Sun, Apr 22, 2018

Augmented Reality

Acts 4:5-12 by Doug Gunkelman

Augmented reality. The first week of this month Danette and I along with our daughter Rachel, her husband Andy, and their two boys, Colton and Cason, ages 4 and 2, filled our Honda Odyssey to the brim and made our way on a Disney odyssey of very augmented reality.

Rachel and I sat in the front seats trading off driving while Danette and Andy were in the backseat with two car seats, one facing back, the other facing forward, filling all the middle space in this odyssey.

Rachel talked and I occasionally asked a question. Rachel filled me in on the augmented reality of today’s corporate world in which she is a manager of people for a fortune 500 company – Molina Health Care. They love her because she knows our health care system and when they promoted her last year; she fired half of her staff whom she said, “had been getting by too long doing almost nothing and didn’t want to work.” Most of them were older. One 50 something woman accused her of firing her because she was black and a lesbian. The CEO from California flew in for a visit, had coffee with Rachel and told her to keep doing what she’s doing.

So when I go with Rachel on a trip to Disney World which now requires on-line reservations for various things and planning your day ahead of time, Rachel is the leader and the rest of us follow.

How Disney World has changed reflects how our culture has changed in one generation. The technology is really unbelievable.

Navigating the parks, fast passes, reservations for shows, even ordering a meal is all done via cell phones. The last time we were at Disney 25 years ago, we didn’t have cell phones. Augmented reality.

Then there’s the rides and the shows. The Avatar world, the Lion King world, the Finding Nemo world. And that was just at Animal Kingdom. We are literally transported into a different reality, an augmented reality.

Reading the book of Acts, we discover that such augmentation of reality is really nothing new. In the early Christian church, the real world was made better by innovations that were spiritual instead of technological.

One day in the city of Jerusalem, the apostles Peter and John encounter a crippled beggar. Peter says to him, "I have no silver or gold, but what I have I give you; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up and walk" (3:6).

The beggar's reality is that he has been lame since birth. Every day he sprawls on the ground and asks people for money as they enter the temple. But now Peter augments his reality by offering him healing in the name of Jesus. Acts tells us that "jumping up, he stood and began to walk, and he entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God" (3:8).

From being lame to leaping. This is the real world, but better.

Actually, augmented doesn't do justice to the transformation this lame man experienced. His reality was completely altered! It was more than augmented; he was, to use Pauline language, "a new creation."

Unfortunately, this healing upsets the status quo. Not everyone wants you to mess with their reality ... their truth.

The captain of the temple, the priests and the Sadducees come to Peter and John, "much annoyed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming that in Jesus there is the resurrection of the dead" (vv. 1-2.

Jerusalem's religious leaders arrest Peter and John and put them in custody. The next day, the high priest and other members of the high-priestly family have these two prisoners stand in front of them, and they ask, "By what power or by what name did you do this?" (v. 7). "What is the secret to this transformation?" they want to know.

Peter responds with words that are not entirely his own. Acts tells us that he is helped, guided -- you might say augmented -- by "the Holy Spirit" (v. 8). "Rulers of the people and elders," he says, "let it be known to all of you, and to all the people of Israel, that this man is standing before you in good health by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead" (vv. 8, 10).

So, exactly what is the secret to augmented reality or a completely new creation?

The power of God, seen in the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit. Jerusalem's leaders are threatened by this new reality that is appearing all around them. They are shocked that their authority is being questioned by these two "uneducated and ordinary men" (v. 13). After all, 3,000 people were baptized, a sure sign that something new was happening outside the realm of the religious leaders' control.

Pentecost. The gift of the Holy Spirit to 3000 and the gift of the Holy Spirit to one, little Sally. We join the first century baptized and Christians of all times and places in welcoming Sally into our Lord’s family in the Sacrament of Holy Baptism.

Three thousand people -- quite a crowd. All of them hungry for a better world.

Peter concludes by saying, "There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved" (v. 12). Salvation comes from the power of the name of Jesus Christ, the One whom God raised from the dead, and who still works to save us from sickness, sin and death.

Reality is things as they are. No fantasy. No illusion. No wishful thinking. Augmented reality is things as they should be. Through the power of God, we can move from the world as it is to the world as it should be.

It's a radical augmentation that makes us virtually new creations in Christ!

In reality, there is human effort. People can cook meals, build houses, write books, deliver medical care, teach children, compose music, police streets and work on the body of our vehicles. Some people can even perform different functions at the same time. "I'm great at multitasking," says my son. "I can waste time, be unproductive and procrastinate all at once."

But in augmented reality, the power of the Holy Spirit is the extraordinary add-on. When we open ourselves to the Spirit, our human efforts become part of God's work in the world. We cook meals to feed our hungry neighbors, build houses for the homeless, write books to uplift and inspire, deliver medical care in the developing world, teach children in underserved communities and compose music that glorifies God, and respond to opioid overdoses to save lives.

What made the words of Peter powerful was that he was "filled with the Holy Spirit" (v. 8). The very same is true for us, when our words and actions are augmented by the Spirit.

In reality, there is sin. According to Christian tradition, the seven deadly sins are lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy and pride. Most of us have committed at least a few.

On the back panel of a popular T-shirt, there's a list of these sins with a checkbox next to each of them. At the bottom, someone has written the word "Done!"

But in augmented reality, we find forgiveness. On the cross, Jesus took the sins of the world on himself, and died so that we might receive forgiveness and new life. "There is salvation in no one else," said Peter (v. 12). Jesus is the One who saves us from the sins that separate us from God. The powerful name of Jesus is what augments the reality of sin with the even more powerful reality of forgiveness and reconciliation with God.

In reality, there is death. "Nothing is certain," said Benjamin Franklin in the 1700s, "but death and taxes." With April 15 now behind us, we are keenly aware of the reality of taxes. But what about death? Death is a requirement, not a suggestion. The death rate is the same that it has always been: one per person.

But in God's super-augmented reality, we find eternal life. The grave is not the end for anyone who trusts Jesus, because he is the one "whom God raised from the dead" (v. 10). God overcomes the cross for Jesus, and he overcomes our deaths as well, receiving us into everlasting life. This is an augmented life that is connected to what we know in this world, but goes far beyond it. As Saint Augustine said in one of his prayers, "We shall rest and we shall see. We shall see and we shall know.We shall know and we shall love.We shall love and we shall praise.Behold our end which is no end."

Resting, seeing, knowing, loving and praising are all part of the real world. We experience them and understand them. But in everlasting life, they are augmented by the saving power of God, and they connect us to God and to each other for all eternity. They are real, but better.

Such augmented reality is spiritual, not technological. Peter and John experienced it in the resurrection of Jesus and the work of the Holy Spirit. The same can be true for us, as we open our human efforts to the Spirit, and trust that Jesus is offering us forgiveness and eternal life.