Meet Alice.

This message was offered at Lee Memorial United Methodist Church on Sunday, November 23, 2014.

ReadingMatthew 25:31-46

I was introduced to “Alice” in yesterday’s edition of the The Day (newspaper) and, given today’s reading, it sparked a massive reworking of this morning’s message.  Why?  Well, because you just need to meet ALICE.

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Let’s pray.

Gracious God, in the moments to come, give me the words to speak and they the ears to hear that together, we might be inspired to not only speak but to live your Word in the world starting today.  It’s in that most holy Word’s name—Jesus the Christ—we pray.  Amen.

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Meet Alice.[1]

She’s not an individual, per se, but she’s everywhere, including in Connecticut (one of the wealthiest states in the union).  In fact, ALICE is 35% of the households in Connecticut.  In Norwich, ALICE is 50% of the households.  In Sprague, she’s 36% of the households where there’s limited or no transportation options.  ALICE knows every age, race, and ethnicity.  And while you may not recognize ALICE’s face, you most likely know people who know her, if you don’t know her yourself.  We rely upon ALICE every day.  ALICE is our co-workers, friends, neighbors and families.  ALICE is the backbone that keeps small businesses, including nonprofits, standing tall; and, yet, ALICE is often overlooked.  The United Way in six states is working to give her an identity and a voice—because being overlooked without an identity, voiceless, and unheard is a special kind of hell that no one should have to live or endure.

ALICE is an acronym  for Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed.  ALICE represents thousands of people who work hard every day yet still struggle to make ends meet.  ALICE households are households that cannot afford the basics of housing, food, healthcare, childcare, and transportation.  Just to be clear, “can’t afford” is not an arbitrary feeling.  ALICE really can’t afford even the basics.  It’s not that ALICE households are squandering money on things they don’t need, they’re literally not making enough money to meet a basic “household survival budget” (which in Connecticut, for a family of four—two adults, an infant, and a preschooler—is $64,689 per year) let alone a “household stability budget” (which for the same family of four is $111,632 per year!).

Meet Alice.[2]

A school bus driver, named Laura.  She has one child.  Her husband is unemployed; he’s struggling to find work.  They have bill stacking up, they have to choose which ones to pay this month.

Meet Alice.

A home health aide and waitress, named Rita.  Rita works two jobs while raising three granddaughters by herself.  She’s just barely scraping by: she can’t afford to save for retirement.

Meet Alice.

A mechanic, named Frank.  Frank has two daughters.  He is the primary earner in the household because his wife is the primary caregiver for their special needs daughter.  They’re struggling to pay credit card debt.

Meet Alice.

…perhaps you already have and didn’t even know it.

You need We need to get to know Alice because when meet her and her needs, we meet Jesus: the Human One, God in-the-flesh, the King of kings and Lord of lords.

Meet Alice.
Meet Jesus.

Our reading from Matthew’s Gospel reminds us that when we meet ALICE, those who struggle to make it—those who are hungry, thirsty, naked, sick, imprisoned, and a stranger…  When we meet Alice, we meet Jesus.

Our reading this morning depicts the final judgment.  “Here Matthew provides the  [New Testament’s] only detailed depiction of the great, final assize.”[3]  Just to be clear, this morning’s reading isn’t meant to be read as a parable—a fanciful story that teaches us something—it is, instead, meant to be a narrative depiction of things to come.

Jesus will come again in all his glory and be seated at the heavenly throne.  All the nations—the people of the world throughout time—will be brought before the throne and judged not based upon the content of their belief but upon the way they’ve put their beliefs into action.  They will be sorted like a shepherd who sorts through his flock.

It should come as no surprise that Jesus, whose earthly ministry was marked by compassion for others, compassion that led to action (see Matthew 14:14-21), would demand compassion of the nations, of us.  “It is no coincidence that Jesus—who declared that he ‘came not to be served but to serve’ (Matt. 20:28)—demands that service be rendered to those in need.”[4]

The sheep—those who have shown compassion in serving the needs of the hungry, thirsty, sick, naked, imprisoned and a stranger—those who took concern for the body and soul of those in need—will be called righteous for they, being right with neighbor will be “right with God.”  In serving those in need, they will have met the needs of the Savior.

These are the merciful who are blessed (Matt. 5:7), the people whose hunger and thirst for righteousness (Matt. 5:6) leads them to respond with compassion to the hunger and thirst of others.  Jesus teaches that God’s reign—the full revelation of which we await—is characterized in the present, not by powerful works and miracles, but by deeds of love, mercy and compassion, especially toward those in need.[5]

Have you met Alice?

You really should, for when we serve the needs of our neighbors, we meet the needs of Jesus.  When we reach out in love to those around us, especially those in need, we meet Jesus.  We meet the bodily and missional needs of Jesus when we serve those who are most vulnerable.  In so doing, we will be made righteous and God’s Kingdom will surely come.

The front page headline yesterday in The Day read, “Sate United Way chapters confront ALICE problem.”  Friends, ALICE isn’t a problem.  ALICE presents us with an opportunity to meet Jesus.  And, I pray you will take the opportunity to do so.

Let’s pray:

Jesus, King of kings and Lord of lords, help us not to look for your majesty in the well to-do places of our community.  You remind us that it’s in the lowly places—the gutters, under over-passes, in homeless shelters, hospitals, and prisons—that you are found.  It’s in the face of ALICE that we most clearly meet and serve you.  Give us the courage to see your majesty in the “least of these;” give us the fortitude to see our service to you not as a burden of our resources but as an opportunity to know you more.

We pray all this seeking the wisdom of the Father and the power of the Spirit who reign together with you, King Jesus, One God, forever and ever.  Amen.

[1] To learn more about ALICE in Connecticut go to http://alice.unitedway.org.  And download the report!  It’s long, but well worth the effort.  Read at least the Executive Summary!

[2] The examples that follow were taken from the video “United Way ALICE,” YouTube video 1:53, posted by UWC Community Results Center <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u7gPJGu2psw#t=73> Accessed November 22, 2014.

[3] “Exegetical Perspective: Matthew 25:31-46” by Thomas D. Stegman, SJ in Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary: Feasting on the Word, Year A, Vol. 4 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), p333.

[4] Ibid, 337.

[5] Ibid.