9 1/2 mph

Jesus prayed for His disciples:

“Holy Father! Keep them safe by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one just as you and I are one.” John 17:11b

How hard is it for people to be “one” – completely unified in heart and mind? Is Jesus praying an IMPOSSIBLE prayer? We can look around the world and see MANY examples of disunity and disagreement; in fact, most of us needn’t look any further than our own families to see just how difficult it is for people to become “one”.

Take marriage…

God ordained for the two to become one in marriage, but the divorce rate in America sits between 41-73%, depending on whether we’re talking first, second or third marriages. (http://www.divorcerate.org/)  If TWO people fail more often than they succeed at creating unity between them, how in the world can we even HOPE to see the church “become one” in mind and spirit?!

A few passages before this prayer in John’s gospel, Jesus told His disciples:

“This is what I want you to do: Ask the Father for whatever is in keeping with the things I’ve revealed to you. Ask in my Name, according to my will, and he’ll most certainly give it to you.”  John 16:23-24

I have to believe that Jesus wouldn’t lift up idle prayers that He knew full well would not be answerable by God. He was one with God – His Father! He already KNEW what God desired for these followers of His. Jesus had to be praying for unity and one-ness among us, knowing that such a thing could be achieved with God.

In a world where even Christians can’t agree, however, don’t you have to ask yourself whether Jesus was crazy to talk about unity as if it could ever really happen?

I took a trip to San Francisco last weekend with my family, to enjoy the company of our former exchange student, Sue. In the midst of a whirlwind tour of the Bay, among the crowds of tourists and slightly annoyed locals, God gave me a surprising glimpse of this idea of “oneness”…

And it starts with a CAR. YOU, behind the wheel of a car. What KIND of car it is doesn’t matter, because in America it’s about what that car REPRESENTS –INDEPENDENCE, FREEDOM OF CHOICE, and CONTROL.

At the end of each school year we celebrate those who are completing 12 years of education. This milestone is often misinterpreted as an ENDING – a celebration of something that is now OVER – rather than a celebration of the journey as it CONTINUES in a new and different FORM. Many grads can’t resist the temptation to jump into their “cars” and drive AWAY – doing their own thing now that they’ve “graduated” – and let’s face it: ALL OF US know the THRILL of being captain of our own ship, even if the ‘ship’ says Chevrolet or Honda on the bumper!

Christians tend to live their spiritual lives the way Americans live their daily lives – we jump in the car, we go where we want and need to go WHEN we want and need to go there, and then we go home. All of us going in different directions, at different times, on different routes, based on what suits us best. Very little NEED for ‘unity’ in a world like ours where we’ve all invested in our own independence – our own “wheels.”

Enter, now, the San Francisco Cable Car. Have you have been to San Francisco and taken a ride on one of these? You know, then, as one of the Cable Car operators told some passengers sitting near me, that this is NOT to be confused with a TRAM or a TROLLEY! Though they may LOOK a lot the same on the outside, a Cable Car is vastly different in the way that it WORKS…

First of all, a Cable Car does not have its own POWER source. There is no motor inside, and on its own, it’s nothing more than a cool looking car that isn’t going ANYWHERE anytime soon.

Secondly, a Cable Car runs on a specific path. This route was pre-determined when the tracks were put in place and there aren’t options like “hang a left at the next block” unless the track already goes that way. You might say this track is narrow, and there is no doubt as to where it leads.

Also, a Cable Car has lots of room for different kinds of passengers. You can sit inside if you don’t want to be windblown or get wet when it’s raining. You can stand in the back and have a great view of what’s behind, or sit in front to see what’s coming up ahead. People on the sides enjoy the open air and can experience the city as it goes by, and frequent stops allow new people to jump on and others to climb off, because we still have that choice – even on a Cable Car – don’t we? There is a limit to the number of passengers at one time, though, because the car won’t operate correctly with too much weight or too many bodies on board.

So – what makes a Cable Car move? Where is the POWER if not in the car itself? This was the coolest thing for me – walking across the street, over the tracks, and hearing the steady hum of the cable moving underneath! That cable is ALWAYS in motion. When a Cable Car is stopped, it’s because the car has become disconnected from the cable, but the cable itself DOES NOT STOP. When the car is moving, it’s because it is connected to the cable.

Now, there are multiple cars in various locations on any given route, but the moment one of those cars connects to the cable, it is going the SAME SPEED as every OTHER car along the path. This is because the cable itself is always moving at 9 ½ miles per hour. You can’t have a “fast” car or a “slower” car on this route – the cable keeps things steady and reliable, and the speed of the cable is always the same.

As you might expect, it takes a trained operator to run a Cable Car – someone who knows the mechanics of connecting the car itself to the cable in order for it to move. There are multiple levers to manage, and it looked to me like it took some STRENGTH to do this job! Especially on the steep San Francisco streets.

Cable Cars share the road with other traffic, too. There were cars zipping around all over the streets where the tracks were laid, honking at the Cable Cars while going their own speed, their own way…

And it was HERE where a vision of ACHIEVABLE UNITY among Jesus’ followers appeared to me, in terms like this…

We need to realize that there are AUTHENTIC Cable Cars & authentic families of faith. They don’t just LOOK LIKE the “real thing”, but they are genuine both in DESIGN and FUNCTION.

An authentic Cable Car, like the authentic Christian Church, has no power in itself. Only when connected to the steady cable, to the power of the Living God, can there be any movement or progress made.

The Cable Car designer laid the tracks, and there is no doubt as to where they lead. You can be sure that ‘wide is the road that leads to destruction’, but if you want to take THAT route, you’re going to need to step OFF of the Cable Car and get into your Ford, because WE who are onboard KNOW WHERE WE ARE GOING!

There is more than one Cable Car on the tracks and more than one Church on the block, traveling the same route. A variety of people are in each car, and sometimes they come & sometimes they GO. Sometimes they switch cars. But we’re still on the same path as long as we GET INTO THE CAR!

You can only fit so many bodies into the Cable Car before the car (& the operator!) get stressed. There are limits for safety and limits for proper function of the car… and of the Church.

If a Cable Car stops its forward progress, it’s because the operator and passengers made the decision to stop. The cable keeps going, and so does God.

Every car connected to the cable will go the same speed, full speed ahead, at 9 ½ mph. That’s the speed of the cable. No one can boast that their car is faster and covering more ground, or that their car is slower, allowing more passengers to jump on. God – like the cable – remains the same.

Trained operators are needed on the Cable Cars and in the church. It’s not that they know MORE than the passengers, but their function is to keep a strong connection with the power source, so that the car can move and the people aboard can be themselves – passengers on a journey together, powered and directed by a Designer who knows, though it may sound crazy, that WITH HIM, ALL of His people actually can be ONE.