neighbor. Vassily loved God. Vassily loved virtue.
On the 6th of November, 1808, Vassily, the seminary professor was tonsured Philaret, the monk. “Philaret” means “he who loves virtue”. Truly, St. Philaret, the Metropolitan of Moscow, loves virtue with all his heart.
Emulate his love. Practice the virtue of thankfulness today. As you sit down to eat dinner tonight, pause for a moment.
Think of all the hard work that went into your meal. Think of the people who labored over your food. Think of the good favor God showed you in allowing the farmer’s crops to grow and produce the food that you are now eating.
Think of God’s love in supporting our economy, the economy that allows you to purchase such good food. Think to yourself that although God implants in us the need to nourish ourselves with food, He also allows us to enjoy our food and derive pleasure from fulfilling our daily needs.
And then say aloud: “The poor shall eat and shall be filled. Those who seek the Lord shall praise Him; their hearts shall live forever.”
And as you eat your dinner, fill your mind with nutritious thoughts. Think of how St. Philaret enjoyed eating food but did not obsess over his stomach. Think of how St. Philaret loved virtue more than he loved food. Think of how St. Philaret was a good steward of the treasures God gave to him, because St. Philaret knew that all good things in life come from God.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Seminarian Daniel Vanderkolk is a 3rd-year Master of Divinity student, from the Diocese of the Midwest, Orthodox Church in America. Prior to coming to St. Vladimir’s Seminary, he taught 10th-grade Latin Language and Literature at Oakdale Academy in Waterford, MI. This homily was given on Sunday, November 19, 2017, at Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, New Haven, CT, where Seminarian Vanderkolk is a student intern under rector, Archpriest Michael Westerberg. On that Sunday the Orthodox Church also commemorated the repose of St. Philaret, Metropolitan of Moscow.