parable of the lifesaving station

I don’t remember where or when I first heard this parable, but it always comes to mind on days like today. Some days, I feel like the church I serve is making great strides toward becoming more effective in carrying out our unique mission in reaching this world for Christ. Then there are days (like today) when I hear about people who would rather continue the status quo, or back track to what is comfortable and familiar. Frankly, it breaks my heart. It breaks my heart for the world around us that is paying the price for the church’s indifference–addictions, crumbling families, hopelessness… and it breaks my heart for the Christians who equate their faithful attendance to Sunday School, morning worship, evening worship and midweek prayer meeting, but in reality, are having little if any impact for the Kingdom of God. They have bought into the lie of the evil one and unless they wake up, they will miss their opportunity to make a difference in this life and have little to show for it in eternity.

The Parable of the Lifesaving Station was originally written by an Episcopal priest named Theodore Wedel in 1953. Let his words remind you of the purpose churches exist. Then ask yourself, “Which group of people do my actions place me in?” As for me and my family, God helping us, we’ll be the ones fighting for the church’s original mission–even if it means relocating like those in the parable!

A Crude Lifesaving Station by Theodore Wedel

On a dangerous seacoast where shipwrecks often occur there was once a crude lifesaving station. The building was just a hut, and there was only one boat, but the few devoted members kept a constant watch over the sea, and with no thought for themselves went out day and night tirelessly searching for the lost. Many lives were saved by this wonderful little station, so that it became famous. Some of those who were saved, and various others in the surrounding area, wanted to become associated with the station and give of their time and their money and their effort for the support of its work. New boats were bought and new crews were trained. The little lifesaving station grew.

Now some of the members of the lifesaving station became unhappy, in time, however, because the building was so crude and so poorly equipped. They felt that a more comfortable, suitable place should be provided as the first refuge of those saved from the sea. And so they replaced the emergency cots with beds, and they put better furniture in the now enlarged building, so that now the lifesaving station actually became a popular gathering place for its members. They took great care in decorating it beautifully and furnishing it exquisitely, for they found new uses for it in the context of a sort of club. But fewer members were now interested in going to sea on lifesaving missions, and so they hired lifesaving crews to do this work on their behalf, and in their stead. Now, don’t misunderstand, the lifesaving motif still prevailed in the club’s decoration and symbols — there was a liturgical lifeboat (symbolic rather than fully functional) in the room where the club initiations were held, for example — so the changes did not necessarily mean that the original purposes were totally lost.

About this time a large ship was wrecked off the coast, and the hired crews brought in boatloads of cold and wet, half-drowned people. They were dirty people and they were sick people, some of them with black skin, some with yellow skin. The beautiful new club, as you might imagine, was thrown into chaos, so that the property committee immediately had a shower house built outside the club where these recent victims of shipwreck could be cleaned up before coming inside the main clubhouse.

At the very next meeting, there was a split in the club membership. Most of the members wanted to stop the club’s lifesaving activities for being so unpleasant, as well as for being a hindrance to the normal social life of the club. Some members insisted upon lifesaving as their primary purpose, pointing out that, indeed, they were still called a lifesaving station. But these few were finally voted down and told that if they wanted to save the lives of all the various kinds of people who were shipwrecked in those waters, they could begin their own lifesaving station down the coast. And so, they did just that.

Now as the years passed, the new station down the coast came to experience the very same changes that had occurred in the older, initial station. It evolved into a club, and yet another lifesaving station had to be founded to restore the original purpose.

Well, history continued to repeat itself, so that if you visit that seacoast today, you will find a great number of exclusive clubs along that shore. Shipwrecks are frequent in those waters, but most of the people drown!

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