Once upon a time, in jolly old England
there was a gameshow called, I’m not even joking, Golden Balls. There were several rounds between multiple players.
Each round added money to the pot and eliminated
opponents until it got down to the final two going
for all the prize money.
The very last round is called “split or steal”.
It’s based on an old psychological experiment,
designed to see whether people would trust each other
to work for the common good,
or whether people would look out first and only for themselves – if, instead of sharing, they would adopt an
“If I can’t have it, no one can” attitude
even knowing their greed might mean no one
gets anything in the end.
In the game, the contestants each have two
golden balls in front of them.
One has the word “split” written in it and the other “steal”.
Each contestant will choose to split or steal the prize.
Once they choose the ball
the contestants reveal to everyone their choice simultaneously.
If both choose to split, then the prize money is split between them.
If one chooses split and the other steal,
then the one who chose steal gets the entire prize.
If both contestants chose steal – if both tried to take everything –
then no one wins anything.
The tricky part is before they choose
they are given the chance to talk to each other openly.
Remember these are complete strangers.
Each contestant tries to convince the other to choose split
because – they promise – that is what they are going to do.
This happens in every episode.
Both parties emphatically beg each other to choose split
so that they both win. On occasion it happens.
Both are trustworthy and honest and walk away
with half the prize money.
But it wouldn’t be an entertaining show
if that was how it always happened.
Let me show you a clip from one episode where
100,000 pounds or about 170,000 dollars was on the line.
The second clip I want to show from the game has
received some internet buzz.
There is about $22,000.00 on the line and
one of the contestants employs a strategy
that has never been done on this show before.
You can tell by the reaction of his opponent
just how odd this strategy is.
When we chose to trust someone we are always taking a risk.
We can laugh and cheer at games like Golden Balls
because all that is really on the line is prize money.
At worst you walk out with what you had walking in
and perhaps a little embarrassment.
But what if there was more at stake?
When we see someone taking advantage of trust,
it can cause us to harden ourselves against trusting others. Strangers, friends, church members… it doesn’t matter;
every time we experience a break in trust,
it gets a little bit harder to trust again.
How many times are we out driving to go to the store
or to work and we see a stranger on the side of the road
with a cardboard sign asking for money?
How many times do we feel compelled to stop and
give them something?
I can tell you, for me, it’s very tough to convince myself
that that person is being truthful about their situation.
The trouble is most of the time we fail to realize
that we are basing our judgments on our own past experience
not this individuals current situation.
Trust is tricky when it comes to strangers.
We do well to be careful… but we also do well to, when in doubt,
err on the side of generosity and good faith… because:
Times are tough and people are in need.
Jesus wasn’t joking when he said
“The poor you will have with you always.”
We cannot ignore the possibility that the person seeking
our help is truly in need.
I don’t know about you but I can live with being fooled;
I couldn’t stand being cruel.
Sometimes it is even difficult to trust the people that we know –
sometimes it’s actually even more difficult, isn’t it?
We develop specific comfort levels with the type of personal
knowledge that we are willing to share with one another.
I will share only this much about my life and no more
because it is too painful,
or too embarrassing,
or people would think less of me if they knew this.
To a very select few your life may indeed be an open book,
while to others there are entire sections of your life
that you deem off limits,
because you don’t feel you can trust them with
that kind of personal knowledge.
The church is a good example of this as well.
We are good about sharing surface things or good things,
but when it comes to admitting that there
are messy areas of our lives that we need prayer for
or accountability for, we shut people out.
We all want to pray for and support each other
but we are certainly wary about airing our own
dirty laundry or accepting help even when
it’s help we genuinely need.
We don’t want people to look too closely
and realize that our lives are just as messy as the next person.
We come into church thinking that we need to look
like we have it all together or people might think
we aren’t good enough to be here.
We fail to trust each other with our burdens,
because we think those burdens are unique and ours to bear alone.
This kind of thinking, however,
does not even come into play when we are talking
about trusting God which is what the psalmist
is writing about in our scripture today.
When we speak of trust – in people or in God –
we are really talking about faith.
Not faith as in a list of specific beliefs
to which we give some form of intellectual assent,
but rather faith as that in which we place our fullest confidence.
When we place our confidence or trust in people,
or money, or stature, or power, we are eventually, assuredly,
going to be disappointed.
When we place our confidence in God, however,
we are never disappointed.
In fact we find that God is with us in the good times and bad.
God walks with us through the valley of the shadow,
and draws us toward realizing our full potential in Christ.
Our confidence, our faith in God means
we can trust that in our darkest hours
or in our moments of profoundest joy, we are never alone.
We are forever connected to the only one worthy
of our absolute trust and confidence,
the only one who will never let us go or let us down.
We do not have to strategize and plan
to find a way to get God to be on our side.
We do not have to play split or steal with God,
to hide our true motive, to hold ourselves back,
or to try to “get” God before God “gets” us.
Because we know that God has proven who God is
and what God is willing to sacrifice to be with us.
God chooses us. God places confidence in us.
Even though God knows that we are going
to choose to “steal” on occasion, God chooses us,
and God forgives us, and God loves us all the same.
We all have plenty of reasons to mistrust strangers.
We have all been betrayed by friends.
Even the church, for all its good intentions,
has let us down at times and sometimes in really big ways. But we must remember that none of those are God.
None of those are the Creator who chose
to come down and dwell with us and die for us;
proving God’s love for us.
Our trust in God is never misplaced.
No matter how vulnerable we may feel,
no matter what we are facing,
no matter how much pressure we feel to keep
putting on a happy face – we can be real with God.
God is big enough for our questions;
God is big enough to handle our failures and our doubts;
God is big enough to take even our anger, our grief,
and our heartache – to let us be ourselves,
our real selves, exactly who we are,
with all our fears and all our scars,
with all our hopes and wildest dreams
God loves us, just as we are, so whoever, wherever we are,
we can trust ourselves fully to God.
Trust is still a struggle,
especially when we have been hurt before.
Forgiveness is never easy, but you find,
when you do forgive, it’s not about excusing the other person
it’s about setting yourself free,
giving yourself permission to let go of the hurt they caused. And on behalf of the churches who’ve hurt you,
on behalf of the pastors and church people
and neighbors and friends
who’ve meant the very best and yet
betrayed your trust in painful ways, let me say:
I’m sorry. We’re sorry. We are only human, too, and sometimes –
sometimes we get it wrong.
But please, don’t let our failures in God’s name
keep you from trusting the God who loves you,
always, who forgives us and welcomes us
and loves each one of us – failures and hurts and all.
And so this week, may you find your heart softening
to the plight of strangers as you begin to forgive
the broken trusts of your past,
may you find your openness to friends increasing
as you trust in God as the champion and protector of your heart,
and may you find your faith in God growing
as you step out in faith as children of God,
confident in God’s love. Amen? Amen.