Alan Jenkins

6 posts

You are witnesses of these things

Preached by Alan Jenkins LLM on 18 April 2021: Third Sunday of Easter
Acts 3:12-19 / Luke 24:36b-48

Luke’s record in the final words of our Gospel this morning, as he describes Christ’s last appearance to his disciples before his Ascension.  This was no casual invitation for the disciples to take a passing interest in the fulfilment of the scriptures, the confirmation of ancient prophesies; no, this was an imperative – ‘you ARE witnesses of these things’.

And Luke repeats a reference to being witnesses in his account of the Acts of the Apostles, as we heard earlier. In that context, when Peter was speaking, it was an accusation rather than a simple fact or statement, for Peter was reminding his listeners that they had been witnesses to the crucifixion of the Author of Life, that they had all betrayed Jesus in effect by vicariously handing him over to Pilate, that they had been complicit, as witnesses, to choosing Christ’s life or death over that of a murderer.

But notice the change of pronoun – not you are witnesses, but we are witnesses – for Peter’s words were not just for those standing around the colonnade of the Temple’s outer wall, but for all believers who would be Christ’s disciples thereafter.  So, we are ‘cut in’ to Peter’s indictment, and also to the appeal to repent and turn to God.

Being a witness involves more than just hearing or seeing things; we need to be able to share our experiences, maybe under oath if in a court of law, but in any case, with confidence and an understanding of our responsibilities.   Yet, how often have we witnessed some event and declined to get involved.  We might  think ‘My testimony won’t make any difference anyway – other people were there and saw it – I don’t have time to fill in all the paperwork and, anyway, it doesn’t affect me’  But if we take that approach to our understanding of God and what Christ has done for us, then our silence will speak volumes about our faith – and our commitment to discipleship.

For we are those disciples who have come after Peter and the original group of Christ’s followers. We are the ones who have been charged by Jesus to ‘go and make disciples of all nations’, his Great Commission at the end of Matthew’s Gospel. And that is the theme of the final Holy Habit that we will be exploring towards the end of this month.  The Holy Habits series is sub-titled ‘Missional Discipleship Resources for Churches’, and whereas we have been looking at the various Habits largely from a personal standpoint, the word ‘Missional’ tells us that as a church we have much to do if we are to honour Christ’s charge to us.

For, conversely, declining to give evidence, dodging opportunities to be recognised as a witness to Christ’s sacrifice for us, are sure-fire ways to put ourselves in the same position as Peter when he denied Christ in the temple courtyard.  If we are to ‘make disciples of all…’ then we have to be committed disciples ourselves, by trying to be like Jesus, and by living and breathing our faith.

Because witnessing is not optional: it’s not an intermittent activity of faith; it’s not something we can decide to do one day and then resolve to take the next day off; it’s constant. It’s a way of life; it’s who we are; and importantly it’s who other people expect us, as Christians, to be.

Being witnesses is one thing, because, in a way, all we have to do is to watch and hear; being a disciple needs more energy, more commitment, more activity, more guidance.  So where do we get the ‘tools’ for his particular calling?  Equally, how do we make resources available to others who we could help to become disciples?

Well, tune in to our final Holy Habit to find out more (that’s the trailer over!), but even now, we can look back to the establishment of the early church and think about the experiences that those first founding members witnessed.  In particular, and most dramatically, there were two significant events for them that we will be remembering over the next month: the Ascension, followed by Pentecost.,

Ascension reminds us that Jesus commanded his disciples to proclaim the good news of the Gospel, news that they had personally witnessed.  Pentecost followed, when gifts from the Holy Spirit were offered, literally in languages that many could understand, which in reality meant in practical ways that many could understand.

