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Qui Transtulit Sustinet

Speaker: The Rev. Jake Miles Joseph

April 18, 2021

The Rev. Jake Miles Joseph
Qui Transtulit Sustinet
Associate Minister of First Church Guilford, Connecticut
Third Sunday in Eastertide April 18, 2021
Hebrews 13:1-3 and 5-6 NIV 

I always like to be authentic and real with the congregations I serve, and there has been some confusion around if I am or am not from Connecticut. The answer is a little complicated. When I was five years old my parents had a friendly divorce, and my sister and I became even more privileged than we were before! Because dad could travel and visit us anywhere with his business, the divorce gave my mom a big open-ended destination—quote, "may move anywhere in the lower 48 within an hour of an airport!” Mom had always wanted to own a horse ranch in Colorado, and so with that, we moved from Point Pleasant, New Jersey to a Colorado ranch. Imagine what our new neighbors thought of us—single mom, two kids with budding Jersey accents on a ranch! My little sister, Jamie and I, quickly became young, seasoned flyers back to New York alternating every holiday between Colorado and the East Coast and splitting summers between the mountains and the beach. We thought we were the luckiest kids on earth, and indeed we were very blessed. In our case, the divorce doubled our horizons and communities.

When I was in the third grade, things got even better! My dad and my step-mom bought a house in a wonderous place—the magical land of rivers and streams and forests of Chester, Connecticut. I was immediately in love when we came for that first summer, even as a young kid— head over heels obsessed with this new place! My first love wasn’t my husband Gerhard, but it was the State of Connecticut. Being the young American and Nautical History nerd that I was (and remain), I went about learning everything I could about my new second-home state! In this earnest, childhood quest to learn all things Nutmeg State, I even picked up some Latin: Qui Transtulit Sustinet.  

Adopted as our state motto at statehood in 1788, this phrase literally means that, “the one who is transplanted, who moves here, who choses this place as her or his home will be sustained, supported, cared for.” First brought to Connecticut from England by Gov. Fenwick and adopted as the slogan of his historic Saybrook Colony by 1639, this phrase has been the motto and implied mission statement of our covenant as a place even for 150 years before we even became a modern American state![1] How are we doing at this goal? I started this sermon by sharing how much I love this state deeply with a profound part of my heart and childhood imagination, yet I have to ask now after living here full-time now for almost two years: how are we doing with this promise? Qui Transtulit Sustinet!

“All who move here are sustained—have at least enough.” It is an ancient 400-year-old mission statement of Connecticut that history shows we have only ever fully lived-up to for some, for the wealthy, for the white people, for men, for heterosexuals, for Christians. Today in 2021, I don’t believe we should change our mission statement and motto. I love it. I believe in it. I believe it is time to reclaim it. Qui Transtulit Sustinet! It is this – my - generation of Connecticans who CAN make it finally true.  Remember it is Connectican not Connectican’t

Know that it is with great love for this sacred place, as my chosen home state, that I ask, is this motto true for everyone who comes here or only for some of us right now?   To answer this question, I turn to our Scripture. This week, in “Ginger’s Sabbatical Lectionary,” Ginger left us with the challenge of the week to preach about a book called, The Soul of Money: Transforming Your Relationship with Money and Life and the Scripture of Hebrews 13:5, “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have.” 

Suzanne and I joked that I drew the short straw as this week’s preacher! It’s so true! Micah 6:8 from last Sunday is much more fun. Before she left, I went to Ginger and asked her about this book and Scripture to learn what parts most captured her heart and why she wants us to read it. Ginger, in her joyful way we all know and love smiled happily, opened the book (which I could see was filled with notes) and she started reading me this passage: 

The internal condition of scarcity, this mind-set of scarcity, lives at the very heart of our jealousies, our greed, our prejudice, and our arguments with life, and it is deeply embedded in our relationships with money. In the mind-set of scarcity, our relationship with money is an expression of fear; a fear that drives us in an endless and unfulfilling chase for more, or into compromises that promise a way out of the chase for more, or into compromises that promise a way out of the chase or discomfort around money. In the chase or the compromises, we break free from our wholeness and natural integrity. We abandon our soul and grow more and more distanced from our core values and highest commitments.[2]

Ginger closed the book. 

In Connecticut, I believe our highest commitment is rooted in the words scrawled across our state flag and crest, found carved into the bridges of the Merritt Parkway, and the halls of our castle-capitol in Hartford: Qui Transtulit Sustinet! 

Yet, since I moved here full-time two summers ago, narratives of scarcity and a lack of willingness to share what we have even with our neighboring communities (guised and gilded in home-rule town history) has been pervasive in media, casual conversations overheard at the gym or Marketplace, and public policy debate. The attitude towards our diverse and creative cities that they are a burden for the “good townsfolk” to carry is voiced even at First Church! The fear that we may lose our privilege if we help our neighbors too much is a commonplace Connecticut narrative from Wilton to Windham, from Litchfield to Lyme, and Stonington to Stamford. The internal condition of scarcity, this mind-set of scarcity, lives at the very heart of our jealousies, our greed, our prejudice, and our arguments with life, and it is deeply embedded in our relationships with money and tax code.

The Letter to the Hebrews passage that Ginger chose for us for today, while attributed to Paul, is probably not from Paul’s pen. It was probably written after Paul by members of his following or the “School of Paul”. We know this because it is actually more coherent and more well-written in the Greek than Paul’s work, which was usually scattered in style and content—and it acts as tidy canonical summary of the ideas of the Apostle. Here, in the 13th and final chapter, the author or authors get to the point of all points. It doesn’t say not to have money.  Resources well leveraged, like our Endowment at First Church, are a great thing for doing good in the world—but we are told to be cautious of the love of money and forgetting those in need. This is the distilled CliffNotes take-away—the fundamentals of Paul and Jesus.

