Sermon by Nicole Garcia at the MLP National Conference at St. Mark’s Presbyterian Church in Tucson, AZ on Saturday, September 28, 2013.
The Peace of our Lord, Jesus Christ, be with you. I would like to thank all of you for inviting a Lutheran to your gathering. For so many years our denominations were strangers but now, as neighbors and ecumenical partners we break bread together and we see Jesus sitting with us. When I was given the opportunity to select the reading I wanted to talk to you about today, I immediately thought of the Good Samaritan. As a first year seminarian, it may be a risk to go with a well-known parable. In fact, the Good Samaritan has made its way into the secular world. In Colorado, we have a Good Samaritan law that protects an individual from being sued for helping at the scene of an accident. Our law makers disregarded the fact that Jesus did not have many good things to say about Samaritans in the previous chapter of Luke. In those lines, the Samaritans refused to welcome Jesus. But Jesus frequently uses the outsider and the stranger to make a point. The fact that a Samaritan stopped to help the man who was beaten would have surprised and perhaps angered first-century readers, but that minor point was lost on the Colorado legislature. All they wanted to use was the feel good part of the story, the part that someone took the time out of their busy schedule to help someone who was less fortunate. I am comforted by the fact that my state legislature will allow me to stand in front of a judge with my Bible and justify my actions because Jesus told me to do it.
What I want to do today is to take a look at this lesson from a few different angles. The easiest is to look at the surface and tell myself all I have to do is help those less fortunate. Ta da. All done. I have a few more minutes, so I will take another look. We have four groups of characters. First we have the robbers. They certainly have to be male and men of color and from a lower socio-economic group. Next we have the priest and the Levite. The priest. Do I need to say more? Then we have the Levite. I think Levite is Greek or Latin for evangelical, right wing, anyway. Obviously, they are too holy to be of any help. Then we have the Good Samaritan. Well. That’s little old good doer, me. Then we have the poor soul who was beaten. Most likely a person dressed too provocatively or was in the wrong neighborhood at the wrong time. That person should have had the foresight to bring his friends, Smith & Wesson along. Well, isn’t that special? But no, that isn’t special. This view is that of those who try to shove their myopic viewpoint down our throats. Unfortunately, there are too many people who believe this viewpoint is true. Now, I want to take a third look. Let me put on my multicultural lenses on. Let me see. I am Latina. Check. A transgender Latina at that. Check, check. I am Christian in the LGBTIAQ community. Oh, that’s a check. Gosh, you look in the dictionary for intersections of oppression and you see my face. I should have the multicultural piece locked down. I must be miles ahead of all of y’all. Oh. That’s rather self-serving and self-centered. That sounds a lot like being a robber. I am building myself up at the expense of every one of you? Do I do that? Talk behind people’s back? I am a graduate student, a counseling intern, teaching assistant, and in seminary, so that must count for something. But does it?
The question is, who is a robber? Ok, so I am taking Biblical Greek. I think I sound out the words like I just came back from the dentist and half my face is still numb. It takes forever to write out and translate sentences. As a teaching assistant, I get to grade lots of paper for my professor. There are five students in the class whose first language is not English. I found myself complaining to the prof that the ESL students need to go to the writing center because they don’t always use proper English grammar and composition. As I am whining on about how I think these students have to write better, my professor stops me with one of her “all seeing looks” and says, “Nicole, do you hear what you are saying”. Oh, my. I am taking way these student’s humanity because I know better. I find myself throwing around judgment and my academic superiority around. Oh, Lord. Does this make me a robber? Let’s move on. The priest and Levite. Well, I do what I can. The people who stand on corners and beg, well that’s a scam. I know it. It’s ok to walk by them. I just don’t have time to volunteer for every school and church activity. I have papers to grade, clients to counsel, and tons of Greek homework. I always make sure the police and paramedics are on the way to accidents. I just don’t have time to stop all the time. I’ll just get in the way.
