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June 14, 2018

In 1928, a case came before the courts in the state of Massachusetts.  It concerned a man who had been walking on a boat dock when he tripped over a rope and fell into the cold, deep water of an ocean bay.  He came up sputtering, yelling for help only to sink again, obviously in trouble.  His friends were too far away to reach him, but a young man in a deck chair sunbathing on another dock was only a few yards away.  The desperate man shouted, “Help! I can’t swim!”  The young man, an excellent swimmer, turned his head to watch as the man floundered in the water and disappeared forever.

The family of the drowned man was upset by this display of indifference and sued.  They lost the suit.  The court ruled that the man on the dock had no legal responsibility to try to save the other man’s life.

It was Cain who asked the cynical question after his brother’s death, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis 4:9).  Perhaps we have no legal responsibility to care for others, but the law of God is different.  “Love your neighbors as you love yourself,” taught Jesus quoting Hebrew scripture.  Jesus himself demonstrated this: “Greater love has no man than this that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).

The Psalmist cried out in desperation, “Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck.  I sink in the miry depths, where there is no foothold.  I have come into the deep waters; the floods engulf me.  I am worn out calling for help; my throat is parched.  My eyes fail, looking for my God.” (Psalm 69:1-3)

At the heart of Judeo-Christian theology is the issue of salvation. A contemporary parable illustrates the purpose of the Church.

Along the eastern coast of the United States lighthouses and lifesaving stations were built to offer help to seafarers in time of storms. These efforts were the predecessor to the United States Coast Guard.

A particularly treacherous stretch of shoreline was known for frequent storms and numerous shipwrecks.  A lifesaving station along the coast was established by a group of concerned citizens.  The crew trained long hours to learn their work.  When a storm placed a ship in danger, the volunteer lifesavers would go to the rescue.

Their families would gather at the lifesaving station and enjoy times of fellowship together in the long lulls between storms.  Other residents and visitors along the coast asked if they might join in these times of fellowship.  They were not really interested in learning lifesaving skills, but they did see the lifesaving station as a place for social occasions.

The membership of the lifesaving station grew in number.  At one covered-dish supper, someone made the suggestion that they do repairs in the lifesaving station and make it more livable.  Carpet was put in the station, and new furniture that was more comfortable was added.  They brought a big screen television and added an area for playing games.  This renovation attracted even more people to the lifesaving station, but fewer and fewer people actually took the training sessions to become skilled in saving lives.

One day during a terrible shipwreck, the crew from the lifesaving station went into the surf time and time again to rescue twenty-one sailors from the ship.  They brought the sailors to the station, fed them, and housed them.  When the crisis was over, a meeting was called of all the members of the lifesaving station.

The motion was made:  “Now that we have fixed up our lifesaving station, it seems a shame to bring dirty, wet sailors into our facility.  Why don’t we build a barracks out back so seamen won’t have to use our new furniture and our entertainment area?”  The motion passed overwhelmingly.

Membership in the lifesaving station continued to grow year after year.  Then one day, a storm caused another shipwreck.  The alarm was sounded, but only a few older veterans showed up to risk their lives to save those in danger.  The entire crew of the wrecked ship was lost at sea.

At the next meeting of the lifesaving station, another motion was made: “You know, we don’t really rescue lives anymore.  Why don’t we change our name to a beach club and give up the worn-out idea of saving lives?”  The motion carried almost unanimously.

The few old-timers who were interested in saving lives moved down the beach and started a new lifesaving station.

Jesus said that he came to seek and to save the lost (Luke 19:10).  He also gave us a great commission.  That commission is to go into all the world.  Our Christian responsibility is to be involved in the work of saving lives.

The Christian Church is a lifesaving station.  It must never become a beach club.  The words of an old hymn express this well.


Rescue the perishing, Care for the dying,

Snatch them in pity from sin and the grave;

Weep o’er the erring one, Lift up the fallen,

Tell them of Jesus the mighty to save.

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