Those of low degree
I was in the third or fourth grade when Bobby Roethliesberger moved into the house down the street. Right up until he dropped out of high school and went into the Navy, though, Bobby and I had hardly any contact. It wasn’t him – he wasn’t fat or ugly or particularly weird – and it wasn’t me: none of the kids in the neighborhood paid him any attention. He was a nobody.
Nobodies were on my mind thirty years later, in the mid-1980s, when I was working on a sermon based on the passage from Luke’s gospel where Mary sings about how God has turned the world upside down, how God “has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly… has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.”
That’s the song of praise offered by Mary, a woman of no social standing, scandalously pregnant out of wedlock, member of a minority religion, living in an occupied land that was a backwater of the Roman Empire. Yet she saw God at work in her life and in the lives of nobodies like her. She didn’t predict that it would happen; she said that God was already making it happen.
I had intended to suggest in my sermon that the challenge of faith is to learn how to look at the world through Mary’s eyes. I wanted to encourage the congregation to watch for the rare occasions when it does seem that God’s values are breaking into this world, and that the rich and powerful don’t always have things their way.
I was thinking about how to illustrate this when I noticed a photograph on the front page of the morning paper. It showed a long line of automobile transport trucks loaded with Rolls-Royces. The cars were being sold to pay the debts of the Baghwan Shree Rajneesh. Remember him? This guru had arrived in the U.S. a few years before, offering controversial teachings and attracting such a large following that they virtually took over a whole town in Oregon and named it after their spiritual leader. The Baghwan had been at the top of the heap.
And yet now here he was, being deported for violating immigration laws, many of his followers under arrest, refused admission by twenty countries, and forced to sell his fancy cars just to stay afloat. How the mighty are fallen, I thought when I saw it. Mary was right.
Then I looked closer at the caption under the picture. The guy who was buying the car collection (for six million in cash) was some big Texas dealer in luxury automobiles who had started with nothing after leaving military service and had built this huge chain of car dealerships in Dallas. He wasn’t originally from Texas, though. He was, I learned, from my home town. It was Bobby Roethliesberger.
Michael Penn Moore is the pastor of Church of the Redeemer UCC in Westlake.