Monday, November 10, 2008

Rev. J.B. Schlichter (1831-1916)

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Yesterday was the 132 anniversary celebration of the Little River Congregational Church. The following sermon centered on the founder of our church, the Rev. J.B. Schlichter.

Because of this man, you are here today.

Yesterday, I went to visit this tombstone. You can find it in cemetery at Sterling—22 miles southwest of Little River.

The dates on the stone read 1831-1916. The name on the stone is John B. Schlichter.

You are here today because this man was the founding pastor of our church.

This morning, listen to his story and consider the price of our Christian heritage.

The Rev. John B. Schlichter was born in 1831 in Canada. He was ordained to pastoral ministry at the age of 20. Later, at the age of 40, he was a man like the Old Testament prophet Isaiah, who after seeing a glorious vision of God, declared in Isaiah 6, “Lord, here am I, send me.” So in 1871, Schlichter was sent to Kansas by the Congregational Home Missionary Board.

Starting from Topeka in 1871, Rev. Schlichter followed the line of the Santa Fe Railroad. Moving across the prairie of Kansas, he settled in the town of Peace, known today as Sterling.

Schilchter and his family homesteaded land with a one room cabin, 12 x 17 feet. According to our history book, the cabin had “no doors, windows, roof, or floor.” To get inside, I suppose they climbed over the wall with a ladder, and then pulled a blanket over their heads at night. Schlichter became a fruit grower and sold products of the orchard to support his family. He was also, at one time, the superintendent of public instruction for Rice County.

Schlichter preached his first sermon in town of Peace and started a Congregational church there. Then, in 1876—100 years after the Declaration of Independence— Rev. Schlichter made a routine of traveling to the Little River area—riding 22 miles on horseback. Now by car, it takes 25 minutes to get to Sterling. Imagine how long that trip would take on horseback! And how cold the ride!

But once in this area, Schlichter met and preached the Gospel to the people of this area. Then, under Schlichter’s leadership and guidance, a small group of neighbors, meeting northwest of town, in the home of Mr. Antoine Bailey, voted on November 6, 1876 to organize a Congregational Church.

On that date, exactly 132 years ago this past Thursday, a seed was planted that continues to grow and bear fruit.

According to our church’s history book, “Rev. Schlichter worked diligently in (what was then known as) the North Fork Church and, in spite of the hardships of the early settlers, the membership grew, doubling in the first year. A series of revival meetings were held and 11 more members were added in 1878. At this time, it had been voted to pay Rev. Schlichter the sum of $25 per year for his services.”

On December 14, 1878, Rev. Schlichter resigned as pastor of our church in order to go to another community where he said, “the harvest is ripe and the laborers are few.”

Schlichter’s method for starting new churches was this. He obtained permission from the Santa Fe Railroad to use the train depots along the line as a meeting place. After preaching his very first sermon in Peace, Rev. Schlichter went on to preach as far west as Dodge City and established other churches in Garland, Chase, Nickerson, and Hutchinson.

What motivated Rev. Schlichter—and others like him? To leave behind the comforts of home back East, settle in untamed lands like Kansas, and go from place to place, to proclaim the message of Jesus Christ? And today, what should motivate us—to pay the price and make the sacrifice—to share the Good News of Jesus?

Our Scripture reading this morning from 2 Corinthians 5:11-6:13 gives us some clues.

In this text, the Apostle Paul is writing to the church at Corinth—found today in modern Greece. Although this church was started by Paul, the church was at odds with Paul. They even went so far as to question his authority as a messenger of Jesus Christ. But Paul persevered with this church—pleading with them in 5:13, “If we are out of our mind, it is for the sake of God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you.”

Then in verses 14-15 of chapter 5, Paul declares why he is willing to pay the price—to sacrifice and even suffer so that the message of Jesus gets out to others. He says, “For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all… he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves, but for him who died for them and was raised again.”

Paul is saying, “The reason I get out of my comfort zone, and go out of my way, and pay the price—offering to God the use of my time, my abilities, and my energy—is all because of Jesus. When I look at Jesus, I see how he paid the price for me—how he sacrificed his life on the cross—suffering and dying—just so my sins could be forgiven—and I could be reconciled back to God.”

