“Then said Jesus to the crowds and to his disciples,‘The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; so practice and observe whatever they tell you, but not what they do; for they preach, but do not practice.’” Matthew 23:1-12
It’s easy to preach, isn’t it? Not so easy to practice what we preach. My dad used to say, with tongue in cheek, “Do as I say, not as I do.” Fine words from a parent to their child, even though we all know that actions speak louder than words. This was Jesus’ point, of course. The Jews could listen to the teachings and instruction of scribes and Pharisees, but their actions were the more powerful example.
The same is true, of course, for church leaders today. We pastors would love to think we practice what we preach, but we know we are sinful, disobedient creatures like all the rest of fallen humanity. The practice of clergy wearing black clerical shirts and black cassocks grew out of the desire to manifest, not solemnity or seriousness, but sinfulness! The black is intended to be a confession, a reminder that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God…that all have sinned and no one—no, not one—lives without sin. Pastors, in particular, need to live humbly as the sinners we are.
Of course, the black cassock was always covered by the white alb or surplice, as well. The “sermon” in clerical garb was that, although we are sinful human beings (black), we have put on Christ Jesus and his righteousness (white). We are now forgiven and cleansed by His blood, though we are always, as Luther would say, simul justus et peccator. We are simultaneously saint and sinner—our sinful nature will never be gone until our earthly bodies die and we are resurrected in Christ Jesus. We will on that day wear only white robes, for our sinful natures will be destroyed and we will live with the Lamb of God in the heavenly city New Jerusalem, cleansed and purified forever.
In this sense, then, our Lord Jesus is the only one who truly practices what he preaches, as He loves us and gave Himself up for us, a sacrifice, once for all, for the forgiveness of our sin.
Lord Jesus, help us to hear your word preached, and by your Holy Spirit, to live what you command! Amen.
Prepared by David Wendel, North American Lutheran Church