Ina gadda da vida


Ina gadda da vida; that is the title of my sermon today.  Some of you may recognize it as the title of a 60’s rock song by the group Iron Butterfly and it is.  So what does the title of a 60’s rock song have to do with Genesis Chapter 2.  Well as some of you might know there is a legend that the title of the song was originally “In the Garden of Eden” another version of the story is that it was “In the Garden of Venus” but we’ll go with the first one this morning.  The story goes that while rehearsing the song the lead singer was so stoned that the words came out Inna Godda Da Vida and thus the song was renamed. 


Our text today has a lot of baggage that it has accumulated over the past couple three thousands of years and I think this mountain of interpretations that have seeped into aspects of our everyday life serve as a sort of drug.  A drug that causes us like the lead singer of  Iron Butterfly to be stoned so that when we read this text we end up hearing and saying something more like Ina gadda da vida instead of In the Garden of Eden.  We hear what has been said about the text but not what God speaks to us today through the text.


Well today we are going to enter rehab together.  Now make no mistake I have been no better off and am no less guilty than all of us.  I too have misheard and slurred the words to this story in my retelling, thinking and responding.  But, this morning my hope is that we would seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit and hear the lyrics of this story more clearly so that we might pick out some of the many things that God wants to teach us through it. 


With that in mind listen to Genesis two paying close attention to God’s actions, to the name of God and to the imagery the language creates.


Prayer & Read Scripture:


4 These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created. In the day that Yahweh Elohim, the LORD God, made the earth and the heavens,  5 when no plant of the field was yet in the earth and no herb of the field had yet sprung up—for Yahweh Elohim,  the LORD God, had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was no one to till the ground;  6 but a stream would rise from the earth, and water the whole face of the ground--  7 then Yahweh Elohim, the LORD God, formed ha’adam, man, from the dust of ha’adamah, the ground, as a potter forms clay, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and ha’adam, the man, became a living being.  8 And Yahweh Elohim, the LORD God, planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there he put the man, ha’adam, whom he had formed.  9 Out of the ground Yahweh Elohim made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food, the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  (10 A river flows out of Eden to water the garden, and from there it divides and becomes four branches.  11 The name of the first is Pishon; it is the one that flows around the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold;  12 and the gold of that land is good; bdellium and onyx stone are there.  13 The name of the second river is Gihon; it is the one that flows around the whole land of Cush.  14 The name of the third river is Tigris, which flows east of Assyria. And the fourth river is the Euphrates.)   15 Yahweh Elohim took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it.  16 And Yahweh Elohim commanded the man, "You may freely eat of every tree of the garden;  17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die."


Maybe it’s because I’m from Seattle, love being in the outdoors and could be described as a tad bit “granola”, but when I read this story I get chills.  It draws me in and I find myself transported to a different place.  Elohim, God, who we encounter in the first chapter of Genesis, who created the entire cosmos just by speaking, who creates male and female in God’s image, who creates in an orderly fashion is encountered here in a new way.  I don’t think that chapter 2 is at all contradictory to chapter one, rather it is complimentary. 


We learn that the creator of the universe, God, is also called Yahweh.  That is the name God gives to Moses from the burning Bush.  Yahweh is the personal, relational, proper name for God.  In fact it is so personal that Jews did not speak it out loud out of respect.  This God who speaks creation into existence, now gets his hands dirty. 


Yahweh Elohim, is the one who makes the earth, causes it to rain, forms humankind from the earth and breathes life into his nostrils.  Yahweh Elohim plants a garden with all sorts of fruit trees, ornamental cherries, magnolia, tulips, shrubs, and roses and then he takes man, maybe in the palm of his hand, and puts him in the garden.  And God says, this is all yours, ha’adam, to enjoy and to live off of; you may eat from every, every tree of the garden, we are told the trees are both beautiful and good for food.  And, not only is it yours but you will be my partner, you will till it and serve the earth, you will keep watch over it and protect it as a shepherd keeps watch over his sheep.   This will be your vocation, I charge you with this job. 


Finally, Yahweh Elohim, gives a command not a strong suggestion but a firm command, "You may freely eat of every tree of the garden;  17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die."


It is in Genesis chapter two that we discover that the God of the universe who can create by just speaking a word, is not a far off puppet master, not a sterile God or an impersonal unknowable God.  Instead, it is revealed to us that the powerful and awesome God of the universe of chapter one is also Yahweh, a personal knowable God, who breathes life into us through our nostrils and gets his hands dirty in the dust of the earth.  He is like potter at a wheel with clay on his apron and water dripping or an artist with paint all over his hands and face.  He is the gardener with dirt under his nails who has scratches from the rose bushes.  God isn’t so much the theologian as he is the ecologist or granola environmentalist in these verses.


Unfortunately we miss discovering this side of Yahweh Elohim, the LORD God, when we get lost in the baggage and mountain of interpretation around this text.  And much of that baggage that distracts us has focused on the “the tree of knowledge of good and evil.”  We get caught up in trying to figure out why God commanded us not to eat of it, and what the tree is, what is meant by good and evil?  There are volumes and volumes of books that interpret and explain the meaning of the tree and debate if the tree is the source of evil or try to figure out why God would place such a dangerous tree in the garden.  But, I think the more we try to seek after the meanings and interpretations of the tree of knowledge we actually disobey God’s command. 


