Thank God for Fleas
Thank God for fleas. Do you like fleas? I donít know if anyone does. But there is a story told about Corrie Ten Boom. She was a Dutch Christian whose family hid Jews during the German occupation of Holland. They† were betrayed by a Dutch informer and the family was imprisoned. Eventually Corrie was moved to the infamous Ravensbruck concentration camp. She and her sister Betsie were interned in a barracks designed for 400 women. When they arrived the barracks held 1400 women.
The women were housed on dirty, flea-infested straw that was strewn on wooden platforms. The fleas feasted night and day until everyone was covered in itchy, raised welts.
The sisters took comfort in the bible they had and the readings done by Betsie. This was all that helped the sisters survive day by day. If the guards had ventured into the room and discovered the bible, they would have discovered the forbidden bible. Not only would the bible be confiscated, they would have brutalized.
One morning Betsie read a passage from 1 Thessalonians 5:18: ďGive thanks in all circumstances.Ē† Betsie insisted that they put this in practice and began to list things they should be thankful for: that they were together, for the bible, for the other women in the barracks. But then Betsie gave thanks for the suffocating room and finally the fleas.
This last Corrie rebelled. Thereís nothing to be thankful for in a concentration camp, let alone for the flees. But Betsie insisted. Corrie remembered standing in that room with all the other women thanking God for the fleas.
But that was a turning point for the sisters. Their circumstances hadnít changed, but now Betsie and Corrie had connected with the other women.
Betsie kept her faith Ö she had faith that beyond the horrors of the camp, there was something greater than herself and the inmates. She knew that Godís Kingdom was inbreaking into the world even in this most horrid of times.
She was part that inbreaking by keeping the faith Ö she took Godís word and simply thanked God despite her thankless situation. She lived in the Kingdom in the midst of her living hell. For one bright moment in that camp, the Kingdom came into hell and blessed a group of women.
Beyond the evil of that camp and beyond all the suffering be it personal or collective, God cries out to us to live in the Kingdom even if our end is brutal Ė Betsie died in that camp.
God cries out to us even then, because the Kingdom isnít just for us, itís for the whole world and for all generations to come. Betsie in her last days planted on more seed to help the Kingdom be there for the next generations.
In our passage from Revelation, those robed in white are the martyrs of the second generation of Christians. Christians were being crucified and slain in the coliseum by the tens of thousands.
How were they to survive as a people, as a movement? Were they to simply give up the way of Jesus Ö and let the Romans win. No Ė they carried on because of the promise that their lives had meaning even in the coliseum Ö they were building the Kingdom right then and there, in their everyday lives and even under the most horrific circumstances.
And strangely enough, as Caesar slain more Christians, more people joined the movement, so impressed were they that these people had meaning in their lives so profound that they would not give up on it.
The early Christians and Betsie Ė and Corrie lived this irrational, virtually insane lifestyle that God showed us through Jesus. Against all odds, they kept the faith that Godís Kingdom is the right way to live no matter what other people did.
So what is this Kingdom that the early Christians and the Ten Boomís were so dedicated to? It is a way of life that we as Christians are called to practice. As Christians we do try to practice the way of Jesus as best we understand and are able.
But here are teachings by Jesus such as to turn the other cheek, to love your enemies, to give more when less is demanded, and to walk the second mile are risky undertakings with no obvious benefit, that have for the beginning been very difficult to come to terms with. Yet they are the heart of living in the Kingdom.† We will talk more of these next week, but it is these mandates that the early Christians and the Ten Booms and many others have actually put into practice.
It is that lifestyle and those mandates that are so often threatening to the powers that be. The early Christians and the Ten Booms did not want to be martyrs. The contemporary understanding of ďmartyrdomĒ of a bunch of nihilists killing themselves so they gain spread terror is not ďmartyrdomĒ. Itís just outright murder. A martyr is someone who doesnít want to die or suffer, but is willing to in order to maintain the lifestyle that Jesus calls us to.
The early Christians just wanted the freedom to care for the unwanted and love their neighbors. But that disrupted society, because Roman society didnít want the unwanted to be wanted or enemies to be loved. So it did threatened their lifestyle and they need to get rid of the Christians.
In the same manner the Ten Booms Kingdom lifestyle calls them to call for the needy Ö and the Jews were certainly in need. They didnít want to be caught Ö they had worked out an elaborate scheme to hide Jews and not be caught, but they were willing to take the chance.
Now, thank God, in our present time we Christians are not faced with such a terrible and horrific assault upon our lifestyle. But the Kingdom lifestyle is still called into question. Sometimes the Kingdom is outright condemned, such as Glen Beckís condemning Christian clergy who preach and teach social justice. But more effectively it is subtly challenged just by the secular lifestyle around us.
We are tempted by all of the consumer goods. We are tempted away from the Kingdom by all of the economic demands place don us. We are tempted to forget the one true God and raise ourselves up as gods. But most of all we are tempted to selfishness. The secular lifestyle not only condones, but celebrates self-centeredness. Itís all about me. So it encourages a very myoptic vision of life: my past, my present, my future Ö and thereís nothing beyond my future (thatís why medical science needs to make me immortal!).
But we donít live in the Kingdom just for ourselves. We often think of living Jesusí way as our personal salvation. Frankly, itís not really about that. Our salvation was guaranteed on the cross. We are saved. Thatís done and over with.
What work we have now in the Kingdom is answering: what are we going to do with that salvation? Are we going to say thanks, but no thanks and just carry on the secular life? Or are we going to accept the invitation to live in the Kingdom and practice what we preach.
And if we do that, then we do not solely live for ourselves. Now we live for all of our brothers and sisters, and all of the strangers in the world. We live not only for this present generation, but for our children and everyoneís children not yet born and every generation to come. We are laying the ground work for a better, more godly, more humane world.
That is what sustained the ancient Christians and the Ten Booms and every Christian who suffered for living in the Kingdom. Thatís why Revelation reports the martyrs rejoicing with God: they were a part of something greater than themselves and that was a wondrous life.
By the way, Corrie Ten Boom was released from the concentration camp close to the end of the war. She didnít understand why. Later she found out that it was a clerical mistake and she wasnít supposed to be released. All the other women were executed.
Oh, yes what about those fleas? After Corrie was liberated, she learned why the guards never entered the room to inspect it and thereby confiscate their bible.
It was the fleas! The guards had refused to set foot into the barracks because of the out-of-control flea infestation. When Betsie took God at Godís word and thanked God for the fleas, she had no idea that the fleas were a gift from God.
Think about it.
Godís grace and love be with you Ö