“Shepherd of All”
Dan himself chose the readings for today’s service. Well, he chose the first and second readings, and the psalm. He got very tired by the time we got to the gospel choices. So I came back another day and Dan still hadn’t settled on which gospel lesson to use. He tried to tell me why, but he couldn’t type much on his iPad at that point; no energy, you understand. But Dan’s mind clearly had been working on the problem.
What I managed to grasp was that Dan was VERY concerned at the news, very upset at what was happening to immigrants and Muslims and Jews and to people on the margins in our country and in our world. And Dan wanted to use the one opportunity he had coming up, the one voice he knew he had—mine!—to speak his mind about this in the context of the gospel. Dan wanted to communicate with you so that you might use your voice, also, on behalf of the people who feel endangered, on behalf of all people.
And Dan couldn’t choose between the two gospel selections our Episcopal lectionary suggests that are often chosen for funerals of non-believers. I explained this to Dan. I explained that these two lessons were in the lectionary because they hint that people who have not yet accepted Jesus as their Lord and Savior when they die might, too, have a place in God’s Kingdom. At which point I got a vigorous nod from Dan and two thumbs up.
Having studied the Bible with Dan each week for several years, I know that this was Dan’s belief: that all of God’s creation has a place in God’s favor, a place even in heaven, by the power of the Holy Spirit and through Christ Jesus the Son. A clearer, less churchy way of saying this would be what Martha Swearingen insisted that Pierre Teilhard de Chardin wrote, something to the effect that “God’s judgment requires that there be a hell, but God’s mercy requires that hell be empty.”
To have studied scripture with Dan and with Martha, you see, is to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that the heaven THEY expected to enter would be full of ALL people. Not just DEVOUT Christians, and not just CHRISTIANS, but ALL people. Didn’t Christ say that he hadn’t lost anyone he had been given? If THAT had been a choice of gospel lessons for today, Dan surely wouldn’t have hesitated to choose that reading!
In the end, Dan couldn’t choose, and he nodded at my suggestion of “preacher’s choice.” So we have to Good Shepherd, the shepherd who loved his sheep (ALL his sheep) so much he protected them at all costs, even at the cost of his own life on the Cross.
This is the shepherd—the Good Shepherd—who Dan followed. This is the shepherd—the Good Shepherd—whose values Dan so instilled in himself that he followed that shepherd to the end of this life and beyond. And Dan wanted all of us here today to hear that Christ Jesus said that he had other sheep, sheep who do not belong to THIS fold. And Dan wanted us to know that these other sheep somehow know him and listen to his voice—a voice spoken in ways that WE do neither understand nor recognize, but they recognize and follow Christ Jesus’ voice none-the-less.
The Roman Catholic theologian Karl Rahner had a theory about all of this, a theory called “the anonymous Christian,” a theory I’ll spare you today, except to say thank you to Rahner for finding a way to make Dan’s theory orthodoxy.
There, I’ve done my duty to Dan. Now I have to do my duty to you. I need to tell you that Dan actually died to this life many years ago on the day of his baptism. On that day and on many days throughout his life he chose the Good Shepherd, chose to follow the Good Shepherd, chose to be as good a sub-shepherd as he himself could be.
Was Dan Swearingen perfect? Certainly not. But good enough. Very good, in fact, made in the image of God and perfected through a life lived for others in the service of his creator.
- A perfect engineer? Certainly not, but a good enough servant to come to the church when we called and to diagnose every problem as only an engineer could. You know, those problems that usually ended up requiring Dan to discover that the thing (whatever it was) had come unplugged and for him to plug it back in, with grace and humor.
- A perfect husband? Certainly not, but a good enough husband to put up with an artist for a wife. (And vice versa, you understand.)
- A perfect father? Certainly not, but a good enough father that his children cherished him and stood by him to the end.
- A perfect father-in-law? Perfect grandfather? Perfect friend? Certainly not, but he tried! And he put himself out there for others many, many times. You know who you are!
- A perfect musician? Definitely not, but his many fellow musicians could never convince him of THAT!
- A perfect cyclist? Maybe; I’ll let his fellow cyclists be the judge of that. In the end, all that cardio helped him live better longer.
- A perfect Christian? There’s no such thing, but he was faithful to the end and beyond, with love in his heart for all God’s people, following the Good Shepherd and helping to protect those on whom the wolves would prey.
So here’s how you can best remember Dan: Sing a song. Join a choir or a band or just hear one perform. Laugh at a good joke. Find something that’s unplugged and plug it in, or (better yet) find something that’s broken and fix it. Take your bike for a spin. Buy food for someone who otherwise wouldn’t have anything to eat (but don’t tell anyone you did it). Love absolutely everyone and protect them from harm, in the name of the Good Shepherd.