We like Adam and Eve, as we will discover in a few weeks, fall into the serpents same trap.  Ironically the serpent focuses on the one, let me repeat the one, prohibition that God gives us in the opening chapters of Genesis.  The great freedom and permission that God grants humankind is overlooked. 


Think about it God, gives us dominion over all the earth , God actually makes us partners in his work of sustaining creation.   So God gives us the job of tilling and keeping watch over the earth.  God gives us the freedom to name all the creatures of the earth , a privilege that we still have as new discovers are made and new hybrids of roses are grown and apples are cross pollinated.  God tells ha’adam that he can eat freely from all the trees of the garden.  God has granted us great permission to enjoy and protect the earth in great freedom with one, one, prohibition, do not eat from the tree of knowledge.


When we seek to find the meaning of the tree of knowledge we miss the point.  The important part of the story is not what the tree of knowledge of good and evil signifies or is, but that God has commanded us not to eat of it.  The tree of knowledge of good and evil is mentioned no where else in the entire bible, but listening to, following and trusting in God’s command is a theme throughout.  Walter Brueggemann an Old Testament scholar puts it this way, “The trees are incidental to the main point that God’s command is a serious one” “This story is, rather, the anguished discernment that there is something about life which remains hidden and inscrutable and which will not be trampled upon by human power or knowledge.  There are secrets about the human heart and the human community which must be honored, bowed before, and not exposed.  That is because the gift of life in the human heart and in the human community is a mystery retained by God for himself.  It has not been put at the disposal of human ingenuity and human imagination.”  


Put another way the pursuit of abstract knowledge, trying to figure out the tree of knowledge, serves to misdirect us and distract us from our vocation.  We try to seek a promotion.  We become a disgruntled employee.  We try to become the boss instead of working for the best boss ever.  Working for God is even better than working for Google.  What it really comes down to is that we try to become God instead of trusting in God. 


Now don’t get me wrong.  I am not saying that we are not to pursue knowledge or that we are incapable of growing in knowledge.  God created us with incredible minds we are commanded by God to love and serve him with our minds as well as our hearts.  But, what I think God is trying to teach us here is that there is a difference between individual abstract knowledge that seeks power and wisdom that seeks goodness.  Listen carefully, there is a difference between abstract knowledge that seeks power and wisdom that seeks goodness.


I think that this distinction is hard for us to grasp.  Ellen Davis describes the western view of knowledge like this, “For us , knowledge is a form of power.  The idea that my power depends on what I know and the crucial corollary what someone else does not is fundamental to our whole professionally and technologically orientated society.”  We live with a worldview that “specialized knowledge is the highest form of power.” But so often this abstract specialized knowledge functions independently and exerts itself as power over others. 


It is the sort of knowledge that is seen in pharmaceutical companies when they continually alter drug formulas to keep them from going generic to maintain high profits at the cost of more widespread availability to those in need.  It is the kind of knowledge that is secretly developed in the desert and results in the atom bomb.  After which it is reported that Albert Einstein said, “It goes to show that you cannot do whatever you want” – and one might add, “whatever you know how to do.”


The sort of knowledge that God desires that we seek is maybe better understood as wisdom.  The book of proverbs speaks of wisdom in this way, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.”  Knowledge begins with a fear of the Lord.  A fear of the Lord is often translated or interpreted as having respect or reverence for God but I was reminded this week in my study that a true fear of the LORD God, is indeed that feeling that you get in your gut or as your muscles tense up when you are confronted with something that overpowers you and scares you.  I think of the fear that I have when I am climbing on a steep snowfield, and though I have my crampons and ice axe, I have always been acutely aware that this mountain that is so awesome and beautiful is also immensely more powerful than I.  And though it means me no harm and in fact brings me much joy, if I do not fear it, I could lose my life.


Think of the many times that God speaks to people in the bible or when the angel appears to Mary or when Jesus walks on water or appears to the disciples after his death.  The first line is almost always is, “Do not be afraid.”  When we are confronted with the awesome and raw power of the creator of the universe, ought we not be somewhat afraid by the vast gap between our power and that of Yahweh Elohim?  True knowledge, begins with a fear of the LORD because it trusts God.  True wisdom is trusting that God’s commands are for our benefit and good and for the good of the creation.  Wisdom in this way seeks that which God desires for humanity and all creation.  Wisdom seeks kindness and love for neighbor and to live humbly and faithfully in the presence of God, as God’s instruments of love.  Not as God’s instruments of power.


Think of the task, the vocation God gave man in the garden.  To serve and till the ground and to watch over it.  We partner with God in caring for and nurturing the creation.  Be sure that it is God alone who is its and our life source but we have a caretaking role to play along side God, as God’s disciple or apprentice in the garden. 


