Carl Sagan was no friend of Christianity. He was no- nonsense kind of scientist who took every opportunity to articulate the belief that faith and revelation offered little to modern people other than a false sense of comfort. When he discovered that he was very ill, he remained consistent with what he had preached: he said that his death would end all that he had been.
Sagan was brilliant. So brilliant in fact that most Christians could do little more than get angry at his words. For some time rational discourse has not been the strong suit of American Christianity so. Carl Sagan had no Christian peer to challenge his beliefs and bring him comfort in his own hour of need, Or did he?
As it turns out, a member of Christ Church, a man largely unknown in our congregation, became the instrument God chose to send to Sagan’s in his final weeks. The man’s name is Friedrich Schuening, a highly respected hematologist.
How Dr. Schuening became a hematologist is a fascinating story. He was born in the final days of World War II, as his native country was burning to the ground. The Russians and the Americans were occupying the ruins and Germans were terrified about their future. Friedrich grew up in those ruins. He was a member of a generation whose heritage had been squandered and his country humiliated.
He decided to become a minister. So, after he graduated from college, he went to seminary. He loved the seminary’s demanding curriculum. However, when he was ready to graduate he realized that he had a problem: he was shy. He didn’t believe he could actually preach. So, he started over, this time in medical school. When he had finished there, he had been studying at the university for sixteen years! After serving in various German hospitals, he had an opportunity to work in the United States. He though it would be a temporary assignment. But God had other plans.
That’s why, when Carl Sagan discovered that he would need the best care possible, God had a servant ready to serve him. When the curtains were pulled, the cameras were gone, and the reporters were outside, Sagan was alone with a minister of the gospel wearing a white coat. This doctor/theologian had struggled for a long time about whether he had done the right thing in choosing medical school over church work. Like Phillip in the Book of Acts, the Holy Spirit had moved a man of God a long distance in order to speak to one man who needed a message of hope. Had it been a mistake? Had he been faithful to his calling?
I would like to tell you that Sagan made a profession of faith and in his final days came to know Christ. I cannot say that. However, I can say that when Sagan’s final hours came, Christ had a representative speaking and acting on his behalf to offer the great scientist hope and care.
I have written several times these last few days now about Patricia Cross is a representative of Christ in our inner city. I thought it would be important for you to know God has agents working among the mightiest and the most famous too. For our Lord is no respecter of persons. He loves the poor. But he doesn’t forget the rich. In the end, we all have the same need for grace and love. Dr. Schuening was fully prepared to serve the poor and the needy but God called him to the mighty and the influential. The important thing is to obey God at each step of life so we end up doing what He wants. When we do that, we are successful.
The Psalm this morning said, “I have considered my ways and turned my feet toward your decrees.” (Psalm 119:59) Both Patricia Cross and Friedrich Schuening are servants of God. AT important moments in life, they have “considered their ways and turned their feet toward God’s decrees.” At one point, Dr. Schuening feared that he might be turning away from God’s call. It seemed strange that God would call him away from pastoral ministry. However, God wanted him to minister in a place that required a different sort of preparation than either seminary or a church staff could offer him. Thank God, he was obedient.
In his book, How to Get Out Of Your Own Way, Mark Goulston asks, “What are you becoming?” We cannot always tell what others are becoming or even what we are becoming. We can only decide whether or not we are considering our ways so that we may turn our feet toward God’s decrees. It is a daily work and the end result is not always clear for a long, long time. Ask God’s servants, Patricia Cross and Friedrich Schuening. So what are we becoming? If we are considering God’s ways and turning our feet toward His decrees, we are becoming God’s friends.