What Jesus accomplished at the cross is life-changing for all who will receive it. For Paul declares in verse 17, “If anyone is in Christ, he or she is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!”

It was God’s love—seen at the Cross—the message of forgiveness and reconciliation—it is this Good News that motivated Paul to pay the price and make the sacrifice.

If you have trusted Jesus Christ as your Savior, you too have this message—it’s the greatest message in the world—“God loves you and Jesus Christ has forgiven your sins!”

For this reason, Paul declares in verse 20, “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. (For) God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

Because of this Good News, Paul was willing to pay whatever price. This Good News of God—it is that good. And in chapter 6, verses 3-13, Paul describes some of the sufferings he willingly endured—hardships, distresses, beatings, imprisonments, sleepless nights, hunger, and more.

You and I may never pay such a price so that others might hear the Gospel of Jesus—but God calls us all to be willing—for that is the mark of a disciple.

Our history book describes our founding pastor, Rev. Schlichter, as a man willing to pay the price. He was staunch, hardy, and earnest—a true example of the early pioneer missionary. When we go downstairs for our fellowship potluck meal, you can see a picture of him as you enter the fellowship hall.

When Rev. Schlichter arrived with his wife and six children, Kansas was a state of wide-open spaces for homesteading. In turn, Kansas was also wide-open in terms of opportunities for starting churches. In fact, after the close of the Civil War in 1865, over 250,000 immigrants had moved and settled into Kansas by 1875.

But most of these people were not the religious type. According to author Charles Correll, in his book, A Century of Congregationalism in Kansas, those who moved out to the new West were typically restless, venturesome, and sometimes a lawless bunch that sought to escape from the restrictive social, civic, and religious ways of the established East. In addition, those who happened to be practicing Christians were not Congregationalists.

Just like the farm land of Kansas, the spiritual ground of Kansas was rough and untilled. But Rev. Schlichter, and other Congregational missionaries who came during the 1870’s, were up to the task and willing to pay the price that God had laid on their hearts.

Think about it. Rev. Schlichter willingly left behind the comfort, security, and riches of life in the older, settled sections of America, back in the East, in order to embrace the trials and tribulations that were typical of new undeveloped territories.

Why did he do it? Why did he gladly pay the price? I believe he did so because the love of Jesus compelled him.

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After sixty years of ministry, and earning the title, “Father of the Congregational Church in Kansas,” Rev. Schlichter died at age 85. Today, you can find his tombstone in row two, second tree to the North, in the Sterling Cemetery.

God might never call you to be a pastor. Then again, maybe God is calling someone today under the sound of my voice to give their life in the service of full-time Christian ministry. But paying the price is not just for spiritual giants. Getting out and spreading the Good News of Jesus is a sacrifice that God calls every disciple to make.

In 1876, thirteen Congregational Churches were started in Kansas. Today, less than half of those continue to carry out a mission. Certainly, it can be said that the spiritual soil in Little River has been fertile for many years. For God has graciously provided this church with good pastors and good people who have been willing to labor in God’s harvest field.

Today, God still needs Christians in this community and beyond who are willing to pay the price—who are willing to make sacrifices so the Gospel gets spread. Sacrifices of time, energy, money, and know how. Giving up “my agenda” and taking on God’s agenda. Going out of my way, so I can go in God’s way. Sacrifices that say, “Here am I Lord, send me.” Imagine if every person in our church took on that call.

Today, there are people in this town who don’t know Christ in any real or saving way. If they were to die today, they would spend eternity apart from God.

Maybe you are one of those persons. In chapter 6 verse 2 of our text today, the Apostle Paul encourages you, “Now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.”

Becoming a Christian is recognizing that your good works cannot save you. You cannot earn your way into heaven. Heaven is not filled with good people. Heaven is filled with forgiven people—with those who have recognized their debt of sin and evil before God—and have put their entire hope and trust in Jesus Christ and his death on the cross—to forgive sin, grant eternal life, and bring us into true fellowship and peace with God. Right where you are seated, talk to God and ask Jesus to be your Savior.

The Christian life is a life of love and life of sacrifice. It’s life with God and life in service to God—a price worth paying.


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