But the Samaritan. I do help all the time. I write a check every month to my church. I really wish it were a full 10% but tuition keeps going up. Besides, I give a lot to non-profits. I did teach Bible study to the high school students a couple years ago. I do a bunch of stuff, I just can’t think of it all right now. But, I do my part. I do, I really do. It’s just that. Well. Life is really hard. Things keeping piling up. There are bills to pay and prices going up. I have professors to keep happy as a student and a teaching assistant. Greek homework takes up at least three hours a day. People want so much. Besides, I get beat up all the time. Not physically, but the verbal assaults never stop. I hardly ever watch the news anymore. There is always a news story about a Transwoman who was murdered somewhere. The news always makes it a point to say she was a prostitute and a person of color. Then there is the immigration debate. My family has been in the United States for at least 150 years, but it still hurts to hear that Mexicans are draining the economy and do nothing but bring drugs into the country. Then there is the marriage issue. Destroying the sanctity of marriage. Make the penalty for adultery a stoning offense again and I will believe they believe in the sanctity of marriage. At least it isn’t as bad as when I was going through transition. The snide comments. The glares. Always being afraid that a rock will be thrown through my window. Sometimes I wonder how I made it. No. I know how. My salvation came when I walked into St. Paul Lutheran Church. I walked into the sanctuary when I was early in my transition. I swear, I think I looked like a teenage girl who got into her mother’s makeup. I was terrified that the people would turn, laugh, and point at the man in a dress. But they didn’t. These strangers reached out their arms and embraced me. They showed me what the love of Christ is supposed to look like. I was told that I was a beautiful child of God. That church was and is filled with Good Samaritans. They nurtured my faith and help me celebrate my faith. Today, I am assaulted by the thoughtless words of self-interest and fear, but I know there are angels around me who help me climb out of the gutter every day, but as I reach out my hand for help, I realize that the hand I grasp is reaching out for help as well. As that person pulls me out of my gutter, I pull them out of theirs. By helping me, I help them. It is a wonderful cycle.
Lord knows I am still a robber and a Levite. Jesus said to have mercy and to love our neighbors, but he said that because he knows I am a sinner. He knew he had to die, to die on the cross – the horrid, painful death of a criminal – to pay the price for all our sin. Every day, I try to do the best I can, but I am far from perfect. I judge. I am envious. I am jealous. I don’t stop to help at every opportunity, but all I can do is the best I can for I know I am saved by Grace through Faith. As a good Lutheran, I had to slip that in. Saved by Grace through Faith. The Lord reminded me of that yesterday. As a dedicated church nerd, I received my daily email from the ELCA. The reading of the day was from Ephesians. Yes, the chapter that says we are saved by grace through faith. When I first heard that phrase, I thought that when I had enough faith in God, I would be good enough to receive the love and forgiveness of the Almighty. I got it wrong. Jesus died on the cross and paid the price with his blood so that I can have the love and forgiveness of the Lord – period. I don’t have to do anything, but say thank you. Why? Because God has faith in me. God has faith in me that I will recognize the times when I am judgmental, envious, resentful, petty, and well, a sinner, and want to do better. That I will take heed of the words of Jesus and “love the Lord with all my heart, and with all my soul, and with all my strength, and with my entire mind; and will try every day to love my neighbor as myself. To do this impossible task, he sent a bunch of robbers, and Levites, and Samaritans to help me every step of the way. Thank you, Lord Jesus, thank you. Amen.
Nicole Garcia began her transition, male-to-female, in 2003 while employed as a law enforcement officer for the state of Colorado. Nicole successfully completed her transition in 2005 and currently earns a living as a state parole officer. Nicole is the co-chair of the board of ReconcilingWorks: Lutherans for Full Participation, an international organization that works for the full inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Lutherans. Nicole is also on the boards of the Interfaith Working Group and One Colorado. Nicole is currently a graduate student in counseling at the University of Colorado Denver. Nicole is scheduled to earn a M.A. in counseling in May 2014. Nicole has been accepted to a specialized M. Div. Distance Learning program at Luther Seminary. She will begin her journey toward ordained ministry in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America in September 2013.