This week, in the April 10th edition of The Economist magazine, the usually centrist British periodical published an important article, entitled, “The World’s Biggest Economy America’s Boom Has Begun. Can It Last? High-Frequency Economic Data Suggest It’s Full Steam Ahead.”[3]  Here is the first paragraph, which has deep implications for our theology and our work ahead in response to our Scripture this morning and Ginger’s challenge to think this week about The Soul of Money.

The latest monthly employment report, published on April 2nd, painted an impressive picture: over the previous month America created more than 900,000 jobs. That figure, the strongest since August, reflects the state of the economy in the first half of March, when the surveys took place. But a look at “high-frequency” economic data for more recent weeks, on everything from daily restaurant diners to Google-search behaviour, suggests that, since then, the recovery has if anything accelerated further. America’s post-lockdown boom has begun. A rapid bounce-back would be welcome, because the world’s largest economy remains a long way off its pre-pandemic peak, and the damage has been severe. Even after the latest jobs numbers, over 8 million fewer people are in work than before the pandemic. The job losses are concentrated among low-income groups... One-third of small businesses remain closed. Poverty is higher than it was before covid-19 struck, especially among black families. And the impact of school closures on children’s education could last for decades.

Friends, that isn’t from a left-wing think-tank. That is from the stodgy British Economist. Our goal here in Connecticut of Qui Transtulit Sustinet is getting further and further from our public ethics. Unless we want to change our motto, state flag, and teardown the Lake Avenue Bridge in Greenwich and the Newfield Avenue Bridge in Stamford spanning over the Merritt[4] (which are both bridges covered in the state emblem and motto), we must pay attention to what is happening to the income and wealth disparities coming out of the pandemic. It isn’t getting better. We are not closer to living-up to our 400 years-old motto.

This past week, I was blessed to be on a Zoom Call. How often do you hear that phase these days? It was with The Rev. Gini King, Gay Harter, and members of the clergy from many backgrounds around the state. The group was called together out of a concern around the spiritual wellbeing of our state with the emerging post-pandemic data. Like what was described by The Economist, we are seeing that 200,000 working people are now unemployed in CT, there are 15,000 families in danger of being evicted and becoming homeless, 20% of adults say that their children don’t have enough to eat, 41% of adults have post-pandemic trauma and anxiety, and even before the pandemic 200,000+  Connecticans didn’t have health insurance. At the same time the billionaires in Connecticut added an additional $3.6 billion to their wealth during the pandemic, and the lowest income pay the highest percentage of their income in taxes.[5]  

Finally, one participant stopped me in my mental tracks by saying, “Connecticut is the wealthiest state in the wealthiest country the world has ever seen, but we rank highest in terms of income and wealth inequality—especially systemic racial inequality.” This manifests in terms of access to healthcare, education, and wellbeing. The wealthiest state in the wealthiest country the world has ever seen… Qui Transtulit Sustinet!

In the book, The Soul of Money, which is our Ginger homework this week—the author talks about our lack of willingness to change our wants for the good of the whole and the spiritual damage that brings to us. Again, “The internal condition of scarcity, this mind-set of scarcity, lives at the very heart of our jealousies, our greed, our prejudice, and our arguments with life, and it is deeply embedded in our relationships with money. In the mind-set of scarcity, our relationship with money is an expression of fear; a fear that drives us in an endless and unfulfilling chase for more…” 

I am not an economist or a policy expert. There are much smarter people working on creative ways for us to address this from a policy perspective. I am just a minister. But as a minister with claim to this pulpit of the 7th oldest institution of any kind in this state—a church that helped create this state for better and worse, it is my duty not to speak to the politics or the policy itself but to the urgency, the ethical imperative, and the theological danger we are in if we do not see this moment coming out of the pandemic for what it is: a giant fork in the road, an opportunity to make a more just world, and a call from God. It is my job to set the tone and point out the issue.  Qui Transtulit Sustinet! The one who has come here may be sustained here, may find support here, may (at very least) expect to survive here.

I have a strong hunch that, in the coming months, our representatives and our voices as people of faith will be needed. In the coming year, especially, this will be a major conversation around our state and country. As pointed out this week in The Economist,  not a liberal publication, the economy is about to take off into a liquidity flash-fire, but who is left behind? What would inflation mean? Would salaries and pensions keep up? 

In the coming months and years, my prayer is that we all can hear these conversations with open hearts, to listen to each other and new ideas with kindness, and that we can encourage fearlessness in our public policy and community. We are 169 home-rule towns and cities, but we have one motto and one mission statement. It is also my prayer today for us: Qui Transtulit Sustinet. May God grant hearts for sharing and that all who transplant here find sustenance. Amen.

[1] https://www.netstate.com/states/mottoes/ct_motto.htm

[2] Lynn Twist, The Soul of Money: Transforming Your Relationship with Money and Life (New York, New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2017), 45.

[3] https://www.economist.com/united-states/2021/04/10/americas-boom-has-begun-can-it-last?utm_campaign=editorial-social&utm_medium=social-organic&utm_source=facebook&fbclid=IwAR3vy2HLsnvELwjNEqbDBs3xLMaHS4LJWwJindF_qqsrU9OzoTEcI6EVcKM

[4] https://www.knowol.com/information/connecticut/merritt-parkway-bridges-pictures-history/

[5] Recovery for All CT Organizing Messaging Packet, April 2021

The Rev. Jake Miles Joseph

Associate Minister

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