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“You give them something to eat”

Last week some friends of friends posted a picture of themselves at the Dunker Church at Antietam. It seems they were visiting the historic park and this church is one of the sites that has been restored to its original state at the time of the civil war. The building was used by both Confederate and Union troops during the bloody battle.

I had never heard of this church, though I knew about the horrific Battle of Antietam. So I was intrigued and decided to do a little research about this...with Google such things are now quite easy. I discovered that though this is the name of the church building at Antietam, the Dunkers were also a Christian religious denomination.

According to my research, the Dunker movement began in Germany in the early eighteenth century. After lots of stuff during the middle ages (that you too can Google) and the reformation occurred—the denomination was finally formed in 1708 when eight believers were baptized by full immersion. The name Dunker derives from this method of baptism. However, they were more commonly known as the German Baptist Brethren. In 1908 the official name became Church of the Brethren, which continues to this day.

The Dunkers’s guiding Christian principles include pacifism—members of both North and South refused military service, the brotherhood of man—including opposition to slavery, and a simplicity in lifestyle.

Dunker church services supported their beliefs in simplicity. For example, hymns were sung with no musical accompaniment from organ, piano or other instruments. The congregation was divided with men seated on one side and women on the other. The churches were simple with no stained glass windows, steeple or crosses. Dress was also very simple. Dunkers were often confused with the Amish or Mennonite communities.

From this information I discovered an old out of print book called The Olive Branch of Peace and Good Will to Men. It is a study of the anti-war movement among the Brethren and other groups in the South during the Civil War.

In reading what I could of its scanned pages, I came upon this story about an event that occurred during the war on Maundy Thursday 1865.

It was a powerful teaching moment about love and sharing. P.R. Wrightsman of Limestone, Tennessee, was a member of the Dunker church. As you can imagine the Dunkers living in the south were reviled for their strong stance against slavery and for their refusal to fight for the so–called Glorious Cause. Some Dunkers were imprisoned, and some were murdered during the war. Many of their farms were raided by Confederate armies. Wrightsman himself remembers tramping through the snow to a hiding place in the middle of winter to avoid a group who meant him harm.

The highlight of the Dunker church year was their spring communion service, which featured foot–washing, a full meal known as the Love Feast, and the bread and cup. When Wrightsman arrived at the Dunker meeting house, he was surprised to find that his fellow church members were hiding in the woods because there was a Confederate unit camped near the building.

The moment called for an urgent decision. Wrightsman summoned the other Dunkers, and they prepared the beef, broth and bread for the Love Feast, conducted their service within the sight of the Confederates, explained the meaning of this service, and shared the food with the starving soldiers.

As Wrightsman had noted once, the commandment of Jesus to love one another includes feeding the hungry, and that includes everyone. After all, everyone must eat.

What a powerful testimony to this group’s faith. Despite their persecution and fear, this group decided to love those who didn’t love them and not just via thoughts and prayers but in actual tangible ways.

This is our call as well.

Luke 9:10-17 says the following.

10 When the apostles returned, they reported to Jesus what they had done. Then he took them with him, and they withdrew by themselves to a town called Bethsaida, 11 but the crowds learned about it and followed him. He welcomed them and spoke to them about the kingdom of God and healed those who needed healing.

12 Late in the afternoon the Twelve came to him and said, “Send the crowd away so they can go to the surrounding villages and countryside and find food and lodging, because we are in a remote place here.”

13 He replied, “You give them something to eat.”

They answered, “We have only five loaves of bread and two fish—unless we go and buy food for all this crowd.” 14 (About five thousand men were there.)

But he said to his disciples, “Have them sit down in groups of about fifty each.” 15 The disciples did so, and everyone sat down. 16 Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke them. Then he gave them to the disciples to distribute to the people. 17 They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over.

Our society wants to divide the world up into those who are deserving and those who are not. And of course, we only give if we are sure we have plenty to give.

But Jesus doesn’t care about those things; the only thing he cares about is taking care of needs. The call is simple— “you give them something to eat.”

Christ says it doesn’t matter who it is—it can be folks from the north or south or east or west—the call is to feed the mind, body, heart, and soul. Even when we only have five loaves and two fishes and even if we—like the Dunkers—can’t be sure of the costs.

If we love him, we feed Christ’s sheep.


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