People who know me know that I find it difficult to sit back and say nothing. I don't mean that I witter on with small talk: small talk I don't do. Land me at a party with a lot of people I don't know, or don't know particularly well, and I find it difficult to maintain a conversation. But if there is a discussion going on and I have an opinion, I'm in there with my big mouth. It lands in all sorts of odd - and sometimes awkward - situations. Like the time I ended up preaching a sermon.
I was then heavily involved in the church, certainly on the parochial church council and either as a sidesman or churchwarden. As in so many churches, there was a monthly church parade for the scouts, guides, cubs and brownies at one of the regular Sunday communion services. The vicar did have a tendency to spend rather longer in the pulpit than was comfortable for the younger ones and, me being me, I plucked up the courage to tell him so. It didn't, I pointed out, encourage the youngsters to attend church if they found it boring. I accepted his challenge to do better and so it was that a month or two later I found myself due to speak on Sunday morning. It wasn't until I arrived at church that I discovered not only was it a church parade, but there was also an infant baptism to take place during the service. Luckily, what I had in mind to say was easily adapted to cover a baptism.
I spoke about promises, reminding the youngsters that they had each made a promise when they were invested in their pack or troop, and saying that God would be making a promise to the baby who was to be baptised, a promise that He would always be there, a promise that He had made to each of them as well.
Then I told them about a ceremony that used to be held by North American Indians in the forests of what is now Canada. When a boy reached the age of 12 he was considered to have reached manhood but to prove it, he had to spend a night alone in the forest. One boy was led away from the village by his father deep into the forest, farther away from the village than he had ever been before. He was told that he had to spend the night in the clearing and make his way back to the village the following day. Knowing that there were wild animals such as bears in the forest, the boy hunted around for twigs to make a fire. He kept it burning all night as he sat there, watching the firelight reflected in the eyes of the wild beasts that had smelled man and came to investigate, but the fire kept them away from the boy. In the morning he made his way back to the village without mishap.
What the boy didn't know was that his father had been on the edge of the clearing all night, watching over him. The boy couldn't see his father, but that didn't mean he wasn't there. We can't see God, our Father, I told them, but that doesn't mean He isn't there watching over us, just as He has promised.