For Sandy Beam's Memorial Service
2 Kings 2: 1, 8-15
February 27, 2011
It goes without saying that Sandy Beam was the consummate musician – singer, organist, pianist, music teacher, choir director, accompanist – he did it all. You already know that about Sandy. What you may not know is that he was an aspiring author. For the past few years, Sandy had been working on a book – stories of his life, of which there were many; as well as thoughts and insights compiled over 73 years.
Sandy told me often about his book. He seemed most excited about the title he had picked out for it. I already know what I’m going to call it, he would tell me in that wonderful Southern drawl of his. The title of Sandy’s book was to be Have You Seen My Organ? If you’ve not heard the story before, allow me to share with you the following: an actual excerpt from his book:
During my second year of teaching, I talked with the principal and told him I needed a keyboard instrument, and that I had seen one in a magazine. It wasn’t very expensive and would be sufficient. It looked like a small organ with removable legs. I was so excited to get it. I had finally gotten myself a keyboard to play on.
I came to school one day and realized that my keyboard was missing, so I went to the principal and asked him to make an announcement about it. A few minutes later I heard him over the loudspeaker: “Attention students and staff: Mr. Beam is missing his organ. If you have seen Mr. Beam’s organ, please return it to him as soon as possible.”
When I heard the announcement, I thought I was ready to pass away and go on to glory. There was no more teaching that day. The teachers were all standing outside their doors waiting for me to come by so that they could say things like, “Mr. Beam, have you found your organ yet?” and “Mr. Beam, I think I saw your organ in a closet down the hall.”
I don’t think the principal realized what he had said. Later on, though, I think he realized exactly what he said.
Only Sandy Beam!
Sadly, Sandy’s book was never fully written. But in a sense, it was. If there ever was a person who wrote the most lovely, compelling, and fulfilling novel with the life they led, it was our Beam. And in a sense, I guess, that book is still being written today, even after his death. Over the past week, I cannot tell you the number of phone calls and emails and texts I’ve received from people I know and people I don’t know, all about their love for Sandy; almost all beginning with these five words: I’ve got this great story…. Sandy’s Facebook page has been transformed into a social media wailing wall; countless people from all over sharing their thoughts, their memories, their love. Sandy’s story is a story that I imagine will never stop being written.
And so now here we are; trying to make sense of it all. It’s always hard when you lose someone special. But you know, it just seems different with Sandy. The pain seems a little sharper, the grief a little heavier to bear. It’s always hard to know what to do when you are faced with saying goodbye to one you so dearly loved. But this – this just seems a little harder, doesn’t it?
Earlier I read a scripture about another person saying goodbye to someone special. The prophet Elijah had been a mentor of sorts to Elisha, his younger protégé. And when Elijah’s time came, as it did for Sandy this past week, as it eventually does for all of us, the two of them took a trip together, a final trip. They walked out into the desert, at one point crossing the Jordan River using Elijah’s mantle – a cloak he wore that symbolized prophetic authority. Elijah struck the water with the mantle, and the waters parted to the side, allowing the two men to walk across.
Eventually they came to a place where they found “a chariot of fire and horses.” It was Elijah’s time. Elijah stepped inside and the chariot ascended in a whirlwind to the heavens, taking the great prophet with him. And when the dust cleared, Elisha was left there all alone.
That, my friends, is a difficult place to be. That point when our loved one is no longer with us, at least in the way we’ve grown so accustomed to. For us today, it is an empty house two houses down on Church Street; a vacant bench behind the piano or organ. It is the phone call or email address we’ll never hear from again, the green van – with the bumper sticker “I’m a Fermata – Hold Me!” – the green van that won’t ever have that familiar driver in the front seat. It is the absence of what we’ve come to know and love all these many years. And it hurts – just as Elisha hurt all those years ago.
Except here’s the thing – that’s not the end of the story. Elisha looked down and saw Elijah’s mantle lying on the sandy ground. And that’s when he realized: he was not alone! He would never be alone! He took the mantle and draped it over his back as Elijah always had. He began making his way home. And when he arrived at the Jordan River, he took the mantle and slapped it on the water as Elijah had. And once again, the waters parted to the side. Elisha walked across.
I’ve talked with many of you this week. I’ve read your emails and I’ve seen your Facebook posts. I’ve heard so many of your stories about Sandy, and what he meant to you. And I’ve heard you wonder out loud, what will we do now? Now that Sandy is no longer here, what comes next? My friends, we will do as Elisha did: we will pick up Sandy’s mantle and carry it on. Because that is the way it’s supposed to be. This is not just an ending. This is a beginning. This is not all about death. This is about new life and about hope. It’s about carrying Sandy’s mantle in the days and weeks and months and years ahead – not only to remember him by, but to put to use in our own lives, reliving the pages of Sandy’s book and writing new pages of our own. That’s what I want you to hear today; that’s what I want myself to hear today.
And what is Sandy’s mantle, exactly? Well, certainly it is his gift of music; a gift he shared selflessly with thousands upon thousands. But it’s much more than that. It’s also the love he shared with us; his friendship he granted so willingly. Sandy was one of those rare individuals who could make everyone feel like they were his very best friend. We pick up the mantle of Sandy’s love, and we carry it on in our lives.
Sandy’s mantle was also about his love for God, a God he talked with daily. If Sandy could, he would tell us right now that God loves each of us unconditionally and eternally, and that we are forever held in God’s embrace, especially during the times when we need God the most. Sandy dearly loved his church family, a family he made music with for 44 years. We pick up the mantle of Sandy’s faith in God and his love for his church, and we carry it on in our lives.
We’ll carry Sandy’s mantle even when don’t realize we’re carrying it! Every time we sing a song or play an instrument, we’ll be carrying his mantle. Every time we sing a hymn in church, especially if the last verse is inadvertently left off, we’ll be carrying his mantle. Every time we hear the organ or piano played with passion, we’ll be carrying his mantle. We pick up the mantle of Sandy’s life, and we carry it on in our lives.
And eventually, as it did for Elisha, Sandy’s mantle will become ours. And that’s when you know that someone is really a part of you, a part of you in the same way that your flesh and bone are a part of you – never to be separated, not even in death. This is the way it is, because we believe, as Sandy did, in a God who tells us that nothing will ever tear us away from our God and the ones we love.
It’s also this way because, frankly, Sandy told us so – in one last excerpt from his book; a chapter written most recently when it appeared Sandy may have sensed that his own chariot of fire was coming soon. It’s aptly titled, It’s Not Over Yet. Listen:
What fun I have had in my life and career!
Who could ask for anymore? From the beginning, I knew that the Lord had great plans for me, and as much as possible, I’ve tried to accomplish what he wished. I asked God every day what he wanted me to do that certain day, and everything just seemed to fall into place. He continually blessed my life with a bunch of love. Love of family, friends, my church, and especially the young people I teach.
If my life continues for a long time, I will continue doing exactly what I am doing now. If I was to die today, there is nothing in this life that I could complain about.
And then, these final words, to us:
Keep your chin up, follow the Lord and his teachings, and look up, because something good is going to happen to you.
You’re right, Sandy. Something good did happen to us. And thanks to you, it always will. Thanks be to God. AMEN.