Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany
February 9, 2014
“The Word of the Cross, the Power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18 – 2:12)
As many of you know, these past two weeks I was at our seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana, to take a continuing education course on the life and work of Bo Giertz. Who was Bo Giertz, you ask? Let me tell you. He was a very important churchman, theologian, and author who lived in Sweden during the 20th century. He was born in 1905, and he died in 1998 at the age of 92.
When I was in seminary, I read a book by Bo Giertz called “The Hammer of God.” It’s a historical novel about several pastors who served in a certain parish, and this book made a deep impact on my life. It’s a terrific book. So I wanted to read more by this author, but at that point not much else had been translated from Swedish into English. As a result, I became part of a small team of translators who are working to bring more of Bo Giertz’s writings into English. And that’s why I was in Fort Wayne for this course about his life.
For 21 years, from 1949 to 1970, Bo Giertz served as the bishop of the Gothenburg Diocese, which happens to be where my family comes from and where many of my relatives still live. When he became bishop in 1949, there was a custom for the bishop to have his own coat of arms, with a motto that he would pick out. On your bulletin insert, you can see an image of Bishop Giertz’s coat of arms, including the motto. It’s in Latin, and it reads: VERBUM CRUCIS DEI VIRTUS. Translated, that means, “The word of the cross, the power of God.” This is what Giertz wanted to emphasize, this is what he was saying would mark his ministry as bishop. And so it was. Bishop Giertz was always preaching, teaching, and writing about the cross of Christ, the atonement that Christ accomplished there, for our salvation–indeed, for the salvation of the world.
“The word of the cross, the power of God.” Now Bo Giertz did not come up with this saying on his own. It was not original with him. No, it comes from one of our readings for today, the Epistle from 1 Corinthians. Actually, that particular phrase comes from last week’s Epistle, but since I wasn’t here last week, today I’ve woven together last week’s and this week’s readings for our text, since they work as a continuous unit. And in this section, St. Paul begins by saying, “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” Thus Bishop Giertz’s motto, and thus our theme for this morning’s message: “The Word of the Cross, the Power of God.”