[Image: Still Flying, 2014, JA Van Devender]
Location: Fort Mc Henry, Baltimore, MD.
1 Corinthians 16:13–14 (NKJV)
13 Watch, stand fast in the faith, be brave, be strong. 14 Let all that you do be done with love.
I love old forts and have tramped over many of them in my day, on both sides of the Atlantic. There is something about the design of fortifications, positioned so as to deny the enemy some geographic advantage, while protecting one's own forces, that marries the ingenuity of man to his fraticidal instinct. St. Augustine's historic fort is one of my favorites. As a fort, Mc Henry does not rate high on my list. Its star shaped design reflects the "state of the art features" present in fort design at the turn of the 19th century as modern weapons and transportation were beginning to make the "fort" concept itself obsolete. It is not particularly scenic and therefore provides little interest to a photographer other than the mandatory "long may it wave" flag shot, duly registered above. But, scenic or not, it did its job in 1814 when the bridge above was absent and the waters where it now stands was crowded with ships filled with men intent upon deadly work. On one of those ships stood Francis Scott Key for whom that bridge is named.
I imagine the Brits were pretty frustrated. They wanted to "get at" Baltimore. They tried several different approaches, landing a force north and east of Baltimore and attempting to flank the forts (McHenry was the one of a series of fortifications though easily the most important and most strategically located) guarding the harbor. At the battle of North Point, the Americans were defeated on the field but victorious in their strategic objective of delaying the enemy's advance and thus the British were not able to advance on the city. Another flanking move by the British forces attempted a night landing near what is now Federal hill but the supporting forts in that location plus McHenry's fire created confusion in the boats and they got dispersed and lost.
Realizing that they would be sitting ducks when the sun rose, they slunk back to their ships and, for all practical purposes, that was that. Shortly thereafter, the bombardment stopped, the ships gathered way and with hoisted sails, pointed their noses back down the Chesapeake Bay, headed for New Orleans and the historic encounter with "Old Hickory", Andrew Jackson, in the battle that would finally establish the still brand new United States of America as a respected and sovereign power among the other nations of the world, though still, at that time, a land of rough neck and generally uncouth hicks.
It was from one of those ships that Francis Scott Key was inspired to compose the song that eventually became, many years later, our National Anthem. Scenic or not, Ft. McHenry is an evocative place, one where it is easy to feel the centuries slip away and, by placing your eye along the barrel of one of those huge, 36 pounder cannons, you can imagine what it was like to see a harbor brimming with ships belching fire back at you. It was what modern military minds call "a target rich environment."
The purpose of a fort is to "stand strong": to absorb punishment and yet not give up, so as to deny the enemy a place to stand from which their attack can proceed and bring about ultimate destruction.
This is what Paul exhorts us to do. He calls us to "stand fast... be brave... be strong." We may not have enemies as easily distinguished as those ships in the bay. We may not even recognize the initial probing assaults, the small temptations that appear to be "no big deal." We may only be a bit uneasy at what appears to be a growing edge in the tone and conversation we experience as people around us respond to our Christian witness. We live and move in a sea of ungodliness and false ideaology, and the constant drip of such things can undermine our confidence, introduce doubt, weaken our resolve. It is easy to get "tired" and simply turn off our defenses.
In such times we have to gather into the fort of our faith, and look to its walls and see where the breaches have been attempted. We must walk the ramparts and survey the landscape from that higher perspective, so that we can locate the enemy and identify the flag underwhich they are operating.
A fort defends a strategic objective. Our faith is the bastion against which the foes of the gospel, the enemies of our Lord Jesus Christ, direct their fire. It is the high ground from which we will sally forth to deal with the individual sorties and, through the Holy Spirit's power, over come those who come against us.
There is much to ponder in the fort analogy and at many points, the metaphor holds. Today begins another week of facing the enemy where ever he is to be encountered. Let's raise the flag and with confidence regain our courage, and stand fast, be brave and strong, and with glad hearts see the enemies of our Lord scuttling away before us.