Semper Fi

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John 15:1-20; October 7 2018 

    Aaron Feuerstein is a loyal guy.  In a culture where work environments breed insecurity and layoffs are the norm, Aaron Feuerstein is a hero in the dog-eat-dog world of work.
    Decades ago, when textile mill after textile mill moved to other locations, Feuerstein kept his Malden Mills factory open in the blue collar town of Lawrence, Massachusetts.  
    When the mill burned down just a few weeks before Christmas–Feuerstein the owner of this company that manufactures Polar Fleece–announced that his workers would continue to be paid.  He also told them they would continue to receive health care benefits during the reconstruction of the factory.  Yes, he would rebuild.
    Even when a handful of workers sued him, in spite of his unparalleled generosity to them, he empathized with their plight.  “They are poor people,” Feuerstein explained, and with their lawyers tempting them with astronomical settlement figures, they could not resist.  He loyally forgave them even for their own lack of loyalty.
    Susan Stamberg  interviewed  Aaron Feuerstein for NPR’s “Morning Edition in a series on loyalty.  Aaron Feuerstein explained why he did what he did. “It’s the right thing to do,” he said about his decision to keep his employees on the payroll after the fire.  His actions reflected one way “to save” his community and his people.  They needed him and he did not abandon them.  Without his grace, their futures would have been bleak. 
    The loyalty series led Stamberg to talk to teenagers, sports fans, and military leaders–as well as Mr. Feuerstein–on the subject of loyalty.  Some interviews were inspiring.  Most however revealed the sorriness of the human condition.  Most demonstrated that while hope springs eternal, loyalty springs ephemeral.
    We learned, for instance, that teenagers dole out loyalty on a case by case base.  Say you have a movie date scheduled, but then out of the blue your extremely cool fantasy crush who didn’t even seem to know your name calls you up and wants to get together on the night you had your date scheduled.  What do you do?  Simple.  You ditch date number one. 
    Best Friend tells you her deep dark secret and begs you never to tell.  Cross your heart and swear by the power of Britney Spears halter-top.  But what if the secret is drug use?  What if the secret is bulimia.
    Susan Stamberg found that whether the issue is boyfriends, drugs, or health, everything depends on the circumstances.  Loyalty ebbs and flows. 
    In the field of business, the loyalty that once bonded individual workers with a company for a life time went out with the Royal Typewriter.  Loyalty fluctuates with the economy.  When profits go up, loyalty rises. When profits go into the tank, loyalty dissolves.  
    Aaron Feuerstein stands out as the except to the rule of profits first.  Business, for Feuerstein, is also about fidelity, trust, the way people are treated.
    
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    In the 15th chapter of John, Jesus says, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.  Greater love hath no man than this; that a man lay down his life for his friends.”  This section of John’s Gospel is called “the farewell discourse.” Jesus is speaking to his disciples on the last night of his life.  Later, when his disciples recall these words, they link them  with the cross.      
    In a world where loyalty is an endangered species, Jesus stand as an exception to the standard operating procedure.  He remains loyal to his friends and to his mission to the end. 
    “I will never leave you, nor forsake you,” God tells the Hebrew children.  God hangs tough with us.  And God never changes.
    We admire loyalty because we know when we see it, it is a reflection of the nature and character of God.  We admire loyalty, because we know when we see it, we have witnessed a bit of Christ-likeness.
    If the factory burns down, no one really expects the boss to continue to pay benefits.  If profits are down, nobody expects to Board of Directors not to lay off workers.  If things nose dive, nobody expects loyalty to count for much.  
        I mean, who can you really trust?  Corporations?  Look at Jimmy Johns, Fed Ex and Wal Mart, all of whom cheated their employees of rightful wages.  Look at all the retirees who lost their shirts in the Arizona Baptist Foundation.
    But here and there you see a few glimpses of what loyalty means.  According to Jeffrey Pfeffer, the Thomas D. Dee Professor of Organizational Behavior at the Stanford School of Business, companies get what they deserve in the way they treat their employees.  Companies that treat their people right get enormous dividends: high rates of productivity and low rates of turnover.   Companies that treat their employees badly experience the exact opposite–and then end up complaining about the lack of loyalty and lousy performance.  These are “toxic” workplaces, Pfeffer said.  Pfeffer disputes much of the conventional wisdom in the current conversation about work and business.  Loyalty isn’t dead, he insists, but toxic companies are driving people away.  There are plenty of people out there who long for good companies, but the increasing number of toxic companies are giving all companies a bad name.
    When Susan Stamberg interviewed people in the military on this subject,  she discovered that loyalty is one of the virtues most honored.  When Marines declare “SEMPER FI” (“always faithful”) they are referring to more than a motto.
    Best-selling author William Manchester fought on Sugar Loaf Hill in Okinawa during World War II.  Thirty-four years later, he visited that bloody mountain side where he had fought as a Marine.  This is what he recalls:
    “I understand, at last, why I jumped hospital that long-ago Sunday and, in violation of orders, returned to the front and almost certain death.
    “It was an act of love.  Those men on the line were my family, my home.  They were closer to me than I can say, closer than any friends had been or ever would be.  They were comrades; three of them had saved my life.  They had never lt me down, and I couldn’t do it to them.  I had to be with them, rather than let them die and me live with the knowledge that I might have saved them.  Men, I now knew, do not fight for flag or country, for the Marine Corps or glory or any other abstraction.  They fight for their friends.”
    Greater love hath no man than this….Today we remember the One who  pledged his loyalty to us, and then gave his life as an undying and eternal symbol of  that loyalty.  His sacrificial death is the single-most important act in human history.  In that death, we know that he will never leave, he will never forsake us. 

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