Pages Navigation Menu

Don’t Sit for Long

Thomas J Parlette

“Don’t sit for long”

Matthew 28: 16-20

6/11/17

 

I came to a realization this week. I need a new chair. I love the chair at my desk. I’ve had it for probably 12 years – brought it with me when we moved here 7 years ago. But now the faux-leather material on the seat has a big tear in it and the arms are getting a bit tattered. My usual high tech solution of duct tape isn’t working anymore – so I need to go shopping for a new chair.

Chairs are important. It’s a big decision, picking out a new chair. There’s a lot to consider – comfort, style, adjustability, lumbar support. The right chair is a big decision.

In fact, there is a new book out about the topic of chairs. It’s called, “Now I Sit Me Down”, written by an architect named Witold Rybcynski (Rib-shin-skee). He refers to chairs

–         used in ancient Greece called “klismos”, which had a curved backrest and tapering, out-curved legs;

–         the yokeback chair of the Song dynasty from the year 960, which included one of the earliest uses of lumbar support;

–         the modern, ergonomic chair;

–         the rocking chair that famously helped alleviate President Kennedy’s back issues;

–         and the dentist recliner that made it easier to treat cavities.

Rybcynski (Rib-shin-skee) explains that the history of chairs is a social history – of different ways of sitting, of changing manners and attitudes and of varying tastes. He notes that the ancient Chinese switched from sitting on the floor to sitting in a chair, and how the iconic chair of Middle America – the Barcalounger- traces it’s roots back to an art school in Germany. He even looks toward the future, suggesting we mortals may eventually invent a chaise-like seat designed around browsing on a smartphone – just what we need, a smartphone chair. I expect to see it from Sharper Image this holiday season.

But here’s an interesting point to consider as we approach this Great Commission passage from Matthew. Rybcynski (Rib-shin-skee) says that the search for the perfect chair will never end – because humans aren’t built to sit. “We are good at walking and running, and we are happy lying down,” he writes. “It is the in-between position that is the problem.”(1)

Indeed sitting is not only an un-natural position, but it is also not the healthiest option. Perhaps you’ve seen the commercial for the Varidesk – the adjustable desk arrangement that allows for sitting and standing. There’s a line in that commercial that says, “Sitting is the new smoking.” It is unhealthy to sit for too long.

Stan Purdum, author of New Mercies I See and other books, and a long-time pastor himself, tells of a couple in their 80’s who were members of the first church he served and were in remarkably good health. Every time Purdum dropped by to visit, he found the wife busy around the house and the husband out back in his woodworking shop, making little items he would give away. One time, Purdum commented on their activity level, and the man said, “When my brother retired at 65, he went out on the front porch and sat down. That’s where he was most of the time. And within three years, he was dead. I don’t think we’re made to sit for too long.”(2)

It’s never good to sit around and get too comfortable.

There is another interesting chair that features prominently in George Martin’s Game of Thrones fantasy novels. The Iron Throne, a most uncomfortable chair created by the dynastic founder Aegon the Conqueror from a thousand swords of enemies he had slain in battle. Generations of kings since Aegon have occupied the Iron Throne, but they have found it not so easy to sit in. The sword blades are still sharp. It’s difficult for anyone seated on it to find a comfortable position.

While the Iron Throne portrayed in the popular HBO series is of reasonable size, Martin’s account in the books depicts a throne room similar in size to St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, and the throne itself as being over 40 feet in height.

But there was a method to King Aegon’s madness. He had a good reason for such an uncomfortable throne. He designed the throne to make sure that none of his successors would ever sit – nor rule- carelessly. He didn’t want future Kings to get too comfortable. He didn’t want them to sit around for too long.(3)

The same could be said about this passage for today. These final verses in Matthew, typically called “The Great Commission”, are Jesus last words to his disciples, and it’s clear that Jesus doesn’t want them, or us, sitting around for too long.

The key word in this passage is that little two-letter word – “Go”. Don’t sit there – Go.

Go- make disciples.

Go – baptize people in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the great Trinitarian formula for speaking of the Divine that we celebrate on this Trinity Sunday.

