In The Round

November 15, 2020
Psalm 90:1-12; Matthew 25:14-30

Intro – No Slide

  • 2003 – Becky & I moved to MN – I was excited about seminary and really excited about living close to this sculpture:

Slide I – Spoonbridge and Cherry (Spoonbridge and Cherry by Claes Oldenburg & Coosje van Bruggen – Minneapolis, MN)

  • This is a sculpture entitled Spoonbridge and Cherry
  • Walker Art Museum, Minneapolis Minnesota
  • Artists: Claes Oldenburg & Coosje van Bruggen (I’m a fan!)
  • Oldenburg is a Swedish born American artist & van Bruggen is a Dutch born American artist
  • The pair met in 1970, reconnected in 1976, married in 77 and settled in New York
  • They worked together – complementing and contrasting each other in vision, approach, and style which brought more than 40 large scale sculptures to life


Slide II – Big Sweep, Shuttlecocks, Typewriter Eraser (The Big Sweep – Denver, CO; Shuttlecocks – Kansas City, MO; Typewriter Eraser – Washington, DC)

  • The subject matter of their work is usually familiar, mundane objects presented on a grand scale to interact with and reflect the sculpture’s setting/surroundings
  • You may especially be familiar with the Typewriter Eraser from the National Gallery sculpture garden in DC


Slide III – Dropped Cone (Dropped Cone – Cologne, Germany)

  • Sometimes the subject matter is surprising, playful
  • Draws your attention with its unexpectedness – through scale and content
  • Twist on the imagery of the surrounding environment – the cone used here reflects the city residents’ love of ice cream while also playing on a familiar local visual of many surrounding church spires


Slide IV – Spoonbridge – Variety of Views

  • Sculpture, for the most part, is created to be viewed in-the-round
  • During the conceptual creating and then crafting of a sculpture, intention is given to the composition and impact it will offer from every angle and vantage point
  • You can see this a small bit in these many image of the Spoonbridge – as you walk around it in the sculpture garden, the shape of the sculpture shifts as your location and perspective shift
  • It also changes in relation to the landscape around it – background scenery also impacts the presentation
  • This in the round feature of sculptures is perhaps more strikingly visible in other examples of sculpture so keep your eyes open when you see a sculpture and be sure to move around it and see it from as many angles as possible (when allowed)
  • I was grateful for this reminder of in the round viewing from many perspectives this week while sitting with this week’s lectionary scripture texts – because for the most part, no matter what angle I was looking at them from – I ended up feeling a bit like this:


Slide V – Matches (Mistos [Matches] – Barcelona, Spain)

  • Now, I will also be honest and aware of the context of this week in our country – the coronavirus pandemic has surged again and we are experiencing more cases than ever in the US – restrictions are coming back into play which make life patterns complicated and require additional decisions and energy no matter which direction you turn – and above all – people are sick and dying. This is a stressful environment for all of us to be in, whether we are sick or not, we are collectively carrying a heavy burden and it wears on us.
  • This sculpture speaks to this reality to me as well – in moments, I feel a bit crumpled, bent, and broken in spirit.
  • And I also look to that spark of blue flame sprouting from one sole match and remember that hope persists
  • And I still think this visual also speaks to the scriptures at hand – particularly the Parable of The Talents as it is often referred to
  • So many times we hear this text and celebrate it’s reminder to offer ourselves fully – through gifts and finances to the work of God in the world…and that message is in there…
  • And there are other complicated moments in this passage to sit with, angles to look at that are not as pretty and inspiring…they feel crooked, bent, and broken
  • And yet, we are called to look at them


Slide VI – Binoculars (Binoculars – Venice, CA)

  • And so I want to invite us into a time of looking at these together – for that is part of what we, as an anabaptist community, commit to doing – looking at scripture together – listening to it, sitting with it, and responding to it with each other and the Spirit
  • In case you haven’t guessed yet, we are going to do this in a new way today – through the lens of Oldenburg/van Bruggen sculptures
  • Perhaps they can help us hear, see, experience the story in new ways as we look at it in the round
  • On Oldenburg & van Bruggen’s website bio page I found a small nugget of wisdom about their own work that might also be helpful in our work today:
  • Oldenburg says: In public sites, our sculptures reflect both the surroundings and their context, but through our imagination and selective perception – which is what makes them also personal.
  • Our responses and insights into scripture are part reflections of the context of their time and the lens of our time, and it can take imagination and a variety of perspectives to perceive what might be at play and what the stories might offer to us as a community and personally.


