A sermon delivered on May 13, 2018, Mothers Day,
at First Parish Dorchester by Rev. Tricia Brennan

From the gospel of Matthew we hear:
“The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant,
seeking goodly pearls: Who, when he had found one pearl
of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it.”

I can imagine, that 2000 years ago,
back when the gospel of Matthew was written,
people fished the fresh water lakes and the oceans,
harvesting oysters and other mollusks for food or sale.
And once in great while,
some fisherman or cook would open the shell of a mollusk
and see embedded in its folds, a glimmering pearl,
a marvel unto itself, a gift within a gift.
In a time when practicality mattered most,
as this was a very stratified society of a few very wealthy people
with so many more struggling to survive,
a pearl would serve no useful function,
for you cannot eat a pearl or plant a pearl,
or use a pearl to build anything.
It would valuable to sell, yes, and I suspect it would be sold-
and I also have to imagine as the pearl
was held in the hand of its finder,
it would delight for lack of functionality,
for there in the hand lay something
that was iridescent and strong, nature’s surprise of loveliness.

Pearls come about as you may know,
when some sort of irritant enters the shell,
the home we shall say of a mollusk,
and perceived as a threat,
the creature creates a substance called nacre,
or also called, curiously, Mother of Pearl.
That substance encases the grain of sand, a piece of shell,
coating it again and and again and again,
over the course of years,
till the pearl is formed, luminous, indestructible,
and to our eyes, a thing of beauty.

And so we get the phrase- a pearl of great price –
something rare and precious beyond compare,
something that takes time to come into being,
something cherished, for which we will sacrifice much.

For mothers, their children are so often their pearls of great price,
for whom they would do anything, sell anything,
whom they cherish beyond words.
And like the oyster that coats
the speck of sand or stone with nacre,
a mother coats her child with generous
and continuous applications of nurturance,
helping them grow bigger and stronger and beautiful,
hoping to keep them safe.
This they do, day after day, year after year.

Today is the day we honor mothers
for this work of nurturance and care.
Imperfect all and yet so often loving well and faithfully,
sometimes supported by fathers and friends and family,
sometimes doing the very best they can or could,

alone, without much support, doing the job that never ends.
Let each be celebrated.

It is a day marked by love, and by loss.
It is a complicated day.
Some mothers are gone,
some claimed by death, some by distance,
some mother’s children are gone,
claimed also by death or distance.
All these sorrows we name and honor on this complicated day.
To love is to be vulnerable.
Life teaches us that.
I think it would be well with us
if we let the day have all its complexity-
the love, the loss, the courage to love
and the courage to continue.

Mothers day has us thinking generationally-
towards our mothers, towards our children,
up and down the generational ladder,
taking in grandmothers and their children
and their children’s children.
Sometimes we are the child thanking the mothers,
sometimes we are the mother being thanked.
Sometimes we are the partner arranging the thanks.
Sometimes we are two mothers thanking each other.
Sometimes we are the ones forgetting,
sometimes we are the ones forgotten.
it is a complex day.

And even as we think in this vertical/generational way,
let us also cast our vision and our thanks horizontally-
to all those who nurture, care and love children,
day in and day out- the neighbors, the teachers,
the aunties and uncles, the ministers, the coaches,
the friends of the parents, the nurses, the doctors,
the childcare workers,
they are everywhere and this is their day too.
For mothering- which is about the care of body and soul,
mind and hearts- is open to all.

What is your pearl of great price?
That is the question really that I want to ask this day.
What is it that you love beyond measure,
love without counting, love for a long time,
give yourself to, make room for?
What is it that you allow to change you?

It is often our children, but it is not always our children.
It is often a person, but it is not always a person.
Let me explain.

Those who have children, who open their hearts,
their bodies, their homes to children
who come by birth and adoption,
know what it is like to have their life changed forever.
Who know love’s claim on their heart,
who know a child’s claim on their time and energy.
Parents know the all consuming adventure of raising children,
how it stretches and grows them.
How though even though their kids are front and center,
there is a way that every child on the planet
has a hold on them now,
because how can you love one child
and not know that every child matters.
How can you want what you want for your child
and not believe that every child deserves the same?
You become part of the universal parent club,
whose members inhabit every corner of the globe.
Your pearl of great price comes with cost
of never being able to say
I don’t care about the welfare of a child.

Your pearl of great price may be your spouse or life partner,
with whom you have shared your life,
whose love has challenged you,
helped you be less selfish, braver, happier,
made you a better person.
And likely you have done the same for him or her.

Your pearl of great price may be a dear friend,
a best friend, a life-long friend,
with whom you have never lost touch,
who has been there for you and you for him or her,
through loss and gain,
someone you trust implicitly and with whom you feel at ease.
Someone who knows you well
and probably knows your family, your history well.
Someone who loves you despite
your evident failings and quirks.
Such a friend is a pearl of great price indeed.

Your pearl of great price may be your work.
Your work may be deeply meaningful and satisfying.
It may stretch you and teach you about life and loss
and letting go, just like a person can do.
I have a good friend Phyllis, who has worked for decades
assisting famers in central and south America
organize themselves into cooperatives.
She then helps them sell their products
in the US as fair trade products.
She believes in what she does,
and in the farmers themselves,
respecting them for their hard work and knowledge,
enjoying friendships developed sometimes
over years of working together.
A recent trip was something of a disappointment,
as the cooperative she visited wasn’t doing that well,
and also hadn’t followed through on suggestions
she as their consultant had offered.
She recognized that she had to let go of any particular outcome-
for the farmers are self- determining, they make the decisions.
She wondered- is this what is can be like
when a parent has to let go
and let their young adult children make their own decisions
even when you think their choice is not such a good idea?
We don’t control that which we love and care for,
whomever or whatever it is.

A pearl of great price can be a piece of land you love,
a place where you know every contour,
a place you know in all seasons,
a garden you love into flourishment,
a back yard that you enjoy in all seasons,
even a place in memory that you will always hold dear and visit,
even if only in your dreams and recollections.

A pearl of great price can be your church,
which challenges you and also where you feel at home,
a community that you are committed to
and to which you give yourself unselfishly continuously,
for the simple love of it, and the hope of what it can become.

A pearl of great price can be your love for God.

I have to say that when I thought of preaching on Mothers’ Day
it was that powerful love of mother and father for child
that caught my heart-
and though it is celebrated today-
it is not the parental nature of that love that matters to me.
It is the whole hearted nature of it that I want to elevate today.
The whole hearted, all-in, faithful and risk-taking love
is what inspires me and what I honor this day.
A love that keeps on keeping on, even when it gets hard.
And that kind of love is not the sole domain of parents.
I am a parent and that fact is central to my life
but I know that I do not have a corner
on powerful, transforming love.

I see that kind of love in anyone
who sacrifices for someone or something.
I hear it in the words of Julia Ward Howe
that we read together earlier.
I hear it in the hymn “This is my song”
we sang a moment ago.
reminding us that people everywhere
love their lands and want peace.

Love is the pearl, and it often comes with a great price,
and always gives rise to more love.