Chuck Cohoon funeral
1 Jn 3:1-2
Faith, family, and country. If I had to choose three words to summarize Chuck Cohoon’s life, those are the obvious choices. We will, of course speak about the first of these at more length in this sermon. But it must be noted that until Chuck’s health prevented him from attending the Divine Service, Chuck and Wanda were here at church every Sunday. What’s more, this building itself – the nave in which his funeral service takes place – is a witness to his faith since he helped to build it, and stained the wood of the chancel area.
Chuck and Wanda were married for forty one years. This was a loving marriage in which they enjoyed sharing life together. The loving nature of their marriage was exemplified by the faithful care that Wanda provided to Chuck during the last few years when he was at home. And of course, there is the remarkable fact that Chuck lived to see six children, thirteen grandchildren, and ten great-grandchildren. They were a source of joy and pride for him – just take a look at those pictures that were shown during the visitation.
And finally, service to his country was a defining feature of Chuck’s life. Chuck served in the U.S. Navy on a fleet oiler during World War II. Then, after entering civilian life in the drawdown after the war, he re-enlisted in the Navy in a second round of the service on the fleet oiler USS Allagash. The U.S. Navy is able to maintain a constant worldwide presence because of a sophisticated logistical support system. The USS Allagash was part of that support as it refueled ships at sea – a challenging task that requires great skill.
Chuck was very proud of his service on the Allagash and had a picture of her prominently displayed at home. Then, in his post-Navy career Chuck continued to serve his country as he worked for the Veterans Administration, finishing as Foreman of Maintenance and Operations in Engineering Service here in Marion.
As we gather at his funeral service this morning, we give thanks for the second and third characteristics that I have described. But in death, only the first one really matters. Our text this morning makes that point as it begins by saying, “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.”
The Greek phrase “what kind of love” conveys the meaning, “how great a love.” John is emphasizing the incredible love God has shown by making Christians to be the children of God. He has given us the status of living in a relationship with him – a relationship of belonging to him as those who have received salvation. And then the apostle adds the affirmation that this is in fact true of each Christian as he says, “And so we are.”
Why is this fact a demonstration of God’s great love? Well, if you want an explanation, take a look right in front of you at the casket lying there with Chuck’s body. Sunday after Sunday Chuck heard these words from 1 John chapter one spoken at the beginning of the Divine Service: “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.”
Chuck was a sinner, and he confessed this every time he came to the Divine Service. Jesus told Nicodemus, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” The flesh – sinful fallen nature – produces more flesh, more sinful fallen nature. That is why Chuck confessed that he was by nature sinful and unclean. And then he went on to confess that he had sinned in thought, word, and deed against God and against his neighbor.
We do not begin life as children of God, because we are conceived and born as sinners. We are sinners who then start sinning from the moment we enter the world. And sin brings death. Chuck died, not because he was ninety five years old. He died because he was a sinner. Unless Christ returns first, one day you will die because you are a sinner.
And Sunday after Sunday upon hearing the statement from First John that he was a sinner, Chuck responded by speaking the next verse of the letter: “But if we confess our sins, God is who is faithful and just, will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Just after our text, John goes on to say about Jesus Christ, “You know that he appeared to take away sins, and in him there is no sin.”
The Son of God entered into this world as he, the Word, became flesh and dwelt among us. Conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary he came to bear our sins – to be the sacrifice that gives us forgiveness. This is what great love the Father has shown to us. He loved us so much that he sent his own Son to suffer and die for our sins. John says in the next chapter, “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”
He did this for Chuck, and then he called him to faith in Jesus Christ. Fallen, sinful humans cannot become children of God by their own powers. John tells us at the beginning of his Gospel, “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” Jesus said, “No one can come to me unless the Father draws him.”
The Father drew Chuck to himself as he was born again of water and the Spirit in Holy Baptism. He gave him new life through water and the Word. And so Chuck was indeed a child of God. He was sustained as a child of God as he received the Means of Grace. He heard God’s Word read and preached. He received Holy Absolution. He received the true body and blood of Christ in the Sacrament of the Altar.
In our text, John goes on to add, “Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.” Jesus Christ died on the cross to win forgiveness. But he did not remain dead. Instead, his death was just one part of God’s saving action to defeat sin and death. Our Lord said, “For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”
The risen Lord Jesus has defeated death. And then, having fulfilled the Father’s will, he returned to the Father in the ascension. He has sent forth the Spirit who takes what Jesus has done and makes it know to us; the Spirit who gives us new life; the Spirit through whom the Father draws us to the Son. Just before he raised Lazarus from the dead, Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.”
Jesus says that all who believe in him shall never die. Chuck was a child of God during his life. And he is still a child of God right now. Because of Christ, death has changed nothing. He is with the Lord, and for that we give thanks.
Death is always the enemy – the intruder brought by sin into this world that will not finally be defeated until Christ returns. But in Chuck’s case I was praying each day that the Lord would take him. His long, slow decline – “the withering away” he experienced – is something I have never seen before. We are thankful that in his time, the Lord has brought this to an end and has taken Chuck to be with himself. We are thankful that the vocation – the calling - that Wanda so faithfully and lovingly carried out as spouse for so long has come to end. It was an act of love she gladly did, but it was also a heavy burden for her.
Yet at the same time our text encourages us with the knowledge that the best is yet to come. The Chuck we saw at the end is not what he will yet be. The Chuck on the best day during his life is not what he will yet be. Instead, the risen Lord Jesus is the model and pattern for what we will be. Jesus promised, “For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”
Jesus Christ will return in glory on the Last Day. John says in our text “what we will be has not yet appeared.” We don’t know yet what the resurrection life will be like for Chuck and for those who believe in Christ. We don’t know because we can’t yet understand fully what the risen Lord Jesus is like. But John tells us, “when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.” In Revelation Jesus is described as “the firstborn of the dead.” Jesus’ resurrection is the beginning of our resurrection. His resurrection is what we will be as our bodies – our flesh – are transformed so that they can never die again. It is what we will be when there is no sin and no death – when all is very good once again as we live in the renewed creation.
Chuck Cohoon was a child of God because Jesus Christ died on the cross for his sins, and rose from the dead. He was a child of God because the Spirit of God gave him new life as he was born again in Holy Baptism. He was a child of God because the Spirit of Christ sustained him until the end through his Means of Grace.
Because Jesus Christ has risen from the dead, even in death, Chuck is still a child of God. We don’t know yet exactly what Chuck or any Christian is going to be like when Jesus Christ returns. But we know that we will be like Christ the risen Lord, because we shall see him as he is.