Am I Prejudiced
Sermon published by Pastor Joel Pukallus
Bible reading: John 1:43-51
What are your biases?
Everybody has biases. Everybody has prejudices. This isn’t a criticism, it’s just a fact of being human. Everyone sees things one way or another. Some of these biases we start with early, and never change.. If you don’t believe me, try this one: yes or no: Pineapple on pizza? Others we can change as we grow.
You see, in theory, I don’t think pineapple belongs on pizza, or even less on hamburgers. But if I lived in a world where the only type of pizza has Hawaiian, I have a feeling that my bias would change. In fact, even though I don’t like it in theory, I will eat it now, so theory and practicality are two different things.
There is a specific kind of bias that is talked about a lot lately called “Confirmation bias”. This means that you tend to interpret new evidence in a way that supports what you already believe, even if it does not say this at all.
It goes further: If someone you trust, or identify with as like you, or part of your group or tribe says something, you are more likely to believe it, (whether it is true or not) than if someone on the opposite side of your bias says it: even if it is exactly the same thing!
And we can confirm each other in our biases, which is even more dangerous! If you hang out only with people who believe exactly the same as you, and no-one is ever there to argue an opposite viewpoint, then you tend to convince each other more and more that you are right, and so get more radical in your views. This is called Group-think, or grouptalk.
This, by the way, is how social media works. You tend to click on articles from people who agree with your viewpoint. Now, the social media programs have algorithms that will put more things in front of you that are in line with the views you hold, and less of the opposing views. It therefore becomes easy to think that you are right and that the whole world thinks like you, as you never see anyone argue the opposite side.
All biases are a kind of close-mindedness, and often religion encourages close-mindedness. Think about it: an absolute certainty that you are right, a tendency not to listen to dissenters. Persecution of those who present different viewpoints.
Look at Nathanael. The name Nathanael occurs in one gospel, the gospel of John. But, since about the 9th century A.D he has been thought to be the disciple named in the other three gospels at Bartholomew.
Now, if he is in fact Bartholomew, then his bias is remarkable. (And I think, hilarious). Why? Because Bartholomew was from Cana, the place where Jesus first miracle would take place, right after the call of these disciples.
When Nathanael found out Jesus was the son of Joseph from Nazareth he scoffed and said: “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Why did he say that? Was Nazareth some distant place from Cana, was it in an area with a bad reputation? Was it the kind of place you wanted to live far away from? Do you know how afar away it was from Cana? 6 kilometres as the crow flies! 9 by road, Or to put it in perspective, about the distance from the Bunya campus north of Dalby here, to the Cecil Plains turnoff to the East. Basically within the area of our town.
I wonder what he had against Nazareth? There are no rivalries like local ones’, are there? The ones between towns who play footy and cricket against each other.
If Nathanael had stuck with his first bias and refused to listen any further because of his contempt for a neighbouring town, his place in the 12 would have been over before it began, his journey of salvation through Jesus Christ: aborted.
Now I told you, didn’t I, that religion often encourages close-mindedness. And that might not sit well with some. But I have also said before, and I believe it to be true, that Christianity done right is NOT a religion. It is a freedom from everything that binds, from ligare-to bind or tie. Christianity is a breaking of the bonds of our mind, body and soul.
Jesus knows everything in our mind. He knows everything about us, and his Father still, despite our biases and close-mindedness sees us as his sons and daughters whom he loves, with whom he is well pleased. (Just in case you didn’t hear it enough last week)
Jesus knows us so well, and he blows our biases and prejudices and preconceptions wide open.
Jesus called Nathanael a true Israelite in whom there was nothing false. Yet his revelation of who he was to him made him shout out something that would have a true Israelite stoned to death: “Rabbi, you are the Son of God!”
Can you see how much Jesus changes minds and hearts? He calls all people to be his disciples, not members bound to a set of beliefs, but people who are willing to have their lives transformed, and their bonds broken.
This inclusivity, this understanding that Jesus calls ALL people, whether we like them or not, whether we identify with them or not, is one of the guiding principles of St. Marks, that of inclusivity. And it feeds into another one, to be the church of Jesus Christ, we will be encouraging discipleship. Which means we cannot leave anyone comfortable in their biases and prejudices, happy to sit in a pew and never be changed by the transforming love of Jesus. If we do this, we are short-changing you. No, as I once heard a Pastor say on accepting a call to a new congregation, we are called to comfort the troubled, and trouble the comfortable!
So many people are happy to grow a little bit, but not to have the very foundations of things that they have always thought: their biases and prejudices, die.
But God is not just in the business of growth. God is in the business of resurrection. But there cannot be any resurrection, if there is not any death. As strange as this sounds, I pray that your walk of faith might shake you to your core, that it may challenge ALL of your preconceptions, your biases and prejudices and stubborn ideas, and that in being transformed by the renewing of your minds, you may know with that same certainty that Nathanael had that “Rabbi, you are the Son of God. You are the King of Israel!”