I grew up on a farm that had pigs. My brother and I had the duty of pig chores. The first responsibility was to make sure they had food and water daily. The second was to clean their pens and provide them fresh hay to lie on. I remember a number of cold winter evenings, coming home late from a basketball game, having to bundle up and go out to check the pigs—grumbling over what felt like hours of work left to do. In reality it was probably a half-hour, at most.
There is one memory that stands out more than the rest… the smell. Especially on sale day. When it was time to take the pigs to the sale barn, we would have to get up before school and help sort and load them, so dad could take them to Barney in Canby, Minnesota to sell them. There were two reasons why I really disliked those days. Reason one: I had to wake up at 4:30 A.M. Getting up for school at the normal time was early enough. Reason two: it was nearly impossible to remove the pig odor before heading to school. It wasn’t a strong smell, but it was a noticeable one. I would scrub and scrub, all the while praying, “Lord, help me not smell like a pigpen at school today. Please?”
Those days are long gone. There haven’t been pigs on my parents’ farm in over 20 years. But that discipline of raising pigs gives me an insight to the story of the prodigal son, and to the mission work we are doing in Parker, Colorado.
In The Parable of The Prodigal Son, there is a son who demands his share of his father’s inheritance. This demand renders his dad as good as dead to him, since the inheritance wasn’t normally attainable until the death of the father. So for the son, his need of a family wasn’t essential to him anymore.
When the son has squandered his inheritance, he comes to his senses. He soon finds himself not just working in the pigpen, but living in the pigpen. He realizes how foolish he was, and his desire turns from himself back to the family.
If we equate the reality of the pigpen to sin, as Jesus does, I find that the stench is all too familiar. I don’t have to go searching for it. I smell it all around me. In fact, I have spent many days trying to scrub that smell off of me, praying that it will just go away.
The prodigal son’s moment of realization sets up the amazing climax of the story: While the son is still “far off,” the Father runs to meet him, grabs hold with a large embrace, and welcomes his son back into the family, giving life back to him.
This is the heart of the mission that God has called us to. There are countless prodigals around us who are living in the pigpens of life, and have failed to see the hope and purpose that the family of God knows. We have hope, because we are prodigals who serve a Father who has returned us to the family. We know that, from the time of Adam, people have walked away from God. But from Adam’s day, God promised to restore the relationship.
Parker, Colorado, like every other community, is a place where many people don’t know the promise of restoration that God gives them. And God has given us his life to share with them. This is a life that meets them wherever they are with a warm embrace, and a welcome home.
After 20 years of reflection, I have come to realize that in the midst of those short nights of rest, and the lingering smell of pigs, there was a father who was doing everything he could to provide for our family, and allowed me the joy of partaking in that work. It wasn’t easy. In fact it wasn’t even desirable. But it was for a purpose greater than mine. I wanted to sleep in and smell good, but what I needed was family income, food, and a work ethic. Now I am reaping the reward.
Rev. Jason Rogness is the church-planting pastor of New Hope Lutheran Church in Parker, Colorado. Parker is a community of 80,000—located in the southeast corner of the Denver metropolitan area.
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