Slide VII – Three way plug (Giant Three-Way Plug [Cube Tap] – Philadelphia, PA)

  • And so we begin…
  • There’s a wealthy landowner preparing to go on a journey who calls in three workers and entrusts them with large sums of money – excessive, absurd sums
  • The inclusive language text translates it to thousands of dollars – other texts more traditionally use the word: Talent
  • The equivalent amount in translation and correlation would actually be more like – the first worker who received 5 talents received approximately 100 years worth of income
  • This, like the Oldenburg/van Bruggen sculptures is on a grand scale


Slide VIII – Free Stamp (Free Stamp – Cleveland, OH)

  • And it is freely given to each worker, offered without stated strings attached
  • All we know of the allocation priorities is that it was given according to each one’s abilities
  • This is where we sometimes start to hear people correlating this scripture not just with money but with the gifts each of us carry within our beings – our talents


Slide IX – Needle, Thread, and Knot (Ago, Filo e Nodo [Needle, Thread, and Knot] – Milan, Italy)

  • The landowner goes away – perhaps with curiosity tucked in their heart about what these workers will make with this gift – how will they put it to use in the landowner’s absence


Slide X – Balancing Tools (Balancing Tools – Weil am Rhein, Germany)

  • The first worker who received 5 talents goes out, trades, invests and whatnot quickly doubling their resources


Slide XI – Saw, Sawing (Saw, Sawing – Tokyo, Japan)

  • The second worker with 3 talents goes and does likewise, also doubling their money


Slide XII – Plantoir (Plantoir – Des Moines, IA)

  • The third worker, in different fashion, digs a hole in the ground and buries their single talent


Slide XIII – Plantoir (2) (Plantoir – Grand Rapids, MI)

  • Time passes
  • After a long time, the traveler returns


Slide XIV – Pool Balls (Pool Balls – Münster, Germany)

  • The three workers are called before the landowner to settle accounts
  • Worker I comes forward: ‘You entrusted me with five thousand; here are five thousand more.’ “The landowner said, ‘Well done! You are a good and faithful worker. Since you were dependable in a small matter, I will put you in charge of larger affairs. Come, share my joy!’
  • Worker II comes forward: ‘You entrusted me with two thousand; here are two thousand more.’ “The landowner said to this one, ‘Cleverly done! You too are a good and faithful worker. Since you were dependable in a small matter, I will put you in charge of larger affairs. Come, share my joy!’
  • And “Finally the one who had received the one thousand [came] forward and said to the landowner, ‘Knowing your ruthlessness—you who reap where you did not sow and gather where you did not scatter—and fearing your wrath, I went off and buried your thousand dollars in the ground. Here is your money back.’ “The landowner exclaimed, ‘You worthless, lazy lout! So you know that I reap where I don’t sow and gather where I don’t scatter, do you? All the more reason to deposit my money with the bankers, so that on my return I could have had it back with interest! You, there! Take the thousand away from this bum and give it to the one with the ten thousand. “ ‘Those who have will get more until they grow rich, while those who have not will lose even the little they have. Throw this worthless one outside into the darkness, where there is wailing and grinding of teeth.’


Slide XV – Lipstick (Ascending) on Caterpillar Tracks (Lipstick [Ascending] on Caterpillar Tracks, New Haven, CT)

  • Well, I don’t know about you, but the juxtaposition of those responses is quite surprising and somewhat jarring
  • I’m left wondering what to do with this story
  • From what angle should I view it, where do I see myself reflected in it, where in it do I find reflections of God, what does it reveal about God’s nature? About me?
  • Once again I am reminded to use the sculpture process of looking at this scripture in the round – inspecting it from a variety of angles


Slide XVI – Flying Pins (Flying Pins – Eindhoven, the Netherlands)

