If you’ve ever searched for the perfect chair without success, good news! Now there’s a whole book about that pursuit. It’s titled “Now I Sit Me Down” and it’s written by architect Witold Rybczynski (Rib-shin-skee).
In his book he unpacks the evolution and history of chairs, from those used in ancient Greece called klismos, which had a curved backrest and tapering, out-curved legs; to the yokeback chair of the Song dynasty which included one of the earliest uses of lumbar support; to the modern ergonomic desk chair; to the rocking chair that famously helped alleviate President Kennedy’s back issues; and even the dentist recliner that made it easier to treat cavities.
Rybczynski (Rib-shin-skee) explains that the history of chairs is a social history of different ways of sitting; of cultural changes in manners, attitudes and 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 Lazy Boy Recliner—traces its roots back to an art school in Germany. He even looks toward the future, suggesting we mortals may eventually invent a seat designed around smartphone browsing.
But the main point Rybczynski (Rib-shin-skee) makes is that the search for the perfect chair will never end. It will never end because humans aren’t built to sit. He writes, “Humans are good at walking and running, and we are happy lying down. But the in-between position is a problem. We were not meant to sit.”
Stan Purdum, a long-time pastor and author of the book, “New Mercies I See”, gives a real life example of this when he tells of a couple in their 80’s who were members of the first church he pastored and were in good health. The wife was well known to always being busy around the house, while the husband was out back in his woodshop, making items he gave 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. We weren’t made to sit for very long.”
The evolution and the history of the chair, the belief that the chair will never be perfected, and eons of physical health understanding all tells us, again and again, that we were not made to sit for very long. This bit of wisdom was understood by even Jesus, who in our text for today, give his Disciples the Great Commission, telling them, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.” And Christians ever since have understood these words as a call for the whole church. It is Jesus’ way of saying, “You aren’t made to sit for very long.”
In our text for today, Jesus gives to his Disciples the Great Commission—that instruction to go forth and make disciples—even to the ends of the earth. Pretty straight forward and simple.
There is however a little comment Matthew includes in the narrative that oftentimes gets overlooked, even though everyone is thinking it. In Matthew’s timeline, when the disciples come to a mountain in Galilee for a rendezvous with the resurrected Jesus, it’s the first time they have seen him since they fled at the time of his arrest. And when the disciples see Jesus, it’s the first time they’ve laid eyes on him since his death. And it’s there Matthew makes this overlooked comment… “When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.”
Some doubted? With the resurrected Jesus standing right there in plain sight, some of the disciples who had been with him throughout his ministry, doubted? But when you think about it, it seems reasonable. We can imagine that seeing a dead person alive again was far beyond anything that they’d ever experienced, so yes—they doubted. Who wouldn’t!? But that was just the beginning of their doubt. What Jesus would then tell them to do, undoubtedly caused them to doubt—although not doubt Jesus—but doubt themselves.
And we, like these Disciples, are people of doubt too. Which is why maybe we want to sit so much, and so comfortably—we know how to sit! We can sit with the best of them. We are good at sitting—no doubt about our skills there. Which is why Jesus, when he didn’t say, “You may be seated” and instead said, “Go therefore and make disciples…” his followers doubted. His followers then, and his followers today, doubted.
“You want us to do what, Jesus? I’m gonna need to sit down.”
Matthew’s comment about their doubt applied to the whole experience there on the mountain, and that whole experience included not only the resurrected Jesus appearing to them, but also the command to go and do three very hard things—things they may have wondered how they could possibly be accomplished.
The first hard thing: Jesus told them to go and make disciples of all nations.
The world of the disciples was smaller than the world as we know it—for instance, they had no idea of the existence of North and South America. Even still, making disciples of all nations they did know must have sounded like a daunting task. Add in the fact that they belonged to an oppressed subgroup—the Jewish people— within the Roman Empire.
The second hard thing: Jesus told the disciples that once they got moving on first evangelizing, they were to then baptize the people. Convince people to follow Jesus, then seal that loyalty with an outward sign.
And then the Third hard thing: Jesus told them to teach these new converts everything he had commanded and taught.
So to recap… Jesus was telling the disciples to publicly identify themselves as followers of someone who had just been officially declared an outlaw and executed. They were to give personal witness to their faith. They were to convince others to do the same. They were to get them to perform a public sacrament to that witness. And then they were to teach all that Jesus taught.
And, if that wasn’t hard enough, they were to do it all without any curriculum. The gospels hadn’t been written yet. The apostle Paul, whose letters would eventually become much of the New Testament, weren’t available to them. The church hadn’t been formed yet; the doctrines hadn’t even begun to be formulated and were still a couple hundred years or more in the future. They only had the Hebrew Bible—our Old Testament of today, and their memory of what Jesus said and did.
And yet Jesus says to these most unlikely of candidates: “Go turn the world upside down.” It must have sounded like a monumental—impossible— undertaking. No wonder the disciples doubted.
But those hard things were their commission, and somehow, initial doubts notwithstanding, they pulled it off. And they didn’t do it from the comfy confines of their seats.
Jesus asked the disciples to do a hard thing. And Jesus is still asking his disciples to do a hard thing. Love your enemy. Hard to do. Turn the other cheek. Hard to do. Be pure in heart. Hard to do. Rejoice and be glad when people revile you. Hard to do. Don’t lust. Hard to do. Go the second mile. Hard to do. Forgive others their trespasses. Hard to do. Don’t worry about tomorrow. Hard to do. Do unto others as you would have them do to you. Hard to do. Be doers of his words and not just hearers. Hard to do.
When Jesus talked of being his disciple, he said, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” Self-denial? Cross-carrying? Nothing easy there.
C.S. Lewis addressed this when he wrote, “Christ says, ‘Give me all. I don’t want so much of your time and so much of your money and so much of your work: I want You. I have not come to torment your natural self, but to kill it. No half-measures are any good … Hand over the whole natural self, all the desires which you think innocent as well as the ones you think wicked—the whole outfit. I will give you a new self instead. In fact, I will give you Myself: my own will shall become yours.’”
Lewis got it right with this thought. When we give everything to Christ then we get all of him back. But we can’t give all to Christ sitting down.
With the passage of time, the Great Commission got passed on to new generations of Jesus’ followers, yet each generation of Christians has the same Commission, telling us that the followers of Jesus are not to be sitters. Rather we are to be goers, movers, shakers, tellers, proclaimers, explainers, teachers, witnesses and more.
Yes, this is a hard thing to do. Yes, it requires and demands we get moving. Yes, it calls us to turn the world upside down. And yes, such a task will cause us to doubt. But what we must remember is that all Jesus offers is everything the world wants and needs—hope, peace, joy, love, forgiveness, and new life. We don’t have to sell it—we only have to offer it. Christ promises to do the rest.
The evolution and the history of the chair, the belief that the chair will never be perfected, and eons of physical health understanding all tells us, again and again, that we were not made to sit for very long—and now we can add to this the Disciples and Jesus’ Great Commission.
The disciples didn’t sit in comfy chairs, specially designed for special kinds of sitting. They got up, did what they were called to do, and God did the rest.
Yes, it’s ok to sit down now and then—even Jesus sat with his Disciples. He even sat with prostitutes, tax collectors and all manner of sinners. But he never sat for long—because he, like us, were not made to sit. Amen.