We, who follow, have witnessed much in our spiritual and material lives and, as we continue to learn from the witness of those early Christians, we should be prepared to declare ourselves as today’s witnesses and disciples, and discharge Christ’s Great Commission. Amen

Faith and sacrifice

Preached by Alan Jenkins LLM on 28 February 2021: Second Sunday of Lent

Romans 4:13-end/Mark 8:31-end

Lent is a time when we can reflect on our faith, and consider the obligation of sacrifice. And these are both key messages from this morning’s readings that sit together for they are not mutually exclusive. Indeed, as we will explore, the one may depend upon the other. So, let’s look at faith, from as far back as Abraham, and sacrifice from Jesus’s teaching to his disciples.

Lent is an especially relevant time to consider these words, as we traditionally look on this period as a time of self-sacrifice for ourselves. But Jesus isn’t talking about giving up chocolate for Lent, rather he is starting to school the disciples into a much more fundamental and sharp-edged understanding of sacrifice – nothing less than life itself. Just hear again Christ’s words: “For those who want save their life will lose it, and those who want to lose their life for my sake, and the sake of the Gospel, will save it.”

These words were spoken just after Jesus had forewarned his disciples about the events of Holy Week, Good Friday and Easter to come, when he would be making the ultimate self-sacrifice, only to rise again for our salvation. Peter, typically Peter, immediately wanted to deny what Jesus was saying, he did not want to hear the plain truth that his teacher, his leader, his mentor, could come to face death, and Jesus had to turn on him, sharply, to get the record straight.

But let’s go back a few thousand years to the time of Abraham, when he, too, couldn’t really believe at first hearing what he was being told. If we had used the Old Testament reading set for this morning we should have heard how God wanted to make a covenant with Abraham; Paul, conveniently for us, raises this episode in his letter to the Romans which we did hear just now, as he illustrates that Abraham, like Peter, could not really understand what he was being told.

In particular Abraham had to swallow the idea that he, a broken old man of many, many years, and his barren wife of similar age, were to have a son who would be the forerunner of a royal family, the grandfather to the twelve tribes of Israel. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, and both Paul and we know that God’s promise to Abraham was fulfilled, but Abraham had no benefit of such hindsight, and had to accept or reject God’s plan on the basis of what he believed.

He had already made life-changing sacrifices in obedience to God, having left his own country, family and kinsmen, travelling thousands of miles into Egypt, and experiencing many examples of God’s generosity and salvation. So his decision to believe God was not a once for all, ‘flash in the pan’ affair but, on the basis of his journey both spiritual and material so far, he was able to establish and develop his undying faith in God.

The stories of Abraham, and the spiritual growth of Peter, serve to remind us that our faith is rooted in initiatives which God takes first to establish a relationship with humanity. The next actions are always up to us.

So – Peter. He was ‘Action Man’ amongst the twelve, but was also quite sensitive, so that if heard news that he didn’t understand, or didn’t agree with, he would often seem to open his mouth before engaging his brain. This could be frustrating for Jesus, as we heard this morning; it could also illustrate Peter’s vulnerability, as at the time of Transfiguration when he didn’t really know what to do or say. But behind Peter’s impetuosity was a search for the truth, laying bare the reality of what Jesus was saying or doing. So we, who come much later, should be grateful to Peter for clearing the air, as it were, maybe asking the questions that we would like to ask.

Peter’s outburst enabled Jesus to categorically underline what his own sacrifice would be for. Peter was guided to think of the divine rather than human purpose of our lives, and we should do the same, to understand the spiritual rather than the material meaning of our existence. Jesus’s message about sacrifice is simply written, – lose the earthly life you might try to save, gain the eternal life you would give to God.

Simply written, certainly, but that message can only truly be understood through faith, and so these two themes go hand in hand for us, as we journey through Lent. Our Holy Habits reflections during Lent and Easter will include aspects of sacrifice through giving, serving, and sharing, and we will be encouraged to be glad that we are given opportunities to live out our faith in that sacrificial way.