  • So let’s do that quickly – let’s break this apart into a couple of different vantage points and see what we experience – I may go into detail with some reflections and others I might simply put out there for you to wonder about with me
  • View I: A 100% return on investment is a lavish return – is this story telling us about the richness of life we will experience when we live out God’s love in the world?
  • View II: “Come, share my joy!” – joy – a priceless return
  • View III: It takes effort to receive a return – one has to put work into growing in order to see and experience growth – it requires participation.
  • View IV: For those that already have, more is abundantly available, while those that have less to begin with may struggle
  • View V: Fear can stall our capacity to participate and grow
  • View VI: Healthy boundaries and choices about how and where we invest our energy and love make a difference. The third worker is pretty clear that the reason they buried the talent given to them is that the one who gave it to them was a scoundrel. Perhaps the choice to bury the money reveals our capacity to choose to participate in things that are life giving and to say no and take action to disrupt that which is death-dealing.
  • View VII: Let’s go back and look again at View II: “Come, share my joy!” – what is the nature of joy that this story is revealing – is it a joy based on wealth, injustice, and greed? Is it the kind of joy we actually want to share in?
  • View VIII: ‘Those who have will get more until they grow rich, while those who have not will lose even the little they have. Throw this worthless one outside into the darkness, where there is wailing and grinding of teeth. Is this the nature of God revealed by this story? Does this match up with the nature of God that the rest of scripture speaks of? Or is there disconnection here that we should pay attention to? Earlier in Matthew we hear Jesus teach the beatitudes which appear to reflect the nature of God’s kindom – and it surely doesn’t read blessed are those that have because they will have a lot more and worthless are those that don’t because even what they have will be taken away from them. If this landowner’s response to the third worker isn’t true to the nature of God as we have been taught it by Jesus – what does that mean? Does it perhaps point to a misunderstanding? Perhaps the third worker’s view of the landowner being a scoundrel is not truth – perhaps the third worker exposes what it means for us to misunderstand the nature of God. If we mistake the nature of God’s call for us to live love and justice into the world, if we are fearful of wrath instead of open to the possibilities of grace and lavish love we miss out on justice and life.
  • View IX: We return once more to View II: “Come, share my joy!” A joy that is abundant, just, and life-giving.
  • View X, XI, XII and so on I will leave for you to explore on your own for I think we may have already overloaded our capacity for intake at the moment – perhaps we’re even back to where we started:

Slide XVII – Matches (Mistos [Matches] – Barcelona, Spain)

  • Or maybe you can now understand more of why this image comforted me this week as I sat with this text. Within this story there are possibilities of lessons that are life-giving and also death-dealing – we are called to open ourselves to the in-the-round complexities of both/and more…
  • And in that, that small blue sparking flame of hope persists
  • I look at this image again and remember that this story was given to the people of the early church who were waiting for Jesus’ imminent return. This story was offered as a call to be mindful of how to live in a time of waiting. It served as an invitation to participation – to joining in the living out of God’s kindom here and now to spark it into life and to help it grow into the fullness of life that love and justice offer
  • It is still a call for us today:


Slide XVIII – Paint Torch (Paint Torch – Philadelphia, PA)

  • How are we going to engage in being people of God’s resources and talents in the world?
  • What are we going to invest in? What will we disrupt?
  • What will we grow and create?
  • Whatever it is, we will do it together, like Oldenburg and van Bruggen who collaborated in their work – not always an easy task. Van Bruggen talks about their process like this: Working together supposes an almost complete understanding of the other, an impossibility in any case, so instead we choose a unity of opposites, a convergence of our different dynamics, of symmetry and asymmetry, of acceleration or implied speed and stillness, of a polychrome and monochrome palette, gravity and lightness — all interrelating and interchangeable
  • This is the work of being God’s people in the world – it is coming together as a community with and for each other – a pooling of our diverse talents and resources to invest in bringing God’s abundant love and justice to life.
  • Part of how we are God’s people in the world is by gathering together for worship – and we make music as part of that worshipful work…a new hymnal: Voices Together is on its way to our community. It has been a long time in the making and Adam Tice, text editor for the project and our very own former associate pastor, will be with us next week to preach and talk more about the collaborative work of creating a hymnal. As we look forward to his words and the new hymnal it seemed fitting to share the following with you in light of our explorations on viewing in the round – and the perspective we bring and choose to use as we encounter things – this announcement came out a few months ago about the hymn that the committee chose to place as number 1 in the new hymnal:
  • “The first hymn among the hundreds found in a hymnal shouldn’t matter, but it does,” said Rebecca Slough, managing editor for Hymnal: A Worship Book (1992) [The previous blue hymnal]. The first selection in any hymnal “calls God’s people to sing, announces why we are gathered here, and sets the tone, rhythm, and harmonies for the adventures in singing that shape the body of Christ we will become.”

No. 1 in Voices Together will be “Summoned by the God Who Made Us,” a text by Sister Delores Dufner, OSB, paired with the hymn tune NETTLETON. [A tune we happened to use in our first hymn during worship today!] The first verse celebrates the church’s foundational unity in Christ and calls God’s people to live in relationship. [The first verse and refrain are reprinted here with the permission of Dufner, as well as the permission of OCP, which holds the copyright.]


Summoned by the God who made us
rich in our diversity,
gathered in the name of Jesus,
richer still in unity:
Let us bring the gifts that differ
and, in splendid, varied ways,
sing a new church into being,
one in faith and love and praise.