Parable of the Life-Saving Station
September 28, 2006
"On a dangerous seacoast where shipwrecks often occur, there was once a crude little life¬saving 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 those who were lost. Some of those who were saved and various others in the surrounding area wanted to become associated with the station and gave of their time, money, and eﬀort to support its work. New boats were bought and new crews trained. The little lifesaving station grew."
"Some of the members of the lifesaving station were unhappy that the building was so crude and poorly equipped. They felt that a more comfortable place should be provided as the ﬁrst refuge of those saved from the sea. They replaced the emergency cots with beds and put better furniture in the enlarged building."
"Now the lifesaving station became a popular gathering place for its members, and they decorated it beautifully because they used it as a sort of club. Fewer members were now interested in going to sea on life-saving missions, so they hired lifeboat crews to do this work. The lifesaving motif still prevailed in the club’s decorations, and there was a liturgical lifeboat in the room where the club’s initiations were held. About this time a large ship wrecked oﬀ the coast, and the hired crews brought in boatloads of cold, wet, and half-drowned people. They were dirty and sick. The beautiful new club was in chaos. So the property committee immediately had a shower house built outside the club where victims of shipwrecks could be cleaned up before coming inside."
"At the next meeting, there was a split among the club membership. Most of the members wanted to stop the club’s lifesaving activities as being unpleasant and a hindrance to the normal social life of the club. Some members insisted upon life¬saving as their primary purpose and pointed out that they were still called a life¬saving station. But they 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. So they did."
"As the years went by, the new station experienced the same changes that had occurred in the old. It evolved into a club, and yet another lifesaving station was founded. History continued to repeat itself, and if you visit that seacoast today, you will ﬁnd a number of exclusive clubs along that shore. Shipwrecks are frequent in those waters, but most of the people drown."
The "Parable of the Lifesaving Station" has circulated in anonymity for many years. However, it has been credited to Dr. Theodore O. Wedel, a former Canon of the Washington National Cathedral in Washington, DC, wrote this parable. Ordained as an Episcopal priest in 1931, he served for a time as president of the Episcopal Church's House of Deputies. He penned this parable in 1953.
Here is the line that most convicts me on the matter:
"They were dirty and sick, and some of them had black skin, and some spoke a strange language, and the beautiful new club was considerably messed up. So the property committee immediately had a shower house built outside the club where victims of shipwreck could be cleaned up before coming inside."
The church has many ancient and contemporary metaphors - one is a hospital for sinners, another is spiritual pub with grace on tap.
Clinebell, who first introduced me to the story, did a seminar in San Jose for pastors some time in the 1990s.
In the seminar, he previewed his book, "Anchoring Your Well Being." I was deeply challenged to renew my commitment to a ministry of wholeness whereby people were made whole by the work of God in their lives, with which we are privileged to participate. That kind of wholeness addresses most negative lifestyle issues in the context of love.
He discussed seven dimensions of life that are common to all humanity: spiritual, physical, emotional, relational, work and play, crisis and loss, and environmental well being.
One of the reasons I devote some of my blog entries and ministry to business development is because I feel that work/play is an often neglected area of church and pastoral ministry which the Bible never neglects or ignores. For the same reason, I have delved into the arena of health and wellness and nutrition as well as social/environmental issues.
In other words, the gospel addresses every dimension of life, beginning with and centering on the spiritual. Redemptive reconciliation starts at the core and radiates into every area where people live as individuals and in community.
Back to the Lifesaving Station - we are in the rescue business. There is nothing in humanity or creation as a whole that is not to be properly related to God. As Christians, we proclaim that this reconciliation takes place through Jesus Christ, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Refusal to omit any of the objects of His attention and intentions is a significant call upon the church today.
Brian McLaren's three area of political concerns in point toward the church's "wholistic" life-saving concerns as well. The implications in parentheses are mine:
1. The Earth - Psalm 24:1- "The earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof, the world and they that dwell therein." That is a pretty broad statement of God's love for people and the world in which they live. While redemption is not identical for both, Romans 8 affirms that all creation groans waiting for it,
2. The Poor (the oppressed, the marginalized, the persecuted, the disenfranchised) - Poverty of all sorts is God's concern, spiritual poverty as well. Society can partially address physical poverty. Only the gospel has a word for poverty of the soul and spirit. That being true, the church is responsible to speak to and act on behalf of the poor.
3. War (and genocide as well as all that devalues life on any arbitrary basis) - Reconciliation, peace, and redemption are the shared tasks of God and His people. As laborers together with God (I Corinthians 3:9), we are deeply concerned with the message that brings people into a reconciled relationship with God, but we are also charged with the task of encouraging horizontal peace and justice in the world.
Since I first wrote this some years ago, other issues have emerged as urged
I reject the term, "social ministries" as something at odds with, in competition with, or separate from evangelism.
Likewise, I am dubious about the application of the term, "secular" to anything in which a disciple of Jesus is involved.
Everything is wrapped up in the mission of God which He shares with us - including the businesses that we dedicate to His Kingdom purposes. When reconciliation happens, everything is integrated into one great purpose and the walls come down.
The gospel is good news for the soul and the society. It delivers from sins that lead to slavery in souls and societies. It is unhindered in its power to proclaim freedom to the captives. It is unimpeded in its potency to change lives and cultures.
We simply must decide to apply it at every level.