I was reading a Bible study note this morning on the story of Jesus walking on the water, the version in John's gospel. Elaine Storkey was reflecting on the feelings of the disciples as they struggled across the Sea of Galilee in the boat before Jesus arrived walking on the water. She coined the phrase 'the atmosphere of fear' to describe the way in which they must have felt. Perhaps there was nothing specific on which to put their finger; perhaps they were just uneasy about what would happen next; perhaps they were really terrified that they were about to drown. She even suggested that Jesus' appearing out of the darkness would add to that atmosphere of fear to begin with; was this a ghost?
There are all kinds of things that can create that atmosphere of fear around our lives:
- the present job situation is a clear example of something that makes people afraid, even if there is no direct threat. No-one is immune. Solicitors, estate-agents, people who work in banks and other financial institutions are the most obvious jobs under threat, but they are not the only ones; how many teachers will the local authorities be able to employ? how do young people, school-leavers and graduates, get a foothold on the job ladder?
- You don't need to be around Churches for very long to realise that lots of Churches in Scotland are living in fear of their future. I was speaking to someone who is a member of a Methodist Church in Edinburgh; their congregation is about to disappear, merged into one big city congregation based in Central Halls at Tollcross and afraid of what that will mean; he is very unhappy at the prospect. I will spend next Saturday in Fort William, helping a set of Churches in Lochaber face up to the uncertainties and fears of their future.
- there must be an atmosphere or uncertainty around the City Council in Edinburgh at the moment. Will the trams ever be finished? (Incidentally, who thought it was funny to suggest that we need to keep the tram project 'on track'? Ha, ha!) Some people are finding it hard not to smile from ear to ear, with a sort of 'I-told-you-so' face.
Into that atmosphere of fear, comes what Tom Wright, Bishop of Durham calls the most common command in the bible: "Don't be afraid" How can we not be afraid? Life creates fear in our minds! Jesus tells His disciples not to be afraid, but He gives them one very good reason why they should not be afraid - "I am with you; it's me!" This is not a pious platitude, but for people of faith, this is the other reality of life. Jesus is with us in all our fears, and in all our joys. Jesus' presence helps dispel that atmosphere of fear; His power to sustain, His love to support us - these qualities are at work in us and in our world today.