A few days ago I read an article about the shake-up at Nike. In the last few months at least six male executives announced they would be leaving the company—after a group of women employees secretly sent out a questionnaire about sexual harassment and discrimination—and then plopped the results on the CEO’s desk.
One of the men leaving was Trevor Edwards, president of the Nike brand, and thought to be the “next in line” for the CEO job (as the current CEO was due to retire in August). Here is how one article put it, “[Trevor] surrounded himself with a group of close allies known colloquially as Friends of Trevor, and those friends were mostly men. Anyone who was a so-called “F.O.T.” would constantly brag about how it would help their career.”
That phrase, “friends of Trevor,” pinged in my brain as I read this week’s gospel lesson. Where Jesus says, “You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the Master is doing; but I have called you friends.” And there it was. Friends of Jesus. FOJ.
It also struck me that this “you are no longer servants but friends” sounded much like the conversation we had around the idea of the Good Shepherd where we hear that we are not to be like a hired hand, but like the owner, the shepherd. The friends of Trevor just give us an example of how this “friends” thing can go wrong.
The friends of Trevor, it seems, were a closed insular club. Jesus certainly had his close group (the disciples) and even an inner circle (remember all those stories of Peter, James, and John). But Jesus was forever including people that just didn’t fit the standard FOwhatever. He allowed women to sit and learn at his feet. He invited a tax collector down from a tree. He healed lepers, and sought out the least of these almost everywhere he went. Friends of Jesus should know that being part of “the club” isn’t going to keep the riff-raff away. If anything, it is the commission to reach out, to go out into the world, the whole world, and tell them about Jesus, as the old hymn puts it, “about Jesus and his love.”
And that was the second thing I thought. Friends of Trevor felt that they were going to personally get something from the association. A former Nike employee told the Wall Street Journal “If someone was rising quickly, it was likely they were FOT” (Elle, Megan Friedman). How about the Friends of Jesus? Of course, those of us who are followers feel we “get” something from our association. But I also think that we know that we are going to be asked to give something as well. That is where this idea of “fruit” comes into play. Jesus says, “I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last …”
We are back to our discussion from last week—back to the vine and the branches. I am the vine, Jesus said, and you are the branches. And what do branches do? Or at least good branches? They produce grapes, that mature, and can be harvested—Fruit. (I’m going to come back to this point in a little while.)
A third thing struck me. I don’t know if the people who surrounded Trevor called themselves “friends of Trevor” or not, but everyone else seemed to know who “they” were. And because Trevor seems to have created an exclusive atmosphere, that is a bad thing. But think about it. Somehow friends of Trevor were easily identifiable. Can people say the same about us as the Friends of Jesus? It’s a sobering thought.
So Friends of Jesus—for we are FOJs around here, what does it mean for us?
I think it means we need to figure out what this “fruit” looks like. And how the “fruit” we produce is shared with a wider world.
If we look at this passage, one word does seem to stand out—LOVE. And this isn’t a navel-gazing love. This is a love that seems to be in motion. Love moving from “Abba,” the Father, to Jesus. The same love spilling over from Jesus to Jesus’ friends (those hearing the Word then and now). And finally, that same love passing through us to others. Instead of an exclusive club, the image is of a ripple in the water, reaching out in ever widening circles, until it reaches distant, unseen, shores.
Love isn’t the only fruit. The apostle Paul created a list of “desirable attributes” in his letter to the people of Galatia, who were probably asking, just as we are, about what the fruit of being a follower of Jesus would look like. His list is “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” A good cluster of personal fruit we can each cultivate in our lives.
But it seems to me that Jesus is looking for more than just making us better individual human beings. Our “fruit” will be harvested, and will become drink for a thirsty world, will become nourishment for the whole earth eco-system, will connect us to other branches who are producing their own type of grape, type of fruit.
So I continue to ask, what does our fruit look like?
I hear Micah questioning, “What does the Lord require of us?” And the answer, “To do justice, and love kindness, and walk humbly with our God.”
I hear Jesus summarizing all the law and the commandments into—“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and all your mind, and all your soul, and all your strength. And Love your neighbor as yourself.”
What kind of fruit we are producing, and how we share it with our community and our world is part of the task of revitalization we have embarked upon. We shall return to this question over the coming months.
I also want to acknowledge that being a FOJ producing fruit is not necessarily a “cool” thing in our world.
It is much more in vogue to go to an all-you-can- eat (and drink) brunch on Sunday morning I am told.
It is much more savvy to be part of the “in” crowd, whether that be in school, or at work, or in government, it seems.
It is increasingly common to want to be Friends of Trevor rather than Friends of Jesus.
But Friends of Jesus is what we are. May we go and bear fruit always. May it be so. Alleluia, Amen.