Please allow me to introduce myself, I’m a man of wealth and taste. I’ve been around for a long, long year, stole many a man’s soul and faith. Pleased to meet you, hope you guessed my name. That’s the iconic opening verse of the Rolling Stones’ song Sympathy for the Devil where they recount evil events in human history mentioning The Hundred Years’ War, the October Revolution, the trial of Jesus, the Second World War and the death of the Kennedys. The Stones met a lot of backlash for that song and were accused of Satanism and devil worship while the Stones were simply pointing out humanity’s sympathy or by its definition understanding and shared common feelings with the devil. Our initial reaction to hearing that sort of assumption is one of incredulity and lashing out at the messenger, but as it turns out the shoe seems to fit. In today’s Gospel lesson we see Peter trying on the shoes. While Jesus is laying out his mission and its inevitable results Peter essentially shushes him and tries to reframe the mission. Jesus’ response is a pretty stern rebuke which has a pretty interesting meaning that we will get to in a little while. I had never noticed this before, but this rebuke echoes another in Matthew that takes us back to before Jesus set out on his mission and public ministry. Jesus has gone out into the wilderness and is tempted. The devil or adversary tries to get him to turn stones into bread because he has been fasting for 40 days and nights and is hungry, tries to get him with the wouldn’t it be cool to jump off the temple and have the angels catch you ploy, and the come worship me and you’ll never have to work a day in your life and you will be in the lap of luxury offer. Thanks to the commentaries of Mitzi Smith and Audrey West I gathered some new insight into that interaction and it’s unveiling of who the Son of the Living God is and the methods of his mission and how that is revisited in his exchange with Peter. Mitzi Smith writes, “Before beginning his public ministry Jesus settled the question of his priorities; he sided with the poor who do not have the power to turn stones into bread; he refused to trivialize life and sided with those who are defenseless from the daily onslaught of violence; and he turned down ill-gotten material prosperity and power predicated on allegiances and partnerships with evil and oppressive forces.” In the past, this passage has taken me in different directions and I had never noticed or seen this connection in others’ writings. When Jesus tells the devil to get away from him, he is not only rebuking the devil but defining the actions that separate us from God and he is cementing his mission as one of standing with the poor, the oppressed and the outcasts. This moment also tees up the ball so to speak for Matthew, as the writer, to show us, in the coming chapters, how Jesus would accomplish this mission. Audrey West points out that quote, “Jesus refused. Instead of hoarding bread made from stones to relieve his own empty stomach, he fed the hungry multitudes. Instead of claiming the privileges of Sonship to call on God’s angels for his own benefit, he used his privilege to save, heal, and restore the lives of sick and marginalized persons. Instead of grasping after worldly varieties of power and authority, he opened the kingdom of the heavens to all who would follow after him in the way of righteousness.” end quote. So then we come to Caesarea Phillipi and the moment where correctly acknowledges Jesus’ identity as the Son of the living God. He gets that right but then in the next verses he unwittingly puts his agenda in front or ahead of God’s. That statement of position is very important as this time when Satan or the Adversary is rebuked, the wording is slightly but very importantly, different. Jesus doesn’t tell Peter to get lost or go away, but to get behind him where a student or disciple belongs. We see in Peter how easy it is to be on the right track and be rock solid and then in the very next breath or action to get caught up in ourselves, our desires, our wants, our ambitions, our own self-ishness and become a hindrance or stumbling rock. But, wow! Can’t we identify with Peter? Who would want Jesus to suffer and die, especially after you had just given up everything to follow him? This moves us to what happens next in the narrative. Our eyes, and I believe Peter’s eyes and ears and concerns are drawn to Jesus’ statement about having to suffer and die and we sort of stop there. So often we fail to truly consider why Jesus knew he was going to suffer and die. We seem to disconnect Jesus’ mission or to misconstrue it and assume that the goal was to suffer and die. Jesus came to bring about the kingdom of God, to bring liberation, love and healing. When we stop to think we realize how the cross was not a goal but a result of the mission. Human nature should no longer be a great mystery. We tend to be pretty self-centered and driven by our desires to climb to the top. Think all the way back to the beginning with Adam and Eve seeking equality or mastery of God, or Cain over Abel or the Tower of Babel, David over Uriah, Herod over the infant Jesus, thievery, muder, slander, genocide, slavery and all other iterations of oppression. To this day, think of the reactions of multitudes to those who have stood with the oppressed. Executions, lynchings, draggings, beatings, boycotting, rejection, dogs, fire hoses, shunning along with many other indignities and injuries. We do not react well to forfeiting power, the balanced scales of justice or the acknowledgement of equality. Pastor/professor/theologian, David Lose, points out that, “God in Jesus came amongst us bearing a vital message of love and acceptance even though Jesus knew that humanity’s likely response would be to reject the message and kill the messenger. In this sense, the cross was not Jesus’ goal, but rather the outcome of Jesus’ fidelity in the face of unfaithful people. He didn’t choose the cross but rather trusted God to work even through the extreme of the cross for the sake of the world God loves so much.” So suffering is not a goal. Dying is not the point. Suffering for the sake of suffering is not noble, its is pointless and actually takes time, attention and energy from the mission of the building of the kingdom of God. In the same vein, Karoline Lewis addresses what it means to join the mission and take up a cross. She writes, “It means the willingness to stand against power that silences and oppresses: the insistence on speaking up for those the world would crucify; the courage to call a thing what it is. It means the resolution to renounce those systems and institutions and leaders who choose themselves over others, who eschew community for the sake of their own betterment, who laud their crosses as a mark of their own works and not as being a blessing for others.” If we remember, Jesus modeled these very things from pointing out the widow that was destined for death as she was giving the last of what she had to enrich the temple coffers, healing on the sabbath, forgiving sins, eating with outcasts, going to the lepers, speaking of enemies as being good. He stood with women who were powerless and who were to try to remain virtually invisible. Not only did Jesus allow His ministry to be largely supported by the financial offerings of women, but it was to women that He made his first post-resurrection appearance. Jesus even stood with the oppressor as he healed the Roman Centurion’s servant saying,”“I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.” No, the life of a Christian is not about suffering it is about denying our human tendency and proclivity to inflict it. It is about the joy of alleviating and preventing the suffering of others. It is about standing with the afflicted and oppressed be it on the playground or the boardroom even when the personal consequences are difficult or dire. That’s where the cross is. That’s where we take it up. But the good news is that it is not a call to be a lone wolf for we will be marching with our cross behind Jesus who is no stranger the worst humanity can do. Our Sympathy for the Devil and its refrains will no longer define humanity as more as more and more take their place behind Jesus. The ranks of the suffering and oppressed will dwindle as we, through Christ, have brought about its end. We will then experience the reality of a different song, one that Adolphe Adam wrote about in the final stanzas of the Christmas hymn, O, Holy Night. “ He knows our need, to our weaknesses no stranger, Behold your King! Before Him lowly bend! Truly He taught us to love one another; His law is love and His gospel is peace. Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother; And in His name all oppression shall cease. Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we, Let all within us praise His holy name. Christ is the Lord! O praise His Name forever!” That’s something and someone that we can get behind. Amen.