For beyond Holy Week lies the joy of Easter Day, the true outcome of Christ’s message to his disciples, then and now. Amen

The Wedding at Cana

Preached by Alan Jenkins LLM on 24 January 2021: Third Sunday of Epiphany
John 2: vv.1-11

So: turning water into wine – magic or miracle?? Paul Daniels or David Blaine would have loved to know how to do that, to entertain their audience, and to enhance their skills as magicians. For magic tricks are, at root, some sleight of hand, illusion or other deception offered to dare anyone to see how they are done.

But Jesus was no magician, and deception was never part of his discipleship tool box. The miracles that he performed were not the result of some chicanery, or an attempt to entertain. Rather they were all designed to demonstrate the glory of God, so that those who were exploring and developing their relationship with him could begin understanding and building their faith.

This event at the wedding at Cana was said to be the first of these opportunities, and really kicked off the start of Jesus’s ministry. He had just been recruiting disciples – Andrew, Simon Peter, then Philip and Nathaniel, the first of the band of twelve that would loyally follow him for the next three years or so. The inference is that they may have been with him and his mother at the wedding feast, which would have included all the traditional and expected elements of a celebration – and outwith a lockdown I’m sure there were more than 30 of them there, which is why they ran out of wine so soon!

But Jesus did not see this as merely a gathering to celebrate a wedding, but more of a messianic banquet, providing him with opportunities for introducing the changes that his ministry would usher in. The coming of the Messiah, in the extant traditions of Judaism was expectant, looking forward to change, but – a new covenant with God, a new source of spiritual nourishment, a new vision of a liberated life in Christ? These were not the expectations of those who had waited so patiently (or not) for the arrival of a new ruler.

So, to the surprise of all who were at the wedding feast, this new wine was a sign of renewal; instead of the water for ablutions, representing the hollow rituals of Judaism, Jesus produced something quite different that was the sign of the new rich Gospel that he was about to share though his ministry.

This was Christ’s wake-up call to those who would pay attention. This was Jesus foretelling what only he knew at that time, that ‘when his hour was come’, to take the reference in verse 4, when his mission would be fulfilled, then he would provide the Wine and Bread of life, symbolised ever since in the Eucharist as we meet round his table each week.

So, far from being some magic sleight of hand, some weird provision of gallons and gallons of good wine for those who were already drunk, this was a clear promise that the New Covenant would be freely available for all who would believe, – with some to spare as well.

That Jesus chose a wedding feast for this first miracle is no random coincidence, for the intimate relationship with God that he offers to us can be likened to marriage vows, and the Gospels record many occasions when Jesus uses banquets as a way of demonstrating human and spiritual interactions. And the vision we heard from today’s reading of John’s Revelation further underpins this: ‘Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb’ he writes, and goes on to uphold the worship of God, whose Son’s testimony will be the fulfilment of prophesy.

So, where does this leave us?? His new disciples, in witnessing the signs at the Cana wedding-feast, believed in Jesus in otherwise unlikely and inexplicable circumstances. Any particular life event can affect people in different ways; both suffering and prosperity can sap their faith if they turn inward on themselves and lose their vision of Christ. Yet the same experience, circumstance or event may prompt others to grow their faith, their relationship with Christ, ever deeper, and look for ways to uphold their worship with practical examples of Christian outreach and evangelism.

Holding to our faith, in the Christ who does provide for all who believe – and more, – should give us strength to face the unprecedented events of the Covid pandemic. Rather than become introverts, we should look out, and use Christ’s example to help others, not only for immediate results, but so that they may see the ongoing glory of God, and his gifts for us all. That is our challenge, to honour Christ’s command and share his Gospel by the way we overcome today’s undeniably alarming threats to humanity, globally as well as locally and nationally.    Amen

Past, present and future……?

Preached by Alan Jenkins LLM on the evening of 15 November 2020: Second Sunday before Advent
1 Kings 1:15-40 / Revelation 1:14-18

Evensong scripture readings for this Sunday all resonate with our current global situation, and so, together, highlights some parallels with the particular times we are in just now. 