Go – teach them what I have taught you.

Go – don’t get too comfortable. Don’t sit too long.

From the beginning, Christians have understood these words as a call to the whole church to go and do these three things. And there have been many Christ-followers that have done a remarkable job of living out this Great Commission.

Take for example, our own founder Sheldon Jackson. During his career he traveled about 1 million miles and established mare than 100 missions and churches – including 1st Presbyterian, Rochester. A friend once said of Jackson and his dedication to the Great Commission;

“He would not hestitate if he thought he could save even one old-hardened sinner, to mount a locomotive and let fly a gospel message at a group by the train tracks while he sped by at 40 miles an hour.”(4)

Sheldon Jackson was not a man who would sit around for too long.

Or, consider Mother Teresa and her life-long commitment to these words in Matthew. Not long after she started the Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta, India, she opened a medical clinic right next to a Hindu Temple.

The Hindus objected. It was a sacrilege, they said, to have an order of Christian sisters living next door to their Temple. They insisted that their leader get rid of them and the clinic.

He agreed. One day he went to pay a call on this Albanian nun and her sisters.

Mother Teresa received him warmly. She asked him to follow her on her rounds as she cared for the sick and dying.

“After visiting her clinic,” the Hindu leader recalled, years later, “and watching her care for the poor, I went back to my congregation and said, “When you will go to the clinic and do for the poor what Mother Teresa is doing, then I will get rid of her.”

That clinic is still open, to this day. Mother Teresa was never one for sitting around for too long.(5)

The challenge of this Great Commission is to Go- don’t sit around. Go- make disciples, baptize them and teach them. Sometimes that is not an easy or comfortable thing to do. Sometimes it might seem un-wise or even foolish – but it is what Jesus commands us to do.

The British novelist E.M. Forster once wrote, “We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us.”(6)

The life that is waiting for us as disciples of Jesus is one in which we are like interns – interns of Christ. When you are an intern, you watch, you practice under supervision, you make mistakes and you learn from them.(7) As we mature, we welcome newer interns into the fold and share what we have learned on the journey.

Richard Rohr once wrote a book about living the wisdom of St. Francis. He recalls a time when he met a man who had a unique way of adding interns of Christ to the journey of discipleship. He wrote:

“Some years ago I visited an old Franciscan who lived in Gallup, New Mexico. He spent most of his life working with the native people, and he loved them deeply. When I knew him, he was probably in his late 80’s. He was bent over and he would walk the streets of downtown Gallup in his Franciscan robe and sandals, carrying a cane. He would lift his bent head and greet everybody with the greeting of Saint Francis – “Good morning, good people!” Our job is to remind people of their inherent goodness, and this is what this dear man did.

On his cane he had strung a string of battery-powered, blinking Christmas lights. Now to anyone who is a tourist in town, they must think him quite the old fool – bent over, in a brown robe and sandals, with blinking Christmas light on his cane! And it was not even Christmas time.

One day I asked him, “Father, why do you put those blinking Christmas lights on your cane?”

He cocked his head toward me, looked up grinning, and said, Richard, it makes for good conversation. See, you are talking to me now. Everybody asks about them, and I am able to talk to everybody because of my Christmas lights.”

Now, was he a fool in most people’s eyes? Was he a naïve innocent? Yes, I guess he was. The “holy fool” is the final stage of the full human journey.”(8)

That holy fool found a way to fulfill the Great Commission. Christmas lights on his cane opened the door for him to welcome new interns into the fold, to make disciples, baptize them into the knowledge of the Triune God and teach them what Jesus taught.

May that be true for all of us as we strive to live out the Great Commission.

May God be praised. Amen.

 

1.    Homiletics, Vol. 29, No.3, p53.

2.    Ibid…p53-54.

3.    Ibid…p57.

4.    Ibid…p57.

5.    Ibid…p41.

6.    Ibid…p41.

7.    Steven P. Eason, Feasting on the Word, Westminster John Knox Press, 2011, p48.

8.    Homiletics, Vol. 29, No. 3, p56-57.