Exile and Expectancy
Lent Sermon, Wednesday, March 11, 2020
Intern Teleen Saunders
One of my favorite things to do in the early spring is to check out the
Department of Natural Resources’ Eagle Cam. Have you ever done this? Google
DNR Eagle Cam and click on the play arrow. It’s really interesting and a nice
diversion if you are trying to write a sermon. The Minnesota camera is set up
right over an eagle’s nest in southern Minnesota, out in the wild. Sometimes the
eagles aren’t there and all you see is an empty nest. But this time of year, the
male and female eagles take turns keeping their eggs warm in the nest. As the
traffic roars by, and the whole tree seems to sway in the wind, they wait with
Our reading today comes from a time in Israel’s history where God’s people
are also waiting. They are desperately waiting for a return to the way life was
before the brutal invasion of the Babylonians, the destruction of their Holy
Temple, and a forced exile. God’s people are weary. They have forgotten where
to put their trust. Our prophet, Isaiah, must respond to both the current situation
of exile and to their crisis of faith. There is loss. There is fear. And there is
certainly death. By chapter 40, the exile has been going on so long that perhaps
the only people who remember how to worship and live in freedom are the very
oldest among them.
It is up to the elders of the community:
• to tell the stories of faith; the stories of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob
• to sing the Psalms of David
• to pass on the traditions and rituals of Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur,
Passover, and the Sabbath.
The people are weary. They have lost hope.
This year we at Augustana have been exploring the differences between
“expectancy” and “expectations”. Expectations attempt to put us in control as we
dictate what we think God will do with our lives, or should do with our lives.
These kinds of expectations are often met with disappointment. Those who lost
patience at the time of Isaiah expected God to defeat their Babylonian enemies
while they sat back in their privilege as chosen people. They expected God to
favor them above all else. They expected God to heed their commands and fix all
of their problems. This is expectation.
Expectancy is something else. Living with expectancy means trusting that God will do good and loving things no matter what we think is best. Expectancy calls us to watch for God’s action rather than dictating our own desires. Living in expectancy means to remember that God is God and we are not.
We all live in exile in one way or another, cut off from the fullness of life.
We may be kept from opportunities or advancement at our jobs or in school. We
may be excluded from society with the effects of bigotry, racism, or sexism. We
may be kept from participating in our everyday lives due to disability, illness or
the fear of illness (wash your hands, people). We may live in an economic exile
with limited access to basic necessities, transportation, healthcare, or a muchneeded
rest. We may live in a social exile of loneliness and isolation due to no
fault of our own. There are many ways in which our lives are not as they should
be. There are many ways in which the poetry of Isaiah speaks to us today.
When things don’t go as we planned, we might think that God doesn’t hear
us or doesn’t care about us. We too may cry, “My way is hidden from the LORD,
and my right is disregarded by God!” But when all we do is set expectations for
how we think God should act, we miss out on what God is actually doing. God
gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless. Isaiah reminds us that
The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. The God
who gives power to the mighty eagle, will give us power too.
Those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength,
they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
they shall walk and not faint.
With God, newness is always possible because God stands at the dawn of
creation as the ultimate creator. But God does not act alone. To wait on the Lord
is not a passive activity. Waiting on the Lord is actively waiting with hope and
expectancy. God made us, and I would argue, all living beings to act as cocreators
under his power.
Consider our friend the eagle. The newest pair on the DNR website stayed
around the nest area all last summer building up their nest by adding and
rearranging sticks on a frequent basis and lining it with soft moss, grass, and
feathers. If the tree remains sturdy the eagles return to the same nesting site
year after year. Eagle nests have the capacity to reach enormous dimensions. The
largest recorded bald eagle nest, located in St. Petersburg, Florida, was 9.5 feet in
diameter, 20 feet deep and weighed almost 3 tons.1 This is hopeful expectancy.
There may or may not be eggs. There may or may not be fledglings who survive
long enough to leave the nest. But our busy eagles wait with expectancy…
knowing something good will happen.
Lent is the perfect time for us to live in active expectancy as we wait for
Easter morning. We know something hopeful will happen, we just don’t fully
understand what. So it is as we wait for Christ to come again in his fullness. Our
Christian expectancy is not just a passive thing, a pious, prayerful, churchly thing.
On the contrary, to wait for Christ to come in his fullness is above all else to act in
Christ’s place as fully as we know how. To wait for Christ is to actively build our
nest year after year with branches made from the Word of God and a lining of
compassion and generosity. Yes, we all live in exile. But we also live with
expectancy that God has the power to strengthen us. God will prevail. And still
we continue to
• tell the stories of faith
• sing the Psalms of David
• and pass on our own traditions through water, wine, and bread
God is God: giving strength to those who call on his name past, present,
and future; giving strength to soar with wings like an eagle in freedom and
fullness; soaring with a bird’s eye view of God’s action in our lives. We don’t
know where, we don’t know when. But we know it will come.
Thanks be to God.