The church scored a massive victory in the UK this week.
Sandwiched between installing a Pope and enthroning an Archbishop, the Chancellor’s Budget announced a measure that the church first called for more than fifty years ago.
In 1958, or so I’m told, the World Council of Churches proposed that rich countries like ours (I know we don’t feel particularly rich just now but take it from me, on a global scale we most definitely are) should allocate a percentage of their country’s national income and make sure it funds overseas aid.
There was a bit of to-ing and fro-ing during the 1960s and eventually the figure agreed through the UN was 0.7%
In 1970, 22 countries agreed to work towards allocating 0.7% of their national income to overseas aid.
It’s been a long slow and often painful journey but, boosted by lots of online campaigning in the last couple of years, this week the Chancellor announced that we would – at last – reach this target.
There has been much rejoicing here at Tearfund and in many other places.
It feels as though we have laid down a marker and kept an important promise.
And, as we continue to read through Leviticus here at Big Bible, there are some notable similarities.
Even though the details of many of the acts described in Leviticus might be interpreted differently now that, through Jesus Christ, we are under grace and not the law, there are some principles which struck me as being similar.
Firstly, and I’ve always thought this about Leviticus (yes, I’ve read it before), there’s a strong sense of welcome.
The first few chapters, which describe grain offerings, sin offerings, guilt offerings and the rest, can be read to speak of an invitation to the presence of God that holds true whatever our circumstances.
God is saying: You’ve sinned? Come to my presence. You’re guilty? Come to my presence. You’re celebrating a productive year? Come to my presence.
Where that would have been enacted through sacrifices and burnt offerings in the Old Testament, which were sublimated through the death and resurrection of Jesus, we now of course have access direct to God.
And we find his presence in worship, in serving, in ministering to people in need, in fellowship and in lots of other ways.
The overarching thing for me is that God is inviting us. All of us. Whatever our needs, circumstances, habits or behaviour.
Which means that he’s as bothered about a person living on less than a dollar a day as he is about me.
And I’m lucky enough to have been a Christian for yonks and am very much aware of how bothered he is about me.
So his welcome extends even to those lowest in status, which makes me think that a commitment to serving people in extreme poverty is probably something God quite likes.
And the second thing is the emphasis throughout the book of marking the moment.
The very graphic descriptions of oil, blood, incense and all that, combined with the detailed instructions about what is and isn’t OK, read rather strangely in 21st century Britain, but what if this is really about putting down a marker?
Sometimes we just have to say that something matters so much that we will publicly declare it and then hold people to account for it.
Those instructions mattered at the time that Leviticus was written and the reason we still read them is because, behind the detail, the fact that God ever said this at all is itself important.
God has put in each us – as part of being made in his image – the desire to see some very important decisions made and delivered.
And the aid commitment is, I believe, one of those things.
This matters. It’s important. We have to do it.
That’s why this week’s Budget victory is important spiritually as well as on a practical level.
We have named something that is important to us and laid down a marker to the world, just like God called us to in Leviticus.
It’s been fun working on the IF campaign, and seeing this first (of many, hopefully) victory. It’s been exciting to see thousands of people, including Christians, join in by tweeting their MPs, signing online petitions and actually (horrors, old school) going to see their MPs in person.
And it’s been particularly satisfying to see social media bring people together who otherwise would never have found each other, to be part of something that’s bigger than we could ever do alone.
The principles are timeless, even eternal – help people who are poor, name the important moments – even if the actions are new.
Social media is often a new way to do old things.
This week, it has helped us to call on our leaders to take a tough decision that originated in the church and will bless many millions of people.