Our Old Testament reading (1 Kings 1:15-40) is set around the struggle for the succession to King David, with rival camps for Adonijah and Solomon making a play for the throne.  The matter was settled by the word of the old King David, and so Solomon reigned.  In the USA at the moment confrontations for presidential power have been raging, and the future may well be a revelation yet to be seen.

Our New Testament extract (Revelation 1:14-18) is very much concerned with a future, too, as John tries to describe a world beyond the present, in the context of the Jewish understanding that time was divided into two ages – the present which was beyond redemption, and the future, the age to come, God’s golden age of peace, prosperity and righteousness that would vindicate the people’s right to be known as the people of God. Our present times, if not beyond redemption, are certainly experiences that we want to displace by a better age, and we must hope that all that is going on at present to overcome the Covid virus will prevail, so that a vision of a new age can be seen and realised.

And then we have Psalm 98:19-29, which focuses on the past, on God’s covenant with David, a scene-setter as it were for unhappy present times, and an entreaty for better times to come.

So, taking tonight’s scripture as a whole we are compelled to consider time, ages, eras, in terms of past, present and future.  At this time of the year we pause to look back, with All Souls, All Saints, and Remembrance etc.  Important as it is to remember with thanks and gratitude the saints, redeemers and guardians who have gone before, it is also vital that we can have visions of a future that is worth striving for.

Tom Wright, theologian, professor and a former Bishop of Durham, has written a book entitled ‘God and the Pandemic’, and earlier Brenda Holden had kindly offered to lead a reading and discussion group which would have effectively looked at the obvious question ‘Why does God let things like this happen?’  Sadly, the Covid restrictions themselves have prevented the group from forming, but that should not detract any of us from reading the book.

Early on, Wright takes us back to the pagan world of Greece and Rome, when thinkers and observers basically came from one of three categories: Stoics, who believed that everything was pre-destined, and couldn’t be changed; the Epicureans who believed that everything is random, so you couldn’t do anything more than put up with it; and the Platonists, who looked on present life as a shadow of reality, to be replaced by the destiny of a different world.

Any of these classical approaches may produce excuses for doing nothing, an inertia that, however, may be awoken to feed an increasingly common reaction today to find someone to blame.  The consequences of the pandemic produce any number of issues that could potentially be laid at someone’s door, but merely to find a scapegoat now for something that had happened in the past, cannot usefully contribute to providing solutions for the future.

Historians record the past, prophets look at the present, and visionaries see the future, and so, in the context of the pandemic, Tom Wright examines where we go from here.  He acknowledges that there is a place for lament, not just feeling sorry for ourselves, but understanding the nature of grief for what has happened, as part of love.  This is part of living through the present, which as Christians we should do in the context of talking about God in an increasingly secular society, trying to understand how Jesus acknowledges opposing views and attitudes.

And the crunch question for Tom Wright, and all of us, is ‘How do we recover?’  He looks at different imperatives, and considers possible initiatives and outcomes. Some are ‘no-brainers’ some are inevitable, and some will only succeed if everyone has a common sense of determination to make them work. 

We could sum up our response to that question in one word – ‘faith’ or perhaps ‘hope’, but either way faith anchors hope for us in the context of Christian teaching.  So, all that we learn, all that we believe, all that we can share with each other, should be used to uphold the fundamental desire to prevail as equal citizens of this world and God’s Kingdom, in homage to him, and with integrity as stewards of his gifts of creation to us.

A duty, a responsibility, of course, but understand that it is essential that we all make a positive response, however we can, to declare that God is with us, and has faith in us. So he is asking us, as Christ’s disciples, to respond faithfully, hopefully, confident in the future that John’s Revelation puts before us.


