Saturday, September 29, 2012

October 2012

Smoky Mountain Reflections
October 2012
            Fall greetings! The leaves will turn this month as our Lord puts on beautiful bursts of color, the last big hurrah for all the burgeoning growth that took place this past year. The four-month break from mowing the lawn is just around the corner...even though I enjoy mowing the lawn, I also like the break.  The two volunteer pumpkins that grew in my back yard this year will move to the front porch to join all the fall decorations I pulled down for Gerda just a few days ago.  So as nature goes asleep and we get into a new winter rhythm, longer nights, sunnier cooler days and all the tradition that comes with this time of year, I can’t help but feel upbeat.  Of course being the optimist that I am, it is an easy thing to feel upbeat...all is well in my universe and I hope and pray the same for you.

            Another significant thing that we celebrate along with Hallow'en (yes, the apostrophe belongs there as it is a word derived from Hallows Eve) the evening before All Saints Day or All Hallows Day.  In our Lutheran circles and in much of Protestantism, we also celebrate the 495th anniversary of the Reformation—that fateful day in 1517 when Martin Luther nailed the 95 theses or topics for debate on the church door in Wittenberg.  Luther was trying to get the church back to its biblical roots and to dispose of non-biblical practices.  While this is a debate within Trinitarian Christianity, one thing all Christians who are members of the invisible church on earth can acknowledge and agree on, is the fact that there are really only two religions on earth—those who are members of the body of Christ and those who are not.

            That may seem to be a bit over simplistic but it is the truth.  Christianity is the only religion in which the god comes to you, and gives His life for you in order for you to have the goal of the religion—faith in Him which leads to eternity in paradise with Him.  From this faith, works of love for God and neighbor flow as a natural response of gratitude for this great undeserved gift from God.  In all other religions you must go to the god seeking to appease, and garner favor through your good works.  This applies even to non-religious belief systems, the goal of which is pleasing the ultimate authority or god in order to earn that authority's approval or kindness. Let’s consider the following examples of other religions or belief systems that are all based on "works righteousness", that is you working to get right with your god, not Him making you righteous through Christ.

            Atheism and Agnosticism: these are only concerned with pleasing one god—self. If I say it is ok, then I am good enough to please my I am the ultimate authority so if I meet my standard, then I reach the ultimate goal of my belief system...self satisfaction.  Mormonism & Islam:  I cover these together because they are so similar. Both have no concept of hell, just levels of heaven.  Both teach that if you please God you will be rewarded either with your own planet to be god over and populate by having much sex, or a paradise with wine that does not inebriate and 70 virgins with swelling breast to have eternal sex with.  See how similar  they are—they must have the same author. Modern Judaism: It believes that by pleasing God you will be blessed by Him in this life and the next; however because they reject the fulfillment of God's promises in Christ, they end up relying on their own works which are as worthless as ours.  All forms of Eastern  Mysticism: Buddhism, Gnosticism, Hinduism, Kabbalah, Sufism, Taoism—all believe in various ways that all reality is an illusion and by being good (which is hard to define) you will eventually be good enough to reunite with the pure enlightenment or consciousness.  So as you can see, in all of these major belief systems you must be good to get to “god,” however you define “god,” be it yourself, a powerful yet fickle being, or a state of mind.

            Another thing that sets Christianity apart is its existence in time. It is the only faith that functions fully in all of history and has a plan for the salvation of "ALL" from the beginning to the end of time.  Those who lived before Christ are redeemed by Christ through their faith in God's promise and all afterward are saved through faith in fulfillment of that promise.  If anyone does not have access to this redeeming truth, it is a result of human sin, not God's indifference.  With the exception of  Judaism all other faith systems do not concern themselves with anyone who preexisted their religion.  Mormonism is less than 200 years old.  There are at least a half dozen or more belief systems that are less than 500 years old.  Islam is only about 1400 years old and a number of eastern systems are less than 1500 years old. Only paganism and Hinduism predate Christianity, but Hinduism, like all forms of Eastern Mysticism, does not concern itself with history. And what we know of ancient paganism is from the historical sciences, not any modern variations that have little or no root in any history that is not plagued with massive gaps.
            So the two basic faith groups are this: 1) Work to get to your god and if (when) you fall short ....too bad, or 2) God came to you; you will fall short, but He paid the price; work in response to this great gift.

