Lifesaving Stations – the parable

Ephesians 4:1-7, 11-16

I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and [Creator] of all, who is above all and through all and in all. But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift.

The gifts [Christ] gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.

We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.


I’ve taken huge liberties with a story by Theodore Wedel of the Western Evangelical Seminary dating back to 1981. Okay, only a fraction of the original remains.

There was a dangerous seacoast where shipwrecks often occurred, and on it a crude lifesaving station. A wandering lifesaver – we’ll call him Paul – who thought lifesaving was the most important task there was, had helped some other people start it some years earlier. Shortly after that, as was his habit, he had moved on to find other areas that needed lifesaving stations.

This station was just a boathouse and in it was only had one boat, but the few devoted members kept a constant watch over the sea and kept the boat in immaculate condition. With no thought of themselves, they went out day or night tirelessly searching for the lost. This tiny station saved so many that it became famous. Some of those who were saved, as well as many of their neighbors, wanted to be a part of the station and gave of their time, money and effort for the support of its work. With this new membership came new ideas and techniques for lifesaving. This bothered the old members a little, but they tolerated it – at least for a while. The little lifesaving station grew bigger.

The number of members required more space in which to meet so they enlarged their building. They planned ahead, and after the building was finished, they anticipated replacing the old cots with comfortable furniture, and making the place more attractive than it had been. Someone even suggested a kitchen so they could prepare meals for their gatherings – oh, and the shipwreck victims, of course.

During the remodeling, some members started asking how this would help save lives. Arguments ensued and lines started to be drawn in the sand over both methodology and purpose. All the time was spent working or arguing, and nobody seemed to have time or attention for those being dashed on the rocks. Ostensibly to bring unity, an organizational structure was developed. This ultimately gave the stronger members the ability to make rules about methods and purpose that kept the new ideas in check. If necessary, they could even exclude people with different ideas from the station. All the while this was occurring, shipwrecks were still happening but the victims were drowning. 

The members who were rejected, and some of their supporters, noticed that another station had formed down the coast. This station had been started by some other people to fill the void left by the feuding club. When these former members of the first station went down to the new one, they found that there were even more different notions about lifesaving there. Very quickly the original members of this other station found the newcomers too old fashioned for their comfort. So they asked them to leave. This second station eventually followed the same process as the old one – it grew, needed a new building and developed rules to control who could belong and what ideas could be discussed. They also became too busy in building and arguing to save many lives.

The still displaced members of the old station began their own lifesaving station somewhere between these two, where they could be with people who thought like they did. They were very effective lifesavers, until they became embroiled in the same patterns as the other stations. Time and time again this happened until there was a plethora of lifesaving stations, each too busy building, arguing and setting membership rules to actually go out and keep a good watch on the coast – to do what they had been commissioned to do – save lives. Shipwrecks still happened and people still drowned.

Each of these stations became convinced that their methods were the only right ways to function as a life-saving station. They started arguing with the other stations. They aggressively campaigned to convince the residents around them that they were the real lifesavers – the others were just misguided. Many stations banded together with others on other coasts that did it just like them. These organizations would help the stations maintain unity by developing more official rules, printing them in books for reference, and being able to discuss new techniques before they were introduced to the individual stations. Besides that, it made it easier for the like-minded stations to claim they had the right answer.

During all this time, the lifesaving stations seemed to forget what they were all about, as did the people around them. It had been so long since they actually saved lives that people outside of the stations had no clue what they did and, hence, had no value whatsoever for the stations. A crisis occurred. Rather than understand the crisis as a lack of actual life-saving, the members thought the crisis was simply a lack of numbers, so they manically put together programs and marketing plans to bring people into their station. The people they were charged with saving, however, couldn’t find their way into the station – they were busy drowning.

After some time there was a monstrous storm. Many ships hit the rocks on many coasts, and a huge number of people were at risk of drowning. A call went out to all the lifesaving stations to help rescue people. There was utter chaos as lifesavers tried to remember all the things they needed to do. They had become experts at things like Rules of Order and cooking meals for the station meetings, but they had forgotten most of the basics of lifesaving.

The most common occurrence, however, was disastrous. To make room in the buildings for their members and furnishings, each of the stations had at some time moved that one indispensable tool for lifesaving – their one boat – outside to make room for furniture, kitchens and the like. Those stations that could manage to get their boats to the water, watched them sink because they had dry-rotted sitting out behind their buildings. Without a boat, each station could do nothing more than just stand by and watch people drown.

Next: The sermon

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... or, preaching from both ends


That's too bad - I'm so sorry. Oh, well, just try to make the best of it. What you'll find here is a variety of essays and ramblings to do with things theological, social, whimsical and, sometimes, all three. I don't write to get famous - trust me, I've been told how futile that would be - but to express myself. I love to communicate and browbeat - ummm, I mean dialogue - about the things I find intriguing. Since you're here, and the door's locked, why don't you stay a while. There's a page bar under the header with links to information about us - I mean me. Don't forget to tell me what you think - in a nice way, I mean.

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