Preached by Alan Jenkins on Sunday 16 August 2020: Tenth Sunday after Trinity

Sometimes it’s difficult to understand a short stand-alone scripture reading without getting some idea of the background, the context, and we could do with a bit of help to ‘get it’ and appreciate the message.  So, in this morning’s Gospel, for instance, what was Jesus on about when he spoke about the dogs?  In the context of the woman’s request for help for her sick daughter it seems insulting, especially when we realise that ‘dog’ could mean a shameless and audacious woman, or a Jewish term of contempt to describe Gentiles, and in nearly every example of the use of the word it would come across as an insult.

But Greek scholars will tell us tell us that the word that Jesus originally used for dog was the diminutive that really described a lap-dog or pet, rather than some wild street dog, and so the way in which Jesus spoke takes the sting out of a narrative that might be otherwise difficult to comprehend.  Jesus’s use of everyday expressions with colloquial meanings or definitions, acknowledged the language of the time, by comparing ‘children’ as the Jews, with ‘dogs’ as Gentiles, and this of course in a Gentile territory.

The whole conversation between Jesus and the woman raises a number of implications, with the woman actually daring to stand her ground, an action which earned her the mantle of faith so that her daughter could be healed.  And Jesus acknowledged that the children must be fed first, but conceded that there would be food for the pets, for others still to come.

And so it is with the Gospel:  Israel, or God’s chosen ones, might have had the first offer of its good news and teaching but Jesus always acknowledged the needs of others.  He went out of his way to deal with minorities, to meet with others who did not have acceptance within the contemporary society, he ate with sinners, he touched the unclean, both ritually and medically.  In all his ministry, teaching and healing, Jesus made himself available to all, encouraging debate and argument from different traditions and viewpoints.

So this encounter, with its face-value repartee and unexpected language, upholds emotions of gratitude, equality, inclusiveness and opportunism, and teaches us that all can approach Jesus.

That is the underlying theme we can take from this account, – being able to approach Jesus, and the woman in the Gospel story was certainly able to do that, and ready to stand her ground in her conversation with Jesus.  Today, approaching Jesus, having a dialogue or conversation with him, is always available through prayer, and this week’s Collect encourages us to have confidence that our prayers will be heard.  One version of the Collect reminds us that Jesus taught his disciples to be persistent in prayer, and that is a lesson that we, too, should learn, as we turn to him amid the troubles of our present times.

So the Gospels tell us that prayer provides us with foundation for our ministry of outreach today, – to share that Gospel message with all who would ask for it, all who would even ask for the crumbs.

We have this as our duty as a witnessing community of faith in our neighbourhood, and in the world. We are members of the body of Christ, who are welcoming to others and prepared to share what we have.  And our prayer life, our ability to speak to Jesus, is an important preparation for our ongoing mission as heralds for Christ.  Amen

Oh do come in for a cup of tea

Preached by Alan Jenkins on 28 June 2020: Third Sunday after Trinity

Oh do come in for a cup of tea……………

It sounds such a natural way to offer hospitality, but over the last few months how long has it been since we could say that without breaking the government rules or guidelines? OK, there’s been some easing now, but one of the real down-sides to the lockdown is that we haven’t been able to welcome people into our homes, or to into our church, to the hospitality we would like to offer, to be immediately sociable with others. Yet hospitality is an important part of our Christian lives, and Jesus was referring to it as an integral element of mission, of creating disciples, the ‘little ones’ that he talks about in this morning’s reading.

The Gospel readings from Matthew at the moment are recording the ways in which the first disciples were being prepared to go on a mission, to share the gospel message, just as Jesus had been doing, and they would have expected to have been stocking up on provisions and equipment for the journey,- hopefully without panic-buying! But Jesus reined them back, telling them only to take the clothes on their backs, no extra clothes, no money, no food. Their only provision was to be hospitality, and a trust in the kindness of strangers.

