Believe – The Rev Michelle Meech
March 19, 2023
Ana and I have been watching this show called Ted Lasso recently. The show begins with an American football coach who has a distinctive Kansas accent and an even more distinctive 1970’s mustache, who is hired to coach British football, which for us is of course soccer. It’s a refreshing and well-written comedy in which Ted, the head coach, is annoyingly positive and upbeat despite the fact that he knows nothing about soccer.
The soccer club that Ted comes to, is one that believes it is just fine the way it is. The players know their pecking order. There is a system of power in place that keeps things in a tentative balance. The team isn’t great, but it’s average… winning some, losing some. It plods along. The players have their places and everyone knows what to do and what to expect.
Now, Ted is ok with not knowing everything about soccer. He’s much more interested in learning everything he can about the players themselves. When he arrives at the locker room on his first day, one of the first things he does is to tape a sign to the wall that says “Believe.”
At first, the players blow him off. More interested in keeping the status quo. Ted even becomes the target of a few people associated with the team. But he starts to win their trust one by one. By listening to them. By encouraging them. And by celebrating them. Ted even wins the rest of the staff over, who are almost more cynical than the players.
He is so earnest that, at first, you think to yourself that this guy is just obtuse. Or, at the very least, foolish. Can he not see how everyone is shaking their heads, and calling him names, and rolling their eyes at his refusal to be as cynical as they are, or as mean as they expect him to be? But it turns out that he is not obtuse. But he is a believer in something greater than himself. And his belief in them is what they need to help them believe in themselves.
I wonder if you’ve ever experienced that yourself – another person believing in you at a time when you could not believe in yourself. Perhaps it was someone supporting you financially, or a letter sent to you or a pep talk like the ones given by Ted Lasso, even if was only a couple of words of support like, “You got this.”
It’s so easy for cynicism to take root in our hearts and get out of hand so that it becomes an infection that spreads beyond our ability to reign it in. Cynicism is easy, I think. It’s the low-hanging fruit. Genesis tells us that Adam and Eve ate of the fruit of the tree of knowledge. I don’t think it was knowledge they ate. I think it was cynicism, the shadow side of knowledge.
As we learn new things, as we study the world, as we see more and more exactly how broken our systems are… in the acquiring of knowledge, it’s very hard not to develop some cynicism. Knowledge is just that. Knowledge. It has no connotation, good or bad. Cynicism comes when we lose a sense of hope. It’s a defense against hope, actually. A way of guarding our broken heart.
“Why do we bother?” “What good will our efforts do?” “How many times can we go through the same disappointment?”
How do we possibly heal this?
Today’s story from John’s Gospel is multilayered. At first glance, it’s a simple story of healing someone who was born blind. But the healing itself is only two verses. The consequences of the healing, however, take up 33 verses. Why not just stop with the healing? What is so important about the rest of the story?
Biblical scholar Sandra Schneiders tells us in her book, Written That You May Believe, that the clue is in the healing itself – verses 6-7. Jesus “spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread mud on the man’s eyes, saying to him, ‘Go, wash in the pool of Siloam’ (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see.”
This word, Siloam, which means “sent,” is where the healing actually took place. The pool of Siloam. I think we sometimes think of water as healing because it cleanses. And this is true. But, I wonder if it’s not something else. Because you see, we walk into a pool of water and this water gives way to us – accepting us, our whole shape, every molecule of us, every part of us.
Water is a tangible reminder of the shape of God’s love for us, and therefore, God’s healing. It is infinitely varied, depending upon what is needed. It yields to us, enveloping us, holding us… in whatever way it is we come to God.
The healing in the Pool of Siloam reminds us of the healing power of baptism and what baptism means to us – we become the Body of Christ in and for the world. We are sent through immersion in the love of God that is given to us in Jesus. We are sent through immersion in the healing power of community to become what God needs in the world.
So, this is not just a story about healing a physical malady, it’s a story about belief. It’s a story about removing those things which block true knowledge, true vision. Those things which prevent us from truly listening for the voice of God’s love for us so that we may become who we are called to become. The healing comes, not in the relief from pain or relief from anxiety or fear. The healing comes in sacrificing our cynicism and allowing God to work through us. In the surrender of ourselves to something greater than ourselves, in the immersion of being sent, in the pool of Siloam.
And this requires belief that there is more than just me and you and our separate selves. Belief that something greater than us is carrying us. Some connective force that keeps us in relationship. Some Love that binds us to one another. The healing comes in being sent to enact that love in the world. For the world.
As this healed person in today’s story is asked by the powers-that-be, not once but twice, about this miracle, he reports what he has experienced and marvels at their disbelief, saying: “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again?” This healing story in John’s Gospel takes 33 verses is because healing is not and cannot be just about us – about feeling better about ourselves only so that we feel a momentary sense of relief. That’s not healing.
Healing occurs in the sending. It’s a form of witnessing, really. Because a healing shift in us has an impact on our relationships, an impact on the things we do, the choices we make. Others are likely to see something new in us, that something has shifted. And, perhaps, because of this, something shifts in them too. There is a reverberating effect. Like a stone dropped in a still pool, belief ripples out to those in our vicinity, yielding to them. Accepting them, every molecule of them.
And we can continue to resist the water. We can continue to choose cynicism. Or we choose something different.
These 33 verses given to us by John give us glimpses of this reverberating effect. How healing and belief change relationships, changes whole systems. Sometimes we are met with others who join us so that new relationships are formed or older relationships are renewed. Sometimes we are faced with the fallout of relationships with those who are unable to leave cynicism behind. And sometimes, we can actually become a target for those who are overly-invested in old systems and belief patterns.
Regardless of how we are met by others when we are sent, it is in the sending that we are actually healed, in the reweaving of relationships that change the entire community, the entire system around us.
In this TV series called Ted Lasso, the healing happens when one person has an impact on another person. Who has an impact on another person. Meanwhile, another person does something a little differently and that shift reverberates like a stone in a still pond so that several others feel the water rise around them and envelope them. So, it’s not a unidirectional experience, it’s a network of healing.
And this continues until the members begin to believe in themselves, in one another, and in that which holds them together. It doesn’t happen all at once but eventually there is enough belief so that the entire team can be buoyed up when they go through something hard. Cynicism cannot take hold in this. And no one on the team, no one in this system, will tolerate disrespect.
You see, the larger issues we have in this world, all come back to this – healing through being sent. We have no chance of addressing sexism or racism, classism or homophobia, ageism or ableism… we have no change of curating any change in the world unless and until we are willing to be healed ourselves, until we are willing to let go of our own cynicism, and embrace hope.
Christian healing is not and cannot be for ourselves alone. It never was. Our healing must come to pass through our mission as Christ in and for the world. It may be initiated in a healing prayer offered here in this space, but it is only completed as we take this healing into the world and allow ourselves to become that stone dropped into the still pool of water.
I invite you today, in this season of Lent, to take advantage of the Healing Prayers offered. Bring the things that get in your way of experiencing God’s peace, ask for healing from cynicism and hopelessness and privilege. And believe. Believe for yourself and your own healing. And believe for the world and all our collective healing.
 Schneiders, Sandra. Written That You May Believe. Pg 151.