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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Thursday, October 23, 2003

Revelation 21:1-6a
All Saints’ Day 2003
James McTyre
Lake Hills Presbyterian Church
October 26, 2003

This morning, we’re making promises and remembering saints. The stuff of life tends to come in bunches. In my ministry, I can rarely remember a time when I was preparing for a funeral that I wasn’t also preparing for a birth or a baptism. God gives a balance to life. One of the best known scriptures tells us there’s a time to be born and a time to die – and so often they’re the same time. This morning, we baptize and we memorialize, and I wonder if they aren’t two sides of the same coin. Life’s beginning and life’s end – alpha and omega – all are one in Christ Jesus.

I want to introduce you to some saints today. Their presence is with us, whether we realize it or not. I’m not talking about the supernatural. No, their presence is with us in the most natural of ways. Because these are saints whose lives have intersected with the life of our church. It’s just natural that anytime one life rubs up against another, things change. And so I want to introduce you to these saints who are part of us, or in some cases reintroduce their memory.

Myra Overcash was a beautiful and remarkable lady. When she smiled, she made you relax, and THAT is quite a gift. It’s a sign of inner peace, and the roots of that kind of smile go far deeper than momentary courtesy; they come from strength. Myra Overcash had tremendous strength. She raised two sons, one of whom has many special needs. She moved wherever she needed to as the wife of a business executive. Toward the end of her life, when her organs were shutting down, she asked me why she was still living. I said, “Because you’re one tough lady.” And she smiled.

Myra was an East Knoxville girl. And something I’ve come to learn is that the people who grew up in East Knoxville, like Myra, like Judge & Helen Child, like John Brichetto – East Knoxville people stick together. And Myra was just about the best I’ve ever met at keeping up. She could rattle off the names and memories of people she knew from childhood, sixty or more years ago, and she could tell you where many or most of them were, and what they had done. She called them, she wrote them. She knew how to be a loyal friend, and again, THAT is quite a gift.

Myra and Hugh only came to worship here at Lake Hills a few times. Their health kept them mostly at home, and to this day, keeps Hugh from getting around as he’d like. But for a little while Myra’s life became part of this body of faith. And by the grace of God, her faith, her peacefully strong smile, continues as a part of us.

Myra Overcash died July 3, 2003.

Those of you who were here in our church’s early years knew well Mary Elizabeth Witherspoon. Her husband, Jack, is a charter member of the congregation. Mary Elizabeth never actually joined the church. She was a Quaker, through and through, a member of the Society of Friends, as they’re officially called. And she was a friend to this church. In the early years, Mary Elizabeth taught, and organized, and kept this church on track, because she was our friend.

I continue to learn about Mary Elizabeth, and her acts of friendship and conscience. Back in the late 50’s and early 60’s when the first lunch counter in Knoxville was integrated so blacks and whites could eat at the same table, Mary Elizabeth very quietly went to our minister, Bob Larson, and other community leaders. She asked them to do one simple thing – and that was to go to that lunch counter once a week and eat lunch, so the owner would know he wasn’t losing any business.

At Mary Elizabeth’s funeral, the Witherspoons’ longtime housekeeper, an African American woman stood up to speak. She told of the time when she and Mary Elizabeth were getting the house ready for a dinner party. She said that she told Mrs. Witherspoon, “When your friends get here, I’ll go upstairs.” “No,” Mary Elizabeth said. “When my friends get here, you’ll be one of them.”

Mary Elizabeth Witherspoon died April 13, 2003.

When Kristen and I first came to Lake Hills, I visited with the older members of the congregation. One day I came home and told Kristen, “I met the sweetest lady today. You’ve got to meet her.” Irma Lee Fischer was kind enough to adopt Kristen and me as foster grandchildren for a while. We took her to lunch several times, which in itself was a treat. You see, Irma Lee didn’t just eat a meal – she savored every bite. She’d eat so slowly, tasting everything, and trying to figure out which spices, and which ingredients had been used. She was about five-foot-two and a hundred pounds – maybe her eating habits helped. Lunch with Irma Lee lasted a couple of hours.

Because this care and interest went farther than the food. Irma Lee was the same way with people. She didn’t do small talk; Irma Lee did deep talk. She’d ask questions and listen as if she was trying to savor every word. She remembered details. She cared.

Again, Irma Lee was someone who was active in the church a number of years ago, so there are a lot of people here today who never met her. But her presence, her kindness and her savoring of persons rubbed off on this body of faith.

Irma Lee Fischer died May 26, 2003.

And then there was Truett Lindner. One of the former ministers of this church said it best when he said of Truett, “He was a saint in spite of himself.” Truett was one of God’s unique creations, through and through. He was as genuine a character as you’d ever meet. And if you missed his genuine opinions, Truett would be glad to repeat them for you in no uncertain language.

I remember one of my first Sunday mornings at Lake Hills. Everyone was standing around in the front hallway, talking. I saw Truett and I think it was Charlie and Frank and Jim Worden talking so I went up to them. After a moment of polite conversation, Truett looked at me and said, “Now, preacher, I’ve got a joke for you.” Now, other people might lower their voice when telling a joke of this flavor in public. Other people might not tell a joke of this flavor in the crowded front hallway of the church. Other people wouldn’t have told it to their pastor. But other people aren’t Truett Lindner. It became kind of a ritual. Every Sunday, Truett would have a joke for me. I would see him coming and I’d just try to make sure I wasn’t standing near any first-time visitors.

Truett had a work shed out back of his house, filled to the ceiling with every nut and bolt, every power tool he’d ever owned. I’d come over for a visit and Truett would kindly dust off a lawn chair for me, and he’d wax poetic with stories of his life, many of which may have been true. Truett grew up in Bellbuckle, Tennessee, which he made sound like the land of Davy Crockett. Truett was the paperboy in Bellbuckle. At the right time in his story, Truett would reach behind a cabinet and pull out the miniature .22 caliber rifle he used to carry in his paper bag. Bellbuckle was a town that armed its paperboys.

Truett was passionate about his family, his dogs, his country and this church. There were many years when Truett WAS our Property Committee.

Truett Lindner died January 29, 2003.

But on the other side of the coin…

Brayden Michael Batts was born August 8, 2003. And today, October 26, 2003, Brayden became part of this living body of faith. Brayden is part of a new generation of this church. He’s a member of the “baby boom” that we’re experiencing of late, the rash of reproductive evangelism that has Cheryl wringing her hands over where we’re going to put all these babies. Wouldn’t it be great if someday Brayden stands before this congregation, holding yet another saint-in-the-making?

Our church is alive and well and birthin’ these babies because of saints like Myra, and Mary Elizabeth, and Irma Lee, and Truett. Their lives touched this body of faith and we wouldn’t be the same place were it not for them. Each person who enters these doors is a gift from God. Some of these gifts are now memories we treasure. And some of these gifts are a new generation of promises for the future. But from their beginning to their end – alpha to omega – all are one in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Today we baptize and we memorialize; we remember and we celebrate our Lord God. And we rejoice in God’s promise that the home of God is among mortals, and he will dwell with them, and they are able to be his peoples; and between the lines of our each of our lives, God himself is with us.