We call it the Gospel which means the Good News, but when we are sitting in church and listening or when we are reading our Bibles or when we are just thinking about our faith do we actually experience the Gospel or, that is to say,do we perceive it as good news? I look back on my life and think about times of sharing good news or receiving good news. I also watch and see good news being shared and I think about how hearing it, even if it doesn’t concern me, affects me emotionally. I remember an advertisement that ran around the time my son was applying to college, where the son goes and checks the mail and pulls out a letter. There’s no doubt that it’s a college letter and you see the dad watching from the porch. You can actually feel the tension on this commercial. The son is reading intensely. The dad is obviously tense not knowing what the next few seconds will bring, joyous celebration or heart rending dejection. The son’s eyes widen and the father sees the glimpse of uncontainable excitement. The son got accepted, and I can feel the impact of that good news even though it’s two actors in a commercial. It helps me to look back at when I was waiting by the mailbox to see if I got in and it heightens the anticipation of my son’s wait for the coming year. Then there was the time that Pam was not feeling well one morning. She couldn’t go to church so I scoured our then small town for something for nausea on a Sunday. We figured I should also pick up a pregnancy test and check before she took anything. we wondered. After a long difficult search, I returned home with medicine, a test, and a really nasty cold rotisserie chicken for me to eat for supper. I hurried upstairs so the smell of “the bird” wouldn’t make her sick, got what I needed for the test. I started the test and returned to find half of the chicken gone and my wife fleeing with nausea. I was confused to say the least. She returned to surprisingly say that the chicken was good? A minute was up and I returned to look at the little plastic square. I had been using addition and subtraction signs since I was in early grade school but they just didn’t seem to make sense anymore. I stared at it and finally realized I was looking at a plus. I am here to tell you that there is news so big and good that your mind has a hard time wrapping itself around it. I can’t really explain the feeling that affected me physically and emotionally and spiritually but I can say it was not exactly what I expected. It was so very close to the feeling I had when I saw Pam walking down the aisle toward me on our wedding day. It was absolute exhilaration but also a very weighty feeling. I was standing at a moment that changes everything, turning a very profound page, beginning a new chapter in my life and realizing it was not just my life anymore but would become our life together, full of new exciting and a little bit scary responsibilities. These were moments that mattered after which nothing would ever be the same. That day Pam said yes to me when I asked her to marry me on September 22, 1989, the day that hurricane Hugo slammed into North Carolina. I could not wait to share the news with other people. When we saw the plus in that little plastic square we couldn’t wait to share the good news. I just handed my mom the square and waited for her to figure it out. She and my dad looked at it and had no idea what it was. A plus. A plus. After a while they figured it out and seeing someone receive good news can be about as exciting as getting it yourself. There’s a really interesting painting of the Ascension of Jesus from a totally different perspective than most are painted. The painting was done by Salvador Dali and it is called the Ascension. All the other paintings of the Ascension are from sort of a triangulated position where you see Jesus from the front rising up into heaven. Dali’s painting is completely different. In his painting the point of view is from directly under the ascending Jesus. The most outstanding feature in the painting and the painting’s focal point is the bottom of Jesus’ feet. Jesus’ are dirty. OK I admit, all of this seems like an incredible left hand turn. From the most incredible moments of a life, which probably got you, at least I hope, thinking about incredible moments in your lives, to the dirty soles of feet in a painting. Let’s think about what the bottoms of those feet mean. In 1990 Bette Midler had a hit song called, From a Distance. It sounded theological and like it had a good, positive, religious meaning. Maybe the composer even set out trying to make a statement like that, but the words end up helping to make quite the opposite theological point. The song says, “From a distance the world looks blue and green, and the snow-capped mountains white. From a distance the ocean meets the stream, and the eagle takes to flight.From a distance, there is harmony, and it echoes through the land. It’s the voice of hope, it’s the voice of peace, it’s the voice of every man. From a distance we all have enough,and no one is in need. And there are no guns, no bombs, and no disease, no hungry mouths to feed. From a distance we are instruments marching in a common band. Playing songs of hope, playing songs of peace. They’re the songs of every man. God is watching us from a distance.From a distance you look like my friend, even though we are at war.” The song states that God is an observer watching from out there or up in heaven. It feels good to think that God is choosing not to see the bad parts of the world and to focus on the positive, however, the point of the Gospel and the point of Dali’s painting are quite the opposite. God’s relationship with the world and us is not from a distance. Jesus got his feet dirty here on earth. He is Emmanuel, God with us. He saw the blues and the greens of the earth up close, and he also witnessed the deep reds of bloodshed. I am sure he also saw harmony, hope and peace, but the good news is he also experienced disharmony, hopelessness, warfare, fear, anguish, suffering and he truly walked in our shoes. He is not oblivious looking down not seeing the guns and bombs, the disease, the hunger. Jesus suffered hunger and was tempted to distance himself from it but he rebuked the very idea. He saw hunger and felt pity for those who were to go without eating. He traveled and stood with those who were afflicted with disease and to suppose that Jesus never got sick would be denying his true humanity. And as far as guns and bombs are concerned, he had a spear thrust into his side, he was beaten, nails driven through his hands, he was cursed at and spit on from right up close, not from a distance. God did these things, saw these things and experienced these things in order to know what we go through. God understands what it all means. God did not choose the “I’ll make laws for my people and stand apart approach”. God came down and walked through the mud, the nastiness, the rocks and and thorns and his feet got dirty and calloused and tired. So in the Ascension, Dali shows those feet. It is the last thing we see of Jesus as he rises into heaven to prepare a place for us. We see those feet and receive a reminder of just who Jesus was and that we are not alone. Sometimes we may try to distance ourselves from him but because he has been there he remains forever near. Can we hear that? We are not alone. Our hearts are reeling and broken hearing about the little girl that smeared herself with a friend’s blood to fool a gunman, of the unimaginable terror in that room, of evil up close to children who were once dreams and then little pluses on a plastic square. God is not distant. God is with us. Dirty, bloody, hurting and deeply grieved, yet preparing a place for us where suffering and want, pain and brokenheartedness will no longer be in the picture. Can we live our lives in that joy of this good news? Will we be propelled like me, not being able to wait to tell people that Pam and I were going to get married or the excitement of telling our parents that they were going to be grandparents? Can this news encourage and empower us to refuse to let others be alone in their suffering and not do faith from a distance? The Word became flesh and came to dwell with us to BE one of us. He saw all of this and experienced the crummiest side of things since the day he was born in a barn and he loved and stayed with us anyway. That’s powerful news, news worth sharing with others through both word and deed. God’s work- our hands-and dirty feet.