One day Dionysius grew tired of hearing this day in and day out. “Come now, do you really think I’m happier than everyone else?” Damocles replied, “But of course you are. Look at the great treasures you possess. Look at the power you hold. You have not a single worry in the world. How could life be any better? Perhaps you would like to change places with me.” Damocles’ face quickly beamed with a huge smile. “Oh, I would never dream of that. But if I could only have your riches and pleasures for one day, I should never want any greater happiness.” “Very well,” said Dionysius. “Trade places with me for one day. For one day you shall have everything you want.”
And so the next day, Damocles was led to the palace. All the servants were instructed to treat him as their master. They dressed him in royal robes. They placed the crown of solid gold on his head. He sat down at the table in the banquet hall. Rich foods were placed before him. Nothing was wanting that could give him pleasure. There were costly wines, beautiful flowers, rare perfumes, delightful music. He rested himself among the soft cushions. He felt like the happiest man in all the world. “Ah, this is the life!” He called out to his friend Dionysius who was at the other end of the long table. “I’ve never enjoyed myself so much.”
As he raised up a cup to his lips, he lifted his eyes toward the ceiling. What was that dangling above him? It’s point was almost touching his head. Damocles stiffened. The smile faded from his lips. His face turned ashy pale. His hands trembled. He wanted no more food. No more wine. No more music. He only wanted to be out of that palace! Far away! He didn’t even care where! For directly above his head hung a sword. It was held to the ceiling by a single horsehair. Its sharp blade glittered as it pointed right between his eyes. He started to jump up and run. But he stopped himself. He was frightened that any sudden movement might snap the thin thread and bring the sword down. He sat frozen in his chair.
“What’s the matter my friend?” Dionysius asked. “You seem to have lost your appetite.” “That sword! That sword! Don’t you see it?” “Of course I see it. I see it every day. It always hangs over my head. There is a chance someone or something may cut the slim thread. Perhaps one of my own advisors will grow jealous of my power and try to kill me. Or someone may spread lies about me, and turn people against me. It may be that a neighboring kingdom will send an army to seize this throne. Or I might make an unwise decision that will bring my downfall. If you want to be a leader, you must be willing to accept these risks. You see, they come with the power.” Why do you suppose this tale existed all the way back in ancient Greece?
There is something about leadership that just scares people! You see Damocles is not alone. Many people look to the leaders of the world and think, “If only I were in charge. If only I had the power. Life would be greater if I were in charge!” And the truth is, many of these people eventually realize their dreams. They become leaders. They experience the power and control and authority. And many of them fall flat on their faces.
I don’t completely understand it, but I have noticed something about good leaders. They usually don’t begin with the intention of being a leader. Their leadership is given to them over a period of time. They don’t grab the respect or the position for themselves. It’s given to them by those who respect them. Those who think like Damocles usually climb the mountain and fall with a great crash. But those who are pushed and pulled to the top by others. Those are the ones that succeed. Those are the ones that become great leaders.
I want us to reacquaint ourselves with one such leader this morning…Moses! I want us to walk down the same path Moses walked through his life. As we all know, Moses’ entrance into this world was less than ideal. Moses grew up as a child of two cultures. He was a Hebrew—he could not escape his obvious appearance no matter how hard he tried. But he grew up with an Egyptian education. Moses undoubtedly felt different from the beginning. Like he didn’t belong. Like he was inferior to everyone else around him. “What was this slave child doing in the palace?”
It reminds me of something W. E. B. DuBois—the great 20th century thinker—said about his identity. In one of his greatest writings, The Souls of Black Folk. He wrote that he was an African American. He said he always felt like there were two identities waging war against each other in his soul. He was African. His skin was black. He held all the strengths that come with that heritage. As a black man living in early 20th century America, he experienced all the challenges that came with that identity. At the same time, he was American. His people had been American as long as any white skinned European. His people helped build this country. So, at the same time, he was African & American. These two identities waged war against each other every day of his life. I bet Moses felt some of this too.
