Lemonade Joe & Jesus

* The following manuscript was originally delivered as a sermon at Pension Lesanka in Pastviny, CZ.


There is a movie I love, which I have discovered is a Czech classic. It is called “Lemonade Joe."

Whether you know the movie or not, you have probably heard similar stories before. It starts in an old Western town which has a problem. The problem is that the whole town is a bunch of drunks. They all hang out at the bar all the time and drink whiskey.

One day a man called Lemonade Joe comes to town, and Lemonade Joe is different. He doesn’t drink whiskey, but a soda drink called Kolaloca. And he doesn’t gamble, or get tangled up with prostitutes like the rest of the men in the town.

And he causes quite a stir. They don’t like this guy coming into town with his new ideas. And a gun fight almost breaks out, but Lemonade Joe is too fast with his pistol, and too quick on his feet. He is better than anyone else at shooting, and all the men in the town stand in awe of his skill.

The men are impressed by him. They want to be like him. So they give up their whiskey and gambling and prostitutes and they clean up. Most importantly, they all start drinking Kololoca.

The owner of the town saloon calls in someone to stop Lemonade Joe. His name is Hogofogo, and he is very bad, and very tough. If you have seen the movie, you will know the little song that Hogofogo sings about how bad he is. It’s hilarious.

The twist comes later in the film, when Lemonade Joe turns out to be a salesman for his beloved drink, Kolaloca. It turns out that his “good guy” act was just a way to get people to switch from whiskey to another drink. He just wants to promote the Kingdom of Kolaloca.

This morning I want to think with you about a man who lived about 2000 years ago, and compare him to Lemonade Joe. The man is known to us as Jesus of Nazareth. 

In many ways, the stories about his life are the classic “good guy/bad guy” story. The Gospels show him arguing with a group of people called the Pharisees, and they show him healing sick people and casting out demons. They even show him talking about something called the “Kingdom of God,” which come as a direct threat to the Kingdom of Caesar, and the governors of his day.

In fact, most of the people who met him and began to follow him hoped that Jesus would destroy the Kingdom of Caesar, and of Herod Agrippa, and Pontius Pilate (the governors where he lived). His followers wanted him to do what Lemonade Joe did, and get rid of “bad guys.”

But then a strange thing happened. Jesus went to Jerusalem for a big feast, and there were lots of people hoping that this was where he would begin his revolution. But instead he was killed by the Pharisees, and the different governors. He died a horrible death.

In most situations, when a rebel leader dies, the movement or political party dies. And it looked like this would happen with Jesus’ followers. But then something even stranger happened: after three days Jesus rose from the dead.

There is no other way to explain what happened next. In spite of all of their previous disappointment and disillusionment, the followers of Jesus spent the rest of their lives proclaiming his resurrection, and every last one of them was put to death for spreading the message of the Kingdom of God and the resurrection of Jesus.

What his followers proclaimed was that Jesus had defeated the power of death. That all the decay which we fight with all that we are—cancer, disease, even aging—that decay truly is not what the world was meant to be. That the life we have which flickers for only a moment in time feels too short precisely because it is too short.

We were meant to live forever, with our creator God and our redeemer Jesus Christ. You see, Jesus did not come to make people good through Kolaloca, like Lemonade Joe. Jesus came inaugurate a new way of being human, a way that looks forward to resurrected life. A way that does Justice, loves Mercy, and walks Humbly before our God.

And if we trust him and let his kingdom come into us, he will turn us into such people as well. He will recreate us as we were meant to be: loving, humble, walking with God. This is why our passage today from Colossians 1 speaks of him the firstborn of the new creation. Because New Creation is coming. God has set a plan for it. It will happen. And when and where this happens, it is the Kingdom of God. It is the Kingdom of love and freedom and joy.

Mike Littell

July 19, 2015

Pastviny, CZ