One Hundred Percent Unnatural
Sunday, June 19, 2016
Some of you here this morning may remember the name Larry Walters. Walters, who was a California truck driver, achieved wide spread, albeit short lived fame back in the summer of 1982.
On July 2nd of that year, Walters created a homemade airship using two primary resources – his lawn chair from the back yard and 45 helium filled weather balloons. You see, Larry longed to hover over his house at a high, yet relatively safe altitude before gentle bringing himself back to earth. So, he inflated the 45 weather balloons, strapped them in a cluster to his chair and put his pellet gun in his lap. The plan was simple. He would cut the cord, glide safely into the air and then when he was finished, he would shoot the balloons one by one with his gun which would allow him to easily make his way back to terra firma or the good, solid soil of earth.
Larry, however, was the ultimate victim of a plan that worked far, far better than expected. For on that fateful day in 1982 when Larry cut the chord, his chair didn’t simply make its way gently into the sky so that he could hover nonchalantly over his house. Instead, like a rocket, Larry zoomed into the airspace over San Pedro, California to an amazing height of 15,000 feet where he began to drift into airspace controlled by the Los Angeles International Airport.
After 45 minutes in the air and now scared utterly to death, Larry finally began to shoot a few of the balloons which created some level of decent. Ultimately he crashed into a power line pole which lead to a twenty minute blackout in the area of Long Beach, California where he landed.
When he hit the ground, the police swarmed him and arrested him. After Larry’s arrest, the spokesman for the Long Beach police had this to say, “We know he broke some part of the Federal Aviation Act, and as soon as we figure out which part, charges will be filed.”
Ultimately, Larry was fined $1500 for his unauthorized flight. This, however, was a small price to pay in light of his sudden notoriety and fame. Now known as Lawn Chair Larry or the Lawn Chair Pilot, Walters made the talk show circuit, went from driving trucks to be a motivational speaker for a while and was featured in an ad for Timex. In fact, believe it or not, Lawn Chair Larry even had a request for his now famous seat from none other than the Smithsonian Institute in Washington. (“Larry Walters” entry in Wikipedia)
But why? Why did Larry Walters, the Lawn Chair Pilot, achieve such fame? It really wasn’t because he made any monumental achievements in flight or displayed some uncanny ability or talent other than to make some really, really dumb decisions.
Indeed, I would argue that what led to Walter’s momentary fame was nothing more than the uniqueness of the event or the fact that what he did was so unusual. Silly? Yes. Not very bright? Yes. Hard to believe? Yes. But also completely unexpected and out of the norm.
In fact, one thing that we can all agree on, I think, is that in a world where we are all trying desperately to fit in and to be like everyone else or to keep pace with the Joneses, the thing that really gets our attention is the person who has the courage and the willingness to deviate from what everyone else does.
In essence, this is one of the key points in all of the Old Testament that God continued to try to get across to the Israelites. He wanted them to be different. In fact, the more they tried to be like everyone else, the more God was displeased with them. Yet, the more they followed God’s laws, kept God’s commands, stayed true to the tenets of Judaism that made them different and lived in appreciation for their differences, the more God was pleased.
Now let’s be clear, it wasn’t that God wanted them to wall themselves off from the rest of the world. And, God did not desire for them to refuse to have relationships with their neighbors or to care for those not like themselves. God wanted them to do all of these things. But, at the very same time, God wanted them to be true to themselves and to him.
Our text for today says it beautifully in verse two. “From all of the families on earth, I chose you alone…” God set Israel aside for a special relationship in order that they might live differently. And, yet, Israel, by and large just like us, kept wanting to be like everyone else which leads to a sad ending to the beautiful and hopeful beginning of this same verse. Again, God said that from all of the families he had chosen Israel, but, since they continued to be like all the rest, God now had to “punish them for their sins”.
Here’s the unexpected twist – God was going to punish Israel not because they were different but because they refused to be different.
The same is true for all of us. Our goal, our job, our calling as believers is to be different – to live different lives, not to do what everyone else does, to dare to follow God’s commands even when it means setting ourselves apart.
This always has been and continues to be a huge challenge in our world. By and large, we go along with the crowd, we want to fit in and we live in light of the idea that says if that is what everyone else does or believes then I guess it is what I should do or believe too.
Today is Father’s Day. It is a day when we celebrate the men in our church as fathers, as leaders, as hard workers and for your commitment to our church. I want to say one thing to you as men today and I want to say it in two words. Be different. Don’t be like other men. Be who God has called you to be. Dare to be different with your children – make them your focus and teach them the ways of God. Be different in your priorities – choose the kingdom over sports, your hobbies or your work. Be different at work – have integrity, remain true to your ethics, forgive and treat others as you know Jesus would want you to do. Be different – rather than the ego or attitude that often goes with being a man – be like Jesus. Be courageous. But not as the world teaches you to be courageous but instead as the Bible teaches it.
This morning, our gift to you is a journal. A nice, leather bound book full of empty pages. I want to challenge you to do something. Every day or at least once a week, take a minute or two to write down what you are learning as a child of God, how you are being challenged to be different and how you are being used for God’s kingdom. Use this journal to be intentional as a man made for God’s work. Over the next year, fill up these empty pages with what God is saying to you and with who God is calling you to be which is often going to be different from the status quo!
The well loved children’s writer Shel Silverstein is often quoted in church by ministers who reference his book The Giving Tree or another Silverstein classic called Where The Sidewalk Ends. Another of his books for children, written in 1981 was a collection of over 100 poems called A Light in the Attic. Most of the poems are rather forgotten or obscure today and yet I love poem number 11 called “Signals”.
Signals is 28 words long and it simply says this, “When the light turns green you go, when the light turns red you stop, but what do you when the light turns blue with orange and lavender spots?”
We know what to do when it comes to following the crowd. But, when the opportunity to be different is ours, do we have the courage to follow the Jesus way? What will we do, when the light turns blue? Amen.