Leonard Sweet on Jesus’ Spontaneity


Our bishop, of whom I generally have a positive impression, has been pushing certain books for the clergy and laity New Jersey Methodism to read.  One of the two books this year is “The Gospel According to Starbucks: Living with a Grande Passion”, by Leonard Sweet, a seminary professor at Drew.

I’ve been reading the book. For the most part, Sweet’s style irritates me significantly.  He makes a great deal of the success of the Starbucks corporation, calling to the attention to the fact that they peddle an experience rather than just a cup of coffee.  Sweet seems intent on being clever and showing off his dexterity with popular culture.  (Perhaps why this annoys me is that my writing and preaching at its worst tries to do the same.)

Anyway, there is no way I would try to get people in my congregation to read this book from cover to cover, but there are places where Sweet makes provacative points, so I think I will quote some of these passages, skipping over the Starbucks/popular culture riffs.   Let’s see what you what you think.  Try this one out:

(Sweet laments) The death of spontaneity.  Typical Christians are more at home in the plan than in the moment, more at ease following someone else’s formula than making it up as we go along.  But spizzerinctum involves the habit of saying yes to the moment.  Jesus received each moment as a gift, less going after what he wanted than wanting what came to him.

His speech reflected the same approach to life.  In a content analysis of the one hundred twenty-five incidents of Jesus’encounters with people, Ralph L. Lewis has found that “roughly 54 per cent of those encounters are initiated by His hearers.  Instead of standing up and proclaiming the message He wanted the people to hear, He responded to His audience’s questions, objects, doubts.  He allowed and welcomed their involvement.”…Pariticpation turns the spontaneity up.  Part of our problem is we have an image of God as The Grand Master of Chess Moves, moving players around on the board of life, able to checkmate at any moment and end the game.  It is easier for us to think of Jesus as Monologue than as Conversation Partner.   But Jesus was not premeditated in his approach to life.  In fact, he was the most spontaneous person who ever lived.  As a boy when he was learning in the temple, he decided on the spot to stay longer than expected and threw a monkey wrench in his parents’ plans.  His spizzerinctum shocked even his parents.  Similarly, Jesus did not draw up careful job descriptions for the Twelve.  Rather, while wandering the country side (even in his lifetime travel radius of thirty-five miles Jesus took unpredictable arcs), he decided one day it was time to put together a team.  Seeing some fishermen on the shore, he stopped and said with holy boldness, “You’ll do.  Follow me.“

Any reading of the gospels reveals a Jesus not needing to be in control.  Instead, we see a Jesus who is open to being surprised by life and responding spontaneously to the circumstances around him.  Jesus was free-flowing music, not formulaic math.  He didn’t pencil people into his crowded schedule.  Rather, he lived in the immediacy of the moment and fell in love with whomever he met, whether it was a rich younger ruler who had everything or a little man in a tree.  Pp. 87 – 88