In November 1917, World War I was in its 4th year. Things were still very uncertain and I doubt that anyone believed that the war would terminate one year later on the 11th November 1918. Things looked very dark, both for the soldiers fighting on the battle fronts and for the civilians back in England.
I imagine that Amos's prophecy that the Consul-General read to us a few moments ago was very significant to many of these people (Amos chapter 5 verses 18 to 24). Amos was warning the Israelites that God would forsake them unless they changed their ways and truly worshiped him. That God was tired of their religious attitudes which were put on for show only and did not come from the heart.
The day of the Lord was the day when God would come to establish his kingdom on earth and the Jews believed that, as they were God's chosen people, it would a wonderful day for them and they would be exalted. However Amos warned them that what counted was not that they were descendants of Abraham, but how they worshipped God in heart and mind and soul.
As the reading concluded, what was important is that justice should roll on like a river and righteousness like a never-failing stream!
Many of the civilians and soldiers back in those bleak years of 1917 must have wondered where God was? Had He forsaken them? Had they forsaken him? Was this the end of time, the day of the Lord?
1917 certainly saw a number of victories and defeats for both sides. On 11th March British forces captured Baghdad. However, on the 1st September the Central powers took over the northernmost end of the Russian front and on 24th October broke through the Italian lines. On the other hand, Jerusalem fell to the allies on 9th December.
Possibly the two main factors that mostly influenced the outcome of the war occurred in 1917. On the 1st February, Germany resumed unrestricted submarine warfare despite strong warnings from the USA. not to do so. This meant that Germany would attack not only warships but merchant ships as well and would thereby force Britain to her knees by cutting off her supplies. Two days later, the USA severed diplomatic ties with Germany and on 6th April declared war on Germany. America entered the war.
The second factor was that in April Lenin arrived in Russia and the Bolshevik revolution took place on 7th November with all the consequences that we know. Just before Christmas, the Russians opened peace negotiations with Germany which were concluded in March 1918. This meant that Germany was able to deploy troops from the eastern front to the western front.
One interesting detail that happened in 1917 was that Germany developed a bomber, the Gotha G IV, which was able to bomb London. Now the house names of the British Royal Family were of German origin, Saxe-Coburg and Gotha (the same name as the bomber). On 17th July, King George V issued a royal proclamation stating that from that date the Royal Family would be known as the House and Family of Windsor, which continues to today.
Certainly 1917 was a difficult year for both the civilians and those serving in the armed forces. Living conditions were appalling both on the fronts and back at home. Had God abandoned them? Could they dare to hope? Was there a light at the end of this dark tunnel? Without a doubt, many believed that God was with them, that He was their God and they were his people, and they took comfort in the words that St. Paul wrote to the Philippians which the President of the Royal British Legion just read to us (Philippians chapter 4 verses 4 to 9).
"Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."
I believe that while it was virtually impossible not to be anxious, those who lifted up their prayers and petitions to God, felt his peace descend upon them and trusted that peace would once again spread throughout the world.
And what about us living in Brazil in the year 2017? Regrettably we are seeing what is potentially a great nation getting destroyed because of greed, corruption, lack of ethics and moral decay. Possibly the Brazilians need to heed Amos's words and let justice roll on like a river and righteousness like a never-failing stream
What can we do living amid such filth? I think that St. Paul's words to the Philippians are valid for us.
"Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. And the God of peace will be with you."
May the God of peace be with you.
Bishop Roger Bird