This story is not about the abstract but it is about the concrete creation and care of that creation by God and his partners, you and me.  God makes, forms, breathes into us, takes and puts us in a garden, in a specific time and place.  Sacramento, California in the 21st century is our time and place.  And our job our vocation remains the same as ha’adam’s, the first human’s.  God still calls us and gives us the job to protect and care for his good creation.  God still gives us abundant freedom to eat off the land and enjoy its fruits and beauty.  And, yes God still gives us that one command, which reminds us that we are to trust in God’s love for us that God hopes only the best for us. 


So the question that begs to be answered is:  are we taking our vocation seriously?  Have we remembered that the environment is not something abstract or unrelated to us but that in fact the atmosphere, the earth, plants, animals, amoebas, every living thing is related to us because like us it is all part of God’s creation.  We may be unique in that we alone were made in God’s image, that we alone have been given a responsibility to care for the earth as Quinn reminded us and to be God’s garden apprentices, we alone may have had Yahweh Elohim breathe the breath of life into our nostrils but we like the dust are related to the soil, to the earth.  We, humankind, ha’adam, were formed out of the soil of the earth, the ha’adama.  You can hear the relationship in the Hebrew.  Ha’adam formed from Ha’adama.


I believe the challenge Genesis asks of us today is in the form of a two fold question.  Are we living in right relation to God?  That is do we trust in God’s command and provision?  Do we take great pleasure and joy in the great freedom that God has given us?  And, the second question:  Are we living in right relation to the creation?  That is have we taken our vocation as caretakers seriously? 


I believe the two are related.   When we seek to live in right relation to God we trust that God truly does love us and is at work in the world, which frees us to seek knowledge that serves the earth and all its inhabitants.  We become instruments of God’s love providing for our neighbor’s hunger, curing disease, comforting the sick, breaking down walls of racism and classism.  Living in right relation to God calls us to live in right relation to the creation by caring for it.


I read recently that for the first year since 2001 the hole in the Ozone layer increased last year.  I have also read parts of the UN sponsored “Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s” report on the physical science basis for climate change, which states that at least 95% of the world’s best climate scientists conclude that climate change over the past 50 years is directly related to unnatural forces.  Now I know that by even mentioning these two things that some people’s scalp’s may be beginning to tingle or faces filling with blood and I am not here to propose solutions to problems but I am here to help call us as a community to faithful living before God and to help us hear as a community where God may be calling us.


Recognizing and being open to talking about the possibility of human causes for global warming and the harm that we may be doing to the creation, which we are part of and have been given the job to care for, I would suggest is related to living in right relation to God.  Humankind is part of creation and our dominion over it is always connected to our God given job to be its caretaker.  This is not just about climate change or “being an environmentalist” caring for the earth is also caring for our neighbor.  The first people affected by climate change are the poor.  If we fail to care for the earth, we also fail to love our neighbor.  My hope is that in the coming weeks in life groups or as a community of faith that there may be vigorous discussion regarding what ways we have failed in our job to guard and protect the earth.  So that we might be able to read this story and hear “In the garden of Eden” instead of “Ina Gadda Da Vida” and live in faithful and loving response to God without slurring our speech.


This was supposed to be the end of the sermon but I want to make sure that you heard the good news this morning along with the challenge this story brings to us.  The good news is that God cares.  God cares for us and believes in us.  So much so that he empowers us to be his instruments of love.  So much so that God says eat of every tree, enjoy this incredible earth that I have created.  This story reminds us that the Garden of Eden isn’t just about sin and the fall.  It reminds us of the direction in which God is moving.  It reminds us that by sending his Son to save us, God wasn’t just interested in saving souls but in saving and whole creation.  That God intends for us to live in perfect relationship with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, each other and all of creation.  Amen.

Although, these verses were not included in the reading of the story in the service they are significant.  The descriptions of them remind us that God comes to us locally in a specific place.  God cares about the local as well as the universal.  Also, rivers are water and water is a source of life.  These for rivers flow from the garden that God planted and remind us that God is the source of all life.  God spreads out his goodness over all creation.

Italics mine. Yahweh Elohim is translated “the LORD God”

The word for translated man here, could also be understood as humankind.  There is a play on words in the Hebrew that is lost in the English translation that I point out later.  A literal translation that would capture it would be, “Yahweh Elohim formed earthling from the dust of the earth.”

The Hebrew word “to keep watch over” shamar is the same word used to describe the work of a shepherd and also to keep or observe God’s commandments.

The verb in the Hebrew in verse 7 translated “formed” is the same verb used to describe how a potter forms clay.

Genesis 1:28

The story tells us that nothing was growing because the earth had no one to till it (Genesis 2:5).

Genesis 2:19-20

Walter Brueggemann, Genesis in the Interpretation Bible Commentary Series, page 45.

Walter Brueggemann, Genesis in the Interpretation Bible Commentary Series, page 52.

Ellen Davis, Getting Involved With God:  Rediscovering the Old Testament, page 94.

Ellen Davis, Getting Involved With God:  Rediscovering the Old Testament, page 96.

A copy of the summary of this report can be found at: