Sermon for Fr. Herbert Sanderson’s Funeral

HSandersonA great Christian has died and we gather together to thank God for Herbert and his Witness. When I say Witness I mean something that is hard for many people to understand today.

Everybody knows a witness is someone who has seen something important. Later on, a witness might be summoned to a court of law to give testimony.

Whatever Herbert was doing, he was always giving testimony. It was just the way he was. Herbert Sanderson was a fine musician, a PhD clinical psychologist, a priest, a father, and a husband. And whatever he was doing at any given time, he was testifying.

Herbert saw Jesus. He knew Jesus. And Herbert told people that Jesus was the way, the truth, and the life. How Fr. Herbert managed to do this so resolutely without coming off as an obnoxious jerk, I can only say that God gave Herbert a special gift.

Herbert’s life was in service to Jesus Christ. For all the 25 years I have known Herbert that has been true. He preached at Deacon Alicia and Mark’s wedding 36 years ago and they say the same thing. Herbert loved Jesus. He made it sound simple. His preaching was simple and direct. He didn’t make it any more complicated than it needed to be.

Now, the catholics here would say that the sacraments made Herbert holy, and he would have agreed. The evangelicals here would say that Herbert knew he was saved because he gave his life to Jesus, and he would agree to that. Herbert believed in the healing power of the Holy Spirit, and he prayed for people with strength and conviction for healing.

But I would say that there was something else there too. A quality of discipleship that I can only describe as something radical. He built a life where he could be a Witness to our Lord wherever and whatever he was doing. It didn’t get in the way of Herbert being good and kind. It didn’t keep him from being a good clinician. A good musician. A good father. A good husband. A good friend. A good man.

I admired Herbert for his simplicity. He was a deeply religious person. He was intelligent and very well educated. He was a talented musician, and he especially loved music from before the middle of the 18th century. He could easily have been taken as elitist. Instead, he was able to connect with people. He listened carefully, he asked questions, and he didn’t talk too much.

If you told Herbert a joke he would laugh. That is if he got the joke. He did have a sense of humor. But a lot of jokes are funny at the expense of someone else, and that was not his style. Herbert never came back with a joke, or a story, to try and top your joke. It wasn’t a competition with him. He was good and fair. He was fun and easy to be with.

Anne and Herbert married 18 years ago after Anne’s Husband Allen died, and after Herbert’s wife Elizabeth died. Anne says that she and Herbert have had a lot of fun together.

Marianne and I got to know Herbert and Elizabeth when Herbert came as a substitute priest up in the Adirondacks. I hadn’t gone to seminary or been ordained yet, and we were struggling to keep our little church going. I was desperate to please people and would do anything to get people to join the church. A couple of times Herbert helped me get out of awkward situations.

Yes, I admired his simplicity. I also admired Herbert for his inner strength. He could be tough as nails if he had to be. He would smile broadly and say something that I was sure was going to insult someone, and lo and behold . . . the person would thank him or say, “Yes, Father.” It was amazing to watch. I’ve learned so much from Herbert Sanderson, but I never learned how to do that.

I can do this. I can go back to the basics with you. The word gospel is an English translation of the Greek euangelion. It means “glad tidings” or “good news.” Evangelical comes from the same word. When we say the Gospel we specifically mean the glad tidings of the kingdom of God soon to be set up.

The glad tidings of the kingdom of God soon to be set up.

Herbert’s conviction was that he was living in the expectation of good news.

I was in awe of how Herbert managed to live with his infirmities so gracefully. His faith made him strong. He was expecting good news. His faith made me a stronger and a more faithful Christian. His faith was infectious like that. You just wanted to be a better person when you were around Herbert.

It was the faith of the Apostles, in the power of the Holy Spirit, that gave us the Christian Bible and the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. The faith was given to each succeeding generation. The faith was handed down through the testimony of Christians who have known Jesus. These are the saints who made their lives a Witness to the love of Christ.

Herbert Sanderson was and is a great Witness to the love of God in Jesus Christ. He was given to us as a gift for a time, and now we must let him go so that he may rest in the Lord.


Rest eternal grant to him, O Lord;

And let light perpetual shine upon him.

May his soul, and the souls of all the departed,

through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.


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