This week’s eNewsletter Feature
was written by Rev. Raymond Hylton
FPCE senior pastor.
Evanston is home to many beautiful and historic church buildings. These buildings are more than brick and mortar ediﬁces. Rather, they represent a gathering space, a community of saints and sinners whose lives intersect and intermingle, telling a story of God’s faithfulness among imperfect people.
These buildings reflect an outpouring of our utmost thanks and praise for God’s unending Love and Mercy toward us. Unlike the buildings, that Love endures forever.
I think it was my second Sunday as new pastor of First Presbyterian Church when an excited member of our church stopped by my oﬃce as it was still littered with unpacked boxes of books waiting to find homes on the empty shelves. This member told me that two of Evanston’s renowned pastors were in the pews to hear me preach, and the member wanted to introduce me to these eminent leaders after the service.
Back then, I had no context for the names Rev. Hysel B. Taylor and Rev. Hardist E. Lane, who, respectively, served 29 years of faithful service as the senior pastor at Second Baptist Church (Rev. Taylor) and 37 years at Fisher Memorial AME Zion Church (Rev. Lane). Not to equate these men with buildings, but there was a lot of Evanston church history sitting there in our pews that morning, pastors who had labored long and laid a strong, sound foundation for this town’s Christian faith community.
Sometimes, during the week, I go into either Walker Chapel or the Sanctuary, and, like a sponge, I try to soak up the silence, stillness, and powerful beauty of these spaces.
Sitting in the stillness, bracketed above by our massive stained-glass window images of New Testament and Old Testament Saints on my right and left, I try to imagine the thousands of people who sat in our pews for over 154 years. Even though they walked this earth in a different time and place, they breathed the same air, occupied the same sacred space. I reﬂect on their stories of hardships, triumphs, unfaithfulness, defeats, and redemption. Their stories are our stories.
In Christian theology, the Saints are not dead — in fact, the Saints in heaven are more alive than we are. (See Matthew 17:1-3 and Luke 23:42-44.) This is because they dwell with God, they see God face to face. They are the abiding eternal proof of the truth that, indeed, death cannot separate them or us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.
Jesus comforted grief-stricken Martha, sister of Lazarus, with the words “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying. Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die. Do you believe this, Martha?” (John 11:25-26)
Our faith is derivative and passed on. We learn from the millions of imperfect saints who walked the path before us. This means that every growing follower of Jesus should be a student of Scripture and history. These twin disciplines teach one big, clear lesson: what we are going through is not unique. Others have endured wars, disease, moral failures, apostasy, desertion, etc.
With trust and faith in God, throughout all time, the Love endures, the Saints abide.
On Sunday, when you join us for our third Sunday in Lent, take a moment and look around at the faces of your church family, and then try to imagine that there was a time when others sat where they sit, and there will be a time when we will be gone and others will take our place. This is the beauty and power of the gathered church in sacred space and time.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us (Hebrews 12:1-2).
Humbled to be part of the journey with you,
Pastor Raymond Hylton