As he began his last sermon, Hope Chapel co-pastor Garrett Swasey told newcomers that if they wanted to understand his point of view they needed to know that he was also a police officer in Colorado Springs.
Thus, he was used to being surrounded by lots of distractions while trying to focus on life-and-death issues -- like spotting threats to public safety. In this multitasking age, he said, it's easy to let the clutter of daily life hide what really matters.
"I have been quoted on a number of occasions and I never seem to get quoted on the things that I would like to be quoted on, and I'm quoted on the things that I don't really prefer to be quoted on," said the 44-year-old Swasey, one of several ordained elders at this small evangelical congregation.
"One of those things -- you've all heard me say this before -- is, 'Give me three seconds and I'll forget the Gospel.' Right? It's like I have some kind of spiritual ADD."
The congregation laughed as Swasey led them on a witty tour of his own mind, where serious thoughts about sin and forgiveness -- "Focus on the Gospel, focus on the Gospel, focus on the Gospel" -- crash into, "How the heck did Denver lose to Indy?" or visions from Three Stooges movies or nagging concerns about a superstar quarterback in New England improperly deflating footballs.
It's hard to focus on the eternal, he stressed, again and again. But it's crucial to try, because the clock is running and no one knows how much time they have left.
Two weeks later, the congregation gathered in mourning after Swasey -- on duty at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs -- was killed after he voluntarily responded to calls for help at the nearby Planned Parenthood facility.
"His greatest joys were his family, his church and his profession," said his wife Rachel, in a statement read at the service. "We will cherish his memory, especially those times he spent tossing the football to his son and snuggling with his daughter on the couch. …
"Helping others brought him deep satisfaction and being a police officer was a part of him. In the end, his last act was for the safety and wellbeing of others and was a tribute to his life. What we need most today … is your prayers for our family and for others who were impacted by this tragedy."
Swasey's last sermon was already online, as part of the church's podcast ministry. His 45-minute take on the Letter to the Hebrews, chapter three, began drawing attention after portions were transcribed and posted at TheCripplegate.com, a website taking its name from a London landmark crucial to early Protestants.
"I was in tears several times as I transcribed that," said Jordan Standridge of Immanuel Bible Church in Springfield, Va., reached by telephone. "He was preaching to a small church, but now his message -- his actions and his appeal to the Gospel -- will be heard by so many people, all over."
It was, of course, symbolic that Swasey died protecting people at a controversial location -- Planned Parenthood -- in a city internationally known as a center for evangelical churches and ministry. Hope Chapel's own doctrinal statements affirm marriage as the "uniting of one man and one woman in a covenant commitment for a lifetime" and that "children, from the moment of conception, are a blessing and heritage from the Lord."
Swasey, stressed Standridge, was opposed to abortion, but "he was really pro-life. He died a hero, not a hypocrite. He laid down his life to protect people -- period. … Who knows how God will use his sacrifice?"
At the end of his sermon, Swasey poignantly -- in hindsight -- returned to his theme that many modern people are distracted and, thus, often delay making choices and changes in their lives, thinking they have more time. They hear God calling them to do something, but don't act.
"If you hear his voice do it today," he said. "Not tomorrow. Not let me sleep on it. Today! Before it is too late. … Do not harden your hearts. Douglas MacArthur says, 'History of failure can be summed up in two words: Too late.' "