How many of you know what important world history anniversary took place yesterday? It may not be as important to us this side of the pond as it is across the Atlantic, but yesterday, June 28, 1914 marked the day that is considered to be the starting point of World War I-the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of the Austro-Hungarian empire. He and his wife Sophie were visiting Sarajevo in Serbia, to inspect the troops. A show of strength to the Serbians whose territory had recently become a part of the Empire. Franz Ferdinand was visiting on just about the worst day possible- June 28 was the anniversary of the Battle of Kosovo- a major symbolic show of Serbian resistance, and a rallying point for freedom fighters. During the motorcade, one of several potential assassins that day tried to kill the Archduke with a bomb. It missed his car and hit another, killing one of the Archduke’s officers. Which might have been a moment to think about the whole event. But instead, it was decided to re-route the drive. But the driver hadn’t been given the new route. And while he was trying to put the car in reverse-Shots were fired and the world changed.
And it all could have turned out differently, but it didn’t.
And Lots of neighbors could have responded differently but because they didn’t, what we now know as history began a whole new chapter of life as we know it. Within 37 days, war had been declared by the major European players, and horror on a whole new scale unfolded.
I’d like to take a moment and look at a very broad overview of what happened and how all of the 10 Commandments came into play. Let’s see if we get them all in. Serbia was trying to engage in expansionism which is another way of saying- I want what you have- which I think fits the coveting of the stuff of others ( #10). Arguably the very nature of empire building of the Austro Hungarians means that words like annexation are just a cover for taking what is not yours- stealing. (#7) Once the Archduke was assassinated, and everyone was trying to posture, most people would have told you that assassinations were pretty typical- they didn’t lead to war, unless what you really wanted to do was fight. But Franz Ferdinand’s killing was a good excuse to kill others. (That is a whole lot of #5). And while we’re at it, let’s say that it was pretty universal that war was a god to some- the thing from which you most expect what you want and where you take refuge in distress. Clearly for the leaders of the empires, but also ultimately for others. While there were socialist movements in most of the Europeans countries that were pretty vibrant, and while the workers could claim that workers of the world should unite, and while these movements threatened strike and claimed war was insane, in the end, they believed the claim that war was in the country’s best interest. (#1). And at least for Germany, Kaiser Wilhelm believed that God had predestined the Germans for greatness- assuming we know what God ordains. #2.
The French encouraged the Russians to be aggressive, probably exaggerating the truth about their neighbors, and rumors ran in every direction-#8. This could have been avoided except that the most peace oriented member of the French government had earlier been forced to resign because he was having an affair with a mistress that created public scandal- #6 and #9.
And in the midst of this Britain, scared, pretty much assumed the “not my problem” approach- not my neighbors.
I think I probably didn’t exactly fit in the 3rd or 4th commandments- but surely war took no Sabbath, and doing what seemed to be right, robbed a lot of people of the sons who should be tending the land- and who were no longer there to care for elders as almost an entire generation was lost. And it could have all turned out differently. But no one was thinking of their neighbors. They were thinking about themselves.
There are whole libraries full of deciding whose actions or inactions mattered most in World War I starting- but so many points of change passed by it’s easy to decide that it was too big to stop.
And sometimes I wonder when we so easily say we should love our neighbors, don’t we deep down think that God’s call to turn toward our neighbors in love is it just too big?
In our world that continues to spiral toward aggression and nation building globally, and in our nation and city facing profound challenges. As we approach the anniversary of a day celebrating OUR freedom, are we thinking about our neighbors?
That’s what God wants to know. And what the Commandments show.
One writer has suggested that the 10 Commandments show how a freed people can live. Freed from the powers of sin and the world. A new life, if not perfectly seen, is still possible. Some today suggest we don’t know what freedom really is or we don’t appreciate it. I agree. But I am not so convinced we ever did as humans. After all World War 1 was supposed to the “War to End All Wars.”
"Freedom is often seen I think as an end to itself. It means unlimited choices, keeping options open for one’s self." We can look in history, or ponder how others we know today have it all wrong, in the end, God is speaking to us here today and asking what we think it means to live free. The commandments are “words for life.” They show what a life of freedom looks like.
"It is not when the powerful take what they want- but when we all respect the property of others, and we do our best to help them take care of it and hold onto it. It is not when the strong dominate the weak, but when the bodies and lives of all are protected and their rights respected- the young, the elderly, the impoverished, the handicapped, everyone.
It is not the endless satisfaction of every impulse, but a commitment to living as loving and committed" community. Because there is more freedom in lives committed to each other than everyone for his or herself.
So I am not preaching about self improvement- but neighbor improvement. Because "the point of the commandments is not about you and your personal growth and freedom. It’s not about “your best life now” but “your neighbor’s best life now.”
And often it does seem like it’s not our problem or there’s nothing we can do, and we settle in to believing that it can’t turn out any differently- that the sin in our world condition is as tangled as the web of history I described earlier. Why try?
Because God says again today- "OK, it seems large, but while you’re here, love your neighbors."
God calls us to move from mistrust which leads to misery. To keep moving toward freedom. And peace. And it starts small.
Start with your neighbors- God loves them so much, God gave the law so we would know how to love them. Don’t kill, or steal, or destroy others’ relationships, don’t hurt with words, or spend your time burned up about what your neighbor has and whether it’s fair.
God loves our neighbors so much we are given the law. The first part helps us love God. The second part to love everyone who is not yourself.
Likewise God loves us so much, God gives our neighbors the law.
And yes, not everyone will love us.
None of us perfectly keep the law. But then God loves the whole world so much, God gave Christ- who reminds us of the gift and challenge it is to love, but assures us of God’s love for all of us.
We experience and reflect one aspect of this love in worship here. But most of the time, the place we spend most of our hours is where God is ready for us to experience and reflect love- with our neighbors. That’s where most of living out the law happens.
It really can all turn out differently- But we need each other. And instead of waiting for someone else to do what we want, or focusing upon who deserves our love, perhaps as ever the best place to start is loving people first. Love the people right in your midst who cross your path. While you're here, love them. You or I may not solve the whole world this way, but it’s a darn good place to start.