category: Musings, Sermon Starter

Alive or Dead? You Decide

By Rachael Keefe

A vision, a moment of clarity, a flash of insight, the proverbial “Eureka!” moment. Whatever you want to call it, it happened to me after my first yoga class ever last night. I don’t think it had anything to do with yoga as much as the conversation shared with my …

Alive or Dead? You Decide


A vision, a moment of clarity, a flash of insight, the proverbial “Eureka!” moment. Whatever you want to call it, it happened to me after my first yoga class ever last night. I don’t think it had anything to do with yoga as much as the conversation shared with my colleagues in text study earlier in the day. Yoga may have relaxed me enough to open me to the experience, though. Anyway, I’m going to call it a vision, even though that word itself sends shivers of discomfort through my being.

This vision occurred as I sat in my car after class. The sun had set, the nearly full moon lit the sky. I had a flash of a tree, not dead, but not quite a live and a person approaching, still a ways off, with an ax held ready. There were crowds around the tree. Some denied that there was a tree. Some said it was alive enough and should be left alone. Others wanted to learn how to nurture it into the fullness of life. Still others were offering better tree removal tools saying that the tree was wasting the nutrients in the soil.

All this was on display in seconds. Then a voice coming from the ax carrier: Alive or dead, you decide. No waiting. No procrastinating. Decide. In less than a minute, this vision was over and I was left shaking my head, trying to say that the decision is not mine to make. I put my car in gear and drove the couple miles home, thinking about the yoga class and not the vision that followed. Yet, this morning, it was the first thing on my mind.

Here’s the thing, Isaiah invites everyone to the table. If you’re hungry and can’t buy food, come to the table. If you are thirsty and can’t pay for a drink, come to the table. Stop paying for things that don’t nurture and stop laboring for things that do not satisfy. Repent of foolish ways, and come, have a seat at the table where you can eat until you are well-nourished and drink the water of life until your thirst is quenched. Sign me up! This table sounds perfect.

Yet, before any of us can get to the table, there’s a person with a fig tree that doesn’t yield any figs standing in the way. This person is displeased with the tree that has not produced figs in three years. It’s time to cut it down. The gardener rushes in to protect the tree, offering to fertilize and nurture it properly to see if the tree will then yield figs. The owner gives one more year. If it is still without figs, the tree will no longer be permitted to waste the soil.

Isn’t this a bit harsh? I mean, it’s just a tree and a few figs, right? Really, who gives a fig? All of us should. And here’s the heart of my vision, the urgency I felt in the moment: The church in all its manifestations is the fig tree. Our congregations are fig trees. Many of us have not born much fruit for far longer than three years. We are content to be “alive enough” but not fully living. We also don’t particularly welcome those who want to fertilize our imaginations and nurture any adventurous spirits within us. Nope, we want to keep our tree as it is, as it has always been. No need to proceed to that banquet table. We’re comfortable right here, thank you very much.

We must repent of our foolishness. God continues to call us to the table where all are welcome, especially those who hunger for community and those who thirst for love. Preserving our history without risking change for the present and future is a waste of soil. All our denominational differences might have mattered at one point in time and our numerous churches served a purpose in the past. Yet, God is calling us to a new thing, has always been calling us to a new thing.

We are being called to make room at the table for everyone, letting nothing get in the way. Nothing must prevent us from bearing fruit that will feed a starving world. We have been spending our resources for decades on traditions that no longer nurture and laboring to keep alive that which does not satisfy. We need to decide what to do before the soil around us is nothing more than a handful of sand.

Will we ignore the half-living tree? Will we keep it alive as is for as long as we can? Will we give in to the ax while the soil is still good so something else can be planted? Will we invite the gardener in to fertilize imagination and nurture our restless spirits so that the tree can come fully alive and bear fruit?

Alive or dead? We have decisions to make, my friends. What is God calling us to do and to be? What is the best use of our resources? How will we make room at the table? What will we risk so as not to waste the soil around us?

RCL – Year C – Third Sunday in Lent – March 24, 2019
Isaiah 55:1-9
Psalm 63:1-8
1 Corinthians 10:1-13
Luke 13:1-9

Photo: CC0 image by George

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About Rachael Keefe

Rachael is an author, a pastor, a teacher, and a poet. Her latest book (The Lifesaving Church - Chalice Press) is on faith and suicide prevention. She is currently the pastor of Living Table UCC in Minneapolis, and has launched a spiritual direction practice.

2 thoughts on “Alive or Dead? You Decide”

  1. Great thoughts about intertwining the fig tree and Isaiah…and I love “Who Gives a Fig?” That would totally be my sermon title. 🙂


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