Somewhere in the world at this hour, persons are watching reruns of "MASH," the immensely popular TV show that had such an extended run. Arguably, one of the best series in American TV history, it is certainly one of the most thoughtful and sensitive portrayals of human nature and the shadow-side of war.
In one unforgettable episode, a disoriented pilot who thinks he is Jesus Christ, is brought to the MASH unit. The show revolves around the varied reactions of the medical staff to the presence of Jesus in their midst. At the end, the pilot is being loaded into a van, preparatory to his being sent to Tokyo for treatment.
Radar O'Reilly is there to say goodbye to him. (Radar, of course, is the one innocent in the show, surrounded by others who deem themselves worldly-wise and cynical.) Radar says to the pilot, "Captain Jesus, sir! Before you go, would you give my friend a blessing?" The captain replies, "Sure, Radar," and Radar pulls out his teddy bear and holds it up. The captain gently touches the stuffed toy.
Again they start to leave but Radar asks again, "And Captain Jesus, sir! Would you give me a blessing?" The pilot says, "Sure, Radar," and reaches out to touch Radar's head. Radar quietly suggests, "Not Radar, sir. My name is Walter." And the pilot, placing his hand on the young man's head, gives a blessing, calling him Walter.
There is power in being blessed, in being called by our name, in being touched. The good news of the Gospel is that God knows our name and calls us in love. God gives us a blessing, an anointing, if you will, by which God seals His covenant of love with us. We call it baptism, and it has been the means of grace to enter into the community of faith from the beginning.
While listening and hearing the Gospel, the Holy Spirit falls on Cornelius and his friends and, amazed by the divine outpouring, Peter says, "Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?" So he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus.
Yes, looking back to Jesus' baptism, we see how in it God anoints as well as affirms Jesus. For after John has baptized Jesus, the Holy Spirit descends upon him and everyone hears a voice from heaven announce, "This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased."
From the beginning, Jesus' baptism was thus regarded as a singular moment of grace, as a defining event of grace at a place of grace, manifesting God's outpouring of revelation, love and power upon, in and through Jesus.
This anointing of God recalls also how David received a powerful infusion of the Spirit when Samuel anointed him, and how later at Nazareth, Jesus takes the prophet Isaiah's words to himself, declaring how God has anointed him to pursue his mission.
Jesus' baptism became the authority, the prototype and the point of understanding for all Christian baptism. To be baptized, therefore, is to receive God's anointing and God's affirmation of love; it is to open ourselves to the presence and power of God's Spirit and to find in the welcoming community of believers a place of grace. To be baptized is to let ourselves be loved by God through Christ, "not because we have deserved His love, and not in spite of our deserving, not because we try and not because we give up trying, but simply because God chooses to love us" to bless us, to forgive us, and to seal an eternal bond between us.
Paul sang the wonder of it: "For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord."
And Martin Luther told how during dark nights of doubt and despair, he would touch his forehead and cry out,"Baptismatus sum! Baptismatus sum! I am baptized! I am baptized!"
To be baptized is to have a place of grace to live from, knowing for sure God loves us and despite the evil, the tragedies, the suffering, the isolation and the shadows, we are not alone, that God's love will never let us go.
Let me close with this story. Bill Welsh is a pastor out in California. A member of his congregation had a little child who was subject to sudden, unexpected seizures. They were violent and painful, not only for the child, but for the parents and for those around who witnessed them. The father and child would come to church regularly, and the father's practice was to hold the child.
One Sunday morning, in the midst of worship, the child underwent a seizure, writhed painfully, and lost touch with himself. Welsh says that the father gathered the boy up, carried him from the pew to the back of the Sanctuary, where he stood rocking the child tenderly, speaking gently to him until finally the seizure abated and he was at peace again.
Welsh says that there was no sign of embarrassment of frustration on the father's face, only love for the child. "And all at once," says Welsh, "I heard God speak to my heart, 'That's the way I love you, through your imperfections and pain. And I'm not embarrassed to have people know that you are My child."'
That promise that we are God's very own children is sealed for us by our covenant of baptism. However and whenever you were baptized, let us review and renew the meaning of our faith.