Jesus’s instructions to his disciples contained a deeper message, which is equally addressed to us all. Hospitality and welcome are hopefully natural instincts that underpin an appreciation of forgiveness and healing, justice and mercy, righteousness and hope. In last week’s Church Times the leader expanded this, by saying that we need courage to welcome the stranger, humanity to have compassion, bravery to fight injustice. Not options, but commands from an incarnate God born into a refugee family.

And those commands were being given to the disciples by the one who was of that family, but Christ’s immediate message to them was a bit curt at first hearing: – no hospitality = no gospel. The good news will not flourish unless it is welcomed, nurtured, and fed.

If we look through our Bibles, and not just the New Testament, we will find innumerable references to eating together, for this whole idea of hospitality is a constant throughout the history that the Bible records. If you heard or read our Thought for the Week ten days or so ago you may remember that I mentioned a series called Holy Habits, when we thought about generosity. And Eating Together is another of those Holy Habits, so if you ever worry about whether you are ‘holy enough’, take some comfort from the fact that just by eating together, with friends, family, strangers or fellow worshippers, you are adopting a holy habit – and feel good about it!

But what about that remark by Jesus about a cup of water. What did he say? If anyone gives even a cup of cold water, they would receive a righteous man’s reward. More importantly, Jesus was saying that those who speak and work in his name represent him, and their deeds would be his deeds. In this one statement he gives his newly- appointed disciples authority, but also duty and responsibility. They were being sent out to carry on the work that Jesus had started, work that he knew he couldn’t continue for ever, and so these ambassadors for Christ were being commissioned, in his name.

The cup of cold water, itself a minute gesture, is a symbol of Christ’s welcome to all; a minor act of kindness that can mean so much. And we have been seeing many acts of kindness during the last few months, neighbours helping neighbours, sharing of food through food banks, seamstresses making scrubs and masks for carers to use; generous acts, which might be small in themselves, but which have made such a difference to other people’s lives.

But, if hospitality, eating together, welcoming others, is such an important part of our witness, can something as apparently insignificant as a cup of water do the trick? Jesus is telling us, today’s disciples, that this small gesture takes on board the concept that what is given to one of his people (the little ones), is given to him. To welcome someone with even a cup of cold water is also to receive Christ, and to receive Christ is to receive God.

If we only read this morning’s passage from Matthew in isolation, there’s a danger that we might get the idea that Jesus is saying that the disciples should only share hospitality with other Christians, somehow fuelling the idea that the church is only a cosy club for the committed. Nothing can be further from the truth, and in much of Matthew’s Gospel we learn that Jesus talks about the duty to help everyone. In Chapter 25, for example, he explains that when we welcome a stranger, we welcome him; when we give food to the hungry, we are feeding him; when we give clothing, companionship, concern to the needy, whoever they may be, we are helping Christ himself. We need to take on board that sharing kindness with anyone, especially those who are among our society’s most vulnerable outcasts, is to welcome Jesus and thereby to welcome the Divine.

So, back to the Holy Habit: hospitality is an opportunity through which we can offer food or drink to anyone, to someone who might be in a situation completely remote from our experience; not just those we know and are comfortable with, but someone in a world that is beyond our limited understanding. That’s where the courage that the Church Times headlined comes in, the boldness to obey Christ’s commands to welcome strangers. Whenever hospitality reaches across into that unique relationship there is no more host and guest, them and us, insider or outsider; there is just this unique place where we listen to, and learn from, one another, valuing and honouring one another on the equal terms that Jesus offer each of us.

Now, as we try to get back to some sort of normality, even this so-called ‘new normal’, one of the things we must be looking forward to again is meeting up with others, – and meeting over a meal, or a drink, or just a sandwich is an easy way of getting to know each other better. Being able to offer hospitality again, even if it does mean that guests may have to bring their own cutlery(!), is just one way that we can share good news about being Christians in community, about following Jesus together, about being and growing disciples in obedience to him, through our Holy Habits.

Eat, drink, welcome, – and be holy!! Amen