Summary: Did you see the Hollywood film of the same name? What lessons does it have for us this Advent?
There was a film out a few months back entitled “seeking a friend for the end of the world”. Now if like me you enjoy the cinema, you often get to watch apocalyptic motion pictures where an asteroid is about to crash into the earth or the volcanoes are going off, or the gulf stream shifts and the world is about to freeze. And then the heroes deflect the asteroid or build an ark to survive the tsunamis or rescue those trapped in a frozen New York.
“Seeking a friend for the end of the world” is a bit different. It begins with a news reel - the final attempt to stop the asteroid has failed. In 21 days time the world ends. This is not like disaster movies where somehow people get rescued. This film explores how people react when faced with the inevitability of their own death and everyone else’s. How would you react?
1 Thessalonians 3:13 “and may he so strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blamless before our God and father at the coming of Our Lord Jesus with all his saints.”
Today is Advent Sunday. If you ask most people in England what Advent means they’ll say it’s when you get Advent calendars. You open the little doors and there is chocolate. If you dig a bit deeper they might tell you it is counting down to Christmas. And that is true. But Advent means more than that.
Advent is from the latin word for “coming” - it is when we prepare for the coming of Jesus. We prepare for the coming of the of the baby Jesus at Bethlehem. And we also prepare for his second coming: for the “coming of Our Lord Jesus with all his saints” at the end of the world. Are you ready for the end of the world. If it happens before the end of this sermon - are you ready? In fact does anyone need to dash off and sort anything out?
In “Seeking a friend for the end of the world” you keep getting captions saying “21 days to go”, “13 days to go”, “12 days to go” etc. A bit like opening your advent calendar doors to count down to Christmas. Except in Advent we are also opening doors to count down to the end of the world. There’s one wonderful scene in the film where a man says “I go to the doctor and they tell me I have got cancer and I only have 6 months to live. Then I get home, turn on the TV, and the news says an asteroid is going to hit us and I only have 21 days to live”. We don’t know how long we’ve got. I don’t know if I am going to die in 3 months time or if the world is going to end in 2 months time. Advent tells us to be prepared. Advent tells us to be like the man in the film with a sandwich bord saying “the end of the world is here” - the hero looks at him and says “well he’s finally vindicated!” “May he so strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God and father at the coming of Our Lord Jesus with all his saints.”
Our reading from 1 Thessalonians chapter 3 tells us 3 things Paul wants us to do to “Be prepared!” (make scout sign).
If I was to summarise those 3 things in one phrase it would be a phrase of our Bishop Stephen Cotterell: “living distinctively”. Get used to that phrase you are going to be hearing it a lot “living distinctively”. it is the first of Bishop Stephen’s 4 topics in his Transforming Presence agenda.
Before we can evangelise effectively, serve with accountability or minister differently, first we have to live distintinctively. Before we can share our faith, first we have to have a faith to share.
You’ll notice at mass that usually the priest and eucharistic ministers receive communion first before giving it to everybody else. That’s a symbol - and it symbolises an important point: “you can’t give what you have not got”. We have to live distinctively - we have to live as if the end of the world is coming at any moment - so that we have got a faith and a lifestyle that is worth sharing.
So what are the three points that Paul identifies in his letter?
1)vs 10 “night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you face to face and make up what is lacking in your faith.” Paul only had three weeks establishing the church in Thessaloniki before he had to flee because of persecution. He is incredibly grateful to God for the amazing growth of the church there. But he knows they need more teaching. And the best way of doing that isn’t a written document but face to face.