If he did grow up in the palace in Egypt, we know some things about his earliest days. As far as his education, he would have studied law. He would have learned to express himself and handle responsibility and authority. He would have been expected to become adept in problem solving. The royal building projects were supervised by Pharaoh’s household. He would have grown up already trained in leadership. Think how these various things prepared him for his future. God spoke God’s commands to a legally trained mind. Moses—the expert in the law—served as judge for Israel. From the very beginning, God prepared Moses for his task.
As a young man he also met another great obstacle—not only was his birth clouded with difficulty, so were his growing up years! No one knows how many times Moses witnessed the brutality handed to his own people and did nothing. But one day he snapped. In a blind rage, he killed an Egyptian. A Hebrew killed an Egyptian! Even in Moses’ privileged position, this did not bode well for his future in Egypt. And one might think that this act of bravery would give him respect among his own people. But to the contrary, they rejected him. At an early age Moses experienced what all leaders ultimately fear—rejection by the people they are called to lead. More than any other biblical leader, Moses seemed profoundly alienated by his people. He was never quite accepted by the Hebrews. Yet look at what he accomplished among them!
This catastrophe sent Moses on a flight into the desert. And, even in exile, God was training Moses for the future. He encountered 7 young women in distress at a Midianite watering hole. He rescued the women. He got a dinner invitation. He met his wife. He got a job. Not bad for an afternoon’s work! From the beginning, Moses modeled his strong sense of right & wrong. He saw the Egyptians abusing the Hebrews and he acted. Here, he saw these ruffians abusing these women and he acted. He was constantly involved in personal intervention on the behalf of others. He was particularly sensitive to the needs of the underprivileged.
Moses lived for a long time in Midian. This desert school of leadership built accountability and stewardship into Moses’ character. In this wilderness he had to provide for his master’s flock; food, water, protection. In another wilderness Moses would provide for his Master’s flock; food, water, protection. He had to learn wilderness survival techniques. Searching for food and water. He knew the area like the back of his hand. He probably never realized his daily routine was preparing him to be a savior of a nation.
We have an advantage over Moses. We sit centuries beyond his life’s journey. We can see how God was preparing him. We understand the larger picture. But Moses had no idea! He didn’t realize that each step of his journey was preparing him for something amazing! And so, when it came time for Moses to assume his position, he was reluctant!
God had visited Moses through shadows his entire life, but on one afternoon, God moved into full view!
READ EXODUS 3:1–10 (CEB)
Moses’ encounter with the burning bush moved him from reserve status to active duty! God finally expresses to Moses’ His plan for him, but Moses instead offers excuses. First he said, “Who am I?” Then he said, “Who are you?” Then, “They won’t listen to me!” Then, “I can’t even speak good.” Finally, when God knocks down all of his excuses, Moses just says, “Send someone else!”
This character that we’ve been following. The one God had prepared since birth. The one who was primed to be the perfect leader. This man felt ill-prepared to lead! He didn’t want to do it! He didn’t think he had what it took! And the fact is, many great leaders begin enter their positions of leadership with that same reluctance. The fact is: There are many people in this very room who feel just like Moses. Not prepared enough. Not godly enough. And you may be the ones, just like Moses, who fail to see the way God has prepared you since day 1.
The question is now: Will you move from reserve status to active duty? Will you live out your days in the training camp without ever using your God-given abilities to lead?
There is a reason I wanted us to revisit this story together this morning. You see this church body has begun to process of searching for new shepherds. And many of us have been on the lookout. Who do we believe God has been preparing? Have we seen qualities in the life of people in this family that would lead us to believe: God has been preparing them for this?
This morning, I want the Moseses among us to consider the way(s) in which God has brought them to this point. Your first inclination may be to run! But is it possible that God has been training you, molding you, shaping you to make you ready to shepherd this church? Leadership is a dangerous business. The sword is indeed just above a leader’s head. And sometimes that tiny thread is broken, sometimes its ripped apart! But remember that God works through your weaknesses. God understands your reservations. But when its all said & done. God still prepares wonderful, godly, courageous people to shepherd His people.
May God grant us wisdom as we continue in this critical moment in our congregation’s story.