Enjoy your fall season.
In Christ,
Pastor Portier

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Smoky Mountain Reflections
September 2012

            A couple of weeks ago, the Scoutmaster of Troop 119 which meets here at St. Paul Lutheran Church sent me an e-mail. He was requesting the use of our Fellowship Hall for a scouting potluck on the 12th of August.  This short notice request was unlike him.  He knows I need time to ask the Council about such things.  That should have been my first clue that something was afoot.  I decided that since we had nothing planned for the 12th, I would just let the troop have their potluck and let the Council know at the meeting on the 21st.

            On a separate occasion, Pastor Dettmer offered to do the liturgy if I was ever feeling tired.  He said later that I had a puzzled look on my face as I thanked him for the offer.  I was puzzled....did I look tired? ...I did not feel tired.  This was another clue that something was afoot.

            On August the 12th, things got even stranger.  As we were finishing up the Bible study between services, someone arrived with a pot of hot beans.  As I started to put things together, I thought I may have to apologize after the service as we may have two potlucks scheduled for the same time in the same place!!!  I was sure to come out of this with egg on my face and better break out my "I am sorry…it is all my fault speech" which I am embarrassed to say, I am very experienced at making.

            As I was puzzling over this and making the pre-service announcements, all of my worries were about to come to an end.  Our head elder, Dave Roberts, came forward and started making a speech that was making my head very big as he said all kinds of nice things about me.  Then Pastor Dettmer entered all robed up and was ready to do the service liturgy, Then Pastor Derek Roberts from Praise Lutheran Church in Maryville entered, all robed up ready to preach.  Then our head elder told me that in appreciation for my service and in recognition of the 5th anniversary of my ordination, I was welcome to have a seat in the pew next to my beautiful wife and enjoy the service as a parishioner.

             Not only was I very surprised, because they pulled this off very well and I was clueless, but now I was relieved that there was no potluck conflict following the service!  All of these things had been coordinated; there was no Boy Scout potluck.  The people I am blessed to serve decided to have a fellowship meal in gratitude for our time of service together.  All involved did a very good job of fooling me!  Thanks for the surprise.

            It has been a great pleasure to serve as your Pastor these past five years, and if it be God's will, I look forward to many more years of service in this place.  I cannot adequately express my gratitude to God for the opportunity to serve as your Pastor, and to you all for your kind cards and gifts in honor of this occasion.

            What follows is some of the information I sent to the paper to announce my ordination and it contains some interesting history.  Enjoy a brief walk down memory lane.  On 10 November 1483 Martin Luther was born in Eisleben, Germany.  After being frightened by lightning in 1505, he vowed to become a monk and was ordained as a priest 500 (and five) years ago in 1507.  On 31 October 1517, he posted the famous 95 Theses that started the Reformation. 

            Fast forward to 3 November 1817.  On the very edge of what is now Sevier County, very close to what many of us know as the location of “Forbidden Cave”, there was a German settlement at Bird’s Crossroads.  Henry Jacob Eli and Jacob Bird acting as officers for the church, purchased an acre of land for $2.50 near Jacob Derrick’s grist mill, and on that land was a meeting house called Saint James Lutheran Church.  Very few Lutheran pastors made it to the East Tennessee frontier, so most of the German descendants start appearing on local Methodist church roles by the late 1840’s. 

            Fast forward another 100 years before another the Lutheran church would again establish itself in Sevier County.  In the late 1950’s, Our Savior Lutheran Church was started in Gatlinburg. In the 1980's, Holy Trinity (now Celebration) was established in Seymour.  Then in 1994, a small group of Lutherans started worshiping in the wedding chapel at the Holiday Inn in Pigeon Forge.  They later purchased and worshiped in a home just off McCarter Hollow Road for 5 years.  On Christmas of 1999, they celebrated Christmas in their new sanctuary at 1610 Pullen Road.  Then in July 2006, I was blessed to become part of the history of this family of believers as their Vicar.  On August the 12th, 2007, only one week after the 500th anniversary year of Martin Luther’s ordination, the first Lutheran ordination in the history of Sevier County took place at Saint Paul Lutheran Church in Sevierville, Tennessee.  This was a wonderful day in my life and I am very pleased that you all took the time to make the 5th anniversary of that event a wonderful day as well.

In Christ,
Pastor Portier